Mickey Spagnola, began as a sportswriter for the now-defunct Dallas Times Herald (purchased by The Dallas Morning News). Now, He serves as the feature writer for DallasCowboys.com, tracking the daily activities of the Dallas Cowboys. Mickey writes articles and blogs for the site but also hosts “Talkin’ Cowboys”, one of two daily radio shows broadcast exclusively on DallasCowboys.com. However, during the offseason, “Talkin’ Cowboys” usually airs only once a week.
Spagnola makes several daily appearances (one on each weekday show), known as “The Valley Ranch Report”, on Dallas radio station KRLD-FM 105.3 “The Fan”. This report provides listeners with general information on the Cowboys’ daily activities. He reports news and provides insight. Spagnola hails from Chicago, Illinois, and is a graduate of the University of Missouri.
IRVING, Texas – Defense, step right up.
Time to check the very fiber of your soul, noon, Sunday, Cowboys Stadium, the 2-1 Cowboys vs. the 3-0 Detroit Lions.
That’s right, let me repeat that: The three-and-oh Detroit Lions, the first time the franchise, appearing truly built Ford Tough, has won the first three games of a season since 1980 when Gary Danielson was throwing instead of broadcasting, Billy Simms was rushing for a 1,300-yard season and Monte Clark was at the helm.
Long time ago for sure. And wonder how long it’s been since the Lions, now, the Detroit Lions, have won seven consecutive regular-season games, which they actually have done if you piggy-back these three with the four straight they won to close out the 2010 regular season. And if you give me a little leeway, they’ve actually won 11 straight when it comes to any kind of game played since the Lions won all four preseason games this summer.
These are not your father’s Lions.
“A great test for us, it really is,” quarterback Tony Romo says quite realistically.
Now we know what this Cowboys defense has done so far, and it certainly has been encouraging, taking steps to exorcize the ghosts of defenses past. Like 2010. Yeah, to put in proper context what has taken place in the first three games of this season that sad-sack bunch of 2010 must be referenced.
Not even sitting currently with the NFL’s fifth-ranked defense has dismissed the memory of last year when the Cowboys gave up 436 points, most in the franchise’s 51-year history. Of course, must point out that was some of the work of the offense and special teams, since opponents totaled eight returns for touchdowns, a franchise worst.
But, at least there seems some legitimate hope for a team giving up an average of 27.25 points a game last year, and maybe even more frightening, 30.4 points a game in Games 11-15, and that was after Wade Phillips.
After three games this season the Cowboys’ opponents are averaging 288 total yards – so far 66.8 yards less than last year’s grand total. And while giving up 22 points a game so far is really nothing to raise the flag over, consider that in the first game, the 27-24 loss to the Jets, 10 of the Jets’ points came compliments of a blocked punt returned for a touchdown and the end-of-the-game interception putting New York in game-winning field-goal range. Taking that into consideration, then the defense is giving up 18.6 points a game.
Man, after last year, you’ll take that.
But the good news is, Rob Ryan, the new defensive sheriff in town, won’t. When asked on Friday what his expectations are for a defense he insists has “the best defensive personnel in football, and I’m fortunate enough to be here,” he doesn’t mince words:
“We want to be No. 1.”
Well, beat the Detroit Lions and the Cowboys might very well be the No. 1 defense in the league, maybe not in total yards, but in your hearts.
See, while the Cowboys will go into Sunday’s games without the services of at least five would-be starters if you consider the nickel corner a starter – Miles Austin, Orlando Scandrick, Jason Hatcher, David Buehler and Derrick Dockery – with Tony Romo still wearing his Kevlar vest and receiving a pain-dulling injection for his cracked rib and not knowing to what extent Dez Bryant will be able to contribute, along with fullback Tony Fiammetta, there are ways to win these games.
The Cowboys proved that Monday night, crippled and bruised as they were, by kicking field goals and playing uptown defense. Well, need to see that again, noon Sunday. Hold the Lions to no more than 17 points, and guarantee you the Cowboys will have a good chance to win in another one of these less-than aesthetic scuffles.
“Finding a way to win is an important thing for a team to understand how to do,” Garrett said, knowing he would be without his Pro Bowl receiver, that his budding Pro Bowl receiver will be no better than the 80 percent even if he plays Monday since Bryant was unable to practice the past two days, and that his quarterback having to take pain-killing injections just to throw the ball is not ideal. “It’s like a pitcher that doesn’t have his best fastball. Is he effective anyway? Can he get into the seventh inning? Can he give his team a chance to win?
“You are not always going to be your best, everything is not always going to be clicking, but you have to try to find a way to win.”
In my books, on this day, it’s Dee-fense … Dee-fense … Dee-fense … that should be the chant come Sunday if the Cowboys Stadium faithful either has gotten enough sleep the night before to turn rowdy for a mere noon game or arrived early enough to prepare properly over breakfast to make a nuisance of themselves.
Because while the Cowboys defense has been good so far – not since Nov. 21 of last year has the unit given up no more than 24 points in consecutive games as its has the past two and only in the final two games of last year did the Cowboys defense hold opponents to less than 300 yards offense in consecutive games as it has the past two – these guys will have to be even better on Sunday.
