Archive for August, 2011

There are those in the media who playfully mock fans who get excited about a preseason game, but educated fans knew that Miles Austin, Jay Ratliff, and Tony Romo had something based on their alleged “meaningless” performances in these games. With that in mind, here’s what mattered from last night’s game:

Denver’s opening drive against the first team defense

Cover art for a fat-fetish erotica novel

There will be severe growing pains as the defense tries to absorb the new, complex Rob Ryan defense. Even when all 11 players have sufficiently grasped the concepts, assignments, and terminology, there will still be several big plays surrendered because of the gambling nature of Ryan’s 3-4 scheme. In the preseason, Sensabaugh will be late a few times when asked to cover a corner blitz and pick up the receiver. I don’t put much stock in the fact that Dallas had some blown coverages against Denver, because I think that is merely the product of learning a new system with no off season. What concerns me about Denver’s opening drive is how the Cowboys simply got manhandled up front against the run. The fact that the Bronco’s young offensive line frequently overpowered the front three for Dallas has to be cause for concern. This was not a product of learning a new scheme; it was simply power and skill, and the Dallas front three looked less than competitive. Certainly plugging Ratliff back in the middle will help, but he has his biggest impact on the passing game. I believe that this defensive line will tell us a lot about Garrett as a coach. He appears to be the kind of coach that does not believe in the “incumbent starter”; if that is true, then Igor Olshansky will not be on the field for the Jets’ opening drive on September 11. In fact, one wonders if, at $3.34 million this season, Olshansky should even be on the roster. The only justification I can see is Hatcher’s injury history, but that seems like an expensive insurance policy.

The kicking game

David Buehler’s value took a serious hit when the NFL decided to move kick-offs up to the 35 yard line. (Doesn’t it seem like kickers should spend more time trying to increase kick-off hang time and force the receiving team to field the ball around the 3 yard-line?). With touchbacks now a foregone conclusion, Buehler is no longer needed for his big leg or his kick coverage. The days of keeping a kick off specialist are over, which means that the kicker’s sole job is to make field goals (and extra points, which I guess we shouldn’t take for granted based on last year). From most reports, rookie Dan Bailey has at worst kept pace, and at best out-kicked Buehler at camp. Though Bailey did not get a field goal attempt in the first preseason game, Buehler did. Is it splitting hairs to say that even though Buehler made his 42 yard kick last night, the fact that it barely, and I mean barely, sneaked through the uprights concerns me? Here’s the bottom line: this team should be favoring younger players at every position. If the talent is close to a push, then the younger player should get the nod. That’s what 6-10 teams do. Buehler was handed the job last year and did not deliver, and he has shown little improvement in camp this season. Again, I’d love to see Garrett favor youth in this situation.

Opportunity is knocking; let the Butler get it

Victor "Jeeves" Butler

I don’t know if Victor Butler is a difference maker, but he was clearly the best player on the field against Denver’s second team. He has shown flashes throughout his Cowboys career, and as far as I can tell, is held down only because of 5-6 good games from Spencer in 2009. I’m not saying I’m ready to replace Spencer with Butler, but I would love to see what Butler can do against a first team offense at some point in the preseason. I do believe that if Rob Ryan decides he wants more Butler, he won’t be told no just because Spencer was a 1st round pick and Butler was a 4th.

Banned from the Arboretum for staring lustfully

Kevin Ogletree will not make the final roster. Harris is still raw, but his speed makes him a potential difference maker as a slot receiver. Garrett specializes in using pre-snap motion in order to get players in space, and while Harris polishes his route running ability, he can contribute with plays like last night (Harris can also be a major factor when Romo decides to improvise). The 4th receiver on any roster must be able to make an impact on special teams, and Ogletree can’t. This is another case where Garrett and Jones need to think of themselves as a 6-10 team that has an opportunity to favor youth and upside over a decent player who has hit his ceiling. Even if Dallas wants to think of itself as a Super Bowl caliber team, cutting Ogletree will likely not be the difference in a playoff game.

On the Hot Seat: Holland is sitting in a Dutch Oven

I liked the starting offensive line last night, and noticed no real difference between what Arkin brought to the table at left guard and what Holland brings at right guard. This is another opportunity for the Cowboys to develop Arkin by starting him. It’s not as though Holland will be missed at guard. At least Arkin is someone who could have a future here, whereas Holland continues to grow older and more injury prone. For that matter, the Cowboys better be ready for Costa to play significant time at center. Gurode is expected to return soon, but a 32 year old offensive lineman less than two months off of arthroscopic knee surgery is a recipe for disaster. Will he trust his knee? Will he be able to generate the same power from his legs? This is a case where I’d rather have a healthy Gurode than the young Costa, but I’m not betting that Andre will make it through a 16 game season.

