IRVING, Texas – The 24-hour rule is in effect. It simply has to be this week.
As frustrating as the Dallas Cowboys’ 30-21 loss to the San Diego Chargers was on Sunday, it’s time to move on – even if the task ahead is even more daunting.
Philip Rivers just torched the Cowboys for 400 yards and three touchdowns. Now comes arguably one of the greatest quarterbacks of all-time and clearly the hottest passer in the NFL right now.
Enter Peyton Manning and his Denver Broncos, who are steamrolling through the league with a 4-0 record after Sunday’s 52-20 trouncing of the Eagles.
Manning has thrown 16 touchdowns and zero interceptions.
So what’s the plan for a Cowboys defense that couldn’t stop Rivers and a Chargers attack of Antonio Gates, Danny Woodhead and Keenan Allen? Now come Manning, Wes Welker and a passing attack of Eric Decker, Demaryius Thomas and tight end Julius Thomas.
“First things first … the first thing we have to do is clean up what happened in yesterday’s game,” head coach Jason Garrett said in Monday’s press conference. “[The Chargers] did a lot of things in the game that were good. They run the ball effectively and they made some big-time plays in the game. We didn’t keep up with them. We didn’t play the way we’ve been playing. But now the next challenge is Peyton Manning, who has been on a roll for a long, long time. He might be playing as well as he’s ever played. It’ll be a great challenge for our team.” (Video | Audio)
Garrett, who was still playing for the Cowboys when Manning entered the league in 1998, gave the Broncos passer the highest of praise Monday.
“He’s playing quarterback at maybe the highest level it’s ever been played,” Garrett said. “He’s been doing it for 15 years. He’s a fantastic player. His understanding of the game is second to none; his command is second to none. His ability to positively impact the people around him is second to none, and physically, he’s awfully good. He throws it where he wants to over and over and over again. He throws it on time, is accurate, and has an ability to make a ton of big plays and make very few bad plays. So, he’s playing as high a level as the game’s ever been played.”
The Cowboys have faced Manning four times during his time with the Colts, posting a 2-2 record, including the last two victories in 2006 and 2010. The 2006 meeting at Texas Stadium saw Tony Romo in his fourth career start face a Manning-led Colts team that was 9-0. But Romo out-dueled Manning that day and led the Cowboys to a 21-14 win over the eventual Super Bowl champs.
In 2010, the Cowboys beat Manning and the Colts in overtime, 38-35 up in Indianapolis. Sean Lee and Orlando Scandrick both had interceptions for touchdowns. Lee, who scored his second pick-six on Sunday in San Diego, also picked off Manning in overtime to set up a game-winning field goal.
Manning and the Colts beat the Cowboys in 1999 and 2002, with both games played in Indy.
But what Manning is doing in Denver is even better than anything he did through four games with the Colts. And it’s much better than what the Cowboys faced Sunday in San Diego.
The Cowboys were coming off an impressive defensive performance against the Rams the previous game, limiting St. Louis to just seven points. And although Lee’s touchdown return gave the Cowboys a 21-10 lead, the bottom fell out of the defense, which allowed 300 yards of offense over the Chargers’ next four offensive possessions. The backbreaker was a 52-yard bomb from Rivers to Gates to put San Diego in front, 30-21, in the final minutes.
Now, Garrett’s biggest challenge is getting his players to block out Sunday’s loss and get ready for an even bigger task at hand.
“We like to be consistent in our approach, regardless of what happened the previous play, the previous series and the previous game,” Garrett said. “That’s what we preach as coaches – you’re going to be challenged every time you break the huddle.”
One of the players who struggled the most on Sunday was linebacker Bruce Carter, who allowed two touchdown passes to Woodhead out of the backfield. Carter was replaced by Ernie Sims in the nickel defense, a scheme the Cowboys played primarily in the second half. However, both Garrett and defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin said Carter was “not benched” and the club wanted to rotate Sims in the game for that defense.
Carter is expected to remain in the starting lineup although the Cowboys might indeed make more changes in the nickel defense and other sub-packages.
Whatever changes are made, the Cowboys will need to be at their best. As tough as last Sunday was, it’s only the warm-up to the NFL’s elite offense, which strolls into town this weekend.
SAN DIEGO– Seven days ago, the Dallas Cowboys had one of the better games we’ve seen them play in quite a while. Offense and defense both dominated, prompting Jason Garrett, Jerry Jones and Tony Romo to describe it a team win.
Sunday afternoon in San Diego, this was equally … a team loss.
Everyone played a part in this 30-21 setback. And yeah, without a doubt this game – against that team and that environment with you-know-who coming to town next week – is a major setback for a Cowboys team that has lived in mediocrity for two years.
But we’ve got more time to get into the big picture. Let’s focus on Sunday’s meltdown in San Diego, where the Cowboys weren’t even facing a normal road environment. Considering the thousands among thousands of Dallas Cowboys fans in attendance, which seemingly gave the crowd a 50-50 split.
The Cowboys made a nice run in the second quarter. And when Jason Hatcher smashed Philip Rivers, forcing an interception to Sean Lee, who sprinted to the end zone for a 21-10 lead, I think most of us all thought this had the makings of a rout.
In a way, the rout was on. We just didn’t think it would be Rivers and his patched-together offensive that were about to do the routing. Yes, they have a future Hall of Famer in Antonio Gates, who certainly was the best tight end on the field Sunday, but Rivers was making Danny Woodhead and Keenan Allen into household names.
A slow start on offense to open the game, coupled with a slow start on offense in the third quarter isn’t a good combination.
Add this all up and the Cowboys left San Diego with a 2-2 record and a butt-kicking that we really didn’t see coming.
Like all games, you can point the finger at something or someone. But in this case, we’ll need both hands to do it.
- Let’s start with the defense, because that is where this team was supposed to be the spot the Cowboys would dominate. The Chargers had three starters missing on the offensive line – both guards and a starting tackle. And then, another backup guard who started the game left with an injury. This team was down to playing a guy named Stephen Schilling at guard who was signed just this week. And still, the Cowboys couldn’t win that battle. Dallas had occasional pressure, but only one sack. The biggest shock was the second half and how Rivers and the Chargers were able to keep the pressure at bay with short, dink-and-dunk stuff that kept the Cowboys on their toes.
- How about the linebackers in coverage? Sean Lee had a great interception return on a deflected pass that went straight to him. Other than that, the linebackers had trouble keeping up with Gates and Woodhead. In fact, although defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin said it was not the case, Bruce Carter appeared to be gassed after he allowed the second touchdown pass to Woodhead. Ernie Sims played most of the second half in the nickel defense. But everyone knows Rivers likes to go to Gates. He went to him 10 times and Gates called 10 passes. They had no answer for him, especially on the deep ball for the back-breaking score.
- Sticking with defense, Morris Claiborne just didn’t get the job done. Last year, he was solid, which makes you think he’d be closer to really good this year. And he looks worse, so far. Sunday, he gave up several big plays and just doesn’t seem to be playing with any confidence right now. He looks out of position too many times. It’s fair to wonder about his health, but if that shoulder is too much of a hindrance than it’s time to try something else. Makes you wonder if the move to start Scandrick wasn’t really about Claiborne’s injury but more about playing the better player.
- We’ve been giving plenty of praise to the defensive coaches – Monte Kiffin and Rod Marinelli lately. They should take some of the blame, too. And Kiffin admitted that after the game, saying the defense didn’t get off the field as much as they should have. Without a doubt, credit the coaches overall to the development of guys like Nick Hayden, George Selvie and Jason Hatcher’s improved play. But, on Sunday, the Chargers just seemed to have a better game plan. They exploited the mismatches of Woodhead against the linebackers and Gates against anyone who was on him. San Diego offset the pressure with a great mixture of runs, short passes and the occasional deep ball.
- On offense, you have to wonder – once again – why they didn’t stick to the running game. DeMarco Murray had 14 carries for 70 yards. You’ll take that 5.0-yard average all day. 13 first-down runs – 12 by Murray and one by Lance Dunbar – and the Cowboys were averaging 4.6 yards a carry on first down. Think about that, Murray had 12 of his 14 carries on first downs and picked up about four yards on average, yet they didn’t go back to him very often. Once again, that’s an issue. They went away from the run on second down, forcing too many third-downs and the Cowboys were just 3-of-9 on third-down efficiency. Who knows who to blame about that anymore – Bill Callahan for the calls or Tony Romo for checking out, or maybe Jason Garrett for not overseeing it better. Either way, you can’t make the argument the Cowboys weren’t running it effectively.
- This team missed Miles Austin. The Chargers did a nice job of blanket coverage on Dez Bryant and the combination of safeties and linebacker on Jason Witten was also great. When that happens, they go to Miles Austin. Rookie Terrance Williams isn’t ready for that role. Williams did a nice job bouncing back from the early drop to get some confidence going. He finished with seven catches for 71 yards, but that costly fumble near the goal line will ultimately be his most memorable play of the game.