This time though, remember, it’s the Lions. Homeboy Matthew Stafford already has nine touchdown passes, just intercepted twice, is averaging 325.6 yards passing a game and has a QB rating of 110.7, with only Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers owning a higher one. He mostly throws to Megatron, you know, Calvin Johnson, the freakishly good receiver, one who’s 6-5, 236 and runs like a mother moose protecting the young. He already has 16 catches for 225 yards, and six of those account for two-thirds of Stafford’s TD passes, a ridiculous 32-touchdown pace for the season.
That alone is the best passing combination the Cowboys have faced all season, certainly better than Rex Grossman to Santana Moss or Alex Smith to Braylon Edwards or Mark Sanchez to Santonio Holmes. Then throw in a tight end such as Brandon Pettigrew, who also has 16 catches in three games, and a secondary that was mostly torched last year will have its hands full.
But again, as Garrett says, “There are ways to win these games.”
Pressure, pressure, pressure.
Once the Cowboys get that Lions running game under control, and that shouldn’t be too difficult for a defense that’s yielded no more than 74 rushing yards in any of the first three games going against an offense averaging 2.8 yards a carry, then it’s time to get after Stafford. Hey, Minnesota did last Sunday, sacking him four times and hitting him countless other. And for good reason since the Lions have been struggling at offensive tackle, and that’s plural.
Plus, don’t these Cowboys lead the league in sacks? They have 13 in three games, on pace for an unlikely 70, which would double last year’s meager total of 35. Don’t they have the league’s sack leader, DeMarcus Ware with five and on pace after three games for an unheard of 30. And didn’t you think Terence Newman played a heckuva game in his first one back Monday night? And Sean Lee? And Anthony Spencer?
And by the way, knowing the Lions have won their last seven, you realize how close the Cowboys are to having won their last six games instead of five of the past seven? Try the overtime loss to the Jets and the one-pointer last season on Christmas Day at Arizona (missed extra point). Not too shabby themselves.
So, and I know this Cowboys offense is beat up, and actually won a game Monday night without the benefit of scoring a touchdown, a first since 2001 and only a sixth in club history, but if the defense plays up to snuff, maybe Garrett can continue to celebrate field goals – continue to lean on his defense and rookie kicker. “Obviously you want to score touchdowns, but you don’t want negative things to happen,” Garrett said of managing a game, like conservatively calling three running plays inside the 10 against the Skins and settling for three points to the boos of his gathered critics. “And I think we did a good job of cashing in and playing to our defense and playing field position with our special teams.”
Yes, a “great test.”
Defense, here’s your blue book. You may begin.
Courtesy: Mickey Spagnola | Dallas Cowboys website
ALLEN PARK — For the first time this season, the Detroit Lions will be missing a member of their starting lineup for a regular season game.
A concussion, suffered in the closing seconds of the fourth quarter against the Minnesota Vikings, will sideline linebacker Justin Durant for this Sunday’s game against the Dallas Cowboys.
Fortunately for the Lions, unlike in years past, the team has quality depth at nearly every position. With Durant out, the team will turn to Bobby Carpenter to fill the void.
Carpenter, who signed with Detroit in the middle of last season after being waived by the Miami Dolphins, appeared in 10 games with the Lions, including two starts. He finished the season strong, picking up 18 tackles over the final two games, including a win in Miami.
“He’s closing on a calendar year with us,” Lions coach Jim Schwartz said. “Bobby is a very smart player. He has great size. He’s got great speed. (He’s) very, very smart. He knows the scheme inside and out. Every time he’s had a chance to play, he’s made plays for us.”
Even though Carpenter is a backup, defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham considers him a starter because of his talent.
“I told Bobby, he’s one of our three,” Cunningham said. “Actually he’s a fourth, but I treat him like that. I think he’s a really good player and I have a lot of confidence in him. I know he used to play for the Cowboys, so I’m sure he’ll be ready to put in the best performance he can.”
Carpenter was a first-round draft choice by the Cowboys in 2006, and he played the first four seasons of his career with Dallas before being traded to the St. Louis Rams. According to Tom Kowalski, the Cowboys actually tried to trade Carpenter to the Lions as part of the deal that sent Roy Williams to Dallas.
Carpenter hasn’t seen as many snaps this season, but had a very productive preseason, picking up 22 tackles in four games. Durant certainly isn’t worried about a drop-off in productivity in his absence.
“It’s not even a letdown at all,” Durant said. “I’ve got the utmost confidence in all those guys. If I can’t go, I know they’re going to step out there and do a good job.”
Courtesy: Justin Rogers | MLive.com
Rob Ryan was at his best Friday, holding court in the Cowboys locker room. As is usually the case, he explained why his defense is the best, why he’s the best (and best looking), and what he thought about this week’s opponent.
But he was also asked finally about the, shall we say, “illustrations” on his sideline play chart from week to week, which were first noticed in the game at San Francisco.
A down-to-Earth kind of guy, Ryan has nothing to hide, but he’s quick to point out he has other interests besides pictures of hot, hot supermodels.
“It’s California,” Ryan said. “So I had my shark on the one side. I had Alioto’s restaurant, my favorite restaurant in California, I had the golden arch. I mean, hell, it’s just whatever I see. Look, some people, they get dyslexic or whatever. I can’t have a bland call sheet.
