We make no bones about being fans of the Dallas Cowboys here at Blogging The Boys. We want to see them win, and there is a tendency to try and find the silver lining in all the clouds that inevitably come along in the NFL.
Over the past couple of days, such attempts at maintaining a positive attitude have taken a couple of big blows. First, the way the team is juggling offensive linemen is seen as proof that the team is totally incapable of coming up with a solution, leaving a line that is so bad that Tony Romo will probably be carted off the field before the last notes of the National Anthem are sung on September 8 in AT&T Stadium. And then the announcement of Jay Ratliff going on PUP status was greeted with another chorus of cries about how the team totally failed to address that problem, including a rehashing of how the team refused to follow its own draft board in passing on Sharrif Floyd to trade down, and then wasting a pick on Gavin Escobar.
I am very sad. I was hoping for a successful year for Dallas. But obviously, we should forget about playing the games and, you know, seeing how it actually goes, and just start doing our mock drafts with that top five pick the Cowboys will undoubtedly wind up with.
There is certainly room for criticism, although some of the negative things said seem to involve a great deal of hindsight. But the assumption that failure is now assured is a bit hard to grasp. It is a possibility, but then failure is also an option for anyone in the NFL. Look at what has happened to the offensive line and secondary of the New York Giants. Does that mean they are run incompetently?
I do acknowledge that some critics bring up legitimate issues. Bob Sturm put together his objections to what has happened with the defensive line, and he makes some valid points.
They knew that Josh Brent was gone. They knew that Jay Ratliff has not played at an elite level since 2009. They knew that they were asking a lot of Jason Hatcher to replicate Warren Sapp or John Randle in this scheme and that says nothing about asking Anthony Spencer to be a defensive end. And yet, when it was time to find a defensive lineman in the draft or free agency, they waltzed right by like they were totally set.
This was before the team lost Tyrone Crawford, mind you, so Sturm certainly has a case. I admit that I am still nervous about Spencer getting healthy again, but if he does come back for the first game the way everyone with the team says he will, that means the Cowboys will be lining up an All-Pro and a participant in last year's Pro Bowl at defensive end. Yes, I know they were OLBs when they got the accolades, but all reports on DeMarcus Ware are that he is thriving with his hand on the ground. I think Spencer, who used to be considered better against the run that the pass, will do just fine. Hatcher has received accolades for his work in camp, so maybe the team knew what they were doing with him. Ratliff is another matter. With the issues so far, you have to wonder if his playing days are over. That makes the question of whether his last contract deal was a mistake very valid.
But the whole question of whether the line is going to succeed or not is still quite open. And the reopening of the argument about not taking Floyd is rather odd, given that he is not really doing anything right now for the Minnesota Vikings, who did wind up taking him.
Even after they made him their top pick in the 2013 NFL draft, the Vikings never had plans to make Sharrif Floyd a focal point of their defense in his first season. They could afford to bring the rookie along slowly, with veteran Kevin Williams still on the roster and Letroy Guion teaming with Fred Evans to hold down the nose tackle position.
Initially, the Vikings had planned to spell Williams with Floyd at the three-technique tackle, possibly using Floyd in the nickel package and easing the rookie into the league with somewhere between 25 and 30 snaps a game.
But the left knee injury Floyd sustained in the Vikings' first preseason game took things out of the team's hands somewhat. He had surgery this week to relieve pain in the front of his knee, and though a MRI had initially showed no structural damage, Floyd will still need the rest of the preseason to recover.
Bringing Floyd up again, as happened yesterday, sounds oddly like some think that it is better to stick to your plans and procedures and fail than to vary from them and succeed, even if luck helps. True, we did not know that Floyd was going to get hurt, but Travis Frederick and Gavin Escobar are contributing more to the Cowboys than Floyd is to the Vikings at this point, so that looks like a win for Dallas. And that "bring the rookie along slowly" stuff just doesn't sound right. I have always wondered if there was a last minute change of mind about Floyd in Dallas, and I just keep seeing little things to keep that thought alive.
