One of the most active news stretches in the NFL calendar began on Monday, as twelve teams geared up for the playoffs and numerous others cleaned house and began their coaching and GM searches. With that in mind, I'll begin here:
Here's everything you need to know about the playoffs and where to keep track of coaches getting fired on this, one of the most hectic stretches of the NFL calendar, all from the fine folks at SB Nation.
The Broad One goes to the film room one final time this season, and emerges from his darkened cave with some observations, including an interesting distinction about Greg Hardy's afternoon (and, possibly, his season):
Greg Hardy played with great effort in this game, but I didn't feel like he played with great technique. Hardy should have been able to break tackle Ty Nsekhe down and he wasn't able to do so. There were far too many snaps where Hardy was fighting these tackles down the middle instead of off the edge. He made it easy for them to handle him and that's not his game. There was too much hand battling for Hardy instead of winning, and that was disappointing.
Great effort without great technique sounds like a fitting summation of Number 76's 2015 campaign...
The PFF folks release their final weekly position-by-position "best of" report. And, shockingly, a Cowboys offensive player made the list:
Wide receivers: Terrance Williams, Cowboys (+3.3) and Calvin Johnson, Lions (+5.0)
No room for Julio Jones or Antonio Brown, despite big efforts, and that’s because Johnson and Williams had even bigger showings of their own. Williams stood out even more so for his big day, which might bode well for his role in 2016.
Of course, there's no mention that 154 of Williams's yards came against a prevent defense. No need to nitpick, I suppose...
Sturm's requiem for the 2015 season offers a litany of "stupefying details" about what we just finished watching. All are must-reads. Here are two to whet your appetite:
The Cowboys have only had 3 seasons in their 56 years of football where they won fewer than 4 games - 1960, 1988, and 1989. Think about that for just a moment. That means this is the 4th worst season in Cowboys' history and all three of the seasons below it are the epitome of "rock bottom". The year the franchise was born, the year Tom Landry was shown the door, and the year Jimmy and Jerry took over and tried to clean everything out and start over. If you are asking how come nobody saw this year coming, that is like asking how come you didn't see that house fire coming when you lived in that house your whole life? Some things are just out of nowhere.
Speaking of Carter/Campo, this year's 3rd down offense was the worst since 2001 and 2002. They converted just 66 of 191 3rd downs (34.6%) which was the worst year the Cowboys have had since those two 5-11 seasons. All of this, of course, the year after the Cowboys appeared to have 3rd downs figured out as well as any team in football when they converted 95 of 201 (47.3%) and were near the top of the league.
That's some historical, um, stuff right there...
Archer compiles a list of three members of the Cowboys with arrows pointing up and three whose are "down." Since we've had our fill of cruddy news, here's one of those pointing up:
DeMarcus Lawrence: He led the Cowboys with eight sacks and had seven in seven of the final eight games of the season. He also had more than 30 quarterback pressures and showed the Cowboys he can be a pivotal piece of the defense going into the future.
The grades are in, and the Cowboys O-line acquitted itself well, thank you very much:
Coming into the season the Cowboys’ offensive line was held up as their strength. The three stars — Tyron Smith (+2.6) Travis Frederick (+1.9) and Zack Martin (+3.0) — all finished as top three players in their position. While rookie guard La’el Collins showed some hugely impressive blocks, he did have his struggles in the past few weeks as teams were able to give him issues in the pass game and prevent him from being the consistent run blocker he showed in the middle of the season. Against Washington, all six lineman that played graded positively as they opened up some nice holes when the Cowboys chose to run, and gave Moore a lot of time to complete his many passes.
Also getting PFF Kudos wereand ...
Chase with 33 interesting end-of-season factoids. Two of them involve the Cowboys, and are, as luck would have it, numerically congruent:
11. Only two teams enter the playoffs with winning streaks of 4+ games: Kansas City (10) and Washington (4). The Bucs, Cowboys and Titans all had the worst finish to 2015, dropping their last four.
12. Carolina was the only team to finish undefeated at home. The Bears, Cowboys and Titans had the worst home records, at 1-7 each.
I didn't say that they were uplifting...
Archer writes exactly what we all were thinking as it happened:
Facing third-and-10 from the Washington 23, McFadden looked to be heading in for a touchdown run. It was the perfect call against the Washington defense with a toss to the left out of the pistol formation.
One yard from the end zone Washington cornerback Will Blackmon stripped the ball free from McFadden. Instead of going out of bounds or to a Cowboy, the ball rolled through the end zone for a touchback.
That’s how a team goes 4-12.
In perhaps the best news the Cowboys have received in several months, Will McClay will be here for at least another year. The Cowboys’ senior director of college and pro scouting declined an opportunity to interview for the Detroit Lions' open General Manager position, in part because he feels obligated to honor the contract he signed last year with the Cowboys:
"This is where I want to be," said McClay, who admitted that a GM position is something he covets. "But I’m excited to be here and get started on the offseason."
All the local DFW media outlets are running Tony Romo interview pieces. Here, Moore transcribes the top sound bites, including Number Nine's take on his health going forward:
"As far as going forward, I'll be a much healthier version going forward actually than I was the last couple of years as my back continues to strengthen and the bone will be healed. *"No one really likes or cares to hear that after you got hurt. But the reality of it is that I'll be much stronger moving and having a base. That'll be easier for me to be in position to do some stuff that I'll be hopefully happy about.''
