Category Archives: Tim MacMahon

LONE FLASH OF BRILLIANCE: Tony Romo didn’t have to be the Dallas Cowboys star, for once

LONE FLASH OF BRILLIANCE - Tony Romo didn’t have to be the star, for once - 2013-2014 Dallas Cowboys schedule

ARLINGTON, Texas — A wry grin broke out on Tony Romo’s face when asked to describe what happened on his spectacular touchdown pass Sunday night.

“I would normally ask you which one,” Romo joked after the Dallas Cowboys’ 31-16 win over the NFC East rival Washington Redskins, “but I think I know.”

Yep, there was only one, just a lone flash of brilliance from Romo. And the Cowboys won anyway.

After a week of discussion about how much blame he deserved for a loss in which he threw for five touchdowns and broke the franchise record for passing yards, Romo didn’t need to be a superhero to give the Dallas Cowboys a chance to beat the Redskins.

Dallas Cowboys receiver Dwayne Harris returned a punt 86 yards for a touchdown and also had a 90-yard kickoff return vs Washington Redskins - 2013-2014 Dallas Cowboys

Not with a defense that had been dreadful the previous two weeks bending but not breaking, giving up 433 total yards but only allowing Washington into the end zone once. Not on a night that Dwayne Harris produced more yardage on returns than the Cowboys did on offense, scoring on an 86-yard punt return and setting up a touchdown with a 90-yard kickoff return.

Dwayne Harris returned a punt 86 yards for a touchdown and also had a 90-yard kickoff return.

“Dwayne did a great job and almost allowed us to kind of just sit over there as an offensive unit and rack up all his yards as if we did it without doing much work,” Romo said.

Romo’s work for the night: 18-of-30 for 170 yards and a touchdown with an interception. For his fantasy football owners, it was Romo’s worst performance of the season, not that any of the Dallas Cowboys were complaining.

Maybe the football gods owed Romo one after he ended up being the goat despite one of the greatest statistical performances in NFL history during the previous week’s shootout loss to the Denver Broncos. The Dallas defense definitely owed Romo one.

“Last week, the defense lost the game by not being able to get a stop,” said linebacker Sean Lee, who led the Cowboys with 10 tackles, including a touchdown-saving stop of Robert Griffin III on the Redskins’ first series. “When your offense plays as well as it does, putting up 48 points, and Tony plays as well as he did, you have to win those games if you want to be a good team, if you want to win Super Bowls. The defense let everybody down. We knew it, and we knew we had to find a way to bounce back this week.”

The reality is this kind of win is rare. The Cowboys usually need their franchise quarterback with the nine-figure contract to play up to his paycheck to be in position to pull out a victory.

Dallas Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray suffered a sprained MCL in his left knee vs Washington Redskins - 2013-2014 Dallas Cowboys schedule

That could be especially true over the next few weeks if injuries that knocked running back DeMarco Murray and defensive end DeMarcus Ware out of the game linger. Murray suffered a sprained MCL in his left knee; Ware strained his quadriceps. Their statuses for next week’s game in Philadelphia are uncertain.

The Dallas running game is a rumor without Murray. That’s evident by the 19 yards on 12 carries the other tailbacks generated against the Redskins.

The pass rush had been a problem even with Ware coming off the edge. The Cowboys managed to get three sacks and pressure Griffin several other times Sunday night, but it’s a stretch to see that happening consistently if Ware isn’t a major factor.

All of which means the Cowboys could be asking Romo to put up big numbers without the benefit of a balanced offense.

With road trips to Philadelphia and Detroit coming up, it’s probably a safe assumption that the Cowboys will need the spectacular version of Romo to return back home over .500.

They’ll need more plays like the only pass he completed in the third quarter, when he somehow made a clean-blitzing cornerback miss before perfectly dropping the ball to Terrance Williams in the back corner of the end zone for a 15-yard score, stretching Dallas’ lead to double digits.

“He shows that ability really on a consistent basis, week in and week out,” coach Jason Garrett said. “But I tell you what, that was a heck of a play.”

Added owner/general manager Jerry Jones: “That throw he made to 83 in the end zone after getting flushed out, that’s his A game.”

On this night, a flash of that was enough for the Cowboys. That’s reason to smile, an exception to the rule.

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SCATBACK SIDELINED: Cowboys lose ‘juice’ with Lance Dunbar injury

SCATBACK SIDELINED - Cowboys lose 'juice' with Lance Dunbar injury - The Boys Are Back blog 2013

IRVING, Texas – The Dallas Cowboys’ offense loses some “juice” with scatback Lance Dunbar sidelined by a sprained foot.

That’s the term coach Jason Garrett and quarterback Tony Romo use to describe Dunbar’s dynamic quickness and explosiveness. It’s what makes Dunbar, a second-year player who was undrafted out of North Texas, unique among the four running backs likely to make the Cowboys’ roster.

Never mind the unimpressive numbers from Dunbar’s rookie season, when he gained 75 yards on 21 carries and caught six passes for 33 yards. He had carved out a significant role as a change-of-pace and third-down back behind DeMarco Murray.

Lance Dunbar RB Dallas Cowboys - The Boys Are Back blog 2013

The Cowboys envision Dunbar as their version of Darren Sproles, the New Orleans Saints’ undersized spark plug. They are especially enamored by his receiving skills and ability to make plays in space, a couple of attributes Dunbar displayed on his 43-yard catch-and-run that unfortunately ended with a fumble inside the Arizona 5 in Saturday’s preseason loss.

“Totally forgive him,” Jerry Jones said after the game. “I’m so glad our fans got to see him. He’s quick, fast and makes plays.”

That will be the last fans see of Dunbar making plays for at least three or four weeks. The season opener against the New York Giants is scheduled for three weeks and a day after Dunbar suffered the injury.

Murray missed six games with a sprained foot last season. If Dunbar takes that long to recover, he’s in jeopardy of missing the first three or four games of the season.

A sprained foot is especially a concern for a player whose best trait is his quickness. The Cowboys can only hope that Dunbar recovers quickly and brings the juice when he comes back.

TWEAKING THE TEXAS 2 DEFENSE: Jerry Jones confident in the safeties on the Dallas Cowboys’ roster

2013 ROSTER - Dallas Cowboys counting on Barry Church’s return and recovery from Achilles injury - The Boys Are Back blog 

Jerry Jones discussed his confidence in the safeties on the Dallas Cowboys’ roster during last week’s conference call with season-ticket holders.

“I think we’re in good shape at safety,” Jones said.

Yes, Jones is well aware that the projected starting safeties have a combined four NFL starts. Those are all by Barry Church, who was thought highly enough of at Valley Ranch to receive a four-year, $9 million deal (plus $3.4 million in incentives).

The team also has Matt Johnson, who missed all of his rookie season due to hamstring problems and other injuries.

Matt Johnson - Dallas Cowboys NFL Draft - The Boys Are Back blog

“I don’t know when I’ve ever seen a player impress our staff without having played in a ballgame any more than Matt Johnson,” Jones stated.

2013 NFL DRAFT–DAY TWO - Broaddus scouting report on safety J.J. Wilcox

The Cowboys’ other alternatives at safety: third-round pick J.J. Wilcox; nine-year veteran Will Allen; and three-year vet Danny McCray.

“I think we’ve really given ourselves a lot of potential,” Jones said. “The coaches told me (with) the scheme, ‘Don’t worry as much about range.’ I said, ‘What? Don’t worry as much about range?’

“(Kiffin) said, ‘No, our scheme gives them the angles. It gives them the angles. Get us somebody that is young. Don’t worry as much about experience as you have in the past. Get us some young players with instincts and let us go from there with them.’”

Believe it or not, that actually passes the smell test, given Kiffin’s Tampa Bay track record.

