IRVING – Oklahoma State running back Joseph Randle made it clear he has a chip on his shoulder after going to the Cowboys in the fifth round.
Randle said in a conference call he is “extremely excited” that Dallas selected him, but he expected to go higher.
“I will use it as fuel to my fire,” the 6-foot, 200-pound underclassman said in a conference call Saturday afternoon. “I will work harder and remember this day, all the teams that passed me up…When I hit the weight room again, I will definitely be hungry and determined to show my worth, my value.”
Randle gives the Cowboys a valuable insurance policy in case DeMarco Murray is injured again.
“The NFL is a two-back system now,” Randle said. “Guys need other guys to come in and you don’t want to drop the tempo off much, so I think we will work well together. I am just going to come in and work hard and see where that gets me. I respect (Murray’s) game a lot.”
Randle led the Big 12 in rushing last season with 1,417 yards on 274 carries with a14 TDs. He also caught 28 catches for 224 yards.
Randle is also known as a strong, willing blocker and a good leader.
RELATED: Cowboys grab running back Joseph Randle from Oklahoma State
The Dallas Cowboys, in need of a backup running back, drafted Joseph Randle from Oklahoma State with the 18th pick of the fifth round.
Randle is the running back ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper targeted in the last couple of weeks as “the back late in the draft that could be this year’s Alfred Morris.” Morris was taken in the sixth round last year by the Washington Redskins and wound up second in the NFL in rushing with more than 1,600 yards.
Randle is the third recent Cowboys to Cowboys player acquired by Dallas, joining wide receiver Dez Bryant and kicker Dan Bailey as Oklahoma State alums on the roster.
He projects to compete as a backup to DeMarco Murray, and maybe more, given Murray’s injury history. Murray is a former Oklahoma Sooners standout, so he and Randle will have to talk their way through that rivalry.
The Star-Telegram’s Jimmy Burch, “Cowboys score real value with RB Joseph Randle as their 5th round pick. Great value at that point in draft. Versatile, talented RB”.
RELATED: RB Randle might be slowed by thumb injury in rookie minicamp
Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said fifth-round pick Joseph Randle has a thumb problem that might limit him in rookie minicamp, mainly catching the ball.
Jones said Randle will wear a “club” to protect the thumb, but that it shouldn’t slow him down in anything except pass-catching.
Randle described himself as versatile and considered his pass-catching a strength.
“I do everything well: running, blocking. I take pride in my blocking. I take pride in being able to catch, and I take pride in being able to make tough yards and make people miss one-on-one,” he said. “That’s just my game in a nutshell right there.”
Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said he expects outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware to play in Sunday’s winner-take-all battle for the NFC East title against Washington despite being sidelined with a strained shoulder in crunch time of the team’s 34-31 loss to New Orleans.
“Somehow, some way, DeMarcus is going to get himself right to play in this Washington game,” Garrett said during today’s news conference at Valley Ranch. “He’ll battle through anything.”
Ware, a six-time Pro Bowler, never has missed a game in his Cowboys’ career. But he took part in only 59 of 95 plays in Sunday’s game against New Orleans. Ware, the team’s sack leader (11.5), missed the entire fourth quarter and returned for only one play in overtime _ to rush the passer on a third-and-3 situation.
Ware has been playing with a hyperextended elbow and also battled a hamstring ailment earlier this season. Garrett stressed that team trainers will make sure Ware is “functional and can protect himself” during practices this week before he suits up against the Redskins. But he made it clear Monday that he is counting on Ware to be in Sunday’s lineup.
“DeMarcus Ware is such a talented athlete, I think a lot of times, people lose sight of the kind of person he is and how mentally and physically tough that he is,” Garrett said. “He’s a very willful guy … He wants to get out there and help our football team.”
Garrett said Ware’s track record for durability speaks for itself.
“He just somehow, some way gets himself ready to play in a ballgame,” Garrett said. “He hasn’t had the gaudy numbers that he’s had in the past in terms of sacks, but he’s certainly been a productive player for us. I think a lot of that goes to his will and his passion for playing, his passion for his teammates and his love for the game.”
Dallas Cowboys punt returner Dwayne Harris has made major contributions since taking over that role from Dez Bryant on Nov. 4 against Atlanta. Heading into Sunday’s game against New Orleans, Harris has averaged 13.9 yards per return, including a 78-yarder for a touchdown against Philadelphia and three additional efforts of 20 or more yards against Cleveland (20), Atlanta (37) and Pittsburgh (39).
Harris always knew he would be a success once he got his chance. It was convincing the Cowboys that was the harder part. A sixth-round draft choice in 2011, Harris was released during his rookie season. He later was re-signed to the active roster from the practice squad. Harris played in seven games last season with 15 punt returns and eight kickoff returns and no real impact other than a 51-yard kickoff return against the Eagles on Dec. 24.
“Whatever they need me to do, I think I can be a great player for this team and in this league. The sky’s the limit,” Harris said Friday. “I’ve always got … that chip on your shoulder to go out there and play your best. I let my game speak for itself. The doubters, they’ll go away.”
Harris also has 15 receptions _ 15 more than last season _ and is coming off a four-catch, 46-yard performance in last week’s 27-24 overtime victory over Pittsburgh. Three of his four grabs against the Steelers came on second-half touchdown drives, including a pair of pivotal receptions on bubble screens: an 18-yarder on a second-and-23 play to extend one scoring drive, as well a 17-yarder in the Steelers’ red zone that set up a 3-yard touchdown run by DeMarco Murray.
“He’s really grown a lot as a player,” coach Jason Garrett said. “He’s made some splash plays. But you don’t want to be a flash player. You want to be a guy that’s a consistent player. I think he’s shown that over the last half of this season.”
