Dallas Cowboys: Cortland Finnegan

What should Cowboys do with Carr?

February, 19, 2014
Feb 19
IRVING, Texas -- In the 2012 offseason, Cortland Finnegan and Brandon Carr were the top two cornerbacks in the free-agency market.

The St. Louis Rams signed Finnegan to a five-year, $50 million deal. The Dallas Cowboys signed Carr to a six-year, $60 million deal that will void to five years. The Cowboys wanted the extra year on to help them spread out the cap hit when they restructured his contract in 2013.

There have been recent reports that the Rams will cut Finnegan if he does not take a substantial pay cut.

There have been no discussions regarding a pay cut between Carr and the Cowboys, and there don't figure to be.

The situations involving Finnegan and Carr demonstrate the dangers of free agency. There was not a soul who believed the Cowboys made a mistake in signing Carr, who has not missed a game in his career and filled a need as a man-press cornerback.


What should the Cowboys do with Brandon Carr?


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After two years, there has to be some regret. Carr has six interceptions in two seasons. He has had his moments, but it is almost impossible to live up to the contract. The same goes for Finnegan, who is three years older than Carr.

Carr is set to count $12.217 million against the cap in 2014. His play tailed off at the end of the 2013 season, but he was hardly alone on a defense that finished last in the NFL.

While the Rams can save cap money by releasing Finnegan, such a move by the Cowboys with Carr would cost them $4.6 million. The only way they could release him this offseason that would make sense would be designate him a June 1 cut and push dead money into 2015. If they do that, Carr would count $12.15 million against the 2015 cap, which is more dead money in one player than the Cowboys will carry into 2014 with about 10-12 players.

The Rams structured Finnegan's deal differently with a lower signing bonus ($5 million) compared to Carr's ($10 million). Carr's base salary in 2013 was set to be $14.3 million until the Rams turned that into a signing bonus last offseason to create cap space.

It's a tool every team uses to create cap space. The Cowboys will use it this offseason on Tony Romo and Sean Lee to pick up space. They could create more space by restructuring Carr's contract, but would it be worth it?

They would increase their proration dollars going forward, which would be cap-prohibitive in 2015 and beyond.

The Cowboys' best move with Carr this year might be to do nothing at all.

Dez Bryant sees focused Cortland Finnegan

September, 21, 2013
IRVING, Texas -- St. Louis Rams cornerback Cortland Finnegan has been known to trash talk. There was a famous scrap with Houston Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson in 2010 that would have been a good co-feature on a Floyd Mayweather fight.

On Sunday, Finnegan and his trash talk come to AT&T Stadium to face the Cowboys, and he will defend Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant.

"He's a great player," Bryant said. "He’s got great instincts. He’s very quick. Great player. I think he’s kind of different now. I don’t really see him talk that much. You can tell if somebody is talking. You can see it on the film. It doesn’t look like he does it that much. He seems more focused on his business."

In the preseason, Finnegan said he doesn't trash talk as much but once the regular season begins, he picks it up.

"It's good to get them off their game," Finnegan said in a preseason interview on WXOS-FM in St Louis. "When it's all said and done, people want to be cut and dry in what they want to do. When you get them thinking about them tussling with you instead of running a route, it helps our football team."

Bryant has been known to do some trash talking himself, but after games he normally hugs it out with the opposing cornerback as a sign of respect. Bryant is well aware of the Johnson incident, but sees a different Finnegan than most people.

"He seems different," Bryant said. "Like he's focused and just wants to play some good football."
IRVING, Texas – Getting Brandon Carr to wear the star on his helmet was a must for the Cowboys.

The secondary needed as much help as possible. It can be debated the best way to help a secondary is to upgrade the pass rush (see New York Giants), but this free-agent market did not have the top-flight difference makers on the front seven except for Mario Williams.

The Cowboys were never going to be in the game for Williams, even if they let Anthony Spencer test free agency and hadn't placed the franchise tag on him. The price was just going to be too high.

That made getting Carr imperative. After Cortland Finnegan agreed to a deal Tuesday night with St. Louis and Eric Wright agreed to one in Tampa Bay on Wednesday morning, the Cowboys could not let Carr leave town without a deal.

