Friday, September 9, 2011

Cowboys 2011 Season Outlook: Offensive Line and Defensive Secondary

This is a cornerstone of the Rob Ryan defense
After the unpleasantness that was last season, Cowboys fans were understandably pessimistic. The offensive line and the defensive secondary performed so poorly that there was little hope of improving those units without outside help.

Fast forward to today:
20 years old my ass
Offensive Line

Only one offensive lineman has remained at his 2010 position (Free, LT), three starters were cut (Colombo, Gurode, Davis), one starter was moved (Kosier- LG to RG), and three new starters were brought in (Nagy- LG, Costa- C, Smith- RT).

A common fallacy among football pundits is wrongly attributing success to veteran line play (a group of experienced players) instead of cohesive line play (a group of players who have played together for some time). All else being equal, a group of five year veteran offensive lineman who have never played together would be inferior to a group of rookie offensive lineman who played together for four years in college. When you know how to play and communicate with the other guys around you, you make more plays and you blow fewer assignments.

Which leads us to the Cowboys' current offensive line: we lack both veteran players and cohesion, but we should still see a much better performance from this unit compared to last year. The Cowboys chose athleticism and finesse over power and size. In short, they chose pass protection over the power running game. They chose to keep Romo on his feet. And you know what? I'm completely fine with this. Felix Jones wasn't going to run through middle line backers, anyways. He's going to beat them off tackle, outside, and with screen passes. Our offensive line is tailored to do just that.

In conclusion, you should expect a lot of growing pains from this relatively young unit, but you should also expect dramatically improved pass protection.

His knowledge of the Rob Ryan system is second to none. You're gonna have to trust me on that.
Defensive Secondary

The Cowboys just barely missed out on the Asomugha sweepstakes, and all I can say is "Thank God". Asomugha is a great player, but he's 30 years old. Even if we put aside the problem of paying $10 million or more for a 35 year old corner, at 5 years/$60 million, the Cowboys simply couldn't afford the cap hit. Our cap situation would go from bad to worse, and without the resources to rebuild, so would our team.

That being said, what about Michael Huff? Johnathan Joseph? Eric Weddle? The Cowboys reportedly had little contact with any of them. A popular theory is that the Cowboys assumed Asomugha was in the bag, so they didn't have a backup plan when the division rival Eagles blew them out of the water at the last second. That's extremely disappointing, if true.

The one new addition to the Cowboys' secondary is Abram Elam, a safety experienced in Rob Ryan's defensive scheme. Signed only to a mid-level one year deal, Elam will be crucial in getting this defense up to speed since Ryan's defense is notoriously complex, and there was no off season to ease the transition from old scheme to new.

With the addition of Elam, Alan Ball slides back to his natural position of corner. The Cowboys corners are now starters Newman and Jenkins, Scandrick at nickle, and Ball at dime. The safeties are Elam at free safety, Sensabaugh at strong safety, and Church as an occasional contributor.

As strange as it is to say, the greatest strength of our secondary is our pass rush. The longer the quarterback has to throw the ball, the longer the secondary has to cover. With players like Ware, Spencer, and Ratliff, the Cowboys' pass rush can dominate offensive lines. Ryan's blitzes and coverages are designed specifically to trick offenses into protection errors and unsafe throws. Don't be surprised to see safeties and corners blitzing this year as well, another hallmark of the Rob Ryan defense.

Expect check downs and quick passes when we get pressure, expect big plays when the quarterback has time to throw. I don't expect our interception rate to dramatically rise, but Elam is an upgrade over Ball, and Ryan's scheme may improve our defensive play-making.

If the secondary is to become a strength instead of a weakness, two of these three things need to happen: Newman gets and stays healthy, Jenkins returns to 2009 form, Scandrick emerges as a legitimate starter. If we get all three, we're golden. If we get fewer than two, we're screwed.


  1. Surprised there's no gratuitous Fuck USC tag on this post

  2. He probably hit the character limit for the tags, but we all know it's true....