Category Archives: Jonathan Auping

NFC EAST REVIEW: Division race comes down to week 17

Dallas Cowboys vs Washington Redskins - NFC East rivals play for division title - The Boys Are Back blog

With just one week left in the regular season the NFC East comes down to one game between the Redskins and Cowboys.

Washington Redskins 9-6

Dallas Cowboys 8-7

New York Giants 8-7

Philadelphia Eagles 4-11

Redskins:

It didn’t seem possible six weeks ago, but the Washington Redskins are currently the sole leaders atop the NFC East after winning their sixth straight game. Last Sunday they welcomed back Robert Griffin III from a leg injury and the rookie quarterback didn’t look like he had missed a beat.

Griffin was able to post a 102.4 passer rating while throwing two touchdowns in a 27-20 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles. The Redskins continued to do what they do best: run the ball well on offense. They rushed for 128 total yards and made the big plays when it mattered. At this point in the season the Redskins are very comfortable running their college-like offensive scheme and few teams have had any success stopping them.

The Redskins will be champions of the NFC East if they defeat the Cowboys at home on Sunday night. If they lose they could still potentially make the playoffs as a wildcard assuming that both Chicago and Minnesota lose their final game.

Cowboys

Perhaps the most exciting game the Cowboys have played all season turned out to be completely irrelevant. After the Giants were defeated by the Baltimore Ravens the Cowboys’ 34-31 loss to the Saints earlier in the day became meaningless.

But that doesn’t take away any of the thrill (or concerns) that came with the game. The Cowboys came back from down 14 points with less than five minutes to play in the fourth quarter. After getting the first touchdown, the Cowboys still needed a 4th and 10 conversion with 15 seconds left in the game. They not only converted the 4th down, they scored a 21-yard touchdown pass to Miles Austin to force overtime.

In the end, a controversial fumble by Marques Colston that bounced 22 yards forward until being recovered by Jimmy Graham set up a field goal to win the game for the Saints.

Tony Romo was nearly flawless in the game throwing for over 400 yards and four touchdowns, while posting a passer rating of 123.8. He was helped out by the career performance of Dez Bryant who recorded 224 yards receiving and two touchdowns.

Despite the loss, the Cowboys can win the division with a win over Washington on Sunday. That is their only chance at making the playoffs.

Giants:

It was hard not to assume that the Giants would just “turn it on” when they really truly needed a win. Well, the past two weeks New York has needed wins and they have been blown out each week. After being shutout by the Falcons the previous week, the Giants lost 33-14 to the Ravens.

At a time when they needed their best players playing their best, the Giants received poor performances from Eli Manning (only 150 yards passing), Ahmad Bradshaw (only 39 yards rushing) and their much heralded defensive line was unable to record a single sack on the immobile Joe Flacco.

The Giants’ weakness all season has been their secondary and they once again struggled as Flacco was able to throw for over 300 yards and two touchdowns on the Giants’ defense.

They’ve been inconsistent all season and now the Super Bowl champions find themselves in a position where they will need a miracle to make the post season.

Eagles:

The Eagles have been able to get a good look at some of their younger players the past few weeks. Unfortunately for them, at 4-11, that’s about the only positive to come from this season.

In a 27-20 loss to the Redskins, rookie quarterback Nick Foles threw for 345 yards but suffered a broken right hand that will likely force him to miss the season finale. That will put Michael Vick back into the lineup, likely for the last time with the Eagles.

McCoy returned to the lineup, which meant less carries for rookie Bryce Brown and together they were only able to combine for 63 yards.

The Eagles are obviously looking towards the future as they finish the season Sunday against the Giants.

Injuries:

Dallas Cowboys: DeMarcus Ware has been dealing with elbow and shoulder injuries all season and he was forced to miss significant portions of the Cowboys’ loss to the Saints. Jason Garrett claimed that he believes that Ware will be ready to suit up and play the season finale despite his injuries. The Cowboys also lost Ernie Sims in the first quarter against the Saints after experiencing concussion-like symptoms. There is no word on his availability for Sunday and will likely be a game-time decision.

New York Giants: The Giants’ defensive line was out of sorts on Sunday after Chris Canty reinjured his knee against the Ravens. There is no word on his status for next Sunday. Justin Tuck was already inactive in the game due to a shoulder injury.

Philadelphia Eagles: McCoy returned to the field after missing a few weeks with a concussion, but was largely ineffective rushing the ball. With Nick Foles (hand) out, Michael Vick is expected to start.

Washington Redskins: There was some concern leading into Sunday’s game over whether or not Robert Griffin III was fully healed and prepared to comeback after only missing a week from his leg injury. Griffin not only returned, but looked as sharp as ever. However, he refrained from running the ball like he normally does.

Playoff Scenarios:

-Dallas (@Washington) clinches NFC East title with a win over Washington.

-Washington (vs. Dallas) clinches NFC East division title with a win or tie against Dallas.

-Washington clinches a playoff spot with a Chicago loss and a Minnesota loss.

-New York Giants (vs. Philadelphia) clinches a playoff spot with a win and a Dallas loss or tie and a Chicago loss and a Minnesota loss.

Week 17 Schedule:

Philadelphia Eagles @ New York Giants

Sunday, December 30th, 12:00 CT (FOX)

Dallas Cowboys @ Washington Redskins

Sunday, December 30th, 7:20 CT (NBC)

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NFC EAST DIVISION REVIEW: NY Giants in control, take 2 game lead

After a Thanksgiving shootout, a Sunday night blowout and a desperate Monday night game, the Giants have retaken a two game lead atop the NFC East.

New York Giants 7-4

Washington Redskins 5-6

Dallas Cowboys 5-6

Philadelphia Eagles 3-8

Giants:

No team needed a bye more than the Giants did two weeks ago. They had lost two straight with Eli Manning having played his three worst games of the season consecutively.

But as you might expect, they took advantage of their time off and came into their Sunday night matchup with the Green Bay Packers prepared and looking like the defending Super Bowl champs, scoring early and often on their way to a 38-10 victory.

It’s pretty well established that the Giants can go as far as Manning can take them and he seemed to return to his former self, throwing for 249 yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions. The Giants’ offense also seemed to get their balance back. Their running back-by-committee rushed for a combined 147 yards, led by Andre Brown’s 64 yards.

Much more surprising was the fact that the Giants’ normally shaky secondary held the potent Packers’ passing game in check. Aaron Rodgers had just an 81.9 passer rating. Not coincidentally, Rodgers was sacked five times for a combined 29-yard loss.

At 7-4, the Giants are in firm control of the division with just one more game against the Washington Redskins.

Redskins:

If the Redskins are supposed to be planning for the future they sure seem to be having a lot of fun right now. Griffin is doing much more than proving he’s a promising rookie; he’s proving to be one of the best players in the NFL.

Griffin followed up a performance in which he had the rare perfect passer rating by coming into Cowboy Stadium and completing 20-of-28 passes for 311 yards and four touchdowns.

