Daily Archives: January 4th, 2013

SCHEME SPECULATION: Changing to the 4-3 defense could be considered ‘almost unconventional’

Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones (center) is flanked by sons Stephen Jones (left) and Jerry Jones Jr. - The Boys Are Back blog

IRVING, Texas – What is Jerry Jones talking about when he mentions doing something “almost unconventional,” in attempting to shake the Cowboys from their 16-year state?

It would be nice to get to talk to the owner and general manager, but he’s not been around Valley Ranch since the season has ended.

So let’s raise some possibilities:

Change the head coach? He has backed Jason Garrett all season. And if he is waiting this long to make a move with the coach, then the Cowboys could be last in line when putting together coaching staffs. So, no, Garrett, isn’t the change.

Change the guys who call the offense and defense? Maybe, but I’m wondering if it goes a little deeper than just the play callers, especially on defense. Maybe it’s the scheme.

Could the Cowboys scrap the 3-4 and become a 4-3 team in 2013?

The Cowboys moved to the 3-4 in 2005.

Truth be told the Cowboys played a lot of 4-3 in 2012 because that’s their sub package defense with DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer putting their hands on the ground. They also mixed in more 4-3 base looks when they had five linebackers on the field. The only difference was that Ware and Spencer didn’t line up in a three-point stance.

Would it be a difficult move?

Maybe not so much, but the return of Spencer should play a part in a switch. It will be difficult for the Cowboys to keep him off the open market with a new deal, and placing the franchise tag on him for the second straight year could be too prohibitive.

The Cowboys would have to upgrade their defensive line. Ware, Jason Hatcher, Tyrone Crawford and Sean Lissemore are the only guarantees. Maybe a move to a 4-3 would benefit Jay Ratliff, but his future is in some question because of the cap.

At linebacker, they would have two of the three with Sean Lee (middle) and Bruce Carter (weak). Maybe they keep Ernie Sims and move Lee to the strong side.

The secondary doesn’t much change with the fronts, but I can’t see the Cowboys becoming a Tampa-2 team with corners like Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne. They are at their best playing press coverage, jamming receivers. Tampa-2 corners play off and soft mostly with their eyes on the quarterback.

Coordinator Rob Ryan has a 3-4 background, but he’s coached enough 4-3 while here.

It would be an unconventional move.

COWBOYS 2013-2014 ROSTER TALK: The wide receiver spot has plenty of question marks

Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant (88) runs in a touchdown as teammate John Phillips (89) looks on - The Boys Are Back blog

IRVING, Texas – The wide receiver position had plenty of question marks at the beginning of the year. After 16 regular season games, the group became a MASH unit. Had the Cowboys won in Washington Sunday night, it would’ve been very interesting to see how they would’ve played the game against Seattle this week.

Dez Bryant could barely walk on his own power for two days with a back injury. While the X-rays were negative showing no structural damage, it’s hard to think Bryant would’ve been able to be close to 100 percent, if he’d even play at all.

Miles Austin and Dwayne Harris both suffered high-ankle sprains. Austin couldn’t return in the game and Harris’ injury occurred late and he didn’t come back either. It’s unlikely they would’ve played. And Cole Beasley suffered a shoulder injury that would’ve probably had him limited, if not out.

It’s kind of ironic the player who has taking the most ‘beatings’ from fans and media this year, is the only receiver still standing at the end of the year. Kevin Ogletree started the season with two touchdown catches against the Giants and had another one in the finale against Washington.

Now in between, Ogletree’s production was hit or miss, and mainly miss. He ranked fourth on the team in both catches (32) and receiving yards (436) and third in touchdowns with four.

As an unrestricted free agent once again, Ogletree might not return in 2013. But then again, it could come down to the same thing as last year when the Cowboys didn’t have a lot of players with experience and Ogletree’s presence in the offseason was needed. And then in training camp, the group of Andre Holmes, Harris, Beasley, Danny Coale and anyone else, never did enough to unseat him.

But this time, with Harris and Beasley showing some promise, coupled with Coale’s return, Ogletree might not get re-signed at the start of free agency.

But let’s shift the focus back to the top.