The drop-off to the other cornerbacks available was just too great.

With Carr the Cowboys get a young player entering his prime. That’s the type of free agent you want to sign. Too often teams overpay in free agency for what a player had already done in the game, not what he can do.

Carr turns 26 in May. Orlando Scandrick is 25. Mike Jenkins is 27. The Cowboys can still look to the draft to find cornerback help.

Half of Carr's eight career interceptions came last year. He has 63 pass deflections in his four seasons. He’s around the ball. The Cowboys desperately need that.

The arrow on Carr is still pointing up.

Talks with Brandon Carr continue

March, 14, 2012
Contract talks between the Cowboys and free-agent cornerback Brandon Carr are ongoing. The sides were still talking about a contract late Tuesday night/early Wednesday morning.

ESPNDallas.com's Todd Archer talks about NFL free agency and how the Cowboys are already looking to make a splash.

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The contract Cortland Finnegan agreed to with the St. Louis Rams is of interest. Finnegan agreed to a five-year $50 million deal, an average of $10 million a season.

There is a thought Carr might command $7 million to $8 million a season from the Cowboys. Carr is younger (he turns 26 in May and Finnegan just turned 28), so it will be interesting to see what his final financial numbers are.

Finnegan has a good relationship with new St. Louis coach Jeff Fisher, for whom he played in Tennessee. That might have something to do with the increased financial numbers.

The Cowboys do want to get a Carr deal done, but if they don't, the draft has plenty of quality players to look to.

UPDATE: A source with knowledge of the discussions between the sides said Wednesday afternoon a contract being finalized is getting close.

So long, Terence Newman

March, 13, 2012

We've known for months that, when the time came, the ax wouldn't hurdle Terence Newman, and it didn't. The Dallas Cowboys have released the beleaguered cornerback who became the symbol of their second-half defensive problems, according to Todd Archer and Calvin Watkins.

The move saves the Cowboys either $4 million or $6 million against the salary cap, depending on the official timing of it and whether the NFL's 31 other owners decide two years from now that they didn't agree with it. (Yeah, I made that last part up.) The Cowboys also cut kicker David Buehler (which they announced, unlike the Newman move, and remains a secret for some reason) and, according to Todd and Calvin, restructured the contracts of cornerback Orlando Scandrick and tackle Doug Free. The Scandrick restructure converts $5.9 million of his $7.1 million base salary into bonus money. Similar deal with Free, as they convert $4.8 million of his $6 million base salary into bonus money.

All of the moves are designed for the salary cap, which the Cowboys need after the league docked them $10 million worth of cap room over the next two years for violating a handshake agreement the teams made to not spend too much during a supposedly uncapped season in 2010. Todd and Calvin calculate that Tuesday's moves cleared $15.82 million in 2012 cap room. Dallas is expected to be aggressive in free agency in spite of the sanctions, and it needs help at cornerback, safety and on the offensive line. Expect it to be mentioned in pursuit of the top cornerbacks on the market, such as Brandon Carr and Cortland Finnegan, once free agency opens at 4 p.m. ET.

Newman played well at the start of this season upon his return from injury, but he slowed down severely as the season went along. He gained an unfortunate sort of national notoriety in the season finale that decided the division title, when two Giants fullbacks were able to hurdle him while he tried to tackle them. The Cowboys were looking to upgrade from Newman last summer and likely would have cut him had they succeeded in signing Nnamdi Asomugha. But they held onto Newman instead, and the defense suffered for it.

A free agent list for the Cowboys

March, 13, 2012
At 3:01 CT the free agency period starts in the NFL.

ESPN NFL analyst Ed Werder talks about how the NFL's salary cap penalty could prevent the Cowboys from re-signing free agents, namely WR Laurent Robinson.