Back that Thing Up

Does this team still need Jon Kitna? Has McGee shown enough that the Cowboys can save themselves $2.6 million by jettisoning a 39 year old back up quarterback who can only get the ball to his tight ends and running backs? Isn’t Dallas better served having McGee get the 2nd team reps and continuing to develop him? I like what Kitna did for this team last year, now that Garrett is in charge, Kitna’s leadership is not as vital to the offense as it was last year.

Ta-Shardly had a Chance (thought I’d go different way there, didn’t you)

Jason Garrett clearly does not believe in Tashard Choice. I have no idea why, but the fact that Dallas took Murray in the third round when they had so many other holes to fill tells us all we need to know. I’d have been happy with a RB rotation of Felix, Choice, and Miller, but if Choice is cut/traded, then the team is left with two injury prone players (Murrary and Jones), and a very young and unproven Lonyae Miller (or Phillip Tanner, based on last night’s game). I think the team would be crazy to get rid of Choice, but it feels inevitable at this point.

A good start for the Ginger-Bred Man

The bottom line is this: the more I look back on last night’s game and reflect on this team, the more I see them as a 6-10 team that should be favoring youth at every position. I think they can be competitive with Bailey instead of Buehler, Arkin instead of Holland, Harris over Olgetree, McGee as the back up, and so on. Perhaps the most exciting thing about these 2011 Cowboys  is the general vibe that now surrounds the entire organization. It feels like this team has finally been humbled, and for the first time in years, there seems to be no sense of entitlement or unearned arrogance. This feels more like a team than a collection of talented individuals, and Garrett has brought a much more organized and purposeful feel to practices and games. Despite being the first preseason game, penalties were kept to a minimum. I love what Rob Ryan brings to this team, and I love the fact that Garrett wanted him despite their incredibly different personalities. Watching Garrett laugh and playfully slap McGee around at the end of last night’s game spoke volumes to me about his ability to relate to players while still maintaining his authority. I still worry about Garrett as both head coach and offensive coordinator, but the guy did go to Princeton, after all.

It has been a while since the Cowboys entered a season flying under the radar. I’m not sure if they have built a playoff team, but I am confident that this team won’t embarrass its fans the way they often did last year.


Miggs and the Rangers

Musings, Insight, Guffaws, Guidance and Shortcomings (MIGGS): Flinging my Rangers thoughts at your sports face for a Jackson Pollock of a blog post

1. The trade deadline has come and gone, and the Rangers appear to be the clear winners. It will be interesting to see just how long Feliz is allowed to struggle in the closer’s role before Washington considers making a change now that he has two other guys who can close. If that happens, what becomes of Feliz? Can he recover to be an effective 8th inning reliever, or is it all or nothing with Nefti? Will the trade energize him or discourage him? It is hard to predict how young players will react, and anyone who believes that part of Feliz’s struggles stem from the spring training-starter experiment must have serious questions about his mental make up.

2. This is how I know that I am a “glass half empty” kind of Rangers fan: every time I heard about Jurickson Profar being untouchable at the trade deadline, it made me sad. Not because I think he’ll be a bust, or because I think the Rangers should have moved him, but because I realize that the team might need him in 2014. I hope that Texas isn’t just grooming Elvis Andrus to be Jeter’s heir-apparent in New York, but there has to be some part of the Rangers front office that is considering this possibility. I’m not saying that is the only reason Profar is untouchable, but it might be a factor.

3. If the playoffs started today, my rotation would be Ogando, Wilson, Harrison, Holland, with Lewis in the bullpen prepared to back up Holland, who would be on a very short leash. When the Dutch Oven is on, he can be dominant. When he’s not, it’s obvious from the start (if he struggles through 2 innings, pull him…even if he’s working out of jams).  I’m pretty sure the Rangers will go Wilson, Lewis, Ogando, and Harrison because of the experience factor, but I really believe Ogando’s power will translate well to playoff baseball, and I think Holland is a risk worth taking. With all due respect to Colby Lewis, he simply isn’t the same pitcher as last year. His numbers are a bit skewed (positively) because of the high percentage of solo homers allowed, but playoff teams will get runners on base.

4. It’s time to move Kinsler from the lead-off spot. His .344 OBP is right around the league average, but his swing is gone. Dropping him in the line up will take some pressure off and hopefully allow him to find his stroke again. Andrus can easily transition back into the lead off spot until Ian gets back on track. There is no question Kinsler is having a gold glove caliber season defensively, and that’s why Washington can’t afford to sit him too often. His only real option is to drop him in the order.

