Dallas Cowboys: Vince Wilfork

Like Pats, Cowboys have to do more with less

January, 13, 2014
Jan 13
IRVING, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys have had a familiar refrain the last two seasons when it has come to injuries.

You have heard Jason Garrett spout off his “next man up” philosophy time and time again. You’ve heard Jerry Jones and others say injuries are not an excuse, while sure making them sound like an excuse for another 8-8 season.

Do you know a team that had more injuries than the Cowboys? The New England Patriots. And they are one win away from playing in another Super Bowl.

The Patriots lost defensive tackle Vince Wilfork for 12 games with a torn Achilles. They lost linebacker Jerod Mayo for 10 games with a torn pectoral muscle. Tight end Rob Gronkowski missed nine games as he recovered from offseason back surgery and had a gruesome knee injury during the year. That does not count the departure of Aaron Hernandez in the offseason after he was charged with murder.

Who would be the Cowboy equivalents for missing 47 games in a season?

How about DeMarcus Ware, Sean Lee, Jason Witten and pick somebody that played 600 snaps or more. And how would the Cowboys look without those guys?

The Cowboys had injuries in 2013. They lost defensive end Anthony Spencer for 15 games with a knee injury. Cornerback Morris Claiborne and linebacker Justin Durant missed six games apiece. Right guard Brian Waters missed the final seven games. Miles Austin missed five. Lee missed five. Ware missed three.

The Patriots were able to overcome and adapt. The Cowboys could not overcome or adapt.

As Jones examines the roster and where the Cowboys need the most help he can’t bank on the return of health of Lee or Claiborne. If they make it through 2014 healthy, somebody else of consequence will get hurt.

Garrett has kept the brave face when it has come to injuries. He has said the right thing. He has attempted to do the right thing as well. It just hasn’t worked for him.

This might be Bill Belichick’s best year coaching because he has done so much with less. Somehow Garrett and the Cowboys have to figure out to do more with less.

5 Wonders: Mo returns, Carter's future

April, 30, 2012
IRVING, Texas – The award-winning 5 Wonders is back for a post-draft look. Today we talk about Morris Claiborne, Bruce Carter, Mike Jenkins and the missing nose tackle?

** The Cowboys traded up for Claiborne because he was the second player on their draft board and they could not believe he slipped out of the top five. In 2003 the Cowboys drafted Terence Newman with the fifth overall pick and said part of the decision was based on Newman’s return abilities. In nine seasons, Newman had 38 punt returns for a 7.5-yard average and one touchdown. They never really let him do it. I wonder if the Cowboys will let Claiborne return punts and/or kicks. He averaged 25 yards per kick return last year at LSU and had a 99-yard touchdown. He’s not Patrick Peterson as a returner, but he could be a good one and the Cowboys’ return games need to improve in 2012. Here’s a bonus wonder: I wonder if Dez Bryant actually becomes more of a full-time returner this season. It’s Year 3 for him and I wonder if the team will sign him to a second contract down the road.

** Claiborne’s arrival has Jenkins’ future in question. Jenkins is in the last year of his contract and is scheduled to make a little more than $1 million. He is also coming off shoulder surgery and as I wrote on Friday, the team is a little concerned at how much rehab time he’s spending in Florida and not at Valley Ranch. But I wonder what you could get for Jenkins. The money is palatable but he will be an unrestricted free agent in 2013. And he’s coming off major surgery and won’t be ready until training camp. Jerry Jones likes to say a player’s value is lowest at the draft, so they could not get equal value for Jenkins or close to it. I wonder if the Cowboys let Jenkins play out the year, hope he does well, signs a big contract elsewhere and then hope they can get a compensatory back in 2014. The team doesn’t wonder about this (they say) but I wonder if they would like a do-over on Orlando Scandrick’s contract.

** I have to take Jones’ word for it that Bobby Wagner would’ve been the Cowboys’ pick in the second round had the team not made the move up for Claiborne. But I wonder what that means about Carter, last year’s second rounder. At every opportunity the Cowboys have said they liked how Carter progressed last season off a torn anterior cruciate ligament, that he met every goal they planned knowing that he was injured. Well, now he’s healthy and I wonder if he’s really a fit. The Cowboys added Dan Connor in free agency to a two-year deal and Jones said they would’ve taken Wagner, an inside linebacker. That would seem to be a little redundant, unless Rob Ryan is drawing up some sort of special scheme or maybe Wagner could play outside. There will be a lot of eyes on Carter during the organized team activities and minicamp.