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With that we've got a list of potential targets for the Cowboys:
  • Brandon Carr, CB: Finished with four interceptions and 13 pass breakups for the Kansas City Chiefs.
  • Cortland Finnegan, CB: Credited with five tackles for loss and 12 pass breakups for Tennessee.
  • Richard Marshall, CB: Started nine games for Arizona last season and finished with three picks.
  • Eric Wright, CB: Ended 2011 with four interceptions and 16 pass breakups for Detroit.
  • Evan Mathis, G: Started 15 of 16 games at left guard for the Philadelphia Eagles in 2011.
  • Ben Grubbs, G: A 2011 Pro Bowler from the left guard spot for Baltimore.
  • Carl Nicks, G: The premier free-agent guard on the market. Might go back to New Orleans.
  • Trai Essex, G: A backup guard for Pittsburgh who can also play a little tackle.
  • Chris Myers, C: One of the best centers in the game. Houston covets him, though.
  • David Hawthorne, ILB: A nice fit in the Cowboys' scheme. Led Seattle in total tackles.
  • Dan Connor, ILB: Finished with 75 tackles and three tackles for loss with Carolina.
  • Shaun Hill, QB: Backed up Matthew Stafford in Detroit last season.
  • Kyle Orton, QB: Cowboys tried claiming him last season, but missed. Threw 10 TD and 11 INTs last year.
  • Luke McCown, QB: Was Blaine Gabbert's backup in Jacksonville.

What should Cowboys do at safety?

March, 10, 2012
Everybody knows the Dallas Cowboys need to upgrade their secondary, and much of the attention has been on cornerback, where Terence Newman is sure to be released and the Cowboys are being linked to cornerbacks such as Brandon Carr and Cortland Finnegan in free agency and Janoris Jenkins and Dre Kirkpatrick in the draft. But they also need to address safety, and the Cowboys' website raises the interesting name of Brodney Pool as a possible solution there. Pool played for Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan in Cleveland and could be a fit in Dallas if it decides not to retain his former teammate, Abram Elam:
Having started alongside Elam in Cleveland, Pool's signing with the Cowboys would mean that Elam will play elsewhere in 2012, most likely. Gerald Sensabaugh has been locked up to a long-term deal, but the Cowboys could use an upgrade opposite him. Pool and Elam are comparable talents, but Pool is three years younger and has a bit more size and athleticism. The team would seem unlikely to use a first-round pick on one of the draft's top safeties like Mark Barron of Alabama, and could hope to buy more time for a young player like Barry Church before inserting him into the starting lineup. Pool is quite capable of bridging that gap.

This is the kind of name that makes sense for the Cowboys at a position where they have a serious need but aren't likely to fill it with a pursuit of the biggest, flashiest names. I wouldn't rule out them taking someone like Barron in the first round of the draft, especially if they like whatever they've done at cornerback in free agency. But there are enough Pool-type veteran safeties on the market that the Cowboys should be able to find someone to give them what they need at the position.

NFC East: Free-agency primer

March, 9, 2012
AFC Free-Agency Primer: East | West | North | South NFC: East | West | North | South

Free agency begins Tuesday at 4 p.m. ET

Dallas Cowboys

Key free agents: WR Laurent Robinson, S Abram Elam, LB Keith Brooking, LB Anthony Spencer (franchise)

Where they stand: Dallas needs serious help in the secondary and will have to decide whether it wants Elam back at safety while it pursues at least one cornerback. The Cowboys are expected to release Terence Newman, and they could look to add depth at that position and a new starter. Franchising Spencer indicates that while they would like to improve their pass rush, they won't be players in the Mario Williams market. Expect their free-agent focus to be on defensive backs and possibly some upgrades on the interior of the offensive line. They would like Robinson back as their No. 3 receiver, but if he's going to get No. 2 receiver-type offers, they'll likely let him walk.

What to expect: The top two cornerback targets are likely Kansas City's Brandon Carr and Tennessee's Cortland Finnegan. You can't rule out Dallas making a play for Saints guard Carl Nicks, who'd be a huge help to their offensive line. But someone like Baltimore's Ben Grubbs is likely to be more attainable financially. What the Cowboys really need on the line is a center, but it's not a great market for those unless they can get their hands on Houston's Chris Myers. The Cowboys likely will hunt for some second-tier safeties and inside linebackers to add depth, then target defensive back again early in the draft.

New York Giants

Key free agents: WR Mario Manningham, OT Kareem McKenzie, CB Aaron Ross, CB Terrell Thomas, LB Jonathan Goff, P Steve Weatherford (franchise).

