By Michael Blair, DFW SPORTS.net
By Ryan Towles, DFWSPORTS.net
This puzzle isn’t hard to put together. Garrett’s days in Dallas are numbered. And the stage at Valley Ranch couldn’t be more set for Jon Gruden to take the reins. The only question remains is whether Jerry jumps the gun and hires Gruden now or gives Garrett one last lame duck season to say that he tried.
All of us thought it was a bit odd to fire Rob Ryan after this season, the defense wasn’t THAT bad and they played through an incredible amount of injuries but they had us convinced it was simply just a change in philosophy. The Cowboys wanted to bring back the 4-3 defense and needed a 4-3 specialist to help smooth the transition. No better man for that task than Monte Kiffin. He’s widely considered one of the brightest minds for the formation. Add Kiffin’s long-term defensive line coach, Rod Marinelli and Dallas seems to be in business on the defensive staff.
On special teams, I think most Cowboy fans could take or leave Joe DeCamillis. He left to fulfill the same position with the Bears but no one has really groaned over the loss. Dallas’ special team play hasn’t been productive in a long time and although DeCamillis isn’t all to blame, he’ll get a big chunk of it. Jerry has chosen Rich Bisaccia as DeCamillis successor. Bisaccia recently inked up with Auburn to run their special teams and running backs but Jerry made him an offer he couldn’t refuse (and paid a buyout with Auburn) to bring him onboard. Bisaccia was the special teams coordinator for San Diego the past two seasons.
The next shake-up for the Cowboys coaching staff came in the form of promotion for one and demotion for another. Offensive line coach Bill Callahan will now also be the offensive coordinator and play caller and Head Coach Jason Garrett will be stripped of play calling duties and assume more of a “walk around” head coaching role. The idea is to free up Garrett to give him more time to develop as an overall better head coach, which he needs and is completely understandable. However, Garrett seemed to be completely against this transition and could paint him more as a lame duck head coach to the players. That he has no control over his staff and is just doing thy bidding of the owner – which, you know, he is. And if Garrett loses the players, he’s done. Callahan, on the other hand, is a west coast guy and has enjoyed many successful seasons in the NFL as an offensive coordinator. He’s also been the head coach of the Oakland Raiders and the University of Nebraska.
Jerry has never been great at hiding his intentions. He had Jimmy pegged before he ousted Landry when he bought the team. He met with Bill Parcells before the end of Campos last season. And you could make the case that when he hired Garrett as the assistant head coach/offensive coordinator it was apparent he would eventually replace Wade. Now, if you consider he’s hired Gruden’s former defensive coordinator, offensive coordinator and special teams coordinator (yes, Bisaccia too. Spent seven season in Tampa Bay) and has been rumored to have recently met with Gruden, it’s easy to think Jerry is leaning toward a move to bring him in. Could all be coincidence but that’s a lot of smoke to have no fire.
By Ryan Towles, DFWSPORTS.net
Before last Friday’s lost to the Thunder, the Mavs had run off four wins in a row and things were beginning to look OK again. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The Mavs are still seven games below five hundred and find themselves in 12th place in West. And we’re almost in February. I wouldn’t say the season for the Mavs is completely lost and there’s no hope in sight but the odds for making a playoff push are quickly diminishing and it may be time to swing a trade and put the team in better position for next season. Something no one likes to hear.
The Mavs are content with keeping Dirk until he retires and attempting to build a group around him and (they hope) another alpha dog, star player. The thinking is they can string together another championship while the franchise’s greatest player is still around. And there’s nothing wrong with this thinking, it would be hard to blame the Mavs. However, finding that other star player is proving to be more and more difficult. They missed out on D-Will and I’d say you can cross out Chris Paul and Dwight Howard as well. Keeping their cap space for this offseason would now mean a run at Al Jefferson (who they wouldn’t trade for when Minnesota originally traded him to Utah because he was too much like Dirk) and Josh Smith. Both would cost the max and neither is really the kind of star that could lead a team to a championship. Then there’s the idea that teams getting into the luxury tax threshold will begin trying to dump big contracts and in some cases, these big contracts will be attached to a star player. A good example would be the rumors of Memphis kicking around moving Rudy Gay. But the thinking around the league is most of these type of guys may not be moved until the offseason, not at the trade deadline. If at all. So let’s look at some players who could be available at the trade deadline and could help the Mavs, even if they aren’t the ‘star’ player they covet.
Emeka Okafor, Washington Wizards
Yep. Emeka Okafor. Not a misprint. Okafor is overpaid, there’s simply no getting around that. He was overpaid before the new CBA and he’s even more overpaid now. The good news is, he’s only overpaid through this season and next season. So it’s not going to kill your cap long-term. And as it looks Washington will be looking more at building and less at contending, he could be had relatively cheap. Say one or two expiring deals might even get it done. And although he’s not Tyson Chandler, he brings a lot of things to the table that Tyson did. He’ll bring an interior defensive presence and he’ll be able to rebound. Seems to be a good team-mate and is a player who won’t command the ball on the offensive end. Should be a good fit with Dirk and Mayo.
