Dallas, Defensive Ends, and the Super Star Problem

Welcome back to my Dallas Cowboys blog. This post bears the full weight of my ADD but if you bear with me I do have a point, regarding DeMarcus Ware and Dallas’s front 4.

Last time, I laid out how unpredictable the Cowboys were in evaluating defensive end talent based on combine scores.

You know I’m glad. The Cowboys as an institution have deep records of great players from far back in time. When Dallas shifted away from the 43, they only had Bill Parcel’s demagogy to go on regarding player templates for the 34. Dallas is getting back to templates that a lot of people around the building know.

In that transition draft they drafted Demarcus Ware an all time combine achiever, and a man who put up 80 sacks in 5 years at one point. At the end of 2005 you have to say 10 teams picking ahead of Dallas were kicking themselves because Ware was that good.
Dallas didn’t really need an ace’s eye to see Demarcus Ware. The problems for Big D come later on in the draft, when they can’t get a solid 4th round outside LB. Dallas could only get an OLB if they picked Greg Ellis, Demarcus Ware, Anthony Spencer and Bobby Carpenter. I really feel like Dallas wasted two years of Greg Ellis by drafting Spencer at his spot but whatever. Point is Dallas can’t draft OLBs or get them cheaply like Bill Parcels claimed, as a reason to go to the 34.

Dallas is getting back to player templates that were in part molded by their own teams of the 90s and even 70s. I think that’s good, if only because I’m nostalgic.

Troy Aikman was in the news discussing how Dallas’s changing coaches has prevented Dallas from having the steady direction that franchises like Seattle have enjoyed, and changing player templates eroding the usefulness of their talent base. I couldn’t agree more.
But we do have a compass for 2014 even if the Cowboys change everything come 2015.

And the compass is now on for an ever present pass rush. So here’s some questions in general a 43 usually carries 8 defensive linemen, even 9, when you consider that 8 are expected to play heavy snaps.

In a perfect world, even a healthy D Ware would only play 800 snaps, out of 1500, in a season.

So, in a pass rush situation, you want 4 guys who are like defensive ends out of the field, but on 1st and second you’ll need more commitment to stopping the run.

Starting with your 3rd down pass rush as the priority to fix, you have 4 unabashed pass rushers. Dallas literally only had 3 on the team by the end of the year and that’s why we saw Nick Hayden out there on 3&10s. Lately teams like Seattle and San Fran have taken Bruce Irvin and Aldon Smith very high in the draft, and these guys couldn’t play on 1st and 2nd down like Ware did as a young player. So that’s how commited to third down defense San Fran and Seattle are. They also look for elite safeties in the same area of the draft, namely high, something I’m hoping Dalas is also looking at. I believe San Fran over drafted Eric Reid last year but that’s how hard it is to get a good safety right now.

So it’s good Dallas is getting back to something it has a history with from the inside of the building. It sure is hard to be optimistic though. Dallas D was so bad last year, and Kiffen and Marenelli’s best defenses in Tampa Bay were built with the likes of Warren Sapp at the 3. I don’t see a resource like that falling to us, Sapp famously dropped in his draft, for smoking weed. You know, for this reason, the rarity of a great 3 tech, and No DT had more sacks than Jason Hatcher, I might franchise him for that. Maybe his age limits his cost on the open market, unfortunately its not monopoly money and I’ve read Dallas has no franchise plans, Dallas has no money realistically. I suppose they’ll pull a rabbit out of their hat but they can’t realistically sign someone as expensive Brandon Carr again.

Ok so last time, I said I’d look back at the inexplicable explanation for DEs I had, and deduce from the season statistics what Dallas saw in them. Well that’s not going to happen. I’m not a stats guy, or much of an excel guy. But you could look at Damantrae Moore and tell from his body of work that he’d probably be able to contribute on your defense somewhere. in New York, he’s a LB who sometimes plays 3rd down as a defensive end, kind of like Von Miller’s role (of course Miller is far more gifted). Dallas may have a player like that in Kyle Wilber. The guys you line up as down linemen come from all over your roster if it’s done right. That’s nice position flex because it can help a guy remain a 3 down player, who might other wise leave the field.