Where they stand: The Super Bowl champs must get their own cap situation in order first, as they project to be about $7.25 million over the projected cap. That may mean tough cuts of people like Brandon Jacobs or David Diehl, or it may just mean some contract restructuring (like the big one they apparently just did with Eli Manning). Regardless, don't expect the Giants to spend big to keep Manningham or Ross. They're likely to bring back Thomas on a team-favorable deal as a result of the knee injury that cost him the entire 2011 season, and they'll probably let McKenzie walk and try to replace him internally (which favors Diehl's chances of sticking around).

What to expect: Just like last year, don't expect the Giants to be big-game hunters. They like to grow their own replacements. If Manningham leaves, they won't go after the top wide receivers but might try to find a bargain or two to supplement the young players from whom they're expecting more production next season. They could find a midlevel safety if they don't bring back Deon Grant, and if Jacobs leaves they'll probably bring in a veteran running back or two to compete in training camp with their youngsters. They liked Ronnie Brown last year as a possible Ahmad Bradshaw replacement when Bradshaw was a pending free agent, so there's a name to watch for if you want one.

Philadelphia Eagles

Key free agents: G Evan Mathis, DT Trevor Laws, DT Antonio Dixon (restricted), WR DeSean Jackson (franchise), QB Vince Young

Where they stand: Other than Mathis, whom they're working to try and re-sign before he his the market, the Eagles don't have many internal free-agent issues to worry about. They franchised Jackson because they're not ready to give him a long-term deal just yet. He's a candidate for a trade, but it would have to be a very nice offer. If they traded him, they'd hunt for a wide receiver, but they may do so anyway -- just at a lower level (think Plaxico Burress). The interior of the defensive line is in fairly good hands with Cullen Jenkins and Mike Patterson as starters, but they could stand to add depth to that rotation. And while they signed Trent Edwards a couple of weeks ago, they'll keep looking for a better veteran backup quarterback option with Young sure to be gone.

What to expect: Do not -- I repeat, do not -- expect the Eagles to be the same kind of player they were in free agency a year ago. Andy Reid made it very clear several times during the 2011 offseason and season that last year was unique, and the Eagles don't like to do business that way in general. They do need linebackers, and they have the cap room to play on guys like Stephen Tulloch or Curtis Lofton or even, if they wanted to get really nutty, London Fletcher. But while you can expect them to add a veteran or two at the position, don't be surprised if they sit out the higher-priced auctions this time around.

Washington Redskins

Key free agents: S LaRon Landry, LB London Fletcher, DE Adam Carriker, TE Fred Davis (franchise), QB Rex Grossman

Where they stand: Mike Shanahan said in December that Fletcher was a priority, but he remains unsigned with less than a week to go before free agency. Presumably, they'd still like to lock him up before he hits the market. If they can't, they'll have to replace a major on-field and off-field presence. Carriker is likely to be back, but the Fletcher situation has to be settled first. Landry likely is gone unless he wants to take a low-base, high-incentive deal to stay. The Redskins are sick of not knowing whether he'll be able to take the field from week to week. Grossman could return, but only as a backup to whatever quarterback upgrade they find.

What to expect: The Redskins could have more than $40 million in cap room with which to maneuver in free agency, and they're going to need it. They need a quarterback, of course, and if they can't make the trade with the Rams to move up to No. 2 in the draft and pick Robert Griffin III, they'll look at Peyton Manning and Kyle Orton and possibly Matt Flynn, though he doesn't appear to be high on their list. What Shanahan really wants is a true playmaking No. 1 wide receiver, which is why the Redskins have their eyes on Vincent Jackson and Marques Colston, who are at the very top end of that market. They'll be able to outbid almost anyone for those guys if they want to, but they may have to get quarterback figured out first if they want to persuade one of them to take their offer over similar ones. They'll also hunt for help on the offensive line and in the secondary, as they need depth in both places.
There are several players the Cowboys will be interested in once free agency starts March 13.

[+] EnlargeCortland Finnegan
Fernando Medina/US PresswireWith Orlando Scandrick as the slot corner, the Cowboys may have no use for Cortland Finnegan (above).
Brandon Carr and Cortland Finnegan top the list for the Cowboys among the cornerbacks.

