OXNARD, Calif. – What, the Cowboys worry about Jay Ratliff?
On the contrary, they have complete confidence that the four-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle will be a dominant force this season. They firmly believe that defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin’s scheme and defensive line coach Rod Marinelli’s coaching will revitalize Ratliff’s career.
That would all make perfect sense, if only Kiffin and Marinelli had healing powers.
There’s no reason to doubt that a healthy, in-his-prime Ratliff would have been a phenomenal fit as a 3-technique tackle in the Tampa 2, the gap-shooting spot which Warren Sapp made famous en route to the Hall of Fame. But the Cowboys seem to be crossing their fingers and ignoring all the reasons to doubt that Ratliff’s body will allow him to flourish in that role.
Ratliff’s hamstring strain will sideline him for at least the entire training camp. He still hadn’t completely recovered from the sports hernia surgery that ended his 2012 season early when the Cowboys reported to camp. And Ratliff has missed significant time over the last 18 months due to a torn plantar fascia and high ankle sprain.
His body is breaking down after Ratliff’s remarkable run of durability and productivity as an undersized 3-4 nose tackle. The Cowboys are counting heavily on a declining player.
The signs of decline were evident before injuries limited Ratliff, who missed only one game total in his first five year as a starter, to six games last season. Follow his sack numbers over the last five years: 7.5, 6, 3.5, 2 and 0.
You think that guy is going to be a dominant force just because he sees fewer double-teams?
Maybe sacks can be misleading. Try to find a stat that indicates anything other than Ratliff’s days as an impact player are done.
Ratliff’s last two Pro Bowl berths were based on reputation. The last one he earned on merit was in 2009, when he was credited with 83 tackles, six sacks, eight tackles for losses, 33 quarterback pressures, three forced fumbles and four fumble recoveries. Ratliff’s totals in 38 games since then: 101 tackles, 5.5 sacks, seven tackles for losses, 38 quarterback pressures, one forced fumble and three fumble recoveries.
Yet the Cowboys have complete faith that the injury-ravaged Ratliff will wreak havoc again this season.
That faith isn’t just lip service, either. They passed on Sharrif Floyd, the fifth overall player on the Cowboys’ board, when he fell to them in the draft and didn’t draft a defensive tackle.
For some reason, the Cowboys are comfortable counting on Kiffin and Marinelli to work a miracle and reverse time for Ratliff.