BLOG: Rebuilding the Cowboys Defense

BLOG: Rebuilding the Cowboys Defense

The Cowboys's defense has some talent. But it needs far, far more to stay competitive. (AP Photo by Tom DiPace)

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by MIKE MARSHALL

WFAA Sports Blogger

Posted on February 8, 2012 at 11:55 AM

Updated Wednesday, Feb 8 at 12:02 PM

If it ain’t broken....well, actually, it's broken.

 
Very few strokes of ignorance in the history of the Dallas Cowboys franchise could compete with the decision not to add a single player of significance to the worst defense in franchise history. If you mention Kenyon Coleman, we are no longer friends. What’s that catchy phrase everybody is using these days? 'The definition of insanity is running your football team without paying that much attention to football?'
 
Not having a system in place to address needs constitutes negligent behavior. We all operate our sports brains under the assumption that our favorite teams are doing everything within their power to put the best product possible on the field/court/diamond. It’s far too painful to entertain the idea of any other modus operandi. Though I question the validity of this kind of wishful thinking (yeah like Go West. Google it) mentality, I will attempt to fix this shallow, rickety contraption that is the Dallas Cowboys defense. This requires I sspend disbelief, pretending the powers at be (Jerry, Jerry, and Jerry) are locked up in a room combing over which 5th round corner could contribute in the nickel next year. 
 
The Secondary
 
I’ll give you a little hint on how to tell how serious this team is about winning next season. If Terence Newman is on this team in training camp, they are not serious about winning. Thank you for your service and goodbye. Cutting Newman after June 1st would save the Cowboys 6 millions dollars. 
 
The positions that have contract-sensitive situations are cornerback (Newman, Ball) and strong safety (Elam). In my mind, cornerback is the more immediate and drastic need. The question of which positions to draft (as opposed to which positions to pursue in free agency) comes up somewhere in the opening frame of this off season movie, so let me clear it up for you.
 
 If you take a very simple approach to the free agency process you can quickly realize what positions are there to be had. How many shutdown corners ever hit the free agent market? One every four years? How about skilled pass rushing 3-4 edge guys? One every two years? Now look at the quality of offensive lineman that are there to be had for simply somebody else’s money year in and year out. 
 
 
Safety isn’t particularly a position of free agent excess either but there are above average safeties who get loose every single offseason. The sad part about this whole 'drafting a corner' argument I just established is that there aren’t very many quality corners in this year's draft. Morris Claiborneis the clear cut number one, but 2 of the top 4 (Kirkpatrick and Jenkins) have major character issues (Kirkpatrick was recently arrested for pot drugs and Jenkins was expelled from Florida). Here are my top secondary targets in order and method of acquisition. 
 
 
Via Free Agency:
 
 
1. Brandon Carr CB Kansas City Chiefs
2. Lardarius Webb CB Baltimore Ravens (restricted-- Ravens have priority)
3. Tyvon Branch SS Oakland Raiders
4. Cortland Finnegan CB Tennesse Titans
5. Michael Griffin S Tennessee Titans
6. Brent Grimes CB Atlanta Falcons
7. Laron Landry SS Washington Redskins
8. Tracy Porter CB New Orleans Saints
9. Terrell Thomas CB New York Giants
10. Aaron Ross CB New York Giants
 
Via the Draft
 
1. Morris Claiborne CB LSU
2. Dre Kirkpatrick CB Alabama
3. Mark Barron SS Alabama
4. Alonzo Dennard CB Nebraska
5. Janoris Jenkins CB Northern Alabama
6. Desmond Trufant CB Washington
 
 
 
Linebackers 
 
The Cowboy linebackers may be the unit we feel most comfortable about on the entire defense. Feel queasy yet?. The level of talent in the linebacking corestill is not above average, but at least it’s not laughable. I find it hard to calibrate the degree of greatness we get to enjoy out of Demarcus Ware year in and year out, because he is yet to have a legitimate compliment on the other edge. He puts up huge numbers but never comes up big when the defense needs that one stop. 
With that said I think we all agree there’s no way he’s getting replaced in this lifetime. 
 
