Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

29 Nov 2006

Every Play Counts: The Dallas Front Seven

by Michael David Smith

The Dallas Cowboys consist of three people: quarterback Tony Romo, wide receiver Terrell Owens, and coach Bill Parcells. At least that seems to be this season's media script.

But Dallas is 7-4, in first place, and looking like a Super Bowl contender because of its defense more than anything else. So why do none of the players on the Cowboys' defense get anywhere near as much attention as the Big Three? I closely watched the Cowboys' defense on every play of their 38-10 Thanksgiving win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to determine why it is playing so well. I came away impressed by nearly everyone, but it was one player -- second-year outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware -- who blew me away with the dominant game he had.

On third-and-4 on Tampa Bay's first drive, Ware lined up on the line of scrimmage opposite tight end Anthony Becht. Tampa Bay's blocking scheme called for Becht to block Ware one-on-one, and that was a huge mismatch. Ware dominated Becht and forced Tampa Bay quarterback Bruce Gradkowski out of the pocket, although Gradkowski made a nice run to pick up the first down. Two plays later, Ware was at it again. This time he lined up at right outside linebacker and was one-on-one with left tackle Anthony Davis. Ware again won the individual battle and forced Gradkowski out of the pocket, but Gradkowski again moved in the pocket and this time found Joey Galloway deep downfield for a 53-yard completion.

On that first series, Gradkowski showed a great deal of athleticism and did a nice job of leading Tampa Bay down the field for a touchdown. However, Dallas harassed him repeatedly for the rest of the game, and the Buccaneers never again reached the red zone, let alone the end zone.

Ware is a freakish athlete, but just as importantly, he's a smart player. On the first play of Tampa Bay's second drive, Ware lined up at right outside linebacker. The play was a handoff up the middle to Cadillac Williams, with flanker Michael Clayton going in motion from right to left and running a fake reverse. The play design assumed that the right outside linebacker would be held in place by the fake reverse and wouldn't need to be blocked, but Ware wasn't fooled for a minute. He recognized the play immediately, ran directly to Williams and brought him down two yards behind the line of scrimmage.

More big plays from Ware: On a third-and-3, Ware lined up at left outside linebacker and destroyed rookie right tackle Jeremy Trueblood. Ware bull-rushed Trueblood, collapsed the pocket, and drilled Gradkowski just as he threw the ball away. (Gradkowski probably should have been called for intentional grounding.) On a third-and-2, Cadillac Williams had a brilliant run around the right end. Four Dallas players -- linebackers Bradie James and Bobby Carpenter and safeties Patrick Watkins and Roy Williams -- had chances to tackle Williams but missed him. It was Ware, lined up at outside linebacker on the other side of the field, who finally caught up with Williams and tackled him 22 yards downfield.

Parcells must be hugely disappointed in Carpenter, the team's first-round draft pick and the son of one of Parcells' favorite players, former Giants fullback Rob Carpenter. When you draft a linebacker in the first round, you're expecting him to make an instant impact on the defense, but that missed opportunity to tackle Williams was the only time Carpenter did anything worth mentioning. He rarely got on the field until it was time for mop-up duty, when he made one tackle long after Dallas had put the game away.

It was Alshermond Singleton, not Carpenter, who moved into the starting lineup when the Cowboys lost linebacker Greg Ellis for the season two weeks ago. Like Ware, Singleton exploited Becht's inability to protect Gradkowski. Roy Williams got an interception when Singleton lined up opposite Becht and ran right past him, forcing Gradkowski to hurry his throw. Gradkowski underthrew the ball and didn't see that Williams was sitting on Galloway's deep post route. Williams had an easy time intercepting it.

Although Singleton and Ware are both good pass rushers on the outside, the Cowboys' inside linebackers are ineffective on the blitz. On a third-and-4, Dallas rushed all four linebackers. That left cornerback Anthony Henry on an island against Joey Galloway, who beat him for a 13-yard reception. Dallas defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer would be wise to leave that blitz out of his game plan from now on.

Zimmer deserves more credit than he has received for his work with the Dallas defense. A Dallas assistant since 1994, Zimmer is the last link on the coaching staff to the team's 1990s heyday. When Parcells became the head coach, owner Jerry Jones urged him to keep Zimmer as the defensive coordinator, and Parcells complied, with the stipulation that he wanted Zimmer to run a 3-4 defense. Even though Zimmer had never before coached a 3-4, he has made a seamless transition to working with Parcells. Although most people think Jones will want to hire a big-name successor when Parcells retires, Zimmer would be a strong candidate to become the Cowboys' next head coach.