- Frankly, you can pretty much put a dropped pass on all of the receivers at some point in the game. Dwayne Harris had one early, as did Williams. Jason Witten had one over the middle and Dez Bryant couldn’t come up with one near the sideline, which of course would’ve been a great play. The ball hit both hands as he’s trying to get his feet in bounds. Like the rest of them, that was a drop. If the Cowboys are going to be a team that consistently has a pass-run ratio of 37-16, then the receivers can’t be having costly drops.
- The offensive line struggled early, picked it up later on, but then had costly mistakes. Travis Frederick and both guards had trouble with Corey Liuget. He was a beast inside for the Chargers. Romo was sacked three times overall and had constant pressure. Overall, you need better play from the line.
- Since we’re doling out some blame, let’s put some on the kicking game. And no, I’m not referring to Dan Bailey’s miss, although that will fall on other shoulders in a moment. But punter Chris Jones didn’t have his best game at all. His five punts averaged just 40.6 yards with a 34.2 net. His first punt traveled just 33 yards when the Cowboys were in need of flipping the field position. And his drop-kick punts that turn end-over-end aren’t consistently getting to the 10-yard line range, but closer to the 20, where punt returners have no problem fielding. He wasn’t horrible, but they need him to be better.
- And lastly, you have to put some blame on the entire coaching staff, which goes to Garrett. The one decision that potentially hurt this team was attempting the 56-yarder by Bailey. Sure, he had a wind to his back but that’s a long way to split the uprights. The Cowboys had the momentum again and finally some good field position after Dwayne Harris’ nice return. But they gave it right back with that missed kick. It allowed the Chargers to play the next possession downhill and they got a field goal. The fact the team started out sluggish in the first and third quarter usually shows a lack of preparation, focus or intensity or just something missing.
So if you’re playing the blame game after this one, there’s plenty to go around.
The Cowboys lost to a team that just out-played them on Sunday. It wasn’t one key play that did them in. It wasn’t one player that hurt them. Chalk this one up as a team loss. That’s pretty demoralizing considering you’ve got a lot of things to fix and only the NFL’s best team and hottest quarterback coming into town this week.
IRVING, Texas – After a closer look at Sunday’s loss, here are some thoughts from the film room at Valley Ranch:
Take What Is There — TWIT
The execution of the offensive game plan by the San Diego Chargers was outstanding. From the press box, it appeared very simple and after studying the game, it was. It was tailored to not put Philip Rivers in any poor situations because of the condition of his offensive line. Going into this game, it was clear that if Monte Kiffin did not put pressure on Rivers, his defense could struggle no matter who was blocking for him or catching the ball.
Given the time that Rivers had to work with, he made this Cowboys defense pay. When Kiffin played his normal zone coverage, Rivers found answers underneath with quick, simple throws to Antonio Gates, who was 10-for-10 on targets and receptions. When Kiffin tried to adjust to handle plays underneath and in the middle of the field, Rivers worked the ball in the flat to Ryan Mathews or Danny Woodhead, who found themselves in space with no defender to contest the play. For every adjustment that Kiffin tried to make Mike McCoy and Philip Rivers were just better.
On the second touchdown to Woodhead, Rivers in the shot-gun is reading the defensive alignment and noticed where the safety is playing and understands that Bruce Carter is going to be in one-on-one coverage to his left. Rivers moves Woodhead from his right to his left, to take advantage of the matchup. On the outside to the left, the Chargers receivers come off the line running routes like they have not one clue what Rivers is trying to do but Woodhead does. As the play develops, Woodhead starts up the field on the wheel route. Carter as of the majority of the day was late to adjust and Woodhead gets separation instantly, then it became a simple game of pitch-and-catch for the touchdown.
The Chargers despite being short-handed at several positions, did a much better job of playing to the strengths of what they had to work with. There protection along the offensive line at times was not perfect and at times was boarder line, criminal in the way they held on plays but where they were perfect was in the way that their star players did play and that was the biggest difference in this loss for the Cowboys.
Need MO confidence
All the great cornerbacks speak about how you have to play with confidence each and every play. Skill and ability are important but if you do not believe you can succeed, you will fail. We have seen Morris Claiborne play with that skill and ability but right now, he is a lost football player. Even when he is in position to make a play, something bad happens to him. Not matter how hard he tries, it’s just not good enough and that is hurting this defense.
Mentally the breakdowns that he has struggled with in coverage and the penalties are taking their toll on him. Each snap that he takes, has made him a shell of the player he once was when he lined up at LSU. Keenan Allen is a nice player but there is no way on a 3rd – 8, that he should catch a jump ball for 31 yards to keep a drive alive. Those high point balls are what made Claiborne the player he was at LSU. I cannot tell you how many times, I have seen him defend that pass either knocking it away or grabbing an interception. Instead, he is off balance with no clue where the ball is.
It has not mattered, off or press you name it, he has struggled to play it. Cornerbacks live on the edge each play, you are out there for all to see and that’s Claiborne’s problem. Opponents are not seeing him make any plays and he does nothing to dictate, that quarterbacks needs to go the other way. There were times in that Chargers game where Claiborne, was not even in the same area code as the receiver. Is that the sign of a confident player?
To his credit, Claiborne has not used injury or physical pain as an excuse for his play. I believe the coaching that he receives from this staff is putting him in positions to attempt to make plays as we all know, the problem is finishing those opportunities. Opponents have figured out real fast to put three receivers on the field and attack this defense that way and until Claiborne plays better, that is the hand they will be dealt. Regardless, you don’t throw your hands up and say we quit. Morris Claiborne still has the confidence of the front office and the coaching staff despite the fact that he is playing like he is struggling with his own. Making consistent plays should help both parties in that regard but it needs to start now.
Carter lost in space
There have not been many days in his young career where you can say that Bruce Carter did not play his absolute best. Against the Chargers, he had one of those rough days. Sean Lee is the best linebacker in coverage on this team but Carter was right there with him. Whether the ball was going to the flat or like Sunday where the ball was going up the field. Carter had always played with the correct technique. He was often quick to read and put himself in position in the route to make the play.
There is nothing more difficult for a linebacker to have to deal with than man-coverage in space. It is where offensive coordinators and quarterbacks live to create those matchups. On both of the touchdown passes to Danny Woodhead, the Chargers were able to create these types of situations. Carter was left on Woodhead, when Rivers sent Antonio Gates to the outside which caused Carter and Orlando Scandrick to have to trade the coverage. I understand how they were trying to defend this because of the threat of Gates down the field so putting Scandrick on him was the best option. The second touchdown, was just an adjustment made by Rivers when he saw how the safeties were aligned and was able to get Woodhead up the sideline and on Carter.
There was also a post route run by Gates where he started from the right and went across the field left. Both Carter and Lee were on deep drops but Lee was more to the inside which left Carter to handle Gates who was behind him and just in front of the safety. Rivers was able to correctly read the depth of the linebackers’ drops and float to the ball right over the top of Carter, who was unable to make the play. After the play on tape, you see Carter clap his hands upset he didn’t make the play but you also see Lee turns to look at him in a way like they missed one there.
Carter was later replaced in the lineup by Ernie Sims, who responded with six tackles which was good to see but this is Carter’s job. Where these Cowboys linebackers have had their issues this season playing this scheme, is with their drops in pass coverage. Sean Lee has stood before us in the media and said that he has to even get better if this defense is going to improve. Bruce Carter had a terrible day coverage wise but we have also seen him play at a very high level in this league.
Improved rookie on his own
This was the second time in three weeks that Travis Frederick had the opportunity to line up and play against a 3-4 defense and his level of play was night and day from what we had seen in Kansas City. Frederick will not face another odd front until the trip to New Orleans in November. Where Frederick made his biggest improvements was how he was able to handle blocks one-on-one without help from Ronald Leary and Brian Waters.
There were several plays where Frederick was able to snatch his man on a front side reach or cut off block. He played with solid power and did not get compressed or worked back into the play. He was able to work his body and feet in a way that allowed the ball to be taken to either side. He played on his feet and he did not struggle to sustain his blocks. His second level blocks improved to the point where you did not see his man in on the tackle like we did in Kansas City. In pass protection, when uncovered in nickel front, he was solid in the front of the pocket. He showed the ability to sit down on rushers and not give up ground inside. There appeared no mental busts or problems with his assignments.
Coming in this season, there were questions about his ability to play against power and have that guy on his nose the entire game. Against Kansas City, there were some issues but he was able to put that behind him and have a solid, productive game against the Chargers, where he can take some confidence from it.
