The lunch theme is back, and no this isn't a sponsored post yet. In our previous editions, I've reminisced to my childhood favorite of McDonald's six piece nugget meal, and then took a stroll to Popeye's for the time-tested three-piece chicken and biscuit plan.
Today, I travel to another of my favorite spots, Five Guys Burgers and Fries. They have a limited menu: Burgers, hot dogs, fries and sodas. That's it. The idea behind their success is pretty evident; burgers from fast-food places suck. Five Guys delivers you fresh patties, made from Grade A beef and cooked right in front of you. A regular burger is actually a double-pattie with unlimited toppings.None of that seaweed burger crap you're fed elsewhere. They also have potatoes shipped from Idaho to each restaurant daily. Both the burgers and fries have won numerous awards and accolades in various fast food magazines (of which I've heard of exactly none before seeing them on the Five Guys walls).
Now Five Guys isn't exactly a restaurant, but it's not exactly fast food either. There's no drive-thru and you have to wait for your food to be cooked. That's kind of a good descrption for the Cowboys 2012 season. Their not really a good team, but they're a lot better than the fast food teams that they are lumped together with. Did someone say Lumpy? Not the Cowboys.
Speaking of Montrae Holland, whom the Cowboys obviously don't want anything to do with for some reason as they continue to suffer through Derrick Dockery's awfulness at right guard, we'll kick off this week's randomness, with a look at one of the interior linemen. He's the first of Five Guys With The Cowboys.
1) The discussion of Mackenzy Bernadeau has gone the way of the 2011 discussion of Phil Costa. People made up their minds in the early weeks of the season, and stopped paying attention except for when their name is mentioned negatively. Bernie had played at a level much higher than earlier in the season before being moved to play Center over the last two games. However, his place with Cowboys fans has already been written... and probably shouldn't have considering the injuries that he was recovering from that probably limited his play earlier in the year.
Before being moved to Center, Big Mack had earned four consecutive positive, "green" game grades from PFF, not giving up a sack in any of the four games. He wasn't perfect, but it was a stark improvement from allowing four sacks in the first five games of the season.
Does this mean that Dallas doesn't target interior line play in the draft or free agency? Of course not-but November Bernie >>> September Bernie.
2) Matt Eberflus: Know Him Before It's Too Late - When the offseason started, the majority of the attention paid to the coaching staff went to the two replacements, Bill Callahan for Hudson Houck and Jerome Henderson for Dave Campo. The rest of the attention went to strength and conditioning coach Mike Woicik, as the Cowboys would finally have an offseason under his program and they'd rid themselves of the annoying habit of fading late in the games and late in the season. Welp, Dallas hasn't relinquished late leads this year; their problem has been having to come back far too often. They haven't exactly been the model of health in 2012 either, so make of that what you want.
However, the recent coaching move that deserves the most attention has to be the addition of Matt Eberflus, LB coach. Eberflus came over with Rob Ryan from Cleveland before last season and has turned in an amazing performance with the Cowboys linebacking corps. 2011's emergence of Sean Lee as a force to be reckoned with might be surpassed by 2012's emergence of Bruce Carter as a faster version . Almost Anthony Spencer has assuredly shed that moniker this season to stack on top of his "I-do-it-all" '11 campaign. He's gotten first-round bust Ernie Sims and Carolina castoff Dan Connor to be serviceable contributors in the injury absence of the starters. Who would have predicted that based on their status in the preseason?
There will be plenty of movement in the offseason when it comes to the coaching ranks. The Cowboys better hope that Ryan's protégé isn't popping up on other team's radars as a potential defensive coordinator on the come.
3) Now, if I'm going to laud Eberflus, I have to be intellectually fair and discuss Jerome Henderson, our new secondary coach. Through 11 games, the Cowboys have only 5 interceptions as a team. Only four are by corners or safeties.
Henderson has received a tough challenge in his inaugural season with the Dallas Cowboys. When he came aboard, I was very excited based on what he did with Browns rookies CB Joe Haden and S TJ Ward two years ago . He is also applauded for coaching Darrell Revis during his time with the Jets... but maybe there's a possibility Revis would own regardless of who his coach was.
Henderson was given a few toys to play with in the physical style of FA CB signing Brandon Carr. Carr was one of the 2012 classes top available corners, playing better each consecutive year while in Kansas City. He wasn't without holes in his game and the evaluators saw this, but knew Dallas had to sign a corner regardless of the money associated with this pick. Sure, a $50 million cornerback means you're supposed to get elite, but the market has so much to do with what you have to pay, and everyone knew Dallas couldn't get shut out of the corner market.