“I know Andy Reid’s got a Denny’s sheet. I don’t know, I like spicing things up, that was probably too much. I was just trying to stick with the California theme, you know the Beach Boys song, “California Girls,” but apparently I’m not going to do that again, so no problem.”
Ryan is a character, no doubt about it, forming what would seem to be football’s version of “The Odd Couple” with the more buttoned-down Jason Garrett, but the head coach doesn’t appear to have any problem with Ryan’s personality. He actually thinks they’re a lot alike.
“To be honest with you, I think we’re actually really similar,” Garrett said. “We come from similar backgrounds, and we both certainly have a passion for football. Different people have different personalities, different people have different exteriors. But one of the things that was so attractive to me about Rob when he showed up for an interview was how much we hit it off and how natural it was right from the start.
“We don’t want everybody to be the same. This is not a cookie-cutter operation by any means.”
RELATED: Dallas Cowboys DC Rob Ryan on his bikini-clad woman on his playcard
Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan is always a focal point because of his say-anything-at-anytime personality and his surfer look, but his defensive playcard has also brought him attention the last few weeks.
Ryan had a bikini-clad woman on his playcard for the season opener at the New York Jets.
“What else did I have on there? Everybody’s got the one thing. It’s California, so I had my shark on the one side, I had Alioto’s restaurant, my favorite restaurant in California, I had the golden arches,” Ryan said Friday. “Hell, I mean, it’s just whatever I see. Look, some people get dyslexic or whatever. I can’t have a bland call sheet. I know [Philadelphia coach] Andy Reid has a Denny’s sheet.
“I like spicing things up. I was just trying to stick with the California theme, the Beach Boys song California Girls, but apparently I’m not going to do that again. So, no problem. … That’s old news. I don’t care about that. I had a better plan last week and Monday night people on there, so that was good.”
Jason Witten has proven himself in many ways throughout his NFL career. He has earned an enormous amount of respect within the Dallas Cowboys and around the NFL. One of the most enduring images of Witten is of when the big tight end loses his helmet during a game in Philadelphia in 2007.
Late in the game, Witten loses his helmet after a monstrous hit by an Eagles safety. While many players would have simply gone down, Jason Witten continues to run down the field with no helmet, and a look of sheer determination on his face. For those who may have forgotten or missed this moment of greatness, here is a reminder of Jason Witten when he loses his helmet.
Courtesy: Dallas Sports Fans | A sports blog by and for Dallas Sports Fans
Recently announced as one of three new inductees into the exclusive Dallas Cowboys Ring of Owner, Charles Haley, a former standout at James Madison and the only NFL player to win five Super Bowls, has added a new title: ambassador.
Haley will serve as the FCS Ambassador for the 2012 NCAA Division I football championship game that will be played Jan. 7. Haley follows previous ambassadors Wayne Chrebet in 2009 and another former Cowboys great Everson Walls last year, the first FCS — formerly known as Division I-AA — championship game played in North Texas.
“I’m honored to serve as FCS Ambassador for the 2012 Division I Football Championship game,” Haley said in release. “Greatness is not born, it’s made. The FCS has been turning out great players for years and I look forward to watching these outstanding student-athletes compete at the highest level.”
As ambassador, Haley will lend his support to the championship game in a number of ways, including pre-game interaction with fans, serving as an instructor at a youth clinic, performing the pre-game coin toss and participating in the postgame awards ceremony.
“Charles Haley’s successful collegiate and professional career provides a quintessential model of academic and athletic success,” said Damani Leech, NCAA director for Division I football and baseball. “Each year we have looked for an individual who embodies the character of the FCS and can be used as a success story for the FCS student-athletes. We are thrilled that Charles will continue this tradition.”
A 2011 inductee into the College Football Hall of Fame, Haley graduated from James Madison in 1988. A four-year starter under head coach Challace McMillin, Haley became the first Dukes selected as a First-Team All-American in 1985, and was also the school’s first NFL draftee. Haley, whose jersey number 87 was retired by the school, finished his JMU career with a school record 506 tackles, three interceptions and 17 quarterback sacks.
Drafted as a specialty linebacker in the fourth round in the 1986 NFL Draft, Haley ended his career as a defensive end. Playing for the San Francisco 49ers from 1986-1991, he won rings from Super Bowl XXIII and XXIV following the 1988 and 1989 seasons, respectively. Traded to the Dallas Cowboys in the 1992 offseason, he won three more Super Bowl rings during the next four seasons in 1992 (Super Bowl XXVII), 1993 (XXVIII) and 1995 (XXX).
In his 12 NFL seasons, Haley recorded 100.5 quarterback sacks, two interceptions and eight fumble recoveries, including one for a touchdown. He was selected to play in five Pro Bowls (1988, 1990, 1991, 1994 and 1995) and was named NFL All-Pro in 1990 and 1994.
Did Washington mimic the snap count in order to confuse the Cowboys in Monday night’s game?
Are the Cowboys whining over nothing and, in the words of former Cowboys defensive end Stephen Bowen, lying?
Where you fall on the snap gate controversy likely depends on which team is you’re rooting interest. But another episode has been added to this saga.