Anthony Spencer is at the end of his deal, and quite frankly hasn’t lived up to the billing of the 26th player drafted overall. Five seasons is a large enough sample size for me to declare failure. Spencer, James, and Brooking will most likely be gone, clearing a path for roster turnover. Edge rushers are not easy to come by, so part of the draft's focus will shine on the linebacker positions. In the middle, the future looks bright -- or at least encouraging. Sean Lee is an all-pro caliber player as long as he stays on the field, and Bruce Carter is still a second round pick who was extremely well thought of coming into this league. That doesn’t mean you don’t acquire an ILB for the next five years. It means the upside is promising, assuming natural development happens. 
 

Via Free Agency
 
1. Mario Williams OLB Houston Texans
2. Curtis Lofton ILB Atlanta Falcons
3. David Hawthorne ILB Seattle Seahawks
4. Stephen Tulloch ILB Detroit Lions
5. D’Qwell Jackson ILB Cleveland Browns
6. Deandre Levy ILB Detroit Lions
7. Ahmad Brooks OLB San Francisco 49ers
 

Via the Draft
 
1. Courtney Upshaw OLB Alabama
2. Luke Kuelchy ILB Boston College
3. Whitney Mercilus OLB Illinois
4. Nick Perry OLB USC
5. Brandon Jenkins OLB FSU
6. Vinny Curry OLB Marshall
7. Dont’a Hightower ILB Alabama
 

Defense Lineman
 
 
The consensus towards the 3-4 (among football fans that have just enough knowledge to be dangerous) is you just need the three biggest fire hydrants on earth to man your defensive line. If you look at the way most successful 3-4 schemes are run in this league (Houston, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, San Francisco), you can see that simply is not the case. 
 
Yes, the Outside Linebackers get all the credit and are assumed to be the most important position in the 3-4. But I challenge that notion. Your front three are the most important positions. The EXECUTION of the OLB position might be the most important, but the premium on talent should be up front. How many players in this league can anchor down a double team and cause a mismatch on the edge? 
 
This whole 3-4 argument might be a waste of time because it would make a lot of sense for this collection of Cowboys talent to gradually maneuver away from the traditional 3-4 and closer to a 4-3. The majority of the time they line up in a 3-4 under which is half yards from being a 4-3 anyway. This move would also shift Jay Ratliff off the nose, which is important if you’re interested in prolonging his career. A transition like this can be done in the matter of one off-season if the front office is serious about it. Another added value to this shift: The defense could still run a shell 3-4 on occasion and be comfortable with the philosophy. 

Via FA
 
1. Calais Campbell DE Arizona Cardinals
2. Paul Soliai NT Miami Dolphins
3. Cliff Avril DE Detroit Lions
4. Red Bryant DT Seattle Seahawks
5. Kendall Langford DE Miami Dolphins
6. Jeremy Mincey DE Jacksonville Jaguars
7. Brodrick Bunkley DT Denver Broncos
8. Cory Redding DE Baltimore Ravens
*Mario Williams tops this list if he’s considered a DE

Via Draft
 
1. Quinton Coples DE North Carolina
2. Devon Still DT Penn St
3. Michael Brockers DT LSU
4. Melvin Ingram DE South Carolina
5. Andre Branch DE Clemson
6. Jerel Worthy DT Michigan St
 
The best description I’ve heard of the “method” the Cowboys use to acquire talent is 'patchwork.' Rick Gosselin coined that line this week. If the Cowboys need a corner, they go get a corner. There is no system in place that keeps you from having to start Alan Ball if one player gets injured or forcing Bradie James to play significant downs if a starter is sidelined. 
 
Throughout the past decade, there has been  no depth and zero tact taken towards the Cowboys' approach to talent acquisition. My biggest fear is that I just applied more time to this article than the Cowboys' GM will when he approaches big off-season decisions. 
 
It’s broken. Please, somebody. Fix it. 
 
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
 
Mike Marshall

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