Despite the current lack of funds, the cap-challenged Dallas Cowboys appear to be close to adding an extra body on defense.
NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport reported that former Detroit Lions linebacker Justin Durant plans to sign a two-year contract with the Cowboys once they create more cap space.
The Fort Worth Star-Telegram noted that Durant’s visit amounted to nothing more than an “informational” meeting because the Cowboys, with just $102,000 in cap room, lack the finances to officially make a move. The same applied to visits by free-agent safeties Michael Huff and Will Allen. Apparently Durant’s visit went well enough for the six-year veteran to agree to wait while the Cowboys get their books adjusted.
That likely will come as the team negotiates a multi-year deal with pass rusher Anthony Spencer. The Cowboys also have to sign their draft class.
Durant gives the Cowboys a solid linebacker to add to Monte Kiffin’s 4-3 defense. He started 26 games over the past two seasons for the Lions and racked up 103 tackles in 2012. The 27-year-old figures to start opposite Bruce Carter with Sean Lee occupying the middle.
The Lions made little effort to re-sign Durant, but he went out of his way to thank the team and city on Twitter.
“Shout out to Detroit man I wanna thank y’all for the luv and support y’all showed me the past couple years I really appreciate it,” Durant wrote Tuesday. “I thank the organization for allowing me the opportunity to play the last 2 years I am forever grateful.”
RELATED: Dallas Cowboys agree to terms with free agent linebacker
The salary cap-challenged Dallas Cowboys made a ripple today (Tuesday) by reportedly agreeing to terms with former Detroit Lions linebacker Justin Durant.
The team is expected to sign the seven-year veteran to a two-year deal once it creates more space under the salary cap.
Durant started 14 games last season. He finished second on the team with 103 tackle while playing outside linebacker in the 4-3 defense, which the Cowboys will use this season after employing the 3-4 scheme every season since Bill Parcells installed it in 2005.
Second-year pro Kyle Wilber is projected as the starter at strong-side linebacker for Dallas in 2013, but the club now has two veterans to push him in Durant and Alex Albright.
A seven-year veteran, Durant spent the last two seasons with the Lions after he started his NFL career with a four-year stint with Jacksonville. Durant, who carries 240 pounds on 6-foot-1 frame, turns 28 in September.
Looking back at the Cowboys’ 2012 draft and the obvious name that jumps out is Morris Claiborne. The LSU cornerback was clearly the best defensive back in the draft and arguably the draft’s best defensive prospect overall.
The Cowboys had him as the top defender and second overall player (behind only Andrew Luck) on their board and traded a first- and second-round pick so they could move up and select him at No. 6 overall. Claiborne appears to be a nice piece for the foreseeable future. But what else did the Cowboys get out of the other six selections they made?
According to ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper, they didn’t get much. Kiper regraded each team’s draft on Thursday and the Cowboys’ original C+ grade was moved down to a C.
“Despite getting a very good player in Morris Claiborne, this draft looks worse after a full season,” Kiper wrote. “You can’t just say the trade up to get Claiborne at No. 6 was a brilliant move, because that’s analyzing the pick in a vacuum. In terms of overall value, the Cowboys got Claiborne at the cost of a valuable second-round pick. So while the fact that Claiborne is a good one is a credit to Dallas, he also came at the cost of a pick that would likely turn into a starter. (Dallas has landed Bruce Carter, Sean Lee, Mike Jenkins, Anthony Fasano and Marcus Spears in Round 2 in recent years.) And beyond Claiborne, there isn’t much here.
“Tyrone Crawford looks like a depth addition, and Kyle Wilber isn’t a future starter. The one guy you might point to is James Hanna, who caught 8 passes and showed some upside down the stretch. But overall, the draft is about Claiborne, a very good player, but one who came at a cost. I just can’t say there’s anything here of significance beyond that selection.”
Kiper was correct that Carter (2011), Lee (2010) and Fasano (2006) were second round picks made by the Cowboys, but Mike Jenkins (2008) and Marcus Spears (2005) were both selected in the first round.
The Cowboys’ other three 2012 selections that weren’t mentioned included safety Matt Johnson (135 overall), wide receiver Danny Coale (152) and linebacker Caleb McSurdy (222). All three missed the majority of the season with injuries.
The Philadelphia Eagles (B+), Washington Redskins (B+) and New York Giants (C+) all finished with higher grades than the Cowboys.
Editors comment: Too early to put a final grade on this draft class. Consider the source … coming from an outsiders point of view. Mel Kiper is hit and miss, just like any ‘so-called expert” in this area. If you agree with the C, which I think is a little low, that’s a reasonable rate of success in this inexact science called the NFL Draft. The grades should improve as these players complete their 2nd and 3rd seasons. By then, you’ll have a better overall picture. For more information or a reminder of the Dallas Cowboys 2012 NFL Draft, click HERE.
AGING KIFFIN ON CAGING GRIFFIN: At 72, this ‘new’ defensive coordinator could bring the ‘Grampa 2 Defense’ to the Dallas Cowboys
Monte Kiffin is rumored to be the Dallas Cowboys ‘new’ defensive coordinator. Even his old players didn’t see this one coming.
Former Bucs linebacker Derrick Brooks said he figured the 72-year-old Kiffin would get another shot in the NFL. He just didn’t expect it to be with Dallas.
"I would never have guessed Dallas two weeks ago," said Brooks, who still keeps in touch with Kiffin.
Kiffin would convert the Cowboys back to a 4-3 scheme. The Cowboys played the 4-3 from their first season in 1960 until Bill Parcells’ third season in Dallas in 2005 when he switched to the 3-4. The Cowboys have played the 3-4 since.
"I don’t know if he has the players there yet. I hope he does," Brooks said. "I just know what we did to make our defense great. Some would say it’s so simple, but at the same time, it’s so complex. You always hear about Dallas, ‘They’ve got talent. They’ve got talent.’ Well, now it’s time to roost. They can answer the question: Do they really have talent?"
Brooks compared DeMarcus Ware to Simeon Rice. Rice had 69 of his 122 sacks in his four years in Kiffin’s Cover 2 defense.
"For the most part, all he’s doing is going after the quarterback," Brooks said. "We know [Ware] can do that."
The Bucs had John Lynch at safety, Warren Sapp at defensive tackle, Brooks at linebacker, Ronde Barber at corner to go along with Rice. Sapp and Lynch are Hall of Fame candidates this year.
That is a big reason in 13 years in Tampa, Kiffin’s defenses ranked in the top 10 in total defense all but two years — 11th in 1997 and 17th in 2006 — and top 10 in fewest points allowed for all but 2006 (21st). Six times they ranked in the top 10 in takeaways.
CATS OUT OF THE BAG: Katherine Webb says her boyfriend, Alabama QB A.J. McCarron, ‘really wants to play for the Dallas Cowboys
Unless you’ve been under a rock for the past few days, you’ve probably heard of Katherine Webb — the girlfriend of Alabama QB A.J. McCarron who has taken the Internet by storm.
Webb, the reigning Miss Alabama USA who saw her Twitter following skyrocket from a couple hundred followers to nearly a quarter million after being mentioned (repeatedly) on air during the BCS National Championship Game, recently sat down with Esquire for a Q&A.
Of interest to Cowboys fans — Webb says her boyfriend would love to be a member of the Dallas Cowboys.
LM: Are you working with Donald Trump? He’s a Jets fan, right? Maybe A.J. to the Jets one day?
KW: I actually spoke with him earlier today, and he was wanting to meet with both of us if we make it up to New York. I’m working with his publicist trying to handle all of this media madness right now. And A.J. really wants to play for the Dallas Cowboys, so we’ll see what happens.
