Dallas Cowboys: Recapping the Latest Buzz Heading into Training Camp
Training camp is nearing for NFL teams, and the buzz surrounding the Dallas Cowboys is picking up. No matter how the Cowboys finish in a given year, it always seems like the expectations for them in the following season are sky-high.
There’s a lot of uncertainty in Dallas this year, which could be misinterpreted as weakness. While the Cowboys are far from one of the league’s elite teams, that’s not because of their unknowns. Actually, having those sorts of question marks is superior to “knowing what you have” in a subpar player or situation.
Those question marks mean that there’s a wide range of opinions floating around regarding Dallas and its 2014 prospects, and as usual, everyone has something to say about the Cowboys. Let’s examine the latest buzz heading into camp.
Emmitt Smith: Cowboys Should Pass Less
Dallas Cowboys legendary running back Emmitt Smith thinks he knows how to improve the defense: Run the ball more. Smith told Jon Machota of The Dallas Morning News:
One thing about defense that I’ve learned in my years of playing the game, it doesn’t take much for a defense to catch fire and perform at a level that can take them from one place to the next. Not being able to run the football also hurt us, because we couldn’t eat up the clock when we needed to, and we made some poor decisions offensively.
I think if we can alleviate some of those things that are in our control, and continue to improve in areas where we’re weak, and one of those areas is definitely running the football and improving on not turning the football over, I think we’ll have a chance of being a lot better than most people are giving us credit for.
The idea makes sense; the less the defense is on the field, the more efficient it’ll be. The problem is that the goal isn’t to maximize defensive efficiency at all costs, but rather to win football games. The team’s defensive stats will be better if it runs the ball more, sure, but the offensive stats will be worse.
It doesn’t really make sense to do everything possible to limit opponent scoring if it comes at the cost of doing the same to yourself. The goal is to create the biggest possible differential in efficiency; a 34-31 win is better than a 17-14 loss.
The best play-calling is that which maximizes the chances of scoring on any given drive. Running the ball often won’t do that.
Cowboys’ MVP Odds Posted
According to ESPN Dallas’ Todd Archer, the MVP odds have been released, and three Cowboys made the cut:
These lines basically suggest that, if we were to play out the 2014 season thousands of times, Romo would win the league MVP once every 50 years or so. In comparison, Peyton Manning leads the NFL at 3-1, followed by Drew Brees (11-2) and Aaron Rodgers (15-2). Other quarterbacks at 50-1 include Ben Roethlisberger, Eli Manning and Philip Rivers.
The main thing Romo has going for him, in my view, is the addition of Scott Linehan. It’s not that I think Dallas will necessarily throw the ball 650 times, but rather that they should be a lot more willing to attack downfield. The benefits of throwing downfield extend to short passes, too, because deep looks change how defenses play underneath.
The knock on Romo-as-MVP is that for him to win, the Cowboys presumably need to win as well. That’s certainly possible, but they aren’t necessarily a team like the Denver Broncos that will keep airing it out when it’s winning. That means Romo might not be able to rack up the garbage stats he’d need to win the award.
Travis Frederick Taking on More Calls
Last year, you could hear quarterback Tony Romo making a lot of the protection calls before the snap, particularly naming the “Mike”—the middle linebacker used to designate how the offense is going to block.
This year, second-year center Travis Frederick is going to take on more responsibility, according to Todd Archer of ESPN Dallas. Said Frederick:
I’m going to try and do as much as I can to take as much as I can off Tony that he was doing before for the offensive line. Not necessarily because I was a rookie or this or that, but because, if I can see it better, that’s going to take one thing off his plate and that’s going to help the team as a whole.
The more I can communicate, the better Zack’s going to be able to do, the better Tyron [Smith] is going to be able to do, the better Doug [Free]’s going to be able to do. When that happens, everybody can move faster and play faster and they don’t have to think. If I can think more than I did last year, then it makes it less that everybody else has to think about.
I’ve never really thought that Romo making all of the pre-snap calls is that big of a deal. He has to read the defense in order to do that, so it’s not like making the calls has a negative impact on his pre-snap reads.
Nonetheless, having more capable eyes on the situation is a positive. Frederick is a really smart player, and from the sound of it, he’s getting on the same page as Romo as far as pre-snap adjustments. I don’t think him making more calls is really that big of a deal in and of itself, but the fact that Frederick is to the point where Romo trusts him to do it is a big deal.
Brandon Weeden Ready to Be Backup
While the Cowboys are still playing wait-and-see with veteran quarterback Kyle Orton to determine if he’ll be part of the team in 2014, current backup Brandon Weeden is preparing as if he’ll be the No. 2 guy.
Weeden talked to David Helman of DallasCowboys.com:
I’m going to go about my business the same way regardless. I haven’t met Kyle, so I can’t really speak on it, but whatever he decides to do – it’s kind of out of my control. So what I’m worried about is, if I’m running with the twos out there, do my job to make the twos better. I want to make the team better any way I can, so it doesn’t change my mindset or the way I feel about it.
So are the Cowboys in good shape with Weeden as their backup? It’s tough to say, but the signs aren’t good. Through two NFL seasons, Weeden has been horrible with a 55.9 percent completion rate and 6.53 yards per attempt.
Of course, he was playing in Cleveland, but it’s not like the Browns didn’t have any weapons there—one of the best wide receivers in the game in Josh Gordon and a really talented tight end in Jordan Cameron among them.
Plus, Weeden is going to turn 31 years old this season. Thirty-one for a third-year player! Quarterbacks typically show what they’ve got pretty early in their careers, and that’s especially true for someone as old as Weeden.
No one is expecting Weeden to single-handedly lead the Cowboys to the postseason, but you’d like a backup who could come in and go .500 or so for a short period. I don’t think Weeden can consistently do that.
Cody Mandell Impressing as Punter
There’s a lot to like about rookie punter Cody Mandell, who is currently competing with Chris Jones to win the job. According to Kelly Ward of the Star-Telegram, Mandell hit the video board inside the Cowboys’ stadium three times on the final day of minicamp, although Jason Garrett said the board was slightly lower than usual.
Mandell won’t be rewarded for punting footballs into the video board during games, but it shows off his leg strength. More important, Ward wrote that the 22-year-old’s punts have been “getting longer and more consistent.”
This is a pretty simple decision for Dallas. Mandell is probably already a better punter than Jones. When you consider the age, cost and upside, it’s a no-brainer; Mandell is going to be the Cowboys’ punter in 2014 and beyond.