Daily Archives: September 21st, 2012

INTENTIONAL GROUNDING: Significant and serious gaps divide NFL, veteran officials

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NEW YORK (AP) — The NFL and its locked-out officials met the last two days, but a person familiar with the negotiations said Friday the sides remain far apart and no further talks are scheduled.

The source said that there are "significant and serious economic gaps."

Michael Arnold, counsel and lead negotiator for NFL Referees Association, acknowledged the discussions, saying his group reached out to the league last week and the NFL agreed to meet. He said there may be additional talks, but it is "not appropriate" to comment on specific issues.

Replacements continue to run NFL games as talks between NFL and regulars refs stall - The Boys Are Back blog

The NFL locked out the regular officials in June and has been using replacements as the season enters its third full weekend. Many players, coaches and fans have been upset with what they say is poor officiating. The NFL has warned teams that it won’t tolerate confrontational behavior toward the new officials.

The NFL locked out the regular officials after their contract expired. Negotiations with the NFLRA broke down several times during the summer, including just before the season. This is the first time the league is using replacements since 2001.

Broncos coach John Fox talks to referee during loss to Atlanta - The Boys Are Back blogThe collection of small college officials working the games has drawn tough criticism from those on the field. Monday night’s game between Atlanta and Denver underlined the matter, with Broncos coach John Fox and defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio engaging in heated arguments with officials.

In response, the league, according to NFL.com, said Thursday night that senior NFL officials called owners, general managers and coaches from all 32 teams to tell them that respect for the game demands better conduct.

NFL executive vice president Ray Anderson noted "unacceptable behavior" and added "we’re not going to tolerate it." He said flags, fines and suspensions are possible for coaches or players who cross the line.

"There’s no doubt the integrity of the game has been compromised not having the regular officials out there," Giants linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka has said. "We’ve got to get that taken care of."

What the fans seem most annoyed with is the lack of pace to games, notably Monday night’s win by the Falcons that dragged on past midnight. The NFL has said that it is trying to upgrade the officiating through training tapes, conference calls and meetings.

The NFL reportedly also threatens fines and suspensions for coaches or players for non-professional conduct with replacement officials - The Boys Are Back blog

The league and the NFLRA, which covers more than 120 on-field officials, are at odds over salary, retirement benefits and operational issues. The NFL has said its offer includes annual pay increases that could earn an experienced official more than $200,000 annually by 2018. The union has disputed the value of the proposal, insisting it would ultimately reduce their compensation.

"We just all hope, and I’m speaking on behalf of all 31 other head coaches, we hope they get something done," Rams coach Jeff Fisher has said. "We’re trusting that they will."

INJURY UPDATE: Dallas Cowboys vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Five Dallas Cowboys players, including three starters, have been ruled out of Sunday’s game because of injuries: nose tackle Jay Ratliff (ankle), defensive end Kenyon Coleman (knee), center Phil Costa (back), linebacker Alex Albright (neck) and safety Matt Johnson (hamstring). Ratliff, Coleman and Costa are starters.

A fourth starter, safety Gerald Sensabaugh (calf), is doubtful and did not participate in Friday’s workout. Defensive tackle Marcus Spears took part in limited drills and is questionable.

Players listed as probable included receiver Miles Austin (hamstring), safety Barry Church (quad), receiver Andre Holmes (knee), cornerback Mike Jenkins (shoulder), linebacker Sean Lee (hip), linebacker DeMarcus Ware (hamstring), linebacker Kyle Wilber (thumb) and tight end Jason Witten (spleen). Lee was limited in Friday’s drills. The rest participated fully.

DID YOU KNOW? The Boys Are Back blog provides Dallas Cowboys AND opponent injury updates from the team practices and those officially reported to the NFL. See the Injury Updates page at the top of every page or look on the right side of any post.

RENEWED RIVALRY: Former AFC standouts, Vincent Jackson and Brandon Carr, face off Sunday

Dallas Cowboys players congratulate defensive back Brandon Carr (39) after his second interception against the San Diego Chargers - The Boys Are Back blog

IRVING, Texas – Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz, Sidney Rice and Golden Tate. These are the best receivers that the Dallas Cowboys have faced through two games. None of them scored a touchdown against Dallas. In fact, the Cowboys have yet to give up a touchdown to any receiver this season.

The receivers mentioned above and most of the ones the Cowboys have faced so far are known for their dangerous quickness. Vincent Jackson of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers poses a whole other problem.