Owner Jerry Jones said on his radio show Friday morning that the league issued a memo to all 32 teams warning them that it is illegal to mimic the snap count and doing so will result in a penalty. This memo was sent in the wake of the Cowboys-Redskins game.
So, what do you think? Did Washington do it or are the Cowboys using it as an excuse to explain their inability to snap the ball properly?
RELATED: Dallas Cowboys’ complaint merits memo
IRVING, Texas — The NFL responded to the controversy regarding accusations of the Washington Redskins’ defense mimicking the Dallas Cowboys’ cadence Monday night by sending a memo to all 32 teams about the issue, according to manager Jerry Jones.
The Cowboys brought the issue to the NFL’s attention after center Phil Costa had three early shotgun snaps during Monday’s 18-16 win. Costa, quarterback Tony Romo and coach Jason Garrett said after the game that Washington defense players made sounds that mimicked the cadence, but those accusations were strongly refuted by the Redskins later in the week.
“That notice came out from the league this week, so I know that the league is looking at it,” Jones said on KRLD-FM. “We in general though are approaching it, we’ve just got to make it work. We’ve got to get in here and have our count and have our snaps and not make it a point of concern for our quarterback and certainly not make it a point of concern for the game, because those are like turnovers and can be turnovers and do stop drives.”
Costa, who also had a premature shotgun snap in the season opener declined Thursday to respond to Redskins defensive lineman Stephen Bowen’s statement that the center was “lying” about the mimicked cadences.
Garrett said the Cowboys’ simply need to get the issue rectified, regardless of what the defense does.
“There’s been noise on the line of scrimmage in the NFL since Pudge Heffelfinger was around,” Garrett said Thursday, referring to the first man to sign a pro football contract. “So, that’s how it works. We just have to understand what the issues are there and we have to focus on whose voices we’re listening to and just get locked in and snap the ball the way it needs to be snapped.”
Laurent Robinson hopes he’ll get an increased workload at receiver if the Cowboys have gained confidence in him.
It sounds like they have.
“Yeah, he did a good job,” quarterback Tony Romo said. “Made a great run after catch twice. That’s what we thought when we got him. He’s showing he’s got some ability.”
Robinson is no rookie. He’s a five-year veteran who came to the Cowboys with 89 career catches. The Cowboys signed him after he was released by the San Diego Chargers in the final cut of the summer.
Robinson said the Cowboys and Chargers use similar passing systems, so he wasn’t too far behind. Plus, he’s always been a quick study, he said.
“The plays kind of come natural to me, so if I look at it once, I’ve pretty much got it down,” he said. “But I do some extra studying at home, just trying to make sure I’m on top of things so people can rely on me to be in the right spot.”
Romo is optimistic, too. He was asked if Robinson is a good route runner.
“It’s still early to tell, but yeah, from what I’ve seen so far, he’s done a real good job,” Romo said after Wednesday’s practice. “I’ve got to work more with him. This is literally our – I don’t know? – fifth practice together.”
IRVING — Cowboys second-year wide receiver Dez Bryant was the last player onto the practice field this morning. He showed up late and hit the field holding his cleats in his hand and wearing shorts and a tank top, not the customary attire for a Cowboys player who isn’t practicing.
Bryant took time to put his shoes on and then began to get ready to work with one of the athletic trainers on the side — he still isn’t practicing with his deep thigh bruise this week and his status for Sunday’s game against the Detroit Lions is in doubt — when coach Jason Garrett quickly called Bryant over for a conversation on the sideline.
After a quick talk, Bryant sprinted into the locker room and re-emerged a few minutes later wearing a white, practice shirt and no sign of just a tank top anymore.
Garrett couldn’t have been happy with Bryant’s appearance and the fact that he was late getting onto the practice field to do his rehab work. That was apparent by the sideline conversation and Bryant immediately going into the locker room to change shirts.
This has been an ongoing issue with Bryant, who even in college at Oklahoma State showed up late to meetings and missed rehab work with athletic trainers. But Bryant had appeared to have improved in this area and in being more responsible.
While Ndamukong Suh gets most of the attention for Detroit’s front four, the rest of the unit is pretty salty as well, from the two defensive ends, Cliff Avril and the veteran Kyle Vanden Bosch, to the other tackle, Corey Williams, another experienced player.
Vanden Bosch, who leads the team with 3.0 sacks, will rush from the right side more often than not, meaning he’ll face off against Doug Free, while Tyron Smith gets Avril.
It’s expected that Suh won’t be matched up against the Cowboys’ young left guard Bill Nagy much, if at all. Suh almost always lines up across from an offense’s right guard, which is the strong side for teams with a right-handed quarterback.
Last year against the Cowboys, he fought Leonard Davis all day, and this year he’ll be squaring off against Kyle Kosier.
Still, everyone on the Cowboys’ O-line has to be aware of the matchups taking place across the board.
“It’s a real big challenge for our offensive line, wherever he lines up,” Nagy said of Suh. “He’s a powerful, athletic player. He finishes. It’ll be a good challenge for us, I’m sure. It helps when people double-team him for sure.”
Nagy will likely face Williams for most of the day, which isn’t much easier.
“He’s great too,” Nagy said. “There’s a lot of people that you aren’t even talking much about on the other side, but their whole defensive line is real good. It’s going to be a challenge for our whole unit.”