On Sunday, the Dallas Cowboys beat the Pittsburgh Steelers to move into a first-place tie in the NFC East.
On Monday, the Cowboys got a special reward for their effort.
Team members made their annual visits to area hospitals — Cook Children’s Medical Center in Fort Worth and, in Dallas, Children’s Medical Center, Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children and Medical City Children’s Hospital.
"With a win or a loss, it’s going to be great for us," said linebacker Sean Lee, one of 10 players who visited Medical City.
"With a loss, it cheers us up. With a win, we’re excited to come in anyway. It’s really a great perspective for us to come in and see these kids [who] show us that anything we’re dealing with doesn’t compare to what they’re dealing with."
DeMarcus Ware and Morris Claiborne, both fathers of young children, acknowledged that their trip to Cook Children’s had even deeper significance than in previous years in light of Friday’s mass shooting at a Connecticut elementary school.
"You’ve got to hold them a little tighter," Ware said. "You look at the kids, that’s where the real joy is … it’s the closest to praising God.
"You never know what they’re going through. Just spreading that touch to them and letting them know that someone out there cares for them, that’s what life’s about."
It was rookie Claiborne’s first time to join about 20 teammates in signing autographs, distributing gifts and visiting young patients.
"You never know what people are going through and the impact that you can make on those kids just from them seeing you," Claiborne said. "It’s great."
Quarterback Tony Romo was one of 28 players who visited Children’s Medical Center in Dallas. He met bright-eyed Tia, 7, an Argyle native who was scheduled to have heart surgery later in the day.
"She is adorable," Romo said. "She has personality. We will really be praying for her as she goes through surgery."
Tia’s parents, Nicole and John Hackett, passed out pink "Team Tia" shirts to the players, including Romo.
"It’s phenomenal," Nicole Hackett said of the players’ visit. "This is a great way to relax a little bit, take a deep breath and have some smiles."
Romo acknowledged that being a new father makes him a little more sensitive to the importance of the annual hospital visits.
"As a father, it changes you a little, just a sense of how much you really care," Romo said. "We are blessed to be able to do what we do. We play a game for a living. The thing a lot of us take advantage of is health, to be able to walk. To come here and see kids who can’t do that — it makes you want to make them smile and brighten their day a little bit, especially this time of year."
Running back DeMarco Murray agreed, although he showed no mercy in beating one of the children in a game of Connect 4. Romo lost to the same child.
But Murray is a self-proclaimed Connect 4 expert. He downloaded the app on his phone and plays all the time.
"It’s great to be able to come out here and bless kids," said Murray, who also spent time painting with a girl. "It gives you a spark, not only about football but about life.
"It makes you so thankful."
With the team’s 27-24 overtime win over Pittsburgh, Dallas is 3-0 in December and has assured itself of a winning record in that month for the first time since the 2001 season. That represents a marked turnaround for a franchise with a combined mark of 26-39 in December games for the past 15 seasons, including this year’s 3-0 stretch.
“This has been particularly gratifying,” said owner Jerry Jones, who has seen the surge elevate the Cowboys (8-6) into a share of first place in the NFC East. “We’ve thought we’ve had some pretty good teams that might not have not have had a winning December.”
But it is this team, which has 12 players on injured reserve and another (NT Jay Ratliff) who will not return unless the team makes the playoffs, that has found a way to get on a roll in the final month of the regular season. Dallas is 5-1 in its last six games, with the lone loss coming against Washington, 38-31, on Thanksgiving Day.
"We’re battling and peaking," said quarterback Tony Romo. "If you find ways to win, it’s a great thing … We need name tags (because of excessive roster turnover). A couple of the guys earlier, I said, ‘Great job, No. 20.’ I know his name is (Michael) Coe now. But there are a bunch of guys who just got here that are playing and getting a bunch of minutes.
"We got in a hole early (with a 3-5 start). From that point on, you feel like every game you’re playing in is for your playoff life. So, our team has had to have that attitude and we’ve taken that approach. We will continue to do that."
Dallas Cowboys cornerback Brandon Carr is either the most focused player on the team or someone who enjoys having a little fun with media members prone to overreact to wins and losses. Or both.
Whatever the case, Carr paused during today’s teleconference before answering a question about whether the Cowboys (4-5) had put last week’s off-field distractions behind them with Sunday’s 38-23 victory over Philadelphia.
“What were the distractions?,” Carr responded.
A reporter mentioned ongoing speculation about the job status of coach Jason Garrett, as well as former coach Jimmy Johnson’s assertion that the Cowboys cultivate a “country club” climate in the team locker room, with minimal fear of repercussions for losses or poor play.
“My bad,” said Carr, who had a 47-yard touchdown on an interception return against the Eagles. “I guess I guess I wasn’t distracted. Sorry.”
After two consecutive games with mistakes as a punt returner, Cowboys’ receiver Dez Bryant said those duties will fall to others Sunday against Atlanta.
Asked today if he was still a punter returner, Bryant said: “I don’t think so. But I promise you, man, I’m going to bet back in their ear. I’m going to get in their ear about that.”
Bryant, who has the team’s longest punt return of the season (44 yards), said he “wasn’t disappointed at all” when coaches told him they would continue to go with others in that role. Dwayne Harris and Cole Beasley replaced Bryant in that role last week against New York after Bryant fumbled a punt one week after being scolded by coaches for using poor judgment during a return against Carolina.
“I was very understanding,” Bryant said. “But like I said, I’m going to get back in coach’s ear. I think it will be hard for him to tell me ‘no.’ I’m going to continue to keep working at it. It’s not hard for me to catch a punt. I just need to feel it in and stop looking up field and think before catching the rock. That should be my first objective, to catch the ball and then go make a play.”
