Complete the puzzle below by matching new members of the Dallas Cowboys (at least during training camp) and their tentative jersey numbers.
With 31 seconds remaining in the Cowboys’ first preseason game against Denver, third-string quarterback Stephen McGee was dragged down for a sack and an eight-yard loss. The Cowboys trailed 23-16 and faced a fourth-and-goal from the 13.
On the fourth-down play, McGee lobbed a pass to the middle of the end zone, where rookie Dwayne Harris brought pass down for a touchdown. It cut the Denver lead to 23-22, and the Cowboys decided to go for two rather than settle for the tie. McGee gave Dallas the win when he rolled to his right and found fourth-year tight end Martin Rucker in the end zone.
The Cowboys first-and second-stringers did little to impress, but the younger players showed promise later in the game.
Harris was the most impressive, showing some serious speed. He took a short pass from McGee earlier in the fourth quarter and sprinted past everyone for a 76-yard touchdown.
Another promising rookie, Raymond Radway, also had a touchdown reception. However, he had some trouble on a few routes, and his touchdown reception was his only catch.
The most significant rookie was tackle Tyron Smith, who started at right tackle and played throughout the first half. He provided good protection for the most part, though it is hard to gauge his overall performance because the Denver starters were out after one series.
One big disappointment came in the running game. Lonyae Miller was suppose to challenge Tashard Choice for a roster spot, but Miller only managed 11 yards on 9 carries. Rookie Philip Tanner looked better, showing a burst and gaining 44 yards on 9 carries.
Defensively, Victor Butler was impressive throughout the first half. On one play, he took on a double team while rushing Denver QB Tim Tebow. Although Tebow broke through to scramble, Butler ran him down from behind. Butler also had a tackle for a loss and nearly had a sack.
The Dallas secondary has suffered through a number of injuries, and Denver had some success through the air. The Denver starters also had a relatively easy time running the ball against the Dallas starters. Denver opened the game with a 13-play drive, and Knowshon Moreno and Willis McGahee combined for 40 rushing yards on only six attempts. Denver had to settle for a field goal on its opening drive, though, giving the Broncos a 3-0 lead.
The Dallas starters answered by driving 56 yards. The biggest play was a screen pass from Tony Romo to Felix Jones that went for 16 yards. Dallas will apparently use its more athletic offensive line to feature more screen passes this season.
Denver led 9-3 at the half, as both Jon Kitna and McGee had trouble moving the Cowboys consistently. McGee gave Dallas a 10-9 lead in the third quarter by driving the team 64 yards, capped off by the touchdown pass to Radway.
Denver answered early in the fourth on a touchdown run by Jeremiah Johnson, but Harris’ long catch-and-run allowed Dallas to answer. However, long snapper Cory Adams’ snap was off-target on the extra point, and kicker Dan Bailey was unable to give the Cowboys a lead because the Cowboys had to abort the attempt.
The one player who might have stood between the Dallas Cowboys and their third consecutive Super Bowl title in 1994 was cornerback Deion Sanders. “Prime Time” played in 14 games in San Francisco, and he turned in one of the dominant defensive performances in NFL history by picking off six passes and returning three of them for touchdowns.
In 1995, Dallas owner Jerry Jones wanted to bring in Deion, and the team had a more definite need for the star when Dallas corner Kevin Smith went down with a season-ending Achilles injury.
You know what happened. However, what if history had been a bit different and the Cowboys had to finish the 1995 season without Sanders?
Both the Cowboys and 49ers pursued Sanders in 1995. The third team in the mix was the Denver Broncos, and at one point, newspapers in Denver had reported that the Broncos had a good chance to sign Sanders.
Many would say that the Cowboys would not have won Super Bowl XXX had they not signed Sanders. Without Smith, Dallas was stuck with Larry Brown and Clayton Holmes. Holmes only played in eight games in 1995 because he was suspended for drug use.
That would have left Alundis Brice and Charlie Williams to start for the Cowboys. It is possible that the Cowboys could have pulled off some other personnel move, but assume for now that the team would have stuck with Brice and Williams.
Dallas was 6-1 when the team went into its bye. By the time the NFL had suspended Holmes, Dallas was 8-1. However, the team had to face the 49ers on November 12 and had to face each of the four NFC East opponents in the final four weeks of the season.
Dallas, of course, lost to the 49ers, Eagles, and Redskins, even with Sanders. Deion may have been a factor against the Raiders, Chiefs, Giants, and Cardinals, but he wasn’t such a key difference-maker that the team could not have won without him.
Dallas needed a 12-4 record to earn home-field advantage in the 1995 playoffs. Could the Cowboys do it without Deion?
Sanders made a bigger splash in the playoffs—especially on offense. His 21-yard touchdown on a reverse gave Dallas a 10-3 lead against the Eagles in the divisional round, and had hauled in long passes against both the Packers and the Steelers in the NFC Championship Game and Super Bowl respectively.