When Kiffin arrived in Tampa in 1996, the Bucs had precious little experience at safety. Their strong safety had six starts in the previous three seasons of his NFL career. Their free safety started three games as a rookie the previous year.

John Lynch, a third-round pick in 1993, ended up establishing himself as one of the elite strong safeties in NFL history, playing in nine Pro Bowls. The Bucs filled free safety with a handful of mid-round picks and low-priced free agents during Lynch’s Tampa Bay tenure, finishing top 10 in both major defensive categories every year but Lynch’s first full season as a starter, when they were 11th in yards allowed.

Kiffin’s history of making the most out of medium-level investments at safety offers no guarantees, of course. It does, however, provide legitimate proof for those inside Valley Ranch who insist that there’s no need to panic about the Cowboys’ safety situation.

TWO PLUS YOU: If the Dallas Cowboys 2013-2014 season started today … who would be on YOUR roster?

dallas cowboys roster cuts - the boys are back blog

The draft is done. Free agency is dragging to the finish line. That means it’s about time for the first ridiculously premature 53-man roster projection of the year, an exercise we’ll repeat on a regular basis once training camp begins.

We’ve included TWO opinions from the staff at ESPN – Dallas. You can take their word as the gospel, or come up with YOUR opinions. There are always surprise roster cuts and additions. Maybe you’ll be the one that predicts them!

To assist with your final decision, your column has ALL position players currently on the roster. Of course this will change, but the fun of this is deciding what you’d do NOW. Just print this out, cross off the players that you think will be cut, or circle the ones that you think will make the final 53.

 

By Tim MacMahon

By Calvin Watkins

Who do YOU keep?

QUARTERBACK

Tony Romo 
Kyle Orton 

At some point, the Cowboys need to invest a draft pick in a developmental quarterback again. Maybe next year. For now, carrying only two QBs saves a roster spot for somewhere else. 

Tony Romo 

Kyle Orton

On the bubble: The Cowboys are going with just two quarterbacks here. If the team had drafted one, it would make sense to have three on the 53-man roster. They will keep two quarterbacks on the 80-man roster until its time to make cuts in August. 

Orton, Kyle

QB

Romo, Tony

QB

Stephens, Nick

QB

RUNNING BACK 

DeMarco Murray 
Joseph Randle 
Lance Dunbar 
Phillip Tanner 

Tanner needs to impress new special teams coordinator Rich Bisaccia in the preseason. He also needs to beat out undrafted free agent Kendial Lawrence, a Rockwall product via Missouri. No fullback? Lawrence Vickers was a disappointment last season and is coming off of back surgery, and the Cowboys can phase out that position with their renewed emphasis on multiple-tight end sets. 

DeMarco Murray

Joseph Randle

Lance Dunbar 

On the bubble: I believe Lawrence Vickers makes the roster and the team doesn’t seem to like Phillip Tanner, who needed to perform better when given the chance to become the lead running back when Murray suffered an injury last season. The Cowboys didn’t address the running game from a blocking standpoint, which this is why I think Vickers stays around.

Vickers, Lawrence

FB

Dunbar, Lance

RB

Murray, DeMarco

RB

Randle, Joseph

RB

Tanner, Phillip

RB

WIDE RECEIVER

Dez Bryant 
Miles Austin 
Terrance Williams 
Dwayne Harris
 

Cole Beasley 

There’s a lot of young talent here along with Austin, who might not be worth his $54 million deal but is at least a very good No. 2 receiver if he can stay healthy. Harris and Beasley are good enough in the slot to give Austin occasional breaks. The issue with Beasley: How can he help you on special teams with Harris handling punt returns? 

Dez Bryant

Miles Austin

Terrance Williams

Dwayne Harris

On the bubble: This is a deep unit with plenty of speed and playmakers. Don’t be surprised if Carlton Mitchell makes the roster, and there’s no guarantee Williams is the No. 3 man on the depth chart. Harris showed the Cowboys some talent toward the end of last year and, next to Bryant, is the best returner on the team. Cole Beasley can make play if given the chance, but he’s got competition from Mitchell, Jared Green, Tim Benford and Anthony Armstrong. 

Armstrong, Anthony

WR

Austin, Miles

WR

Beasley, Cole

WR

Benford, Tim

WR

Bryant, Dez

WR

Coale, Danny

WR

Green, Jared

WR

Harris, Dwayne

WR

Mitchell, Carlton

WR

Williams, Terrance

WR

TIGHT END

Jason Witten 
Gavin Escobar 
James Hanna 

This could be one of the best pass-catching tight end corps in the league. The problem: Both of Witten’s backups are adequate at best as blockers. Keeping (or acquiring) a rugged fourth tight end is a distinct possibility. 

Jason Witten

Gavin Escobar

James Hanna 

On the bubble: This unit remains at three unless Vickers gets cut and then I can’t see the team signing a blocking tight end. 

Cochart, Colin

TE

Escobar, Gavin

TE

Hanna, James

TE

Smith, Andre

TE

Witten, Jason

TE

OFFENSIVE LINE

Tyron Smith 
Travis Frederick 
Nate Livings 
Mackenzy Bernadeau 
Doug Free
 

Jermey Parnell 
Phil Costa 
Darrion Weems 
Kevin Kowalski 
Ronald Leary 

You don’t want to see Free on here, right? Well, that decision is apparently up to him. The Cowboys have presented him the option of taking a pay cut. They hope he accepts it. If he doesn’t, they’ll make him a post-June 1 cut and sign a right tackle in free agency. The top two candidates are Tyson Clabo and Eric Winston, but the Miami Dolphins are likely to sign one of them soon. And Clabo could be out of the Cowboys’ price range. On another note, can Costa be the short-yardage fullback? 

Tyron Smith

Travis Frederick

Nate Livings

Mackenzy Bernadeau

Doug Free

Jermey Parnell

Phil Costa

Kevin Kowalski

Ronald Leary

On the bubble: David Arkin is the dark horse candidate to make it at guard, and if Free isn’t around, then Eric Winston, if he’s still available, is the starting right tackle. Ryan Cook‘s efforts in training camp could determine his status, especially if Costa gets hurt again or struggles. Darrion Weems is someone to look at too, but I think the Cowboys keep 10 linemen. 

Costa, Phil

C

Frederick, Travis

C

Cook, Ryan

C/G

Kowalski, Kevin

C/G

Arkin, David

G

Bernadeau, Mackenzy

G

Dominguez, Ray

G

Leary, Ronald

G

Livings, Nate

G

Free, Doug

T

Parnell, Jermey

T

Simmons, Aderious

T

Smith, Tyron

T

Weems, Darrion

T

DEFENSIVE LINE

DeMarcus Ware 
Anthony Spencer 
Jay Ratliff 
Jason Hatcher 
Sean Lissemore 
Tyrone Crawford 
Brian Price 
Kyle Wilber 
Rob Callaway 

Jerry Jones declared the defensive line to be a position of strength while ignoring it on draft weekend. That’s a curious decision, considering the age of the starters and the lack of proven depth. The Cowboys need 2012 third-round pick Crawford to prove this season that he’s a starting-caliber player, whether it’s at defensive tackle or the strongside end. 

DeMarcus Ware

Anthony Spencer

Jay Ratliff

Jason Hatcher

Sean Lissemore

Tyrone Crawford

Kyle Wilber

Rob Callaway

On the bubble: Ben Bass did a nice job in training camp last season and will be given a chance to earn some checks come September. Brian Price is a player who could make one of the final roster spots because he has some upside. 

Bass, Ben

DT

Callaway, Rob

DT

Crawford, Tyrone

DT

Hatcher, Jason

DT

Hayden, Nick

DT

Igbinosun, Ikponmwosa

DT

Lissemore, Sean

DT

Price, Brian

DT

Taylor, Monte

DT

Brent, Josh

NT

Ratliff, Jay

NT

LINEBACKERS

Sean Lee 
Bruce Carter 
Justin Durant 
Alex Albright 
Ernie Sims 
DeVonte Holloman 

Brandon Magee 

Lee and Carter are studs if they can stay healthy, but that’s a big if given their injury histories. The Cowboys gave Magee, an undrafted free agent out of Arizona State, more guaranteed money ($70,000) than any seventh-round pick got last year. 