ALLEN PARK — Playing against an offense like the one it will face in Dallas, it seems counter intuitive for the Detroit Lions’ defense to focus on shutting down the run.
Even with last week’s 117-yard outburst against Washington, the Cowboys are averaging only 78 yards per game on the ground. On the other hand, they are gobbling up 334.3 yards per game through the air.
So why not try to stop the offense’s strength? Well, it’s just what the Lions defense does, regardless of opponent.
“We’ve got to approach it like we’ve got to stop the run game,” defensive tackle Corey Williams said. “First thing we do in every game is try to make a team one-dimensional. Try to make them pass the ball. Once you stop that run game, they’ve got to pass the ball. And that’s one of our main goals is stopping the run game.”
Though quarterback Tony Romo holds the keys to the Cowboys offense, it was running back Felix Jones who set up three Dallas field goal drives with big gains of 27, 29 and 40 yards in their 18-16 win against the Redskins on Monday.
Jones managed only 19 yards on his other 11 carries, yet Detroit has to be wary of his explosiveness.
“You never know, they could come out and run the ball,” Williams pointed out. “They’re a flexible team that can run and pass. Just because this last couple of games, their run game hasn’t been on par with what it’s usually been, it doesn’t mean they won’t come out and try to run the ball against us.
“So we’re prepared to stop the run and everything else will speak for itself.”
Even as a one-dimensional team, the Cowboys are dangerous, though. Much like the Lions offense, there is no shortage of big-play weapons for Romo: tight end Jason and wide receivers Dez Bryant and Jason Witten to go along with Jones in the backfield.
“They have some outstanding offensive players,” Detroit coach Jim Schwartz said. “A really good quarterback, one of the best tight ends we’ll face all year, explosive wide receivers. I don’t know where Miles Austin will be (injury-wise) once we get to Sunday, but you have to respect him, you have to get ready for him in case he’s able to play.
“(They have) a lot of different kinds of firepower. Felix Jones rushed for 100 yards for the first time this year. I don’t want to say it spreads you thin, but if you concentrate too much on stopping one area, they have enough other weapons to make you pay.”
Williams knows one way to neutralize the Cowboys’ weapons is to get to Romo quickly, get to him often and make him remember the Lions’ presence in the Dallas backfield. He is adept at using his legs to get out of trouble, then making a play downfield — an area the Lions know they’ll have to contain.
But the veteran quarterback is nursing a rib injury, and Detroit’s defensive line can smell the blood in the water.
“Oh yeah, definitely,” Williams said. “When he’s got a rib injury, so we’re going to put as much pressure, try to get as many hits on him as we possibly can to slow him down. I know their offensive line will do a great job of protecting him, and we’re going to do a great job of getting after him.”
Though their offensive line has allowed six sacks in three games this season, the Cowboys are starting two rookies: 6-foot-5, 307-pound right tackle Tyron Smith, who Dallas drafted ninth overall last April, and 6-foot-3, 318-pound left guard Bill Nagy, taken in the seventh round (252nd overall).
“There’s no such thing as rookies in the NFL,” said Lions defensive end Willie Young, who has a better chance of facing Smith on the outside.
But Williams doesn’t agree. The eight-year veteran is looking forward to testing the youngsters, particularly Nagy, who he will see on the interior line.
“When you get a rookie, you want to get after him pretty quick, right off the bat,” Williams said. “Bring it to him and see how they hold up.”
Whether Williams uses bull rushes, swim moves, spins, grabs or any other techniques in his arsenal will depend on how effective each one is. If one thing is more effective than the others, Williams will keep going to the well.
“When I’m facing a rookie, I try to hit him in all different angles and see which one works the best,” Williams said. “When I see which one works, that’s the one I stick with. I approach that a little bit differently than when I approach a veteran guard.
“I’m going to have a few tricks up my sleeve for (Nagy).”
One technique Williams doesn’t favor is running his mouth to try to get into Nagy’s head, though. That’s something he reserves only for certain circumstances.
“I don’t really talk that much unless I get mad,” Williams said. “But hopefully he won’t make me mad.”
Courtesy: Philip Zaroo | MLive.com
ALLEN PARK — When you look at Jason Witten’s statistics, it’s difficult to believe he’s a tight end.
Witten finished third in the NFL with 94 receptions last season, and led all tight ends with 1,002 yards.
Through three games this year, Witten is on pace to eclipse both those marks this season.
“Jason Witten is an all-around player. (He’s) a very good pass receiver, but it’s not just short area. He’s down the field also – he can make a play 20 yards down the field as well as five and be a ball control tight end.”
Witten averaged 10.3 yards per reception last season, and only two tight ends, San Francisco’s Vernon Davis and San Diego’s Antonio Gates, had more catches go for 20 or more yards.
In the potent Cowboys offense, Witten seems to be the only play-maker who is not banged up. Wide receiver Miles Austin has already been ruled out of Sunday’s game with a hamstring injury, while receiver Dez Bryant (quad), running back Felix Jones (shoulder) and quarterback Tony Romo (ribs) are all battling injuries. That makes containing Witten all the more critical to the Lions’ success on defense.