At 6-5 and 230 pounds, Jackson is a strong and physical receiver that the Cowboys will have to prepare for almost as if they are playing a fast tight end. This could mean trouble for the Cowboys who might not have given up touchdowns to receivers yet, but they have seen tight ends catch touchdown passes on them in each of the first two games.

In his first season with the Buccaneers, Jackson seems to have already picked up some nice chemistry with quarterback Josh Freeman. Last week in a loss to the Giants, he caught five passes for 128 yards and a touchdown.

Cornerback Brandon Carr, who has been instrumental in shutting down receivers this season, talked about preparing to face Jackson.

“You just got to be ready to go 60 minutes,” Carr said. “Be prepared for a battle every time you come to the line of scrimmage.”

As a member of the Kansas City Chiefs, Carr faced Jackson when he was playing for the San Diego Chargers. He explained that he knew what to expect when lining up against Jackson.

“I just played him for four years so I kind of have a feel for his capabilities on the field. He’s a big, powerful receiver and he’s very physical at the line of scrimmage. … I’ll have my work cut out for me.”

Carr was asked if it would be fair to compare Jackson to Miles Austin or Dez Bryant, who Carr competes against in practice.

“Yes and no,” Carr said. “He has a different skill set. They do things differently. Off the line of scrimmage he’s more physical, more of a bully, so to speak. When the ball goes up, it’s either he’s catching it or the opposite, nobody’s catching it.”

Although Carr described Jackson as a “bully” he made sure to point out that he is not intimidated by the big receiver. In fact, he relishes the opportunity.

“I like checking big receivers,” Carr said. “This will be a good matchup for me, a good test. I’m ready for the challenge. I just can’t wait for Sunday to get here.”

Safety Barry Church took time to praise the Cowboys’ cornerbacks and what they have been able to do thus far. He is confident that they will continue their success against Jackson.

“Our corners are playing pretty well this year,” Church said. “Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne, they’re showing up all over the field and becoming lockdown corners. I look forward to continuing to play with them and continuing to shut down wide receivers.”

Church elaborated by explaining that the Cowboys know the formula to containing a big target like Jackson.

You’ve just got to be more physical with him at the line of scrimmage,” Church said. “You can’t let him get on top of you because he’s going to out-jump you. He’s got a couple of inches on our corners so they’ve got to be real physical with him at the line of scrimmage.”

MARTY B’ GONE: Bennett busts out of Witten’s shadow, good enough to start for New York Giants

New York Giants - Former Dallas Cowboys TE Martellus Bennett - The Boys Are Back blog

Oh, it’s an easy annoyance. The second-round pick who never really made it here in four years goes to the division rival, the Super Bowl champions, and has now done something no player in the Giants’ storied history has ever done.

Martellus Bennett became the first Giants player to record a touchdown catch in each of his first three games.

Are you kidding? No, it’s a reality and one that obviously has Cowboys fans wondering why it didn’t work out like that in Dallas.

It doesn’t really take a Sherlock Holmes investigation to figure out. The Cowboys had Jason Witten. He was and still is the starter. He was and still is a better overall player. And Martellus Bennett’s contract expired and he wanted to be a starter.

He found that in New York and so far, he’s taking advantage.

In three games, Bennett has 15 catches for 185 yards and three touchdowns. He needs two catches to tie last year’s total and he’s already surpassed his 144-yard production from all of last year. And the three touchdowns? Well, that’s one shy of the four he had in his entire four years in Dallas, which all occurred in his rookie season.

Not just good for Martellus, but great for Martellus. That’s all he ever wanted was to be a starting tight end in the NFL and he’s getting the chance to do that. And on a big stage with a great quarterback throwing the ball to him.

Like anything involving the Cowboys, this will probably be turned back at them for not developing him better, but the reality of the situation is this: It wasn’t going to work here in Dallas, not to the point of making anyone happy.

When you take a guy in the second round, you expect production. You expect a good starting player who can possibly get to a Pro Bowl level. You don’t expect a backup who sometimes contributes and sometimes he’s just a blocker that often had no impact on the game.

And on the flip side, when you’re taken in the second round like he was in 2008, Bennett expects to one day be that starting player and a go-to member of the offense.

With Witten in the fold, it wasn’t going to happen. And it’s nothing new. It didn’t work for Anthony Fasano in 2006 either. He was a second-round pick that was here two years and the Cowboys traded him to Miami, one day before the draft in which they got Bennett with the 60th overall pick.

