This Sunday, the Cleveland Browns play another game at home when they take on the Dallas Cowboys. To help preview the Week 9 contest, I reached out to David Halprin from Blogging the Boys and exchanged five questions with him. Enjoy!
Chris: “When he is ready, who should start for the Cowboys -- Tony Romo or Dak Prescott? Is your decision based on who you think the better quarterback is, or the fact that the Cowboys have been off to a great start with Prescott? Lastly, what is the closest thing to a weakness that Prescott has shown?”
Early on he wasn't throwing the long ball much, so that was perceived to be a weakness. But lately he's gotten more comfortable with that aspect of his game. Last week, the Eagles became the first team to really "expose" Dak by making him uncomfortable in the pocket by bring heavy (6- and 7-man) blitzes. This seemed to mess with his footwork which lead to a lot of under-thrown passes. He, and the Cowboys, eventually got it together at the end, but putting him under heavy pressure, causing him to lose his mechanics, could be his biggest weakness.”
Chris: “Every week, I usually ask about a team's offensive line so I can gain insight into their strengths and weaknesses. Dallas' offensive line seems a step above all the other teams in the NFL, though they are dealing with a lengthy injury to LG La’El Collins. Ronald Leary, who has been with the club for several seasons, is starting in his place. Who do you prefer, and would you consider left guard the "weak" spot of the line (in comparison)?”
David: “Ronald Leary is just as good, and a more consistent guard, for Dallas in my opinion. The Cowboys chose to move to La'el Collins over Leary because they were looking at his upside, Collins has the ability to be a dominant guard, he just needs to find more consistency in his game. And Leary has a chronic knee condition that could limit him in the future. So Dallas was choosing to get Collins experienced and hoping to get him to tap into his tremendous potential. But make no mistake, Leary is a very good NFL guard. If I had to pick a weak point in the Cowboys line, it would be right tackle Doug Free. He can be very inconsistent and last week he was getting torched by Brandon Graham of the Eagles. His issues in pass protection can cause problems, it's not every game, but sometimes he struggles.”
Chris: “The Cowboys didn't have a very good secondary (at least from my perception) last year, but they seem to have turned things around in a major way in 2016 with the same unit. What's been the difference?”
David: “This is a good news/bad news scenario for the Cowboys. You are correct that the Cowboys have become a much better secondary in 2016. That's the good news. The Cowboys changed coaches in the secondary and that seems to have had a big effect. They also moved cornerback Brandon Carr from the left side to the right side, and cornerback Morris Claiborne is re-born this season. He's played incredible, finally living up to his sixth-overall draft status from the 2012 draft. In addition, cornerback Orlando Scandrick is back after not playing last year and some of this year. In addition, last year's first-round pick, safety Byron Jones, is an incredible talent. So all that is great for the Cowboys.
The bad news? Morris Claiborne and starting safety Barry Church both were hurt in the Eagles game and will likely be out a month if not more. The Cowboys depth isn't very good past reserve corner Anthony Brown, a rookie. Brown has played a lot this season while Scandrick was out with hamstring problems, and has been a huge positive surprise given he's a rookie and a sixth-round pick. He's played very well. J.J. Wilcox is a part-time safety (a starter last year) who will have to step into a full-time role in place of Church. He's a physical player, but is prone to bad angles and can be had in coverage. So the Cowboys are dealing with some new issues this week.”
Chris: “Would would you say is the Cowboys biggest area of need (if you already discussed it in a previous question, choose another area).”
David: “The Cowboys biggest area of need, without a doubt, is a consistent pass rush. They just don't have a dominant pass rusher and they can struggle to get pressure on the quarterback. Defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli has never been much of a "bitz" guy, so he tries to compensate by using a rotation of fresh players and using stunts, etc. But overall, it is an issue, and with the new injuries in the secondary, this deficiency could compound things for the Cowboys defense. Starting ends Tyrone Crawford and DeMarcus Lawrence have the potential to be pretty good players, and at times they are, but they are not the kind who will take over a game or demand double-teams consistently, at least not yet. ”
Chris: “Tell us about a relatively unknown player on Dallas who has been playing pretty well to start the 2016 season.”
David: “Nose tackle Terrell McClain is kind of an unsung hero on the Cowboys defense. He's strong and quick, and is very adept at knifing through an offensive line to disrupt the action in the backfield on running plays. He doesn't get a ton of stats, and he's not as good as a pass rusher as a run defender, but he has certainly affected the play of the Cowboys defensive line in a positive way. Another guy is one discussed above, rookie cornerback Anthony Brown. Not too much was thought about him as a sixth-round draft pick, but his play in the slot this season has been very good. And he's willing to be physical and get involved in the run defense.”
Thanks again to David for taking the time to answer my questions.