The 2010 Dallas Cowboys will go down as one of the most disappointing teams in franchise history. Never mind the pre-season idea that this team could play in Super Bowl XLV in their own stadium. Forget the 50th anniversary mumbo-jumbo.
The reasons for this near historic collapse or misguided idea are lengthy. Call it an ineffective head coach, now gone. Point to the less than stellar offensive philosophy and playbook brought forth by the the interim head coach. Obviously the all but season ending injury to the starting quarterback did not help.
I maintain that the defense is the primary reason this Cowboys team never had a chance.
Dallas in on a pace to break the franchise record for most points allowed in a single season. Think about that for a minute. This team could surpass point totals given up by memorable duds like the 1988 and 1989 teams which went a combined 4-28. Nothing about the 5-11 “triple crown” defenses from 2000-02 was this bad either.
With Sunday’s game against Washington meaning absolutely, positively nothing to the NFC post-season picture, the time is now to prepare for 2011. The indication out of Valley Ranch is that the Cowboys are in-it-to-win-it as opposed to tossing in the towel for better positioning in the 2011 NFL Draft. Fine. The way to do that is to look at options other than horses that got you to this meaningless place to begin with.
The reasons for this defense’s struggles pertain mostly to the front, at least in my opinion. But when this happens, everything else is affected. In back to back games against Indianapolis and Philadelphia, the Cowboys have given up as many 200-yard performances by wide receivers Reggie Wayne and DeSean Jackson. Before we place the blame squarely on cornerbacks Terrance Newman and Mike Jenkins, consider the alarming lack of safety help which really spans the last few seasons. In fact, I would argue that this team has really been hurting at both safety spots since the full time switch to the 3-4 alignment in 2005.
With current starting safeties Alan Ball and Gerald Sensabaugh set to become free agents following the season, it’s only natural to start eyeballing the rest of the depth chart in order to find possible solutions for this area of underestimated weakness.
So maybe it’s time to go to Church. I refer to undrafted rookie Barry Church out of Toledo.
In limited playing time this season, mostly on special teams, Church is credited with 16 tackles and a forced fumble. That forced fumble is virtually lost on the stat sheet because it didn’t result in a turnover in former head coach Wade Phillips final game with Dallas in the blowout loss to Green Bay last month at Lambeau Field. But it was one of the few positive indicators in that game.
The Cowboys need a potential momentum changer in the secondary and the two current starters are not it. Sensabaugh and Ball have combined for 5 interceptions and a couple of forced fumbles, so it’s not like they have been invisible. But Ball is more of a cornerback, given his build at 6’1” and 195 pounds, and should probably go back to cornerback next year. Keep in mind that Newman might be on the bubble with Orlando Scandrick primed to push for a starting job opposite Jenkins. Sensabaugh, the strong safety at 6’1” and 210 pounds is where the upgrade is probably needed most.
While most women will say that size doesn’t matter in another contact sport, that’s not generally the case in football. When you think of other strong safeties in Dallas’ storied history, the names Darren Woodson and Roy L. Williams have to be at the very top of the list – no disrespect to Charlie Waters or Cornell Green. Barry Church fits this mold much more so than the other starters.
Now, you might be thinking to yourself or about to comment below that Church comes from Toledo which resides in the Mid-American Conference. The level of competition is not the same as that which guys like Woodson or Williams played against. You are exactly right on that note. But all this means is that a player like Church may only need to catch up a little in order to become an impact player. How will the Cowboys know if he doesn’t play? It’s not like there is a single thing to lose in the process and possibly everything to gain.
I already mentioned the big games given up to opposing receivers. But we also know that the Cowboys give up an average of 112 yards per game. Even this is misleading when you consider after Week 4, Dallas’ bye week, that average jumps up to just over 121 per game and if not for those two wins over bad rushing teams in Indianapolis and Detroit, it’s much higher. How about 137.5?
Barry Church stands 6’2” and weighs in right around 220. This is a strong safety. All he did at Toledo was become just the third player to be named first-team All-MAC. He is the first Rocket to accomplish that status and was a primary factor in Toledo’s defense from just about the time he walked on campus fresh out of high school.
Thought by some to be a projected third to sixth round selection in the 2010 NFL Draft, Church is not going to cover receivers in the slot the way Woodson once did on championship teams in Dallas. But I’ll bet he can provide better run support and possibly make some game changing plays against the run the way Williams once did.
Productivity is productivity. Here’s hoping that Church starts at noon Sunday in Arlington, Texas.