Then again, even with Sanders playing for the Cowboys, Brett Favre managed to pass for more than 300 yards. And Dallas was not able to shut down either Andre Hastings or Ernie Mills in Super Bowl XXX. Perhaps all of the playoff teams would have moved the ball at will had Deion not lined up for the Cowboys, but it’s hard to say that Deion did anything specifically that put the Cowboys over the edge.
Of course, Dallas and the rest of the NFC would have had to deal with a 49ers team that had Deion, and that may be why history could have changed. With Sanders in 1994, the 49ers forced 10 turnovers in three playoff games. Without him in a loss to the Packers in 1995, San Francisco did not force a single turnover. Brett Favre had a passer rating of 132.9 in the 27-17 Packer win. One week later against Sanders and the Cowboys, Favre’s rating dropped to 84.0 thanks to two interceptions.
Thus, it is very possible that Sanders would have made enough of a difference to San Francisco that the 49ers might have would up with home-field advantage. There is also a good chance that the Cowboys would have had to beat San Francisco in the NFC title game.
Below are eight questions about Deion Sanders, who signed with the Cowboys in 1995. Of course, Deion just entered the Hall of Fame.
ESPN has unveiled a new system for calculating QB performances. This system is supposed to take into account more than dry passing stats and instead looks at each QB’s complete performance.
Here’s the primer from ESPN’s site:
Scoring: 0-100, from low to high. An average QB would be at 50.
Win Probability: All QB plays are scored based on how much they contribute to a win. By determining expected point totals for almost any situation, Total QBR is able to apply points to a quarterback based on every type of play he would be involved in.
Dividing Credit: Total QBR factors in such things as overthrows, underthrows, yards after the catch and more to accurately determine how much a QB contributes to each play.
Clutch Index: How critical a certain play is based on when it happens in a game is factored into the score.
Tony Romo isn’t at the top of the list, but he fares pretty well in this system.
He’s 2010 number was 58.1, which was tied for 11th with Joe Flacco. And, of course, those were six pretty bad games for the Cowboys. Here is the complete list of 2010 performances.
Romo had a better season in 2009. He earned a rating of 64.4, which would have ranked 10th in the league. His worst season of the three (the system only goes back to 2008) was 2008, during which Romo had a rating of 50.1.
ESPN put Romo’s 2010 performance in a category of “above average” and ranks him along with Ben Roethlisberger, Joe Flacco, Matt Schaub, David Garrard and Kerry Collins (now retired). Not bad.
The Cowboys didn’t lack for talent in 2007, which was the first post-Parcells year for the team. The secondary looked solid, with incumbent starters Terence Newman and Anthony Henry at corner and veterans Roy Williams and Ken Hamlin at safety. Dallas also had Jacques Reeves as a nickel corner and Nate Jones as another backup.
When it came to the final cuts in September, two players of note were released. The first was a sixth-round draft pick named Alan Ball. The other was a second-year player named Abram Elam.
Dallas reportedly wanted to resign both players and put them on the practice squad. That strategy worked with Ball, who eventually saw action in two games in 2007.
However, the Jets stepped in a claimed Elam. By October of that season, Elam was starting at safety, and he even started when Dallas faced the Jets on Thanksgiving.
Elam, of course, wound up playing two seasons in New York before moving on to Cleveland. He’s back in Dallas now and will replace Ball as the starting free safety in 2011.
The personnel moves in 2007 made some sense then, but not so much now. Consider these moves:
Players released (Sept. 2007)
DB Abram Elam (started 48 games with Jets and Browns)
DB Alan Ball (started at FS with Dallas in 2010)
QB Matt Moore (started 13 games with Carolina)
DL Remi Ayodele (started 29 games with New Orleans in 2009 and 2010)
CB Aaron Glenn (played two more seasons in Jacksonville and New Orleans)
K Martin Gramatica
Last minute signings
LB Justin Rogers (no career starts)
DB Evan Oglesby (played in 11 games after 2007 season)
Losing Moore was frustrating, but little did anyone know that we would see Ball and Elam factor into the team’s free agency plans four years later.
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Something else that isn’t very well known: Elam has a criminal history. Here is a story from the New York Daily News.
I started to write a post yesterday questioning whether and how many injuries the team could endure without seeing another season implode. Then today, news broke that Terence Newman will miss the preseason with a groin injury.
Corner is one position where the Cowboys have at least some depth. Orlando Scandrick will serve as the starter, and Dallas can turn to last year’s starting free safety, Alan Ball, to play nickel. Dallas also has Bryan McCann, who showed some promise last season.
However, injuries to starters at other positions would cripple the team. Dallas has resigned Gerald Sensabaugh and brought back Abram Elam. Injuries to either of them would leave the team with the likes of Barry Church or Akwasi Owusu-Ansah. The offensive line is already a question mark with new (probable) starters in Montrae Holland and Tyron Smith.