Their other rookie, running back Alfred Morris, ran for 113 yards and a touchdown of his own. So I think it’s safe to say Washington has a bright future.

At 5-6, the Redskins, while still a long shot, have put themselves back in the playoff race. If Washington isn’t able to put together enough of a streak to reach the postseason there will surely be a number of teams happy to avoid them. They have become one of the most dangerous clubs in the league with their balanced offensive attack. Against Dallas they threw the ball 28 times and ran the ball 30. Their defense is certainly flawed, but they compensate that by controlling the time of possession.

Cowboys

The Cowboys were full of newfound hope on the morning of Thanksgiving. They knew that if they could defeat the Washington Redskins and Aaron Rodgers could take down the Giants then the Cowboys would be tied atop the division.

Well, Robert Griffin III came into Cowboy Stadium and sucked most of that hope right out of the building. A 28-point second quarter by the Redskins put Dallas down by 25 at halftime. From there they were just playing catch-up and they fell short, losing 38-31.

The game featured a lot of the characteristics we’ve grown accustomed to seeing from Dallas’ Tony Romo throw an astounding 62 times for 441 yards. He also had two interceptions. And, the rushing game was non-existent. The Cowboys gave the ball to a running back nine times in the entire game, twice in the second half. They had a total of 35 yards rushing.

The defense played solid at times, but ultimately gave up far too many big plays to Griffin. Sitting two games behind the Giants for the division lead and losing tie-breakers to Seattle and Chicago for the wild card, the Cowboys’ only hope may be that DeMarco Murray’s eventual return can spark them with just enough momentum to stay in the running for the playoffs.

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FOCUSED ON FOOTBALL: After his best game, Diamond Dez Bryant may be key to season

Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant (88) catches a pass in front of Cleveland Browns cornerback Buster Skrine - The Boys Are Back blog

“Being Dez.”

That term does not exactly have a universally accepted meaning. Last Wednesday, when Dez Bryant talked to the media after practice and said, “I think I’m back to being Dez,” it was obvious that he meant it in a positive context.

But due to a controversial young career as a Cowboy, “being Dez” simply means being immature to some people. To just as many, it means being a supremely gifted receiver who can control the outcome of an NFL game.

When Bryant stepped out of bounds rather than fight for the first down on a second-and-16 pass in the second quarter with the Cowboys struggling and down 13 points, it caused a collective eye roll/groan from Cowboy fans everywhere. A “here we go again” sort of feeling.

But Bryant’s mental lapse did not fit either of the common definitions for “being Dez.” Call him what you want, but Bryant is a fighter. Avoiding contact is not one his most common character traits. Asking Bryant to get up for a battle is usually not the hard part. Getting him to calm down afterward is often a little bit tougher.

Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant (88) goes up for a pass - The Boys Are Back blog

And Bryant showed the fight in him from that point on in the game. He was basically unstoppable for most of the day, particularly in the second half. All in all, Bryant had his best game of the season. He tallied 145 yards off of 12 catches and a touchdown.

Bryant has let Tony Romo down on his route running in the past, but Romo trusted him against the Browns and it paid off. Bryant was targeted a season-high 15 times. This is tied only by his performance in Baltimore. But the difference between Sunday’s game and the Ravens matchup was that Romo trusted Bryant with the deep ball as well as the short pass.

At a certain point, it became clear that Bryant’s defender (typically Buster Skrine) simply could not guard him. He was too athletic, too skilled and too fast to be contained. When Romo looked to go deep with Bryant, sometimes the only option for the Browns was defensive holding. Bryant caused a number of defensive pass interference calls that kept the Cowboys’ offense on the field.

Which does beg the question of whether or not the Cowboys should throw deep to Bryant more often. With such a talented receiver and the quick enforcement of pass interference penalties in today’s game, the feeling is that Bryant will either come down with the ball or earn a first down through penalty while trying.

With a quarterback who threw a lot of early season interceptions it might not seem ideal to seemingly ask him to just throw the ball up for Bryant to go get. But a few of Romo’s interceptions this season came from Bryant messing up short or intermediate routes so there is risk of an interception, no matter what the route.

As pathetic as it may seem, down by 13 at halftime, it felt like a game in which the Cowboys had no business beating the Browns. They had 68 total yards at the half. They only managed 63 yards rushing for the entire game. The defense was solid except for a few miscommunications, two of which happened to result in Cleveland touchdowns.

And worst of all, the offensive line was banged up and ineffective. Linemen were playing out of position, backups were playing the entire game and a franchise tackle left with an ankle injury. As a result, Romo was sacked seven times for 56 yards. It seemed hard to believe that he would ever get enough time in the pocket to lead the Cowboys to a comeback victory.

But as you know, the Cowboys did come back and win. And they did so by relying heavily on Bryant. He became the go-to guy and it was no secret. The offensive line should receive some credit for playing better in the second half, but Romo was able to get the ball out quicker because he often knew exactly who he was throwing it to: Bryant.

Dallas Cowboys receivers coach Jimmy Robinson talks with Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant - The Boys Are Back blog

The chemistry that Romo and Bryant developed in the second half was the kind of thing usually reserved for Romo and Witten. But with Bryant, the feeling was that he could explode for a touchdown or huge gain on any given play.

You could say that Bryant has been a knucklehead at times. Maybe accuse him of being unfocused or call him a distraction. But yesterday against the Browns was an example of why the Cowboys are so patient with him. Bryant played like a franchise receiver.

Bryant passed the amateur-viewer test. If someone who knows extremely little about football were to have sat down to watch the Cowboys or Browns, they would have left with the impression that Bryant was one of the most talented and gifted players on the field. They would understand, without the help of the commentators, the impact he had on the game.

Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant (88) celebrates a catch vs Cleveland Browns 2012 - The Boys Are Back blog

The Cowboys still have a lot of things to work on if they expect to make a push for the playoffs, but the production that they got from Bryant puts them on another level as a team in my opinion. If they can fight through the injuries of their offensive line and get more out of their running game (something that might be improved by the return of DeMarco Murray), and still get similar production from Bryant, then the Cowboys might have found the key to their season.

And that’s just letting Dez “be Dez.”

Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant (88) catches a touchdown pass vs Cleveland Browns 2012 - The Boys Are Back blog

OPPORTUNITY KNOCKING: New Dallas Cowboys LB Gary Guyton likely needed Sunday against Eagles

Dallas Cowboys LB Gary Guyton learning Rob Ryan system - The Boys Are Back blog

IRVING, Texas – Gary Guyton spent his first four seasons with the New England Patriots. He grew accustomed to a certain expectation of winning. He also grew accustomed to playing football for a living.

But when the Patriots chose not to bring Guyton back for the 2012-2013 season, he found himself looking for a job. But he knew that his experience, 229 tackles and 3 fumbles would come in handy for an NFL team eventually.