McCarron threw for 2,933 yards, 30 TDs and just 3 INTs this year for the Crimson Tide, including a 4 TD-0 INT showing against Notre Dame in Alabama’s 42-14 win in Monday’s BCS National Championship Game.
Could A.J. and Katherine be the new Tony and Jessica? On a football-related note, would you want the two-time national championship-winning QB for Alabama to eventually be a Dallas Cowboy? You’ll have to wait one more year for that to potentially happen — McCarron has already said he’s returning for one more season with the Crimson Tide.
Former Dallas Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson is raising questions about the atmosphere at Valley Ranch. Johnson called Valley Ranch a "country club" during an interview on the Dan Patrick Show.
"All the players in this league think they’re self-motivated and that’s a bunch of bull because there are only a handful that are self-motivated," Johnson said. "So you’ve got to motivate these players through some respect but the No. 1 motivator is fear. Fear of letting down your teammates, being embarrassed or fear of losing the job. Where is the fear in Dallas? There’s no fear in Dallas. It’s a country club where everybody is buddies."
Coach Jason Garrett has changed the climate at Valley Ranch sharply from how it was under Wade Phillips. Of course, Phillips changed the atmosphere from how it was under Bill Parcells.
Garrett was asked about Johnson’s comments.
"I don’t really have any comment on that," Garrett said. "We do things the way we do things here and from a football standpoint we believe we practice the right way, we meet the right way and create the right atmosphere of urgency for our players it’s what I learned as a player and coach in this league. And that’s what we’re trying to create with our football team."
And a players’ view, courtesy of Jason Witten:
“I didn’t hear about it, but obviously he’s a great coach here in this franchise and won a lot of Super Bowls,” Witten said. “I haven’t seen him around a lot. The guys are working hard. Ultimately (talk like Johnson’s) is going to happen, but I don’t think as a player you can worry about that. You’ve got to fix it. We know the expectations. Trust me, we feel it every day and so I don’t think you allow that (talk) to get in but obviously got a lot of respect for him.”
Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo was asked about Johnson’s comments Thursday.
"When you’re out here, when you’re involved in it, and you’re here every day, i think you understand the importance of each football game," Romo said. "All I can speak about is me, the grind and the way it works on you when you don’t win a football game, it’s just enormous. The way you constantly evaluate and think about how to improve and get better and take the next step. it consumes your thoughts. That’s really what happens after a loss, so I don’t know what anybody else feels or thinks, but that’s absolutely what you try to do to improve and get better."
Johnson has formed a good relationship with Garrett in terms of being a mentor. In the same interview with Patrick, Johnson questioned whether Garrett would remain the man in charge at Valley Ranch.
"Jason Garrett is probably coaching for his job for the rest of the year," Johnson said. "This game with Philadelphia on Fox may decide the future of coaches and players with those two teams."
Maybe Johnson was channeling Bob Arum, the boxing promoter who hypes fights. And with the Eagles and Cowboys at 3-5, the loser most likely will see their playoff hopes disappear. So creating media drama is expected.
The quarterback, Tony Romo, who’s got one year left on his deal, might also be on the way out according to Johnson.
"I would extend Tony Romo unless I had somebody better, and they don’t have anybody better," Johnson said.
EDITORS COMMENT: At The Boys Are Back blog we are always interested in your view. I agree with Jimmy Johnson on his point of most players needing motivation. Jason Garrett has had many influences in his career as a Dallas Cowboy player, offensive coordinator, and head coach. He uses a hybrid style that blends those influences (Tom Landry, Bill Parcells, Jimmy Johnson). Jimmy Johnson and Bill Parcells were more outwardly aggressive and verbally expressive on camera. Tom Landry more reserve publically, but privately critical and a strict disciplinarian. Jason Garrett’s style falls somewhere in the middle. He’s young and still figuring out his style and approach. As fans, we do not know what happens behind closed doors at Valley Ranch or in the locker room. We do know that the players seem to be behind him and appear to be buying into his system. When the day comes when they don’t … that’s the day to begin worrying. Jason Garrett is evolving … and like the Dallas Cowboys, he’s a work in progress.
RELATED: Dallas Cowboys VP Stephen Jones stops by practice, defends Garrett
Stephen Jones visited practice and ran into reporters, one of whom stopped him to get his thoughts on the topics of the day. Before long, everyone with a notepad and camera had surrounded the Cowboys’ executive vice president.
Is Jason Garrett coaching for his future?
“I won’t even comment on that. Period. That’s ridiculous,” Jones said.
Any comment on Jimmy Johnson saying there is a country-club atmosphere at Valley Ranch?
“Don’t have one.”
A comment or a country club?
“Don’t have one.”
“Any serious questions?”
What kind of job do you think Garrett is doing?
“First of all, I think Jason is incredibly smart. No one understands the game more,” Jones said. “He grew up at a breakfast table knowing about the NFL. His father was a coach. His father was a scout. He understands the league. He is a great leader. He leads our team in a great way.
“I think he understands the game. He has been a very success offensive coordinator. He started having success immediately. It wasn’t like there was a huge learning curve for him as a play caller. We have had a lot of great offenses here under Jason. We are moving the ball good this year for the most part. The players respect him. He demands accountability.”
Jones agreed that turnovers are a problem this year. The Cowboys have 19, tied with the Philadelphia Eagles for second-most in the NFL.
“We have to do better there. I think we are improving,” Jones said. “We protected the ball against the Falcons. They are a good football team. We are doing some things to cause turnovers. We are tipping balls. They just didn’t come our way. We were hitting the quarterback hard. The ball was on the ground. We just didn’t recover it.
Asked if the Cowboys were underachieving at 3-5, Jones said, “Absolutely. We had higher expectations than this. We are disappointed with our record. We have to play better. We have to finish.”
IRVING, Texas – With injuries clouding inside linebacker position, the Dallas Cowboys will add veteran Gary Guyton to the roster.
Guyton worked out for the Cowboys on Tuesday with Dan Connor uncertain to play Sunday at Philadelphia because of a stinger and Orie Lemon out with a hamstring injury. The only other backup inside backer behind Bruce Carter and Ernie Sims is Alex Albright, who is an outside linebacker by trade.
Guyton played for New England from 2008-11, starting 32 games with 4.5 sacks and three interceptions. He went to training camp with Miami.
The Dallas Cowboys are bracing for rotten news on inside linebacker Sean Lee, who could need season-ending surgery on his right big toe. Lee injured the toe in the third quarter of Sunday’s victory over the Panthers in Carolina and said after the game that he expected to be fine. But he had an MRI on Monday, and it sounds as though the results were quite discouraging.
There are plenty of people on the Cowboys’ roster who can play linebacker:
Dan Connor would replace Lee in the starting lineup, and he earned praise from coach Jason Garrett for his work against the Panthers, which included a third-down stop of Cam Newton and a pass deflection, after taking over for Lee. Second-year linebacker Bruce Carter would become the defensive signal caller. The Cowboys have Orie Lemon and Alex Albright as backup inside linebackers on the 53-man roster but could look to add another inside linebacker.
However, in spite of the depth the Cowboys have at the position, Lee is not a replaceable player for them. Not only is he their defensive captain and one of their most important leaders, he has played consistently better this year than has any other player on their defense, including superstar outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware and either of their two new and very talented cornerbacks. Lee’s instincts and playmaking ability cannot be replicated by players like Carter or Connor, no matter how capable they are.
When you’ve watched the Cowboys’ defense this year, you’ve generally been impressed. And I believe they’ll continue to cover receivers well with Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne, continue to rush the passer well with Ware and Jason Hatcher and continue to defend the run capably with the help of Anthony Spencer. They have more good players on defense at this point than they do on offense, and I think they will still play fairly good defense the rest of the way.