DALLAS COWBOY EVOLVING: Carter has gone from untested rookie to defensive signal caller in one calendar year
In the span of one calendar year, Dallas Cowboys inside linebacker Bruce Carter has gone from untested rookie to the signal-caller of the team’s defense heading into Sunday’s game at Atlanta (7-0).
Carter, a second-round draft choice in 2011, spent the first six weeks of last season rehabbing from knee surgery for a torn ACL suffered during his senior season at North Carolina. He was activated for the first time on Oct. 29 and played in the final 10 games, primarily on special teams.
Carter has been a starter this season and, because of a season-ending toe injury to teammate Sean Lee, will call the defensive signals for the Cowboys (3-4) for the second consecutive week against the Falcons.
“It’s a whole lot different. Last year, I was just kind of nervous coming in to play in my first game in the NFL,” Carter said, reflecting on the increased responsibility he has shouldered for the Cowboys within the past year. “This year, I’m really in the mix. The situation is different, with Sean (Lee) being out. I’m trying to take it one play at a time and just study as much as I can and make sure everyone is on the right track.”
Coach Jason Garrett praised Carter, who played all 60 defensive snaps in last week’s 29-24 loss to the New York Giants, for playing “particularly well” in his debut as the Cowboys’ defensive signal-caller. Carter said he is adjusting to his new role and hopes to continue making progress against Atlanta.
“It’s obviously going to take a little bit to get used to, but I think it went pretty well,” Carter said. “I think we did a great job of communicating.”
In terms of whether he feels like a veteran on the field, Carter said: “I still feel like I’m young. There’s still a lot of my game ahead of me. I’m learning every day … I wouldn’t say I’m a rookie on the field. I’ve played, obviously. But I still feel like I’m young in the NFL.”
Dallas Cowboys linebacker Ernie Sims, who joined the team last week, made a positive impact in his 10 snaps against the New York Giants, said coach Jason Garrett, and could see more playing time Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons. Safety Charlie Peprah, also signed last week, could be active against Atlanta and Garrett said he has “done a nice job acclimating himself into the defense” during practices.
Taking players off the street and turning them into productive performers during the regular season has become a recurring theme with the Cowboys in recent seasons. Last year, Dallas watched receiver Laurent Robinson (11 TD catches) and offensive guard Montrae Holland (10 starts) step up as key contributors who were added to the roster after the start of the regular season.
Garrett is hoping Sims and Peprah could join that list.
“When an injury happens, you need to have a go-to guy at that spot,” Garrett said. “Our scouting department does a really good job, having those short lists and understanding not only where the guy was the last time he was playing but where he is now … Some times, it’s a go-to four or five guys to see who fits best for that given circumstance. But we have done a good job with that. It’s an important part of your team because, over the course of the season, you’re going to have injuries. To be able to absorb them with your current roster and then go out on the street to get guys who can be productive, it’s an important part of the course of the 16-game season.”
Garrett indicated Sims, signed in the wake of a season-ending injury to leading tackler Sean Lee, could have a bigger role this week but did not elaborate.
“I don’t want to go into specifics of that, but (Sims) did a nice job in last week’s game,” Garrett said. With more work, Garrett said Sims could “play even better” against the Falcons.
IRVING — Because of injuries to others, Dallas Cowboys running back Phillip Tanner has taken plenty of practice snaps this week with the first-team offense.
The second-year back considers himself ready, if needed, to make his first NFL start Sunday against the New York Giants. But the former free agent draws the line at declaring himself comfortable in that role. Or any role in professional football.
"I’m never comfortable. That’s what kills you, when a guy gets comfortable and complacent," said Tanner, who had a career-high 13 carries in last week’s 19-14 victory over Carolina in relief of injured teammates DeMarco Murray (foot) and Felix Jones (knee). "I still come in every day as if I’m a free agent trying to make this team. I study film as if I’ve never seen it before. I take notes as if I’ve never read it before. Just so I can stay on my toes and won’t become complacent …So if I was good at 13 carries, I’ll try to be better at 14. And on and on and on."
That work ethic, coach Jason Garrett said, offers comfort to the Cowboys if Tanner — a third-teamer with 44 career carries for 137 yards — handles most of the workload Sunday against the Giants with Murray out and Jones on the mend. Jones practiced Thursday on a limited basis and, barring a setback, is expected to start Sunday.
But if Jones cannot play or cannot finish Sunday’s game, the spotlight shifts to Tanner. And Tanner’s primary backup would be rookie Lance Dunbar, a free-agent signee from North Texas and Haltom High School whose lone NFL carry covered 11 yards in the team’s 31-29 loss at Baltimore on Oct. 14.
Dunbar said the undrafted duo can handle a showdown with the reigning world champions, if necessary.
"I’m pretty confident in myself and I’m confident in him," Dunbar said. "If that happens, we’ll approach it like, ‘OK, we can do this. It’s just another game.’ We’d play our game and let it happen."
And their games differ greatly.
Tanner (5-foot-10, 217 pounds) offers a blend of power and speed that teammate Tyrone Crawford likened to Doug Martin, Tampa Bay’s first-round pick in the 2012 NFL Draft. Crawford, a defensive tackle, played at Boise State with Martin and said Tanner "reminds me of Doug [because] they both run low, powerful and with good vision. He’s a smash mouth back with speed and it’s good to have him."
Dunbar (5-foot-8, 191 pounds) is more of a breakaway threat who is dangerous in the open field.
"His quickness is sick," fullback Lawrence Vickers said. "He’s great with the ball."