** Where’s the true 3-4 nose tackle? As good as Jay Ratliff has been, many of you want the Cowboys to grab a huge nose tackle and slide Ratliff to defensive end. That’s why some fans wanted Dontari Poe in the first round or even Alameda Ta’Amu in the third round. I wonder if the need for that type of plugger is as important nowadays. Think about it. The NFL is a passing league and if you have a 330-pound nose tackle to stop the run, he will play about 30 percent of the snaps. Is it worth it? I don’t know, but it looks like the Cowboys don’t believe so. The good nose tackles in 3-4 defenses now also have some pass rush and flexibility, like Vince Wilfork or Haloti Ngata. Those guys aren’t available all the time and run defense was not the Cowboys’ downfall last year. I also wonder this: The Cowboys might be higher on Josh Brent than many people know.

** I wonder how many undrafted players make this roster. You can almost lock up Ronald Leary, the Memphis guard, after how Jones talked about him Saturday. Heck, you wonder if Leary could be a candidate to start. Last year four undrafted players made the 53-man roster and a fifth, Raymond Radway, would have if not for an injury.

Scout's Eye: Cowboys-Patriots preview

October, 14, 2011

If you believe in fate and are a fan of the Dallas Cowboys, here is something that maybe you can hang your hat on. The last time defensive coordinator Rob Ryan had a week off to prepare for Tom Brady and the New England Patriots, his Cleveland Browns walked away with an impressive 34-14 victory in 2010.

Scout's Eye
Cowboys defense vs. Patriots offense

Ryan's defense has played outstanding through the first four weeks of the season, but the task ahead is different from any of those that you generally face during an NFL season. When you play an elite quarterback such as Tom Brady, the amount of pressure he puts on you is greater than when you face Mark Sanchez, Alex Smith or even Matthew Stafford.

Mistakes in assignments are magnified when you play against Brady because of his ability to read defensive schemes and take advantage of the situation by adjusting his protection and moving his personnel to attack the void. In the NFL, it's all about the matchups, how you create them and then take advantage of the ones in your favor.

The Patriots take advantage of match-ups better than any other team in the league. When you study the Patriots, it's about "scheme fits." It's not only about a player like Wes Welker. You also have to be wary of tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, and running backs BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead as well.

The Patriots create match-up problems for a defense because there is so much flexibility where their skill players can line up in the formation. Rarely do you see the Patriots use the same formation early in the game, because this exposes your game plan defensively. Once Brady has an idea of how you are going to defend the offense, then he goes to work.

Patriots WR Wes Welker vs. Cowboys secondary

It's interesting to watch the Patriots on offense because they no longer have a straight vertical threat like Randy Moss. Instead they use Welker, Gronkowski and Hernandez all over the field. Welker is a crafty route-runner, but maybe his greatest strength is his ability to read coverages and react to what the defense is doing to him. When Welker's on the move, you can see his eyes looking at the secondary and plotting where he will take his route.

Brady has a tremendous understanding of where Welker is going to be in his route to deal with the coverage. With the Patriots, you will see several routes down the field that are crossing routes. The Patriots like to take routes through zone coverage, running to open spaces -- which is effective against teams that like to play Cover 2.

Last week, the Jets were able to match Darrelle Revis against Welker, who really struggled to generate any type of separation or space. Revis was physical off the line but, more importantly, he was able to carry Welker all over the field. The Cowboys will get an important piece of their secondary back this week when cornerback Orlando Scandrick returns from a high ankle sprain.

I have always viewed Scandrick as one of the Cowboys' best cover men. To play slot corner, you have to play with a great deal of quickness but, more importantly, you have to have the understanding of what types of routes that the man you are covering might run. Scandrick will have to be prepared to play a ton of snaps, so his conditioning will be tested. In what we have been allowed to see during practices, he looked explosive and confident that the ankle sprain is behind him.

Patriots tight ends are more like WRs

Earlier I mentioned that you have to be wary of Patriots tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, and there was a reason for this. Neither one of these guys plays like a true tight end. Rather, they're more like 255-pound wide receivers that can get down the field. Both Gronkowski and Hernandez are vertical players that run well, but their most impressive trait is their ability to catch the ball.

The Cowboys have done a nice job against some outstanding tight ends this season, but Gronkowski and Hernandez present a different challenge because you see them down the field in combination routes with the receivers. Brady might look to Welker first, but I've seen him throw to Gronkowski and Hernandez in coverage and still they managed to come up with the ball.

Achilles' heel of Patriots offense: RT Nate Solder

If you are looking for a weakness on the Patriots offense, it is rookie right tackle Nate Solder, who has had to start because Sebastian Vollmar has been dealing with a back injury. Solder looks very similar to what I had seen on college tape before the draft. He's not very strong and, for someone that is a good foot athlete, he struggles with rushers off the edge.