But Lee has been playing at a transcendent, superstar-type level — one of the absolute best defensive playmakers at any position on any team in the league this year. The closest comparison of which I keep thinking is the Steelers’ Troy Polamalu in his prime — the way he was always able to be around the ball, whether it was due to speed, instincts, pre-snap positioning or a combination of everything. That’s what Lee was delivering this year — a player who at times made it look as though the Cowboys were playing with an extra man on defense. They simply don’t have anyone else on the roster who can play football the way Lee has been playing it. Few teams, if any, do.
Courtesy: Dan Graziano | ESPN Dallas
RELATED: Free Agent signee Dan Connor will replace starting LB Sean Lee
IRVING — Now that we know the Cowboys could be without starting inside linebacker Sean Lee the rest of the season, the team’s free agent signing of Dan Connor this off-season looks more important than ever. Lee and Connor are both Penn State products.
First off, Lee isn’t replaceable. He’s perhaps the Cowboys’ best defensive player. He leads the team with 77 tackles. He’s a defensive captain, a team leader and he relays the play-calls on the field.
An MRI on Monday revealed ligament damage in his toe and he could be facing season-ending surgery. The Cowboys are still trying to decide whether they’ll go ahead and have Lee undergo the surgery that would end his season. Lee was on crutches Monday at Valley Ranch. When he left the locker room Sunday at Carolina, Lee was wearing tennis shoes with his suit instead of dress shoes and had a slight limp.
Connor replaced Lee in the third quarter Sunday against his former team, Carolina, and finished the game. Connor has struggled early in the season in his limited playing time, but he was solid Sunday against the Panthers.
Connor said Monday that he knows he has to be ready for more playing time. He’ll start Sunday against the Giants alongside Bruce Carter. Connor said “that’s how the NFL goes” when he was asked about getting more playing time because of another player’s injury.
“It’s a long season. It’s a grind and guys get nicked up,” Connor said. “I don’t know if I’ve ever been on a team where everyone is able to stay healthy every play the whole year. So, it’s all about being ready and waiting on your opportunity pretty much and helping the team however you can, getting your role and taking advantage of your role but always being prepared to go in there and play.”
Connor said playing at inside linebacker isn’t old hat for him.
“I’ve mostly been the middle [linebacker[ wherever I’ve been, so it’s a little adjustment,” Connor said.
Remember this about Lee and the possibility of season-ending surgery before going to bed tonight.
Last year, Lee was facing season-ending surgery on his dislocated left wrist. Lee, however, ended up missing only one game and he played the remainder of the season with a cast. If there’s any chance Lee can play through the injury at some point, he’ll certainly want to give it a shot.
But the Cowboys also have to be smart and safe with Lee’s health. He’s still a young player and will be the centerpiece for the Cowboys’ defense for years to come.
BALTIMORE — No, of course there are no moral victories in the NFL. The Dallas Cowboys understand how tough it is to beat the Ravens in Baltimore, and they justifiably felt much better about the way they played in Sunday’s 31-29 loss than they felt two weeks ago after the Bears thumped them. But they’re professional football players, and they believed they could and should have won the game. They rushed for 227 yards, possessed the ball for 40 minutes, recovered an onside kick at the end and set their kicker up with a 51-yard field goal attempt that would have won it. The feeling in their locker room was disappointment.
"I’m sick about losing this game," owner Jerry Jones said. "We made our share of mistakes, but I thought we had a shot to win at the end. With our time of possession, it’s hard to understand how we didn’t win. Everybody is as frustrated as I am."
But there’s a bigger picture here, and it’s one that keeps getting missed as Cowboys fans wail and gnash their teeth about every single loss (and even some of the wins). These Cowboys are a work in progress — a team and a staff and a roster that is piecing itself together and building something it hopes can be sustainable well into the future. You may not want to hear it, and you may not be able to believe it about the Cowboys, but they are in a rebuilding phase right now and much more likely to be a playoff contender in 2013 than this year. So as disappointed as Cowboys fans are about the loss, the penalties, the late-game clock management and everything and everybody else you want to blame, that bigger picture really needs to be the one on which the conversation about the 2012 Cowboys centers.
"We have to win the game, and we didn’t do that," coach Jason Garrett said. "But I loved how our team battled. I was proud of our football team today, and we believe that we can grow from this football game."
A growth opportunity. A learning experience. These are valuable things for the Cowboys at this point in their history, and as Cowboys fans you may just have to accept that. Sure, this is the NFL, and the NFC East required only nine victories to win it last year, so nothing’s impossible. The Cowboys’ schedule gets easier, and if the run game and the offensive line can play the way they played Sunday, they could be much better in the second half of this season. But this season isn’t the central focus of the people running the Cowboys right now. What they’re looking for is growth and improvement, and they saw plenty of it Sunday.
"A lot of this game, you look at and you say, ‘Those are the Cowboys we’re talking about,’" tight end Jason Witten said. "Those are the kinds of players and leaders you want to grow with and build on."
He’s talking about guys like Sean Lee, who remains a terror on defense, and DeMarco Murray, who ran for 91 yards in the first half before a foot injury forced him out of the game. But lots of Cowboys played very well Sunday, including Dez Bryant, who caught 13 passes for 95 yards, and Felix Jones, who rushed for 92 yards in relief of Murray, and Phil Costa and the rest of an offensive line that’s been pulverized all year but on this day looked tough and mean and physical for the first time.
All of it comes with warts, though, and they’re mainly the result of the team and many of its players being unfinished products. Bryant’s big game is likely to be remembered for his drop of the two-point conversion attempt that would have tied it in the final minute. Murray got hurt again, which is a problem with Murray. And the line had its issues, contributing extensively to the fact that the Cowboys were penalized 13 times for 82 yards. The Cowboys made mistakes in this game, and at this point they are not a good enough team to make as many mistakes as they did and win in a place like this, even in a game they dominate physically. They had their shot, they came up short and they have a bunch of film to watch as they keep working to get better.
"I’m all right with anything as long as it’s moving forward," Jerry Jones said. "I’m not for taking any steps back. We knew this was going to be a challenge, but looking at the overall game, as a team, I felt we played well enough to win the ballgame. I’m a lot more encouraged than I was after Chicago."
So before you start asking whether Garrett’s job is in jeopardy (it’s not) or crying about poor late-game clock management or looking at the standings and worrying that the sky is falling, it’s important to step back and see Sunday for what it was — a critical and encouraging step in the development of a team that’s thinking well beyond the borders of just one season. Someday, the Cowboys believe, they’ll win games like this routinely. And if they do, part of the reason will be Sunday’s experience, which showed them how they could.
Courtesy: Dan Graziano | ESPN Dallas
IRVING, Texas — Joe Theismann is among the most hated opponents for Dallas Cowboys fans for his years as the quarterback of the Washington Redskins. A new generation of fansmight add Theismann to the most-hated list after his comments about Tony Romo to a radio show Tuesday.
“Sooner or later we have to come to the realization Tony isn’t a very good quarterback,” Theismann said on the Brady & Lang show (Canada) on Sportsnet 590 The Fan (link below).
Romo tied his career high with five interceptions in Monday’s loss to Chicago.
Theismann had four four-interceptions games in his career and his only five-pick game came in the 1985 season opener during a 44-14 loss to the Cowboys.
“What hit me (Monday night) is, Tony isn’t really that good,” Theismann said. “Just because he wears a star on his helmet, we all think that people who are Dallas Cowboys, ‘Ooh they’re wonderful,’ and ‘Ooh they’re terrific, ooh they’re the next Roger Staubach’ or whatever the heck they want to say. They’re full of bologna. Tony makes bad decisions with the football. And I’ll tell you something else; he missed two wide open touchdowns last night that nobody’s talking about. Forget about the five interceptions. He misses Miles Austin and Dez Bryant with easy touchdown throws, and he airmails the ball over their heads.