I think Dallas knew that Carr had limitations, or else why would they have spent their first- and second-round picks on a cornerback if they truly believed that Carr was going to be the answer at cornerback.
Dallas also tried to give Henderson toys at safety, and that's where his bad luck comes in. Gerald Sensabaugh is a solid stop gap at the safety position. He's good enough to win with all things being considered. The prize, though... was the arrival of Barry Church, a former undrafted free agent. When the general consensus book is written on the Cowboys 2012 season, Church will barely be mentioned because he wasn't a prior starter. That book will be inaccurate. They also tried to get him a steal fourth-round safety in Matt Johnson who has spent far more time with the trainers than training with Henderson.
Everything about how the Cowboys secondary plays went out the window with Church out. The physical, pressing style they wanted to unleash has gone by the wayside because they are trying to protect Sensabaugh and Danny McCray. Another year of trying to protect secondary players.
However, NFL teams near and far are getting by without scintillating play from their safety group; how come the Cowboys haven't figured out how to do so? It's not as if they don't have years of practice in trying to develop a safety-deficient scheme.
To that extent, three-fourths of our defensive brain trust are former employees of the inept Cleveland Browns organization. Henderson should get a "year two" to see what he can really do, just as Eberflus got a year two after the embarrassing seasons of Keith Brooking and Bradie James in 2011.
4) I know everyone doesn't play fantasy football, so this addition may mean little to nothing to you. However, if you play fantasy football and are a Cowboys fan, you know a couple of things. Tony Romo is on fire recently. I know, shocking. Romo was in the bottom half of the league through the first 7 games as a starting QB. However, look at these yardage totals since the dink and dunk game against Carolina.
437 yards vs NYG, 321 yards vs ATL, 209 yards vs PHI (3 D/ST touchdowns stole posessions), 313 vs CLE, 441 vs WAS. In the last four weeks, he's thrown for 1284 yards, 7 touchdowns and only 2 interceptions. Romo's November record might have suffered this year, but he's definitely putting up similar gaudy stats to years past.
5) In honor of the aforementioned double-patty, Number 5 gets two entries. Two separate Cowboys players seem to have turned the corner this season, one on each side of the ball. On offense, Dez Bryant has been nothing short of incredible as the main target for Tony Romo's above-noted November success. He's up to 65 catches, 880 yards and 6 touchdowns. That projects to 95 catches, almost 1300 yards and about 9 touchdowns. If that doesn't count for a breakthrough "third" season, I don't know what does.
On defense, Anthony Spencer is finally generating the sack numbers and turnovers to go along with his other splash play metrics from last year. He's up to 6.5 sacks (which should get him around 10 for the season) and has 4 tackles for losses to lead the team. He and Demarcus Ware are combining for a sack and a half per game and a forced fumble every other game. It would be great if they were getting pass rushing help from somewhere else, but Rob Ryan can't blitz because of the safety issue leading to the lack of press coverage; a chain reaction if you will. Spencer was signed to a franchise tender and will command 120% of his current $8.856m salary ($10.6) which will be a problem because...
(French Fries) Dallas is going to be faced with several salary cap questions during the coming offseason. Looking at things in this light is scary, because Dallas is going to have to shell out a lot of money just to return the team that is 13-14 over the last two seasons. Take a look at players Dallas will need to address to avoid them walking or being in the final year of their deals:
Anthony Spencer - contract expires after season
Tony Romo - contract voids after 2013
Sean Lee - contract expires after 2013
Jason Hatcher - contract expires after 2013
Then, you look at players that aren't living up to their contracts for whatever reason and you wonder if any releases are on the horizon. Players such as: (numbers updated, per spotrac.com)
Miles Austin: Salary $6.7 in 2013 ($4.7 cap hit to release)
Doug Free: Salary $7m($8.3m cap hit to release)
Jay Ratliff: Salary $5m ($6m cap hit to release)
Orlando Scandrick: Salary $2m ($6.6m cap hit to release)
Note: The numbers for Austin, Ratliff and Scandrick have been updated from the original post. Rotoworld.com has not updated all player pages for restructured deals.
There's still five games to go in 2012, and these players, some with recently signed deals, will have their worthiness evaluated over the home stretch.