If anyone is to be blamed here, it has to be the Cowboys for drafting Bennett and creating these expectations that simply couldn’t be fulfilled.

And while everyone wants to bring the New England Patriots into the conversation because they manage to have a successful two-tight end offense, it’s really not the same at all. For starters, Aaron Hernandez is the biggest, slowest wide receiver in the NFL. He’s great at what he does, but not even the Patriots really consider him a true tight end. Sure, you might put him in the “TE” slot for your fantasy team, but he’s not asked to do the same things as most tight ends.

And New England runs a more inside-out offense. They focus on the slots with the tight ends and Wes Welker. They don’t invest huge money on the outside receivers. They lucked into a record-setting season with Randy Moss, but they thought they were getting an aging veteran on his last legs. That’s the approach they take with guys like Deion Branch, Reche Caldwell, Brandon Lloyd and Deion Branch, who keeps coming back.

They don’t pay $9 million a season for a speedster like Miles Austin or a first-round pick such as Dez Bryant.

It’s not the same. And if you go around the league, there aren’t many teams, if any, that get the ball to BOTH tight ends on a regular basis.

Sure, it probably sucks to see Bennett doing so well for the Giants when he was here for four years, but a part of that is also on him.

Truth be told, the Cowboys did want Martellus back this year. They offered him the same one-year deal he got with the Giants. But it was clear when Bennett cleaned out his locker on the last day of the season that he simply wanted out.

His act here in Dallas had gotten old for everyone. He was tired of playing behind Witten and not getting the ball. The Cowboys were probably tired of seeing him coast through seasons, where he often seemed more excited about non-football interests such as art or his clothing line. One of Bennett’s biggest storylines last year occurred in the locker room when he got into some words with a member of the media and one of my colleagues.

That really wasn’t even a big deal, but it goes to show what kind of season he had on the field.

He needed a change and a fresh start. He’s getting that in New York.

But I think it’s a stretch to say that he’s all of a sudden a better player and a more developed tight end. He still has an issue with drops and he got into a shouting match with a coach on the sidelines Thursday night against Carolina for a miscommunication in personnel.

I don’t think we’re seeing a different player at all. I think we’re seeing a guy with an opportunity – one that just wasn’t available here in Dallas.

RANDY GALLOWAY: Roger Goodell takes a stand and the games are suffering

Randy Galloway - Ft Worth Star Telegram - The Boys Are Back blogThe word is out for Sunday:

The dominant color for all NFL games in Week 3 will be yellow.

As in yellow hankies littering the field.

A flag-fest in a football game has absolutely no appeal to anyone, including those of us attending the Cowboys home opener at the Big Yard, but it’s a predictable counterattack by the Goodell Gang-bangers on Park Avenue in New York.

With its replacement officiating crews — "scabs," if you want to get unionized about it — the NFL took a PR beating across the land last weekend. This was a dramatic one-eighty from Week 1, when we all had to agree the league won the PR battle against the locked out regular officials.

A friend who draws a paycheck from the NFL didn’t exactly agree with me on the difference between Week 1 and Week 2. On Thursday, he said, "The league won Week 1, and last week, I’d call it a Mexican standoff."

I didn’t see the Mexican standoff. I saw the replacements seriously lose a battle over control and respect, which was predictable. Sooner or later, or as long as the replacements are working at a job they aren’t qualified to do, the players and coaches would take advantage of these newbies.

The abuse flowed across the league in Week 2.

Which brings us back to what people with knowledge of the situation are predicting for Sunday. That being, the league has ordered the replacements to fight back with their yellow hankies, including an emphasis on unsportsmanlike conduct calls.

Yes, the replacements have missed calls, or thrown phantom flags, or have had issues with rules interpretation. But over the years, how many times have we seen the regulars miss calls, or throw phantom flags?

In fact, the league now issues positive "talking points" on the officiating each week, but what missed the talking point and what hit Roger Goodell upside his hard head last weekend was a failure by the replacements to take control of games and keep the games moving. Plus, the verbal abuse was immense.

The lack of respect, and no fear of retaliation, empowered players and coaches to go far beyond where they would normally tread with the regulars.

Will a flurry of flags this week change that? No, of course not. Players and coaches smell blood. They will continue to go over the line of protocol when dealing with the replacements. There are games to be won, and there are jobs on the line for coaches and players.