“You can say, ‘Well, everybody has a bad game.’ Tony has too many bad games. Tony Romo is not a very good quarterback. Somebody has to say it so I just did. He should be a lot better or the reputation he’s carried should have him play a lot better.”
Romo has the fourth-best passer rating in NFL history at 95.9 behind Aaron Rodgers, Steve Young and Tom Brady. He entered the season at No. 2 but he has fallen with his poor start to this season.
Romo’s 78.5 passer rating this season is higher than Theismann’s for a career (77.4). Different eras of the game with different rules are a big reason why but Theismann had 160 touchdowns and 138 interceptions in his career to go with 25,206 yards.
Romo has 154 touchdowns and 80 picks with 21,982 yards passing.
The Cowboys quarterback wasn’t Theismann’s only target. He took on owner and general manager Jerry Jones, too.
“It took him five years too long to change the offensive line, which isn’t very good,” Theismann said. “It took him three years too long to change his secondary. He’ll do the same thing again. This is what happens when you’re not a football guy. You have to ask yourself, ‘Is the owner holding back this football team with football decisions?’ And I think yes.
“I think you have a couple issues in Dallas. No. 1, I think you have a team, they think they’re pretty good. They’re not. No. 2, their quarterback thinks he’s pretty good. He’s really not. No. 3, their owner is their general manager and he doesn’t make good decisions from a personnel standpoint.”
Theismann later apologized to Jones for his criticism of the Cowboys owner in an interview on ESPN (clip below) but just slightly upgraded his opinion of Romo, calling him an average quarterback.
“I guess my expectation of Tony is really high,” Theismann told ESPN, “and right now he’s average.”
Click HERE to listen to EPSN’s lame follow-up interview with Joe Theismann.
DIRECT VIDEO LINK: http://espn.go.com/video/clip?id=espn:8456779 (Updated 10/04/12)
The Cowboys and Chicago Bears have a lot in common besides their 2-1 records. They both feature stingy defenses and offensive lines that struggle to protect their quarterbacks. Now, the two teams face each other Monday night at 7:30 p.m. Here is a look at how both teams match up:
When the Cowboys run
Last season, DeMarco Murray was tackled behind the line of scrimmage on 14 carries. In the Cowboys’ 16-10 victory over Tampa Bay on Sept. 23, Murray was stopped in the backfield seven times and the Cowboys’ ground attack, ranked 29th after three weeks, sputtered for the second consecutive game. Now, Murray will face a Chicago front that is yielding an average of 3.8 yards per carry, the 11th-lowest average in the NFL.
When the Cowboys pass
Against Tampa Bay, the Cowboys’ receivers came to life. Miles Austin accumulated more than 100 receiving yards for the first time this season and Dez Bryant nearly doubled his catch total. But tight end Jason Witten is still struggling and pass protection remains a problem. Quarterback Tony Romo will face a Chicago pass defense that has improved significantly since last season when it was ranked 28th in the NFL. Right now the Bears are surrendering an average of only 203 yards through the air. They also led the league with 14 sacks after Week 3.
When the Bears run
Matt Forte didn’t play in the Bears’ Week 3 victory over St. Louis because of an injured ankle. And he is questionable this week. If he can’t play, Chicago’s rushing attack should still function. Michael Bush, the primary ball carrier in Forte’s absence, gained 55 yards and scored the Bears’ only offensive touchdown against the Rams. It will be interesting to see how he or Forte, if available, fares against the Cowboys, a team that failed to corral Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch but limited Tampa Bay’s Doug Martin to 53 yards on 19 carries.
When the Bears pass
Receiver Brandon Marshall has added a new dimension to Chicago’s passing offense. But Chicago still has an offensive line that struggles to protect Jay Cutler. Cutler has already been sacked 11 times in 2012 and the pressure he has faced seems to have impacted his performance. He has completed only 52.7 percent of his pass attempts and has thrown twice as many interceptions as touchdown passes. A Cowboys defense that had yielded fewer passing yards than all but one team should be able to create more problems for Cutler and the Bears.
Led by the inimitable Devin Hester, Chicago was in top ten in both punt and kick return average after three weeks. It’s expected the Cowboys will try to keep the ball away from Hester, who scored three touchdowns on special teams last season. But it won’t be easy now that Dallas punter Chris Jones is doubtful with a sprained knee. Jones allowed only 4.4 yards per return – the second-lowest average in the NFL after three weeks. His replacement, Brian Moorman, signed last week, yielded 21.5 yards per return – the fourth-worst average in the NFL at the time he was cut by Buffalo on Tuesday.
Chicago won’t be in awe of Cowboys Stadium when they arrive. They’ve been here before. Two years ago, the Bears defeated Dallas 27-20 and helped set the stage for the eventual mid-season firing of head coach Wade Phillips. That game took place on Sunday. This one is happening on Monday night, when the Cowboys have thrived recently. Since 2007, they have won four of the last five times when they’ve played the final game on the NFL’s weekend football schedule.
GAMEDAY RESOURCES: Trackers and Scoreboards
View game stats and scores online while you watch or listen to the game. Click HERE
GAMEDAY RESOURCES: Sounds of the game
GAMEDAY RESOURCES: Watch the game on TV or online
Watch on TV, tune to ESPN. Click HERE to watch online (NFL Sunday Ticket)
GAMEDAY RESOURCES: Bookmark The Boys Are Back blog
The Boys Are Back blog | Read | Listen | Watch | Comment
Check back here for box scores, videos, pictures, highlights, resources, recaps, interesting articles, and Dallas Cowboys information all season long. Signup for email alerts, RSS feeds, or add The Boys Are Back to your favorites.
Don’t forget to ‘LIKE US’ and SHARE The Boys Are Back blog with the buttons below!
Enjoy the game!
The NFL and the NFL Referees Association made enough progress in negotiations Tuesday night that the possibility of the locked-out officials returning in time to work this week’s games has been discussed, according to sources on both sides.
An agreement in principle is at hand, according to one source familiar to talks, although NFL owners have postured with a “no more compromise” stance.
Although league sources said it would take a week to get the locked-out officials on the field, the NFLRA says its 121 referees have been trained on the new rules implemented last season, have already passed physicals or are prepared to pass physicals immediately. New official game uniforms designed by Nike are “hardly an obstacle,” according to a source.
Both sides have made concessions on previous sticking points such as a taxi squad of 21 new officials and pension plans that sources say the final meaningful hurdle is, as one source said, “about a little more money.”
While league sources say owners who participated in a conference call with commissioner Roger Goodell during Tuesday’s talks had instructed the negotiating team to set a firm barrier for the financial settlement, the NFLRA is prepared to accept a new agreement primarily in the form of a “ratification bonus,” which would compensate its 121-member union for concessions it is willing to make.
The NFLRA and the league have all but agreed on developing a 21-member “taxi squad” that Goodell has pushed, but not at the financial cost of the union members.
The NFLRA, citing that it once utilized the now-defunct NFL Europe as a training ground of prospective officials, is willing to train 21 officials from the major college ranks by including them in offseason seminars as well as incorporate them in training camp work.
The NFLRA would not unionize those officials and would want them compensated by the league if “they are brought up from the minors” to work a regular-season game.
Goodell has wanted the power to “bench” officials who underperform or are downgraded during the season. The NFLRA contends the league already has that ability because there are always between one and four crews that sit home each week and would be more qualified to substitute in such a scenario.
The NFLRA also wants to form an “expert committee” that would be major contributors to the league’s stated goal to improve officiating. Under this proposal, the committee would be comprised of some of the top retired officials and supervisors of major college conferences who had served as NFL officials.