I will still concede that the Cowboys may have made a strategic mistake in standing pat with the hand they had on the defensive line. From the way the narrative went, the most likely error that was made was in putting too much faith in the coaching of Rod Marinelli and Monte Kiffin. There were reports that Kiffin told Jason Garrett and Jerry Jones he had all the defensive linemen he needed. If it goes poorly, then he may be partly to blame. But it would be nice to see what happens after a couple of games. Dallas has not been getting a lot of sacks in pre-season, but they certainly have done well in other areas, including turnovers, and at least some of that appears to be related to pressure. It is possible to make a good argument that the team would have been wiser to go a different route on the defensive line. It is premature to say that the line is now a failure.
The negative reviews of the defensive line seem mild in comparison to some of what is being said about the offensive line. Some of the descriptions of how the team is handling things are little more than not-so-veiled insults. Consider the way Calvin Watkins opened a piece about the injury situation for the Cowboys.
The Cowboys are in a delusional state as they enter the final week of their preseason.
And Jean-Jacques Taylor had this to say in his own article, after first talking about how the team kept saying Jay Ratliff would be ready to play.
They shouldn't lie to themselves again about their offensive line.
The potential for disaster is exceedingly clear to anyone who chooses to not wear rose-colored Ray-Bans.
The thing that has always driven me crazy about the criticism concerning the offensive line is that I can't figure out what more everyone wants the team to do? Use draft picks? Two first rounders in three years, plus a couple others in 2011. Sign free agents? Tried that. Admittedly, the two they got in 2012, Nate Livings and Mackenzy Bernadeau have turned out to be more a part of the injury problem than the solution, but some of that can be laid to the cap constraints that led them to go with low cost options. And this summer, they tried twice to sign another guard. They actually signed Brandon Moore, but he developed cold feet and backed out of the deal. In the wake of that, Taylor says they need to fix the issue right now.
The solution is easy: Sign free-agent guard Brian Waters, who lives 15 minutes south of downtown Dallas. At least we know the 36-year-old Waters can do the job, as his six trips to the Pro Bowl will attest.
Why, of course. What could possibly keep that from working?
A Source said there's a feeling Brian Waters doesn't want to play this season.— Calvin Watkins (@calvinwatkins) August 28, 2013
Oh. Yeah. That.
If you sense some frustration showing on my part, you are indeed perceptive. The situation on the offensive line is certainly troubling, but it is hardly the case that the team has not tried to fix them. There is a difference between turning a blind eye to a problem, and having your solutions go wrong. There is not really an NFL Mart where you can go and pick up all the players you need 24 hours a day.
But, again, it is the ongoing assumption that everything is now ruined. The offensive line has yet to play a down in the regular season, but it is already deemed a failure. Same for the defense. But options for upgrades are increasingly limited. There comes a point at which you have to move forward with the resources at hand. The Cowboys are doing that. I like to ask the question, "Can this work?" But what I keep hearing from other sources is "Why is this so terribly bad?"
The evidence right now is just training camp and four pre-season football games. The odd thing is that the lines have not really been the issue in those games. In the "dress rehearsal", they actually seemed pretty serviceable. I know it was just pre-season, but the eyeball test said that they were not that bad. Not great, perhaps, but not disastrous. It makes me wonder what all the naysayers are basing their opinions on.
Well, actually, that is not hard to figure out. It is called "recent history". The Cowboys are known for bad contracts and a certain ineptitude of late. Some of us believe that the team is trying hard to change things but it is going to take a while to get over the hump. Others, obviously, don't think any real change has happened.
We can argue about that until we all turn Cowboys blue in the face. But the real answers will start coming when some games are played. The truth about whether Dallas is deceiving itself or actually able to work through issues like this will be determined on the field, not in what anybody writes. I am going to remain optimistic about this, because I think Jason Garrett and company are pretty good, and because other strengths of the team should help with the weaker parts. Others will remain totally pessimistic.
I just prefer to wait until the games are played to make a final call on things.