Of course, Zimmer hasn't completely abandoned his 4-3 roots. The Cowboys usually switch to a 4-3 on third downs, moving Ware from outside linebacker to defensive end and replacing the huge run-stopping nose tackle Jason Ferguson with one of their quicker backup defensive tackles. The Cowboys occasionally use even more than four down linemen. On first-and-goal from the 5-yard line, Dallas went to a five-man line. On the next play, second-and-goal from the 1-yard line, Dallas used six down linemen.

Although he comes out on many passing downs, Ferguson is more active than most 3-4 nose tackles. On a second-and-7, Tampa Bay center John Wade got a good first step and seemed to have Ferguson back on his heels, but Ferguson recovered, shoved Wade aside and tackled Williams for a gain of three. Later, on a first-and-10 handoff to Michael Pittman, both Wade and right guard Davin Joseph blocked Ferguson, or at least they tried to. Even double-teaming him, they couldn't budge Ferguson, who stood his ground and tackled Pittman for a gain of two yards. Parcells drafted Ferguson with the Jets in 1997 and made signing him as a free-agent a top priority last year. It's easy to see why.

Defensive end Kenyon Coleman doesn't get much attention, but he's an important part of the defensive line rotation. He has a non-stop motor, going until the whistle blows on every play. It's nice to see a 300-pounder trying to run down a running back when the other 300-pounders on the field have decided the play is past them and they can quit. On a third-and-15 shovel pass to Michael Pittman, Coleman, lined up at left defensive tackle, tackled Pittman after a gain of six yards.

Dallas seems to use its linebackers in coverage on wide receivers more than most teams do. Kevin Burnett, who had the 39-yard interception return for a touchdown last week against Indianapolis, showed again on Thanksgiving that he's very good in pass coverage. Dallas even occasionally had him matched up with Joey Galloway, and he did a nice job of jamming Galloway at the line of scrimmage and keeping up with him downfield. Burnett and James were in deep coverage where safeties usually line up and tackled wide receiver Michael Clayton on a 10-yard completion in the fourth quarter. On a first-down pass in the flat to Ike Hilliard in the third quarter, Singleton was in coverage and tackled Hilliard for a gain of just three yards. On a second-and-8, Michael Pittman -- one of the fastest running backs in the league -- ran a slant route, but Akin Ayodele stuck with him and batted the pass away from Pittman. Ayodele also had a beautiful diving interception in the third quarter. When Becht ran pass routes, Ware was usually the one to cover him. On a first-and-10 completion to Becht, Ware jammed him at the line of scrimmage, then covered him in the flat and brought him down immediately after a four-yard completion.

As much as I liked Ware, I wasn't particularly impressed with Dallas's other 2005 first-round pick, Marcus Spears. On Tampa Bay's first play of the second half, Spears lined up at left defensive end opposite Trueblood. The handoff went to Williams, and Spears never even got close to the play as Trueblood shoved him aside easily. Spears is adequate at best against the run and has only 2.5 sacks in 27 career games. Spears did show his athleticism in jumping to bat down a Gradkowski pass in the third quarter, but that was the only time he did anything noteworthy.

Based on the Tampa Bay game, I think Spears should lose his starting job to rookie Jason Hatcher, a third-round draft pick out of Grambling. Hatcher got most of his playing time after the game was out of reach, but he excelled when he got his chance. In the fourth quarter he lined up against left guard Dan Buenning, knocked Buenning to the ground and sacked Gradkowski for a loss of 10 yards. At 6-foot-6 and 295 pounds, Hatcher looks the part of a 3-4 defensive end, and I think he's going to develop into a good one.

Hatcher is still making the adjustment to playing against top-notch opposition after playing in a lower-level college program. That also applies to Ware, who is only 24 years old and was playing his college ball at Troy two years ago. That Thanksgiving blowout was a great game for Ware. I think we'll see many, many more of them.

Each week, Michael David Smith looks at one specific player or one aspect of a team on every single play of the previous game. Standard caveat applies: Yes, one game is not necessarily an indicator of performance over the entire season.

