Daily Archives: August 10th, 2013

TEXAS 2 SHAKEDOWN: Dallas Cowboys defense showing potential to be better than good (Special Feature)

Monte Kiffin and Rod Marinelli creating the Dallas Cowboys Texas 2 defense - The Boys Are Back blog 2013

OAKLAND – When the 2013 team profiles and scouting reports are listed, it usually mentions key losses and additions. And on defense, the “players acquired” section will have guys like Will Allen and Justin Durant. A more updated list could include guys like George Selvie and Nick Hayden.

So it makes sense for people to have their hesitations about this defense and how good it can be.

After three weeks of training camp practice, two preseason games and really just two series from the first-team (Texas 2) defense, I’ve changed my tune about this squad. It’s early but I’ve raised my ceiling and expectations for this group.

This defense has the ability to be better than good. It could be a great defense.

And it’s not because of the additions like Durant and Allen and anyone else new to this unit. The real additions on this defense are Monte Kiffin and Rod Marinelli. And the impact they’ve already made is definitely noticeable.

The first-teamers didn’t play long in Friday’s 19-17 loss to the Raiders at O.co Stadium in Oakland.

It’s not just the turnovers. To me, it’s the pressure. They know how to generate a pass-rush and they’ve done it with players who don’t have the credentials like DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer.

If you’ve watched one practice in Oxnard, you’ve seen D-Ware do anything he wants. He’s been the best player at camp – on either side of the ball. He’s been so good that we’ve started to have our doubts about Tyron Smith, who has lost way more battles than he’s tied. I can’t ever remember Smith actually winning one of those with Ware.

And he comes out here in Oakland and makes a nice tackle in the running game, showing this 4-3 switch shouldn’t affect him at all in that department. Ware doesn’t need a great scheme to be an All-Pro. It does appear that he’s in one again and that will only enhance his performance.

Dallas Cowboys Sean Lee Causes Fumble, Jason Hatcher Recovers for Texas 2 defense - The Boys Are Back blog 2013

TEXAS 2 HIGHLIGHTS: Lee causes fumble, Hatcher recovers

Dallas Cowboys Texas 2 defense forces Oakland Raiders quarterback Matt Flynn to fumble the ball and giving the Dallas Cowboys great field position.

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“Lining up at defensive end is easier. You are down in the trenches,” Ware said in a halftime quote Friday night. “There is no difference than playing outside linebacker, you are out wide, but when you are in the six technique, there are a lot more techniques you have to work on. But I felt like I did really well for the first game.”

What I like about this defense is how aggressive they’ve been already – and there’s a combined five Pro Bowls that hasn’t even been out there. Anthony Spencer is better than Selvie. Jay Ratliff is better than Nick Hayden. If and when those guys return for the start of the regular season, the defense will be even more dynamic.

Spencer is such a tough matchup for opposing linemen because he plays with uncanny technique. That’s part of his game that has really improved over the last few years. In this scheme, he might be even better, especially with the amount of attention that must be placed on Ware’s side.

If Ratliff can come back soon and provide a 1-2 punch with Hatcher, this really can be an explosive front-four with a healthy rotation of guys like Kyle Wilber, Ben Bass, Selvie, Hayden and Sean Lissemore. I’m not sure all nine will make the team and/or be available on game days, but it’s a solid group from top to bottom. And it has the potential to be even better because of the scheme.

But what I really like about this defense isn’t just the front four. It’s the ability to get pass rush from the linebackers. If, and it’s the second-biggest “if-he-can-stay-healthy moniker on this team behind DeMarco Murray, but if Sean Lee can stay healthy, he’ll be an absolute star. He’s got everything going for him, except the fact he hasn’t played a season from start to finish.

If that can happen for him, Sean Lee will be considered one of the NFL’s best linebackers, possibly even in the same category with a guy like Patrick Willis in San Francisco. Yeah, I know what I just did – comparing Lee to a perennial Pro Bowler such as Willis. Again, the caveat is Lee must stay healthy – something he has never done. But that’s literally how good he can be.