Sean Lee

Bruce Carter

Justin Durant

Alex Albright

Brandon Magee

On the bubble: Let’s hold off on the Ernie Sims return. He was serviceable last season, but Caleb McSurdy could emerge as someone you rely on, especially on special teams. DeVonte Holloman can make this team on special teams; if not, I see him on the practice squad. Magee can play both strong and weakside linebacker. 

Albright, Alex

LB

Carter, Bruce

LB

Durant, Justin

LB

Holloman, DeVonte

LB

Lee, Sean

LB

McSurdy, Caleb

LB

Sheffield, Cameron

LB

Sims, Ernie

LB

Spencer, Anthony

LB

Ware, DeMarcus

LB

Wilber, Kyle

LB

CORNERBACKS

Brandon Carr 
Morris Claiborne 
Orlando Scandrick 
B.W. Webb 
Sterling Moore
 

 

Scandrick probably needs to have a good season to prevent the Cowboys from making a cap casualty next year. If they’re right on fourth-rounder Webb, he can play the slot for about a tenth of Scandrick’s salary. The Cowboys need Claiborne to live up to his billing after a so-so rookie season that fell well short of the sky-high, Jerry-aided hype. 

Brandon Carr

Morris Claiborne

Orlando Scandrick

B.W. Webb. 

On the bubble: Sterling Moore and Brandon Underwood could make the roster. The Cowboys endured health problems at this position last season with Claiborne and Scandrick and they could keep five or six corners. 

Carr, Brandon

CB

Claiborne, Morris

CB

Moore, Sterling

CB

Scandrick, Orlando

CB

Underwood, Brandon

CB

Webb, B.W.

CB

SAFETIES

Barry Church 
Matt Johnson 
J.J. Wilcox 
Will Allen 
Danny McCray 

Allen and McCray might be the best special teams players on the roster, but their roster spots are far from guaranteed, especially if the young safeties perform well in training camp and the preseason. Allen got a smaller signing bonus than camp cut Brodney Pool did last year, and McCray returned on a one-year deal as a restricted free agent. 

Barry Church

Matt Johnson

J.J. Wilcox

On the bubble: The Cowboys could go low at this spot, given Carr’s ability to play safety in a pinch and the possibility one or two linebackers make the team because of their special teams ability, which knocks Danny McCray off the roster. I’d like to see if veteran Will Allen could add to the position. 

Allen, Will

S

Church, Barry

S

Johnson, Matt

S

McCray, Danny

S

Pellerin, Micah

S

Wilcox, J.J.

S

SPECIALISTS

Dan Bailey 
Chris Jones 
L.P. Ladouceur 

No reason to make any changes here, as long as Jones is fully healthy coming off of a season-ending knee injury.

Dan Bailey

Chris Jones

L.P. Ladouceur

On the bubble: Nobody really. Ladouceur just signed a new deal and Jones should be ready to go for the veteran minicamps after having knee surgery late last season.

Bailey, Dan

K

Hughlett, Charley

LS

Ladouceur, L.P.

LS

Jones, Chris

P

Remaining Unrestricted Free Agents

NAME

POS.

Coe, Michael

CB

Dockery, Derrick

G

Frampton, Eric

S

Jones, Felix

RB

Lemon, Orie

LB

Moorman, Brian

P

Peprah, Charlie

S

Poppinga, Brady

LB

Schaefering, Brian

DT

EDITORS NOTE: To keep up with the always current Dallas Cowboys roster on The Boys Are Back blog … click on the page below:

Button - Dallas Cowboys Roster - The Boys Are Back blog

TAMPA 2 TWILIGHT ZONE: Monte Kiffin doesn’t make sense for the Dallas Cowboys

Monte Kiffin resigns at USC, wants to return to NFL - The Boys Are Back blog

Monte Kiffin is rumored to become the Cowboys’ next defensive coordinator.

Would that be a wise move?

The 72-year-old Kiffin, credited as the inventor of the famed “Tampa Two” 4-3 scheme, earned a reputation as one of the legendary defensive coordinators in NFL history during his 13-year tenure with the Buccaneers. Tampa Bay ranked among the NFL’s top 10 in scoring defense 11 times and total defense 12 times under Kiffin. The Bucs were top five in both categories six times, including a double No. 1 overall rank during their Super Bowl championship season.

You won’t find many NFL defensive coordinators with more impressive resumes. However, the Tampa Two zone would be a curious scheme fit for a franchise that made two major investments in press-man corners last offseason, giving Brandon Carr a five-year, $50.1 million deal and trading up to draft Morris Claiborne with the sixth overall pick.

And Kiffin didn’t enjoy nearly as much success during his foray into college football to coach on his son Lane’s staffs at Tennessee and USC. In fact, Kiffin’s last season at USC was awful.

The Trojans became the first team in 48 seasons to go from being No. 1 in the preseason polls to unranked at the end of the season. USC finished the season 7-6, losing five of its final six games, a skid that started when Kiffin’s defense allowed 39 points to Arizona and 62 points to Oregon. USC ranked 40th in the nation in scoring defense (24.3 points per game) and 60th in total defense (394.0).

Oregon’s dominance of Kiffin’s defense is especially alarming. The Ducks racked up 730 total yards in their win at Los Angeles Coliseum, with running back Kenjon Barner rushing for 321 yards and five touchdowns.

Chip Kelly stayed at Oregon instead of taking the Eagles’ job, but the Cowboys will still have to face a team that runs a lot of zone read out of the spread twice per season, assuming Robert Griffin III recovers from his knee injury.

How can the Cowboys be confident that Kiffin can help them catch up with the Redskins?

PROS AND CONS: Norv Turner vs. Bill Callahan as Dallas Cowboys offensive play caller

Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett calls plays from the sideline - The Boys Are Back blog

Whether Jason Garrett likes it or not, someone else could be calling plays for the Cowboys next season.

The Tim MacMahon Position – Norv Turner isn’t the solution:

That’s perfectly logical, considering the Dallas Cowboys have been consistently mediocre as a scoring offense during Garrett’s tenure as the play-caller. The Cowboys ranked 15th in scoring offense this season, the fourth time in five years they fell between 14th and 18th.

Really, Jerry Jones is late to realize that Garrett could probably be a better head coach if he delegated play-calling duties. At least Jerry seems to be getting over his silly notion that a “walkaround” head coach can’t win, which always seemed bizarre considering the head coaches who hoisted Lombardi Trophies during his tenure didn’t call plays.

This should all be considered encouraging, as long as Jerry doesn’t try to recruit Norv Turner to Valley Ranch.

This is probably a moot point anyway — with Turner indicating to the San Diego Union-Tribune earlier this week that he didn’t see the Cowboys as a fit for his next stop — but adding the architect of the Dallas dynasty’s offense would simply increase the dysfunction.

With all due respect to Turner’s offensive genius (just don’t look at this season’s Chargers for evidence of it), it’d do Garrett absolutely no good to have an assistant coach on his staff could be perceived as his superior.

It’d be a challenge for Garrett to maintain his authority in the locker room if he’s stripped of his play-calling duties after making a stand on the subject during his Monday end-of-season press conference. Jerry hasn’t helped by continually claiming that a head coach needs to call plays to earn that authority in the locker room, only to suddenly consider reversing field on the issue after the Cowboys’ second consecutive 8-8 season.

However, it’s very much a manageable situation if Garrett gives that responsibility to offensive coordinator Bill Callahan, a proven play-caller already on staff. In fact, that should have happened when Callahan, who called plays for an explosive offense on a Super Bowl team in Oakland, was hired last offseason.