Posted by: Michael David Smith on 29 Nov 2006

54 comments, Last at 04 Dec 2006, 12:37pm by Sid

Comments

1
by BigManChili (not verified) :: Wed, 11/29/2006 - 12:57pm

Wow. Great job explaining how the defense works. I have a lot more admiration for Mike Zimmer now that I know he's really a 4-3 guy and is learning a new system.

2
by turbohappy (not verified) :: Wed, 11/29/2006 - 1:23pm

Great article! Their defense definitely looked awesome against the Colts. The love for Ware makes me even more impressed that Addai stoned him a few times in the Indy game.

3
by IsaiahC (not verified) :: Wed, 11/29/2006 - 1:54pm

Mike Zimmer, the next Dallas head coach? Could work, but I wonder if he would be able to handle the "big name/big ego" offense. He's had a team mentality defense for so long. Of course, maybe he is the reason his defense has been more team based.

4
by Kalyan (not verified) :: Wed, 11/29/2006 - 1:54pm

to date, i wonder why parcells picked up bobby carpenter when he had a lot of talent at line-backer spot. I am sure he would have realized that BC was not likely to be slotted at ILB position?

If BC was available, i am sure that BB would have been tempted to think about him.

5
by MJK (not verified) :: Wed, 11/29/2006 - 2:01pm

Maybe BP took BC to spite BB, or possibly because he just wanted you to make a post with a lot of two letter abbreviations starting with B...

6
by Trogdor (not verified) :: Wed, 11/29/2006 - 2:04pm

Great as always.

I know this wasn't what you were watching for, but what kind of future does Gradkowski have? How much of his struggles are him, and how much are the fact that he can't even take a 5-step drop because he'd be sacked on the fourth?

7
by BlueStarDude (not verified) :: Wed, 11/29/2006 - 2:12pm

Most of the Cowboy analysis like this I read is by Cowboy fans, so it's especially good to see an objective viewpoint.

Carpenter has had trouble getting playing time, but with Ellis making a surprisingly good transition to OLB (until his season-ending injury), Burnett in the nickel, and Singleton who has been a solid starter for many years now, Carp still hasn't really had much of a chance to get his feet wet. Consider that three LBs that the Cowboys let walk or cut before the season began (Fujita, Shanle, Boiman) are starting for other teams.

Spears and Canty (2005 4th round "steal" who showed some promise last year) haven't been as good as expected, but thankfullly Hatcher and 2005 7th rounder Jay Ratliff have picked up the slack, big time.

Now if only they could get some good FS play. Then they would really have something.

8
by karl (not verified) :: Wed, 11/29/2006 - 2:12pm

nice article. noticed the implication that the secondary isn't so good - how'd the other roy williams look? from reviews of the dallas d i always get the feeling he's not as good as the press he gets; could he be the most overrated player in the league?

9
by James, London (not verified) :: Wed, 11/29/2006 - 2:24pm

I guess it's now official that the Jets let the wrong lineman walk a couple of seasons ago. Ferguson playing the nose in the Jets 3-4 would make a real difference.

How does Ferguson compare with Vince Wilfork, Jamal Williams and Casey Hampton?

10
by Lincoln (not verified) :: Wed, 11/29/2006 - 2:25pm

The Cowboys chose Carpenter to play at outside linebacker. In training camp they tried Greg Ellis at outside linebacker because they didn't think he would hold up as an every down defensive end in the 3-4 and with his cap number they can't afford for him to be on the bench. Much to my suprise, Ellis worked at outside backer, Tuna moved Carpenter to the inside -- where's he's been backing up Bradie James and Akin Ayodele. Two weeks ago, Ellis tears his Achellis, Carpenter now has to learn another new position... But even with that justification he's been a dissapointment.

It's great to see someone give love to D-Ware. I am a Cowboy fan, I've watched darn near every play in his career. He is an absolut freak. A lot of people in Dallas always compare him to Shawne Merriman (who was taken one spot after Ware in the draft). But while Merriman will post better sack totals, Ware is the better linebacker. Merriman's job description is easy, go get the quarterback -- and he does it as good as anyone. But Ware is asked to do everything, and he does it all well. I think he's the better all around player.

11
by throughthelookingglass (not verified) :: Wed, 11/29/2006 - 2:27pm

Parcells took Carpenter to spite Belichick who took Maroney to spite Polian. Hmm. Maybe coaches should rethink this strategy :)

12
by Ilanin (not verified) :: Wed, 11/29/2006 - 2:31pm

How much of his struggles are him, and how much are the fact that he can’t even take a 5-step drop because he’d be sacked on the fourth?