Tiny Jim talks to Tony, who gives us two good reasons for why Jason Garrett ain't going nowhere:
"He was really incredible in getting our football team to play consistently at a very, very high level as far as effort, energy, just week to week," Romo said. "He really has the pulse of the team and it was a great thing to watch."
Not only was the RHG able to motivate a team that had every reason not to be motivated, but Number Nine loves him. Garrett's not leaving until after Romo's career is a wrap.
Dixon's version of the Romo interview transcription offers some thoughts on what the 2015 campaign will do in terms of motivation:
''When you don't play well or you don't play up to the standard of what you set, I think that it should burn inside of each guy really,'' Romo said. ''Our team obviously has got knocked down this year and without performing to expectations, like I said before, it's a very easy time to look at yourself and say, 'I need to get better.' I think everybody on this football team needs to take that approach. And I think everybody will.''
And, finally, Romo talked about the possibility of the Cowboys drafting his replacement:
“We’re going to evaluate everybody, and the organization is going to look at who to take, and they’re going to take the best player,” Romo said. “If the best player there is a quarterback, then that’s what our team needs.
“Our team needs good players. That’s what we need.
Had Dallas made the playoffs, Archer reports, Romo could have returned this weekend for the wild-card round, six weeks removed from the hairline fracture suffered against the Carolina Panthers:
"I would have figured out a way obviously to get back out there," Romo said. "That’s what we play the game for, playing those games. It’s disappointing that we’re not in that part of it right now. Believe me we’re going to do everything we can to make sure this doesn’t happen again."
That dude is a straight boss...
Four times in Monday’s end of season news conference, Archer notes, Jason Garrett was asked about Greg Hardy, and his answers were curt, to say the least. Here's about the extent of it, as per Toddzilla:
"I thought Greg did some good things for us on the field, defended the run well at times, impacted the quarterback at different times during the game," Garrett said.
And that was it.
Garrett was also asked about all the one-on-one meetings necessitated by Hardy's off-field behavior:
“I think with all your players, what you’re trying to do is you’re trying to coach them every way that you can. Try to coach them on the field. You try to coach them off the field.
“You try to be a positive influence. You try to create the right environment for them to be their best. Hopefully some of those things that we’ve done with all members of our football team have had a positive impact on him.”
Apparently Jones the Elder (and, these days, I mean ELDER) liked what he saw from fourth-string scrubeenie QB Kellen Moore, so much so that he believes Moore could be a viable No. two NFL quarterback:
"His background and (offensive coordinator Scott Linehan’s) background with him and these games, I think he’s got the potential to be a winning (backup)," Jones said. "I think he can ultimately win games in the NFL."
Let's let the Will McClays of the world make this determination, shall we, Jerry?
Davison with a fair summation of the Brandon Carr sitch:
...the Cowboys have repeatedly said they like what Carr brings to the team. He’s a veteran presence in the locker room, and has been recognized for his charitable contributions off the field. He is the Cowboys’ nominee for the Walter Payton Man of the Year award this year.
Therefore, the Cowboys and Carr could look at re-structuring a deal that is mutually beneficial. Carr expressed interest in staying in Dallas following Sunday’s game, and the Cowboys understand the importance of cornerback depth.
Since these are the two Dallas free agents that I'd like to see back in blue in 2016, I found this article intriguing. Here's what the diminutive Dunbar had to say:
"Why wouldn’t I want to be here?" Dunbar said. "There’s not much I really can do. I got hurt. Whatever happens, happens.
"I’m not really focused on that. Just trying to get back healthy before anything happens, so I can get back to playing at a high level like I was before."
And English Jack:
"I just have to see what’s on the table," Crawford said. "I honestly have no idea what to expect or how it works ‘cause I’ve never been in this position before.
"But I love the Cowboys. I love the Cowboy Nation; love the team; love the coaches; love being part of this organization. I would be very happy to come back and play here."
In a piece that has no real correlation to its title, Archer lays out the three primary positional needs the Cowboys need to address this offseason: DE, CB, and QB. Here's what he has to say about corner:
Cornerback: Brandon Carr is going into the final year of his contract and has not had an interception since 2013. Morris Claiborne is set to be a free agent. Orlando Scandrick is coming back from a torn anterior cruciate ligament. Like defensive ends, you can never have enough cornerbacks as well.
In an interesting article, Seifert reviews the season-long effects of the new extra-point distance, and comes away with the following general conclusions:
If the goal was to redirect the fans' traditional bathroom break after touchdowns, then it succeeded. NFL place-kickers missed 71 extra points from the new 33-yard distance, dropping their conversion rate from 99.3 last season to a still-reliable -- but not automatic -- 94.2 percent. The last time it was lower was in 1982, when place-kickers converted 93.8 percent, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
If the hope was to upend post-touchdown strategy and change the outcome of games, then it fell short. Two-point conversion attempts rose about 35 percent over last season, but the total of 94 was hardly unprecedented in the play's 23-year history. Only a handful of end games were impacted by missed extra points, and none of them directly determined the winner.
As with most of the NFL's new mandates, the new PAT rule offered a largely cosmetic change that generally failed to improve the game.