Dez Bryant’s consistency has been in question since he arrived in 2010. And in the second half of the season, Bryant was arguably the team’s most consistent player. He caught a touchdown in seven straight games, which tied a franchise record, but was dominating in the second half of games. He finally reached the potential the Cowboys saw in him to draft him despite some of the off-season risks.

But injuries have been a concern for him all along. Toughness shouldn’t be questioned, considering he played through a fractured left index finger towards the end of the season, and still continued his touchdown streak, including a career game of 224 yards and two touchdowns against the Saints.

Where the Cowboys might have some decisions to make involves Austin, who should be healthy for the start of the offseason conditioning program despite the ankle injury. Overall, it was a quiet 66-catch, 943-yard season that included six touchdowns. His numbers were solid, considering he ranked third in catches and yards, but the “wow-factor” wasn’t always there.

And with a contract that averages $9 million per season, Austin needed more of the big plays, especially in big games. Austin had a catch in every game this season except the two Redskins games, where he suffered a hip injury and then ankle injury last week.

The Cowboys might look to restructure Austin’s deal, but outright releasing him, or even trading him, would take a hit on the salary cap – one they can’t really afford considering they may attempt to re-sign Anthony Spencer and/or Tony Romo this offseason.

Editors note: The Dallas Cowboys will bring in Anthony Armstrong (if still available), Donavon Kemp (IR), and Tim Benford (Practice squad), drafted receivers, and any number of free agents in the offseason. Based on the performance of Harris (and Beasley to a lesser degree) late in the season, it seems unlikely that Ogletree will be back in 2013-2014. Bringing in another veteran is not out of the question. Anybody you like in San Diego? That worked nicely in 2011.

UPON FURTHER REVIEW: Jason Hatcher not fined for QB hit

Dallas Cowboys defensive end Jason Hatcher (97) ready to play - The Boys Are Back blog

IRVING, Texas – DE Jason Hatcher’s roughing the passer penalty in the fourth quarter of Dallas’ loss at Washington was costly on the field. The NFL chose not to impose a fine.

After the game, defensive coordinator Rob Ryan said the penalty was questionable, but replays showed Hatcher hitting Redskins QB Robert Griffin III in the helmet with 2:35 to play. The penalty negated a third-down stop by Dallas’ defense and allowed Washington to score a touchdown with 1:09 to play.

If there hadn’t been a penalty, the Cowboys would have forced the Redskins to kick a field goal for a six-point lead with more than two minutes to play. Hatcher did not speak after the game or on Monday.

Dallas LB Kyle Wilber was fined $21,000 for a blindside block on a punt return by Dwayne Harris, but Wilber was not called for a penalty in the game. With a $390,000 base salary, Wilber made roughly $22,941 per week.

PROS AND CONS: Norv Turner vs. Bill Callahan as Dallas Cowboys offensive play caller

Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett calls plays from the sideline - The Boys Are Back blog

Whether Jason Garrett likes it or not, someone else could be calling plays for the Cowboys next season.

The Tim MacMahon Position – Norv Turner isn’t the solution:

That’s perfectly logical, considering the Dallas Cowboys have been consistently mediocre as a scoring offense during Garrett’s tenure as the play-caller. The Cowboys ranked 15th in scoring offense this season, the fourth time in five years they fell between 14th and 18th.

Really, Jerry Jones is late to realize that Garrett could probably be a better head coach if he delegated play-calling duties. At least Jerry seems to be getting over his silly notion that a “walkaround” head coach can’t win, which always seemed bizarre considering the head coaches who hoisted Lombardi Trophies during his tenure didn’t call plays.

This should all be considered encouraging, as long as Jerry doesn’t try to recruit Norv Turner to Valley Ranch.

This is probably a moot point anyway — with Turner indicating to the San Diego Union-Tribune earlier this week that he didn’t see the Cowboys as a fit for his next stop — but adding the architect of the Dallas dynasty’s offense would simply increase the dysfunction.

With all due respect to Turner’s offensive genius (just don’t look at this season’s Chargers for evidence of it), it’d do Garrett absolutely no good to have an assistant coach on his staff could be perceived as his superior.

It’d be a challenge for Garrett to maintain his authority in the locker room if he’s stripped of his play-calling duties after making a stand on the subject during his Monday end-of-season press conference. Jerry hasn’t helped by continually claiming that a head coach needs to call plays to earn that authority in the locker room, only to suddenly consider reversing field on the issue after the Cowboys’ second consecutive 8-8 season.

