Move Free or Die Hard: Thoughts on If and How the Cowboys Can Stop Sucking
As the seconds ticked away in the Cowboys' prime-time loss to the Giants on Sunday, Cowboys fans were left with that familiar taste in their mouths. (You know the one -- it's like a hangover that all the Gatorade in all the 7-Elevens in the world couldn't fix.) New Year's Day brought with it not a renewed sense of hope but the realization that the team's window of opportunity is closing, and it's just about time to jump through it.
The ambiguity surrounding the direction of this team is now accompanied by one certainty: big alterations are on the way for the Cowboys in 2012.
Where will Doug Free play in 2012?
Doug Free was atrocious on Sunday, getting abused by Jason Pierre-Paul, Osi Umenyiora and anyone else who ran in his general direction. The game was representative of Free's entire 2011 season, although Jason Garrett should have done more to help his struggling veteran instead perpetually leaving him alone on an island. Free responded by allowing a season-high six pressures, increasing his 2011 total to 37 -- 16 more than in 2011.
I'm not usually a proponent of asking players to switch positions, but the Cowboys might benefit from picking another offensive tackle in the draft and kicking Free inside to guard. Rookie Tyron Smith would then move to left tackle -- although you can expect a Smith-Free position swap regardless of the Cowboys' draft plans.
Terence Newman and the 74-Yard Mistake: The conundrum Dallas will face in the draft is that they have multiple holes on defense, making the early selection of an offensive player worrisome. Cornerback Terence Newman played perhaps his worst game as a pro on Sunday night, getting benched in favor of Alan Ball, who's even worse. You can count on both players being out of Dallas in 2012.
Newman was involved in the game's most important play when he allowed a 74-yard touchdown to Victor Cruz on 3rd and 1.
According to Advanced NFL Stats, the odds of the Cowboys' winning fell from 48 percent to just 28 after that touchdown. That's 20 points -- a monumental drop in the middle of the first quarter and roughly the number of times Newman should think about punching himself in the cup. (And yes, we know NFL players don't wear cups. That's the point.)
The Cowboys were in Cover 1, meaning they blitzed and Newman was in man coverage against Cruz. Newman had no help other than safety Gerald Sensabaugh in the deep middle, so the inside position he took was a mistake. When Cruz ran a quick out, Newman had no help and was so far out of position he couldn't even make the tackle.
Rob Ryan: Toning Down the Crazytown: One of the main reasons the Cowboys got behind 21-0 in the first half was Rob Ryan's ultra-aggressive play-calling. Much like his hair, Ryan has to temper his aggressive style. When he sends pressure the way he does, he often puts the secondary in a vulnerable spot -- and the Cowboys just don't have the talent in the back end to combat a failed blitz. Ryan will always be aggressive, but you can expect far more feigned blitzes and zone pressure in 2012 -- all in an effort to get pressure on the quarterback while minimizing risk.
Can Jason Garrett evolve as a head coach? Sunday's game manifested both the weaknesses and strengths of head coach Jason Garrett's play-calling. Garrett seems to alternate between his 1990s-style I-formation offense and a true spread attack, with the latter nearly always providing superior results than the former. He loves to start games with a power running offense, but he fails to capitalize off of the looks with play-action passes.
I think you'll see Garrett realize this and shift the philosophy of the offense in 2012 to resemble those currently being run in New Orleans, Green Bay and New England. You know, the ones you can stand to watch. It might not be popular among traditionalists, but throwing the ball early and often wins football games in the NFL, and the primary value of the running game is to set up defenses in an effort to garner big plays via the passing game. The potential signing of No. 3 receiver Laurent Robinson might be a sign that Garrett sees the light and is willing to adapt.
For Dallas Cowboys fans, Jason Garrett's ability to evolve as a head coach could be the difference between a trip to the postseason or another year of mediocrity in 2012. If they haven't already jumped through the closing window.