We can’t get enough chatter about Dez. The epic duel for the third receiver spot just may be the third installment of the Clash of the Titans series sans Perseus since Perseus is now in Jacksonville. Romo’s search for leadership will now have its own show on the NFL Network following Total Access. Even the missing starting safety will be a regular feature for the die hard news starved fans and media of the Cowboys. However, before these plots thicken and eventually play out, there will be other signs that this Cowboy team is primed and ready for January football.
1) Josh Brent emergence.
It’s really quite simple. Size matters and in the case of the Cowboys interior run defense, it’s critical. Not only can Brent’s improved play help to keep Connor, Carter and Lee healthy, it will preserve Ratliff on early downs. Ratliff makes one to two penetrating splash plays per game but the others plays include a heavy dose of productive runs up the middle with Ratliff sometimes pushed back to the second level.
That is something that will need to improve especially since it’s not the same old NFC East. RGIII will open up the run much more for the Skins. The Giants let Jacobs go to the 49ers and invested a valuable pick in their selection of David Wilson so their run game will be completely revitalized. Clearly the Eagles will remain explosive with McCoy in the backfield. Having a stouter defender on the interior will allow the Cowboys to field a healthy and formidable rotation on long second and third downs and it is those scenarios where Ratliff over the nose is most devastating. He can be much fresher and possibly avoid these nagging injuries that seem to be plaguing him.
Another added benefit would be to possibly boost the pass rushing production of Anthony Spencer. His QB pressures remain dormant year after year and if he cannot increase his production with these corners and these rushers, then the Cowboys know exactly what to do next year with the prospect of a new deal for Spencer. The domino effect from an improved Brent does not stop there. The greatest beneficiary may be Ware and his assault on the NFL sack record. Between his production and the interception tallies in the secondary, this could be a real strong and possibly record setting year for the defense.
2) Solidified communication in the secondary.
There will be three new starters in the back end of the Cowboy defense. Visions of blown assignments are like a horror show for Cowboy fans in this division. With Vick buying time on every drive with his eyes fixed deep into the Cowboy secondary, the back end must be a cohesive unit. Eli Manning if nothing else is tremendous at exploiting defensive weaknesses and his Hall of Fame campaign may be built solely on his ability to do just that against the Cowboys. I don’t care who wins the starting safety spot opposite Sensabaugh. I just care that they can play assignment football and are comfortable and capable of communicating to all three levels of the defense. Sean Lee mitigates that problem to an extent with his growing command of the defense but cohesion is critical at all levels of the defense.
This unit may be full of talent and Claiborne and Carr are the shiny new toys in Jones’ Cowboy garage but unless they can get on the same page, they will be rendered victims by Manning, Vick, Brees, Roethlisberger, Flacco and many more. The offseason has had many calls for the next Darren Woodson but this team can be great with a solid safety that provides the glue for this unit to gel.
3) More screen passes. Many more.
When you think of DeMarco Murray and Felix Jones you unfortunately have to think of health and preservation. There is no better way to utilize their talent while preserving their health than putting them in space. The primary way to do so is to further develop the screen pass to the point where it’s part of the offensive DNA of the Romo-led Cowboys. There is so much debate about why the Cowboys can’t score more points and be more effective in the red zone with all that talent. The answer to that is a debate for another day. The answer is that Jerry stockpiles talent but does not build teams but I digress.
Every game you look at the names on the jerseys and ask what the heck is wrong with this team? If I could make the Cowboys execute one play to perfection above all others it’s the screen. Do this well and Witten’s middle of the field opens up, Dez’s bracketing coverage becomes single, and Romo’s constant harassment becomes hesitant. It would tickle me to no end to see Osi Umenyiora, Jason Pierre-Paul and Justin Tuck being played like a fiddle not knowing which option is coming. I would gas them an entire half having them chase down screens huffing and puffing until the Cowboys finish them off in the fourth quarter. Wishful thinking maybe but you get the point. That one play if perfected yields results across Witten, Romo and Bryant. Anyone remember Brian Westbrook and that Eagles screen game? I do and it was painful. It’s time for the rest of the NFL to feel that pain from the Cowboys.
4) Early winners in the offensive line derby.
Center, left guard and right guard all seem to be up for grabs. Trust me Cowboy nation; you don’t want this competition to come down to the wire. Competition is fine in spots but for the unit tasked with protecting the Cowboys greatest investment, you want the clear best option. Imagine choosing a home security system by flipping a coin? Let me help you through the coach and owner speak. Or is it GM speak? If you hear after the first preseason game that “we are going to give a different player a start for this game”, or that “we are going to alternate starts in preseason”, than the Cowboys have not seen what they were hoping to see from the player or position and the ravaging of the waiver wire will soon begin.
Late summer offensive line cuts may be termed a surprise cut by the media but as fans we will know from the early signs that a good player never emerged. I hope for the daily updates and confirmations from the Broadduses of Cowboy camp that highlight a player’s emergence into a starting role on the line. That would be music to my ears. Livings, Bernadeau, Leary with his borrowed time and knee, Kowalski, Costa and others all have a tremendous opportunity in front of them. If they can’t seize it, than Romo will be the primary casualty along with dim hopes for a Super Season.
These aren’t all necessary components to a season that ends with a Super Bowl ring but the Dallas Cowboys can’t whiff on all of these. They must see proficiency or progress within most of these categories. Often these camps and preseasons offer us clues to how the season will play out and if you can drown out the Romo leadership divides, the Garrett in over heads, The meddlesome Joneses, and the always underachievings, you just might actually hear about the 2012 Dallas Cowboys and where they might land come playoff time. Or, you can continue to digest the in-rotation Cowboy storylines coming from regeneration nation.