On the Defense
The Cowboys have transitioned to a 4-3 from a 3-4 which had been run in Irving and Arlington over the last decade. The shepherd of that transition is Monte Kiffin, he of the "Tampa 2" scheme run in the late 90’s that was designed (in part) to shut down a Norv Turner style deep passing offense. While the defense installed for the Cowboys may be similar to the Tampa 2, there are some subtle differences. These differences create situations in which good play by the defense’s safeties is critical, so my choice for Cowboys defensive MIGYNHO is Barry Church.
Why He Is Important
After 3 games, Church leads his team in tackles (17) and is tied for first with 3 passes defended. He has a defensive TD via recovered fumble. From his strong safety position, Church, Sean Lee, and Bruce Carter are the Cowboys’ hammers in the running game. It has been a tough road for Church to get here, but he's emerged as a vital piece of the defensive puzzle for the Cowboys.
Going undrafted in 2010, the Toledo alum signed as a FA with the Cowboys. There were concerns among NFL scouts about his speed. As with many undrafted FA’s, his chances came on special teams and he made the most of those chances. Church played in 15 games his rookie year, mostly all on special teams. In 2011, he played in 13 games (with 1 start). Again, most of his action was on special teams, although Rob Ryan started putting him in with nickel and dime packages, using him as a sort of hybrid safety / cover LB.
In 2012, he was the starting strong safety for the Cowboys. A decent start to his season ended when he tore his Achilles in the 3rd game of the year. This started a long string of defensive injuries for the Cowboys which badly degraded their defense. The run of injuries contributed to the Cowboys missing the playoffs for the 3rd straight year, Rob Ryan getting the axe, and the Cowboys switching over to the 4-3.
AT 6’1" and 221 pounds, Church is about the perfect size for strong safety. He can be beat by faster running backs and "move" Tight Ends, but plays well in zone coverage and reads play action fairly well. The Cowboys rely on Church to control the middle of the field behind one of the most active play-making middle linebacker in the league, Sean Lee.
George Selvie – LDE: The Cowboys switched from a 3-4 to a 4-3 scheme before this season started. Along with this transition came a lot of questions about whether the Cowboys had enough defensive linemen to make the switch work. Prior to training camp, the Cowboys believed that they did. Then the injuries bug bit… hard. The men on the Cowboys IR could form a credible starting defensive line for many 4-3 teams in the NFL; Anthony Spencer, Jay Ratliff, Tyronne Crawford, and Ben Bass are all on the shelf and got there (mostly) before the first preseason game. Enter George Selvie, the St. Louis Rams 2010 7th Round pick out of South Florida.
If D.J. Fluker returns to action this Sunday, he will be facing a man he outweighs by 100 pounds. Too slow to be a linebacker and not heavy enough to be a true defensive end, Selvie seemed doomed to a short, unproductive NFL career. The Cowboys are his 5th NFL team since entering the league and it was desperation for defensive linemen that prompted the Cowboys to call him in the first place. He is the starter this season and has already recorded 2 sacks in the first 3 games to go along with 7 tackles and a fumble recovery. It is a positive commentary on Monte Kiffin and Rob Marinelli’s defensive coaching that they have gotten good production this season out of players like Selvie and Church.
On the Offense
This may be a bit of a cop out, but given the intimacy with crappy offensive line play that fans of both the San Diego Chargers and Dallas Cowboys acquired in 2012, my choice for the offense’s MIG(s)YNHO is the entire Cowboys Offensive Line.
Why They Are Important
The Cowboys started the 2012 season with Tyron Smith at Left Tackle, a 2011 1st round pick that played RT in his rookie year and spent a large part of 2012 figuring out what LT in the NFL was all about. LG was Nate Livings, a 30 year old journeyman that at least stayed healthy for the season. Center was a mish-mash of Phil Costa (awful) and Ryan Cook (a slight upgrade). RG was turned over to Mackenzy Bernadeau, a 2008 7th round pick by the Panthers that was the Cowboys answer to the Bolts' own Mike Harris in the "no business being on the field" department. Finally, RT was played by Doug Free. Free was an interesting case in 2012. Up to that point, he had a decent career, good enough to warrant a 4 year $32 million (17 Mil guaranteed) contract before the 2011 season. He badly underperformed last year.
This season, Smith has shown vast improvement from where he was last year. Livings has been replaced David Leary; he seems to be steadier than Livings so far, but Dallas sports media remains unconvinced of improvement. Whatever funk Free was in last year, he seems to have shaken it off and is playing much better in 2013. The solution for Center and Guard involved some unusual twists since the end of 2012.
To shore up the Center situation, the Cowboys traded down in the first round and selected Travis Frederick, the top rated Center on the board with the 31st overall pick. This draft day drama prompted outrage in North Texas, which generally loves Jerry Jones the owner and hates Jerry Jones the GM. The outrage has turned into grudging acceptance as Frederick’s ability, intelligence, and leadership have been seen by the local media and fans. It is now widely believed that Frederick will be the Cowboys’ Center for the next 10 years. For right now, he is still a rookie and has not been great, although he has not been horrible, either. That is improvement.
The right guard situation is perhaps one of the most bizarre I can recall seeing. Bernadeau remains the starter and remains reviled as being a waste of a roster spot by Cowboy fans. Getting some reps, but still mostly playing behind Bernadeau is a 2011 Pro-Bowl Right Guard. And why is a former Pro-Bowler waiting for playing time behind a marginal player?
Bernadeau’s expected replacement is Brian Waters, a 2 time All-Pro and 6 time Pro-Bowl selection that retired after the 2011 season. The North Texas born Waters was lured out of retirement by Jerry Jones and is still working his way into football shape after a year’s worth of couch time. By all accounts, the 36 year old Waters seems to have something left in his 318 pound tank and he may see more playing time against the Bolts.