I remember the 2009 game against the Saints. In that game our stars Ware and Spencer really lit up the pass rush. I think our 34 teams of yore relied on star players to accomplish the work that the 43 teams get done with a squad of players.  Our outside pass rush for years has either come from expensive first round picks or not at all. Dallas routinely over relies on it’s stars. Dallas trades 2 picks for 1 player often enough; Dez and Mo Claibourne. But we’ve seen that defensive excellence comes from depth.

And all the size speed Planet Theory drafting that netted Jason Hatcher and Jay Ratliff are no longer valid because that was 34 era. I’m not really sure Dallas is actually good at or even likely to get a meaningful defensive linemen after the 3rd round. So maybe you starting thinking, can I get a starter from another NFL team for a 4th round pick? I’m thinking, that’s worth it for this franchise; trading late picks for established players. Who are the teams transitioning schemes? Can Dallas pluck players of their rosters? Because in the 4th round, Dallas is pretty unlikely to get a helpful pass rusher.

You know for a fact Dallas churned through every couch player in the NFL. No need to wonder if a stone was left unturned in 2013.
So that said the remaining pools of talent are on someone’s active roster or entering the NFL right now.

Fans mostly agree Dallas has holes like Dunkin Donuts. I bring this up because one of the Jerry cliche behaviors is signing patchwork veterans to paste over draft needs. The economy makes me wonder if it’s feasible, but often times these are very low budget deals.
Like Eddie George and Julius Jones, Gerald Sensabaugh and AOA, Keith Brooking and Sean Lee, it really goes on and on. The last time Dallas made a really good FA  move before this era in my opinion was Anthony Henry. He actually came in and contributed his whole time on the roster and paired with Terrence Newman to be a good duo at CB.

I think Brandon Carr is good and was undone by his surroundings. More on that in a second.

Normally Dallas just signs placeholders, or they’ll get one year auditions like Gerald Sensabaugh and Ken the Hammer Hamlin. Those guys somehow got 2nd contracts each time and some how each was not successful. Ultimately both were completely Average players who got really ridiculous contracts. Better to sign them for 4 years, 16 million, that 1 year 1million followed by a 7mil a year deal. In both cases I don’t think either of these players were done in by their own lack of talent.

In each case Ken Hamlin and Sensabaugh played on teams with legit pass rushes. And they got cut from teams when the pass rush dried up. These guys were just normal safeties having normal safety careers, being driven up and down by the pass rush in front of them. In 2007 Ken Hamlin had a one year deal and Greg Ellis (tear drop hear) played his last season in Dallas. 2007 is the best year on record since Superbowl 1995 that’s how lame this is. Greg Ellis was great at OLB and it took him a decade to find that out. And then Dallas spent many drafts trying to supplant him. Wasted picks like Carpenter.
2008 Hamlin gets a huge deal and I don’t think he was the biggest reason for it.

2009 was a banner year for Anthony Spencer, we all agree. Gerald Sensabaugh was the cog in the Secondary.

2010 Sensabaugh got the big 2nd contract deal. That season Dallas started 1-7. Spencer was solid but only got 5 sacks that year. Greg Ellis once put up 12 playing the same position opposite ware. Miss Ellis much? (I never minded him bitching in the media. Holdout and prove it was my stance).

Anyway I think the story of our safeties is being written by our pass rush, over and over again.

I actually think we have talent in the secondary. Talent enough that is, at the top 3 positions. I can even see the silver lining with Jeff Heath playing Safety. He was a small school UDFA but he has the size and speed of an NFL safety. Give him a year and I believe he won’t make those mistakes like the come back hook he gave up to Philly.
I think 5 of the 6 linebackers belong, competing to start. So the preposterous state of the cowboys pass rush comes back to mind when I’m trying to find out why the defense was so bad.
It’s so obvious that I have to wonder if Dallas can even escape this trap, this draft for need trap. We aren’t going anywhere with our pass rush as it is.