Ersan Illyasova, Milwaukee Bucks
Again, another bad contract but that’s what the market is going to be for the Mavs. Illyasova is 25 and the recent recipient of a contract in the neighborhood of 5 years, 40 million buckaroos. Now, he’s coming off a great campaign in 11-12 where he averaged 13 ppG, 8.8 RPG and almost a block and three a game. He’s a big (6’10”) who can bang inside and rebound but also step out and drop a three. But he’s more of a small forward than a power forward, so playing alongside Dirk would be more conceivable. He’s also in a slump this year, his averages are down and could come rather cheap in a trade. And the last year of his deal isn’t guaranteed so the investment isn’t terribly long-term.
Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors
This is an interesting one. Toronto plain and simple, stinks. They thought they might be in playoff contention but things have gone incredibly south in the Great White North. However Lowry might be their best player, so getting him (and Dallas desperately needs help at the PG position) might mean taking back contracts you don’t want. Like Andrea Bargnani, who’s worn out his welcome in Toronto and is owed around 30 million over the next three years. Now if the Mavs could swing a trade to where they only parted with expiring deals and maybe a draft pick, it’d be awfully tempting.
By Anton Ryan Smith, DFWSPORTS.net
The second game of the conference title weekend pits Ray Lewis and the Baltimore Ravens at Tom Brady’s New England Patriots. This game will determine whether Ray Lewis will have one more shot at the Lombardi trophy before he calls it quits in the NFL.
Statistically speaking, the Patriots have been by far the superior team this season. The Patriots were the NFL’s top scoring offense this season, with a ridiculous 557 points scored. The Ravens, in contrast were ranked a solid 10th with 398 points scored. Their defensive statistics are relatively equal with one glaring exception, the Patriots have recorded a league leading 28 forced fumbles, while the Ravens have forced only 6 all season (last in the NFL). This may not seem like a huge statistic, but if you assume that 50% of fumbles forced become turnovers, this means an average of a turnover a game difference in the favor of New England. All other things being equal, this is an edge defensively for the Patriots.
This game however will likely come down to whether Ravens’ QB can play outside of himself one more time, as he did last week against the Broncos. If he can find his big play receiver Torrey Smith deep as he has for much of this season, he has a chance to keep up with Brady and Co. I emphasize the word “chance” as I think that is quite a task for any quarterback to do. Brady and the Patriots have an offensive juggernaut. Although they have on occasion not shown up, this is the biggest stage they have played on all season, this is where this time shines. Brady is 17-6 in his playoff career, with over 5,600 yards and 41 TDs, and his by all means the most clutch QB in football today.
The Patriot offense led by Brady will overwhelm the Ravens (who have had an incredible run in the playoffs this season), and this game will mean the end of the great Ray Lewis’ career.
Anton’s Prediction: New England 38, Baltimore 31
By Anton Ryan Smith, DFWSPORTS.net
As the NFL post-season grinds to a halt this Sunday, we have two excellent matchups on the queue to end what was an exciting and eventful NFL season. The first matchup features the second seeded San Francisco 49ers @ the first seed Atlanta Falcons. This is poised to be an interesting game for a variety of reasons.
The Atlanta Falcons tied with the Broncos with the most wins in the NFL this season, and at times flashed potential dominance. The Falcons are a complete team with no glaring holes at any position. The same could now be said about the 49ers. Before last week’s breakout performance of Colin Kaepernick, it looked as though QB would be a question mark for San Francisco, but for him to dominate that game in the playoffs as he did shows that he is more than just a flash in the pan. One area of weakness for the Falcons is in their pass rush, they only generated 29 sacks this season (28th in the NFL), and their top pass rusher, John Abraham is not 100% having only played 15 snaps in last week’s matchup against the Seahawks. If the Falcons can get a lead, and the 49ers are forced to throw, it will be important that they generate massive pressure on Kaepernick to disrupt the passing game of San Francisco. This will be a challenge for Atlanta who faces one of the better offensive lines in the game today.
For the sake of full disclosure I will admit that the 49ers were my preseason pick to win the NFC, and after breaking down the numbers in this matchup, I see no reason to back away from this pick. In the end the read-option, and suffocating defense of the 49ers will be too much for Matt Ryan and company in this game.
Anton’s Prediction: San Francisco 34 Atlanta 28
By Anton Ryan Smith, DFWSPORTS.net
The final matchup of the weekend will take place in Foxboro, Massachusetts where the Patriots take on the Texans in a rematch of the December blow out win for New England.
The Patriots, while known for their all-out aerial assault of an offense, have been riding a similarly dominant defense as of late allowing only 106 points over its last 6 games (they allowed 41 against SF during this stretch which significantly skews the numbers). In contrast to this, Houston’s once vaunted offense is now struggling to put the ball into the end zone. They have done well moving the ball between the 20s, but seem to be caught settling for field goals. During their last 6 games (including the playoffs), Houston has scored only 85 points (a 14 ppg average). If Houston wants a chance to avenge their loss to New England earlier this season, it absolutely must capitalize on every opportunity. Matt Schaub will likely have to play out of himself to win this one. Simply running the ball as they did in their last playoff game against the Bengals will not be enough here. The one bit of good news for Houston is that they do still have a solid defense which at least has the potential to put some pressure on Tom Brady. J.J. Watt will likely have to completely own this game as well to keep the future hall of famer Brady in check.
I will admit that the Texans were my pre-season AFC champion pick, I can no longer stand by this pick. This game will end their season.
Anton’s Prediction: New England 34, Houston 21