Q: With all of the talk about a ball-hawking safety, why is there no mention of interceptions from linebackers?
John Coleman, Bassett, VA
A: You are right that the pass defense woes of the Cowboys always get pinned on the secondary, but the back four are not the team’s the only ticket to success. The best defenses work as a single unit, particularly against the pass. The success of the cornerbacks and safeties, for example, is so dependent on the team’s ability to rush the passer. There is a humongous difference between covering a player for three seconds and doing it for five.
Having said that, the Cowboys obviously have one of the best pass-rushing groups in the league. The play of their front seven, in terms of putting pressure on the quarterback, is about as solid as one might hope.
Unfortunately, the linebackers are not nearly as successful dropping into coverage as they are getting to the quarterback. Remember, even Demarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer are in coverage about one-fourth of all plays. Further, Bradie James and Keith Brooking are excellent players and tremendous leaders, but they aren’t Pro Bowl-caliber pass-defenders.
The inside linebackers’ success in pass coverage could increase with the emergence of second-year player Jason Williams. Members within the organization love his speed and athleticism. He may take over for Bobby Carpenter in nickel situations next season and should be able to offer a bit more play-making ability inside.
Overall, you are correct in pointing out that a large component of pass defense is the play of the linebackers. Teams attacked the Cowboys underneath (pass attempts less than 10 yards down the field) more than any other team in the NFL in 2009. If the linebackers can step up their game and perhaps even force a few more turnovers, it should go a long way in aiding the Cowboys’ pass defense as a whole.
Q: What is your opinion on signing Shawn Andrews to a low-guaranteed money but high-incentive contract? If he ever stops acting like a headcase, this could be a low-risk/high-reward move. Thanks and love the site.
David Leitner, Philadelphia, PA
A: You answered your own question by saying “if he ever stops acting like a headcase.” Sure, Andrews is talented, but as we have seen with Roy E. Williams, so much of the game is mental. If a player is not in the right place mentally, he cannot perform well physically.
Andrews has had some problems with depression and we truly hopes he can sort things out for himself. A lot of times people dismiss those sorts of illnesses as less severe than ones with physical symptoms, but that is simply not the case, even for professional athletes (and perhaps especially for professional athletes).
You are correct in assuming Andrews, or any other veteran, would be signed to a low-risk/high-reward deal, but there are other types of risks than financial ones. If the Cowboys only concerned themselves with financial risks and on-field play, T.O. and Pacman Jones would still be in Dallas.
Q: Why don’t the Cowboys bring back Pacman Jones? I know most fans will disagree, but he is still really talented and hasn’t gotten into any trouble in a few years. He could compete with Orlando Scandrick for the nickel job.
Bobby Doler, Louisville, KY
A: We actually recently raised this question to fans on Twitter and Facebook after watching Pacman during Cowboys’ training camp on Hard Knocks. We received approximately 150 “Hell No” answers. That isn’t an exaggeration.
We are not 100 percent opposed to the idea because of Jones’ return abilities. Pushing Scandrick in the slot would be nice, but Pacman could really have an immediate impact on special teams. He showed he still has some speed left after running a low-to-mid 4.4 at his private workout, and while he struggled on returns during his lone season in Dallas, Jones has the potential to be a dominant return man.
Having said that, now is probably not the time to sign a controversial player like Pacman. The Cowboys are extremely close to getting over the hump and competing for a Super Bowl title, and any player that is potentially as big a distraction as Jones is probably not worth the risk.
Overall, the chances of the Cowboys actually bringing back Pacman are about the same as them signing me. . .so pretty good.