The addition of Turner could essentially strip Garrett of some of his authority in the locker room. It’d be human nature for players to perceive Turner, who almost was hired to be Garrett’s boss in 2007 before Wade Phillips got the gig, to be at least Garrett’s equal and his probable replacement if the season didn’t go as planned. That’d be a problem.

How awkward would it be for Garrett to have a mentor of his reporting to him?

The speculation about Turner’s return to Valley Ranch conjures up wonderful memories of the Cowboys’ dynasty days. But that’s the past. Adding Turner to this staff would simply add to Garrett’s pile of problems in the present.

The Todd Archer Position – Not sure Bill Callahan is answer either:

Tim MacMahon made the case for Bill Callahan to become the Cowboys’ next playcaller, not Norv Turner.

He cited Callahan’s work as the playcaller when Oakland made it to the Super Bowl when he was the Raiders head coach, except there would be a huge difference between running that offense and this offense.

The scheme.

Callahan’s offense was a West-Coast scheme, shorter, timing routes and a different philosophy. The Cowboys’ offense is based on the Don Coryell system and a number tree with a more intermediate and vertical passing game.

Callahan has been with the Cowboys for a season, but clearly he was the coordinator in name only. He was not involved much in the passing game. Despite the title, he was the running game coordinator. He would be in Jason Garrett’s ear with different run plays.

This isn’t to say Callahan can’t call the plays. It’s that this would not be an offense in which he is completely familiar and the Cowboys are not going to become a West Coast offense.

If there’s one thing we’ve seen with a Garrett offense, it’s that they can pile up yards. They just don’t score enough points.

If the Cowboys want to look at ways to improve their point totals, steal from teams like New England, New Orleans and Green Bay.

That’s another story for another time this offseason.

But for this story, I don’t think Callahan is the answer either.

TBAB editors Position – If not Norv Turner or Bill Callahan, then who?

When Jerry Jones brought out the “Change is necessary” card on his show this Wednesday, the national and local media went berserk! Remember, if Jones has had a change of heart regarding a walk-around coach, he has NOT said so. People, including myself, are reading between the lines.

It’s natural to associate Norv Turner … he’s recently available, he’s well versed in all aspects, and he’s the inspiration for Jason Garrett’s version of the Don Coryell system.

It’s logical to associate Bill Callahan … he’s on staff, he’s versed on the running side of this system, and he is capable of implementing Jason Garrett passing philosophy (and terminology).

If neither of them are the solution, then who is?

Jerry Jones implied that the playoffs need to run their course before any final decisions (or meetings) are made. If you take a hint from that part of the statement, then we can assume he’s looking at options regarding one of the playoff contending assistant coaches or offensive coordinators.

Ideally, you’d want a young, innovative thinker, and someone that could maximize the potential of the current roster’s skillset. Maybe more planned rollouts, more misdirection, more play-action. Romo excels in this mode, in controlled situations. Someone that focuses solely on the offensive flow of the game. Someone that will keep the offensive balance in place. For example, if Murray is averaging 5 yards per carry … don’t run him 11 times during the game. If he’s hot … keep going to that well. Same with the wide receivers.

Personally, I believe the Jason Garrett offense is everything it needs to be between the twenties. This offense produces significant yardage with the arm of Tony Romo. The real issue is the scoring side of the equation … success in the red-zone. That concern can be greatly influenced with a better-suited offensive line and running. The evolution of the Coryell-Zampese-Turner- Garrett system brings multiple threats for scoring … tight ends, short-to-intermediate passes to the backs, and is heightened by Dallas talented wide receivers (a luxury Don Coryell didn’t always have).

To summarize. If Jerry Jones, wearing his general manager hat, brings the beef (offensive line) and a Murray compatible (or even change of pace) running back to the party … this could all be moot.

Remember this. No matter what happens on the offensive side of the ball. The defense has to do it’s part. Does no good to give up a touchdown for every touchdown scored! 

RELEASE THE HOUNDS: Time for Rob Ryan’s D to showcase Anthony Spencer, DeMarcus Ware

IRVING, Texas — It’s hard to have much hope for the Dallas Cowboys’ defense right now.

Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett and Rob Ryan on the sidelines vs Cleveland Browns - The Boys Are Back blog

Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan is basically holding open tryouts to try to plug holes at inside linebacker and in the secondary. The recent results have been about as pretty as the pictures of a shirtless Ryan that surfaced after the Cowboys’ training camp beach party.

Rookie running backs Alfred Morris and Bryce Brown combined to rack up 282 yards and three touchdowns on 48 carries against the Cowboys the past two games. Rookie quarterbacks Brandon Weeden, Robert Griffin III and Nick Foles have picked apart the Dallas secondary for 765 yards and seven touchdowns the past three weeks.

The Washington Redskins and Philadelphia Eagles embarrassed Ryan’s boys, lighting up Jerry World for 860 yards and 71 points in a pair of games the Cowboys were extremely fortunate to split.

Any reason to believe the Dallas D isn’t doomed against Andy Dalton, Ben Roethlisberger, Drew Brees and RG3 again down the stretch?

"Hell, we’ve got to fix it," a weary Ryan said on Sunday night. "We’ve got to play better than that, and we will. We’ve got some excellent coaches, we’ve got some excellent players. We’ll find out what we can do best with what we have."

Here’s some free advice, Rob: Play to the strengths of the only two certified studs left standing on that decimated defense.

Dallas' Anthony Spencer (93) and DeMarcus Ware (94) celebrate after Spencer recovered a Cleveland fumble - The Boys Are Back blog

Let Anthony Spencer and DeMarcus Ware loose. If they don’t dominate, this season is dead.

Defensive end Jason Hatcher mentioned the need for the defensive line "to do more" to make up for the off-the-street newcomers the Cowboys have to put on the field. That’s nice and all, but it needs to come from the Cowboys’ two best defensive players.

No doubt that’s Spencer and Ware, in that order, at this point.

"Whoever’s out on the field just has to do their jobs," said Spencer, who is having a career year while playing on a one-year, franchise-tag deal. "We can’t really get to the point where everybody’s trying to do too much and messing up on their responsibilities."

Asked if the outside linebackers needed to dominate, Ware subtly noted that they’ve been watching a lot of coverage tape before concluding, "We put a lot on our backs to get out there and perform."

Dallas Cowboys outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware (94) pressures Cleveland Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden - The Boys Are Back blog

A rough reading between the lines: Hey Rob, let ’em rush the passer. Put your best players in position to do what they do best.

Not exactly rocket science, but all the dudes on that defense who still need directions to Valley Ranch aren’t ready for complicated schemes anyway. Keep it simple and count on Spencer (6.5 sacks this season) and Ware (10.0) to be disruptive forces.

The weak three-man rushes aren’t working. We shouldn’t see Ware or Spencer drop back into coverage on a third down the rest of the season. Especially not Ware, who has a two-game sackless streak going for the first time since Ryan’s arrival in Dallas.

Dallas Cowboys team captain DeMarcus Ware fires up teammates - The Boys Are Back blog

OK, let’s blend in a little ray of sunshine with all the injury related gloom and doom. If you want a little hope, go back to the last time the Cowboys were in a playoff race and actually finished strong.

Spencer and Ware were the dominant forces during the Cowboys’ defense-fueled four-game winning streak the end of the 2009 season, including the franchise’s only playoff victory in the past decade and a half.

Ware racked up 4 sacks, 11 quarterback pressures and 2 forced fumbles during that late-season win streak. Spencer had 5 sacks, 10 pressures, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery during that run.

That span started with arguably the best performance of Ware’s career, when he had two strip sacks to key a Superdome shocker over the previously undefeated New Orleans Saints only six days after leaving Cowboys Stadium on a stretcher with a neck injury. That overshadowed an outstanding performance by Spencer, who had 7 tackles, 3 pressures, 1.5 sacks and a fumble recovery in that win.

