Week Three Things: 3rd Down, Leary and Bailey

Sometimes, you have to say it with your chest. Here are three things that need to be discussed before the Cowboys kick off against the St. Louis Rams in their Week Three clash.

Third Down For What!?!

First Down! On Third Down! Happy Happy Joy Joy!

Sorry Lil’ Jon, I couldn’t resist.

Much of what happened to the Dallas Cowboys’ offense last year could be attributed to two things. The Cowboys stopped stretching the field (a trend that is eerily continuing this season) vertically, and the Cowboys couldn’t sustain drives. Dallas was a league worst in third-down conversions, only earning a new set of downs with their backs to the wall 67 times. That number includes fourth down conversions after failed third down attempts.

Now part of that has to do with the fact that the Cowboys also ran a league-low total number of plays. While other teams with bad defenses play ball control with their run game, the Cowboys played clock control with their pace. To wit, they also attempted a league low 180 third downs. Some of it also has to do with being able to convert for first downs on first and second. That doesn’t tell the entire story, however. Truth is, the Cowboys desperately needed to improve this aspect of their “stale” offense. So far, in 2014, they’ve done just that.

Dallas currently is converting 56% of their third down attempts, tied for second in the league through two games. That’s improved from their lowly 35% percentage of 2013, but it isn’t unprecedented. Just two years ago, this same Jason Garrett offense was near the top of the league with a 43.9% conversion rate, good for sixth in the NFL. They were 11th in 2011, and 10th in 2010. Apparently, 2013 was the anomaly, and taking the play-calling away from Bill Callahan seems to have restored order.

On the flip side, the Dallas defense has always seemed to have a problem getting off the field on third downs. Short sample size, of course, but things are looking different under the stewardship of DC Rod Marinelli. After finishing 16th, 20th, 16th, and a disgusting 24th over the last four years, the 2014 Cowboys currently rank 7th in the league, only giving up 4.5 third down conversions per game.

Something to keep an eye on as the season progresses.

How Long Will Leary Last

In The Wings... But For How Long?

The Cowboys brain trust made what seemed like a logical decision to start the year. Despite the fact that now-third year guard Ron Leary graded out as the team’s worst lineman in 2013, Leary “won” the starting left guard job this season over Mackenzy Bernadeau. Although injured for the first part of camp, Leary eased his way back to number one on the depth chart as the summer progressed.

This was seen to be a move based on the fact that he and Bernie were fairly close in their ability on game day, and it made more sense for Bernie to be a backup. The Cowboys preferred method of dealing with an injury along the offensive line is to disrupt as little as possible. One injury will not lead to multiple people playing “out of position”. Bernie’s ability to play both backup guard positions, as well as be Travis Frederick’s primary backup at center, lends to this theory. It is probably also the reason why lesser talents such as Jermey Parnell and Donald Hawkins are backups at the tackle position as opposed to rookie guard Zack Martin, who played tackle for four years at Notre Dame.

The issue is, Ron Leary hasn’t been playing very well, and this might need to be addressed sooner rather than later. The an admittedly very small sample size of just two games, Leary ranks 63rd of 68 qualifying guards in Pro Football Focus’ cumulative game grades. He has a negative score in both run blocking and pass blocking. You could throw in a negative grade for penalties as well. In 2013, he finished 54th amongst guards; pretty much saying most teams had two guards playing better than him.

Leary was a UDFA “find” out of Memphis in 2012, eschewed by other teams in the draft process due to his degenerative knee condition that will eventually cut short his playing career. He is already a success story; however Dallas might need to consider shaking up the lineup if his less-than-stellar play continues much longer.

A Proper Title

The Cowboys celebrate yet another successful field goal attempt for Dan Bailey.

A certain person might take offense, to a bunch of media deciding they were going to finally discuss something that has been a running theme for over three seasons. That person, may be a little disgusted that people who probably could never buy a pair of cool jeans, much less exhibit a cool gene, think they have the authority to assign a nickname to a Cowboys hero. That same person would probably like to inform you that you don’t assign an unoriginal, corny names like “Steely Dan” or “Dan Nailey” to talents such as this. Dan Bailey is a Top 5 Cowboy, and he deserves better than that as he attempts to break the franchise’s mark for consecutive made field goal attempts, currently held by Chris Boniol at 26. Bailey trails by just one.

The man’s name is Dan “Split’Em” Bailey, and damn anyone that tries to tell you differently. Christened back in 2011, there is no more accurate description to the awesomeness that is Dan Bailey’s kicks than “Split’Em”.

For those that have only started paying attention recently (read: Media mentioned earlier), Bailey hits an absurd percentage of his 91.3% made kicks, right down the middle of the uprights. 94 out of 103, including eight game winners, with a perfect 127 for 127 on extra points. On a regular basis, he splits ‘em. He doesn’t just make kicks, he makes them as make them as humanly possible. No right inside the uprights, no, fortunate bounces… just splits them, right down the middle.

Over the years, we’ve seen his leg strength increase, giving him the ability to routinely hit attempts from beyond 50 feet, and now boot kickoffs out of the end zone for ritualistic touchbacks. Heck, even some of his touchbacks nail the goal posts.

When this happens, when he lines up for a kick in a game and you no longer have that queasy feeling you’ve had thanks to a running joke of David “Sundays Off” Beuhler, Nick “What The” Folk, Shaun ‘Squeezed It” Suisham, Mike “Bleep You” Vanderjagt… you get the point. Stand up, yell ”SPLIT’EM” at the top of your lungs (or type it on Twitter), and feel justified that you have done your job as a fan.

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