“With the injuries at wide receiver, quarterback, he’s a security blanket,” Schwartz said. “You could see that on Monday night.”
Linebacker Stephen Tulloch took it a step further than his coach.
“Witten is definitely going to be our primary key this week,” Tulloch said.
While Witten is a dangerous threat on every snap, he’s been particularly good on third down.
“He’s Tony Romo’s outlet, especially on third downs,” Tulloch said. “When he’s getting pressure, he definitely looks to Witten.”
Last season, Witten had 18 first-down receptions on third down. That number was tied for ninth in the NFL and first among tight ends.
“I think having a reliable tight end is an important aspect for a quarterback,” Romo said about his relationship with Witten. “He’s got to make a bunch of different reads in his route a lot of the time, and you have to trust him as if it was you running the routes.”
Courtesy: Justin Rogers | MLive.com
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For Phil Costa, the Cowboys’ young center who listens to strange voices, out of town help arrived this week.
Nobody, of course, would blame Tony Romo for also asking, “Where’s my help from out of town?”
In a classy move, Andre Gurode phoned Costa on Tuesday from his new football home in Baltimore, offering the kid encouragement and also advice on how to handle fake snap-count voices coming from across the line of scrimmage.
“He’s a former teammate and a good guy, and I knew he’d be feeling kind of low,” said Gurode, who until this season was a five-time Pro Bowl starting center for the Cowboys.
The O-line youth movement, plus a salary dump, cost him his job here in August, and Baltimore signed him. (Gurode was praised by the Ravens’ coaches for his start at guard on Sunday against the Rams.)
While watching his old team on Monday Night Football, Andre took no delight in Costa’s snap-fu, and obviously holds no grudge against Valley Ranch management.
“I wanted to try and help Phil,” he said.
Meanwhile, I’m seeking confirmation that the TV producers of America’s Got Talent have booked another former Cowboy, Stephen Bowen, for a show appearance.
Apparently, Bowen does a great Romo imitation on snap counts.
Bowen had only three tackles for his new team, but caused Costa such confusion he could have won the game for the Redskins with his fake Romo. Sure, it’s illegal, but only if you get caught.
Meanwhile, Costa’s troubles were one of many worries Monday night for Tony, but absolutely nothing irritates a quarterback more than wide receivers who don’t know their routes.
Romo’s wrath, or “leadership,” if you will, was repeatedly on display against the Redskins.
Take Miles Austin out of the lineup (he’s not expected to play again Sunday against the unbeaten Lions) and the Cowboys’ wide receiver corps may have the NFL’s lowest collective football IQ.
That doesn’t mean all these guys are dumb. In fact, one of the main culprits from Monday night was Kevin Ogletree, who has a degree in sociology from an academic powerhouse, the University of Virginia.
Why then, three years into his Valley Ranch tenure, does Ogletree not know the playbook?
Trying to be nice about it, let’s just say Dez Bryant also “struggles” with his playbook learning.
It was Ogletree himself who told the postgame story about the Romo rant he received after an end zone route was suddenly cut off by the receiver.
“Tony asked me what I was thinking on that play,” said Ogletree. “I mumbled some answer, and he looked at me and said, ‘That’s stupid.'”
Ogletree didn’t take the butt-chewing personal. He said Romo was showing him “tough love.”
To be honest, if a botched route cost the Cowboys a game, showing Ogletree the door should be the next move.
Mistakes happen in a football game. But no mistake should ever happen because a player doesn’t know his assignments.
Again, it’s not just Ogletree. Dez is the same kind of worry.
Anybody who didn’t appreciate Miles Austin was a fool to start with, but after Monday night, man…
Is there any out-of-town receiver help to be had? Like immediately?
Randy Moss? No. Eldorado Owens? Double no.
Team chemistry is currently strong.
Rats are not welcome.
What about T.J. Houshmandzadeh? At age 34, the scouts say his legs are gone, which is why he’s unsigned.
Nothing out there available that would be an upgrade is what I’m told, even if an upgrade wouldn’t take much.
In hindsight, allowing Sam Hurd to walk in free agency should never have happened, not with a gimpy Dez, Miles now injured and the promotion of Ogletree to third receiver when Hurd departed.
Speaking of mistakes, don’t start me talking again about last season’s ouster of Patrick Crayton, which goes back to Roy Williams, the mistake who keeps on costing.
Why not him?
It was somewhat surprising that Jesse Holley was basically ignored Monday night when it came to playing time? Didn’t Mr. 4th-and-Long do OK in San Fran?
Valley Ranch voices say there’s a practice squad raw rookie named Andre Holmes from little Hillsdale College who is showing enough to possibly earn a promotion. For now, however, that’s the longest of long shots.
For whatever reason, the Cowboys were bullish once free agency started in late July to upgrade and regroup at defensive end, at safety and they attempted it at cornerback. But even with the lack of experience at wide receiver being an issue, there was no urgency.
Ogletree as the third receiver coming out of training camp was a questionable decision, but not considered drastic. Then, however, Austin was injured.
The combo of Dez and Ogletree as the starting wideouts means Romo has to doubly decipher mystery routes.
Three games into the season is a bit early for NFC East trends, but let’s just say the Eagles don’t look that dreamy, while the Giants and Redskins are only OK clubs.