The Cowboys were a desperate team that night in New Orleans, having lost their previous two games, causing the discussion about Dallas’ December demons to reach deafening levels.

DeMarcus Ware, right, with Giants center David Baas, had two of the three sacks the Giants allowed - The Boys Are Back blog

Head coach Jason Garrett, doesn’t like the word "desperate," but how else would you describe a 6-6 team clinging to a playoff dream? If the Cowboys don’t beat a talented Cincinnati Bengals team, we might as well start talking about the draft around these parts.

To do that, they better get pressure on Dalton. If they don’t, the Cowboys’ secondary will be prominently featured on elite receiver A.J. Green’s highlight reel.

"I’ve got to step it up this week, get those plays, make those big plays this week to win the game," Ware said.

A helpful hint to Ryan: Release your two best hounds and let ’em hunt. It’s your only hope.

SALVATION ARMY: Dallas Cowboys take break from field to help out in kitchen

Salvation Army Red Kettle Campaign at Dallas Cowboys Thanksgiving Day - The Boys Are Back blog

DALLAS — Jason Witten shows up at the Salvation Army every year to serve an early Thanksgiving lunch. On Tuesday, he brought his buddy with him.

Quarterback Tony Romo was one of the 12 Cowboys veterans who worked the food line and brought plates out to the clients at the Salvation Army’s Collins Social Services Center in Dallas. It’s part of the kickoff to the team’s annual Thanksgiving holiday drive for the charity.

In Fort Worth, another group of players and cheerleaders served a Thanksgiving lunch to Salvation Army residents there.

Romo doesn’t make a lot of public appearances, so it was a treat for the lunchtime crowd and the hosts. The Salvation Army staffer who introduced him — a Cowboys fan since she was 10 years old despite growing up in Washington, D.C. — couldn’t resist calling him over and saying, to cheers, "This is the first time I’ve met Tony Romo. I’m standing by Tony Romo!"

Witten got a grin out of it.

"He does a good job of seeing those fans, and obviously, they have words of encouragement or, sometimes, advice — for all of us, and especially the quarterback," Witten said, drawing a laugh.

Parenthood, said Witten, has affected Romo’s outlook.

"Being a father himself and a family guy, it does provide a perspective," he said. "It’s unbelievable how good his motives are. He just wants to spend time with them and stay away from all the other stuff. That’s what it’s all about, to come here and get the impact, more than anything else."

Romo stayed in the kitchen for the most part, but he took charge there, too. He put Miles Austin on dressing, put himself on rolls.

"He was on the rolls, but you know what? It was a little hot back there," Witten said. "He did provide some entertainment for the staff. Those are stories those people will be able to tell for a long time, getting to work with Tony in the back. He didn’t quite have it mastered like they did."

Other players who participated included DeMarcus Ware, Miles Austin, DeMarco Murray, Phillip Tanner, Kyle Orton, Robert Calloway, Derrick Dockery, Eric Frampton, Orlando Scandrick and Brandon Carr.

Murray, who has missed four games with a sprained foot, said it lifted his spirits to do his part.

"Getting away from everything that deals with football, enjoying life, giving back, being around people who really don’t see football, it was nice to come out here and give," he said.

Sherby Nixon shows rookie Cowboys linebacker Kyle Wilber, left, and running back Lance Dunbar how to prepare a thanksgiving lunch plate - The Boys Are Back blog

Sherby Nixon shows rookie Cowboys linebacker Kyle Wilber, left, and running back Lance Dunbar how to prepare a thanksgiving lunch plate.

Related: Dallas Cowboys get, give good vibes at annual Salvation Army meal

DALLAS – The Cowboys have a couple of Thanksgiving traditions: Playing football on Turkey Day and serving meals to the less fortunate earlier in the month.

Tuesday was the day for the latter tradition.

The Cowboys manned two Salvation Army locations, with the rookies serving meals in Fort Worth and a group of veterans serving meals in Dallas.

“Every time you do it, you’re in the middle of the season and the grind and coming here provides a little perspective,” said Jason Witten, who has been part of the event in each of his 10 seasons. “You’re on somewhat of a platform. You have to say, hey, I’m going to give back to some of the people that look up to you. That’s what being a role model is all about, providing perspective and hopefully encourage them in some way.”

It’s not just about serving meals. The Cowboys sign autographs and interact with people who generally need some good vibes.

“It’s good just to come out here and just give back,” running back DeMarco Murray said. “You always have a soft place in your heart for them. Growing up, you always tried to pray for them and do the right things by them, no matter if it’s bringing them over for a meal, just saying hi or talking to them. Doing anything you can possibly do to make them feel better is what counts.”

Added outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware: “You’ve got to count your blessings. Being a role model for the Dallas Cowboys and having some positivity come into the Salvation Army always feels good.”

NEW STARTER – CENTER: Ryan Cook hurt, Phil Costa returns

Dallas Cowboys center Phil Costa returns - The Boys Are Back blog

IRVING, Texas – It looks like the Cowboys’ decision on which of their centers is better will be delayed at least a week.

They’ll just go with the healthy guy for now. That’s Phil Costa right now with Ryan Cook nursing a strained hamstring.

“I think Ryan Cook did a great job,” offensive coordinator/line coach Bill Callahan said. “Unfortunately, he’s on the shelf.”

Cook hasn’t practiced since the Monday night loss to the Bears. Costa is ready to return from a back injury that sidelined him for most of training camp and since the first three snaps of the season opener.

It could be argued that the Cowboys are downgrading with the return of their original starter.

Cook, who was acquired from the Dolphins for a seventh-round pick after the preseason, has been the least of the Cowboys offensive line’s problems. Pro Football Focus grades him as the NFL’s No. 13 center so far this season.

Costa, on the other hand, was the offensive line’s weakest link a year ago. Pro Football Focus graded him as the No. 30 center in the league last season.

Callahan was noncommittal when asked about the Cowboys’ starting center once both candidates are healthy.

“We just go out on the practice field, we let them practice, we see who’s more consistent, who’s more ready physically,” Callahan said. “So all those things go into the decision. Physically, ability to play, obviously. Who’s ready mentally. Who can do the job. Who can do the best job for our team. Who we think is the best matchup, depending on who we’re going against.”

REPORT CARD–WEEK 4: Dallas Cowboys vs. Chicago Bears

REPORT CARD - WEEK 4 - Dallas Cowboys vs. Chicago Bears

 

Rushing Offense F

The running game was bad in Week 3 against the Buccaneers and got worse against the Bears. DeMarco Murray gained only 24 yards on 11 carries. He was dropped for a loss four times, meaning he’s lost yardage on 11 of 29 carries over the last two games. Murray’s 131-yard performance in the season-opening win over the Giants is the exception. The norm: 106 yards on 31 carries in the three games since then, an average of 3.4 yards per carry. Speaking of exceptions, Felix Jones actually looked fast on his lone carry of the night, a 13-yard burst. That was a rare occasion when the offensive line opened a hole.

 

Passing Offense: F

The five interceptions far overshadow Tony Romo’s 307 passing yards. And who cares that Kyle Orton threw for 89 yards and a touchdown during mop-up time? It’s close to impossible to win when the franchise quarterback throws more touchdown passes to the opposing team than to his teammates. Romo missed wide-open receivers twice on potential touchdowns, too. Dez Bryant had eight catches for a career-high 105 yards, but this was one of his worst performances. He had two killer drops and a mental bust that led to Charles Tillman’s pick-six. The return of the real Jason Witten (13 catches, 112 yards, TD) offered little comfort.