What the combatants see are pigeons working as the "cops" of football. Human nature says the pigeons will be abused.

Meanwhile, I have no stance on which side is wrong in the financial battle between Goodell and the regular officials. Are the money demands of the regulars so far out of line the league had to take the lockout stance, or is the league squeezing the regulars and attempting to break their union?

Don’t know. But we all know the NFL is a massive business where the rich owners become richer because of the value of a league franchise. There is plenty of money to go around and make everyone happy, except those who have the money don’t want to give up the money.

Goodell, of course, has been on a power trip, starting with his overreaction and grandstanding in the case against the New Orleans Saints, a ruling that was more about evidence he could present in the pending lawsuits against the NFL by former players, who claim the league ignored player safety issues.

For an encore, the commissioner also decided to muscle the regular officials. And that has put the league in a position where the emphasis this season has been as much about the replacement officials as it is about the actual playing of the games.

And now, player safety is a central issue again, because with the lack of control by the replacements in Week 2, it put the league back on the defensive about that topic.

We all applauded Hall of Famer Steve Young for his powerful ESPN comments after the Monday night mess in Atlanta. Young said of the NFL:

"There is nothing they can do to hurt demand for the game. So the bottom line is they don’t care. Go ahead, gripe all you want. Let them eat cake."

Eat your cake. Goodell and the owners Do. Not. Care.

Another funny line on that Monday night mess came from former Cowboys front office executive Gil Brandt, who now writes a column for NFL.com., meaning he’s an employee of the NFL.

With a big fuss over how incompetent the replacements were when attempting to determine which team (Atlanta or Denver) recovered a fumble on Monday night, Brandt told me Thursday:

"Maybe [the replacements] got it wrong, but I also have one less Super Bowl ring and the Cowboys have one less Lombardi because an [regular] official blew a call on a fumble."

Gil has a long and bitter memory, and rightfully so. Official Jack Fette infamously melted down on such a call in the 1970 Super Bowl loss to the Baltimore Colts.

According to several sources, the league answer on Sunday to what went on last week will be ordering the replacements to give us a flag-fest, instead of the league simply going back to the negotiating table with the regulars.

Oh, boy. More muscle from Roger Goodell, the commissioner who does not care.

We get that part of it, for sure.

Randy Galloway can be heard 3-6 p.m. weekdays on Galloway & Co. on ESPN/103.3 FM.

SUSPECT CHARGED: Kevin Ogletree relieved by arrest in brother’s shooting

Dallas Cowboys Tony Romo and Kevin Ogletree - The Boys Are Back blog

IRVING, TexasOn Tuesday, a suspect was charged for the attempted murder of Calvin Ogletree, the brother of Cowboys wide receiver Kevin Ogletree.

Lonnie Miller, 23, of St. Albans, N.Y. was held without bail following his arraignment Monday, according to reports citing the office of District Attorney Richard A. Brown in Queens. He was also charged with illegal weapon possession and assault, and could face up to 25 years in prison.

The new developments come more than eight months after Calvin Ogletree was shot in the head outside in luxury car rental shop. He is still recovering.

The Cowboys’ fourth-year receiver called news of the charges a relief.

“I guess it’s good to know that the justice system works well,” Kevin Ogletree said. “I know it works, but I’m far away from that deal, and my only job right now is to be the best brother I can be, the best son to mom and the best family member to everyone. I think my mom was a little happy. I really was emotionless.”

Kevin Ogletree has said he used the heartbreak over his brother’s shooting to refocus himself on the field this offseason. He had a career game when the Cowboys played the New York Giants in Week 1, after visiting his brother the day of the game.

He said the movement in his brother’s case will not be a distraction on the field.

RELATED POST ON THE BOYS ARE BACK BLOG:

BROTHERLY LOVE: Kevin Ogletree’s brother called him after the Giants game, ‘stoked’

INSIDE THE NUMBERS: Tampa Bay brings in some interesting stats

Dallas Cowboys vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers - The Boys Are Back blog

This might be the last thing Cowboys fans want to hear, but the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are very similar to the Seattle Seahawks. Both squads play a physical brand of football, limiting turnovers and relying on their running game to set up the pass. Despite a disappointing 2011 season, the Bucs’ win over the Carolina Panthers and close loss to the New York Giants show that this team is a different one from a year ago.

24.8: The yards-per-drive posted by the Bucs through two weeks.