Two weeks ago, the Cowboys didn’t take advantage of the Detroit Lions' poor pass blockers. The Patriots' O-line is much better on both run and pass, but it will struggle at times when teams run games on them with movement in the passing game. If Rob Ryan is going to get pressure on Brady, this will most likely be the route that he tries to go.

Cowboys offense vs. Patriots defense

When you study the Patriots on defense, the one area that jumps out at you is how much space their secondary gives up in routes. I didn't see the tightness in the coverage that I have seen with other defenses that the Cowboys have faced so far this season.

Earlier in the season, the Patriots played a great deal of man coverage but with little success. Now you see them playing much more zone. Another area where the Patriots have struggled is their inability to rush the passer. New England doesn't have that dynamic pressure player coming off the edge. Defensive ends Andre Carter and Shaun Ellis are veterans, but they don’t rush the passer like a Brian Orakpo or Kyle Vanden Bosch.

Patriots' defensive force: Vince Wilfork

The strength of this Patriots defense is up the middle with defensive tackle Vince Wilfork, who is one of the more dominate players in this league. For a man his size, Wilfork moves very well. He is not one of those tackles that sits in a spot and just anchors down. He is very active -- not only in his pass rush, but also his ability to play the run right at him or working down the line. Kyle Kosier, Phil Costa and Bill Nagy had to deal with the inside power and the push that the Lions' Ndamukong Suh and Corey Williams were able to get. To the credit of the Cowboys' inside three, however, they were able to hold up the majority of the time. Wilfork has power, but he has pass rush technique.

Breaking down the Patriots' defense

On the other side, Albert Haynesworth will see action. But also be aware of second-year player Kyle Love, who is a much lighter and more mobile player. When the Patriots' defensive line tries to get pressure, it’s usually by using twist stunts. They will also use blitzes from the secondary -- twice using a slot blitz vs. the Jets and a straight corner blitz against the Raiders.

Linebackers Jarod Mayo and Brandon Spikes are very active. Both really try to play downhill and attack the ball. They like to give you a tight look with one of the linebackers at the line, drop him, then fire the one from the other side. Where this group had some trouble was when the Jets went with an empty formation and it caused some confusion.

Also watch passing plays on the outside against this defense. The Buffalo Bills were able to work their screen packages but were also able to make plays in the flat with their running backs catching the ball against these linebackers.

Another potential target spot: Patriots safety

Another potential weakness for the Patriots is at safety. Starter Josh Barrett has been banged up, as has Patrick Chung. The Patriots have been trying to make do with Sergio Brown, who tends to misplay the ball in flight and is a poor tackler. James Ihedigbo is a better player when he can react to the ball in front of him. It will be interesting to see if the Cowboys can take advantage of this defense.

Derrick Dockery not returning soon

September, 28, 2011
IRVING, Texas -- The Cowboys' signing of Derrick Dockery six days before the season opener was designed for games like Sunday’s against Detroit.

The Cowboys wanted to add bulk and height on the interior, which is why they cut Montrae Holland. Dockery weighs 325 pounds and is 6-6.

But a knee injury will keep Dockery out for at least another three weeks, according to a source. He suffered a tibial plateau fracture in his first start at San Francisco. With Dockery out, rookie Bill Nagy (6-3, 303) will start his third game and have to prepare for Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, perhaps the most powerful defensive tackle in the NFL.

And it won’t get easier for the interior linemen after the Oct. 9 bye either with a trip to New England and Vince Wilfork and (possibly) Albert Haynesworth at defensive tackle.

Free agent series: Defensive line

March, 1, 2010
Welcome to Day 2 of our free agent series. On Monday, we looked at Miles Austin, the restricted free agent wide receiver.

Today, it's time to look at the Cowboys defensive line.

Of the Cowboys' 13 restricted free agents, four are from the defensive line and each played well last season.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Spears
Jeff Hanisch/US PresswireMarcus Spears had 50 tackles, 2.5 sacks and tied his career best with 16 quarterback pressures last season.
Who are they? Stephen Bowen, Jason Hatcher, Marcus Spears and Junior Siavii.

Should they keep them? Yes.

How much to pay? The Cowboys will probably tender all four of these players, but Spears, an end, was looking for a new contract after his rookie one expired following the season. Spears, a starter who had 50 tackles, 2 1/2 sacks and a career-best tying 16 quarterback pressures, should return.

The Cowboys will probably offer Spears, a five-year veteran, a first-round tender of $2.621 million for 2010.

