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