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Tuesday, October 18, 2011
5 Wonders: Lee's picks, McBriar's future

By Todd Archer

We are back wondering about five things as the Cowboys get ready to play St. Louis this week. That would be the winless Rams, dude. But if there’s one thing about the Cowboys we don’t have to wonder about it’s that every game will be a close game.

And we’re off …

** Linebacker Sean Lee leads the Cowboys with three interceptions, which makes me wonder if he will end the year as the team leader in picks. The last time a linebacker led the Cowboys in interceptions came in 1999 when Dexter Coakley had four and returned one for a touchdown. The last linebacker to have at least three picks in a season was Dat Nguyen in 2004. Lee has five interceptions in his last 10 games. He has become what Bill Parcells would call a “catalytic” player. He makes things happen against the run and in the pass. He has really good eyes and can maintain his speed even as he reads a quarterback. Not a lot of linebackers can do that. And Elias Sports Bureau dug up this nugget: Lee is one of only two linebackers to intercept Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. The other was Donnie Edwards.

** The Cowboys have 14 players scheduled to hit unrestricted free agency next year and I wonder if it’s time to take at least one of player off that list: punter Mat McBriar. He is about to play out a five-year, $8.5 million deal and has made the Pro Bowl twice. He is averaging 50 yards per punt with a 38.9 net average this year. A punter like McBriar can make a defense even better. Now, what do you give the guy? Tampa Bay grossly overpaid for Michael Koenen with a six-year, $19.5 million deal with $6.5 million guaranteed. I’m not sure how that figures into any negotiations between the two sides, but Koenen was a guy who kicked in a dome nine times a year, plus great weather sites in Carolina and Tampa Bay. McBriar has excelled in a dome at home but has kicked well at Philadelphia, New York and Washington too.

** The Cowboys have had an offensive line built on size and strength for years. Take away Mark Stepnoski from those lines of the 1990s and the average size was roughly a DART bus. In the last few years the Cowboys had 300-plus pounders in Flozell Adams, Leonard Davis, Marc Colombo and Andre Gurode on the line. I wonder if their running game philosophy has remained the same even as they have seen the offensive line’s size taper down. Left tackle Doug Free is the heaviest at 323 pounds, but he is more athletic than a mauler. Right tackle Tyron Smith weighs 311 pounds but last year at Southern Cal he was in the high 280s. These linemen move better than the other lines, so I’d like to see the Cowboys do some more things on the outside so the lack of power gets mitigated.

** Before last year I wondered if a secondary makes the pass rush or the pass rush makes the secondary. After last year I was convinced that a pass rush makes the secondary and with what Rob Ryan has done so far this year has only cemented that position. Last year opposing quarterbacks completed 64.4 percent of their passes and had a 92.7 rating against the Cowboys. Through the first five games opposing quarterbacks are competing 59.3% of their passes and have an 82.6 passer rating. The only change in the secondary is strong safety Abram Elam. Maybe he is making that kind of difference, but I will put it on the pressure (16 sacks) that DeMarcus Ware & Co. is producing.

** I wonder if Tony Sparano could end up back with the Cowboys if his time in Miami ends after this year. The Dolphins are winless and owner Stephen Ross wanted to hire Jim Harbaugh last year. Sparano worked well with Jason Garrett in 2007 and Garrett has said Sparano was a tremendous help in his first year as a playcaller. It would almost make too much sense, but I also wonder if Sparano would want to come back without the possibility of calling plays.