“I was just preparing myself,” Guyton said. “You never know what can happen.”

And sure enough, the Cowboys found themselves in need of a linebacker. After the season-ending injury to Sean Lee, the Cowboys also suffered injuries to Orie Lemon (placed on the IR) and Dan Connor. So this week they brought in Guyton.

“You just get the call and be ready to go,” Guyton said. “So I got the call saying ‘come in for a work out’ and I came and now I’m a Dallas Cowboy.”

Guyton has played in big games and understands the urgency. He wants to prove to the team that they went out and signed someone who was prepared for the opportunity.

“I’m just working out, running, doing the best I can. I (already) had my training in Atlanta. That’s where I stay.”

It’s not uncommon for a player who hasn’t been on an NFL team to struggle getting back into game shape when they are picked up. Even players that work out constantly learn that actual practices and games can be a whole different experience. Guyton claimed that there was one thing that he had to get used to, but it had nothing to do with being in shape.

“The helmet. My forehead is sore,” Guyton joked. “Just new people, new system. I’m just getting in here and working through it, working hard.”

Guyton was brought in not only because of his skills, but because he has four years of experience in a 3-4 defense. Since Guyton might be thrown into the fire early, it was important that there was not much of a leaning curve.

“It’s mostly similar so I’ve been through it,” Guyton said. “I’ve been looking through it. I understand the 3-4 defense and the basics of it.”

These few days of practice are very important for Guyton. The Cowboys would normally start Connor at linebacker in the absence of Lee, but Connor is still recovering from a neck strain and his limited participation in Thursday’s practice means that his status for Sunday’s game against the Eagles could be in jeopardy.

If Connor is to sit out, the Cowboys will be extremely thin at linebacker, meaning that they would need to give Guyton minutes as early as this Sunday.

Guyton understands that the he might play his first NFL game of the season in Philadelphia, but he knows not to get ahead of himself. A lot has to be done on his end before then just to be prepared.

“Just going through the basics right now and getting those down,” he said. “Just moving on through the playbook.”

BLUEPRINT FOR AN UPSET: Falcons’ weaknesses shown in three narrow wins

Dallas Cowboys running back Phillip Tanner, center, found some holes in the Baltimore defense and is ready to carry the load against the Giants on Sunday - The Boys Are Back blog

IRVING, Texas – The Atlanta Falcons are the only undefeated team left in the NFL. But don’t think that makes them unbeatable. In fact, of their seven wins, only one has come against a team (Broncos 4-3) that currently has a winning record.

There was also a three-week stretch in which the Falcons narrowly won games against less than stellar teams.

In week four, the Falcons beat the Carolina Panthers 30-28 on a last second field goal.

In week five, the Falcons beat the Washington Redskins (who played the end of the game without Robert Griffin III) 24-17.

In week six, the Falcons beat the Oakland Raiders 23-20 at home.

A win is a win in the National Football League, so the point is not to fault the Falcons, but to look to these three games for a formula to beat Atlanta. And after taking a second look at all three games the verdict might not bode well for the Cowboys.

These three teams had success against the Falcons by effectively running the ball.

Dallas Cowboys Phillip Tanner - The Boys Are Back blog

The Cowboys’ offense looked great against the Giants in the second half as they all but abandoned the run game. Don’t expect that to be the most effective strategy against the Atlanta Flacons.

It’s no secret that the Falcons are a big-play, quick-strike offense. With Tony Gonzalez, Roddy White, and Julio Jones, they have three players that average over 10 yards per carry and they have 13 touchdowns between them. Not to mention that Matt Ryan is playing at an elite level.

Teams’ only sustained success this year against the Falcons has been by running the ball and keeping Ryan and the offense off of the field. The Falcons have the 26th ranked rushing defense in the NFL.

In their loss to the Falcons, the Panthers rushed for 199 yards. Perhaps more importantly, they ran the ball 35 times versus just 25 passing plays. Ryan still played quite efficiently, but Carolina controlled the tempo for most of the game meaning the Falcons’ offense had more pressure to rely on the big plays of their offense (which they happened to get just enough of to win).

Ironically, it was a Panthers fumble in the last moments of the game that forced them to punt it to the Falcons who drove from their own 1-yard line to hit a game-winning field goal.

The Redskins managed to hang with the Falcons despite losing Robert Griffin III in the third quarter to a concussion.

They did so with a game plan that relied heavily on running back Alfred Morris who got 115 yards off of 18 carries. The predictability of Atlanta’s offense was apparent as Matt Ryan threw the ball 52 times in order for the Falcons to reach 24 points. Perhaps with Griffin playing the fourth quarter the Redskins could have continued the success of their ground attack and limited the opportunities for Ryan’s passing plays.

The next week the Oakland Raiders nearly beat the Falcons by dominating the time of possession. The Raiders ran for 149 yards compared to just 45 from the Falcons. The Falcons once again relied on big plays from their wide receivers, but this time it cost them as Ryan threw three interceptions almost costing the Falcons a win.

Like the Panthers and Redskins before them the Raiders played kept a very balanced blend of running and passing the ball. They threw the ball 33 times to go along with 32 running plays. Atlanta made just enough big plays to sneak out a 3-point victory.

What we can take from all of this is relatively obvious; the Falcons rely heavily on the expectation that their receiving threats (mainly Gonzalez, Jones and White) will make enough game-changing plays for them to win. Those players are talented enough for that to be a logical strategy. But no matter how talented your players are, such plays are rarely a given. You can’t just expect to convert every time you throw it deep to your Pro-Bowl receiver. But the Falcons take so many shots that they typically convert enough to win games.

Dallas Cowboys QB Tony Romo scrambles for a TD vs New York Giants - The Boys Are Back blog

These three teams had success against the Falcons by limiting the amount of shots they could take at big plays. In a sense they gambled that when it came down to crunch time they would be able to prevent the big passing plays. Even though they were wrong, they kept themselves in the game until the final moments.

I think that the Falcons have a clear weakness at running back and it has yet to be fully exposed. The Cowboys’ reluctance to run the ball has been well documented as they have only rushed the ball 24.1 times per game. But the Falcons are actually right behind them at 25.1 times per game.

The Cowboys and Falcons have shared many of the same weaknesses and their strengths lie in some of the same places. But considering how effective the Falcons have been this season compared to the Cowboys it might not be wise to go head to head with them on their strengths.

In other words, the Cowboys don’t want to try to get into a shoot out with the Falcons. Both teams have great weapons on offense, but the Falcons have been much more successful taking advantage of their weapons and winning games off of passing situations.

Compared to their 26th ranked rush defense, the Falcons have the 10th ranked passing defense. Their secondary is a big step up from the Giants’ secondary that the Cowboys passed all over in the second half of last Sunday.