Interesting question, Trogdor. I keep meaning to go through and see what sort of a correlation there has been between adjusted sack rate and quarterback DPAR over the years. For now I will note that Gradkowski put up -2.4 DPAR against Dallas. We have something of a comparison in Roethlisberger, who was playing behind a one-mississipi line against the Ravens, and put up 0.4 DPAR (on, however, slightly more than twice as many attempts. This is the point at which I need per-game VOA for players, which isn't available). Using conventional statistics, Gradkowski managed to throw the same number of interceptions (though both Ben's came chasing the game late in the 4th quarter; Gradkowski threw one with the game very much alive and one when TB still had a chance for a comeback) but did post a similar completion percentage. I'd say it was a reasonable performance with poor pass protection. I reserve the right to change that opinion if I ever get around to doing the research.

13
by Lincoln (not verified) :: Wed, 11/29/2006 - 2:31pm

8 - The corners are very good (IMO). The comment in the article about Henry on Galloway is just that Henry doesn't have the footspeed to keep up with Joey. Henry is a very good, physical corner who gets his hands on lots of passes. Terrance Newman is a legit All-Pro.

Roy Williams is a great in the box strong saftey. He is a liability in coverage. He seems to have a problem judging the ball in flight, and finds himself out of position on balls thrown high and deep. His picks tend to come on straight, hard, line drive throws.

14
by Charles the Philly Homer (not verified) :: Wed, 11/29/2006 - 3:03pm

Even more interesting than the impressive ability on the Cowboys D is how much better they've gotten as the year went on. A lot of team defenses regress as offenses figure out schemes, tendencies, etc. Zimmer is able to take those young players and make them better every week, which I think is a superior measure of coaching ability compared to the quality of the scheme or star power of the talent.

15
by Bobman (not verified) :: Wed, 11/29/2006 - 3:16pm

Excellent piece, as usual, almost making the Cowboys (for me) less loathesome. While it might have been more helpful to see this with a more competent offense, that Gradkowski kid sounds pretty darn athletic. Deceptive speed?

16
by Led (not verified) :: Wed, 11/29/2006 - 3:34pm

"I guess it’s now official that the Jets let the wrong lineman walk a couple of seasons ago."

Keeping Abraham allowed them to trade him to Atlanta for the pick that became Nick Mangold, so the Jets turned out alright. I thought Ferguson had an inconsistent motor in NY. For several seasons, the Jets run defense stunk with Ferguson in the middle (22nd, 31st and 32nd in rush DVOA from 2001-03). That was not all his fault, but neither was he 100% responsible for the good run D in 2004. He did play well in 2004, which (not concidentally) was a contract year. So I can't blame the Jets for not giving him a big contract. Obviously, Parcells has him playing hard this year.

17
by Yakuza Rich (not verified) :: Wed, 11/29/2006 - 3:44pm

A bunch of things.

1. That's not a 4-3 package. That's a nickel package. Usually the LB's are Burnett and James with Newman moving to the slot CB spot. Glenn usually takes the LCB spot and Henry stays at RCB.

2. Spears is inconsistent. Sometimes he'll look really good (i.e. vs the Colts) and then he'll put up this type of game against the Bucs. Jay Ratliff would be a better replacement than Hatcher right now. But Ratliff has to backup Ferguson and is too good in the nickel. Hatcher struggles against the run and won't be nearly ready until next season where he can improve his technique and put on some more weight. However, he's pretty good at playing RDE in the nickel.

4. Yes, the ILB's can't blitz to save their lives. I'm a big fan of blitzing, but Dallas is average at best at it. Ever since the 2nd Washington game the Cowboys have blitzed less often and it's worked for them.

5. While Ellis made a nice transition, I think there might be a blessing in disguise with his loss. It's either forced the coaching staff to move Ware around or they feel more comfortable in doing so since Singleton has played LB all his career. Singleton is also better in pass coverage and in stopping the run that Ellis was this season. Before they rarely moved Ware around. Now they are and because he matches up so well against most blockers, he's giving them problems.

6. Carpenter played well against the pass against the Colts whether it be rushing the QB or going into coverage, but he seems to struggle against the run.