Finnegan expressed some displeasure Tuesday at not getting the franchise tag by the Tennessee Titans. It appears finances might be the reason why Finnegan isn't being sought by the Titans.

The Tennessean reported Finnegan is seeking a contract similar to the five-year, $48.5 million deal Jonathan Joseph signed with the Houston Texans last year.

But is Finnegan a fit with the Cowboys?

One AFC personnel man had this to say about Finnegan: "Better in the slot and an instinctive blitzer and tackler. He can mirror wide receivers in the slot. He can play outside but his size [5-10, 188 pounds] comes into play when he plays outside."

Said an NFC personnel man on Finnegan: "He can play outside corner but is probably better inside overall."

It seems the Cowboys want an outside cornerback to replace Terence Newman and continue using Orlando Scandrick as a slot corner. It doesn't make sense to have Finnegan and Scandrick on the roster if both play the same spot.

The Cowboys are not going to get rid of Scandrick since he just signed a contract extension last summer, but if they use Finnegan as an outside corner mainly, problems might exist.

Should Cowboys pursue Finnegan?

March, 6, 2012
Free agency is one of several ways for NFL teams to improve their rosters. It offers some solutions to often glaring problems. But it doesn't offer many perfect ones. When a player becomes a free agent, part of the reason is because his former team decided it didn't want him anymore. This can happen for several reasons, many of which have little to do with the quality of the player or the person in question. But the fact is, if you hit the market, you do so (at least in part) because your prior team didn't do what it took to keep you from hitting the market.

Which brings us to the Dallas Cowboys, who need a cornerback, and Cortland Finnegan, a former Tennessee Titans quarterback who's now a free agent. There seems little doubt that Finnegan should be high on the Cowboys' list of free-agent targets along with former Chief Brandon Carr. But any team that looks to sign a free agent wants to know as much as possible about him -- and about why he became a free agent. Fortunately for us, as we contemplate Cowboy needs, we have Paul Kuharsky, the estimable steward of the AFC South blog, to explain to us why Tennessee is letting Finnegan go:
Here's why: They don't think he's a $10 million a year corner. While he's a very good and versatile defensive back, he's not going to single-handedly erase a top receiver every week. Even had the Titans decided to give him the franchise tag, he would have hated it and griped. He's a good guy at heart, and did a lot for the team and the community, but his nasty streak, on and off the field, could show up at bad moments and be unhealthy. The last time he got money, he didn't react to a fatter wallet well.

So there you have it, Cowboys fans. Caveat emptor, which applies to every free-agent pursuit for various reasons. Finnegan would no doubt be a huge upgrade over the 2011 version of Terence Newman, and whatever drawbacks there are to him are likely outweighed by the on-field benefit he'd bring. Just a little reminder that, as much fun as free agency is, it rarely offers flawless fixes.
The Cowboys have too many holes to fill with significant free agency investments and early draft picks. They need to aggressively address their priorities and bargain shop or count on young players to step up in the other need spots.

Fixing Cowboys
The priorities are clear: cornerback and the interior offensive line.

There is only one undoubtedly elite player just entering his prime at those positions available in free agency. That’s why Pro Bowl guard Carl Nicks, who is expected to leave the Saints and happened to play for new offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Bill Callahan at Nebraska, should be the Cowboys’ top target.

The best corners in free agency – Atlanta’s Brent Grimes, Tennessee’s Cortland Finnegan and San Francisco’s Carlos Rogers – are in their late 20s or beyond. The Cowboys are dealing with the downside of paying big money to a cornerback at that stage of his career with Terence Newman. That’s a hole they need to fill via the draft.

[+] EnlargeDre Kirkpatrick
Kelly Lambert/US PresswireAlabama cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick would be a perfect fit for the Cowboys, even if they have to trade up from the No. 14 spot to get him.
Owner/general manager Jerry Jones, who made Leonard Davis one of the richest guards in NFL history only to cut him a few seasons later, has said he wants to stop the trend of paying top dollar for offensive linemen in free agency. Nicks is worth being an exception, especially given the Cowboys’ glaring need. He’s a dominant player who is only 26 years old, so the Cowboys would be purchasing his entire prime.

What would Nicks cost? Just look at what the Saints pay their other Pro Bowl guard to get an idea. Jahri Evans has a seven-year, $56.7 million deal.