Dallas Cowboys RB Lance Dunbar ran 15 times for 105 yards and a 58-yeard touchdown in 2012 Preseason game vs Miami - The Boys Are Back blog

There may be little reason to have faith in the performance of Felix Jones (who is not 100 percent), or Phillip Tanner or Lance Dunbar for that matter. But beating the Falcons will likely require a commitment to the running game.

Both teams will likely make big plays in the passing game. But Sunday’s game might come down to who can control the game in between those big plays. If the Cowboys fall behind by a touchdown early in the game, handing the ball off to Felix Jones and controlling the clock might not be the most popular decision, but that type of discipline and faith in the running game could be what it takes to take down a team like Atlanta.

NFC EAST RUNDOWN: Week #8 brings New York Giants vs. Dallas Cowboys rematch

New-York-Giants-vs-Dallas-Cowboys rematch - The Boys Are Back blog

Week 7 of the NFL season has concluded, having featured Eli Manning outdueling Robert Griffin III and the Cowboys crawling back to .500. Now there is a clear front-runner in the division with the other three teams battling it out for second.

Below is a quick recap of the division records:

New York Giants 5-2

Philadelphia Eagles 3-3

Dallas Cowboys 3-3

Washington Redskins 3-4

New York Giants:

Every so often there will be certain games where you make your fair share of mistakes and your opponent is able to execute a number of big plays against you. The great teams react, respond and find a way to still get the victory. Over the past few years, the Giants have perfected the art of winning these types of games and last Sunday against the Redskins was no different.

The Giants didn’t particularly play their best football against Washington. Eli Manning threw two costly interceptions, they only rushed for 64 yards and the New York defense surrendered nearly 500 total yards. But when it came down to having to make a play or leaving with a loss, the Giants were able to make a play.

An interception by Stevie Brown in the third quarter led to an Ahmad Bradshaw touchdown to break a tie at 13. Then later in the fourth, after Robert Griffin III scored what seemed to be a game-winning touchdown with 1:27 left, Manning was able to pull off a miracle, a 77-yard touchdown pass to Victor Cruz with 19 seconds giving the Giants the win.

Pointing out weaknesses on this Giant team is not the most difficult thing to do this season. However, finding a way to beat them has been a whole other story.

Philadelphia Eagles

The Eagles had a bye last weekend. At 3-3, they are entering a crucial part of their season. Will the turnover prone, let-anybody-in-the-game team show up? Or will the dangerous big-play offense accompany a relatively efficient defense?

The Eagles will play their first game under new defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, Juan Castillo having been fired despite a defense that was outplaying the offense.

Dallas Cowboys:

Did the Cowboys play their best game last Sunday against the Carolina Panthers? Probably not, but they came away with what they desperately needed, a victory. Without starting running back DeMarco Murray, Dallas’ rushing numbers were nothing special, but the commitment to the ground game seemed to take pressure off of the aerial attack.

Tony Romo was able to avoid any costly turnovers, but the passing game still did not reach the efficiency level that many people have expected. Dez Bryant and Kevin Ogletree both dropped catchable passes at critical moments. Miles Austin, on the other hand, had a much bigger impact on the game. Austin had three big plays, one of which ended with him fumbling the ball away, and another with him in the end zone.

But the Cowboys defense deserves a great deal of credit for the win. While they did give up almost 300 total yards to Cam Newton, they managed to hold the Panthers’ three talented running backs to a combined 48 yards. The defense also made key stops when they needed them most, which included Morris Claiborne’s first career interception, the first for the Dallas secondary this season.

The Cowboys will likely need a better all-around effort to beat the New York Giants next week. But in a close game at Carolina, Dallas executed on a more consistent basis than its opponent, and it’s been quite a few weeks since that could be said.

Washington Redskins:

Last Sunday, the Redskins did what they have done all season: proved that they have a lot of fight in them. On paper, they may not be as talented as the New York Giants, but they hung in with the Super Bowl champions until the final seconds.

RGIII had a couple of rare mistakes as the Giants’ pass-rush bothered him all game. He threw one critical interception and Jason Pierre-Paul stripped the ball from him for a lost fumble. But the rookie quarterback inspired hope when he brushed off the turnovers and played his best football at the end of the game, leading the Redskins down the field with less than two minutes to play. Griffin might have had his play of the season thus far when he kept a play alive by scrambling in the pocket for almost 12 seconds, avoiding tacklers to find a man down the field for a first down.

Washington’s other rookie, Alfred Morris, once again ran for over 100 yards. The Redskins may not win the division, but they are certainly a threat to jeopardize other teams’ chances of taking the title every time they face them.

Injuries:

Dallas Cowboys: The Cowboys received a few troubling injuries during their game against the Panthers. Starting center Phil Costa went down with a severe sprained ankle. The injury looked much worse live, but it will still keep him out for at least next week’s game against the Giants and perhaps longer. Sean Lee has ligament damage to his toe and is likely out for the season. DeMarco Murray is still recovering from a sprained foot. The timetable for his return is unknown, but he will probably sit out against the Giants.

New York Giants: The Giants didn’t sustain any major injuries in their victory over the Washington Redskins. Prior to the game, they placed running back Da’Rel Scott on the short-term injury reserve, which will keep him out at least six weeks. Safety Kenny Phillips and defensive tackle Rocky Bernard are both considered to be questionable against the Cowboys this week.

Philadelphia Eagles: The Eagles had a bye last week and were fortunate enough to enter the break with all 22 starters healthy. Perhaps we will see a rejuvenated Philadelphia team coming out of their week off.  

Washington Redskins: The team that has suffered the most from injuries in the NFC East took yet another brutal hit. Productive tight end Fred Davis tore his Achilles, ending his season. The Redskins brought back Chris Cooley to help replace him. Veteran linebacker London Fletcher also strained his hamstring and is questionable for next Sunday’s game against the Steelers. Wide Receiver Pierre Garcon still seems to be on the mend and is not expected to return next week. 

Miscellaneous:

• In terms of individual rushing yards, the Washington Redskins have the top two runners in the NFC East and they are both rookies. Alfred Morris is second in the league in rushing yards while Robert Griffin ranks first among quarterbacks in the NFL and is still ahead of every other NFC East running back outside of Morris. 

• In terms of yards per game, it is hard to argue against the NFC East being the best offensive division in football. All four teams are in the top 10 in total offense, with New York at No. 2, Washington at No. 5, Philadelphia at No. 7 and Dallas at No. 10.

• This week the New York Giants, who have the No. 3 ranked passing offense in football, will face off with the Dallas Cowboys, who have the No. 3 ranked passing defense in football.

