Dallas Cowboys: Ryan Clark

Cowboys Twitter mailbag, Part 1

April, 11, 2014
Apr 11
IRVING, Texas -- Part 1 of the Dallas Cowboys' Twitter mailbag is ready.

In it we discuss the best way for the Cowboys to win, the apparent plans at safety, finding a future quarterback, rebuilding and Ed Reed. Ed Reed? Yep.

Away we go:

GRAPEVINE, Texas – Will Allen came in as a fourth-round pick at Tampa Bay with Monte Kiffin as his defensive coordinator in 2004. Nine years later, Allen has been reunited with Kiffin, who is in his first year as the Cowboys’ defensive coordinator,

John Lynch joins Fitzsimmons & Durrett to discuss playing for Monte Kiffin and Rod Marinelli, why Cowboys fans should be excited about the new defensive staff, why Valley Ranch will no longer resemble a country club and his thoughts on the Cowboys roster.

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“Monte’s a trip, man, but it’s fun,” said Allen, who signed a one-year deal with the Cowboys after starting eight games for Pittsburgh last year. “I’m excited about it. I understand the defense and I understand the expectations and the standard, and I want to be able to convey that message to the guys here and help this team build and grow. I’m excited.”

Allen played five years under Kiffin in Tampa Bay. In 2006, he started every game and had a career high 77 tackles. He played for Pittsburgh from 2010-12.

Why sign with the Cowboys?

“It’s a number of things,” he said. “It’s the opportunity to play with Dallas, the opportunity to be in the system again and the challenge of being able to start in this league. I started eight games last year with the Steelers and I see a great opportunity to start with the Dallas Cowboys and compete and help this team win.”

In Pittsburgh, Allen was surrounded by veterans in Ryan Clark and Troy Polamalu. With the Cowboys, he is surrounded by inexperienced players like Barry Church, Matt Johnson and rookie J.J. Wilcox.

“It’s a little different, but again that’s what being in this league is all about,” Allen said. “When I first came in the league, I had guys older than I was and they told me a lot about the game. I felt like that community and the fraternity of the league where older guys give back to the younger guys. Whatever team you’re on, you want to help win. I don’t have a Lombardi and I want that more than anything. I can’t do it by myself. I need those young guys. We need each other. That’s got to be our mindset.”

Look Back: Kudos to Rob Ryan

December, 18, 2012
IRVING, Texas – Rob Ryan has taken heat for some of the issues that have cropped up with the Cowboys’ defense this season.

Maybe some of it is not entirely fair because of the injuries, but everybody at Valley Ranch has said you cannot use injuries as an excuse.


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In Sunday’s 27-24 win against Pittsburgh, Ryan did a great job of mixing up looks, coverages and blitzes. In this week’s Look Back, Ryan brought pressure (five or more) 12 times, which does not sound like a lot considering his background but it was more than he had been bringing in recent weeks.

Despite the call for more blitzes, Ryan has been correct to rely on his four man pressure most of the time. Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was 15 of 26 against the Cowboys four-man looks. He was sacked once and his interception in overtime came against four-man pressure.

His first touchdown of the game came against a three-man look. He completed two of three passes against three-man pressure, but was sacked once (Marcus Spears).

Against five- and six-man pressures Roethlisberger was seven of 11 with a touchdown (the slot throw to Antonio Brown) but Ryan’s five-man pressure call led to a split sack by DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer and his only six-man call of the game led to the sack by Sean Lissemore.

The Steelers had to be confused because Lissemore came unblocked between the guard and tackle and was able to smother Roethlisberger. Again, it was the only time Ryan brought six games in the game.

Let’s look at Brandon Carr’s interception that was the signature play of the game. As the Steelers lined up Carr was three yards off Mike Wallace but by the time of the snap Carr backed off to seven yards. All the while his eyes were on Roethlisberger.

At the snap he pedals back and keeps inside leverage. In the fourth quarter Wallace was able to get him on a stop route. This time he ran an out route, but it’s almost as if Roethlisberger might have been thinking Wallace would run another stop because the throw was to the inside, allowing Carr to break on the pass.

Carr made the athletic pick and was able to get down to the Pittsburgh 1 to set up the game-winning field goal.

An interesting note on that play, the Steelers chose to double Spencer with the tight end and the running back on the strong side and leave left tackle Max Starks alone on Ware.

How did the Steelers block Ware during the game?

Starks had him one-on-one on 18 pass plays, according to my count. Ware’s half sack came on a one-on-one battle. They double-teamed Ware eight times, had a tight end block him three times, but two came on quick throws to the outside. He dropped into coverage three times, went unblocked once and three times the Steelers had their guards block him by sliding the tackle down.

On to the offense …

Let’s look at Jason Witten’s touchdown first. What struck me most was Tony Romo’s fake on the play action. He and DeMarco Murray did a great job selling the run, especially with guard Nate Livings pulling. That forced linebacker Lawrence Timmons to suck up toward the line and allowed Witten to get down the field after he was untouched at the line.