7. Even though their job responsibilities are a bit different, Akin Ayodele is playing better than Bradie James.

18
by Will Allen (not verified) :: Wed, 11/29/2006 - 4:04pm

The first time I saw Ware in a preseason game, I was sick that the Vikings drafted a wr, Troy Williamson, instead of taking Ware to meet their other big need, an edge pass rusher. Given Williamson's and Ware's play so far, I think I'll be sick for the next ten years at least.

I highly suspect that the former head coach was mostly behind this, so I'll have reason to hold bitterness towards ol' Ticey for years to come as well.

19
by Playit (not verified) :: Wed, 11/29/2006 - 4:10pm

I don't think Carpenter was really drafted as an Outside LB. Parcells commented in one of his PCs that he is the prototype ILB, then neglected to comment at all on his OLB skills. BP likes to drop back the WILB into coverage. I think that is where Carp is destined to play, and would be playing if not for Akin's excellent play this year.

Hatcher and Ratliff look like such high motor pass rushers because Parcells is purposesly making them into one gap players. I'm not sure how well either would hold up against the run at DE for an entire game.

Most Cowboys fans have noted that James has had an excellent year as well against the run. He does very little outstanding but is consistently above average.

20
by Playit (not verified) :: Wed, 11/29/2006 - 4:14pm

Re: 18

I love watching Ware play, but I do worry about his long term prospects. At this point he survives on his freakish athletic ability. If he were playing the 4/3 people would be comparing him constantly to Kearse (before injuries). The question for me is how long can he sustain. What happens when he starts tearing pecs, getting repeated high ankle sprains, or blowing a knee. Ellis would come back almost as good, but Ware will be done for.

21
by Seante (not verified) :: Wed, 11/29/2006 - 4:20pm

How did Chris Canty look? I get a good feeling about, a second year end/tackle with great size and been productive ever since he got on the field.

22
by sonofbrocklanders (not verified) :: Wed, 11/29/2006 - 4:30pm

I'm not worried about Carpenter, as he will be the outside linebacker of the future with Ware. Remember that Ware last year showed flashes of brilliance along with mediocrity, and has made a giant leap this year in consistency and game awareness.

A big key is that the Dallas front seven rotates enough players to keep people fresh. They have enough quality players to pull this off, and it will be needed come December/January. The 2005 draft class for Dallas contributed 4 players to this rotation (Burnett, Spears, Ware, Canty). it speaks to the power of good scouting and drafting.

23
by Yakuza Rich (not verified) :: Wed, 11/29/2006 - 4:34pm

21. Canty appears to be nothing more than a guy that holds the point well and can occasionally shed some blocks to make a play on the run. Obviously you don't expect much of a pass rush from 3-4 DE's, but he is weak against the pass.

I think the thing about Carpenter is that he's a backup on good team with a good defense. If he was a backup on a bad team or a team with a bad defense, then I would be concerned about his future. But for now it's way too early to tell.

24
by James C (not verified) :: Wed, 11/29/2006 - 4:52pm

I know that this isn't really the right place to post this but I forgot to post it in the AAL thread earlier in the week.

Anyhoo, did anyone else spot the Bears' five man line with Anderson, Brown and Ogunleye all on the field at the same time outside Johnson and Harris. I only spotted it on a couple of plays and it didn't appear to work that well as they don't seem to have the coverage completely sorted out. It is another wrinkle to throw out there and I would assume that it may reappear, without anyone commenting upon it Chicago's defence has been slowly evolving and adapting all year (as you would expect).

Are five man D lines an attempt to counter six man O lines?

Has anyone else spotted a 3DE formation on any other teams?

25
by JasonK (not verified) :: Wed, 11/29/2006 - 5:16pm

#24:

Back when Strahan and Umenyiora were healthy, the Giants would occasionally bring Kiwanuka in to rush from a stand-up position. (Although they usually ran a zone-blitz on the play, droping one of the down linemen into coverage.)

26
by hector (not verified) :: Wed, 11/29/2006 - 6:35pm

I agree that this was an outstanding article, even if the tease on the home page was kind of uppity. I don't think the success of the Dallas front seven is as much a giant secret as the tease suggests.

I am surprised almost no one is talking about the Oakland defense. That unit has teeth, and the Raiders were just a couple of plays removed from beating the Chiefs *and* Chargers, both on the road, last two weeks. I'm no Raider fan - much the opposite, actually - but them Ryans can sure coach em' up.

27
by hector (not verified) :: Wed, 11/29/2006 - 6:42pm

It's refreshing to hear Roy Williams discussed rationally - he's not good in coverage and that's been obvious for a while.