The Dallas Cowboys lose 30-21 to the San Diego Chargers in week 4 of the 2013-2014 NFL season.
Dallas head coach Jason Garrett talks to the media following the Cowboys loss to the Chargers.
Dallas QB Tony Romo talks to the media following the Cowboys loss to the San Diego Chargers.
Nick Eatman, Rowan Kavner, and Bryan Broaddus following the Dallas Cowboys loss to the San Diego Chargers as they bring you First Take presented by Nationwide Insurance.
Heading into their matchup at San Diego, the Dallas Cowboys knew that if they were going to be considered a legitimate contender in 2013-2014, this was the type of game they needed to win.
They didn’t, losing 30-21 to the Chargers in front of what seemed like a partisan Cowboys crowd, Dallas’ record for the season falling to 2-2, the third straight year and fourth time in five years that they’ve been at .500 a quarter into the schedule.
And the game seemed to be in their grasp, at least late in the second quarter when they went up by 11 points, 21-10. But San Diego then reeled off 20 unanswered points, simply dominating the Dallas defense in the second half, and in particular the third quarter, to send the Cowboys home in defeat.
Making matters worse, an already thin defensive line for the Cowboys took another blow. Earlier in the week, Anthony Spencer was placed on injured reserve, lost for the season. Then against the Chargers, his replacement, George Selvie, left late in the game due to injury, while DeMarcus Ware, who battled a plethora of injuries last season, was in and out of the lineup for much of they day due to a stinger in his neck and shoulder.
Still, other than a stretch in the second quarter, the Cowboys really had no answer for Philip Rivers, as the Chargers quarterback threw for 401 yards, completing 35-of-42 passes with three touchdowns and one interception. Dallas had trouble containing Antonio Gates, the tight end hauling in 10 passes for 136 yards and a score while running back Danny Woodhead caught two touchdowns as well, contributing 86 yards from scrimmage.
Continuing with his dink-and-dunk strategy, Tony Romo connected on 27-of-37 for 244 passing yards and two touchdowns. Dez Bryant led the team with 81 receiving yards on six grabs, including the two scores, with rookie Terrance Williams, who was starting in place of the injured Miles Austin, setting a career high with seven catches for 71 yards. On the ground, DeMarco Murray rushed 14 times for 70 yards, averaging a respectable 5.0 yards per carry.
Overall, San Diego finished with 506 yards of total offense to the Cowboys’ 317 and held the time of possession advantage, 34:03 to 25:57.
The Cowboys troubles began right from the start, as they punted on their first three possessions, only picking up one first down in the process. Meanwhile, the Chargers reached the end zone on their second drive, Rivers throwing an over-the-shoulder pass to Woodhead from 26 yards out to put San Diego up 7-0.
But as the clock turned over to the second quarter, the Cowboys’ fortunes seemed to change, as Dallas outscored the Chargers 21-6 to go into the half with an eight-point lead. Leading the way was the team’s defense, as well as the ever-potent combination of Romo to Bryant.
On the team’s first touchdown, which came on a nine-play, 85-yard drive, Romo basically threw a 5-yard jump ball to Bryant on the right side of the end zone, the team’s all-everything receiver simply out-muscling the defender to come down with the prize and tie the game, 7-7.
Unfortunately, that good will was almost spoiled when head coach Jason Garrett made the questionable decision to try for a 56-yard field goal on the Chargers 38-yard line instead of either punting it away or going for it on fourth-and-6. The kick had the distance, but sailed wide, and with the ensuing good field position, the Chargers quickly worked into Dallas territory, eventually attempting their own field goal, this one good from 36 yards out to move back in front, 10-7.
The Cowboys took back control, however, and on their next possession, Romo and Bryant connected again, this time the quarterback hitting his target over the middle. Bryant showed off his speed by splitting the defense and racing to paydirt for a 34-yard score, the Cowboys jumping out to a 14-10 advantage.
And then the defense did its part. On second-and-3 from near midfield, Rivers dropped back to pass and was hit by charging defensive tackle Jason Hatcher just as he was making his throw. The fluttering ball was corralled by Sean Lee, the linebacker then racing down the right sideline with a whole convoy of teammates in front of him, going 52 yards for the score.
The Cowboys couldn’t quite make it into the half at 21-10, as the Chargers had plenty of time to work into field goal range, reaching the Dallas 24-yard line where kicker Nick Novak split the uprights on a 42-yarder to narrow the gap to 21-13 at the break.
This game is all about adjustments, though, and apparently during the half, the Chargers seemingly made theirs while perhaps Dallas didn’t, as San Diego came out and simply dominated the third quarter.
The Chargers took the opening possession of the second half and swiftly marched 80 yards on 10 plays, eating up 5:28 of the clock. Rivers completed passes of 9, 8, 28 and 14 yards before lofting a 7-yarder to Woodhead who was wide open on the left side of the end zone, 21-20. The score marked the first two-touchdown game in Woodhead’s career.
That was then quickly followed by another lengthy drive by the home team. The Chargers took over at their own 11-yard line with 6:09 remaining in the third quarter, and finally saw Novak chip in a 23-yard field goal at the 14:50 mark of the fourth to take the lead, 23-21.
Soon enough, that advantage was pushed to 30-21, as the Dallas offense could get little going. Forced to punt, the Cowboys defense then couldn’t get the stop they needed as Rivers continued to pick them apart. Tight end Antonio Gates got behind Lee deep down the middle, breaking free for a 56-yard touchdown with just under seven minutes remaining.
The Cowboys tried to get back in the game and were knocking on the door, driving all the way down to the San Diego 7-yard line. But on second-and-goal, Terrance Williams caught a pass across the middle and then tried to stretch the ball out over the goal line as he was being tackled. Instead, the ball was knocked loose, bouncing into the end zone where cornerback Richard Marshall recovered it, ending any hopes of a comeback for Dallas.
Despite the loss, the Cowboys are benefiting from a weak NFC East and remain in first place. But, they’ve got a tough job ahead of them now to avoid falling below .500, as they’ll face the red-hot Denver Broncos next Sunday at AT&T Stadium.
SAN DIEGO – Initial thoughts on the Dallas Cowboys’ 30-21 loss to the San Diego Chargers.
What it means for the Cowboys: Once again the Cowboys let slip away a golden chance to show they were more of a team to watch in the NFC than just a team that can compete in a bad NFC East.
Dallas had an 11-point lead with 1:19 left in the first half, but allowed 20 straight points to the Chargers, leaving with another loss to an AFC West foe. And it doesn’t get easier with another AFC West foe, the Denver Broncos, visiting AT&T Stadium next week.
Cowboys lost 17-16 in Week 2 at Kansas City in a game they could have won, but the offense was unable to sustain any momentum. Today, the defense could not come up with any crucial stops after Sean Lee’s interception return for a touchdown.
Stock watch: Falling — Morris Claiborne. He is playing with a dislocated shoulder, but this was nothing to do with his ability to tackle. He was poor in coverage against Vincent Brown and rookie Keenan Allen. Philip Rivers continually went at Claiborne (as well as Bruce Carter, who could not stick with running back Danny Woodhead).
Can’t get off the field: After Lee’s second career pick-six, and the third defensive touchdown of the season, the Cowboys’ defense had no answers for Rivers, who was playing behind a line filled with backups.
After the Cowboys took that 21-10 lead, the San Diego offense ripped off 20 straight points with 310 yards on 37 plays. The Chargers only got to third down five times on those 37 plays, and converted three times against the Cowboys zone.
Rivers was hardly pressured, and he was able to toy with the secondary with receivers Allen, Brown, Royal, Woodhead (two touchdowns) and Antonio Gates (56-yard touchdown).
Can’t stay on the field: Offensively the Dallas Cowboys ran just seven plays in the third quarter.
Their second possession of the second half lasted only seven plays because a Ronald Leary holding penalty negated a first-down catch by Cole Beasley at the San Diego 32. Two plays later Jason Witten couldn’t hold on to a seam throw from Tony Romo and the Cowboys were forced to punt. The Chargers answered with Gates’ back-breaking touchdown.
The Cowboys’ third possession of the second half ended at the Chargers’ goal line when rookie receiver Terrance Williams fumbled, ending any chances for a miracle comeback.
What’s next: Peyton Manning visits AT&T Stadium for the first time when the Denver Broncos come to town, and it is only the second time Manning will play in the area as a pro. Manning brought the 9-0 Indianapolis Colts to Texas Stadium on Nov. 19, 2006, and lost 21-14.