Regardless of who plays running back against the Giants, the Cowboys seek to match the ground-and-pound production they had in a 24-17 victory over the Giants on Sept. 5 (143 rushing yards, including 131 by Murray) and in their past two games. Dallas rushed for a season-high 227 yards against Baltimore and collected 85 against Carolina while controlling the clock for 33:37.
Against the Panthers, Tanner (13 carries, 30 yards) handled the ball seven times in the final 7:32 on drives that resulted in a go-ahead field goal with 3:28 remaining and another to pad the lead with 58 seconds to play. Tanner touched the ball nine times in the fourth quarter (eight carries, one catch), including a 5-yard trap play on third-and-9 that preceded the go-ahead field goal.
"He’s on our team for a reason," Garrett said, praising Tanner’s ability to handle a bigger role in an emergency situation. "At every turn [since signing with Dallas], he came in here and said, ‘You are not cutting me from this football team.’ When he’s gotten more opportunities in the preseason or the regular season, he’s shown us he can do a good job for us."
Tanner’s biggest opportunity could come Sunday if Jones’ knee ailment elevates Tanner into the starting lineup. It would be a moment the Dallas native, who played at Kimball High School, has envisioned since signing with his hometown NFL team on July 28, 2011.
"The most important thing I’ve learned is always be mentally prepared. Just take it to practice every day as if I’m going to be the starting running back," Tanner said. "That’s been my mind-set since the first day. Just to work hard and jell with the offensive line as if I’m the starting running back. So that when my time came, I would be ready."
Vickers said the Cowboys’ ground game can be productive Sunday even if it leans on a Tanner-Dunbar tandem against the Super Bowl champs.
"Absolutely," Vickers said. "Every back in that backfield is ready to go at all times. We’re preparing to make sure we can be a dominant group and hold up our end on the football field."
Dallas Cowboys linebacker Dan Connor called his ascension into the team’s starting lineup a “bittersweet” experience because the opportunity came from a season-ending injury to Sean Lee, the team’s leading tackler and Conner’s longtime friend and former college teammate at Penn State.
“To step in and play for him, it’s bittersweet. It’s not a good feeling for me,” Connor said. “I talked to him on the phone last night and he’s putting on a brave face … My heart breaks for him. He’s a great friend of mine. He leads the defense. He knows it inside and out and he works the hardest. And he was having a spectacular season.”
Lee, who is facing season-ending surgery for ligament damage in his big toe, made 77 tackles in Dallas’ first six games. Connor joins Bruce Carter and Ernie Sims, a veteran signed today, as the primary bodies in the mix at inside linebacker for Sunday’s game. But he acknowledged a committee approach will be necessary to replace the versatile Lee.
“It’s going to be hard to replace a guy like that. He’s unreplaceable,” Connor said. “A lot of guys are going to have to step in at different positions and we’ve got to pick up the slack from what we’ve got.
“It’s hard to say one guy’s going to go in there and do what Sean Lee does. I think he’s the top player in the game right now at that position. We’ll get a couple of different guys who are good at certain things and do it that way. And have Bruce in there with the (radio receiver in his) helmet, calling the defense. He did a great job with it last week. He got the helmet and he was making the checks and he really took control and did an unbelievable job.”
NO WALKTHROUGH: Dallas Cowboys adopt "training camp mode" for today’s workout before players take break
Instead of a walkthrough, Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said today’s workout at Valley Ranch will involve “more of a training camp mode” in the wake of Monday’s 34-18 loss to the Chicago Bears. It will be the Cowboys’ only workout of the week before players take a four-day break and return to work Monday to begin preparations for the team’s next game, Oct. 14 at Baltimore.
Garrett said he reviewed videotapes with players this morning and the team will work today “in helmets and shells … Cowboys vs. Cowboys in the practice, more of a training camp mode” before taking time off for their bye week. Garrett said he stressed the importance of responsible, off-field behavior to players during their break.
“That’s always something you try to address with them whenever they have time off and they’re going to be away for a little bit. Just remind them of what we’re trying to get accomplished here and who they are and how they want to represent themselves, their families and our teams,” Garrett said.
Jason Garrett speaks to the Dallas media as his team prepares to take the field for their final practice before the bye week.
Click HERE to watch video – duration 10:28
ARLINGTON — On an otherwise dismal night for the Dallas Cowboys, tight end Jason Witten found a way to cure his season-long battle with dropped passes.
Witten, who dropped an NFL-high five passes in the team’s first three games, grabbed the first seven passes sent in his direction by quarterback Tony Romo during Monday’s 34-18 loss to the Chicago Bears at Cowboys Stadium.
Witten finished with a team-high 13 catches for 112 yards — with no drops — and a 5-yard touchdown catch on the final possession. He more than doubled his season totals for receptions and yardage. Witten entered with eight catches for 76 yards in the team’s first three games.
Soldier Field South?
The noise generated by Bears’ fans during the game made it unclear, at times, which team was playing at home. Especially during a "Let’s Go, Bears" chant in the fourth quarter.
The loudest cheers came on Lance Briggs’ 74-yard interception return for a third-quarter touchdown that upped the Bears’ lead to 24-7. Bears defensive tackle Henry Melton, a former Grapevine and Texas player, caused the interception. The play came one snap after Dallas had recovered a fumble in Bears’ territory with an opportunity to cut into a 17-7 deficit.
"That’s what happens when you don’t give the fans anything to cheer for," Cowboys safety Brandon Carr said. "I don’t like to get embarrassed, especially on national TV. I’m frustrated."
Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray had five runs that produced negative yardage against the Bears, all in the first three quarters. He had seven in last week’s 16-10 victory over Tampa Bay. Murray had only 14 carries for negative yards in 13 games last season.
Murray also fumbled in the first quarter and dropped a pitchout from Romo in the second. The second fumble was credited to Romo, who also threw five interceptions, tying a career high.