 

Rushing Defense: B-

Matt Forte found some room, gaining 52 yards on 13 carries, but the Bears’ running game didn’t really hurt the Cowboys. Dallas bottled up backup Michael Bush for 29 yards on 10 carries. The Bears finished with fewer than 100 yards on the ground and averaged only 3.3 yards per carry. Inside linebacker Sean Lee had another outstanding performance as a run-stopper, being credited with 14 tackles, including one for a loss. Nose tackle Josh Brent played strong up the middle, getting four stops, including one behind the line on a third-and-short. Fill-in outside linebacker Victor Butler got his end turned a few times and only made one tackle, but it’s not like the Bears won the game because they exploited Anthony Spencer’s absence.

 

Passing Defense: F

Chicago QB Jay Cutler entered the week as the NFL’s interceptions leader but had an almost flawless performance against the Cowboys. Cutler completed 18 of 24 passes for 275 yards and two touchdowns for a passer rating of 140.1. The Cowboys weren’t able to exploit a questionable offensive line, sacking Cutler only twice. Starting cornerbacks Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne both owned up to playing poorly. Brandon Marshall (seven catches, 138 yards, TD) was dominant, although Carr didn’t cover him on all of his catches. Claiborne got burnt by a Devin Hester double move for a touchdown.

 

Special Teams: B

The Cowboys contained Devin Hester, who had only one punt return for eight yards and two kickoff returns for 50 yards. Brian Moorman pinned the Bears inside the 10-yard line on two of his three punts. Felix Jones took a knee on five kickoffs — yes, that counts as progress — and failed to get to the 20 the two times he came out of the end zone. Dan Bailey made his only field goal attempt. And Joe DeCamillis’ units didn’t have any disasters.

 

Coaching: F

Jason Garrett’s offense is as big a mess as there is in the NFL. Oh, the Cowboys are no longer the lowest-scoring team in the NFL. They avoided that dubious distinction with a garbage-time touchdown, but a five-turnover performance was an epic failure. Garrett has two weeks to figure things out, and he’ll need every minute of it. Rob Ryan failed to generate much pressure on Cutler despite facing a suspect Chicago offensive line, but at least he had an excuse with four starters out and linebacker Bruce Carter missing much of the game.

INJURY UPDATE: Dallas Cowboys OLB Anthony Spencer out vs. Chicago Bears

While an earlier source had said that Dallas Cowboys outside linebacker Anthony Spencer would play tonight against the Chicago Bears despite missing practice all week with a strained pectoral, a source with direct knowledge of the situation later confirmed Spencer would not play.

Spencer, a key cog in the NFL’s top-ranked defense, is officially listed as questionable.

Spencer, a former first-round pick playing this season under a franchise tag tender, has been a force during the Cowboys’ 2-1 start. He ranks second on the team in tackles (29, according to coaches’ film review) and sacks (two) and leads the Cowboys with nine quarterback hurries and two tackles for losses.

Rob Ryan’s defense will be missing three starters, including strong safety Barry Church, who was placed on injured reserve after tearing his Achilles tendon in the Week 3 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Pro Bowl nose tackle Jay Ratliff, who had yet to play this season due to a high ankle sprain, might be able to return after the Cowboys’ upcoming bye. Defensive end Kenyon Coleman will miss his second consecutive game with a hyperextended knee.

ESPN REPORT CARD: Defense, special teams carry day

NFL Dallas Cowboys report card - The Boys Are Back blog

F: Rushing Offense

The Cowboys got their first rushing touchdown of the season, but that’s about the only thing that went right for the running game. DeMarco Murray finished with only 38 yards on 18 carries. He lost yardage seven times. Felix Jones lost a yard on his only carry. Other than Murray’s 11-yard touchdown run, in which Tyron Smith made a dominant block, this was a really poor performance by the offensive line. It’s one thing for the interior offensive line, which was whipped by McCoy, to be shaky. Doug Free, the Cowboys’ most expensive, experienced O-lineman, has been the weakest link. He got dominated by Bennett, who matched McCoy with two tackles for losses.

 

F: Passing Offense

The Cowboys’ passing game committed three turnovers and produced zero points. That’s awful, especially against a Tampa Bay defense that allowed 510 yards against the New York Giants the previous week. Tony Romo threw for 283 yards on 25-of-39 passing — 107 yards coming on five catches by Miles Austin — but the QB took a beating from a defensive line that barely touched Eli Manning last week. The Buccaneers sacked Romo four times, forcing two fumbles. The Cowboys couldn’t figure out how to keep defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and defensive end Michael Bennett away from Romo.

 

A: Rushing Defense

A week after Marshawn Lynch marched all over them in the second half, the Cowboys made it tough on the Tampa Bay running backs. The Bucs averaged only 3.0 yards on their 25 carries. Outside linebacker Anthony Spencer was a force again, leading the Cowboys with seven tackles, including one for a loss. Speedy inside linebackers Sean Lee and Bruce Carter each had a tackle for a loss, too. The run defense got stronger as the game went on, a stark contrast to last week in Seattle. Tampa Bay gained on 28 yards on 13 carries after halftime.

 

A+: Passing Defense

Give defensive coordinator Rob Ryan a ton of credit. He came up with a genius game plan to mask the absence of strong safety Gerald Sensabaugh, one of three starters who weren’t available, and rattle Tampa Bay quarterback Josh Freeman (10-of-28 for 110 yards with a TD and INT). In nickel situations, Brandon Carr played safety for the first time in his career, with Mike Jenkins coming in at cornerback. Those two combined to shut out $55 million receiver Vincent Jackson until the Bucs’ final possession. A week after being shut out, DeMarcus Ware had another two-sack outing, forcing fumbles both times he got to Freeman.

 

A-: Special Teams

The Cowboys avoided disaster, although they came close on a punt that the Bucs should have blocked, and they made big plays. Orie Lemon made his mark in his NFL debut by recovering a muffed punt, the key play on a scoring drive. Dez Bryant set up the field goal that essentially sealed the win with a 44-yard punt return, the first time this season he has resembled the elite punt returner he was during his rookie season. Dan Bailey was 3-for-3 on field goals. And, hey, Felix Jones didn’t fumble.

 

F: Coaching

This grade reflects solely on the head coach. Rob Ryan’s performance would lift the overall grade to a passing mark, but we’ve got to flunk Jason Garrett after such a ridiculously sloppy outing by his offense. The Cowboys committed 13 penalties, including six false starts. (Strange but true: They are 2-0 when committing 13 penalties this season.) The offense was out of sync all day, and Garrett never adjusted to keep Tampa Bay’s defensive line from teeing off on his quarterback. That’s two straight weeks Garrett’s offense scored only one touchdown. The offensive coordinator looks overwhelmed.

Tim MacMahon | ESPN Dallas

EDITOR COMMENT: Do you agree with this assessment? What are YOUR grades?

HOLDING BACK: Why did Rob Ryan play so soft vs. Seahawks?

VIDEO - Rob Ryan press conference - The Boys Are Back blog - Press PLAY to watch

Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan isn’t talking to the media after games this season, so we’ll have to wait until Friday afternoon to ask this question:

What the heck was up with that soft game plan against the Seahawks?

This was a disgrace to the blitz-happy Ryan family name. Give credit to Seattle’s Russell Wilson for playing a poised, mistake-free game, but the Cowboys barely tried to rattle the vertically challenge rookie quarterback with blitzes.

Ryan called only six blitzes on Wilson’s 25 drop backs. And this came after Wilson went 6-of-18 for 47 yards and was sacked three times against five-plus-man pressure in a Week 1 loss to the Cardinals, according to numbers crunched by ESPN Stats & Information.

It’s not like Wilson burned the Cowboys when they blitzed. He was 3-of-5 for only 21 yards and was sacked once.

Wilson, who had plenty of time in the pocket against the Cowboys’ three- and four-man rushes, completed 12 of 15 passes for 130 yards and a touchdown when Dallas didn’t blitz. He also scrambled three times for 26 yards and was sacked once, in garbage time.