With the eye of an art history major, Steve Sabol filmed the NFL as a ballet and blockbuster movie all in one.
Half of the father-son team that revolutionized sports broadcasting, the NFL Films president died Tuesday of brain cancer at age 69 in Moorestown, N.J. He leaves behind a league bigger than ever, its fans enthralled by the plot twists and characters he so deftly chronicled.
“It is with tremendous sadness that we learned of the legendary Steve Sabol’s passing," FOX Sports Media Group chairman David Hill said. "He was a terrific man and a skilled and talented artist. Steve and his father Ed built NFL Films from nothing and were pioneers in sports television and filmmaking, and after taking the reins from his father, Steve put his own stamp on NFL Films, and its ability to capture football’s nuance and subtlety. When we started FOX Sports, no one was more helpful than Steve, and in a short time he became a great, great friend. He was always there to listen to one of my idiotic ideas. Nothing was ever too much trouble for Steve, and no one, absolutely no one, could rock a pink shirt while talking about the NFL as well as Steve. He was greatly respected and will be missed by everyone at FOX and the entire NFL community.”
Sabol was diagnosed with a tumor on the left side of his brain after being hospitalized for a seizure in March 2011.
”Steve Sabol was the creative genius behind the remarkable work of NFL Films,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement from the league confirming Sabol’s death. ”Steve’s passion for football was matched by his incredible talent and energy. Steve’s legacy will be part of the NFL forever. He was a major contributor to the success of the NFL, a man who changed the way we look at football and sports, and a great friend.”
When Ed Sabol founded NFL Films, his son was there working beside him as a cinematographer right from the start in 1964. They introduced a series of innovations taken for granted today, from super slow-motion replays to blooper reels to sticking microphones on coaches and players. And they hired the ”Voice of God,” John Facenda, to read lyrical descriptions in solemn tones.
Until he landed the rights to chronicle the 1962 NFL championship game, Ed Sabol’s only experience filming sports was recording the action at Steve’s high school football games in Philadelphia.
”We see the game as art as much as sport,” Steve Sabol told The Associated Press before his father was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame last year. ”That helped us nurture not only the game’s traditions but to develop its mythology: America’s Team, The Catch, The Frozen Tundra.”
The two were honored with the Lifetime Achievement Emmy from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences in 2003. In his career, Steve Sabol won 35 Emmys for writing, cinematography, editing, directing and producing – no one else had ever earned that many in as many different categories.
”Steve Sabol leaves a lasting impact on the National Football League that will be felt for a long time to come,” NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith said. ”His vision and innovation helped make him a pioneer the likes of which the NFL has never seen before and won’t see again.”
He was the perfect fit for the job: an all-Rocky Mountain Conference running back at Colorado College majoring in art history. It was Sabol who later wrote of the Raiders, ”The autumn wind is a pirate, blustering in from sea,” words immortalized by Facenda.
The Sabols’ advances included everything from reverse angle replays to filming pregame locker room speeches to setting highlights to pop music.
”Today of course those techniques are so common it’s hard to imagine just how radical they once were,” Steve told the AP last year. ”Believe me, it wasn’t always easy getting people to accept them, but I think it was worth the effort.”
His efforts extended beyond his work as a producer, including appearances on screen and in public to promote NFL Films’ mission.
An accomplished collage artist, Sabol exhibited at the ArtExpo in New York, the Avant Gallery in Miami, the Govinda Gallery in Washington, the Milan Gallery in Fort Worth, Texas, and the Garth Davidson Gallery in Moorestown, N.J.
”Steve was a legend in this business – a dynamic, innovative leader who made NFL Films the creative force it is today,” ESPN President John Skipper said. ”The work he and his dedicated and talented team create every day is one of the many reasons why so many more fans love the game of football today.”
Sabol is survived by his wife, Penny; his son, Casey; his parents, Audrey and Ed; and his sister, Blair. The NFL said there would be a private funeral.
RELATED POSTS: STEVE SABOL: 1942-2012
We are honored to link to an excerpt from "Ed Sabol’s Last Football Movie" (courtesy of NFL.com), the ultimate illustration of the master’s vision and passion for the game.
Sabol leaves lasting legacy – FOX Sports – Photographs – Through the Years – 9 images
Remembering Steve Sabol – Rich Eisen of the NFL Network
The Dallas Cowboys are the NFL’s first and only $2 billion franchise, Forbes Magazine announced today as it released its annual team value list.
Michael Ozanian, Forbes’ executive editor, said the Cowboys’ value, which the magazine tabs at $2.1 billion, is "a conservative estimate."
Ozanian said the magazine took into account the Cowboys’ $80 million in sponsorship income, their state-of-the art stadium and the fact that they are the only team in the NFL that distributes its own merchandise to retailers.
Jerry Jones bought the Cowboys in 1989 for $140 million. That’s roughly a 715 percent increase to today’s value, factoring in inflation.
While the Cowboys stood atop the list for the sixth consecutive year, the New England Patriots (worth $1.63 billion) passed the Washington Redskins ($1.6 billion) for the second spot.
The New York Giants, valued at $1.46 billion, landed in fourth while the Houston Texas rounded out the top five at $1.3 billion.
Despite playing in the same stadium, the magazine estimated the net worth of the New York Jets at about $200 million less than the Giants.
"We have the Giants bringing in $27 million more in revenue, plus they’re getting the Super Bowl bump on ticket prices," Ozanian said.
Despite the threat of concussion litigation that could eventually cost the NFL billions of dollars, the magazine doesn’t have a single franchise losing value from last season.
"There wasn’t any loss of value reflected in the recent Cleveland Browns sale," Ozanian said. "The investment bankers we spoke to told us that prices haven’t dropped in terms of what people are offering for small or large shares of teams."
Forbes stated that 20 NFL teams are worth more than $1 billion, the most of any league. That number is up from 15 teams last year.
The Cincinnati Bengals, worth $871 million compared to $875 million last season, are the only team that lost value.
Forbes projects only two teams had operating losses last year — the Pittsburgh Steelers ($1.1 billion), due to a higher payroll, and the Oakland Raiders ($785 million), thanks to having the lowest revenues in the league.
The magazine concluded that the two teams that had the biggest jump in value were the Minnesota Vikings ($975 million) and the San Francisco 49ers ($1.17 billion), whose values jumped 22 and 19 percent, respectively, as a result of their new stadiums being built.
The Cowboys’ $2.1 billion value matches that of the Los Angeles Dodgers purchase by Guggenheim Partners. Forbes says only Manchester United is worth more. The magazine said the soccer team was worth $2.23 billion, but the team’s recent offering on the New York Stock Exchanged valued it at $2.9 billion.
There’s no questioning Jason Witten’s toughness. Along with playing through a broken jaw and a broken rib, the Dallas Cowboys tight end has ran halfway down the field during a game without a helmet on.
So it probably doesn’t surprise anyone in the Cowboys organization that Witten, who is recovering from a lacerated spleen, wants to play Wednesday night against the New York Giants so badly that he’s willing to sign a waiver to do so.
According to ESPN’s Chris Mortensen, Witten has informed the team he is willing to sign a medical waiver that would not hold the Cowboys or team doctors liable in case he re-injured his spleen Wednesday night.
Mortensen added that the Cowboys will not accept any waiver as a path to Witten playing in the game.
Witten, who hasn’t missed a game since his rookie season in 2003, is listed as doubtful on the official injury report.
Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones said Tuesday that the team was waiting for the results of a CAT scan. However, even without those results, Jones said Witten had already been cleared to play against the Seattle Seahawks in Week 2.