5. Beltre cannot come back soon enough.

6. Before the start of last season, the Rangers could have fired Ron Washington after his failed drug test became public. They chose not to, and the team went to its first World Series. Had they chosen to let Washington go, however, they likely would’ve promoted hitting coach Clint Hurdle to the manager position. I’m not saying I’d rather have Hurdle than Washington, but given the success he is having in Pittsburgh…well, let’s just say I think we’d be in good shape either way.

7. If the Rangers do make the playoffs, Torreabla better be glued to the bench. Napoli is hitting–but more importantly, he is calling one hell of a game right now. The Rangers pitchers have a collective ERA of around 2.4 when Napoli is behind the plate and is an every day must start in the post season.

8. This team sacrifices too much. The line up is too good to be surrendering outs to opposing pitchers. Ron has to learn to trust his hitters more.

Jonesing for a GM

Keeping himself busy

August is supposed to be a time of excitement and anticipation for the upcoming NFL season. But as Cowboy fans watch their beloved team stand pat for the second straight NFL off-season, the frustration, and, perhaps more disconcerting, the hopelessness is starting to set in. Here stands a 6-10 team that has subtracted at least four starters. I say “subtracted” instead of “replaced”, because the jury is still out on exactly who will step up and take over these positions. To be fair, all four subtractions were justifiable. Replacing Colombo with Smith at right tackle has to be considered an upgrade, even as Smith struggles at first to learn the NFL. Replacing Barber with oft-injured rookie DeMarco Murray is at worst a push, especially with Felix and Choice mixed in. The real problems lie in the fact that Holland is now the starting right guard, and Ogletree is now the third wide receiver. Currently starting at safety: Alan Ball(?), the man who helped the 2010 Cowboys set franchise records for defensive futility, and a group of guys who couldn’t beat out Gerald Sensabaugh last year. Do we really trust Kyle Kosier to stay healthy for an entire season? Is a 33 year old Andre Gurode going to be able to bounce back from his knee surgery in June and play well? What if Dez gets hurt again, as he has shown a propensity to do?

How could the Cowboys possibly be so dormant in an off season filled with free agents that could help the club? What was Jerry doing while other teams were plugging holes and improving their teams?

Cowboy fans know that Jones loves to make the big splash. This year, the only guy able to cannonball free agency was Nnamdi Asomugha, and by all accounts, Dallas was in on him until the end. Asomugha eventually signed with Philadelphia for 5 years at $60 million, a price that proved too steep for Jerry. Fine. This team has so many holes that using all available cap space on one corner was probably a foolish idea to begin with. The real problem is that Jones allowed Asomugha to hold the Cowboys hostage, while other teams were making savvy moves. By fixating on Nnamdi, Jones guaranteed that he would miss out on many other useful players, because he had to keep that money available just in case they could sign the former Raiders corner. Every free agent contract took money away from the Nnamdi offer, and Jones appeared fine with waiting to see what Asomugha would do before seriously considering signing anyone else.

Now, Nnamdi is an Eagle. Dawan Landry is a Jaguar. Michael Huff is a Raider. Jonathan Joseph is a Texan. Eric Weddle is a Charger. The Cowboys were left so far in the lurch that they had to panic and re-sign Marcus Spears to a big deal because they lost Stephen Bowen. This 6-10 team has done nothing but bring the same players back, promote back-ups, and put all their faith in a new defensive scheme brought by an admittedly creative football guy, though we’ve seen that his scheme cannot overcome a severe lack of talent (Cleveland, Oakland).

Maybe Jones simply does not have the finances to sign free agents right now because of that monstrosity sitting in the heart of Arlington. Maybe he just got caught fixating on the big name and missed out on several chances to better his team in areas of need. Maybe he truly believes that the Cowboys can compete for a Super Bowl with Holland, Gurode, and Kosier up front, Ogletree in the slot, Kenyon Coleman and Marcus Spears trying to stop the run, a 33 year old injury-prone Newman starting at corner, and Barry Church/Akwasi Owusu-Ansah starting at safety. Maybe Keith Brooking and Bradie James will discover that the Riverwalk in San Antonio is actually the fountain of youth. One of these things has to be true, right? Which one is most comforting to you?

The path that this team is currently on leads to 8-8 at best, which means Jones is wasting another year of Tony Romo’s prime. At this point, it appears Cowboys fans will be subjected to watching Philadelphia dominate the NFC East. It is only August, and the season already feels like it is slowly slipping away. It is time to stop defending Jerry Jones. He does not want to win at all cost. He is now officially closer to being Tom Hicks than he is to Mark Cuban or Nolan Ryan.

But hey, that video board is pretty cool, right?