The Seahawks averaged 7.6 yards per play when Wilson dropped back against regular pressure. Seattle averaged 2.8 yards per play when Wilson dropped back against the blitz. But the Cowboys blitzed less than a quarter of his drop backs?!

The Cowboys’ personnel makes the lack of aggressiveness by Ryan even more puzzling.

The Cowboys’ sorry cornerbacks forced Ryan to play soft too often last season. That’s no longer the case after Jerry Jones invested $50 million in Brandon Carr and a first-round pick in Morris Claiborne. The Cowboys should have felt more than comfortable leaving their corners alone against mediocre receivers like Sidney Rice, Braylon Edwards and Golden Tate.

And the Seahawks played most of the game with a backup left tackle and right guard. Maybe Ryan figured that Pro Bowl pass rusher DeMarcus Ware would wreak havoc against Frank Omiyale, a tackle so bad the Bears got rid of him. Ware’s lack of impact was one of the biggest mysteries of the afternoon.

But why not see if Seattle’s patchwork offensive line could handle Ryan’s creative blitz schemes? Why not force a munchkin rookie quarterback to make decisions under duress?

We’ll try to get answers … Friday.

Until then, watch it again on NFL Game Rewind:

NFL Game Rewind - The Boys Are Back blog

REPORT CARD: Dallas Cowboys self-destruct in second half, fail to get in sync

Murray

Rushing Offense – F

The Cowboys had a grand total of four rushing attempts in the second half, so Jason Garrett is going to get criticized for abandoning the run. But that’s what happens when a team has to come back from a multi-score deficit, especially when there isn’t any room to run anyway. DeMarco Murray had to earn every one of his 44 yards on 12 carries. The Seattle front seven whipped the Cowboys on a consistent basis. Oh, Felix Jones got his first carry of the season. He gained a whopping 1 yard.

Romo

Passing Offense – D-

Did the Seahawks slip in the infamous K ball while the Cowboys’ offense was on the field? How else to explain the drop-fest from the usually sure-handed Jason Witten and Dez Bryant? Bryant was a total bust (three catches, 17 yards). Week 1 hero Kevin Ogletree had one catch for 26 yards. Tony Romo’s numbers (23 of 40 for 251 yards and one touchdown with one interception) weren’t awful, but the big, tough Seattle secondary won its matchup with Dallas’ receivers, with Miles Austin’s TD catch being the exception. And Romo’s interception came on a bad decision to kill a drive in the red zone. Unlike last week, Romo couldn’t overcome protection that was poor on a regular basis.

Lynch

Rushing Defense – F

The good news: The Cowboys held Marshawn Lynch to 22 yards on 10 carries in the first half. The bad news: Lynch dominated the second half, gaining 100 yards on 16 carries as the Seahawks buried the Cowboys. Lynch busted a 36-yard run to set up Seattle’s touchdown in the third quarter, which made it a two-touchdown game. He had seven carries for 32 yards and a TD on the dagger drive, when the Seahawks marched 88 yards on 12 plays to go up by 20 points. The Dallas defense was simply dominated physically after halftime.

Ware-Wilson

Passing Defense – F

Rob Ryan and Co. made it easy for rookie QB Russell Wilson to play a poised, mistake-free game, completing 15 of 20 passes for 151 yards and a TD with no turnovers. The Cowboys rarely blitzed despite the undersized Wilson’s struggles against pressure in Seattle’s Week 1 loss. (According to ESPN Stats and Information, Wilson was 6-of-18 for 47 yards and was sacked three times when the Cardinals rushed five or more men.) Anthony Spencer got two sacks, but that was it for the Dallas pass rush despite the Seahawks playing with two backup offensive linemen. Perennial Pro Bowler DeMarcus Ware didn’t exploit his matchup against a second-string left tackle.

Jones

Special Teams – F

What is it with epic special teams disasters for the Cowboys in Seattle? It started off as poorly as possible with Felix Jones gift-wrapping a field goal for the Seahawks by losing a fumble on the opening kickoff. It got even worse soon, with backup linebacker Dan Connor getting beat to allow Seattle’s Malcolm Smith to block a punt. Jeron Johnson scooped and scored. Just like that, Joe DeCamillis’ guys handed the Seahawks a 10-point head start. Dez Bryant gained a grand total of two yards on two punt returns and was fortunate not to commit a turnover just before halftime. Punter Chris Jones had another strong performance, but special teams killed the Cowboys.

Garrett

Coaching – F

The head coach gets a big share of the blame when his team lays an egg like that after 11 days to prepare. It’s also fair to question whether Jason Garrett’s constant messages about mental toughness are really getting through after the Cowboys roll over like they did in the fourth quarter, when the Dallas offense had a couple of three-and-out series while the Seahawks ran 25 offensive plays. And defensive coordinator Rob Ryan’s game plan was puzzling, to put it politely. Why play soft against a rookie quarterback who struggled badly when blitzed last week?

Tim MacMahon

LOOKING BACK: Ranking Tony Romo’s best performances

GAME REWIND - Eli Manning and Tony Romo meet after the game - The Boys Are Back blog

I’ll respectfully disagree with the take from NBC’s Cris Collinsworth that Tony Romo played the best game of his career Wednesday night.

In fact, it arguably wasn’t the best game Romo has played against the Giants in the last 10 months.

Here’s one man’s opinion of the five most impressive performances of Romo’s career:

1. Cowboys 27, 49ers 24 (Sept. 18, 2011): It’s impressive any time a quarterback leads a late rally from a double-digit deficit to defeat one of the league’s top defensive teams. It’s especially amazing when that quarterback does so after breaking a couple of ribs and puncturing his lungs early in that game. That was the case at Candlestick Park with Romo, who completed 12 of 15 passes for 201 yards and a touchdown in the fourth quarter and overtime, essentially sealing the win by hitting reality show-winning receiver Jesse Holley for a 77-yard gain. Romo, who had been ripped all week after committing two late turnovers in a season-opening loss to the New York Jets, finished the game with 345 yards and two touchdowns on 20-of-33 passing.

Rewatch this game on NFL Game Rewind:

NFL Game Rewind - The Boys Are Back blog

2. Cowboys 37, Packers 27 (Nov. 29, 2007): Want high stakes? The NFC’s top seed was on the line, and Brett Favre was on the opposing sideline. Romo responded with 309 yards and four touchdowns on 19-of-30 passing. His lone interception could have been another score, but Terrell Owens bobbled the ball in the end zone to allow Green Bay’s Al Harris to get his hands on it. Romo also put the ball on the money twice to Miles Austin on deep balls, drawing 42- and 40-yard pass interference penalties. This was a masterful performance in a game with major playoff implications.

3. Giants 37, Cowboys 34 (Dec. 11, 2011): The Cowboys didn’t win, but you’d have to have a football IQ lower than Romo’s jersey number to blame this loss on him. In fact, his 141.3 passer rating in this game was the highest in NFL history by any quarterback who threw for at least 300 yards in a loss. Romo completed 21 of 31 passes for 321 yards and four touchdowns. His stats would have been even more impressive — and the Cowboys would have won the game — if Austin didn’t lose a deep ball in the lights on what should have been a dagger touchdown.

