IRVING, Texas – Millions will wonder who will win the presidential election today. We’ve got Five Wonders as the Cowboys prepare for the second half to start Sunday at Philadelphia, and none of them will be related to Sean Payton.
Here we go:
** Maybe it had something to do with Kevin Ogletree’s sore hamstring, but I wonder if the Cowboys are about to go to a committee with their No. 3 wide receiver role. Or maybe Ogletree’s hamstring acted up after he dropped a third-down pass. The Cowboys used Dwayne Harris more vs. Atlanta than they had been, even if he did not catch a pass against the Falcons. They had a package for Cole Beasley, as well. Tight end James Hanna saw more work, too. Ogletree did have three catches for 96 yards and a touchdown, but there is a high level of frustration with him at Valley Ranch. He has had some good moments this season but he has had some down moments, too. The Cowboys cannot be as patient with him as other players, and I’m wondering if the patience level is close to empty.
** I’m just about done wondering about the Cowboys’ red-zone offense. The Cowboys’ red-zone touchdown percentage is tied for 26th in the NFL. They went 0-for-2 against Atlanta and had one throw into the end zone, and it came on a pass to Cole Beasley. This isn’t a 2012 problem. It goes back a few years. I wonder if the Cowboys need to steal pages from the playbooks in New Orleans (I promised no Payton references), Denver, Green Bay and New England. Heck, Tampa Bay too. I understand that the field is compressed and there is not a lot of room to make things happen. A good running game will help, right? New Orleans has three rushing touchdowns. Green Bay has two. Denver has five. You can pass in the red zone and score. The Cowboys seem to use Jason Witten more as a decoy in the red zone than a target. Go look at what Pittsburgh does with Heath Miller and try some of those plays. The fade in the end zone to Dez Bryant can work, but it’s not a high-percentage throw. If the Cowboys are going to turn things around in the second half of the season then they must score touchdowns. Groundbreaking, I know.
** I wonder about the sideline communication of the Cowboys defense during the game. Why are there multiple instances in which players are running on and off the field and the defense cannot get set in time for a play. In the first half the Cowboys rushed two guys once because they did not have the proper personnel on the field on time, and Julio Jones made a first-down catch. In the fourth quarter the Falcons snapped the ball before the defense could get set. The only thing that saved a touchdown was an athletic breakup by Brandon Carr. It’s happened far too often in Rob Ryan’s tenure. Something is missing in getting the personnel groups from upstairs or the calls from the coaches to the players on the sideline or the calls from the coach to the on-field personnel. Anthony Spencer might have saved the Carolina game with a timeout as he was running off the field because of a late personnel change prior to a fourth-down play. The Panthers made a first down but the officials luckily gave the Cowboys a timeout. If Ryan wants to be a head coach, then he has to straighten out the organization he has on defense.
** I wonder how healthy guard Nate Livings is. He has not been on the injury report, but there are whispers around Valley Ranch that he has played the last few games with a sore knee. It hasn't kept him out of practice or forced the Cowboys to put him on the injured list, but he has struggled the last two weeks. He was beaten for sacks by Chris Canty and Jonathan Babineaux the last two games. He started off the season fairly well, and right guard Mackenzy Bernadeau struggled. Now Bernadeau is playing better and Livings is struggling. It makes you wonder what the Cowboys think of backup Derrick Dockery to not give him some work at all. Dockery did OK in his two starts last year and maybe a week of rest will help Livings. He missed some time in training camp with a knee/hamstring injury. Livings is the type to not make excuses. He will fight on, and that’s part of the reason why the Cowboys signed him. But at some point the team might have to make a decision.
** The Cowboys have signed defensive end Sean Lissemore and safety Barry Church to modest extensions during the regular season. I wonder if they should look at another safety, Danny McCray. He has done a nice job filling in for Church, and, yes, I realize he missed Jacquizz Rodgers on a third-down play on Atlanta’s final scoring drive. McCray wanted to show he could be more than a special teams specialist and he’s proven he can handle a defensive role. Is a long-term starter? No, but he is a guy you want around. The Cowboys drafted Matt Johnson to be a safety of the future, but he has not been able to get on the field this year. In 2009 they drafted two safeties that did not make an impact. McCray, an undrafted free agent in 2010, has delivered. Church received a four-year extension that could max out at $12 million. You wouldn’t go that high with McCray, but he has added to his value with his work on special teams and defense.