For months, one of the topics for heated discussion here at BTB has been how the many new veteran free agents and rookies might help the Dallas Cowboys in 2012. Now, at last, we have seen them in a real game, and we have some early answers. For the most part, they are pretty good.
Not all the new players are able to contribute at this point, and some were only involved in a few plays against the New York Giants. Others played pivotal roles in the game. We have talked about many of these in varying degrees already, but here is a look at them as a group.
Among the limited players, Matt Johnson and Kyle Wilber were out with injury and didn't take a snap. Cole Beasley was in on four offensive snaps and did not catch a ball.
Kyle Orton did not see the field either, which was perfect. Here is hoping he gets to stand by and watch until the Cowboys rest Tony Romo after they clinch home field advantage for the playoffs.
There were some other players that seemed a little limited, until you look at a combination of the snap counts for all three phases of the game and the video. Tyrone Crawford saw three defensive snaps, but also was in on ten special teams plays, or 45% of the total there. Even though he did not notch a tackle, he did play a role. James Hanna had similar numbers, and caught one ten-yard pass for a first down and made a tackle.
Dan Connor has apparently been passed by Bruce Carter (who was excellent) for the starting job at inside linebacker, but of the four plays he was put on the field for defensively, two were during the running plays in the goal line stand that stopped New York from getting a touchdown after the Michael Boley interception, and he was in the thick of things. He was also involved in 82% of the special teams snaps, so the Cowboys are getting some value out of him.
The rest of the newbies and how they did after the jump.
Lawrence Vickers was on the field as the formations required, and played on half the special teams snaps. In the video, he had some good blocks and took part in a tackle, but there were two memorable moments. The first was for bad reasons, when he failed to make the first down on fourth and inches early in the game, which was more a great play by Antrel Rolle than anything else. But the one that sticks out in my mind was the 48-yard DeMarco Murray run. Remember this?
Not only did Lawrence manage to not knock DeMarco down, he looked like he straightened him up and pointed him in the right direction. Given that Murray was stepping out of a tackle, he may have saved him from going down. Additionally, there was at least one block I saw where Vickers took his man right off his feet. I would say he is working out well.
Now, for the new guys who were on the field for a lot more snaps. On offense, Nate Livings and Mackenzy Bernadeau were there for every offensive play, as expected, and after Phil Costa went out, Ryan Cook was there the rest of the way, or 96% of the total. There were problems. There were also some effective plays. This was against one of the most highly regarded defensive lines in the league, albeit one with some key parts out. In the end, they wore the Giants' defensive line down, which was remarked on by Cris Collinsworth.
Taking into account that Cook was the newest player on the field, and that the rest of the line is still working their way up the learning curve as a unit, it can be anticipated that they will get better. The extra practice time as a result of the early start to the season now is to Dallas' advantage. I don't know how good the unit will be, but we can at least have a great deal of hope that it will be much better by mid-season. And with the master of escape and evasion behind them, they will undoubtedly look better than they are, no matter how good they become. It is only one game (keep repeating that until Sunday adds more data to the calculation), but right now, it looks like signing the new linemen was the result of some good scouting and decision making on the part of the staff.
And then there is the dynamic duo at cornerback, Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne. You could come to a very logical conclusion just looking at the results. In the general slobber-fest the media had before the game about the New York Giants, they had nothing but praise for Eli Manning and his trio of wide receivers, Victor Cruz, Hakeem Nicks, and Domenik Hixon. In the game they combined for thirteen catches, 151 yards and a big fat goose egg in the touchdown column. That alone says that Carr, Claiborne and slot corner Orlando Scandrick weren't just adequate. They were danged good.
The Dallas Morning News has an article grading Mo Claiborne, and I recommend it if you have not already enjoyed it. The overall grade of Pick 6: A-.
This grade isn't a "because-he's-a-rookie-grade." I watched Claiborne on every snap and he played extremely well all night, shadowing Nicks like a veteran. If he can keep up this level of play, the sky is the limit for the rookie sensation.
Folks, this ain't last year's Cowboys. And one of the reasons is that the team went out and got some pieces to fix the manifold flaws the team had. Some are still waiting to show their worth, some are playing smaller but important roles, and a few are becoming major parts of this team. The new guys are beginning to give us reasons to be proud they wear the Star.
Want to join me in having something cold and blue to drink?