That would eat up a major chunk of the estimated $17 million the Cowboys are expected to have under the salary cap after they take care of housekeeping issues such as cutting Newman. If the Cowboys re-sign receiver Laurent Robinson, it likely would mean Nicks would be the lone surefire starter they sign in free agency.

So the Cowboys better find a cornerback in the draft. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they need to reach for one in the first round.

It’d be ideal if Alabama’s Dre Kirkpatrick, the kind of big, physical cornerback the Cowboys want, is available with the 14th overall pick. He’d probably be worth trading up a few spots.

But a lot of bad picks are made when teams get locked into one position in the first round. If another player is clearly the best player on the board when the Cowboys are on the clock, get that guy, even if it’s Stanford guard David DeCastro and Nicks is already signed. If that happens, the Cowboys’ interior line suddenly goes from a glaring weakness to a major strength, no matter who beats out Phil Costa for the starting center job.

There should be quality corners, such South Carolina’s Stephon Gilmore and Virginia’s Chase Minnifield, available in the second round.

Safety, defensive end and outside linebacker are other need positions for the Cowboys. If the Cowboys find long-term solutions at those spots over the next year, it’ll probably be young players already on the roster: Barry Church, Sean Lissemore and Victor Butler, although Alabama OLB Courtney Upshaw is also a first-round possibility. The Cowboys would be wise to create as much competition at those spots as possible with low-risk, short-term free agents and/or mid- or late-round draft picks.

But the Cowboys can’t afford to fail to address their two biggest needs, a process that should start with a 6-foot-5, 343-pound solution.

Grudge Match: Titans-Cowboys

October, 9, 2010
*Titans quarterback Vince Young vs. Cowboys defense: Young has come a long way since he made his first career start against the Cowboys in 2006.

When Young first broke into the league, his attitude was more of a runner than a passer. Young’s throwing motion will never be confused with a classic, dropback quarterback. It always drove me crazy when coaches said “We can fix his throwing motion.” It didn’t work with Kerry Collins or a guy like Drew Henson. Young does not throw the ball overhand but more three-quarters style and with a flick of the wrist.

The Titans like to run routes across the field and inside where he can make easier throws. Offensive coordinator Mike Heimendinger tries to make this offense as easy as possible for Young to make the right reads and throws.

Where the Cowboys need to try to affect Young in this contest is two areas: attacking the middle of the pocket and getting their hands up when they are along the line of scrimmage.

Young has the mobility to break tackles from the outside; teams have had success is pressuring him in his face. A matchup to watch inside is Titans center Eugene Amano on Jay Ratliff and nickel rusher Stephen Bowen. In my view, Amano is the weakest of the Titans’ linemen and should be attacked.

If the Cowboys can hold running back Chris Johnson in check, the focus of the Titans attack then falls on the shoulders of Young to make plays on a consistent basis.

*Cowboys guard Leonard Davis vs. Titans defensive tackle Jason Jones: The Titans’ defense doesn’t have the stars it once had rushing the passer, but they still get a tremendous amount of pressure with this current group.

Jones is the type of player than tends to give Davis fits. He is mobile, quick and athletic. Davis tends to struggle with these types because he doesn’t always move his feet. He will struggle when these defenders attack his shoulder and he has to adjust. When Davis gets in trouble, he overextends and tries to block off balance.

Jones is not a powerful player and there is no way that he can go toe-to-toe with Davis run or pass and think that he will have success. The Titans like to get their linemen on the move, so Davis cannot allow Jones to be a factor in the middle of the pocket and in the running game.

If Davis does struggle, there is a good chance the Cowboys will suffer some negative plays on offense.

*Cowboys receivers vs. Titans cornerback Cortland Finnegan: There are going to be some great matchups across the board in this game but, this is the one I am really going to pay very close attention to.

Finnegan is one of the top five cover men in the NFL. He is not the biggest guy, but he has outstanding talent. He plays with an ease of movement and skill.

Finnegan is a hard man for a receiver to run away from because of his burst and acceleration. He plays very tight coverage and is hard to fool. Sometimes you find cornerbacks guessing on the routes, but not this guy. He is very smart and he has a great feel of how to read and play routes.