Rewatch this game on NFL Game Rewind:

NFL Game Rewind - The Boys Are Back blog

4. Cowboys 37, Falcons 21 (Oct. 25, 2009): Austin hogged the headlines, following up his franchise-record 250-yard performance in his first start the previous week by torching Atlanta for 171 yards and two scores on six catches. Of course, Romo had a lot to do with that. No. 9 was simply sensational after a slow start. He didn’t have a completion in the first quarter, scrambling for the Cowboys’ lone first down in the opening 15 minutes, but Romo finished with 311 yards and three TDs on 21-of-29 passing. His 5-yard touchdown pass to Patrick Crayton on the final snap of the first half was Romo at his finest. He avoided a sack by spinning away from three Falcons before firing a strike to a wide-open Crayton in the end zone, giving the Cowboys a double-digit lead

Rewatch this game on NFL Game Rewind:

NFL Game Rewind - The Boys Are Back blog

5. Cowboys 24, Giants 17 (Sept. 5, 2012): Romo had to overcome an awful performance by the offensive line to beat the defending Super Bowl champions on the road. He threw for 307 yards and three touchdowns on 22-of-29 passing despite being pressured by Jason Pierre-Paul and Co. all night. Most quarterbacks wouldn’t have been able to get rid of the ball on his two touchdowns to Kevin Ogletree. Romo used his mobility to make the biggest plays in what could be a statement game at the site where Dallas’ 2011 season died.

Rewatch this game on NFL Game Rewind:

NFL Game Rewind - The Boys Are Back blog

Tim MacMahon | ESPN Dallas

LET’S CUT THE BULL: Dallas Cowboys won’t say it, but Martellus Bennett was bust

Former Dallas Cowboys tight end Martellus Bennett joins the New York Giants - The Boys Are Back blog

IRVING, Texas – The Dallas Cowboys’ coaches never did seem to figure out how to light a motivational fire under Martellus Bennett’s butt during his four disappointing seasons in Dallas.

Jason Garrett certainly isn’t about to do it now that the tight end, known for his wild personality and wasted potential, plays for the New York Giants.

Garrett had nothing when asked about Bennett on Sunday, disagreeing with the premise of a question about why things didn’t work out for the Cowboys’ 2008 second-round pick in Dallas.

Garrett claimed that Bennett did what the Cowboys wanted him to do as the second tight end behind seven-time Pro Bowler Jason Witten. Garrett’s said Bennett performed “very well” in his primary roles as a run blocker and pass protector and did “a pretty good job” when he had opportunities in the passing game.

“The business of the NFL is that you can’t keep everybody when their contracts run out,” Garrett said. “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.”

cowboys-wont-say-it-but-martellus-bennett-a-bust-in-dallas - The Boys Are Back blog

Let’s cut through the bull: You don’t draft a blocking tight end in the second round.

Give the Cowboys’ front office credit for not being complete fools, although they did draft a complementary back (Felix Jones) in the first round that year. They know you can find grunt-work tight ends, such as John Phillips, in the draft’s later rounds. They believed Marty B, with his size and athleticism, would be much more than that.

Valley Ranch folks raved about Bennett’s explosiveness early in his Cowboys tenure. They gushed about the way that he came out of breaks like a wide receiver. They dreamed of the possibilities while watching him make acrobatic catch after acrobatic catch in the Alamodome during the 2009 training camp.

But Bennett’s four-year totals would be one so-so season for Witten: 85 catches, 846 yards and four touchdowns. After teasing with four touchdowns as a rookie, Bennett failed to reach the end zone in the last three seasons.

The blame game for Bennett’s poor production in the passing game can be a chicken-or-the-egg kind of deal. Was it because he didn’t get enough opportunities? Or did he not get opportunities because he failed to earn the trust of the coaches and the quarterback?

We’ll find out this season.

We already know that Bennett was a wasted second-round pick for the Cowboys, whether or not Garrett wants to admit it a few days before facing the Giants.

Tim MacMahon | ESPN Dallas

PROJECTION: Dallas Cowboys 53-man roster

The Boys - The Boys Are Back blog

IRVING, Texas — Go ahead and put most of these names in ink.

There are a handful of roster spots up for grabs entering Wednesday’s preseason finale, but the vast majority of the decisions will have already been made. The toughest calls come at the last spots for receiver, offensive line, defensive end and how to handle Matt Johnson’s situation (great potential, but can’t count on him this season).

QUARTERBACKS (2)

Tony Romo  Kyle Orton

If Stephen McGee wants to stick around for a fourth season, he needs to give the front office and coaches good reason to keep him with a strong performance in the preseason finale. At this point, it makes more sense to try to put Rudy Carpenter on the practice squad.

RUNNING BACKS (3)

DeMarco Murray  Felix Jones  Phillip Tanner

Tanner didn’t help his cause with a blown assignment in pass protection that almost got Orton killed against the Rams, but he’s a solid No. 3 back and core special teams player. North Texas alums Lance Dunbar and Jamize Olawale are good practice squad candidates.

FULLBACKS (2)

Lawrence Vickers  Shaun Chapas

Chapas, a fixture on first-team special teams units Saturday, is likely to last only one week on the roster. An extra fullback can help mask the lack of depth at tight end in case Jason Witten misses the season opener.

TIGHT ENDS (3)

Jason Witten  John Phillips  James Hanna

The Cowboys could opt to go with rookie Andrew Szczerba as temporary insurance instead of Chapas.

Danny Coale

WIDE RECEIVERS (6)

Miles Austin  Dez Bryant

Kevin Ogletree  Dwayne Harris  Cole Beasley  Danny Coale

It comes down to Coale vs. Andre Holmes, the Jerry Jones pet cat who reported to camp in poor shape and has shown no consistency. Holmes has more upside. Coale, who has hardly been on the field due to injuries, is more likely to contribute this season. The Cowboys envisioned Coale as a Sam Hurd-type No. 4 receiver/special teams stud (without the felonious side business, of course) when they invested a fifth-round pick in him.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (9)

Tyron Smith  Doug Free  Nate Livings  Mackenzy Bernadeau  Phil Costa

David Arkin  Jermey Parnell  Ronald Leary  Pat McQuistan

Is being a third guard good enough reason to keep Derrick Dockery? He probably wouldn’t be active on game days due to his lack of position versatility. McQuistan has experience at tackle, guard, blocking tight end and has even worked some at center. Addressing the lack of depth at center would be a wise move after Week 1.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN (7)

Jay Ratliff  Jason Hatcher  Kenyon Coleman  Sean Lissemore  Marcus Spears

Tyrone Crawford  Josh Brent

Clifton Geathers (6-foot-7, 325 pounds) looks the part, but he hasn’t done enough to push Coleman or Spears off the roster. The Cowboys can save a little money by cutting (or perhaps trading) one of the veterans, but keeping both gives them quality depth in the defensive end rotation.

INSIDE LINEBACKERS (4)

Sean Lee  Bruce Carter  Dan Connor  Orie Lemon

Lemon is a guy you notice a lot in practices and preseason games. He has developmental potential and can contribute now on special teams.

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS (5)

DeMarcus Ware  Anthony Spencer

Victor Butler  Kyle Wilber  Alex Albright

Can the Cowboys get pass rusher Adrian Hamilton through waivers onto the practice squad? It appears that they will try. He’s not getting reps with the first-team special teams units, a strong sign that they don’t see him as a fit for the 53-man roster this season.

CORNERBACKS (5)

Brandon Carr  Morris Claiborne

Orlando Scandrick  Mike Jenkins  Mario Butler

Jerry Jones has said there is a roster spot for Jenkins, meaning the Cowboys don’t plan for him to start the season on the physically unable to perform list. That doesn’t mean he’ll be ready for the season opener.

SAFETIES (4)

Gerald Sensabaugh  Barry Church  Danny McCray  Mana Silva

What to do with fourth-round pick Matt Johnson? He has hardly practiced because of a hamstring injury and he strained the other hamstring in his preseason debut Saturday night. The Cowboys could try to get him through waivers to the practice squad or put him on injured reserve, essentially making this a redshirt season. With such limited practice time, putting him on the 53 would be a waste of a roster spot.

SPECIALISTS (3)

Dan Bailey  Chris Jones  L.P. Ladouceur

No drama here after rookie deep snapper Charley Hughlett’s release Monday. The Cowboys were willing to pay more for the proven commodity.

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