ELEVATING THEIR GAME: If the Dallas Cowboys are going to make a run, these five players need to step up
IRVING — Running back Felix Jones has replaced the departed Marion Barber and Roy Williams as the whipping boy of the media and fans for what’s wrong with the Dallas Cowboys when things don’t go as expected.
Certainly, through two games the criticisms of Jones are not without merit — considering his lost fumble that set the tone in the 27-7 loss to the Seattle Seahawks and otherwise lethargic play.
Jason Garrett said he has no issue with either Jones. He is in concert with the owner, and the former first-round pick will keep his job as the primary kick returner because of his history of success, but other options will be ready.
"The lines of communication are open," Garrett said. "We’ve never had any issues that way regarding personnel or really any kind of decision we have to make as an organization."
Surely, Felix Jones needs to play better, but he is not alone on the list of Cowboys who need to step up their play if they are to realize their dream of making the playoffs and finally making a deep run.
RB Felix Jones
Jones has been a lightning rod since failing the conditioning test at the start of training camp, blamed partly on him missing the off-season because of shoulder surgery. He has yet to regain the coveted burst that makes him dangerous as a returner and a change-of-pace option out of the backfield. Owner Jerry Jones bristled when asked whether the running back is in danger of being cut. Garrett’s limited use of him in the offense is quite telling. He has one carry for 1 yard and just four receptions in two games. If the Cowboys are not going to use him on offense, he needs to play a big role on special teams. He is averaging a career-low 21.3 yards per return. He has one fumble and has shown questionable decision-making in bringing out kicks from 8 yards deep in the end zone. If he gets replaced on returns and doesn’t have a bigger role in the offense, then there would be no reason to keep him active and, thus, on the roster.
TE Jason Witten
Witten has been one of the team’s most productive players over the past decade and likely is a future Hall of Famer. He has been to the Pro Bowl seven times and could break Michael Irvin’s club record for receptions this year. Witten hasn’t been himself through the first two games largely because he is still dealing with a lacerated spleen he injured in the preseason. He has been medically cleared to play, but he is not yet 100 percent. That has showed on the field, where Witten has six catches for 68 yards through two games. He shockingly leads the NFL with four dropped passes. Witten averaged only three drops a season over the past four seasons. He also misplayed a deep ball against Seattle that he could have caught. He has been limited by the injury, but he is not using it as an excuse, admitting he needs to play better.
WR Dez Bryant
Bryant is not just the most physically gifted player on the Cowboys, but there aren’t many in the NFL with his combination of size, speed and athleticism. The problem with Bryant is that he has yet to put it all together. He has one 100-yard receiving game since being a first-round pick in 2010. That’s the same number as Kevin Ogletree. This was supposed to be the year that Bryant figured it out because he finally knew the playbook and had a full off-season for the first time in his career. Through two games, he has seven catches for 102 yards, two drops and a fumble. Most notably, according to Garrett, he struggled against physical, man-to-man coverage in Sunday’s loss to the Seahawks when Bryant had three catches for 17 yards. He will see more of that type of coverage until he proves he can consistently win those matchups — which, considering his own physicality, is surprisingly a concern.
LT Tyron Smith
Smith was moved to the left side after spending his rookie year on the right because of his potential as a future Pro Bowler at the position. He has the talent, athleticism and work ethic to be great and plays with great effort as witnessed when he ran down Giants linebacker Michael Boley after an interception, preventing a touchdown. But Smith has been a mixed bag so far at left tackle. The Cowboys got the season-opening win against the New York Giants despite Smith being abused repeatedly by defensive end Jason Pierre Paul — a matchup in which he must hold his own over the next decade. He also leads the NFL with four false start penalties. His penalty against Seattle killed a potential scoring drive in the third quarter.
NT Jay Ratliff
Ratliff is on this list by default considering he has missed the first two games with a high ankle sprain and is questionable for Sunday’s game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. While the combination of Josh Brent and Sean Lissemore has been solid, they have not been dynamic. Ratliff is a four-time Pro Bowler for a reason. He is the only true mismatch the Cowboys have on the defensive line because of his quickness. He also plays with relentless effort and passion. For the defense to truly reach its full potential, it needs Ratliff back on the field and playing to that potential.
In the season opener last year, Dallas Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant took a hard hit on a punt return. He wasn’t wearing thigh pads, and the thigh contusion kept him out the next week against the 49ers and slowed him for several weeks after. This year, the same thing already has happened to Barry Church.