Week 8 Matchups:

Atlanta Falcons @ Philadelphia Eagles

Sunday, Oct. 28, Noon CT (FOX)

Washington Redskins @ Pittsburgh Steelers

Sunday, Oct. 28, 12:00 Noon CT (FOX)

New York Giants @ Dallas Cowboys

Sunday, Oct. 28, 3:25 CT (FOX)

Editors Note: Check out the NFL 2012-2013 Schedule HERE

CENTER OF ATTENTION: Phil Costa back; will compete for starting spot

Dallas Cowboys Phil Costa

IRVING, Texas – Center Phil Costa was back on the practice field at Valley Ranch on Monday with a helmet and shells like the rest of the team. The status of his back, which he re-injured in the first quarter of the season opener, is still unclear, but his presence on the practice field might suggest a return to live game action is soon approaching.

Head coach Jason Garrett said Monday morning he wants to see Costa back at practice before making any decision about his playing time.

“We’re going to see him a little today and hopefully as the week goes on,” Garrett said. “We’ll see how he responds.”

Garrett stressed the importance of taking caution rather than rushing a player back onto the game field. Back injuries can easily be re-aggravated, as evidenced by the short-lived return to action in the final preseason game only to be immediately re-injured in the opener against the Giants.

“Really, what we have to do is just watch him and see what his health is like,” Garrett said. “See what he’s able to do. He did a good job trying to comeback from that injury in training camp going into that Giants game. We got to make sure he’s healthy, if he is we’ll make our next best evaluation.”

While Costa has been on the mend, Ryan Cook has stepped in to fill the role of starting center, which could cause a difficult decision about playing time for Garrett.

“(Costa’s) been a good football player for us,” Garrett said. “He was our starter. Ryan (Cook) has done a good job coming in on short notice in that position. The offensive line, just like every position on our team, we’re going to create competition.”

Garrett did point out that no starting spots are guaranteed on this team and that if Costa wants his job back, he will have to earn it.

“We don’t have a rule that says ‘this guy was a starter and then he got hurt. You can’t lose your starting spot due to injury.’ We don’t have any of those rules,” Garrett said. “We want to make the best decision. We want to see him in practice, see where he is, then see what the best decision is going forward.”

Cook was on the sideline at practice on Monday, dealing with what has been reported as a minor hamstring issue.

COWBOYS GAMEBALL: Brandon Carr doubles as safety, depth at cornerback proves valuable

Tampa Bay Buccaneers WR Vincent Jackson (83) is unable to grab a touchdown pass as Dallas Cowboys CB Brandon Carr (39) defends - The Boys Are Back blog

ARLINGTON, TexasComing into Sunday’s game against Tampa Bay, the Cowboys were burdened with filling the void of Gerald Sensabaugh, who was nursing a calf injury.

Danny McCray was ready to play significant snaps, but it was Brandon Carr who stepped up and showed his versatility. The fifth-year cornerback was a surprise starter at safety, playing there on nickel downs and allowing Mike Jenkins to start at cornerback.

The move allowed the Cowboys to take advantage of their depth at the cornerback position. Since Jenkins came back from his shoulder rehab, the Cowboys have been experimenting with ways of getting him onto the field to contribute.

Through two weeks of the season (and the entire preseason), Carr stood out as the Cowboys’ best lockdown corner. Many expected him to spend the entire game matched up with lengthy Buccaneers receiver Vincent Jackson. Instead, the Cowboys put faith in Carr’s discipline and versatility by moving him over to safety to serve as a security blanket in certain situations.

It is a credit to Carr that the Cowboy’s felt so strongly about his defensive awareness that they would instruct him to play anything other than the position at which he was the NFL’s most prized free agent this offseason.

“Whatever it takes to win, I’m down for it,” Carr said. “We put Jenkins out there at corner and it wasn’t a letdown at all. He held his own.”

While the move was a surprise to many watching the game, Carr explained that he had been preparing to play safety all week.

“I got a head start, I think it was Monday they let me know,” Carr said. “I just had to get my mind right, watch extra film, not at corner, but at safety, just to get a different feel for how things were going to be thrown at me. I think I did a decent job.”

When asked after the game how much experience he had at safety, Carr provided a lighthearted, if not revealing, response.

“60 minutes,” Carr joked. “I took a couple snaps in high schools back in my early, early days playing, but other than that, it’s been a long, long time.”

After starting safety Barry Church went down, the Cowboys required contributions from every defensive back on the roster.

Despite depth concerns at safety, the result was a very impressive defensive effort and a near shutdown of the Buccaneers passing game. Tampa Bay quarterback Josh Freeman was limited to only ­110 yards passing after racking up 243 yards against the Giants in his last game.

Morris Claiborne explained that the Cowboys have such talent at cornerback that when Carr moved over to safety, the coverage did not miss a beat.

“We have a lot of depth on this team and we have a lot of guys that can fill in when other guys are down,” Claiborne said. “We won’t lose too much.”

The Cowboys’ cornerbacks were also able to keep their impressive streak of not allowing a wide receiver to score on them all season. In fact, Tampa’s only touchdown of the game – a one-yard pass to tight end Luke Stocker – came after a Tony Romo interception gave the Buccaneer’s terrific field position. Jackson, the $55 million free agent addition, was held to just one reception for 29 yards.

When asked if he thought the cornerback core was attempting to build upon something special, Claiborne did not hesitate.

“Oh yeah, I think we are,” Claiborne said. “Coach Henderson does a good job with us, preparing us and getting us ready to go out and play ball. And we take a lot of pride in ourselves, to get ourselves ready to go out and play.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NFC EAST RIVAL WATCH: Scouting the division going into week three

Dallas Cowboys coming home to Cowboys Stadium this weekend - The Boys Are Back blog

After the first two weeks of the regular season, the NFC East is just about as hard to judge as most people thought it would be coming into this year. All four teams in the division, including the 2-0 Philadelphia Eagles, have had one game that left their fans cringing and one game that gave them playoff hopes.

Below is a quick recap of the division going into Week Three.

Philadelphia Eagles              2-0

Dallas Cowboys                    1-1

Washington Redskins           1-1

New York Giants                   1-1

Eagles:

Of course, as the only undefeated team in the conference, the 2-0 Eagles are leading the division ahead of the other three teams sitting at 1-1.

Philadelphia had a very impressive 24-23 victory over the Baltimore Ravens last Sunday, which included a 1-yard touchdown run by Michael Vick to take the lead with 1:55 left in the game.

But while any win is a good win, the Eagles certainly challenged that theory in their sloppy week one victory over the Cleveland Browns in Week One. Philly managed to squeak out a one-point win despite Vick’s four interceptions and two fumbles. The Eagles needed a last-minute touchdown to beat a Browns team that featured an abysmal performance by rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden.

Dallas Cowboys LB Sean Lee - The Boys Are Back blog

Cowboys:

The Cowboys might have been the most “bipolar” team in the division through two weeks. They came out prepared and ready to play the defending champion Giants on the road. Tony Romo picked apart a depleted New York secondary, Demarco Murray ran for 131 yards and Kevin Ogletree had a breakout performance.

But as prepared as the Cowboys looked in Week One, they came out flat against the Seahawks. Seattle held a huge advantage in special teams and the Cowboys offense was never able to sustain any consistent execution. Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch had little trouble with a Dallas defense that spent too much time on the field.