28
by jj (not verified) :: Wed, 11/29/2006 - 6:52pm

Roy Williams is overrated because he ain't that smart.

Belichick took Maroney because he was the best player available. Only thin skinned Polian thinks otherwise.

I imagine that Parcells felt that Carpenter was the BPA.

You really aren't very smart if you think that coaches take a player to hurt somebody else at a different area of the draft. Maroney would have been gone before the Colts picked, regardless.

29
by hector (not verified) :: Wed, 11/29/2006 - 6:56pm

And for what it's worth, I haven't met anyone driving the Romo/MVP train stronger than Ian Dembsky did in the Audibles this week. So the media you attack in the opener includes some of your own, no?

That said, this article was outstanding and I enjoyed it so much I just read it a second time. Thanks for taking the time to craft such an outstanding piece, I do appreciate it. Heck, I thought I watched this game closely but maybe I spent more time on the plate than I thought that day.

30
by Brad (not verified) :: Wed, 11/29/2006 - 7:33pm

maybe calm down a little hector, it was one line.

31
by Omar (not verified) :: Wed, 11/29/2006 - 10:49pm

Roy Williams leads the league in takeaways...I'm just sayin'...

32
by steve (not verified) :: Wed, 11/29/2006 - 11:13pm

It's interestig that everyone says Roy Williams is bad in coverage. His 5 interceptions and 12 passess defensed are way ahead of any other SS in the league. Second is one player with 3 INT and a different player with 8 PD. Where he trails statistically is in tackles. Also, no stat reflects how many receivers hear footsteps when he's around which also impacts, favorably, the pass defense.

33
by steve (not verified) :: Wed, 11/29/2006 - 11:15pm

It's interesting that everyone says Roy Williams is bad in coverage. His 5 interceptions and 12 passess defensed are way ahead of any other SS in the league. Second is one player with 3 INT and a different player with 8 PD. Where he trails statistically is in tackles. Also, no stat reflects how many receivers hear footsteps when he's around which also impacts, favorably, the pass defense.

34
by MSB (not verified) :: Wed, 11/29/2006 - 11:39pm

This is in response to JJ and his remarks concerning Roy Williams

Overrated... I doubt that!
Williams was a unanimous All-America and All-Big 12 selection at strong safety. He received the 2001 Jim Thorpe Award that annually recognizes the nation's top defensive back. He also received the Bronko Nagurski Award as the nation's top defender and Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year

He earned All-Rookie recognition in 2002 while tying for the NFL interception lead among rookies with five, and then followed that performance with All-Pro and Pro Bowl honors following his second campaign. He is a three time consecutive NFC Pro Bowl selection

He stops opposing runners in their tracks!

He has a burning competitive nature and a natural leadership ability that is well recognized throughout the NFL

He was selected by a local panel as the team's 2004 candidate for the NFL Walter Payton Man of the Year Award

Dallas also honored Williams with the Special Recognition Award for his commitment and leadership in the Dallas community.

Selected as one of The Sporting News “Good Guys� in a special section recognizing professional athletes who devise unique programs to help the community… these accomplishments are not acquired by people who "ain't that smart."

35
by Independent George (not verified) :: Thu, 11/30/2006 - 1:41am

#34 - I think you just made an argument in favor of Williams being overrated.

36
by BlueStarDude (not verified) :: Thu, 11/30/2006 - 2:03am

So far in pro bowl voting Roy Williams leads Adrian Wilson by a three-to-one margin. I'm a Roy Williams defender, but that big of a margin (let alone him being ahead at all) is just not right: he is overrated by many fans. And that in turn has created a backlash with no small number of others underrating him.

P.S. to Aaron, should you catch this: careful if you preview this game. Parcells said today that Watkins will get lots of playing time Sunday. I think the kid is going to redeem himself (he hasn't played poorly when he's gone in the past few weeks) - but I think I know what you think: play him at LB! :)

37
by Brad (not verified) :: Thu, 11/30/2006 - 2:19am

34: college awards are meaningless in the NFL. Jason White won the heisman after all.

Joey Porter's won a bunch of awards too, judging from his comments I would call him not that smart as well.

Next time include his birthday and favorite foods in the list when you defend him, it'd do about the same amount of good.