After a convincing victory over St. Louis at home, the Cowboys head to San Diego to face the Chargers with designs on improving their record to 3-1 for the first time since 2008. Dallas will hope to take advantage of the Chargers’ weak pass defense and beat-up offensive line. Here is a look at how both teams match up:
When the Cowboys run
Before DeMarco Murray rushed for 175 yards – the second-highest total of his career – the Cowboys spent the previous week fending off criticism of their woeful ground attack. Now that it appears their running game has been resuscitated, the Cowboys have to prove their performance in their 31-7 victory over St. Louis wasn’t a fluke. They’ll have a good chance to do that against the Chargers, who are yielding 130 rushing yards per game – the fifth-highest average in the NFL.
When the Cowboys pass
It seems to have gone largely unnoticed, but Tony Romo is off to a nice start in 2013. Only Peyton Manning has completed a higher percentage of his pass attempts than Romo, who also has thrown one interception. Romo was particularly effective in a 31-7 victory over St. Louis last Sunday, contributing three touchdown passes. The Chargers have conceded 340.7 passing yards per game – the highest average in the league. They have also allowed 16 completions of 20 yards or more.
When the Chargers run
San Diego’s rushing attack hasn’t been great. The Chargers have gained 102.7 yards per game on the ground – an average that is 18th-best in the NFL. But they have had only four negative running plays – the lowest total in the league. That bodes well for the Chargers against a Dallas defense that has yielded 199 rushing yards – the second-fewest in the NFL this season. Whether San Diego can get any big gains out of its running game remains in doubt. So far, they’ve produced only one carry of 20 yards or more.
When the Chargers pass
Philip Rivers has looked great the first three weeks of the season. He has avoided the costly mistakes that bit him in years past, throwing eight touchdown passes and only one interception. He’s also completed 70 percent of his passes. Rivers is only as good as his protection is. And the Chargers’ line will have its work cut out against a Cowboys defense that has produced 13 sacks – the second-highest total in the NFL this season.
The Cowboys’ special teams reverted to the poor form they showed in the preseason last Sunday in their victory over St. Louis. Dwayne Harris fumbled away a punt and Dan Bailey missed a 35-yard field goal. The coach who presides over these players, Rich Bisaccia, returns to San Diego, where he worked the previous two seasons. He’ll want the Cowboys to have a better showing than the one they had against the Rams. They may be able to take advantage of the Chargers’ Nick Novak, who has produced only one touchback in 17 kickoffs.
The Cowboys seems to like Southern California. It’s a place where they have trained in the preseason. And it’s also one where they’ve won. In San Diego, Dallas is 4-1. In fact the Cowboys haven’t lost there since November 1983. It’s a surprising fact considering the Chargers have the 11th-highest home winning percentage since 2000. But the Cowboys appear to be comfortable in San Diego.
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When: Sunday, September 29nd, 2013 at 3:25 (Dallas time)
Where: Qualcomm Stadium San Diego, CA
Watch on TV: FOX and DIRECTV: 709
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Regular readers already know that The Boys Are Back blog features the ALMOST WORLD FAMOUS predictions from The GREAT Robbini. Last week, our “exalted one” was pretty much dead-on with his predictions.
Last weeks win over the ‘other’ Missouri team gives us die-hard Cowboys fans (and Demarco Murray) reason to celebrate. We’ve seen the sudden emergence of a running game and a havoc causing Texas-2 defense coming into their own identity. Today’s game in San Diego should feel like a Dallas Cowboys home game with the heavy fan base in sunny Southern California. Bruised Romo should be in better shape this week. While Miles Austin sits on the bench with his hamstring, Jason Garrett will ask next-men-up Terrence Williams, Dwayne Harris, and Cole Beasley to take up the slack. In the trenches, right guard Brian Waters is expected to start … and Mackenzy Bernadeau will be suited up as backup for both guard positions. The Dallas front-four will be without Anthony Spencer for the remainder of the 2013-2014 NFL season … but, Marinelli’s hungry linemen have shown they are up to the task through the first three games.
The GREAT Robbini is psyched about the Cowboys – Chargers incoming vibe… and ready to share his prognostications that we all count on from week-to-week. Without further delay, it’s time for The GREAT Robbini’s predictions. OK, here we go …
The GREAT Robbini’s – 2013-2014 Dallas Cowboys week #4 predictions:
Cowboys set up shop in San Diego, Qualcomm stadium looks like ‘home away from home’
The Dallas Cowboys, on a mission to fuel up their game before hosting “unstoppable” Denver, get behind the wheel in Norv’s old town. They’ll head back to Big D, with plenty in the tank and a ‘W’ in the trunk. Expect a high octane performances from Dez, Demarco, TE group and Kiffin’s boys.
Predictions for the Texas 2 Defense …
- 3 takeaways
- DeMarcus Ware 3 sacks
- J.J. Wilcox 1 sack
- Brandon Carr INT
- Jason Hatcher 2 sacks
- 6 team sacks
- Carter/Wilcox lead tackles
- 1 San Diego Charger injured
Predictions for the offense …
- Tony Romo 300 yards, 4 TDs
- Dez Bryant 75 yards, 2 TDs
- Williams 50 yards
- Beasley 30 yards
- Jason Witten 65 yards, TD
- Gavin Escobar 30 yards, TD
- James Hanna 15 yards
- Demarco Murray TD
- Rushing committee 150 yards
- Offensive line 3 penalties
- Cowboys receive opening kick
- Offense starts game with possession
- Cowboys control time of possession
The GREAT Robbini
Remember, you read it here! The Great Robbini predictions for week #4. Leave your final score or predictions in the comment section.
IRVING, Texas – The Dallas Cowboys are getting exactly what they want out of their new defensive coaching additions, while the defensive mind they let go is excelling elsewhere. Consider that a win through three weeks for both parties.
The Dallas defense resides in the top 10 in the league in sacks and takeaways led by new defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin and defensive line coach Rod Marinelli, while the coordinator the Cowboys let go has shifted New Orleans’ putrid defense of last year to the No. 5 total defense in the NFL this season.
In the minds of some, former Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan didn’t do a lousy job in Dallas last year. Fact remains, the Cowboys weren’t happy with the lack of pressure and thought they should upgrade.
The front office (Jerry Jones) stressed an emphasis on takeaways after creating just 16 all of last season. They now have seven through three games with Kiffin and Marinelli, due in large part to the havoc created by the defensive line, as the Cowboys sit atop the NFC with 13 sacks. They’re also tied for sixth in turnover differential at plus-3 with a top-10 scoring defense.
Kiffin and Marinelli insisted they didn’t need a defensive lineman in the draft to conjure the kind of pressure they needed on their defense. Even without Jay Ratliff or Anthony Spencer, they’ve been exactly right. DeMarcus Ware is back to his old form and the switch to defensive end may even help him reach the quarterback more often.
The defensive coaches continue to get elite play at defensive tackle out of Jason Hatcher, who’s tallied a sack in each of the team’s first three games, while turning Nick Hayden and George Selvie into legitimate starters.
Selvie said he feels he has a coach in Marinelli who believes in him, and that coach is getting the best out of his group. It’s obvious, and head coach Jason Garrett sees the same thing.
“He’s just an excellent football coach and teaching is a big part of that, inspiring is a big part of that, seeing the real positive traits in people and getting them into situations where they can be successful,” Garrett said. “(Marinelli) helps them be successful by how he teaches them technically, how he teaches them physically, how he teaches them emotionally.”
The Cowboys’ three interceptions may not seem like much, but that’s three times as many as they had through three weeks with Rob Ryan last season.
The colorful, boisterous defensive mind has to be a revered character in New Orleans, demonstrating his worth by changing the culture of the Saints’ defense. New Orleans allowed 440.1 yards per game and 28.4 points per game last season, and those numbers are down to 295.7 yards per game and 12.7 points per game so far.
Both sides are getting exactly what they wanted by fixing the problems of the past. It’s a small sample size, but the Cowboys and Saints are reaping every benefit they could have hoped for with their offseason defensive changes.
This should create quite a buzz (and another comparison) going into week 10 …
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IRVING, Texas — You can critique his numbers, you can point out his lack of a career-defining win and you can note that his team has missed the postseason for three straight years.
One thing you can’t do, however, is criticize how well this quarterback has played to start the 2013 season.
At this point you’re probably asking yourself if we’re discussing Tony Romo or Phillip Rivers. Actually, the answer is “both.”
There has been no shortage of peaks and valleys for both franchise quarterbacks since they took starting jobs in the 2006 season. Romo and Rivers are riding high as they prepare to square off this Sunday.
The difference is probably most pronounced for Rivers – the former No. 4 overall draft pick. It seems like ages since Rivers had San Diego in annual contention for the AFC Championship. The 35 combined interceptions and 15 combined wins of the past two years offsets four straight AFC West championships — a period from about 2007-10 when he was considered one of the game’s best quarterbacks.
“In ’09 we went 13-3 and have a bye, and we get beat there in the first round. And it was downhill from there,” Rivers said. “We didn’t go to the playoffs the last three seasons, so it’s been a tough stretch.”
