Dallas Cowboy owner Jerry Jones and Head Coach Jason Garrett’s new hire, Rob Ryan, certainly had a classic “up and down” season. At times Ryan’s defense looked very good, at other times they played adequate, and towards the end of the year they struggled (to put it nicely). The good news is that the defense as a whole played significantly better in 2011 than they did in 2010. Moreover, they played much better without the addition of any high-priced free agents or high-round draft choices (more on Bruce Carter later). The bad news is that because of the ongoing salary cap issues and the consequent inability to pay expensive free agents, they have more needs than they can expect to fill in one draft.
Expect to see the Cowboys brain trust to draft at least a few players in the early rounds that fit Rob Ryan’s scheme.
Click on the link to begin reading an evaluation of the Dallas Cowboys’ Front 5.
Spoiler Alert: Most of you will not like what I have to say about Anthony Spencer.
As a group, the front 7 had a decent year. They certainly were not excellent the entire year, but neither were they awful. They were one of only 8 teams to hold opponents to under 100 yards rushing per game. They were tied for 7th in the league with 42 sacks; Minnesota and Philadelphia led the league with 50 each.
Jay Ratliff (Sept, 2011: Signed a seven-year, $48.625 million contract): He made another Pro Bowl, but I have to wonder how much of that was premised on reputation from years past. He had another good year, but he seemed to disappear at times. Granted, he was facing two, and sometimes three, O-Linemen on almost every down. He logged just 2 sacks, his lowest since his rookie season in 2005. In several games, he just could not get the push in the middle of the pocket that was so desperately needed. Like last year, and the year before, Ratliff seemed to wear down towards the end of games (especially when Josh Brent was injured).
Early in the season, when Josh Brent was healthy, we saw Ratliff move around a bit; he occasionally lined up as a DE in pass rushing situations. I think that Ratliff will play a lot more at DE next season. This team has lacked a prototypical 3-4 NT since Parcells installed the 3-4. Rob Ryan has historically based his 3-4 defenses around a monster NT who could anchor the middle of the DL. I would not at all be surprised to see the Cowboys use their 1st or 2nd round pick on a stud NT.
Jason Hatcher (August, 2011: Signed a three-year, $6 million contract. $2.5 million signing bonus.) – He had a solid, yet unspectacular, year; he is a valuable part of the DL rotation. He played well enough to take the starting LE position from Marcus Spears. He had a respectable 4.5 sacks for a DE in a 3-4; in comparison, Spears best season was 2.5 sacks in 2009. In addition, Hatcher had QB pressures in almost every game, and he had several tackles for a loss. He also had an interception and a forced fumble. Hatcher saw considerably more playing time this season than he has in any of his previous 5 with the Cowboys. He continues to get better and better every year. I don’t think Hatcher is getting a free trip to Hawaii any time soon, but I expect him to be a valuable piece in Rob Ryan’s defense next year; he will continue to be part of a rotation rather than an every down player. If the Cowboys draft a quality DE, or if Ratliff slides over to End, Hatcher may be best utilised as a situational pass-rusher.
Click on the link to read about the rest of the D-Line.