38
by Steve Sandvik (not verified) :: Thu, 11/30/2006 - 2:50am

Lots of picks does not make a good cover DB. Few opportunities for picks is a sign of a good cover DB, because it's a sign that the opposition is avoiding the DB. Unless it's a sign that the defensive front can't stop the run. Safeties with lots of picks are more a sign of systems and game scores that result in the opposition throwing deep than they are good coverage, per se. That being said, it's certainly better than a safety who has a lot of opportunities and gives up touchdowns instead of making plays.

39
by Omar (not verified) :: Thu, 11/30/2006 - 3:28am

Re # 38 -

Players dont rate themselves so if you think someone is overrated maybe you should listen to less talk radio. Roy Williams may not be the best all around SS in the game but he does somethings very well...like take the ball away from the opposition.

40
by Omar (not verified) :: Thu, 11/30/2006 - 3:31am

Oops. I meant Re# 28...

41
by Ben (not verified) :: Thu, 11/30/2006 - 8:45am

re:28 Polian has never claimed that the Pats took Maroney to spite them. Just all the pundits who had Maroney going to the Colts.

42
by Independent George (not verified) :: Thu, 11/30/2006 - 11:19am

I should mention that I'm not taking actually any position on Roy Williams. I really haven't seen enough of him to say how he stacks up against his reputation. All I'm saying is that the 'overrated' label is less about talent than about it is about media coverage, so when you start bringing up college awards and things like his 'competitive nature' and 'natural leadership', and community leadership, well... that's almost the definition of overrated.

43
by azibuck (not verified) :: Thu, 11/30/2006 - 12:19pm

But Dallas is 7-4, in first place, and looking like a Super Bowl contender because of its defense more than anything else.

BR (Before Romo) -- 11 INTs, AR -- 2 INT. Yes, the defense has also created more turnovers too, and is playing well, but I'd say the offense has put the D in position to take more chances. I guess my gripe is with the "more than anything else." Romo, by a wide margin, is why they went from pretender to contender.

I came away impressed by nearly everyone, but it was one player — second-year outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware — who blew me away with the dominant game he had.

You seem easily impressed. I don't mean that too harshly. I'm a Cowboys fan, but also a pretty harsh critic. You already thought Ferguson was "amazing." Good yes, amazing no. Ware is real good though, and had a good game. I'd still like to see more of a pass rush, but he is a great run defender, but that's not as sexy as sacks.

Parcells must be hugely disappointed in Carpenter,

I can't dispute the way Carpenter played against TB. But Carpenter had a decent game against Indy, so I was hoping for more. I was most surprised that he didn't see all that much time in a blowout. I don't think you should just throw the "must be hugely disappointed" blanket out there. I think they knew what they were getting when they drafted him. A hopefully good player, but not an impact one. At least one that probably wouldn't make an early impact. I doubt Parcells is disappointed at all.

Defensive end Kenyon Coleman doesn’t get much attention, but he’s an important part of the defensive line rotation.

In Parcells parlance, JAG (Just a Guy).

(Not impressed with Marcus Spears, was impressed with his backup Jason Hatcher).

Agreed. Hatcher rarely sees the field in a running situation, but Spears isn't exactly a force there anyway. Spears, and Canty, have been mild disappointments in that they're not impact players. They're not getting killed either, but it would be nice to see more. Hatcher looks like a player, and you should have mentioned Ferguson's backup Jay Ratliff.

I don't know that what you wrote supports your original statement. The Dallas D is playing well, but cherry-picking plays in a 38-10 win probably isn't the best way to evaluate a defense or player. The title of the column is "Every Play Counts" but really, does it, in a blowout?

Regarding some other comments, I don't think Roy Williams is much of a run defender either. He consistently takes poor angles to the ball and isn't a force, more of a run supporter. He brings the lead, no doubt, but he rarely forces the issue in the run game.

Interesting that MDS didn't mention Bradie James. He seems to be a Dallas fan and coach favorite. I think he's kind of soft. Not a bad player, but nothing special at all.

What really makes the Dallas run D go is discipline and clogging up running lanes. They rarely make plays behind the LOS but don't give up many big runs either. What makes the pass D go is pressure without blitzing. This is where Ratliff and Hatcher are unheralded. The Dallas corners are good (or better), and when they don't have to cover very long the scheme causes lots of imcompletions.

