Five big things to watch for during the Cowboys-Jets game, Part 2: Defense

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Will the addition of Rob Ryan start paying off this Sunday?

Here’s part 2 of that great article by new TLH staff writer C. Joseph Wright – SM

Trying to decide which 5 defensive things I will be watching for when the game is live and at full speed is impossible. I can’t pay attention to that many things the first viewing. The truth is, on defense, the only honest answer I can give to “what will you be watching for?” is: EVERYTHING.

No one really knows what to expect other than a general belief that Ryan’s defense will be drastically different from the 3-4 run by Phillips; there will be more substitutions, and a lot more pre-snap movement.

This defense, both collectively and as individuals, has a lot at stake in their performance this year, and that begins Sunday night against the Jets. As a team, they are trying to erase the memory of last season’s debacle by showing that it was an aberration. They are also likely playing to validate all the talk of their new coach, Rob Ryan.

Most of the players starting on defense, with the obvious exception of Ware and Ratliff and maybe a couple of others, will be battling for more playing time (which eventually means more $) and/or their jobs as starters. I hope to see everyone playing like they are afraid of being cut from the 53. (I can’t wait for Jenkins to come back and see how he tackles this year.) Here’s what I will be paying close attention to:

1. The Secondary:

Will Alan Ball take advantage of his opportunity to contribute this Sunday?

1.a. Alan Ball.

I am writing on the assumption that neither Jenkins nor T-New will play and Ball starts. He has a lot less room for error than McCann simply based on their relative experience and salaries. Ball should be thinking about two words: career opportunity. Given last year’s performance, he has to prove that he is a better corner than he was a safety. Ryan surely examined his game tape from last year and still decided to keep him on the team, so I have to believe that Ball IS a better corner than safety. I am rooting for him to play a solid game and come up with an easy pick off a hurried or tipped pass.

Given the change in culture that Garrett is trying to implement, I suspect that he is not opposed to cutting someone after a horrendous performance.  Nothing sends the message of accountability like cutting a veteran after their salary has been guaranteed. If Ball plays terrible, it would not shock me if they signed a new CB. IF neither Jenkins nor T-New can play the following week, it will make it more difficult to cut Ball and bring in someone new, which might be good for a CB on the practice squad.

Ball’s play should not be a deciding factor in this game: if Romo and the offense have a solid day, the team can afford for him to get beat badly once or twice and still win. He must be thinking about all the $ that Scandrick got and know that  he will only get a big payday in Dallas if he is capable of stepping in and starting games when needed.

1.b. Scandrick.

He has to play well. If he plays like anything less than a decent starting CB, the brain trust in Dallas will look pretty stupid for handing him a huge contract extension.  I expect that to motivate him.  The deal he just got, coupled with all the talk from JJ, JG, and RR make me strangely confident that he is up to the task.

Scandrick, at 5’10″ matches up much better against Holmes (5’11”) than he does with Burress at 6’5”. I don’t care how good you are, 7 inches and 30+ lbs is a huge advantage, especially in the redzone. McCann is also 5’10”. Lets hope Plax is rusty and starts to show his age (34).

I wonder whether Ryan will have Ball (6’2″) follow Burress wherever he lines up.  I don’t know Ryan’s defenses well enough to know whether he likes to have one CB stick to a specific receiver or not, but you would think it is something that would have to be considered given the size difference between Plax and Scandrick. Holmes is a better receiver, and he should have a better rapport with Sanchez, so it makes sense to have Scandrick follow him and Ball follow Burress.

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