Even with a losing record, Rivers has avoided the turnover bug so far this season. Through three games, he’s completed 70 percent of his passes for 798 yards, eight touchdowns and – most importantly – just one interception.
The 10th-year veteran said the difference has come in not forcing the ball.
“I think the one thing I’ve learned is, when you have so many games that you lose that are close, and you lose four, five, six in a row like we’ve done the past few years, you can start trying to make every play and try to will things to work that aren’t there,” Rivers said.
That’s probably a testament to Rivers’ competitive streak. Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said the most telling part of Rivers’ game was his competitiveness, and he wasn’t the only one who felt that way.
“He’s a quarterback, but he’s got a D-Line mentality – he’s just a dog, man,” said defensive tackle Jason Hatcher. “He’s a competitor, he’s tough, he talks noise. It starts with him, so they go as he goes.”
The Chargers might not be trending the same direction as Rivers, but it’s not for lack of trying. The Chargers sit at 11th in the league in total offense, and they’re only a handful of plays away from having a much different record. It took a 17-point rally for the Texans to down San Diego in Week 1, and the Titans needed a 94-yard drive in the last two minutes to grab a win against the Chargers.
“It’s been a heck of a start, in the sense that every game has come down to the wire,” Rivers said.
The story is similar for Romo, though for different reasons. After tying a career high in 2012 with 19 interceptions, Romo has been the model of efficiency to start this year. His completion percentage of 72.2 is second only to Peyton Manning (and, fittingly enough, one in front of Rivers). On top of that, he’s managed six touchdowns to just one pick – a pick that came from a miscommunication with a rookie receiver (Williams).
Romo said this week it’s a result of better protection. He has been sacked just five times this season, and he hasn’t had to make many throws under pressure.
“If you’re throwing 50 balls and you’ve got 20 of them, 25 of them under duress, it’s just bound to have negative effects throughout football games,” Romo said. “When you’re trailing like we have been in the past –things of that nature, for any quarterback, it happens across the league every week.”
It’s just one more similarity in a career full of them between the two. Both quarterbacks took the starting job in 2006, and in that span are within 2,000 career passing yards, 14 career touchdowns and two career interceptions of each other.
They’ve each had four 4,000-plus yard passing seasons, and they’ve each had two 30-plus touchdown campaigns. The congruencies, both positive and negative, have generated plenty of mutual respect.
“He’s the kind of quarterback that, no lead is ever big enough, and he can be in the toughest of situations but he finds a way. So he’s always fun to watch,” Rivers said.
Added Romo: “Phil has been a good quarterback for a long time. I think he does a good job getting through progressions, and he gives his team a chance really every week he plays.”
Ironically enough, a mistake this weekend by either one could determine the game in favor of the other
Thoughts leading up to the Dallas Cowboys vs. San Diego Chargers game …
Edgar Jones on the verge
With the loss of Anthony Spencer for the season, there are a couple of ways the Dallas Cowboys can make up for his loss along the defensive line. There is no question George Selvie will continue to start at left end but who backs him up might be in question.
Caesar Rayford might be that guy, but keep an eye on Edgar Jones at that spot. Jones has impressed several coaches with his ability to get off on the ball and attack up the field. He has shown some quality pass rush moves, and he has the size and length like Selvie to hold up on the edge in the running game. His overall game appears to be tailored to this 4-3 scheme.
Shadows of the Hatcher-Hayden punch
The pattern of these defensive coaches has been telling. When they get a new player, they work him in practice, then they sit him in the game. There is a chance that process might change with the addition of Drake Nevis this week, as he has been getting reps with the second defense. It’s more likely that we will see David Carter, who has been with the club a week longer, play as the backup defensive tackle. Jason Hatcher and Nick Hayden are the starters and last week Jerome Long and Caesar Rayford were the backups. Jerome Long was waived to make room for Nevis, so Rayford could fill in along with Carter – but Nevis could see action as well. The big question here for Nevis is how much of the defense has he learned this week, and are the coaches comfortable playing him?
The James Hanna factor
A lot has been said about the early development of Gavin Escobar and what has been seen from his game. It’s easy to like what this “12 personnel” package could bring to the game, especially with James Hanna in the mix. Jason Garrett and Bill Callahan will look to create matchup problems with the 32nd ranked Chargers pass defense, and Hanna should be able to do just that. Chargers defensive coordinator John Pagano might be forced to bring pressure with his linebackers in order to provide a consistent pass rush, which means Jason Witten, Hanna and Escobar will be required to run shorter routes to help Romo get the ball off. Hanna has yet to have one of those games that, before the season, we all felt he was capable of. It could happen Sunday afternoon.
DeMarco Murray’s third-dimension
When scouting running backs in the NFL, you want them not only to run and catch but you want them to be able to help in pass protection. With the Chargers 3-4 defensive alignment, Tony Romo is going to need not only his five offensive linemen doing their jobs, but DeMarco Murray as well. As important as it is for Tyron Smith and Travis Frederick to know who to block, Murray has to be just as good. The Chargers will bring several different looks out of their nickel package and the majority of the reading will fall on the shoulders of Murray. If he misses an assignment or slides the wrong way on the protection, there is a pretty good chance that Romo will be sacked. All week long while the team has worked on blitz pickup, Murray has been right there sorting out blitzes while the offensive line makes its adjustments. In watching Murray play in this area, he is usually technique-sound and assignment sure. He did have a bust in the preseason game against Cincinnati that resulted in a sack, but since then there have been no issues. People tend to judge backs just on how they carry the football in a game, but if you look closely, the big plays are usually a result of a back making a blitz pickup. DeMarco Murray will have that chance against the Chargers on Sunday.
JASON GARRETT PRESS CONFERENCE: 2013-14 Dallas Cowboys vs. San Diego Chargers–Injury and practice update
Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett speaks to the media from Valley Ranch as his team continues their preparations for the San Diego Chargers. Garrett discussed:
- Miles Austin and Dwayne Harris practice update
- Rookie WR Terrance Williams development and NFL transition
- Preparing for San Diego OL injuries
- WR Cole Beasley plans in SD game
- RB Joseph Randall’s progress
- Blitz pickups for rookies, multiple fronts,
- Barry Church growing reputation
- Thoughts Safety tandem long-term
- Changes with Chargers from last year’s Norv Turner system
- Simms status
- Fake punt sequence vs. St Louis Rams last week
- NY Yankees and Dallas Cowboys connection
- Rod Marinelli’s amusing nicknames for players
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IRVING, Texas – Dallas Cowboys play coordinator/offensive line coach Bill Callahan didn’t want to rush Brian Waters into the lineup.
Now, after three weeks to settle into the Cowboys’ offense after a year off from football, the veteran guard and his coaches feel like he’s ready to start for the first time this year after rotating with Mackenzy Bernadeau the first three games.
“We think so,” Callahan said. “We’ll see how it goes. We’ll adjust it accordingly. We’ve got a lot of confidence in both he and Mackenzy. We’ll see how it plays out, but I think there’s been good communication along the lines of where he’s at from a strength and conditioning standpoint, also in terms of where his stamina is out. We’ll watch that carefully.”
Callahan said he wouldn’t have given Waters more than he was physically capable of handling, but he can tell the quality of play the veteran still brings to the game. The 36-year-old will continue to be monitored, but it sounds like the coaches are preparing him for a more permanent role.
That would mean Bernadeau’s role could shift around.
“I have a lot of respect for Bernadeau, in terms of what he can do,” Callahan said. “Of course, if he has to step in and play and start, he’s very capable. He’s a starter anywhere in this league. We’re utilizing him at a lot of different spots. He could be in a position to help backup at center just like he did a year ago when we lost a few guys, and of course he could play the left side as well if he needed to.”
Not every player can take more than a year off in the NFL and return and play at a high level, but if anyone’s seen it work on the line, it’s Callahan. He believes Waters, a former six-time Pro Bowler, is ready to do the same.
“Steve Wisniewski did it in Oakland, and when he came back, he was in great shape,” Callahan said. “Those guys know how to take care of their bodies. They’re Pro Bowlers for a reason. They know what their limitations are, they know that their body needs, they know how to train, they know how to prepare. They wouldn’t get to the level that they’re at as a player if they don’t have an understanding and awareness of all those other factors.”
He expected Waters’ progression to be gradual as the season began, and Bernadeau seemed to pick his play up from last year to allow the veteran guard to ease his way in. Callahan compared Waters’ situation to a lineman entering training camp.
“For the veteran lineman playing that first preseason game of 10 to 12 snaps or 14 snaps and then playing a quarter or playing a half, we believe that progression has helped him,” Callahan said. “We just didn’t want to throw him out there and force him into a situation that he wasn’t physically ready for. Now, is he mentally tough enough to do that? Sure, he could do that. But I think in all fairness to him and our team, we want him to be in the best possible condition so he can play at the highest level.”