Cowboys cornerbacks surrendered their first touchdown of the season when Devin Hester beat rookie Morris Claiborne for a sliding, 34-yard touchdown catch in the third quarter. The ball moved when Hester hit the ground, triggering a replay review. Based on the reaction by Cowboys coach Jason Garrett, it was clear the Dallas sideline thought the catch would be overturned.
The Cowboys came up short on another third-quarter review after a Claiborne fumble recovery was overturned when the Bears’ receiver was ruled down by contact.
Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant (8 catches, 105 yards) had the second 100-yard receiving night of his career and his first since Nov. 14, 2010 against the New York Giants in his rookie season.
Cowboys linebacker Bruce Carter injured his left hip on the team’s opening defensive series but later returned to the game. He finished with two tackles.
Three Cowboys’ defensive starters were declared inactive before the game because of injuries: DE Kenyon Coleman (knee), DT Jay Ratliff (ankle) and LB Anthony Spencer (pectoral muscle). A fourth starter, safety Barry Church, suffered a season-ending Achilles tear in last week’s victory over Tampa Bay. The respective replacements in Monday’s starting lineup were Sean Lissemore (Coleman), Josh Brent (Ratliff), Victor Butler (Spencer) and Danny McCray (Church).
Roof, doors open
For only the fifth time in stadium history, the Cowboys played a game with both the roof and the doors open. With Monday’s loss, Dallas is 1-4 in those games. The team fell to 14-12 in regular-season games at Cowboys Stadium.
Jenkins tries safety
Cornerback Mike Jenkins made his debut at safety, taking snaps at the position during the team’s nickel package. Last week, cornerback Brandon Carr played safety while starters Gerald Sensabaugh and Barry Church nursed injuries against Tampa Bay.
The Cowboys, who had six false-start penalties in last week’s victory over Tampa Bay, had none against Chicago.
Andre Holmes, at 6-foot-5, is the Dallas Cowboys’ tallest receiver. One of his highlight moments in training camp came when he grabbed a Hail Mary pass from backup quarterback Kyle Orton on the final play of a live team session in Oxnard, Calif.
But Holmes has yet to be in the Cowboys’ end-of-the-half, multiple-receiver mix during the regular season because he has been battling a knee ailment. Jason Garrett left open the opportunity today that Holmes may work his way into the team’s Hail Mary mix as his health improves.
“He will get an opportunity to do that going forward the more chances he gets in practice to get ready for it,” Garrett said. “He hasn’t done it that much, coming off of an injury. So you put the guys out there who are most comfortable doing that.
IRVING — Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo has spent the past two games being used as a piñata by opposing defensive linemen and watching his favorite receiver, tight end Jason Witten, let a season’s worth of passes slip through his fingers.
Although there has been no public grumbling from Romo, teammates understand the frustration that is building within their offensive leader as the Cowboys (2-1) prepare to face Chicago (2-1), the team that leads the NFL in sacks (14), in Monday’s game at Cowboys Stadium.
“We’ve been around Tony long enough that we can tell, based on his facial expressions, how he’s feeling. He shows his emotions to us,” said offensive guard Nate Livings. “So he doesn’t have to say anything. We see what he’s going through.”
That included four sacks and multiple knockdowns, triggering two lost fumbles in pass-rush situations, in last week’s 16-10 victory over Tampa Bay. It has included an NFL-high five dropped passes this season by Witten, a seven-time Pro Bowler whose season average for drops had been three per year over the past four seasons (2008-2011), based on data collected by STATS, Inc.
“I’m sure he’s wondering what’s wrong,” Witten said of his uncharacteristic drops of Romo passes. “At the end of the day, those are big plays for him, big plays for our offense. You don’t just get built in to get those throws … next time because of what number is on the back of the jersey. It’s a show-me game.”
And Romo, for now, is showing remarkable patience while maintaining a positive outlook about a Dallas offense that is tied for last among NFL teams in scoring average (15.6 per game). The Cowboys’ 47 points marks the fewest in a three-game stretch by a Romo-led offense since 2009.
Despite Romo’s 89.3 passer rating and 64.8 completion rate, the offense regularly plays from behind the chains because of 12 false-start penalties in three games. But Romo said Friday that his confidence level working behind the team’s rebuilt offensive line remains high — he gave it a “10” on a 1-10 scale — and that frustration, from his perspective, has yet to surface.
“No,” Romo said. “It’s about winning and losing. You want to execute to the highest level each week. But at the same time, [winning and losing] is what it comes down to. All the other stuff is just about getting better.”
From an offensive standpoint, Romo acknowledged the Cowboys “need to do the little things better” if they are to build on their 2-1 start. Toward that end, he has addressed the offense’s shortcomings, particularly the pre-snap penalties, in discussions with teammates.
“You’re always letting the team know what you need to do to be successful,” Romo said. “And me being in a leadership role, that obviously needs to be addressed.
“We need to do the little things better. That will help us a lot because we’re already doing enough good things. We just need to minimize the stuff that you can control. The stuff that should be stuff that we’re good at.”
At the top of the list, Romo cited penalties and negative-yardage runs. So did offensive line coach Bill Callahan, who said shortcomings in those areas against Tampa Bay put the offense in too many obvious passing situations that led to too many “hellacious hits” on Romo, who is 32.
“We have to do a better job keeping Tony clean,” Callahan said.
Romo, who was sacked a career-high 36 times last season, downplayed any concerns about residual hits taking a toll on his abilities or his escapability in the pocket. In fact, he cited making creative plays as part of his job description.
“If somebody gets beat, my job is to help them out once in a while and [make a play],” Romo said. “You don’t want to make a living at that. But, at the same time, part of my job is to do that. And they are going to make me look better on other plays.”