Even with their offensive explosion against the Giants on Sunday, the Bucs are still 28th in the NFL in this category. In comparison, the Cowboys have totaled 36.6 yards-per-drive, good for sixth in the league.

33: The Bucs’ average starting field position.

In today’s pass-happy NFL, the Bucs are playing a truly old-school style of football under new head coach Greg Schiano. They run often and protect the football, playing methodically to keep themselves in ballgames. This can limit offensive efficiency, but it also means the Bucs rarely give opponents a short field. Ranked fourth in the NFL in field position, the average Tampa Bay drive has begun 12 yards ahead of the typical Cowboys drive.

88: The percentage of running back carries given to rookie Doug Martin.

Martin is the Bucs’ workhorse running back, so he’ll rarely come out of the game on Sunday. Martin does a little bit of everything – outside running, rushing between the tackles, catching passes, pass protection – and he’ll be the focal point of Tampa Bay’s offense. He’s fourth in the NFL in carries through two weeks.

50/50: The Bucs’ split between runs to the left and right sides of the field.

Left or right, inside or outside, tosses or dives, the Bucs are going to use their running game to hit the Cowboys from all angles on Sunday. They’re particularly efficient behind guard Carl Nicks and center Jeremy Zuttah, so whoever is playing nose tackle for the Cowboys will need to come up big to halt Tampa Bay’s short-yardage efforts.

7.3: Yards-per-attempt for Bucs quarterback Josh Freeman, a career-high thus far.

If there’s a single stat that can tell the story of an offense, it’s usually passing YPA. The Bucs are a run-first team, but they utilize their running game to set up big plays through the air. Freeman has been able to find wide receivers Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams off of play-action passes and other looks that are set up by their running game.

11.5: The percentage of Josh Freeman’s passes that have traveled at least 20 yards.

That mark is good for 13th in the NFL. The majority of those deep shots have come off of play-action, so the Cowboys safeties will need to hold their ground when the Bucs show run action. Freeman has completed half of his deep pass attempts for 111 yards, two touchdowns, and no picks.

44.8: The percentage of Freeman’s dropbacks during which he has faced pressure.

That’s the highest mark in the NFL. In comparison, Romo has been pressured on 37 percent of his passes.

130.7: The passer rating Josh Freeman has generated when throwing to Mike Williams.

Vincent Jackson is the obvious big-play threat for Tampa Bay, but Williams is a talented receiver as well. Opposing defensive coordinators have spent so much time focusing on Jackson that Williams has garnered a whole lot of single coverage. He’s parlayed that into two touchdowns in the season’s first two weeks.

95.2: The difference in Freeman’s passer rating when he faces pressure versus when he has a clean pocket.

The difference is far, far more substantial than the average quarterback. In comparison, Romo’s passer rating when pressured has historically been just around 20 points lower than when he’s given a clean pocket. Freeman might not be Drew Brees, but he generally won’t make mistakes unless you can get in his face. His passer rating through two weeks is 122.9 when given a clean pocket.

9.3: The percentage of Doug Martin’s yards that have come on runs of 15-plus yards.

In comparison, 61.6 percent of C.J. Spiller’s yards have come on big plays. Despite posting one of the lowest big-play marks in the league, Martin still possesses breakaway capability. He’s a load to bring down, so the Cowboys will need to gang tackle Martin in an effort to make sure that, unlike Marshawn Lynch last week, he doesn’t turn any would-be short gains into long runs.

19: The difference in points scored for Tampa Bay (50) and Dallas (31).

A lot of this has to do with the fact that the Cowboys have run only 18 drives all season, the lowest mark in the NFL. The average team has run 22 drives though the season’s first two weeks, and the Bucs have started 23 drives. Nonetheless, the ’Boys are only 23rd in the league in points-per-drive (1.72).

6: The numbers of teams, including the Bucs, who have called more runs than passes.

The Bucs’ passing game can be efficient because defenses get accustomed to seeing the run. Tampa Bay has run the ball on 52.7 percent of their snaps, making them one of the few truly balanced offenses remaining in the NFL. The Cowboys could be susceptible to big plays with a banged up secondary, but their ability to stifle Tampa Bay’s passing game is directly related to their ability to stop Martin on the ground. If the ’Boys can bottle up Martin without putting eight men in the box, thus allowing for safety help over top of Jackson, it will dramatically increase their chances of winning on Sunday.

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