“I don’t want to be overly optimistic but if you went by the way he’s worked, the work he’s got in, how he feels, then you’d give him a go [against the Giants],” Jones said on 105.3 The Fan’s New School show. “Until you had things such as CAT Scans, which we have and we should use them, players I’m sure played with this degree of spleen injury a lot because all of the signs were on go. I think we’ll look at that, we’ll look for the improvement and then we’ll go by the doctor’s opinion.”
Dallas Cowboys doctors informed tight end Jason Witten he will not need spleen surgery that would have ended his season, according to a source familiar with the situation.
The bleeding in Witten’s spleen has subsided, and doctors believe it now will heal on its own.
Witten still is aiming to return in time for the Cowboys’ Sept. 5 regular-season opener against the New York Giants, but it is questionable whether he will be ready to play.
Witten is more likely to play in Week 2, when the Cowboys play at Seattle on Sept. 16.
Losing Witten would have been a major blow to an offense that relies on him heavily in the run and passing games. He has become the go-to guy for quarterback Tony Romo, catching 409 passes for 4,824 yards and 21 touchdowns since Romo took over as the starter in 2006.
He has missed only one game in his career because of a fractured jaw as a rookie in 2003, and has played through a broken rib, knee and ankle injuries.
Adam Schefter | ESPN
Todd Archer | ESPN Dallas
Giants left tackle Will Beatty is unproven and can’t get healthy, and they’re thin at tackle in general. Additionally, David Baas was a disappointment in his first season in New York, and they haven’t seen Kevin Boothe as a full-season starter yet. The Giants finished 32nd in the league last season in rushing offense because of a line that couldn’t get any push. Pro Football Focus graded them the 29th-best run-blocking team in the league, and the worst pass-blocking team in the league. Good for them for overcoming it all and winning the Super Bowl, but it remains an issue insufficiently addressed.
The Cowboys’ offensive line has been the dominant story of their training camp — specifically their struggles at center, where Phil Costa has been banged up and the potential backups and replacements for him have had trouble snapping the ball to the quarterback. The Cowboys also are trying to find guards who can protect Tony Romo against the interior pass rush better than they did last season. And starting tackles Tyron Smith and Doug Free have had to switch sides because of Free’s struggles on the left last season. PFF had Dallas as the 15th-best pass-blocking team in 2011 and the 11th-best run blocking one, so it could be worse. But they need everyone healthy and playing together to see if they have a chance.
The Redskins likely were planning to use some of the $18 million in salary cap money the league took from them on the eve of free agency to upgrade the offensive line. But they couldn’t, obviously, so they’re still dealing with Jammal Brown’s hip injury, Kory Lichtensteiger’s knee injury and Will Montgomery’s limitations as a center in their zone-blocking run scheme. The Redskins ranked 26th in pass blocking and 30th in run blocking last season according to those PFF grades, and they also made no significant change or improvement.
After a rocky start, the Eagles had a good season on the line in 2011. They ranked second in the league in run-blocking and 14th in pass-blocking. But they also lost left tackle Jason Peters, their best lineman and one of the best in the league, to an Achilles injury in the offseason. As good as the other four starters on their line are, the Eagles could struggle to replace what Peters gave them last season, and so far they have not figured out whether Demetress Bell or King Dunlap replaces him as the starter.
The NFC East leads the league in hype. The huge media markets in which the teams play, the history of success, the rivalries … all of it combines to create a perception that the NFC East is the best, most competitive and toughest division in the NFL. That the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants play in it — and are not the clear-cut favorites to win it again this season — only adds to the perception, as does the growing excitement over an NFL regular-season opener between the Giants and the Dallas Cowboys 16 nights from tonight.
But while Giants-Cowboys is fun, and each of those teams has something pretty intense going with the division’s other two teams — the Giants’ recent struggles with the Philadelphia Eagles and the Cowboys’ longstanding rivalry with the Washington Redskins — the stats don’t back up the NFC East as the league’s toughest division anymore. The division is, by many measures, coming off its worst season ever. Last season was the first regular season in NFC East history in which no team won at least 10 games. Only the Giants finished over .500, and they gave up more points than they scored. Their Super Bowl run might have saved the division’s honor, but it also disguised the troubling fact that the NFC East is no longer the Beast it used to be.
A large part of the reason for this, I believe, is the state of the division’s offensive lines. We all know offensive line play is important, but in the NFC East these days, concern about the lines affects too many things. Teams that are strong on the line can control games. Teams that aren’t cannot. Eli Manning and the Giants have been talking for months about wanting to not have to come back in the fourth quarter as much as they did last season, and the best way to avoid that is to control games from the start. Given the issues with their offensive line, they could find that a challenge once again.
But they’re not alone. As we look ahead to 2012 and start assessing everyone’s biggest questions, offensive line stands out as an issue for each of the NFC East’s four teams. To wit:
The NFC has no shortage of star power. It has three great quarterbacks and one, Washington rookie Robert Griffin III, who’s getting as much hype as any of the other three these days. It has some of the great wide receivers in the league in veterans such as Hakeem Nicks, Miles Austin and DeSean Jackson as well as rising stars such as Victor Cruz, Dez Bryant and Jeremy Maclin. The Eagles’ LeSean McCoy ranks with the game’s great running backs. And on defense, of course, the division is known for its great pass-rushers. Each team can rattle off names that give opposing quarterbacks heartburn. DeMarcus Ware. Jason Pierre-Paul. Justin Tuck. Trent Cole. Jason Babin. Brian Orakpo.
All of that makes the NFC East very exciting. But very often in the NFL, excitement and hype can conceal issues of quality. And if the NFC East really wants to be the best division in football again, it’s not the quarterbacks or the wide receivers or even the pass-rushers that will bring it there. The NFC East’s teams all need to start paying more attention to their offensive lines, because as those continue to erode, so will the division’s annual claim to Beastliness.
Dan Graziano | ESPN Dallas
Sitting down with Jerry Jones at Dallas Cowboys training camp in Oxnard, Calif., I’m greeted with simple southern hospitality that’s extended to anyone he meets. That holds true whether the person is a current member of the Cowboys family or a former Cowboys cheerleader like myself.
Jones’ business savvy, along with the power of the Cowboys franchise and its brand, makes him one of the most powerful owners in sports.
We recently discussed his background, Cowboys Stadium and his appearance on "Dallas” in an interview for ESPN Playbook.
How did you enjoy your guest appearance on the new “Dallas”?
They’ve done a great job with this "Dallas." We all know what "Dallas" meant years ago. I enjoyed my scene with J.R. Ewing (Larry Hagman), but I’m particularly excited that they showed different perspectives, different views of the stadium. I especially liked the scene with the helicopter flying into the stadium. I personally walked off the measurements and had the helicopter pad put in.
What is your favorite part of the stadium?
The Glass. I spent hundreds of hours looking at models that would show 40, 50 and up to 90 feet of glass in some places. But inside the glass is a material that is denser on the bottom and less dense on the top. This material allows the glass to reflect the actual color of the sky on that particular day. If it’s a grey cloudy day, then the stadium will have a silvery-grey appearance. If it’s a bluebird day, it will be blue.
Hunting. Before the Cowboys, I would take my business [clients] on Thanksgiving and go into the darkest spots in Arkansas. I would grow a beard and not come out till Santa Claus came.
Most people associate you with Arkansas or Texas, but…
I was actually born in Southern California and I’m a favorite son of El Segundo. I have so many cousins out here, and they say, "But Jerry, we don’t sound like you." My family moved to Springfield, Mo., when I was in college, and they still have holdings and a ranch there.
Can you talk about your relationship with the "triplets" — Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin — and how close you are with them today?