Video | Audio
Bill Callahan talks about improving their play on the road, and why the feel the offense left some yards on the field in the first three weeks.
IRVING, Texas – Make that three straight days without Miles Austin at Cowboys practice and that’s not a good sign for his availability for Sunday’s game in San Diego.
Austin was held out again for todays (Friday’s) practice, likely meaning he could miss this week with a hamstring injury.
The wide receiver left last week’s game with the St. Louis Rams in the third quarter with the hamstring injury after awkwardly going to the ground on a pass he caught out of bounds. Coach Jason Garrett said after the game Austin did not re-enter the game because of the lopsided score. However, it seems clear Austin remains slowed by the injury enough to miss a full week of practice.
While the Dallas Cowboys don’t have a definite rule on players missing practice and playing in the games Sunday, it seems unlikely Austin would be ready to go at this point.
Even so, the club is getting Terrance Williams ready to make his first start. Ironically enough, his last collegiate game was also played at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, the site of the Holiday Bowl. Williams had two catches for 68 yards for Baylor.
The Cowboys are also monitoring the health of wide receiver Dwayne Harris, who is also the punt returner. Harris was slowed some this week with a hip pointer injury but returned to practice Friday. Harris’ injury has opened the door for Cole Beasley, who not only will play more in three-wide packages, but could be the primary punt returner as well.
For now, the Cowboys don’t appear ready to sign a practice squad receiver to the roster. The team has Tim Benford and Jamar Newsome on the practice squad.
JASON GARRETT PRESS CONFERENCE: 2013 Dallas Cowboys vs. San Diego Chargers–Second road trip of season
Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett speaks to the media from Valley Ranch as his team continues their preparations for the San Diego Chargers.
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IRVING, Texas – The news that Anthony Spencer has undergone season-ending microfracture surgery on his injured knee continues an extensive curse of the franchise tag early this year.
Half of the eight players who received the tag are either likely to miss the entire season or haven’t played a snap this year.
Spencer is now the third player on the franchise tag to be out for the year just three weeks into the season. Broncos tackle Ryan Clady (foot) is already on injured reserve, while defensive tackle Henry Melton tore his ACL in the Bears’ most recent game against the Steelers.
They’re not the only ones suffering from injuries, either. Five of the eight players who received a franchise tag this year are hurt in some degree.
Bills safety Jairus Byrd hasn’t played this season with plantar fasciitis in his foot. He was upgraded from doubtful to questionable but still hasn’t made his way onto the field. In addition, Chiefs tackle Branden Albert sprained his shoulder against the Cowboys, leaving for part of that Week 2 contest. He may need to fight through that injury for a while.
That leaves just three players – Colts punter Pat McAfee, Bengals defensive end Michael Johnson and Dolphins defensive tackle Randy Starks – as the healthy players on a franchise tag right now. Apart from Johnson and his 1.5 sacks this year, the season hasn’t exactly started mesmerizingly for anyone on the tag.
Starks wasn’t a starter at all to begin the season for the Dolphins, as Jared Odrick and Paul Soliai manned the tackle spots the first two weeks of the season in Miami. It wasn’t until Soliai got hurt that Starks started for the first time in Week 3. Meanwhile, McAfee ranks 13th in the league in punting average at 46.8 yards and 14th in net punting average at 41.5 yards.
The franchise tag can be a risky investment for a team in the short-term if the player doesn’t meet lofty expectations, but it frees a team up from investing far into the future. Meanwhile, it puts a nice sum of cash in the pocket of a player in the short-term, but it’s also risky for those players’ long-term security and stability.
A serious injury and a down year can put the tagged players in a bind when searching for a hefty, long-term contract after the season. That looks like it’ll be the case for many of those players in what appears to be a cursed year for the franchise tag.
IRVING, Texas – With the news coming from Jerry Jones today, of the likely knee surgery for Anthony Spencer ending his season, lets take a look at the options for the Cowboys and how they will manage this situation.
You have to give Jerry and Stephen Jones along with Will McClay and these scouts a great deal of credit for what they have done this off season and throughout training camp adding depth to this roster. There has to be a willingness by the front office and coaches to consistently want to churn the roster. Jason Garrett and this staff should also be commended for their part as well to take on players even when it would be very easy to stand pat with their current 53 man roster. I have always believed that one of Garrett’s great strengths is his understanding of how player personnel works in this league.
There are a couple of different ways the Cowboys will be able to manage this. The first one and most obvious, is to continue to start George Selvie in Spencer’s spot. Next to Jason Hatcher, Selvie has been one of the most consistent players this defensive line has had. He has given Rod Marinelli quality snaps, down-after-down and his play has also allowed Monte Kiffin to move DeMarcus Ware around to gain favorable pass rush situations. There has been no let down in Selvie’s game in regards to whether it has been run or pass. He has shown the ability to hold up at the point which was an area that I believed he would struggle with playing on the left side, but that has not been the case at all.
The next move from the front office and coaches will most likely be to move towering Caesar Rayford from his defensive tackle spot back to his more natural position of defensive end. Rayford has been getting that work inside but his game is better suited to play on the edge, so that should be a nice fit. Edgar Jones has also seen work at end so he will get more work as well. The club could also choose to bring Jason Vega up off the practice squad to play end. Vega was signed very late in camp and made a push for a 53 man spot with some nice work against the Houston Texans in a preseason game.
McClay and his staff might also choose to try and poach a player off another club’s practice squad. Some options might be Craig Roh with the Panthers, Xavier Proctor with the Lions and John Youboty with the Broncos. If they go this route, those players have to remain on their active roster for at least three weeks. The staff could also look toward a veteran free agent but they have proven that signing younger players and trying to work with them, tends to be a better option. Also don’t discount the possibility of a trade. This club has done a nice job of collecting late round picks that could also be used to move for players.
With this injury to Anthony Spencer lasting the majority of the summer and now into the fall, this front office and coaching staff were prepared to handle it. This could have gone the other way and they could have been dealing with an injury that happened Sunday and from my experience, that is no fun. There are solid options and place and with the way this scouting department has been operating lately, they will have answers in place sooner rather than later which wasn’t always the case.
IRVING, Texas – The Dallas Cowboys will be without Anthony Spencer for several more weeks and possibly the rest of the season, according to owner/general manager Jerry Jones, who said the defensive end could need microfracture surgery.
“It’s a real setback,” Jones told 105.3 “The Fan” in Dallas this morning. “It could be out for the season.”
Spencer, who has played only one of three games this year, is expected to have his second surgery on his left knee that has given Spencer problems since the first days of training camp back in mid-July. Spencer underwent what was believed to be a minor arthroscopic procedure and the timetable was to return by the first game of the season against the Giants.
Spencer missed that game but returned the following week in Kansas City. However, he wasn’t able to practice much this week and was held out Sunday against the Rams.
“Here’s a case of a guy you almost have to tie him up to get him off the field,” Jones said of Spencer. “He was so diligent in his rehab. The individual that I have the most empathy for is Spencer because of the type of person he is.
In the offseason, the Cowboys cleared enough cap space to put the $10.63 million franchise tag on Spencer for the second straight year. Spencer made his first trip to the Pro Bowl last year when he had a career-high 11 sacks.
The Cowboys are fortunate to have veteran George Selvie, a late-camp addition who has started the last three games.
IRVING, Texas – The Dallas Cowboys added some depth to the defensive line by churning that bottom of the roster once again.
The club signed former Colts defensive tackle Drake Nevis (6-1, 297) on Tuesday and waived Jerome Long.
Nevis, who worked out with the Cowboys last week, was a third-round pick of Indianapolis in 2011. He played in 14 games for the Colts the last two years, even started three games in 2012. The former LSU standout finished both of his first two seasons in the league on IR, with hand and back injuries the last two years.
Nevis was released at the end of this past training camp. He was claimed off waivers by the Chargers but released shortly after.
At LSU, Nevis started 18 games and was a first-team All-American in 2010. Nevis joins a Cowboys locker room that has former LSU teammates Morris Claiborne and Danny McCray. Nevis was also a teammate of Caesar Rayford, who came over from Indianapolis.
Long, who spent training camp with the Cowboys in Oxnard, was cut at the end of the preseason but then re-signed just before the first game against the Giants. Long has played the last three games for the Cowboys but has been more of a rotational player.
ARLINGTON, Texas – Only the Saints are geographically closer to the Dallas Cowboys among NFC teams than are the Rams, who based on the NFL’s conference logic, reside in the West, while the Cowboys have long been in the East.
And there are no plans to change that to put the Rams in the Cowboys’ division. Sorry, DeMarco, that would be convenient for you.