Finnegan has good ball skills and the hands to make a quarterback pay for their mistake. In the last two seasons, he has had five interceptions each year. He is a willing tackler and not afraid to stick his nose in the action.

In the past, the Titans have used Finnegan as a blitzer off the edge. In the Broncos game last week, he got his first sack of the season on a third-and-15 play.

I can see the Cowboys trying to attack rookie corner Alterraun Verner, who is not a bad player but nowhere as productive as Finnegan. If the Cowboys do have success on Finnegan on Sunday, the Titans’ defense might be in trouble.

Scout's Eye: Titans-Cowboys preview

October, 8, 2010

Scout's Eye
One team is going to leave Cowboys Stadium on Sunday night with three losses and questions moving forward. The other will gain much-needed momentum and the opportunity to build on that.

The Dallas Cowboys are coming off a bye week. The Tennessee Titans suffered a difficult home loss to Denver in which their defense was able to get six sacks on Kyle Orton but couldn’t get him on the ground when they needed it the most to close out the game.

The one thing you know about the Titans and Jeff Fisher is that they will be well prepared. Since the league’s realignment in 2002, the Titans have been one of the NFL’s most successful teams in interconference play with a record of 24-9. Only the Patriots and Colts have a better record during that time period.

When you study the Titans, there are two areas that really stand out on their offense. The first is running back Chris Johnson and the second is the offensive tackles, Michael Roos and David Stewart.
[+] EnlargeChris Johnson
Icon SMIThe Cowboys' defense will have its hands full with the Titan's explosive running back, Chris Johnson.

Johnson is impressive to watch with the ball in his hands. When I worked for the Packers and we played Barry Sanders, you always had the feeling that on any carry, no matter where the offense was on the field, there was a chance for a huge play. Johnson has that same game-changing type of ability.

When the Titans run the ball, they like to do it with stretch plays, counters and tosses. Johnson has a real feel for how to find the gaps and holes along the defense, then explode through them.

His timed speed is 4.24 coming out of East Carolina and he is every bit of that. He plays with vision and that stop-and-start quickness.

Johnson can also hurt you as well in the passing game. He does a nice job of catching balls in the flat or inside and getting up the field.

On Wednesday morning, Fisher was asked about the make up of his star running back and his qualities. Fisher spoke of Johnson’s ability with the ball in his hands, but if he does have a weakness, I felt like it’s his ability to pass protect. Would not be surprised to see the Cowboys try to make him have to pick up some blitzes in this game early. He didn’t show the ability to hang in there and be square in pass protection. He’s a cut blocker.

When you play a back that has the talent of Johnson, tackling is huge. He will bounce off tackles if you don’t wrap him up. If the Cowboys do not tackle well when Johnson has the ball in his hands, it plays right into what the Titans want to do on offense.

The strength of the Titans offensive line is at their tackle spot. Through the first four weeks of the season, this is the best set of tackles that the Cowboys have had to face. Roos and Stewart are good.

Overall, this offensive line is more mobile than they are powerful. They are very good at getting out on the edge and blocking in space. The Titans use a zone blocking scheme but will also pull on counter plays. They are a productive second-level blocking team and do a nice job of staying on their feet and finishing blocks.
Michael Roos
Scott Boehm/Getty ImagesMichael Roos (71) and David Stewart anchor a Titans offensive line that produced the league's top rusher a year ago.

The Cowboys should have an advantage with the matchup at nose when Jay Ratliff works against center Eugene Amano. Amano will struggle with Ratliff’s quickness and power.

Ratliff puts a ton of pressure on the offense because of his ability to attack the pocket. When you play the Titans, you do worry about Johnson in the running game but you also want to attack Vince Young up the middle in the pocket. Young does not do a good job when he has to face pressure in his face; it’s from the outside where he can avoid and use his legs to escape.

Would not be a bit surprised if the Titans allow Roos and Stewart to handle Ware and Spencer on the outside and try to help inside with guards Leroy Harris and Jake Scott on Ratliff.

*On defense for the Titans, there are not the names that we have seen in the past like Albert Haynesworth, Jevon Kearse, Kyle Vanden Bosch or Keith Bulluck. Instead guys like Jason Babin, Dave Ball and Stephen Tulloch are the players that are the new blood in this eight-ranked Titans defense.