The Cowboys are the only team with a divisional win under its belt, but they are also the only team with negative net points as they enter Week Three at -13 net points.

Giants:

In typical Giants form, it took a 14-point comeback for this team to avoid being in borderline panic mode. After the disappointing home loss to the Cowboys, the Giants followed up by falling behind to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

To stage a comeback and take the lead with 55 seconds left in the game required a very full box score from Eli Manning. The quarterback managed to throw for a career-high 510 yards and three touchdowns to go along with his three interceptions.

Redskins:

The Redskins are 1-1, but it’s unlikely that Washington fans are talking about the team’s record nearly as much as Robert Griffin III’s ability to somehow exceed expectations. Through two games, RG3 has three passing touchdowns and two rushing touchdowns, earning a signature victory over the Saints in New Orleans.

The Redskins also had a disappointing loss to the St. Louis Rams in a close game, but the silver lining was that Griffin once again looked like a veteran QB who knew exactly what he was doing. The Redskins have proven that they are certainly beatable, but that Griffin’s playmaking ability will keep them in nearly any game.

Injuries:

Dallas Cowboys: The Cowboys have been hampered by injuries since the preseason, but they have been fortunate enough to not lose any major players to season ending injuries. Phil Costa’s back injury will likely keep him sidelined for at least another week or two. Injuries to starting safeties Barry Church (quad) and Gerald Sensabaugh (calf) will be something to monitor going into Week Three. And the unusual struggles of Jason Witten have some people questioning the health of his recovering spleen.

New York Giants: The Giants’ main injury concern is a neck injury sustained by running back Ahmad Bradshaw in their victory over the Buccaneers. Bradshaw sat out of practice Tuesday and it is unknown how much time he will miss, but because the Giants are playing the Thursday night game, it is likely he will sit out against the Panthers. This should be trouble for the Giants who already had a weak running game before Bradshaw’s injury.

Philadelphia Eagles: The Eagles sustained a number of injuries in their victory over the Ravens. Impact receiver Jeremy Maclin hurt his knee and was carted off of the field to the locker room. Their offensive line also took a hit as starting center Jason Kelce will miss most of the season after tearing his ACL, while staring left tackle King Dunlap may sit out Week Three with a strained hamstring.

Washington Redskins: The Redskins suffered a huge blow in their loss to the Rams by losing arguably their two best defensive players to season-ending injuries. Outside linebacker Brian Orakpo tore a left pectoral muscle and defensive end Adam Carriker suffered a torn quadriceps near his knee. Both of these injuries could have huge implications on the Redskins’ competitiveness moving forward.

Miscellaneous:

– The Cowboys and Redskins are the only two teams in the NFL that opened up the season with their first two games on the road. Expect an improvement in energy and focus in their home debuts in Week Three.

– Just through Week Two, the starting QBs of the NFC East have combined for 12 interceptions with the rookie, Griffin, being the most efficient with only one.

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

Week 3 Schedule:

New York Giants @ Carolina Panthers

Thursday, September 20th, 7:20 CT (NFL Network)

Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ Dallas Cowboys

Sunday, September 23rd, 12:00 CT (FOX)

 

Cincinnati Bengals @ Washington Redskins

Sunday, September 23rd, 12:00 CT (CBS)

Philadelphia Eagles @ Arizona Cardinals

Sunday, September 23rd, 3:05 CT (FOX)

NFL Game Rewind

Keep up with the NFC East rivals on NFL Game Rewind. Watch, re-watch, and pause EVERY NFL game in high definition on your computer, tablet, or phone! View 30 minute condensed games or full broadcast versions! ALL COMMERCIAL FREE!

NFL Game Rewind - The Boys Are Back blog

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MISSED OPPORTUNITES: Despite struggles, Jason Witten refuses to look for excuses

Dallas Cowboys QB Tony Romo behind the Dallas Cowboys OL - The Boys Are Back blog

SEATTLEOver the course of Jason Witten’s career there are certain things Dallas Cowboy fans have come to expect from him.

They expect him to play. Even when he lacerated his spleen and a Week 1 comeback seemed medically impossible, he trotted out on the field, sure enough proving his toughness in the season opener by suiting up and facing the Giants.

Cowboy fans also expect Witten to catch the ball. He has proven himself one of the most reliable targets in Cowboys history. However, in the 27-7 loss to Seattle Sunday, Witten did something Cowboy fans are certainly not familiar with seeing from him: he dropped the ball numerous times. In a very un-Witten-like performance, the tight end was targeted 10 times, but only caught four of the passes.

After the game Witten explained that the Cowboys performance on Sunday did not match what the team expects from themselves and explained that he was especially disappointed with his own performance.

“We didn’t play Cowboys football,” Witten said. “We just didn’t execute well enough, myself included. I had opportunities to make catches, make runs, make good plays and I just didn’t do it.”

The look on Witten’s face after dropping a number of seemingly catchable passes seemed to reflect the general surprise of everyone watching. Witten looked shocked, as if he was having trouble believing his own struggles in the game.

Sunday’s performance will lead many to questions of rust for Witten following his recovery from the spleen injury. Against the Giants, little was expected of him in terms of actual contributions to the game, and his presence alone seemed to inspire the entire team.

But in the last 10 days Witten had said he felt the injury was totally behind him. Witten completely dismissed the thought that the injury was the cause of his struggle to make an impact in the game. When asked if his spleen had limited his range of motion he quickly shot down the suggestion.

“No, that would be an excuse,” Witten said. “I just didn’t catch the ball. The opportunities were there.”

Witten also made sure to avoid putting any blame on Tony Romo, who had a very average game himself posting a quarterback rating of 74.1.

“They were good throws,” Witten said. “I just didn’t make the plays.”

SPECIAL TEAMS BOOST: Newly signed CB LeQuan Lewis happy for regular season opportunity

LeQuan Lewis played both cornerback and wideout at Arizona State - The Boys Are Back blog

IRVING, TexasLeQuan Lewis was not brought into the organization with defensive reps in mind. Lewis is expected to prove his worth as a special teams contributor, head coach Jason Garrett confirmed Wednesday morning.

“He was actually released by the Jets, but he was a guy that we targeted as a special teams guy,” Garrett said. “So we brought him in here, see how he fits on our 53-man roster and then our 46-man roster.”

Lewis, who has never play in a regular season NFL game, after being cut by the Titans in 2011 and by the Raiders and Jets this summer, talked about how excited he is to be given an opportunity with the Cowboys. He said he plans to take full advantage of every moment of practice and any snaps he might get against Seattle.

“It’s a great opportunity,” Lewis said. “I really appreciate what this organization is doing with me. Everyone’s being welcoming and it feels great.”

The Cowboys are coming into Sunday’s game with an increased emphasis on special teams due to Seattle’s success in that area under coach, Pete Carroll. Specifically the Cowboys have to worry about the danger of kick returner Leon Washington, who holds three separate franchise records for kick returns.