Maybe the Rams were the exact cure for DeMarco Murray and this running game. No, he didn’t challenge his franchise single-game record of 253 yards he set as a rookie. But his 175 yards are now the second-highest total of his career.
In need of some rushing relief, call on the Rams. Yeah, it doesn’t matter if Jeff Fisher has changed the culture there in St. Louis, the holes looked the same. Unlike that game against the Rams two years ago, Murray didn’t have a 91-yarder to get him going.
And that’s actually even better. For this game was much more workmanlike for Murray and the Cowboys offense. It’s amazing how efficient Tony Romo can be when he’s got a running game like he did Sunday.
Romo wasn’t flashy at all, and that’s perfect. Quarterbacks don’t have to be flashy in a 31-7 win at home. Romo was really good: 17-of-24 for 210 yards and three touchdowns with no picks for a 137.2 passer rating.
When your quarterback can be good, and your running back is great, that’s a recipe for success. Throw in the fact that the Cowboys were downright dominant on defense and that’s your 24-point blowout. And yes, in the NFL, winning by 24 is a complete blowout.
But again, it all started with the running game, and that all starts with the mindset.
You could sense earlier in the week that the Cowboys would indeed focus more on the run. Romo said they needed to run more. Play-caller Bill Callahan said he needed to call more runs. Head coach Jason Garrett said the running game needed to improve and even owner Jerry Jones not only echoed all of that, but also predicted much more success running the ball.
So you knew they would focus on running the rock.
First play – DeMarco Murray left side for 14 yards.
Did anyone else think, just for a moment, Murray might take it the distance just like he did for 91 yards on his first carry against the Rams two years ago, a run also to the left side? He obviously didn’t make it that far, but to that point, it was still his longest rush of the season. That would change later in the day, but he would also get another 14-yarder on that first drive.
Murray for 14, 7, 2, 14, 6 and then no gain. The drive ended with a Dez Bryant touchdown pass, but the message was set. The Cowboys were indeed focused on toting the rock on this day. Hey, those 43 yards on the first drive far exceeded last week’s total of 25 yards in the entire game.
By the end of the first quarter, Murray had 86 yards on 10 attempts. He was at 96 by halftime and then in the third quarter is when he really poured it in, eventually finishing the day with 175.
So what did Murray have to say about this performance?
Well, nothing actually. He spent all day dipping and dodging Rams defenders, that he continued that trend in the locker room after the game. Murray chose not to speak to reporters, later citing that he needed to attend to a family matter. Make no mistake, he ran the ball so well inside AT&T Stadium that he made sure to rush out of the building, too.
Maybe he felt like he did his talking on the field. Whether or not he talked to reporters, Murray’s performance was not only stellar, but was also needed for a Cowboys team that is striving to be balanced.
Yes, Romo is a good quarterback. He has moments when he’s great and he’s had some not-so-great moments, too. That’s Romo. But all quarterbacks need some help. John Elway got a little better when Terrell Davis showed up. Not comparing Romo to Elway, or even Murray to Davis, who coincidentally ripped Murray this week on NFL Network, saying he struggles with his vision and leaves yards on the field.
He didn’t leave much of anything out there on Sunday. And saw things pretty clear from start to finish.
When he’s running well, the entire offense just looks better. It’s amazing how well the play-fake can work when the defense has to respect the run. The line looks better. The receivers are open more, and the quarterback has more time to find the right targets.
This result right here is why every coach in the NFL, college, high school and probably junior high will continue to stress the importance of a good ground game. Even with all of these wide-open, spread attacks that we’re seeing everywhere, it’s still important to run the ball. You have to be able to run it. You have to run it near the goal line. You have to run it on third-and-short, and you have to run the ball when you need to run out the clock and protect a lead.
Say what you want about the NFL becoming a passing league – and clearly it’s changed dramatically over the years – but even a decent running game can open up so many things.
The Dallas Cowboys Texas-2 Defense surely appreciates the rest.
Stats and Notes:
Sunday’s win gave the Dallas Cowboys a 2-0 home record to start the season for the first time since 2007 and fourth time since 1999. The club also did it in 2006. When Dallas opened its home schedule 2-0 in 2007, the club beat the N.Y. Giants in the home opener, followed by a win over St. Louis – the same as this season.
The Dallas defense yielded 18 yards to the Rams offense in the first half of Sunday’s game. The 18 yards was the fewest Dallas allowed in a half since giving up 17 against Seattle (10/11/92) with Jimmy Johnson’s young squad.
The defense also held St. Louis to 1-of-13 on third downs. It was the 18th time since 1991 an opponent had one-or-fewer third down conversions. The last time was at Philadelphia (11/11/12) when the Eagles were one-of-10.
The Dallas Texas-2 defense registered six sacks, the most since six at San Francisco (9/18/11).
Gavin Escobar hauled in his first career touchdown catch on a 24-yard third quarter Tony Romo pass.
Jason Hatcher’s sack Sunday gave him 19.0 for his career to pass Bill Bates (18.0) and Lee Roy Jordan (18.5) and tie Anthony Dickerson and Jimmie Jones for 21st in team history.
Hatcher’s sack was also his third straight game with a sack – the longest streak in his career.
DeMarco Murray rushed for 175 yards Sunday – the second-highest single-game rushing figure in his career. His prior high was the club-record 253 yards also against St. Louis (10/23/11).
Murray’s 175 yards also tied Tony Dorsett (at Baltimore, 12/6/81) for the ninth-best single-game rushing yards figure in franchise history.
Murray carried the ball a career-high 26 times Sunday. His average of 6.7 yards-per-carry were good for his third-highest single-game average (minimum 10 carries).
When Murray tallies 20-or-more carries in a game, the Dallas Cowboys own a 10-0 record – including one non-start.
Murray now has five career 100-yard outings.
Caesar Rayford made his Dallas Cowboys debut playing in the defensive line rotation Sunday.
Tony Romo’s touchdown tosses Sunday gave him a scoring pass in each of the previous 15 games. It also gave him 183 career touchdown throws to pass Rich Gannon (180) and Steve Grogan (182) and tie Craig Morton for 47th in career touchdown passes in NFL history.
DeMarcus Ware had two sacks in Sunday’s game to up his career sack total to 115.0. He passed Harvey Martin (114.0) as the all-time (unofficial since Martin’s sack totals are pre-1982) Dallas Cowboys sack leader. Ware also broke a tie with Sean Jones for sole possession of 17th on the NFL’s all-time sack list.
Ware’s 2.0 sacks Sunday also upped his club record of multiple sack games to 28.
Kyle Wilber had his first career sack in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s game.
J.J. Wilcox made his first career start Sunday when he opened up as one of the team’s starting safeties.
With his five catches for 67 yards, Jason Witten has now caught at least one pass in 74 straight games and trails only Michael Irvin (117 from 1990-98) for the team record. Witten’s last game without a reception was at the N.Y. Giants (11/2/08).
Witten’s five catches Sunday brought his career receptions total to 822 to pass Steve Largent (819) 22nd among all NFL pass catchers.
For his career, Witten now has 9,097 receiving yards and passed Tony Martin (9,065) to crack the top-50 and land in the 49th spot on the NFL’s all-time receiving yards chart.
Can you tell us this- We hear that you got in front of the team again in here after the game today?
I was just telling them how proud of them I was. We came out and played great tonight. I’m happy. I wouldn’t trade, I wouldn’t be in no other place. We’ve got great guys on this team and they responded well. They came out. We did what we were supposed to do. We were supposed to win this game and we won.
There’s also a report you had to get on to Romo too (separate series of questions)…
I love Romo to death man. I wasn’t getting on Romo. I love Romo to death. He came out and he balled out tonight. Did you see that? He balled out. They ran the ball, he threw the ball great, he’s the best quarterback in the league. So I love Romo to death. That’s my brother.
You all are good then?
Hell yeah. Where is Romo at? Tell him to come over here. I’m gonna hug his neck. We ain’t got no issues. Where’d you get all that from? I love Romo-Romo loves me. We are teammates, we’re brothers-brotherhood.
Editors note: This questioning relates to a post regarding Romo’s changing run plays to throw the ball vs. KC last week.
Sean , first of all, can we get your thoughts on Ware getting the all time sack record for the Cowboys?
I mean he’s one of the greatest pass rushers of all-time. To play with him has been an honor. Not only is he a great player, he’s a great leader, he’s a great person. So for him; it’s just a testament for how hard he works because everyday in practice he’s working on his game; he’s motivating guys. He’s a complete player and a complete person and it’s been fantastic to play with him.
Sean, when DeMarco’s controlling the ball like that, and you guys have a lot more time of possession, how does that help you guys as a unit when you’re able to get off to the sideline and get some rest and get back out there and fly around the football?