But those “other plays” have been few and far between the past two weeks, when Dallas managed just one offensive touchdown against Tampa Bay and during a 27-7 loss to Seattle. Romo figures to do his fair share of freelancing, once again, against the Bears’ stellar pass rush.
In those scramble situations, Romo said he’s “always judging and balancing” his next move based on the circumstances at hand: score, down-and-distance, time remaining.
“You just learn over time what you can do with certain things,” Romo said.
And when things go awry, as they have the past two weeks, Romo has learned to be patient and avoid letting frustrations become public. Even if teammates sense he is masking his emotions.
“It’s not always going to go perfect back there,” Romo said. “But … just keep grinding away and you can do some things. We’re going to continue to get better. I feel very confident.”
Having the NFL’s top-rated defense has been downplayed this week by Dallas Cowboys’ players. Defensive tackle Jason Hatcher made that clear when asked about the significance of leading the league in total defense, which is based on fewest yards allowed (250 yards per game), after three games.
“We don’t care where we are on the stats sheet as a defense. Not at all,” Hatcher said. “We’ve just got to keep improving and doing the right things.”
But there is a little twin envy going on in New York, where Jets’ coach Rex Ryan – a former defensive coordinator — has a unit ranked only 21st among NFL teams while his twin bother, Rob, has the Cowboys (2-1) perched atop the NFL statistical heap.
“When my twin brother is No. 1 in the league in defense and we’re 21st, that stings a little bit, there’s no question,” Rex Ryan said during a news conference in New York.
DALLAS’ TRIPLE-CORNER FLEX DEFENSE: Dallas Cowboy CB Brandon Carr willing to play safety the rest of the season; three cover corners could be the solution to pass-happy NFL.
Dallas Cowboys cornerback Brandon Carr has accepted the accolades that accompanied his surprising – and successful – debut as an NFL safety in Sunday’s 16-10 victory over Tampa Bay. Carr played much of the game at safety in place of injured starter Gerald Sensabaugh, who skipped the contest with a strained calf.
Carr’s future could include an extended run at that position now that Barry Church, the other starting safety, is out for the season with a torn Achilles tendon. Sensabaugh’s availability remains day-to-day, said coach Jason Garrett, which could mean additional time for Carr at safety while Morris Claiborne and Mike Jenkins handle the cornerback spots.
Although he signed a five-year, $50.1 million contract in the off-season to be the Cowboys’ shutdown cornerback, and coaches still consider him their best player at that position, Carr said he would embrace an extended run at safety if that is in the best interest of the team.
“If that’s what we have to do for us to get our best 11 on their 11 and to get off the field and win ball games, I’m all for it,” Carr said. “I came here with one thing in mind and that was to win ball games.”
Although he last played safety in high school, and only briefly then, Carr said he is willing to spend the rest of the season there if coach Jason Garrett and defensive coordinator Rob Ryan believes it is in the team’s best interest.
“If this is the role that I’m going to have to have this whole season, then I’m going to accept it and be ready to work and have everybody ready to go when my number’s called,” Carr said.
Because the Cowboys are expected to sign a veteran safety this week to replace Church, who is headed to the injured reserve list, Carr’s days at the position may be numbered. But it became clear against Tampa Bay that having three cover corners on the field at the same time _ Carr, Jenkins and Claiborne _ can be a positive defensive move in today’s pass-happy NFL.
Might the three-corners defense become a Cowboys’ staple going forward?
“I have no clue,” Carr said, smiling. “That’s the good thing about being a player. After each game is over with, you tell me what to do and I say, ‘Ok, coach’ and get ready and prepare myself for Sunday. Each week is going to be exciting to see what new wrinkle we add to our defense. I feel like we have a lot of guys that can play a lot of positions, so, hopefully, that will help us out in our versatility and our different looks. It’s going to be fun.”
RELATED: Jason Garrett credits Rob Ryan, Jerome Henderson for idea of Carr to safety
Jason Garrett gave defensive coordinator Rob Ryan and secondary coach Jerome Henderson credit for finding a way to have Brandon Carr play safety and Mike Jenkins to play cornerback while also keeping Vincent Jackson in check.
The Cowboys needed a way to make up for the loss of safety Gerald Sensabaugh, and putting Carr at safety was one way to do that and also to open up snaps at cornerback for Jenkins, who had been working his way back from offseason shoulder surgery.
“I think it was a real good idea by Rob and by Jerome early on in the week to do that,” Garrett said. “I think it was a great job by Brandon Carr of embracing the idea, saying, ‘Hey, I can do this. Absolutely, I’m excited to do this. I haven’t played safety since high school.’ He was kind of champing at the bit to do it.
“The concerns we had in the discussion was, they have this big guy, Vincent Jackson, and we have this big corner, this is the best matchup, should we really do this? And I think the combination of him playing corner but also playing safety and getting Jenks out there was a good way to go, and I think everybody responded really well to it.”
Garrett said now that Carr has put in some time at safety, the Cowboys have developed a little versatility.
“It’s nice to have that option in your hip pocket,” he said. “If we get in trouble and don’t have other options, we can say, let’s go back and do that again. We obviously want him to play corner. That’s what we feel like he’s best at. But to be able to do that with a guy to absorb an injury, that’s a good thing to have in your hip pocket going forward.”
DeMarco Murray scored the Cowboys’ first rushing touchdown of the season with an 11-yard stretch play in the first quarter. It was his third career rushing touchdown and first since Nov. 13, 2011, against Buffalo.
However, that was one of the few holes he found. Murray had only 38 yards on 18 carries.
“All day long, it was tough,” he said. “There weren’t a lot of creases up there.”