Garrett talked about the danger that Leon Washington can pose.

“He’s a great returner,” Garrett said. “Has been a great returner since day one in this league. He’s a difference-making player for them.”

If Lewis’ name is indeed called on come Sunday, he will be expected to help contain Washington’s return game. Lewis talked about the potential of coming in and making an immediate impact in a game.

“I definitely want to set a footprint in and just go out there and make plays right away,” Lewis said. “I’m going out there to prove them right for bringing me here.”

As someone who has always played the position of cornerback, Lewis discussed the mindset of making special teams his focus.

“Go out there and make plays,” Lewis said. “They brought me over to play special teams right away, and so I have to learn that system and make plays. Corner will come when it comes … special teams will be the emphasis.”

With one mistake by the coverage team, Washington can change a game, so it may pay off for the Cowboys to bring in a special teams player with the right attitude.

“I have no fears whatsoever,” Lewis said. “I have nothing to lose. I’m going to go down there and play my heart out.”

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ROSTER UPDATE: Dallas Cowboys sign CB LeQuan Lewis for special teams missions

CBA RULE CHANGE SPOTLIGHT: Explaining (and exploiting) the new 46-man roster rule

CENTER OF ATTENTION: Late trade for depth already pays dividends, Ryan Cook steps up

Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo (9) notes to the officials the spot of the ball after a short rush - The Boys Are Back blog

IRVING, TexasFor all the talk about the Dallas Cowboys’ starting offensive line not having time to work together in practice enough heading into Wednesday’s opener at New York, at least they had a week.

But after starting center Phil Costa went down with back tightness, the new front five really did have zero experience together, with new addition Ryan Cook taking over the duties, really only five days after being acquired in a trade from Miami.

However, Cook finished the game and held his own against the Giants’ dominant pass rush. Tony Romo was sacked only once after Costa went down, and DeMarco Murray was given the room to run for 131 yards.

Some coaching staffs would have been hesitant to activate a player who was barely familiar with the offense in the middle of a crucial Week 1 game. In the locker room after the 24-17 win, the 29-year-old Cook explained that in his few practices, the Cowboys staff watched closely to determine if he would be ready to have his name called if needed.

“I think they gauged it in practice the first couple days of me being in the facility,” Cook said. “I guess they were comfortable with me and my progress thus far.”

Cook’s ability to jump in at center is all the more impressive when he revealed how few snaps he had taken with Tony Romo prior to the game.

“The first day I was here I took two or three in the walkthrough,” Cook said. “But that’s about it.”

As Costa’s cramping on Wednesday was simply an aggravation of the injury that knocked him out of the first three preseason games, the Cowboys need reliable depth at center.

While the bottom line shows Cook he was able to get the job done, he was surprisingly not very pleased with his own performance. When asked to rate his time on the field, he was not exactly quick to pat himself on the back, calling it instead “average at best,” and indeed the game was not flawless, but Cook and the Cowboys overcame the situation

“The adversity issue comes up when your starting center goes down after play three and you bring a guy in who just got here,” head coach Jason Garrett said. “I thought our team handled that well.  First of all, that’s the reason he is here. He is a veteran player, he is a smart guy, he has handled the ball a lot in his career, so we thought that was an important thing for us and he went in and played like a veteran. I think the guys around him played well and communicated well. It wasn’t perfect, but I thought they handled it as well as they could.”

Cook, too, chose to defer some of the credit to his fellow offensive linemen, who along with Tony Romo took over a significant part of making the pre-snap calls.

“Communication is a huge factor,” Cook said. “The other guys did a great job of helping me out with certain situations and we made sure that everyone was on the same page.”

A seemingly small move like the trade of a seventh-round pick for Cook shows ample foresight in the Cowboys’ front office.

Though an under-the-radar trade, the move already has provided depth, was exactly what the Cowboys needed to help them start off the season 1-0.

RELATED: Phil Costa hurt, Arkin inactive, newcomer Ryan Cook holds his own

The Dallas Cowboys chose to make offensive center/guard David Arkin, who started three preseason games, inactive. That left newcomer Ryan Cook to play most of the game after starting center Phil Costa re-injured his back.

Costa strained his lower back Aug. 10. He returned to practice Aug. 27 and played 12 snaps of the preseason finale against the Dolphins. But he lasted only three plays Wednesday.

Cook, acquired in a trade from the Dolphins on Saturday, played the rest of the game at center. He had been beaten out for the backup center job by undrafted rookie Josh Samuda in Miami and was destined for the waiver wire before the Cowboys relinquished a seventh-rounder for him.

"I thought our team handled that well," Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. "First of all, that’s the reason he is here. He is a veteran player. He is a smart guy. He has handled the ball a lot in his career, so we thought that was an important thing for us, and he went in and played like a veteran. I think the guys around him played well and communicated well. It wasn’t perfect, but I thought they handled it as well as they could."

RELATED: Phil Costa hurts his back again; Jerry Jones says it’s cramps

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Dallas Cowboys starting center Phil Costa lasted only three plays Wednesday night against the Giants, leaving the game after the first offensive series after he aggravated a back injury.

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said Costa is “fine” and he only had back cramps.

“I would assume it’s the same thing he had and we’re going to have to continue to work through it so he doesn’t continue to get that back cramping up,” Jones said.

Costa injured his back during training camp and missed the Cowboys’ first three preseason games before starting and getting in for 12 plays in the preseason finale against Miami.

Costa was replaced at center by Ryan Cook, who joined the Cowboys on Friday via a trade from Miami for a seventh-round draft pick in 2013. Cook had only three practices with the Cowboys last week.

COMPLEX MULTI-LOOK VANILLA SCHEME: NY Giants QB Eli Manning describes the Dallas Cowboys defense

COMPLEX MULTI-LOOK VANILLA SCHEME - NY Giants QB Eli Manning describes the Dallas Cowboys defense - The Boys Are Back blog

IRVING, TexasThrough four preseason games there are a number of words Dallas Cowboys fans might use to describe the team’s revamped defense: improved, playmaking, physical, aggressive, etc.

But during a conference call with reporters over the weekend, Eli Manning had a different word to describe what he saw when he watched the Cowboys, and in particular the secondary, which has three new starters.

Considering the results, calling the defense “vanilla” has to be seen as a compliment.

When asked about the new-look secondary that he would be facing this Wednesday, Manning’s emphasis on the simplicity of the scheme in the exhibitions was a testament to the improvement of the talent, as the starting unit didn’t give up a touchdown in its five quarters of action.

“I saw (Brandon) Carr make a couple of interceptions,” Manning said. “They’ll probably feel good about playing man-to-man and those type of things. They probably have a little more confidence in their DBs to play a little more man and be more aggressive, I would think. But I thought they were pretty vanilla in the preseason.”