It was an easy throw and catch that was set up by the run action. Since Murray’s return the Cowboys have done a lot more running out of 11 personnel with the guard pulling. Film study had them thinking it was a run on first-and-10 from their 17 but the Cowboys were able to take their shot.

On four occasions the Cowboys faced third and 1. It’s not been a kind down and distance in recent years and they were only two of four in those situations vs. the Steelers.

On the first third-and-1, Murray gained eight yards thanks to some solid work from Witten and Tyron Smith, who sealed the weakside edge, and Lawrence Vickers, who took care of the defensive back. Murray was able to fend off Larry Foote to get the extra yards with a stiff arm (or a face mask?).

On the second third-and-1, the Cowboys went with their goal line package with tackle Jermey Parnell as their third tight end. Once again Vickers did a nice job and John Phillips and Witten were able to do enough for Murray to run through Timmons for the first down.

So far so good, but to open the third quarter the Cowboys were stopped on third and 1. Once again they went with Parnell as the extra tight end, but Vickers could not get Keenan Lewis out of the way and it looked as if Mackenzy Bernadeau could not close the back side, which allowed Timmons to come through for the tackle.

The fourth third-and-1 play – a Romo bootleg - was there had Parnell and Smith blocked it correctly. On the first three plays the Steelers crashed down inside on the runs, so the Cowboys figured they would bite again and they did. But Smith and Parnell were unable to keep Harrison under control, and he made the tackle for loss.

In 2010, the Cowboys ran a similar play against Detroit in which Jon Kitna scampered home for a long touchdown.

Overall, however, the offensive line was excellent against a good Steelers front.

Steelers wanted no part of Mike Jenkins

February, 2, 2011
ARLINGTON, Texas -- The Pittsburgh Steelers win on such a consistent basis that they rarely have draft picks in the top half of the first round. On Tuesday, I talked to several members of the organization about what they look for in players via the draft or free agency. I'm writing a column Thursday about why the Cowboys have fallen off the map in terms of playoff success over the past 15 years, and I thought the Steelers (and the Packers) might provide a good point of reference.

Steelers secondary coach Ray Horton, who once won a Super Bowl as a safety for the Dallas Cowboys, brought up Ryan Clark as an example. The former Redskins safety gets lost in Troy Polamalu's shadow a lot of the time, but he's invaluable to the Steelers' success on defense. Clark's started 44 games for the Steelers over the past three seasons.

"When he's on the field, you don't notice him," Horton told me Tuesday. "But when he was out earlier this season, we're saying, 'What's going on out there?' He's not flashy, but everything runs smoothly when he's on the field. You have to have those types of players to be successful."

Horton told me that when he's preparing for the draft, he's constantly asking himself the question, 'Would I want my job depending on that guy?'

Since Horton still keeps up with the Cowboys from afar and was actually mentioned as a candidate at defensive coordinator, I asked what he thought of Dallas cornerback Mike Jenkins when he was coming out of South Florida three years ago.

"I didn't want him at the time because he wouldn't tackle," said Horton. "If you're going to play for us, you have to be able to tackle. Or you need to be picking off a lot of balls."

Jenkins appeared to put it all together in '09 as he made his first Pro Bowl team. But he regressed in 2010, and as Horton predicted, tackling is not one of Jenkins' strengths. In fact, there are two painful reminders for Cowboys fans ('08 and '10) of Jenkins going out of his way to avoid contact with ballcarriers.

I think the Cowboys' secondary was undermined by an inconsistent pass-rush this past season. But Jenkins still had a poor season. Perhaps having the Steelers and Packers in town for a week will help Jerry Jones have a first-hand look at how successful teams are built.

Or he could just keep doing it his way.

It was cold in Cowboys Stadium, too

February, 1, 2011
ARLINGTON, Texas -- The roof of Cowboys Stadium was closed Tuesday for obvious reasons but that did not mean it was a climate-controlled temperature inside the $1.2 billion joint.

Several players at either end of the podiums that stretched the length of the field sported goose bumps as they spoke on Media Day because of a windy draft that came through the tunnels.

“It’s freezing,” Steelers right tackle and former Cowboy Flozell Adams said.

At one point Pittsburgh safety Ryan Clark yelled over to newly-crowned Defensive Player of the Year Troy Polamalu during the Steelers’ hour-long session, “Troy, tell them to turn on the heat. They’ll listen to you.”

The Steelers and Packers were hoping to avoid the colder climate, especially being inside.

“I want it to leave,” Green Bay wide receiver James Jones said. “I don’t want it to be here. It’s not that cold. I mean there is a little snow on the ground, but we’re from Green Bay, we can deal with it. It was crazy when we were driving up here and they were putting sand on the roads. I’m like, ‘What are you guys doing putting sand on the ground? You guys are going to get us stuck.’”