However, it’s very much a manageable situation if Garrett gives that responsibility to offensive coordinator Bill Callahan, a proven play-caller already on staff. In fact, that should have happened when Callahan, who called plays for an explosive offense on a Super Bowl team in Oakland, was hired last offseason.

The addition of Turner could essentially strip Garrett of some of his authority in the locker room. It’d be human nature for players to perceive Turner, who almost was hired to be Garrett’s boss in 2007 before Wade Phillips got the gig, to be at least Garrett’s equal and his probable replacement if the season didn’t go as planned. That’d be a problem.

How awkward would it be for Garrett to have a mentor of his reporting to him?

The speculation about Turner’s return to Valley Ranch conjures up wonderful memories of the Cowboys’ dynasty days. But that’s the past. Adding Turner to this staff would simply add to Garrett’s pile of problems in the present.

The Todd Archer Position – Not sure Bill Callahan is answer either:

Tim MacMahon made the case for Bill Callahan to become the Cowboys’ next playcaller, not Norv Turner.

He cited Callahan’s work as the playcaller when Oakland made it to the Super Bowl when he was the Raiders head coach, except there would be a huge difference between running that offense and this offense.

The scheme.

Callahan’s offense was a West-Coast scheme, shorter, timing routes and a different philosophy. The Cowboys’ offense is based on the Don Coryell system and a number tree with a more intermediate and vertical passing game.

Callahan has been with the Cowboys for a season, but clearly he was the coordinator in name only. He was not involved much in the passing game. Despite the title, he was the running game coordinator. He would be in Jason Garrett’s ear with different run plays.

This isn’t to say Callahan can’t call the plays. It’s that this would not be an offense in which he is completely familiar and the Cowboys are not going to become a West Coast offense.

If there’s one thing we’ve seen with a Garrett offense, it’s that they can pile up yards. They just don’t score enough points.

If the Cowboys want to look at ways to improve their point totals, steal from teams like New England, New Orleans and Green Bay.

That’s another story for another time this offseason.

But for this story, I don’t think Callahan is the answer either.

TBAB editors Position – If not Norv Turner or Bill Callahan, then who?

When Jerry Jones brought out the “Change is necessary” card on his show this Wednesday, the national and local media went berserk! Remember, if Jones has had a change of heart regarding a walk-around coach, he has NOT said so. People, including myself, are reading between the lines.

It’s natural to associate Norv Turner … he’s recently available, he’s well versed in all aspects, and he’s the inspiration for Jason Garrett’s version of the Don Coryell system.

It’s logical to associate Bill Callahan … he’s on staff, he’s versed on the running side of this system, and he is capable of implementing Jason Garrett passing philosophy (and terminology).

If neither of them are the solution, then who is?

Jerry Jones implied that the playoffs need to run their course before any final decisions (or meetings) are made. If you take a hint from that part of the statement, then we can assume he’s looking at options regarding one of the playoff contending assistant coaches or offensive coordinators.

Ideally, you’d want a young, innovative thinker, and someone that could maximize the potential of the current roster’s skillset. Maybe more planned rollouts, more misdirection, more play-action. Romo excels in this mode, in controlled situations. Someone that focuses solely on the offensive flow of the game. Someone that will keep the offensive balance in place. For example, if Murray is averaging 5 yards per carry … don’t run him 11 times during the game. If he’s hot … keep going to that well. Same with the wide receivers.

Personally, I believe the Jason Garrett offense is everything it needs to be between the twenties. This offense produces significant yardage with the arm of Tony Romo. The real issue is the scoring side of the equation … success in the red-zone. That concern can be greatly influenced with a better-suited offensive line and running. The evolution of the Coryell-Zampese-Turner- Garrett system brings multiple threats for scoring … tight ends, short-to-intermediate passes to the backs, and is heightened by Dallas talented wide receivers (a luxury Don Coryell didn’t always have).

To summarize. If Jerry Jones, wearing his general manager hat, brings the beef (offensive line) and a Murray compatible (or even change of pace) running back to the party … this could all be moot.

Remember this. No matter what happens on the offensive side of the ball. The defense has to do it’s part. Does no good to give up a touchdown for every touchdown scored! 

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