So, the roster cuts are in and we are now down to 75 players. One more preseason game to go but essentially none of the starters are expected to play against Houston this Thursday night in AT&T Stadium as they battle for the rights to the Governor’s Cup.
SIDE NOTE: The Cowboys and Texans meet every 4th year in preseason and battle for the Governor’s Cup awarded to the winning team along with the official bragging rights for the state of Texas. Prior to the Texans, the series was held against the Houston Oilers (now Tennessee Titans). This will be the first time the teams have met in new AT&T Stadium. Their last meeting was in 2010 in both the preseason and then the 3rd week of the regular season. The Cowboys won the regular season game 27-13 (after losing the preseason game at Texas Stadium) to retain the Governor’s Cup earned in 2008 with their 23-22 preseason win at Texas Stadium.
For those that might have missed it, here are the moves the Cowboys made just prior to the 4pm EST deadline yesterday to get to 75 players:
> Tyron Crawford, DE and Ryan Cook, C/G were officially put on Injured Reserve and are out for the season.
> Jay Ratliff, DT was put on the Physically Unable To Perform (PUP) list and will be ineligible to play for the first 6 weeks of the season.
> The 10 players cut including the one from Monday are Jeris Pendleton – DT, Brett Maher – K, Nick Stephens – QB, Anthony Amos – WR, Eric Rogers – WR, Jared Green – WR, Colin Cochart – TE, Dennis Godfrey – G, Brandon Underwood – CB, and Deon Lacey – LB.
At first glance, the Jay Ratliff news is a bit of an unpleasant surprise. Up until late last week, we’d been led to believe that J-Rat was progressing and on target for a return by game 1. You would expect him to be a big updgrade at Defensive Tackle as he can be a disruptive presence in the middle. But, I don’t see it at this point as being that big of a deal – at least not what the media is making of it. He basically hasn’t played a game since last November 18th and missed 10 games last season. The defense has been playing all preseason without him and has not looked too bad. It has given them a chance to look at and develop alternatives. Nick Hayden will step in and be the starter it appears at this point and so far has held his own. There are 4 players on the defensive line and two of those will be DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer so Hayden just has to play better than average and let the stars around him shine. The first 6 games of the season are the easiest stretch in the schedule anyway - at least on paper – so if Ratliff takes the extra time to get healthy and is able to return for the stretch run over the last 10 games, this may turn out to be a good thing. I’d hate to be an offensive lineman already 6 games into the season having to face a fresh and fired up Jay Ratliff! But, the critics are saying this is another example of Jerry hanging on to a player longer than his ability to play at a high level. Ratliff is still facing a DUI charge, is 32 years old, and will count over $4MM against the cap in 2013 so some of that criticism cerainly seems justified. At any rate, it’s done. Players will have to step up in his place.
Other important factors to consider at this early stage of the 2013 season:
> The offensive line has really played better than expected overall, but we’re 12 days away from the season opener and we are still tinkering to find a winning combination – including trying to turn a mediocre tackle into a mediocre or worse guard (Doug Free). I do still believe Ron Leary will be back for the opener which would allow Free to move back to tackle, but as we’ve seen for too many years now, the most important thing an offensive line can do is learn to play together. It’s critical and once again we won’t have that opportunity. Of course, let’s not forget that we beat the Giants last year with a center (Ryan Cook) that had been in a Cowboys uniform less than a week and had a total of 3 practices under his belt when Phil Costa’s back forced him into the game on the second series. We’d prefer to have a solid O-Line unit that knows how to play together, but the Cowboys have proven you can sometimes win without that (at least against the Giants in an opener – the Cowboys have never lost a home opener to the Giants). Where we’ll see the impact of this the most in my opinion is the running game.
> The running game has shown some improvement – but if you go watch the tapes, other than the Miami game, the team has not done very well against first team defenses. Flashes, yes, but very inconsistent. If fans think we are going to go out and overpower teams with our running game this season based on what we’ve seen at points in the preseason, I think they need to pump their brakes. What I do see is a commitment to the run by Callahan that did not exist under Garrett. Bill Callahan doesn’t run a couple times in the first series, get stuffed, and then basically abandon the run. He will at least continue to try to run and instead mix up some of the formations and types of running plays until he finds a weakness. But, our troubles are by no means solved in this area. If at the end of the day, we have to build a lead through the air and then run successfully to eat up clock against a tired defense, that can work too. I think that may be what we’ll see this year.
> Cornerback might be a spot where you might think there isn’t a lot of concern, but in his second season, I think the time Mo Claiborne has missed is important. He’s good but not yet great in coverage and needs the practice time. In fact, I think this secondary – likely consisting of Claiborne, Carr, Allen, and Church, with Scandrick playing the nickel - needs as much time as possible to work together. Similar to the offensive line, this unit has to play in concert with one another. We’ve seen flashes of solid play, but I continue to notice our corners giving up just enough to allow first downs or big plays. They are always around the ball, but let’s face it, neither one is a shut down corner that teams are afraid to throw at. I need to see more passes defended or intercepted and not just being there to make the tackle after the catch for me to get more excited about our secondary. Still work in progress – but progressing.
> Where there isn’t any concern at this stage is the passing game. Romo has once again looked sharp. Dez is poised to have a monster year. Miles Austin has stayed injury free so far and looks fast and productive. With the attention Dez will get, Miles could be a huge factor, not to mention the continually improving Dwayne Harris and Terrance Williams will both make contributions. Just need to give Romo time…see my first point above.
> A lot of folks have expressed concern – rightfully so – about the special teams and how they’ve been gashed for big returns. But, I think you have to realize in the preseason this unit more than any other is comprised of a lot of players that won’t be on the final roster. The bubble guys have to make it on special teams and so there is a lot of tinkering. The quality of players and the level of play will improve once we get to a final 53. I think. It had better!
So, the focus now turns to preparing for the Giants and the season opener on September 8th. They’ve had their share of injuries but it’s looking more and more like JPP will be on the field for that game. Not sure what shape he will be in, but he creates some matchup nightmares. I’m hoping it is a great game. I’ll be there in the stands screaming my lungs out. Go Cowboys!