Those relationships developed right when I first came into the NFL. I was 45 when I bought the Cowboys, so there was 20 years difference in age. One of the reasons I do what I do is because I don’t look in the mirror and think, "I’m your age" or the players’ age, although sometimes I act it. I take some of the things that have happened to me and, as a friend, share my experiences. Troy is a great friend. Michael and I have an outstanding relationship. He asked me to introduce him when he was enshrined into the Hall of Fame. We have a real bond. As for Emmitt, I can remember like it was yesterday when he came to me and asked if he could slide into the back of the office and listen to me on the phone on his breaks during training camp. He was hoping to be exposed to some of the business aspects of the sports industry. At first I was a little hesitant, but then it worked out and he did it for several years.
How important are cheerleaders to the Dallas Cowboys brand?
The cheerleaders have represented us well. They have entertained our troops and have done more USO Tours than Bob Hope. We don’t have any part of the Cowboys legacy that is as well respected as the cheerleaders. Our cheerleaders’ appearances on battleships and behind the lines boost the morale of our troops. Of all of my "sweet nothings," and I call them my "sweet nothings," the biggest stack of letters of letters I have in my files are from people with 15-to-20 years of service, after seeing our cheerleaders and how much it meant to them.
Bonnie-Jill Laflin is a former NFL cheerleader and wrote this exclusively for ESPN.com.
Of all the football games I’ve ever watched, the Dallas Cowboys’ 3-0 preseason victory over the Oakland Raiders on Monday night was definitely … well, it was one of them. It was a sluggish, poorly played game by two teams that obviously weren’t at full strength or interested in showing a national TV audience very much of their playbooks. At the time that it ended, nine Major League Baseball teams had outscored the two NFL teams’ combined total.
But it was a game a defensive coordinator could love, and surely Dallas’ Rob Ryan will use it as a rallying point for his defense in the days and weeks to come. As we say all the time here, there is little or no predictive value in any of these games. Some teams game-plan for them, many don’t, and there’s no way to really know what you’re watching in terms of who’s trying and who’s not. But if you’re a defensive coordinator, you’d better believe you can hold up a 3-0 victory and shout at your guys about what they’re capable of if they play hard. Can’t hurt, could help, you know.
The Cowboys’ offense … won’t have as much fun watching film of this one. Let’s get to what we saw from the Cowboys in Oakland on Monday night.
1. The interior of the offensive line is not good right now, and it affects everything the offense tries to do. Tony Romo had no time to throw, DeMarco Murray had no room to run, and the No. 3 wide receiver candidates who were running with the first team had no opportunity to show what they could do. David Arkin started at center in place of the injured Phil Costa, and in the first half he got abused by Tommy Kelly for one sack and was also called for holding. The good news for Arkin is that he didn’t botch any snaps, and he did look better as he continued to play into the third quarter (and the Raiders kept taking out first-team and second-team defensive players). Mackenzy Bernadeau, who started at right guard, is likely to get snaps at center in upcoming preseason games, but since he’s coming off an injury the Cowboys are trying to work him in at guard to get him acclimated. Derrick Dockery started at left guard, and Ronald Leary struggled with the second and third teams. Now, the key things to remember are (a) this isn’t news and (b) preseason games are about figuring out what you need to improve. There’s no reason to think the Cowboys’ offensive line will look worse at any point this year than it does right now, and they’ve known for a while that they have issues there. If they can get Costa and Nate Livings and Bernadeau healthy, they’ll at least have the crew with which they planned to go into the season. I’m just not sure that’s good enough — or that they have anything behind the starters that can help in case of injury. And it’s worth mentioning that right tackle Doug Free didn’t look good either.
2. Andre Holmes had a good night. Of those No. 3 wide receiver candidates, Holmes stood out the most, with 40 yards on three catches. Holmes’ asset is his size, and he looks like he’s doing a good job of using his big body to shield the ball from defenders and make catches in traffic. Long way to go and a lot to see, but Holmes helped his case. Kevin Ogletree likely remains the favorite and got the first crack at it, starting in place of the injured Miles Austin. Ogletree caught the only ball thrown his way, for 12 yards, and had a goofy moment when he fell on his face trying to make a block and slipping on the infield dirt at the Oakland Coliseum. Expect to see more from Dwayne Harris, Tim Benford, Cole Beasley and Danny Coale in upcoming games. Beasley was the slot receiver with the first-team offense but didn’t see any action. Interesting that Dez Bryant did start in spite of his hamstring injury and made one excellent 24-yard catch before taking a seat.
3. The defense did look fired-up and kind of deep in spots. Defensive end Marcus Spears played like a man who knows he needs to win a roster spot. Safety Gerald Sensabaugh came up with an early interception on a play on which cornerback Orlando Scandrick had his man well covered. Kyle Wilber showed some ability to generate pressure on Matt Leinart on a third-down play, though he did leave the game with a broken thumb. Tyrone Crawford pushed the pocket a little bit during his time in there. And I think that inside linebacker spot is going to be a real strength, as Sean Lee and Bruce Carter both looked good. Yes, the Raiders ran the ball effectively against the first-team defense, but that first-team defense was without starting nose tackle Jay Ratliff as well as defensive end Jason Hatcher and outside linebacker Anthony Spencer. So I imagine they’ll be better once those guys are on the field.
4. Not-so-special teams. The Cowboys were called for penalties on two punts and one field-goal attempt, each time allowing the Raiders to keep the ball. That needs to be tightened up, clearly, and it’s the kind of thing that just infuriates coaches in these preseason games.
5. Miscellany: Adrian Hamilton, the undrafted linebacker who had 20.5 sacks at Prairie View last year, looked active and quick. Remains to be seen whether he has the size and speed to play against NFL offenses… Rookie tight end James Hanna showed good hands as a receiver and looked good on kick coverage… Dwayne Harris was called for holding, and yeah, that can work against a guy who’s trying to get a job as a No. 3 wide receiver… Yes, you like what you see from Victor Butler, as you always do in August. Still need to see whether and how the coaches find more ways to get him on the field once the real games begin… Seemed like punter Chris Jones was fine.
Dan Graziano | ESPN Dallas
The Oakland Raiders host the Dallas Cowboys on ESPN’s Monday Night Football
A NEW ERA OF EXCELLENCE: The Raiders enter the 2012 season under new leadership for the first time in nearly five decades. Owner Mark Davis named Reggie McKenzie the team’s General Manager on Jan. 10, making McKenzie the first person to hold the GM title since Al Davis was named Head Coach and General Manager in 1963. McKenzie named Denver defensive coordinator Dennis Allen head coach on Jan. 30.
TRAINING CAMP 2012: The Raiders checked into training camp at the Napa Valley Marriott on July 29. This marks the organization’s 17th year of training in the Napa Valley. The team will conduct all of its day-to-day football operations in Napa until the team returns to its permanent Alameda facility after the third preseason game.
FAMILIAR FOE: Oakland Raiders and Dallas Cowboys have squared off only 10 times in the regular season, but the two teams have played 27 times in the preseason, with the Silver and Black holding an 18-9 all-time advantage in a series that dates back to 1972. This week’s matchup marks the third time in four seasons that the two teams have met in the preseason and the first time in Oakland since a 31-10 Raider victory in the 2009 preseason opener. The Raiders lead the all-time regular season series, 6-4, with the teams last squaring off on Thanksgiving Day 2009 in Dallas, a 24-7 Cowboys victory.
EXTENDING THE SERIES: The Raiders and Cowboys have squared off 27 times in the preseason, making Dallas the second-most common preseason opponent for Oakland. The Silver and Black’s most familiar opponent is the San Francisco 49ers, with the two teams having played 39 times in the preseason. The Raiders and Cowboys played a preseason contest in Oakland in 2009, ending a five-year hiatus, and most recently faced off in Dallas in 2010.