Despite the lack of running room, Murray blamed himself for failing to capitalize on a couple of opportunities.
“One was a really, really bad play by me,” he said. “I got tripped up and let a guy arm tackle me. There definitely could have been two home runs for me, and it didn’t happen.”
As a team, the Cowboys (2-1) had only five rushing touchdowns last season: the fewest of any season in franchise history. With one rushing touchdown in three games this season, they are on a comparable pace in 2012. On his TD run, Murray said: ““It felt good. Tyron (Smith) made a good block. Miles (Austin) made a good block and it was open, so I’ve got to give credit to those guys.”
Five Dallas Cowboys players, including three starters, have been ruled out of Sunday’s game because of injuries: nose tackle Jay Ratliff (ankle), defensive end Kenyon Coleman (knee), center Phil Costa (back), linebacker Alex Albright (neck) and safety Matt Johnson (hamstring). Ratliff, Coleman and Costa are starters.
A fourth starter, safety Gerald Sensabaugh (calf), is doubtful and did not participate in Friday’s workout. Defensive tackle Marcus Spears took part in limited drills and is questionable.
Players listed as probable included receiver Miles Austin (hamstring), safety Barry Church (quad), receiver Andre Holmes (knee), cornerback Mike Jenkins (shoulder), linebacker Sean Lee (hip), linebacker DeMarcus Ware (hamstring), linebacker Kyle Wilber (thumb) and tight end Jason Witten (spleen). Lee was limited in Friday’s drills. The rest participated fully.
DID YOU KNOW? The Boys Are Back blog provides Dallas Cowboys AND opponent injury updates from the team practices and those officially reported to the NFL. See the Injury Updates page at the top of every page or look on the right side of any post.
If the Dallas Cowboys find themselves in victory formation Sunday with plans to let quarterback Tony Romo kneel and kill the remaining clock, they can expect a spirited surge from the Tampa Bay defense.
Buccaneers’ first-year coach Greg Schiano defended that tactic, which he used to the chagrin of his opponent in the final 5 seconds of Sunday’s 41-34 loss to the New York Giants, because he’s seen it work in the past.
During a Monday news conference in Tampa, Schiano said his Rutgers teams forced four fumbles in the past five seasons using a similar technique. He stressed that the Bucs will continue to play until the final second despite postgame complaints from Giants coach Tom Coughlin and quarterback Eli Manning, who called the move a "cheap shot."
"To me, it’s a clean, hard, tough finish-the-game play. Some people disagree with that," said Schiano, whose move touched off a flurry of differing opinions from NFL analysts. "But I don’t have any remorse or regret … it was no sneak attack. We were down, ready to go and that’s how we do it all the time."
Schiano, who spent 11 seasons at Rutgers before taking the Bucs job in January, saw his team recover a fumble in a kneel-down situation in 2009 against West Virginia, only to have the recovery nullified because of an offside penalty.
Former NFL coaches and players have offered differing opinions on Schiano’s strategy. Those siding with Schiano cite a 1978 game in which Philadelphia beat the Giants, 19-17, on a 26-yard fumble return for a touchdown after a botched handoff as the Giants tried to kill the clock in the final minute.
Asked about Schiano’s move, Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said: "Certainly, there is a style of football they are trying to implement. … We will just be aware of what happened in the past and make sure we handle it the right way on our end."
Terrific turnover margin
The Bucs (1-1) have the same record as the Cowboys (1-1) but feature one of the NFL’s top marks in turnover margin: plus-3. The Cowboys forced no turnovers and lost two (one interception, one fumble) in Sunday’s 27-7 loss to Seattle.
Tampa Bay kicker Connor Barth has connected on a franchise-record 20 consecutive field-goal attempts, including kicks of 45 and 52 yards in Sunday’s loss to the Giants. Barth said some of his success stems from the fact that, for the first time in his career, he is working with the same deep snapper (Andrew Economos) and holder (Mike Koenen) for a second consecutive season. Barth’s streak still pales in comparison to Dallas kicker Dan Bailey, who made 26 consecutive field goals as a rookie last season.
Burned by blitzes
Giants quarterback Eli Manning threw for a career-high 510 yards in Sunday’s victory over Tampa Bay. The Bucs allowed a franchise-record 604 yards in the 41-34 loss, giving up multiple big plays — including an 80-yard TD catch by Victor Cruz — in blitz situations. After reviewing video, Schiano said his defense will not shy away from blitzes despite failing to sack Manning.
"We’re not a blitz-heavy team," Schiano told reporters in Tampa. "But, yeah, we’re going to mix it up. That’s who we are … Sometimes you get there and it’s great."
NFL Game Rewind
After the game, Cowboys outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware called it "an honor" to reach the 100 sack milestone in his career and do it faster than any NFL player other than the late Reggie White since sacks became an official NFL statistic in 1982.
Ware had two sacks in Wednesday’s 24-17 victory over the New York Giants, giving him 101.5 for his career and making him the 28th player in league history to hit triple digits in the sack department. The kicker: Ware did it in his 113th career game. Only White, who played for the Philadelphia Eagles and Green Bay Packers during a Hall of Fame career, reached 100 sacks faster. White did it in 96 games.
The five pass rushers in NFL history who needed the fewest number of games to reach the 100-sack plateau: Reggie White (96), DeMarcus Ware (113), Bruce Smith (115), Jared Allen (122) and Leslie O’Neal (127).
It should be noted that the two guys bracketing Ware on that list — White and Smith — are both in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Dallas Cowboys cornerback Brandon Carr has yet to play his first regular-season game as a Dallas Cowboy. But he understands the stakes involved in Wednesday’s opener against the New York Giants, the team that defeated Dallas in a winner-take-all battle for last year’s NFC East title in the final game of the 2011 season, then used that momentum to sweep through the playoffs and win the Super Bowl.