It’s great. DeMarco is an unbelievable running back and they did a fantastic job today: The offensive line and DeMarco. If you give DeMarco holes he can make great cuts and can take it all the way. He’s a complete back and so it was fun to see him break out a little bit today.
Are the ribs continuing to feel better?
Yeah, they’re feeling good. And I think the next game, they’ll be fine.
Did you sense the running game would be this successful today?
I don’t know that you ever go in thinking…I don’t know how many yards we rushed for? Yeah, that’s almost 200 yards, I mean that’s a lot at any level, especially the NFL. That’s just a credit to the guys up front and DeMarco and what they did today. That makes my job and everyone else’s much easier. We wanted to run the football today, and we did a good job of obviously having production to make it easy to do so.
How well did the offensive line play?
They did great. They created some big holes and they also gave me time throughout the game to do some different things and get to some certain guys that you normally wouldn’t get to. Like I said before, it makes everyone’s job easier when you have some good guys up front.
How do you feel Gavin Escobar is coming along?
He’s young. He almost had the one [touchdown] earlier in the game, like you said. I think he lost his shoe against New York on one where I think he would have had one. So, it was just a matter of time. He did a good job on the route today. He’s a big target, so that helps.
After the game on Sunday, one of the game balls was awarded to Jason Hatcher for his effort in shutting down this Rams offense. There was no question that Hatcher deserved that honor but after studying the game, it really was a collective team effort across the defensive line that got that job done. DeMarcus Ware was outstanding against the Rams best offensive linemen, Jake Long. He beat and bashed Long the entire day to the point that Long was ineffective against other rushers like George Selvie and Kyle Wilber. Nick Hayden was making plays seven yards down the field tackling Tavon Austin. Edgar Jones and Jerome Long were able to chip in with some quality plays. Caesar Rayford looked comfortable playing inside at defensive tackle with Long when Hatcher and Hayden needed a break.
Their effort and passion was relentless the entire game. Monte Kiffin, Rod Marinelli and Leon Lett used various combinations in the game and all their moves came up aces. Kiffin was able to just use four man pressure in the game which allowed him to drop seven and handle the Rams skill players underneath and down the field. Where this Cowboys defensive line was most effective was when they were running games upfront with their twist packages. There was constant pressure on Sam Bradford to the point where he really didn’t have the time to look down the field for a receiver. It was a dominating day, for a group that once again had to play without Anthony Spencer but were able to get the job done.
IRVING, Texas – Here are some observations from the film room at Valley Ranch:
Offensively, if the Cowboys were going to have any success, it would be on the shoulders of Tyron Smith and Doug Free. Of all the matchups possible in this game, how Smith and Free blocked Robert Quinn and Chris Long was truly going to tell the story. The game tape, showed that Smith was dominant and Free had not one issue against Long, matter of fact, his only issue for a brief time was with backup, Matt Conrath on a couple of cutoff blocks.
Quinn had come into the game as a nightmare for tackles to have to deal with because of his edge pressure. Smith did a really nice job of not allowing him to get to the edge or work underneath to get inside of him. The one play that Smith allowed Quinn to make which did cause a forced fumble, was the second of the two draw plays that the Cowboys attempted on the day. The first time they ran it, Smith shoved Quinn so far up the field, that Murray did not get touched until he was already in the second level. On the second one, Quinn was able to keep his balance after the shove and he just made a nice athletic play.
Playing against Chris Long, is the perfect type of rusher for Doug Free to face. Free tends to do a better job against defensive ends that don’t play with a great deal of power and are more interested in just getting up the field. It has been well documented that Free’s athletic ability is clearly his best trait. When he can get out of his stance, work wide and adjust, he is a much better player. When he has to face a rusher that extends his hands and just pushes on him, he has trouble sitting down. Long doesn’t play with power and that played right into Free’s hands. I thought that Free was able to play a complete game from a technique stand point as well. He never looked off balance or struggling with Long’s rush. Other than those cutoffs against Conrath, Free was in control, poised and continues to work his way back to that form that we all had observed three years ago.
Watching J.J. Wilcox play is a lot of fun. With Wilcox, you never know what you are going to see next. I had a gut feeling that very early in the week that he was going to make this start against the Rams and as excited I was for him, I also had my concerns. Not of the physical type but would he be able to handle all the routes that the Rams were going to throw at him.
It was clear from the first play of the game when he filled in the box, that the physical side was going to be well and good, but there is something that we are going to keep an eye on as he plays more. As aggressive as he is attacking the ball, he is going to have to learn to come under better control to be a secure, wrap up tackler. I saw the same thing from Barry Church when he started, he would come flying forward and throw his body at the legs of the ball carrier without wrapping up. Bill Parcells use to tell us that poor tackling safeties will cost you hundreds of yards during the season. There is no question that Wilcox gets to the ball but where he can make the biggest difference to this defense, is finishing plays. Jerome Henderson and Joe Baker will work with him to get that cleaned up in his game.
Throughout the game, Wilcox had more chances to play down but he also played some single high and then later in the game some straight two deep. He played some man coverage against Jared Cook which is no small task and when the ball went wide underneath, he was able to rally with the linebackers and drive the ball out of bounds. He played with nice awareness and there were times where when checks were made, you could see him communicating with Church or the corners. He was in outstanding position for the interception of Sam Bradford that was called back, when Hatcher struck Bradford in the head area which was the correct call.
For his first start in the NFL, he was once again, fun to watch. He did not let his coaches or teammates down with his play. He was physical and he didn’t play like he was lost or scared. It was not perfect but it was clearly something they can work with. Paired with Barry Church in the back end, there are some nice possibilities.
I would continue to start Orlando Scandrick at corner and allow Morris Claiborne to come off the bench. Right now, this combination appears to be working very well. Scandrick is playing at a high level both outside and in the slot but I believe that Claiborne looks much more relaxed as well.
It was nice to see, with what happened to Claiborne last week against the Chiefs on the pass interference call, he was able to bounce back with one of his most complete games. I thought he played with nice positioning and movement. He didn’t appear to be struggling with the routes and his reads along with his awareness was much better. There have been times where he has appeared to laboring in coverage and that might have been do to his knee soreness but there was a smoothness to his game.
He was aggressive driving on the ball and when he had to come forward, there was no hesitation or apprehension. He did get the one call against him for pass interference late in the game and on tape, it did show that he used an arm bar to keep Chris Givens from getting up the field but again, if he doesn’t use his arm, he worked himself in position to defend the ball and that was a positive sign.
I understand that Morris Claiborne was drafted to be a starter, but if playing Orlando Scandrick has allowed Claiborne to regain his health and confidence, these coaches need to keep that going because it has benefited both parties. There have been no reasons to take Scandrick off the field at this point and until there are issues, he needs to continue to start. There is nothing wrong with letting Morris Claiborne be that nickel back as along as this defense continues to play like they have this season.
Offensive Game Ball: Offensive Line
It would be real easy to hand the ball to DeMarco Murray for his effort in this game, but without those guys up front, Murray would not have had the day that he did. Murray received his share of blame for his lack of production last week against the Chiefs, but he alone should not have shouldered the criticism. This Cowboys offensive line was outstanding today both in the run and pass. Murray had more than enough room to operate and Tony Romo was hardly touched as he sat in the pocket. Head coach Jason Garrett and his offensive staff have strived for balance, and they got it today from a line that hasn’t always been given the credit that it deserves.
Defensive Game Ball: Jason Hatcher
Going into this game, the Rams offensive line was expected to have problems handling the Cowboys defensive tackles. For the third straight game, Jason Hatcher was outstanding. For a player who had questions about staying consistent in this scheme, he has more than proved himself. Hatcher played with explosive quickness and power. He was disruptive on the move and was relentless in the way he attacked the pocket. His play did not allow Rams quarterback Sam Bradford any room to step up and make a throw. Hatcher was quick to shed blocks, and he was technique-sound the entire day. His play overall caused this Rams’ offensive scheme huge issues.
Coaches Game Ball: Rod Marinelli
The Rams were going to have trouble running the ball, which meant that defensive line coach Rod Marinelli and his troops were going to have to play the majority of the game rushing the passer. Bradford put the ball up 49 times for St. Louis with an average gain of only 3.6 yards per completion. Bradford was never comfortable in the pocket, and it started on the opening series and did not end until the final whistle. Despite playing shorthanded without Anthony Spencer, Marinelli’s group put on quite a show. There was a slot blitz or two mixed in from Orlando Scandrick, but the majority of the pressure came from a four-man rush. Marinelli has always preached quickness off the snap and to get up the field as quickly as you can. He did an outstanding job of rotating his defensive line, and they rewarded him with a dominating performance against a Rams club that has some explosive offensive weapons, totally holding them in check. Today, it started up front with his guys.