The Cowboys, at least at the moment, seem to fit well in the East picture, particularly on defense.
But in the NFL of today, you pass to win.
Based on Monday night, the Cowboys receivers don’t pass even the first test:
Know the playbook.
Randy Galloway can be heard 3-6 p.m. on weekdays on Galloway & Co. on ESPN/103.3 FM.
Jason Garrett joins The Fan to talk about his quarterback, and the challenge they will face this weekend against the Lions.
Discussion about depth at receiver, the job security of David Buehler, and Tony Romo’s comments from today.
DallasCowboys.com – Official Site of the Dallas Cowboys. (alternate link)
After center Phil Costa had four bad snaps in the home opener against the Redskins, the Cowboys had artificial noise piped in at practice to try and simulate game conditions.
“Anything close to game [conditions], the more realistic it is,” said Costa, who declined to answer questions about the snaps, whether the Redskins were simulating the snap count or former teammate’s Stephen Bowen declaration that Costa is a “liar.”
In previous seasons, the Cowboys have prepared for road games by using music or artificial crowd noise during practice. But until Thursday, they had never done that for a home game.
“This is probably the first year I’ve seen it [for a home game],” Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo said. “…What we’re trying to do is simulate a game-like atmosphere as much as we can during practice. However that’s going to happen. If you can’t talk on game day, if you can talk, if you signal, whatever we’re going to do, that’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to put ourselves in that situation as many times as we can.”
After the game Monday night, the Cowboys accused the Redskins of calling out the snap count, getting Costa to snap the ball early. The Redskins have denied the allegations.
Costa heard from Ravens center/guard Andre Gurode, his mentor last year with the Cowboys, who told Costa to keep his head up. And Romo defended Costa on Thursday, saying his second-year center will be “fine.”
“He did real good today [at practice],” Romo said. “Costa will be fine. He’s a smart guy; he gets it; he’s had a good camp. He’s been doing a lot of good things for us. Obviously, everyone is going to want to talk about the snaps, but we’re moving forward past that. I think going forward he’s going to be just fine.”
IRVING — With a dislocated shoulder that had yet to fully heal, Cowboys running back Felix Jones overcame pain as he rushed for 115 yards earlier this week in Dallas’ 18-16 victory over Washington last Monday.
This week, he is still feeling the effects of an the injury he aggravated in Monday’s game. But he is determined to play Sunday against Detroit.
“I am able to do what I need to do,” Jones said. “Whether I am feeling sore or not, I am not complaining. I am just happy to be out there.”
Jones, who participated in a full practice Thursday, said he is taking his recovery “day by day” and is looking forward to the upcoming bye week because it will “give me a chance to get healed up a little bit more.”
But for now, the Cowboys hope Jones can continue to breathe life into the Cowboys’ ineffective ground game like he did in the second half on Monday.
“Felix had an outstanding night finding holes and finishing runs,” Garrett said.
It was a performance that Jones plans to replicate.
“Anytime you get a chance to have the ball in your hands,” Jones said, “you’ve got to make the best of it.”
IRVING, Texas — Besides moving and throwing better with his fractured rib, quarterback Tony Romo has graduated from sleeping in a recliner back to his bed again.
That’s good news, but he also knows the Detroit Lions will also try to put him flat on his back this Sunday. The rib is slowly making life and football easier, but Romo still expects to wear a protective Kevlar vest and very possibly take another pain-killing injection before the game.
“I think we’ll probably still continue down that path for a little while,” said Romo, who was limited in practice Thursday.
“. . . It’s going to take time. It’s not a one-week thing that just goes away but every week that goes by (or) every five days, it just gets a little better and you feel a little more comfortable doing the little things. It’s improving.”
Quarterbacks coach Wade Wilson said Romo isn’t back to 100 percent, but he sees a noticeable improvement in practice.
“He’s still having a little bit of pain on some throws, some movement throws, but I think by Sunday he’ll be pretty close to normal,” Wilson said.
For a quiet guy like center Phil Costa, the attention that has surrounded him this week in regards to a few errant shotgun snaps has been undoubtedly uncomfortable for the second-year pro.
If there’s one guy that knows not only the position he plays, and the team he plays for, it would be former Cowboys center Andre Gurode. And that’s why Gurode took the time to call Costa this week to give him some words of encouragement.
“Yeah, Andre is a great guy. He’s helped me a lot,” Costa said. “You have to take advantage of a five-time Pro Bowler like that. I’ve learned a lot of little things from him.
“Yeah, he called me and we talked a little bit.”
Costa didn’t get into the specifics of his conversation with Gurode, who is now playing in Baltimore, but added that he feels confident about moving forward this week and looking beyond Monday’s game with the Redskins in which there was obvious miscommunication between quarterback and center.
“I’m not really wanting to dwell on that,” Costa said. “We’re taking care of (the snaps) and we’ll get that fixed. We’re moving on.”
Darren Woodson uses a new tool to predict the outcome of Detroit-Dallas
Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant was not at practice Thursday during the 25 minutes open to the media. Bryant, who deeply bruised his thigh during the victory over the 49ers on Sept. 18, had been limited in practice Wednesday. The Cowboys will be without receiver Miles Austin another week as he recovers from a hamstring injury. Austin is expected to return after the bye week.