I mean, we all can see that. His instincts are off the chart. And you put him a defense like this, he can be every bit as good as Hardy Nickerson was in Tampa Bay. Now can he be Urlacher-good? That’s a stretch but it’s a nice goal for a player like Lee.

Now, if you really go back and dissect that sack play he had against the Raiders Friday night, Lee still got some help from his good friend Ware. That’s why it’s so important to have a complete superstar like D-Ware in the lineup. We all saw Lee make the hit. But it was Ware’s rush inside that forced the line to adjust. If there’s anyone that can’t be unblocked on a play, it’s Ware. But his hard rush inside freed up Lee to make the hit.

You’ll see Lee in the backfield on play. And 25 yards down the field in pass coverage on the next. This middle linebacker position isn’t for everyone. You’ve got to be good enough at both to play the run and the pass like Lee has shown. He’s a special player and like Ware, has the chance to thrive in this scheme.

Dallas Cowboys Texas 2 defensive back J.J. Wilcox picks off Oakland Raiders quarterback Terrelle Pryor for a Cowboys touchback - The Boys Are Back blog 2013

TEXAS 2 HIGHLIGHTS: J.J. Wilcox end zone INT

Dallas Cowboys Texas 2 defensive back J.J. Wilcox picks off Oakland Raiders quarterback Terrelle Pryor for a Dallas Cowboys touchback.

Click HERE to watch short video

It’s not just about the players, but takeaways, too.

The turnovers are evident. I guess they were always stressed in the past but not like this. The coaches talk about turnovers in the meeting rooms and then coming out of the meetings there is a football on display that defenders must grab. It’s just always on the mind and it’s starting to translate to the field.

On the second-quarter drive where the second-teamers were gashed for about eight straight players, leaving J.J. Wilcox to make every tackle, they still find a way to tighten it up. Wilcox finished off the drive with a pick in the end zone.

Last week, one of the rookie draft picks scored a touchdown on an interception. This week, they saved a touchdown by an interception.

All in all, I’m just getting these vibes the defense will be much better than people think.

And this is, in no way, a knee-jerk reaction from the game. In fact, I told some of my colleagues this idea and was just hoping the defense would hold its own in the one or two drives from the starters.

They did that perfectly.

It’s early for sure. The defense has played the Dolphins and the Raiders. I get that. Ryan Tanneyhill and Matt Flynn are not exactly the NFL’s elite. So it’ll get better of course.

But the potential of this defense, at least from this perspective, is a squad that can be much better than good.

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GAMEDAY IMPRESSIONS: Dallas Cowboys vs. Oakland Raiders preseason game

GAMEDAY IMPRESSIONS - Dallas Cowboys vs. Oakland Raiders preseason game - The Boys Are Back blog 2013

First Take presented by Nationwide

Impressions of the Dallas Cowboys preseason game with the Oakland Raiders.

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VIDEO HIGHLIGHTS - Dallas Cowboys vs. Oakland Raiders - 2013 Dallas Cowboys preseason game

Dallas Cowboys vs. Oakland Raiders preseason game highlights

The Oakland Raiders hold off the Dallas Cowboys 19-17 in Week 1 of 2013 NFL preseason action.

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WORK IN PROGRESS: Rich Bisaccia’s 2013 Special Teams squad has a lot of work to do

WORK IN PROGRESS - Rich Bisaccia’s Special Teams squad not ready for primetime - The Boys Are Back blog 2013

What could go wrong did go wrong for the Dallas Cowboys’ special teams on Friday night. They had 26-yard field goal blocked. They had a personal foul penalty on punt coverage. They allowed 103 yards on three kickoff returns, including a 51-yarder that almost went for a touchdown. They fumbled a punt return.

“We had a field goal blocked, and we had a turnover in the red zone, fumbled a punt,” new special teams coach Rich Bisaccia said. “Obviously, we didn’t play very well.

“I did a poor job, obviously. We did a poor job. We didn’t cover very good. Turned the ball over and had a field goal blocked. So we’ve got a lot of work to do.”

The Cowboys, though, are confident they will have good special teams with Bisaccia, who replaces Joe DeCamillis.