The Cowboys’ first-team defense collected three interceptions in their exhibition work, and allowed only six points total, on two field goals against the Rams, when they were forced to defend a short field.

COMPLEX MULTI-LOOK VANILLA SCHEME - NY Giants Eli Manning describes the Dallas Cowboys defense - The Boys Are Back blog

Manning knows Rob Ryan won’t play so basic in his second season as Cowboys defensive coordinator.

“The scheme is complex,” Manning said. “They use a number of different personnel, a number of different fronts and looks to try to confuse the quarterback or make it tough on the offense to get in rhythm, so we’ve got to prepare for a whole lot of things to make sure we’re not confused and everybody’s aware of who they’re blocking.

“After that, we’ve just got to outperform.”

Manning and the Giants have done just that in recent matchups against the Cowboys, winning five of the last six meetings between the teams, including both last year.

The last time Manning faced the Cowboys was in the ‘make-or-break’ Week 17 matchup on New Year’s Day. In that game, he torched the NFC East rivals for 346 yards and three touchdowns.

TALKIN’ TIGHT ENDS: Jason Witten, Colin Cochart, and Martellus All About It Bennett

IRVING — Even though he was limited, Jason Witten practiced in pads Saturday for the first time since suffering a lacerated spleen in the team’s Aug. 13 preseason opener.

“I’m doing everything I can to put myself in position to play, see if I can get cleared in time,’’ Witten, the seven-time Pro Bowler, said. “I’m doing more and more each day. It feels really good. I feel really good.’’

But Witten is still waiting to learn if the doctors and the team’s medical staff will allow him take the field Wednesday against the New York Giants.

He is holding out hope he will be permitted to play but added “obviously, it’s beyond me.’’

In the event he is cleared, he is expected to wear additional Kevlar padding to protect his mid-section. The Cowboys, though, have prepared themselves in case Witten can’t play. On Saturday, they acquired former Cincinnati tight end Colin Cochart off waivers. Cochart, signed as an undrafted free agent in 2011, played in 10 games last season and made five catches for 44 yards and a touchdown.

But Giants tight end Martellus Bennett (Marty B), who played with Witten the previous four seasons, said Cochart may not be needed. Knowing Witten’s history of playing with injuries, Bennett told New York reporters, “I wouldn’t be surprised if he picked up his spleen, held it in his hand and tried to run routes.”

RELATED: SCOUTING REPORT – TE Cochart can give Cowboys blocking boost

On Saturday morning the Cowboys put in a claim for and were awarded tight end Colin Cochart from the Cincinnati Bengals. Here is a scouting report from what I was able to observe.

Games viewed: Preseason 2012, New York Jets, Atlanta, Green Bay

  • Cochart has nice size and a thicker lower body. Plays as a true in line “Y” but can also give you something as a “U” or “M” guy as well.  
  • Not the most fluid moving athlete up the field on routes. Is more like Phillips than Witten or Hanna. Is not the type that is going to get open naturally.  But you do see him do some athletic things when it comes to adjusting on the move. 
  • Showed really nice awareness on the goal line against the Jets to push his man to the tackle, then pick up the linebacker. Only saw one time and that was against the Falcons where he missed on his adjustment on the second level in getting the linebacker. 
  • Did a nice job of walling off his man on the down block. Stout enough to hold that position and allow the ball to get to him. Makes the effort to finish blocks, can get into his man and has some snap to his game. Good initial pop but his hands will get outside the frame work of defender and he becomes a push-shove blocker. 
  • Can get some push one on one against linebackers but didn’t see many opportunities against linemen. Used some in pass protection as well, got a little over extended against the Falcons but didn’t give up a sack or pressure. 
  • As mentioned, most routes were limited for him and only saw one chance to catch the ball and that was a pass to the flat that he can to turn back, adjust and grab against Green Bay. 
  • What he brings is a big body at the point of attack that is used to playing along the line. Not going to beat you with his hands but how he is able to block. 

Bryan Broaddus | Football Analyst – Scout

RELATED: Jason Garrett on former Dallas Cowboy TE Marty B

Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said former backup tight end Martellus Bennett is going to do a nice job for the Giants and will play in the NFL for a long time.

He said Bennett did what he was asked to do with the Cowboys – run-block and pass-protect – while playing behind a seven-time Pro Bowl tight end in Jason Witten.

“We drafted Martellus, and Martellus  had a role as our backup tight end, or our second tight end,” Garrett said. “We used him a lot. The personnel group that he played in most, what we called ‘12’ – two receivers, two tight ends and one back – we probably used that more than any other personnel group in our offense, and certainly we used that personnel group probably as much as anybody in our league. Martellus’ role for us was to be a run-blocker. He did that very well. And a pass protector. He did that very well. And when he had opportunities to catch the ball, for the most part he did a pretty good job.”

Bennett caught 85 passes for 846 yards and four touchdowns in four seasons with the Cowboys, who drafted him in the second round in 2008 out of Texas A&M. He never scored after his rookie year, however, and in his best receiving season, caught 33 passes with a 7.9 average. He played in 60 games.

“The business of the NFL is, you can’t keep everybody when their contracts run out,” Garrett said. “So we feel good about what Martellus did here. He’s going to go up to New York and do a nice job for them. He’s going to play a long time in this league.”

RELATED: Tom Coughlin – NY Giants preparing as if Witten will play in opener

IRVING, TexasThe NFL scheduled the defending champion New York Giants to kickoff the season in a marquee game against the Dallas Cowboys because they considered it to be a star-studded matchup.

With that in mind, Wednesday’s game just wouldn’t be the same without Witten on the field.

Despite the seriousness of his spleen injury, Witten’s status for the game remains up in the air, and he did participate, at least on a limited basis, in Saturday’s practice. Witten has been the image of durability and toughness during his eight-year career only missing one game.

For that reason, the New York Giants are preparing themselves for the game as if Witten will play. In a conference call with reporters on Saturday, Giants head coach Tom Coughlin talked about their stance on Witten.

“We usually take the position that the player is going to play,” Coughlin said. “If it’s otherwise, it’s otherwise, but we’re not going to be surprised the other way. We’re not going to say that he’s not going to play and then he plays.”

Coughlin went on to explain the importance of Witten to the Cowboys. He explained the danger that he poses as a weapon if a team does not come in prepared to face him.

“All you’ve got to do is look at the tape,” Coughlin said. “He leads the team in receptions far and away. The quarterback is very comfortable in all circumstances getting him the ball. He does an outstanding job of maneuvering and getting open and finding a way to advance the ball once he catches it.”

Coughlin also recognized the difference Witten can make and what the Cowboys’ offense would truly be getting back with the return of their starting tight end.

“He’s very versatile and used in a lot of different ways,” Coughlin said.

Coughlin is justifying his preparation to face Witten based on the danger of being caught off guard if he does play, but like the rest of us he has no idea one way or the other if Witten will take the field Wednesday night.

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