Fullback Tony Fiammetta (hamstring), cornerback Orlando Scandrick (ankle), guard Derrick Dockery (knee) and defensive end Jason Hatcher (calf) were not at practice. Scandrick, Dockery and Hatcher are expected to miss this week.
Kicker David Buehler was dressed out but was not kicking during the portion of practice open to the media.
TBAB REMINDER: You can keep updated on the Dallas Cowboys injury report by clicking on the tab at the top of every page (Injuries).
A new perspective was added Thursday to one of the most dissected regular season plays in recent Washington Redskins memory. This time, it was defensive coordinator Jim Haslett stepping to the podium, explaining his decision to call the all-out blitz that backfired during the Monday night loss to the Dallas Cowboys.
“Would you take it back? Of course you would,” Haslett said. “Coaches always second-guess themselves. But still it’s a great defense. We’ve run it 10 times in the regular season; we’ve got nine wins and one loss.”
The eight-men-on-the-line blitz produced an interception by Kevin Barnes in the third quarter against the Cowboys, and it also yielded rookie Ryan Kerrigan’s interception-and-touchdown in the season opener against the New York Giants.
When Haslett called for it again, the Cowboys were backed up at their own 30 with 2:20 to play. Tony Romo rolled right and found Dez Bryant for a 30-yard gain. A face mask penalty on DeAngelo Hall added another 15 yards, putting Dallas in position to kick the winning field goal for an 18-16 victory.
Haslett said he spoke after the game to some Cowboys coaches who conceded the play was a fluke, singlehandedly pulled off by Romo.
“He started running for his life and threw it up in the air,” Haslett said. “They made a play and we didn’t.”
Haslett also agreed with Hall that there shouldn’t have been a penalty on the play.
“He hit the face mask, but he never grabbed. … I didn’t think it was a good call,” Haslett said.
Immediately after the game, Hall was critical of Haslett’s decision to call for the all-out blitz. Hall softened his tone Wednesday, but Haslett said there were no hard feelings.
“He’s an emotional guy. He’s high-strung,” Haslett said. “He felt bad about the play, and I understand. Stuff like that doesn’t bother me. I played the game; I was probably worse than that.”
Haslett also defended the overall play of his defense, which didn’t allow a touchdown against the Cowboys and is ranked 16th in the NFL season after finishing 31st last year. While he’s aggressive, Haslett said he’s not blitz-happy.
“We don’t blitz all the time,” he said. “It’s not like a blitz-fest. There’s a good mixture in what we do, and we mix it up pretty good in those situations.”
Finally, Haslett became the latest in the Redskins camp to deny that his defensive line was calling out fake snap counts. Dallas has blamed Washington’s defense for several early and wayward shotgun snaps by center Phil Costa.
“My thought was, `The guy needs to get the snap back better,” Haslett said with a smile.
A lot of people seem to be flip-flopping their ideas of Tony Romo over the last two weeks, but at least one of the guys trying to defend against him on Monday night still doesn’t think much of the quarterback playing through pain.
Redskins linebacker Brian Orakpo believes Romo wasn’t hurt as bad as was portrayed in the media.
“To me, they blown it way out of proportion,” Orakpo told a Washington ESPN Radio affiliate. “I mean, they tried to make it seem like the guy was hospitalized the night before the game, just so we could build it up if they was to win the game.
“Oh, he’s a courageous player to go out there and play. The guy was playing just like Tony Romo, running around, making throws. He got hit throughout the whole game and still getting up. I mean, it was blown way out of proportion, but it is what it is.”
Last week, Redskins cornerback DeAngelo Hall created a buzz by vowing to target Romo’s fractured ribs if he had the chance in the game.
On the Cowboys’ final drive, Romo threw Hall’s way when connecting on the third-and-21 conversion to Dez Bryant.
ORIGINAL REPORT: Redskins’ Orakpo says Romo praise blown out of proportion
For everyone who can’t shut up about Tony Romo being a hero — and there seems to be plenty of folks right about now — Brian Orakpo would like you to take it down a notch.
Yes, the Cowboys quarterback played through a broken rib and punctured lung in Monday night’s 18-16 win over the Redskins. And, yes, a broken rib and punctured lung sound excruciatingly painful.
But enough already, says Orakpo.
“To me, they blown it way out of proportion,” the Redskins’ linebacker said Tuesday on ESPN 980-AM via The Washington Post. “I mean, they tried to make it seem like the guy was hospitalized the night before the game, just so we could build it up if they was to win the game.
“Oh, he’s a courageous player to go out there and play. The guy was playing just like Tony Romo, running around, making throws. He got hit throughout the whole game and still getting up. I mean, it was blown way out of proportion, but it is what it is.”
Come to think of it, Orakpo brings up somewhat of a good point. It’s not like Romo played exceptionally well, posting a pedestrian stat line (22 of 36 for 255 passing yards, one interception and no touchdowns). It took six Dan Bailey field goals and a last-minute defensive stop for Dallas to gut out the victory.
So while Romo deserves credit for fighting through the pain — and for completing a key 30-yard pass to Dez Bryant late in the fourth quarter — we can certainly understand Orakpo’s point of view.
At least to some degree.