“That’s not even a question,” long snapper LP Ladouceur said. “Everywhere he’s been, he’s done really well. I’m not worried about that. He’s going to do well here. We’re going to do well here. Sometimes players we have to step up. That’s what we’re supposed to do.”

Dan Bailey has had only one field goal blocked in his two seasons. So it was an unusual sound he heard Friday when his kick bounced off Tyvon Branch’s hands.

“I think we just had a lot of pressure from the right side,” Bailey said. “The operation was good as far as our speed, and I thought I hit the ball good, got the ball up. I haven’t actually seen the pictures or the film yet. But it seemed like we had quite a big push on the right side, I don’t know, maybe between the guard and the tight end, somewhere over there.”

It’s safe to say the Cowboys will spend some time working on that this week, one of a handful of mistakes on special teams against the Raiders. 

“It looked like the guy came off of the tight end on our right hand side,” Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. “We’ll watch it on the tape. Sometimes those guys will overextend and create a gap there, and that’s what it looked like to me.”

RELATED: Dallas Cowboys kicking game woes prove costly in preseason loss

Dallas Cowboys kicking game woes prove costly in preseason loss - The Boys Are Back blog 2013

OAKLAND – In a game eventually decided by two points, the Dallas Cowboys were on the wrong side of a 19-17 outcome Friday night against the Oakland Raiders.

And like so many games do, this one came down to special teams.

The Cowboys left a field goal on the board in the first quarter. They had a fumbled punt that led to another field goal by the Raiders in the fourth. And even in between, there were some miscues in the kicking game that will likely give special teams coach Rich Bisaccia plenty to chew on this week.

It started when Dan Bailey’s 26-yard attempt was blocked.

“I haven’t seen it on film or looked at the pictures but it seemed like we had a strong rush from the right side,” Bailey said.

After the block, punter/holder Chris Jones made the tackle but Bailey was tripped up in the process, going to the ground with the wind knocked out of him.

Later in the game, with the Cowboys leading 17-16, rookie corner B.W. Webb misjudged a punt deep in his own territory and dropped the ball. The Raiders recovered at the Cowboys’ 9 and eventually took the lead on a field goal four plays later.

The Raiders only punted twice with Webb back deep for both. The first one was a short kick downed by Oakland. But the second one ended up becoming the difference maker in the game.

In the return game, the Raiders averaged 34.3 yards on three returns, including a 51-yarder in the fourth quarter that put Oakland in favorable field position and eventually led to Webb’s muffed punt.

The Cowboys had some decent returns themselves, including a 28-yard kickoff return by Cole Beasley. Joseph Randle averaged 25 yards on his two runbacks while Anthony Armstrong and Dwayne Harris also had returns.

Deep snapper L.P. Ladouceur, who is considered the veteran of the special teams, didn’t seem overly worried with the struggles Friday night.

“It’s the second preseason game,” he said. “I think we’ll be fine. We’ve got some issues to work on. But I don’t think it’s anything we can’t do. We’ve got a good scheme and we’ll be fine.”

NFL PRESEASON 2013: Dallas Cowboys vs. Oakland Raiders

NFL PRESEASON 2013 - Dallas Cowboys vs. Oakland Raiders

Although this game against the Raiders marked the Dallas Cowboys’ second outing of the preseason, the matchup was actually the debut for most of the team’s starters.

Not that they had much impact on the final outcome, a 19-17 loss to Oakland. That was left to the backups, and the backups to the backups, fighting to make an impression on Jason Garrett and the coaching staff.

The first stringers saw two series of action with both sides of the ball producing mixed results. Monte Kiffin’s unit got off to a good start. Just as they did against Miami in the preseason opener, the Cowboys defense forced a fumble on the opponent’s first possession. Jason Hatcher and Sean Lee collapsed on Raiders quarterback Matt Flynn, Hatcher getting both the strip and the recovery.