Under normal conditions, another NFL team might scoop up Spears. But with the 2010 year expected to be uncapped because the owners opted out of the collective bargaining agreement, and teams probably not willing to spend as much, we doubt Spears will go elsewhere.

Bowen, an end, has shown the most upside among the backups by playing well on passing downs last season. He compiled career highs in sacks (three) and quarterback pressures (35). He had two more pressures than two-time Pro Bowl nose tackle Jay Ratliff.

It's hard to say what to give Bowen, a four-year veteran. The Cowboys value him a lot, but do you place a second-round tender on him at $1.759 million or a first-round tender of $2.521 million?

Michael Turner
Tim Heitman/US PresswireJason Hatcher (97), who finished last season with 13 tackles and a sack, likely will get a second-round tender offer of $1.759 million.
Hatcher, another four-year veteran who plays end, came on strong toward the end of the year after finally discovering a groove after offseason surgery. Hatcher had six quarterback pressures the last four weeks of the season.

Hatcher most likely will get a second-round tender offer of $1.759 million.

The Cowboys like Siavii's ability to back up Ratliff at nose. He's had some moments, like the seven-tackle, one-quarterback pressure performance vs. Atlanta, and he picked up three solo tackles vs. Washington. But his snap count changed.

He played just 13 snaps the last three weeks of the season, including one play in the regular-season finale vs. Philadelphia. But in two postseason games, Siavii played 27 total snaps.

Siavii could get an offer of $1.176 million or a minimum salary of much lower than that.

Other free agents worth looking at this position: This is a strong position as evidenced by Aubrayo Franklin, Vince Wilfork and Richard Seymour getting franchised. Pittsburgh locked up Casey Hampton with a new contract. Also, Julius Peppers, who wouldn't mind playing for the Cowboys, is an unrestricted free agent. Dallas won't dip into the free agent market here because it likes its depth at this position.

Miles Austin wasn't franchised today

February, 25, 2010
Ok, as you already know, Miles Austin wasn't franchised by the Cowboys today.

However, the following players were franchised for the 2010 season:Green Bay DT Ryan Pickett, New England DT Vince Wilfork, Oakland DE Richard Seymour, who given a exclusive rights franchise tag, Pittsburgh K Jeff Reed, San Francisco DT Aubrayo Franklin and Seattle K Olindo Mare.

Now these players can work out deals with their respective teams for the exception of Seymour who is an "exclusive" franchise player. He's not free to sign with another team and is offered the minimum of the average of the top five salaries at the player's position as of April 15, 2010 or 120 percent of the player's previous year's salary, or the average of the top five salaries at his position as of the end of 2009, whichever of the three is greater.

We're sure Cowboys nose tackle Jay Ratliff will be watching how much Wilfork and Franklin get if they come to terms on a long-term contract.

There were only six players given the franchise tag. It's the first time since 2007 that the franchise tag number was in single-digits (seven). Last season, 14 players were franchised and in 2008 12 got the tag.

Jay Ratliff looking at Vince Wilfork

February, 25, 2010
Jay Ratliff has been to two Pro Bowls and earned his first All-Pro nod in 2009.

The Cowboys nose tackle is a force. He had seven sacks, second on the team, 33 quarterback pressures, fourth on the team and eight tackles for loss, second on the team.

Ratliff is considered one of the best at his position. But he's not paid like it.

In 2007, Ratliff signed a five-year contract extension worth $20.5 million with $8 million in bonuses.

It's really nobody's fault, but at somepoint the Cowboys will have to rip up this contract.

The reason? Nose tackle Vince Wilfork of the Patriots.

New England franchised Wilfork, who will get paid $7 million for the 2010 season, unless a long-term deal is worked out. And Wilfork will expect a big money contract from the Patriots that will be worth more than Ratliff's.

Check out Wilfork's numbers from 2009. While participating in 565 snaps, he had zero sacks, zero quarterback hits, one forced fumble and two passes defended.

Ratliff played in 851 plays in 2009 and put up better numbers.

Ratliff's Dallas-based agent, Mark Slough, said he's not worried about the contract right now.

Here's a reason: The current state of the collective bargaining agreement. If the owners and players union can't come to terms by March 5, the 2010 season is uncapped and the 2011 season might not happen, unless a new deal is reached.

Slough's plan, and probably the Cowboys', is to wait until a new deal is reached between the league and union before redoing Ratliff's contract.

He has three years remaining on his deal as follows:

2010 base salary: $2.1 million
2011 base salary: $3.75 million
2012 base salary: $4.87 million

Ratliff also has no roster bonus money due, he got it all when he signed, at $8 million.

So whatever Wilfork gets, Ratliff will ask for something more, at the time.