OXNARD TIES: The Cowboys are no stranger to California during the summer months, as Dallas hosted training camp in Thousand Oaks from 1963-89. The Cowboys returned to Southern California in 2001, training in Oxnard, Calif. The Raiders’ training camp site was also in Oxnard from 1985-95 after moving from the El Rancho Tropicana Hotel in Santa Rosa,
Calif. The Raiders moved training camp to Napa, Calif., in 1996, a year after the franchise returned to Oakland.
NOTABLE CONNECTIONS: RB Darren McFadden and Cowboys RB Felix Jones occupied the same backfield at the University of Arkansas … CB Bryan McCann played for the Cowboys from 2010-11 before signing with the Raiders … S Michael Huff is from Irving, Texas … Cowboys’ recently-signed OL Dan Loper played for the Raiders in 2010 … RB Lonyae Miller played four games for the Cowboys in 2010 … LS Jon Condo played for Dallas in 2005 … Special teams coordinator Steve Hoff man spent 16 seasons (1989-04) as kicking coach with Dallas … Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan served as defensive coordinator for the Raiders from 2004-08 … Cowboys’ offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Bill Callahan was an assistant coach for the Silver and Black from 1998-01 and served as head coach from 2002-03 … Cowboys running backs coach Skip Peete was an assistant coach for the Raiders from 1998-06 … Former Raiders QB Wade Wilson is the Cowboys’ quarterbacks coach … Tight ends coach Mark Hutson was a Cowboys’ third-round draft pick in 1988.
• at Oak. 19, Dal. 13 (Oct. 2, 2005): The Raiders posted the organization’s third straight win in the regular season series against the Cowboys in front of 62,400 fans in Oakland. K Sebastian Janikowski kicked four field goals, including two from 40-plus yards, and RB LaMont Jordan rushed for 126 yards and one touchdown to lead the Raiders.
• Oak. 13, at Dal. 12 (Sept. 27, 1998): QB Jeff George and WR James Jett connected on a 75-yard touchdown strike and the Raiders held off a late charge to edge the Cowboys by one point. A fourth-quarter Cowboy touchdown brought Dallas within three points, and Oakland P Leo Araguz ran out of the back of the end zone to give Dallas a safety but preserve a one-point lead that would ultimately hold up.
• at Oak. 27, Dal. 23 (Dec. 14, 1974): QBs Ken Stabler and George Blanda combined to throw three touchdown passes and the Raiders posted a 27-23 victory in the first meeting between the two teams. The win capped a 12-2 regular season for the Raiders that culminated in an AFC Championship-game appearance.
WINNING WAYS: The Raiders and Cowboys are among the elite teams in the NFL, with both ranking among the top-four since 1963 in winning percentage. The Dallas Cowboys top the chart with a .591 regular season winning percentage, while the Raiders rank fourth with a .567 percentage since Al Davis was named head coach and general manager in 1963.
HEYWARD-BEY REPLAY: WR Darrius Heyward-Bey recorded his first career TD reception the last time the Raiders faced the Cowboys in a regular-season tilt. On Thanksgiving Day 2009 at Cowboys Stadium, the rookie hauled in a 4-yard pass from Bruce Gradkowski, the Raiders’ only score.
PLAYOFF PEDIGREE: The Raiders’ 2012 training camp rosters includes 15 players that have earned postseason experience during their respective careers. Seven players have combined to be a part of 10 Super Bowl squads and have claimed seven championships.
OXNARD, Calif. — The good thing about coach Jason Garrett is he wants competition at various positions.
One main position that will it is safety.
Gerald Sensabaugh is one of the starters, but who starts next to him is uncertain. Brodney Pool signed a one-year free agent deal in the offseason, and the Cowboys drafted Matt Johnson in the fourth round. Those players join Barry Church and Danny McCray, who enter their third NFL seasons.
There are no guarantees Pool makes the roster, given his $100,000 signing bonus. The Cowboys like the playmaking ability of Johnson, who had 17 career interceptions in four seasons at Eastern Washington.
Church played well in a limited role on defense, and McCray has led the team in special teams tackles the last two seasons.
"We want to give those guys a chance," Garrett said. "We drafted Matt Johnson in the fourth round. Barry Church has been with us, he’s improved, a very good special teams player, right from the start. But he’s improving as a defensive safety. We want to give those guys a chance. We like Brodney a lot, he’s played a lot of games in this league, a very athletic safety. He’s got a good feel for playing. There’s a reason we went and signed him. But at the same time, again, we want to create competition and we want to give these other guys a chance to show us what they can do."
Tomlin, 40, was entering the final year of his contract, although the team had an option for 2013. Financial terms of the three-year extension weren’t released, but Tomlin was the sixth-highest paid NFL coach for this season, according to Forbes magazine.
"I am excited that I will continue to be the head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers for years to come," Tomlin said in a statement. "I am grateful to the Steelers organization for the opportunity I have been given over the past five years to work and live in this great city, and I am excited to continue to work to bring another championship to the Steelers and the city of Pittsburgh."
Tomlin, who is entering his sixth season as the Steelers’ coach, became the youngest coach in NFL history to win a Super Bowl, when he led the Steelers to a 27-23 win over the Arizona Cardinals in February 2009. He also reached the playoffs four times in his first five seasons, including two trips to the Super Bowl.
"We are pleased to announce that Mike Tomlin will remain with the Steelers for at least five more years," Steelers president Art Rooney II said. "Mike is one of the top head coaches in the National Football League and we are thrilled he will continue to lead our team as we pursue another Super Bowl title."
DeMarcus Ware joins SportsCenter to discuss if the Cowboys’ window to win a Super Bowl is closing, what they learned from last season, drafting defensive players with their first four picks in 2012 and playing in a tough NFC East.
You wonder why we have an ESPNDallas.com and an ESPNNewYork.com? This is part of the reason why. The Cowboys remain the most popular team in the NFL in spite of two straight non-winning seasons, not having won the Super Bowl in 16 years and only having won two playoff games in that time. That star still means something to a lot of people.
The Giants play in the New York market, which is home to many millions of people, and so they’re drawing from a vast reservoir. However, the Jets came in 19th in this poll, which tells you (a) that the Giants just won the Super Bowl, and (b) that the Giants are the No. 1 team in the market by a fair margin.
The Eagles also have a large and passionate fan base, but I believe a lot of their popularity is built on (a) consistently contending for and reaching the playoffs during the Andy Reid era, and (b) Michael Vick, who is one of the league’s most popular players.
It might be a hopeful time for Redskins fans, but sheesh, look at the damage done by the Daniel Snyder era. There’s no way, if you took this poll in the mid-1990s, that they wouldn’t have been among the top teams in it. There are no fans anywhere as loyal and passionate as Redskins fans, but the mediocrity of the past decade and a half has really robbed them of their national following. Note: ESPN Sports Polls contacts Americans year-round via land line and cell phones in English and Spanish, reaching 390,000 Americans since 1994.
Puff out your chests, NFC East fans, because you have the most popular division in football. According to the first quarter 2012 ESPN Sports Poll of fans’ favorite teams, three of the top nine play in the NFC East. Here are the top 15 teams in popularity according to the poll, sorted by percentage of respondents who identified that team as their favorite:
1. Dallas Cowboys: 8.8
2. Green Bay Packers: 7.2
3. New York Giants: 7.1
4. Pittsburgh Steelers: 7.1
5. New England Patriots: 6.8
6. Chicago Bears: 4.2
7. New Orleans Saints: 4.1
8. San Francisco 49ers: 4.0
9. Philadelphia Eagles: 3.9
10. Denver Broncos: 3.8
11. Indianapolis Colts: 2.8
12. Oakland Raiders: 2.5
13. Washington Redskins: 2.4
14. Minnesota Vikings: 2.2
15. Detroit Lions: 2.2