“It was great to have the first defense on the field,” said Hatcher. “Unfortunately, we didn’t get a whole lot of snaps, but there is a lot of stuff that we need to work on and clean up. I was impressed with the way we came out and the showing that we gave against the run game. We were able to strip the ball away from the quarterback and get a turnover early. We just have to continue to work as a defense.”

That gave Dallas the ball at the Oakland 16-yard line, but they were unable to do much here. A holding penalty, incompletion and sack eventually forced the team to settle for a 38-yard field goal by Dan Bailey.

The score was soon tied, however, after the Raiders marched down the field on the Dallas defense. Flynn took advantage of rookie cornerback B.W. Webb in coverage while safety Barry Church, who is returning from last year’s season-ending Achilles’ injury, didn’t help things with a pair of missed tackles.

Fortunately, the defense finally held Oakland at the Cowboys’ 33, Sebastian Janikowski booting a 51-yarder to even things up.

As frustrating as the offense looked on its opening possession, Romo and Co. found a groove on their second try … or rather Romo found receiver Dez Bryant. In what Cowboys fans hope will become a common occurrence this season, the combo connected three times for 55 yards on the drive.

“To be honest, man, I am so excited,” said Bryant. “Not only me, but the rest of this team. When we came to the sideline and Coach told us we were done, me, Witten and Miles, we were just talking about how good we felt and couldn’t wait to get back out there.

“It is a great feeling and I hate the fact that we only had a couple of drives because we are really ready to go and in good shape. The little momentum that we got tonight, we are going to try to take that over to the next practice and get better and take it on to the regular season.”

After reaching the Oakland 17-yard line, Dallas failed to move the chains, hurting themselves with an offensive penalty. Bringing out Bailey for a 25-yard field goal, his attempt was blocked, the team surviving a scare when Donte Rosario was knocked into Bailey on the return, rolling into the kicker’s leg. Bailey was slow to get up but was none the worse for the wear.

And with that, the starters, aside from the offensive line, called it a night. The big boys up front, in part because so many of them are banged up, and because the coaches wanted to keep backup quarterback Kyle Orton upright, played through the end of the first half.

“I thought the starters on each of the units did a pretty good job with some positive things on defense, taking the ball away on the first drive and then making some stops down in the red zone were big for us,” said Garrett. “They were able to move the football, so we have to keep looking at that and tighten down our execution. Offensively, I thought we did a pretty good job of moving the ball, but bogged down a little bit in the red zone until that last drive right before the half.”

That drive came with Orton in relief of Romo, driving the team 80 yards to pay dirt on his first possession. He found Cole Beasley, who later left the game after a Raider defender stepped on his left foot, on a seam route, the undersized receiver doing what he always seems to do, stretching out for the 15-yard pass and the score.

This touchdown came after J.J. Wilcox did his best to singlehandedly stop the Raiders on their previous drive. Oakland was able to move from its own 10-yard line down to the Dallas 4, but the rookie safety had six tackles during the series, and then with Raiders quarterback Terrelle Pryor scrambling to his right and throwing back to the middle of the end zone, Wilcox dove in front to come up with the interception.

From there, though, Oakland rattled off 13 unanswered points to take a 16-10 lead, as Dallas could do little in the third quarter. But as the clock ticked over to the fourth, the Cowboys got back on track, rookie running back Joseph Randle slashing through the Raiders defense with quarterback Nick Stephens completing three passes for 12 yards each as well as one for 15. Randle capped off the possession with a dive over the top to regain the advantage, 17-16.  

Alas, it would be Oakland who would come out on top in the end. The rookie Webb, suffering a rough night all around, muffed a punt that led to the deciding 23-yard field goal that give the Raiders a 19-17 victory.

The Cowboys will now head back to Oxnard for their final week of training camp before starting the trek back to Texas with their next preseason game at Arizona on Aug. 17.

PRESEASON GAME RECAP: Oakland Raiders 19, Dallas Cowboys 17

PRESEASON GAME RECAP - Oakland Raiders 19, Dallas Cowboys 17 - The Boys Are Back blog 2013

OAKLAND — The Dallas Cowboys suffered their first loss of the preseason, 19-17, to the Oakland Raiders at O.co Coliseum on Friday night.