Church wasn’t wearing a thigh pad when he took a knee to his quadriceps against Seattle. The Cowboys starting strong safety played only 13 plays.
The NFL will make hip and knee pads mandatory equipment in 2013, with players facing fines for not using them.
"That’s going to suck," said Church, who expects to play, with a thigh pad, this week. "I mean, it feels real restricting when you have all those pads in. But you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do, I guess."
Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said he emphasizes the importance of wearing all the protective equipment provided, but as a former NFL quarterback he understands why players don’t.
"It’s an age-old thing for players," Garrett said. "You want to be as light as possible, so there’s always a balance there. You look at the receivers through the years. Very few receivers wear their thigh pads or knee pads, or if they do, it’s a real light version of it. They wear smallish shoulder pads. As a former player, i know that issue, because it’s a confidence factor. You don’t want to be slowed down by anything."
Church went through practice, taking all of his work with the first team defense and special teams, and said “I felt pretty good.’’ But he admits that if he had worn thigh pads against the Seahawks, he wouldn’t have been forced to leave the game.
The girdle along with the thigh pads will give him a little extra protection for this game, a game he can’t afford to miss since it appears safety Gerald Sensabaugh will.
Seattle Seahawks receiver Golden Tate has been fined $21,000 by the NFL for a "blindside block" on Sean Lee.
The amount is the designated minimum for a blindside block, which is what the league is calling it.
The NFL won’t announce the amount until later in the week, but a first offense in this category carries a $21,000 fine under the collective bargaining agreement.
Tate was not flagged for a penalty on the play even though it was a hit on a defenseless player. In fact, the Cowboys were assessed a 15-yard penalty at the end of Russell Wilson’s scramble when Bruce Carter was called for pushing the quarterback out of bounds.
After the hit, Tate stood on the field and flexed his muscles.
The Seahawks were up 20-7 early in the fourth quarter when quarterback Russell Wilson got flushed from the pocket. As Lee ran toward Wilson, Tate blindsided him with a vicious block that repeatedly was shown on the replay board in the stadium. The Cowboys were sure the flag on the field was against Tate, though it instead was against Bruce Carter for a push out of bounds on Wilson. Mike Pereira, the NFL’s former director of officiating who now works for Fox, agreed on Twitter at the time that Tate should have been penalized.
"It’s up to the NFL," Lee said today. "I don’t really care. The part I don’t like is the celebrating after the hit. … To me, a crack-back block isn’t tough. Anyone can do that. Toughness is about being able to take a hit and getting back up and doing it again."
RELATED: Golden Tate – ‘I’d be upset if I was on that highlight, being crushed’
Seahawks wide receiver Golden Tate said Monday that he was praying he didn’t get fined by the NFL for the blindside hit he delivered Sunday on Cowboys linebacker Sean Lee.
Tate posted the following statement on his official Twitter page Sunday evening:
“I hope Sean Lee is ok. I never have intentions on injuring another player. It’s football which means Its physical, dirty hit would be if I went for his head or neck area.”
Well, the NFL saw things differently, fining Tate $21,000 on Wednesday.
“I don’t think I did anything wrong, but only time will tell,” Tate said Monday on Sports Radio KJR in Seattle. “We’ll see what the NFL office says and we’ll go from there.”
Tate also said during the Monday interview that he aimed lower to avoid a helmet-to-helmet collision because he “had no interest in hurting” Lee.
But Tate wasn’t too remorseful when he heard that Lee said the Seattle receiver wouldn’t be celebrating the way he did if the two players met up one-on-one.
“He has his own opinion of what he thinks,” Tate said Monday. “I’d be upset if I was on that highlight, being crushed. But I’m a lover not a fighter so if it came to one-on-one we’ll deal with that whenever that time comes.
“Like I said, I never have any intentions on hurting another player. The way I see it, this is a big fraternity. I was just playing hard and got caught up in the moment. At that point I thought the game could go either way. It was a momentum changer. It sprung us, and that was my only intentions, was putting this offense in better position to score and win the game. And that was an opportunity that I feel like, at the end of the day, any defensive player would be licking their chops to get a hit on a quarterback. So I felt like maybe this is a legal block I was going to get on a defensive player versus them always trying to knock us out.
“So, I wasn’t trying to be vicious at all. But it is what it is.”