Weekend mailbag: Cowboys pass rush

This is the part where I check the mailbag, pick out a few of your questions and do the best I can to answer them before we all get on with our nice spring weekends. I hope you enjoy it.

Joe D from Panama City, Fla., asks why I keep talking about the Dallas Cowboys' need to improve their pass rush, given that they finished tied for seventh in the league in sacks last year.

Dan Graziano: Touché, Joe D. The overall sack numbers were nice -- 42 in 16 games. But when the Cowboys talk about improving their pass rush (and believe me, they do), I think the concern is rooted in the extent to which the responsibility for that aspect of the defense continues to fall on one man. As a team, the Cowboys had 42 sacks, but DeMarcus Ware had 19.5 by himself. And 12 of those came in the first seven games of the season. The concern over the pass rush in Dallas isn't about the overall numbers, but rather on an effort to get Ware some help so that maybe he can see one or two plays a game on which he's not double-teamed and so that he can perhaps avoid seeing his sack numbers drop as the season goes along. They'd like to see Anthony Spencer be a more credible threat from the other outside linebacker spot, or get more pressure on the passer from their defensive line. But on plays when the opposing offense can find a way to account for Ware, the quarterback tends to have too much time to throw. Your point is well taken, but the Cowboys are looking for more players who can help their pass rush bring more pressure from more different spots on the field.

Tramell from Bowie, Md., was rankled by something I wrote Thursday about "question in the secondary" for the Washington Redskins. He likes DeAngelo Hall and Josh Wilson as the starting corners, thinks Tanard Jackson will be an upgrade over O.J. Atogwe at safety and that DeJon Gomes shows promise.

DG: Even if everything you write is true, Tramell, that doesn't mean they don't have questions to answer in the secondary. Jackson was cut for attitude reasons in Tampa Bay (though they claimed it was for injury reasons), and the theory is that he'll click with former Bucs coach and new Redskins secondary coach Raheem Morris, but we don't know that that'll be the case. I do know that they like Gomes as a starting-caliber safety, but they don't know if he'll be ready for that this year or if he may need some more time before taking on that full-time role. Brandon Meriweather, Madieu Williams... there are going to be a lot of bodies in that secondary in training camp, and I think it's fair to say there are questions about how it will all shake out.

Kenya from NY noticed a mention Friday about the fact that Philadelphia Eagles offensive line coach Howard Mudd likes his quarterback to call out the protections at the line of scrimmage, and that last year (Mudd's first in Philadelphia) was the first year Michael Vick was asked to handle that responsibility. Kenya wants to know why an offensive line coach would prefer this arrangement.

DG: As I understand it, Kenya, part of Mudd's philosophy is that the quarterback and the line have to function in concert with each other. His offensive line meetings always include the quarterback as an active participant, and having Vick identify the middle linebacker and change the protection if he feels it's warranted is another way of making him feel invested in and aware of what his linemen are doing. In theory, it should help Vick identify throwing lanes and intelligent opportunities to run. But put simply, I believe Mudd likes the quarterback to feel as though the line functions as an extension of what he's doing on each play. Kenya, you also asked whether I believe Vick is good enough to do this, and my answer is yes -- Vick is "good enough" to do anything he wants to do on a football field, as long as he's continually committed to improving and honing his craft as a quarterback.

Kyle from Boston, Mass., wondered what the status is on contract extension talks between the New York Giants and head coach Tom Coughlin, as well as long-term deals for young stars such as Hakeem Nicks, Jason Pierre-Paul and Victor Cruz.

DG: The Giants have a deliberate way of doing things, and an order in which things need to be done. There is an understanding between Coughlin and team management that a contract extension will be done, probably between now and the start of training camp. My guess is that it'll be a three-year deal, and neither side is stressed out about it. But when you start asking about the players, you get some sense of why they're not eager to do a new deal with Osi Umenyiora. Already up against this year's cap, the Giants are looking down the road at new contract situations that will need to be addressed. You name a few, and Giants management is obviously aware that they are on the horizon. But you have to prove it in New York -- and for more than one year. Cruz and Pierre-Paul are not near the front of the line for new contracts. Nicks is closer than either of them. Mathias Kiwanuka just quietly got one. They take care of their own cornerstone pieces, but they do so only after (a) making sure that they really are cornerstones and (b) when the time is right. I wouldn't expect to see any extensions for any of the guys you named this offseason. Except Coughlin, of course.