Dec 2, 2012; Arlington, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys linebackersVictor Butler
(57) andAnthony Spencer
(93) prepare to rush the passer during the game against the Philadelphia Eagles at Cowboys Stadium. The Cowboys beat the Eagles 38-33. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports
Like most opinionated sports writers, I’ve been hit or miss this year. I tend not to participate in our prediction pieces because I’m a “homer” fan / writer. That means I’m always going to predict that our Dallas Cowboys are going to win. How could I do anything else after infamously stating that the Cowboys would go 19 – 0. I’m only off by three losses, not too shabby. Still, I just wanted to take a second to reflect on some of the events from this season that led to us being tied with Philadelphia at the top of the NFC East at 7 – 3.
I want to give credit to Jason Garrett and our coaching staff for the Cowboys performance into this season. In the era of NFL parity, the Cowboys have been more than competitive. They have played to their strengths and finished on top for most games. They gave a gift to Washington by shooting themselves in the foot with costly turnovers. That appears to be fixed as well.
With the coaching staff consisting of: Garrett, Scott Linehan, Bill Callahan, Rod Marinelli and Monte Kiffin, many felt there would be too many chefs in the kitchen. I saw it as a bonus when they restructured their coaching tree by adding a passing game co-ordinator. There are still moments where I’d like to see more creativity, but there’s a beauty in “keeping it simple, stupid”. For starters, not complicating things lead to a reduction in penalties. The Cowboys have decreased from 6.4 penalties per game in 2013 to 5.9 in 2014.
I worry about tendencies that I’ve noticed. In the red zone, specifically on first and goal situations, the Cowboys tend to run it on first down and then throw on second and third. Against Washington, it was a pivotal moment as the Cowboys came away with three points instead of seven after two incomplete and forced passes to wide receiver Dez Bryant. With the self-proclaimed “Best Rushing Offensive Line” in football, it would be nice to attempt more than one running play and punch it in for a touchdown – even if the defense knows we’re going to run it.
Readers have informed me that I’ve been unusually harsh towards defensive end Anthony Spencer. Watching him play has been remarkable, knowing he returned from microfracture knee surgery at 30 years old. So far, he’s been credited for 0.5 sacks and 16 combined tackles (8 solo). No, he hasn’t been a game changer or taken over a game by dominating a defensive tackle, but I’ve never expected that from him.
In Spencer’s first five seasons (2007 – 2011), he had 21.5 sacks, an average of 4.3 per season. In 2012, he exploded for 11 sacks. I always felt that the Cowboys would’ve been better served with a younger, healthier player in Spencer’s place. I’m not going to compare his stats to available free agent defensive ends and undrafted players that made it to other NFL rosters, because Spencer wasn’t able to play early in the season. With six games remaining in the season, if Spencer can reach 5 or more sacks, the wait would’ve been worth it.
When I talk about the Cowboys cutting players, it’s never personal. I like players, but I love the Cowboys. I want what’s best for the immediate, near and long term future of the Cowboys. In seven years, from 2006 – 2012, Hatcher totaled 16 sacks an average of 2.3 per season. In 2013, Hatcher turned 31 years old and recorded 11 sacks. The Cowboys let defensive tackle Jason Hatcher test free agency and he signed with Washington. At 32, Hatcher has four sacks for his new team.
My warning to Cowboy Nation is to avoid falling in love with players that have one great year. It happens with injured defensive linemen that suddenly have a double digit sack year – and it also happens with running backs that finally remain healthy for a full season (knock on wood).
Find me at Facebook.com/CowboysRob