“Make no mistake about it. This is the most important week for the Dallas Cowboys. It’s as simple as that,” said Carr, who signed a five-year, $50.1 million free-agent deal in the off-season to become the Cowboys’ shutdown cornerback. “We’re going to New York and they won it all last year. They have it right now. So, that’s the goal (to win a championship).
“It’s a chance for both teams to pretty much go out there and set the tone for the division. And show the whole world all the work and commitment and sacrifice we put into this whole off-season. We want to play our best, prepare our best … I’m pumped for it. I’m trying to keep myself as level as I can right now. But come Wednesday afternoon, it’s on. Just put it like that. It’s on.”
Carr, who spent the last four seasons in Kansas City, is well aware of the torment that Giants’ quarterback Eli Manning has inflicted on the Cowboys’ secondary in recent seasons. Carr feels a strong obligation to help reverse that trend and expressed plans to put in long hours of film study to make that happen. Carr faced Manning once, in 2009, when he played for the Chiefs and noted that Manning is “a smart quarterback that can pretty much make any throw.”
But he welcomes the challenge.
“For myself, I’m going to turn it up a notch,” Carr said. “Just watching film and using my resources … to try and get an edge on the competition. But it’s going to come down to going out there and seeing who executes the playbook better. That’s really what it comes down to. Who wants it more?”
Carr knows his teammates who played in last year’s season-ending loss to the Giants still are pained by memories of that failure.
“Oh, I believe it. That’s one of the first videos I saw (after signing with Dallas) was the New York-Dallas game,” Carr said. “That (bad) taste is in a lot of guys’ mouths. That’s the good thing about playing sports. You’ve got the next year to go out there and try to prove yourself once again. We have an opportunity where everybody is 0-0 right now and it’s up to us to go out there and put a good show on and, hopefully, come away with more wins than losses and, ultimately, come home with the Super Bowl trophy.”
Dallas Cowboys running back Lance Dunbar, a rookie free agent from North Texas and Haltom High School, made his final audition for a roster spot a memorable one Wednesday night in Cowboys Stadium.
Dunbar rushed for a team-high 105 yards, including a 58-yard touchdown burst in the third quarter of a 30-13 victory over the Miami Dolphins. Dunbar (5-foot-8, 191 pounds), who missed the team’s first two pre-season games with a hamstring injury, also mixed in a 27-yard punt return and a tackle on kickoff coverage. He averaged 7.0 yards per rush (15 carries, 105 yards).
Dunbar’s touchdown marked the longest run from scrimmage by a Cowboys’ back during the pre-season. His performance drew post-game praise from coach Jason Garrett, who acknowledged that several performances in Wednesday’s game “probably made us rethink some things” in regard to the makeup of the team’s 53-man roster.
Asked about landing a spot on the Cowboys’ roster, Dunbar said: “I think I did enough. But I think I could have done better. I could have made more tackles on special teams … it was an alright performance.”
But Dunbar said “it meant a lot” to top the 100-yard mark in a game he viewed as an all-or-nothing evaluation opportunity after missing the brunt of training camp with the hamstring injury.
“I think I did pretty good,” Dunbar said. “They’ll evaluate, and we’ll see what happens soon.”
Garrett called Dunbar’s performance one of the bright spots in Wednesday’s contest.
“I thought Dunbar ran the ball really well. He showed his lateral quickness, his ability to burst through a hole and, obviously, make big runs,” Garrett said. “And he’s a tough guy. He’s not afraid to stick it up in there, either. We’ve felt really good about Dunbar all through the off-season and through training camp. He just hasn’t had a chance to play because he got banged up.”
Dunbar is competing with incumbent Phillip Tanner, who carried nine times for 48 yards and a TD, to be the team’s third running back.
“We like our backup running backs,” Garrett said. “Phillip Tanner has done a really nice job since he’s been here, both as an offensive player and also on special teams.”
Dallas Cowboys linebacker Orie Lemon, who spent last season on the practice squad, made the type of play in Wednesday’s pre-season finale against Miami that could earn him a roster spot this season.
Lemon, an Oklahoma State product, scored a second-quarter touchdown on a 26-yard interception return. Lemon read the eyes of Miami quarterback Matt Moore, undercut the route of running back Marcus Thigpen and jogged into the end zone for the score.
Lemon’s play was the first to draw praise from Cowboys coach Jason Garrett during his post-game news conference, when Garrett acknowledged that multiple performance against the Dolphins could cause some last minute tweaks to the 53-player makeup.
“Orie Lemon made a huge play in the game with the interception return for a touchdown,” said Garrett, adding that Lemon played “with the right spirit and the right mentality.”
But will it earn him a roster spot?
“You never know,” Lemon said. “I’ve got to get better at a lot of things on the defensive side of the field. I’ve got to get better on special teams also. I know if I do, I’ll be on somebody’s team. I’ll be on special teams mostly. I think I opened up a couple of eyes.”
Lemon, a Houston native, said he hopes the eyes he opened belong to Dallas coaches. He said: “I want to stay here. I don’t want to go anywhere else. It’s like family to me. I would love to stay here. But if I had to go somewhere else, I’ll do what I have to do … I feel like I put some good film out (for other teams to notice).”
Consider Cowboys inside linebacker Sean Lee among those who has noticed Lemon throughout training camp.
“Orie Lemon is a real physical football player. He improved a lot through the year last year and he worked hard this off-season,” Lee said. “There’s one thing you can’t teach and that’s the ability to make plays with the football. That’s an ability he has. He works hard. He’s a smart guys and he’s a great teammate. I’m really excited to see him do well.”