The Titans have different players, but it’s still the same aggressive defensive that has always been a staple of Jeff Fisher teams. The Titans are an undersized along the defensive front, but they are very aggressive when it comes to rushing the passer. Wade Phillips calls it relentless and they do a nice job of playing the run on the way to rushing the passer.

The Titans like to bring four-man pressure and they like to work games up front. You will also see twist stunts, corner and slot blitzes.

The player to watch for the Titans up front is defensive tackle Jason Jones. Jones is one of those relentless players that Phillips was talking about. Jones is always coming forward, always attacking the offensive linemen. He plays sometimes inside eye of the guard as a one-technique or he will line up outside shoulder of the guard and rush from the three.

Jones has good movement inside, so watch for the Titans to try and match him up inside on Leonard Davis, who will struggle with quickness to his outside shoulder.

In the secondary, the Titans have two players that I really like. Cornerback Cortland Finnegan and safety Michael Griffin are outstanding players.
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Larry French/Getty ImagesScreen plays will help Tony Romo and the Cowboys' offense counter the aggressive, revamped Tennessee defense.

Finnegan is one of those corners that doesn’t give you much room in the route. He is a hard guy to run away from. Finnegan plays with an ease of movement and can be aggressive in the running game.

Griffin is a ball-hawking safety. He had a very nice interception against the Broncos and he is a factor when coming forward in the running game.

The Titans like to play two deep and play man coverage underneath. They will try to get their linebackers in coverage and in help with the secondary. When the ball is thrown or run, they as a group really rally to the ball and the ball carrier.

Look for the Cowboys to try to take advantage of the aggressive nature of the Titans defense. The Broncos and Steelers used screen packages to try to slow down the Titans rush and keep them off balance.

Again, this is not a big front for the Titans, but the Cowboys need to handle their movement and stunting to have success moving the ball on Sunday.

Are the Tennessee Titans dirty?

October, 5, 2010
IRVING -- The Cowboys' Sunday opponent, the Tennessee Titans, come to Cowboys Stadium after being accused of playing a dirty game against the Denver Broncos on Sunday.

Broncos quarterback Kyle Orton called Titans cornerback Cortland Finnegan cheap after he punched Broncos guard Chris Kuper after his helmet popped off.

"If that's the type of player Cortland Finnegan wants to be, well then he's a cheap player, not a good player," Orton told reporters according to the Denver Post on Sunday.

Monday, Broncos coach Josh McDaniels and Titans coach Jeff Fisher offered differences of opinion on what happened in Sunday's game.

"I was proud of our team because we knew that was the kind of game it was going to be," McDaniels said. "You can put any tape you want to of Tennessee and there's going to be 10 penalties. You either coach it or you allow it to happen. That's how I look at that."

Said Fisher: "We play aggressive — we don't play cheap. If there's things after the whistle or during the play, players are fined for them. But we're not a cheap football team. I don't know what he's referring to."

In the Denver game, Tennessee drew 10 penalties for 111 yards. This year, the Titans have been called for an NFL-high six personal foul penalties and are tied for second in the league with 42 penalties called overall. Dallas hasn't been called for any personal fouls but is seventh in the league in penalties with 36.

So what does coach Wade Phillips think about all of this?

"You have to play with poise no matter what," he said. "I don't know all the problems, I have heard them. We're going to try not to get involved in that."

When asked if he's seen anything on tape that would indicate the Titans are dirty, Phillips said, "I haven't seen anything. No"

Chippy? "I don't know about that. We hadn't played them. Some teams talk a lot, some teams don't, I don't have any feel for that. I do see what the other team said about them."

This might be the most physical game of the season for the Cowboys. In two preseason games, Jerry Jones said the opponent was more physical than his team, but we haven't heard that said through three regular season games.

Dallas might have to become the aggressor from the start against the Titans to set the tone.

"You can tell they play hard and you can tell they've been coached that way," tight end Jason Wittensaid. "They rally to the ball and that's the way it's been for awhile. Effort and motor, that's what they pride themselves in doing. When you watch them on film, it kind of jumps out at you."