(Can anyone name the players who would replace starters on the line in case of injury? Fair job if you got Phil Costa and/or Sam Young. The others?)
Then there are the receivers. Injures to either Miles Austin or Dez Bryant leaves the team with Kevin Ogletree, Jesse Holley, or Manuel Johnson on the field. Perhaps Tysson Poots can become the next Austin.
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Sad day today as Bubba Smith died. His playing days were a bit before my time, but NFL Films featured him in a number of unforgettable plays.
The Cowboys’ free agency plans thus far have focused on signing their own players and bringing back backups who have gone on to start elsewhere. That trend continued on Tuesday when the team resigned strong safety Gerald Sensabaugh.
This may not be a bad move, but the secondary that was so disgraceful for much of last season will return three of the four starters and the same secondary coach. It’s little wonder that most of the recent discussion on the team’s fortunes for 2011 have focused on whether the team will even make the playoffs. Consider:
Anyway, almost nobody is mentioning the Cowboys as a Super Bowl contender (one year removed from predictions that Dallas would win the NFC). With dead money possibly accounting for about 15% of next year’s cap, the team may not improve much for 2012.
According to the Dallas Morning News’ Rick Gosselin, the Cowboys may not be a contender until 2013.
Is this a quieter, less-spending version of Jerry Jones?
This is a Jerry Jones that has to get his salary cap fixed. I mean, this team has been a financial mess. Like I said, next year they already have $20 million in dead money on the books and the cap doesn’t figure to go over the $120 million it is right now. I wouldn’t expect him to be very active next year either. I think this team has to get younger and has to get it’s cap fixed. And I think you’re going to see a year and a half of rebuilding. I think 2013 is the year you’ll see the Cowboys make their run. Those older guys in Philadelphia will have lost a step. They have to get younger. I think they have to overhaul this offensive line. Next year you could see four guys under the age of 28 on the offensive line. This team has got a salary cap issue and they have to get younger as a result.
The Cowboys were facing an identity crisis in 1998. The previous season had been a disaster, as off-the-field distractions piled up and the team finished 6-10. Barry Switzer was gone as head coach, and the team moved forward trying to improve its image.
Dallas had hired an offensive coach in Chan Gailey and had the #8 pick, the team’s highest in seven years. Marshall’s Randy Moss was still on the board when the Cowboys were ready to pick. They took North Carolina defensive end Greg Ellis instead.
Moss famously gave Dallas fits for years. Those years are officially over now, though, with Moss announcing his retirement today. Ellis’ final season was 2009 with the Raiders.
Here are some comparisons between the two.
Moss played in 202 games, starting 191 in 13 seasons. He played for four teams, including the Vikings (twice), Raiders, Patriots, and Titans.
Ellis played in 176 games, starting 169 in 12 seasons. He spent 11 years in Dallas before wrapping up his career in Oakland.
Moss made seven Pro Bowls and was named first-team all-pro four times.
Ellis earned one Pro Bowl berth after the 2007 season.
Hard to compare a receiver and a defensive end/linebacker. We’ll go with Pro-Football-Reference’s approximate value.
Moss had a career AV of 157. His best season was 2007, when he caught 98 passes for 1493 yards and 23 TD. His AV that year was 20.
Ellis had a career AV of 91. His best season in terms of AV was 2002 when he earned an AV of 10 thanks to a career-high 51 tackles. During his Pro Bowl season of 2007, he had 12.5 sacks but only 24 tackles, dropping his AV to 7.
Moss talked and behaved in a way that the Cowboys probably expected when the team passed him up in 1998. Moss was very productive in Minnesota, but he had a substandard 2004 season due to injury, and the Vikings traded him to Oakland. His career looked as if it was falling apart with the Raiders, but he was rejuvenated after another trade sent him to New England. Last season, though, was a disaster, and he wound up playing for three different teams, including the Patriots and Vikings and also the Tennessee Titans.
Ellis was a generally soft spoken player with a good work ethic. But he also became a complainer. When the team moved from a 4-3 to a 3-4, he complained. When the team drafted Anthony Spencer, Ellis complained. And then he complained more about the money he made and the respect he received. Some in Oakland didn’t want Ellis to come there because of the complaining.
Moss undoubtedly had a better overall career than Ellis, but whether Moss would have made a long-term difference in Dallas is questionable.
Moss may have teamed up with Michael Irvin in 1998 to form an unstoppable duo. But Moss never showed that he could be a team leader, and Dallas would have lost its veteran core during the first few years that Moss was there.
Ellis’s career differed from Moss considerably from Moss’s. Moss showed what he brought to the table from day one. With Ellis, fans often saw glimpses of greatness, but he left fans wanting to see more. Nobody ever talks about Ellis in the same breath as Too Tall Jones, Harvey Martin, or Charles Haley. Instead, Ellis became the 2000s version of Jim Jeffcoat.