I actually hate the scheme, but it works. I'd rather see a more attaching scheme, but that's personal preference and may not fit the personnel. I don't know if the ILBs are bad blitzers or if they're taught to plow into people. I'll watch plays 5 or 6 times and I swear if a blitzer has a choice between shooting a gap or running into someone, they run into someone. I'm not sure, but often I think their blitzes are designed to isolate a single player to come free by having other blitzers occupy linemen. Often it doesn't succeed, at least not quickly.

44
by Karl Cuba (not verified) :: Thu, 11/30/2006 - 1:21pm

The reason people think that Roy Willaims is overrated is probably that he's great at every aspect of safety play except the most important one, defending the deep ball. I can, off the top of my head, think of several times Williams has been made to look like an utter clown as a very quick WR has toasted him. Williams is fantastic when he's facing upfield but when he has to turn his hips and cover deep, he can be exposed. However, with a speedster like Newman playing in front of him, his weakness is covered quite well (the same is true for John Lynch with the Broncos).

45
by Jim (not verified) :: Thu, 11/30/2006 - 2:00pm

Re:43 "Before Romo, 11 INT, After Romo, 2 INT)"

Yes, Romo's thrown only 2 INT as a starter. I understand discounted the 3 he threw in the Giants game, but you can't call those "Before Romo", either. Bledsoe threw "only" 8.

Re: Roy.

Not sure what you expect from Roy as a force in the run game - he is a safety after all. I see him make plays all the time in the running game. And yeah, he's not great on balls thrown behind him, but most of the big plays Dallas has given up in the passing game have been off their wholly inadequate free safeties, not off Roy. And the ball-hawking helps make up for quite a bit of that.

46
by Tighthead (not verified) :: Thu, 11/30/2006 - 2:23pm

Williams is not good in coverage, but he has also never played with a decent free safety. This leads to him being exposed even more. Woodson was a good player, but they are both SS by nature.

47
by azibuck (not verified) :: Thu, 11/30/2006 - 2:37pm

#44 -- you're right, those picks do go to Romo. But the point is the same. BRBTS (Before Romo Became The Starter) just didn't make the point.

48
by Will (not verified) :: Thu, 11/30/2006 - 3:06pm

I think only two posts mentioned Jason Ferguson - his emergence in '06 anchors this defense and makes a lot possible. He was hurt last year (ankle) so he didn't do much but played through it.

Ware is amazing - a first round splash by Parcells when he's whiffed with other Cowboys day one picks.

The jury is out for Carpenter. Remember Bradie James sat for a few years and was considered a bust before registering 100 + tackles last year and headed that way in '06.

49
by thad (not verified) :: Thu, 11/30/2006 - 8:53pm

Williams is pretty good in coverage, not great, but pretty good.
he does make some goofy plays.
However, last time i checked, Dallas had only given up 5 td's to wr's, lowest in the NFL.
Green Bay has given up 16, worst in the NFL, so lets not throw him under the bus just yet. (sorry pacifist viking couldn't resist :)

50
by Jim (not verified) :: Fri, 12/01/2006 - 12:36pm

"Ware is amazing - a first round splash by Parcells when he’s whiffed with other Cowboys day one picks."

Terence Newman and Jason Witten in 2003, Julius Jones (2nd-rounder) in 2004, Ware, Spears and Burnett in 2005. Do other teams have a significantly better first-day haul than that? Only 2 guys who aren't on the team. In '06, Fasano's starting and Hatcher looks very promising.

51
by mactbone (not verified) :: Fri, 12/01/2006 - 5:10pm

Re 50:
Wait, why is Fasano starting? Witten's a beast.

52
by Jesus Christ (not verified) :: Fri, 12/01/2006 - 7:59pm

re 51:
To say Fasano is starting is misleading. At the beginning of the year he WAS starting.. as the 2nd TE in what was then Dallas' base offense-- the two TE set. Since around the time Bledsoe was benched, Dallas uses a lot of empty backfield and 3 and 4 WR sets. The Two-TE formation is used sparingly now, and a lot of the times when Fasano is in he's used as a fullback/H back.

53
by Jim (not verified) :: Fri, 12/01/2006 - 9:53pm

Yes, I shouldn't have written "starting". They're also using Hoyte as FB a lot, which further cuts into Fasano's playing time.

54
by Sid (not verified) :: Mon, 12/04/2006 - 12:37pm

Basically ever since he broke into the league, the "Warewolf" has been Dallas's best defensive player and one of the best pass-rushers in the league. He had another good game against the Giants.