It was the debut of several key players, including Tony Romo, DeMarco Murray, DeMarcus Ware, Sean Lee and Dez Bryant, among others. The first-team offense produced three points and had a field goal attempt blocked. The second-team offense picked up a touchdown and the special teams units struggled with a muffed punt, penalties and a long kickoff return.

Romo makes debut: After sitting out the preseason opener, Romo completed 6 of 8 passes for 88 yards with no touchdowns, no interceptions and one sack. On the first possession of the game, Romo, with plenty of time, missed a wide open Miles Austin in the middle of the end zone and took a sack. But overall, Romo played well with the offensive line giving him time. He completed some good passes to Bryant, who caught three passes for 55 yards.

Red zone woes: The Cowboys’ first-team offense had the ball at the Raiders’ 16 after a turnover but failed to score, continuing a problem they had last season. Jason Witten was called for holding, Romo had a screen pass knocked down and he was sacked for a 5-yard loss and Dallas settled for a 38-yard field goal. The Cowboys got back in the red zone on their second possession, but Romo’s dump-off pass to Murray on third-and-12 came up a yard short of a first down. Instead of going for it, coach Jason Garrett elected to attempt a 26-yard field goal, which was blocked.

“It was good,” Romo said of the drives overall. “We had couple penalties that put us in a hole that cost us some points, I think. That is something that we are going to correct real fast. You just can’t overcome that stuff in the red zone.

“Other than that, I thought the guys did a really good job and it’s been going just how it was in training camp. It’s been good.”

The second-team offense was able to convert in the red zone as backup quarterback Kyle Orton found Cole Beasley down the seam for a 15-yard touchdown reception.

Kiffin’s defense making plays: The Cowboys have forced four turnovers in the first two games of the preseason. Lee forced a fumble when he hit Matt Flynn on the blitz and Jason Hatcher recovered the ball. Safety J.J. Wilcox recorded an interception midway through the first half when Terrelle Pryor made a terrible throw on the run.

Ware plays defensive end: For the first time as a pro, Ware lined up exclusively at defensive end. Ware moved from outside linebacker to defensive end this season when the team moved to a 4-3 defensive alignment.

“Lining up at defensive end is easier,” Ware said. “You are down in the trenches. There is no difference than playing outside linebacker, you are out wide. But when you are in the six technique, there are a lot more techniques you have to work on. But I felt like I did really well for the first game.”

Webb struggles: Fourth-round pick B.W. Webb had a long night. The rookie cornerback muffed a punt in the fourth quarter, leading to a field goal, missed two tackles and looked like he didn’t have much awareness on pass coverage. It’s only two preseason games, but Webb is off to a slow start.

What’s next?: The Cowboys will have Saturday off and will practice Sunday afternoon in Oxnard, Calif. The final preseason road game will be next Saturday night at Arizona.

DALLAS COWBOYS INJURY UPDATE: Cole Beasley OK, several players expected to return next week

DALLAS COWBOYS INJURY UPDATE - Cole Beasley OK, several players expected to return next week

OAKLAND — Cowboys wide receiver Cole Beasley left tonight’s preseason game against Oakland with a left foot injury. He underwent X-rays at the stadium. The X-rays were negative and it’s not considered serious.

Beasley was hurt after catching a 23-yard reception with seven minutes to play in the third quarter.

Beasley finished the game with three catches for 49 yards and one touchdown. He caught a 15-yard pass from Kyle Orton to give the Cowboys a 10-3 lead in the second quarter.

Also, wide receiver Terrance Williams (concussion), guard Nate Livings (knee), guard Demetress Bell (conditioning test), guard Kevin Kowalski (knee), guard/center Ryan Cook (back), guard Ray Dominguez (shoulder), defensive tackle Jay Ratliff (hamstring), defensive end Anthony Spencer (knee), cornerback Morris Claiborne (knee), linebacker Alex Albright (back) and safety Matt Johnson (foot) did not play.

The Dallas Cowboys expect Claiborne, Williams and Albright to return next week at Arizona.

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