So this gets back to that Jerry-ism, sign a cheap FA to patch over draft for need holes.

In 2013 the DE market was actually rather cheap. I believe this because teams want many mid-priced DEs rather than a handful of stars. The salaries for DEs last year could really work in Dallas’ favor. The way I see it, as detailed earlier, I want 6 DEs on my roster, and 2 DTs. Because a modern 43 has 3 DEs on the field on 1st and 2nd down. The 3 tech is like a 1960s DE I mean. It all goes back to the 70s Steeler’s lining Mean Joe Green up at the 3 technique. That’s where the 3 tech combined with a 1 tech started as far as the rod Marenelli scheme goes.  So you have 3 guys who can really get in to the back field and one guy strong enough to push two powerful men at one lined up as the 1. The one is the DT. He needs a back up. The 3 DEs need a back up, so that’s the 6 and 2. In 3rd down the most important down, from a pool of 6 Defensive Ends and any LBs who can put a hand down, you get 7 or 8 legit pass rushers on your 3rd down defensive line. While you want Kyle Wilber to be able to flex to defensive end, a player like Bruce Carter (who I believe will rebound in his 2nd year in the 43) you want to remain at LB, so he could possibly blitz. You don’t want to take all of your blitzers out of the line backer corps.

So a question for the immediate future is, who will Dallas sign? Dallas infalliblely  signs some bevy of FAs to stave of Draft Necessity doom but this year money is tight.

To be real, I’d rather they fall on a sword and take a hit rather than be consigned to necessity. Have a vision and find players that fill it. No patchwork pieces anymore.

One wonders if the entire Defensive Roster left over from Rob Ryan is all in-fact patchwork pieces in the eyes of Marenelli. But in the eyes of the Not For Long leauge all players are such so whatever. Just make it happen fast.

What vets could help us? You have to wonder what Anthony Spencer is going to do.

Jason Hatcher?

Usually Dallas has some guy from out of nowhere when they are on their game. Who is playing on the Browns? Did I say Browns I mean The Argonauts up in Toronto. We’re going to need a heroic quest like that of Jason and the Argonauts if we’re going to get a defensive front that can help the team. Dallas needs to find success in 3 phases of player acquisition to advance. The Draft, FA and trades. Trades may include Restricted Free Agents. Sign a solid Free Agent, Draft a Good Defensive End, and trade a pick for one more starting caliber defensive end, and Dallas may suddenly be blessed. I would love to include Spencer in that pool of potential but I don’t feel like I can dub him a solid FA until he heals more etc etc. I’m looking for someone from outside the organization at FA here.

So before I end I wanted to come back around to the discussion of superstars vs a handful of good players, and this regards how Dallas’ assembles it’s front 4. Dallas relied on Star Power to drive it’s 34 and when the stars aligned everything worked great. But really the wide spread responsibilities required of an Outside Linebacks in a 34 required Dallas to invest too many expensive resources. Dallas did not know how to get value at the position outside of the 1st round, where you have to say — between Ware, Spencer and Carpenter Dallas was average at drafting.

Seattle’s template for the pass rush had them give contracts to mid-level free agents, trading 4th round picks for starters; and drafting utility players like Bruce Irvin to get your 3rd down over the edge.

I don’t believe Dallas’s “Focus on the Stars” approach work because all too often their depth failed. The new paradigm has less value on the super stars and more money for mid level achievers. For this reason, there is real pressure on the Dallas franchise with regards to DeMarcus Ware’s contract. No one else can be as awesome as him, but that doesn’t lessen the need for Dallas to diversify its’ pass rush assets as a long term strategy.

Ok I’m going to wrap it up with that. Dallas needs to turn water into wine in 2014 on their defensive front. I guess I’m still here waiting because I believe they can do it. All right that’s it!