ARLINGTON • Felix Jones started at halfback for the Cowboys the first five games of the season and Tashard Choice drew the assignment in the sixth game Sunday against the St. Louis Rams.
It should be a while before either starts again.
If DeMarco Murray is worthy of walking with legends, he’s certainly worthy of starting for the Cowboys.
Murray erased the names of Hall of Famers Tony Dorsett, Emmitt Smith and Jim Brown from the record book with the finest performance by an NFL runner this season — a 253-yard explosion against the hapless Rams in a 34-7 victory.
Nick Benbrook (left), a Cardinals fan, and Will Head, a Rangers fan, keep an eye on the Rams game while watching batting practice before Game 4 of the World Series between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Texas Rangers Sunday, October 23, 2011 at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, Texas. Photo by Laurie Skrivan
ARLINGTON, Texas • The hulking Cowboys Stadium casts a Texas-sized shadow over Rangers Ballpark.
As the lesser-known brick-face ballpark next door prepared to host the Cardinals in the World Series on Sunday, Cowboys Stadium welcomed the St. Louis Rams.
St. Louis fans in town on Sunday clamored to get tickets to see both of their hometown teams collide in the same city, but the reaction here to the coincidental contests punctuated what everyone already knows: This is football country.
Star outfielders Lance Berkman of the Cardinals and Josh Hamilton of the Rangers were on the football field as guests for the ceremonial coin-toss. They represented cities who are as different as the two sides of the coin: Dallas loves the Cowboys like St. Louis loves the Cardinals.
ARLINGTON, TEXAS — A former University of Oklahoma star flashed his considerable talents Sunday at Cowboys Stadium, and it wasn’t Sam Bradford.
Bradford, the former Sooners Heisman Trophy winner, could only look on in admiration — or was it disgust? — as former OU teammate DeMarco Murray left his cleat marks all over the St. Louis defense.
Murray got his day started with a 91-yard touchdown run in the first quarter, and didn’t stop until he had gone well over 200 yards rushing. His 252 yards rushing was a Cowboys single-game record and also a record for a Rams opponent.
On this day, the Cowboys didn’t really need Tony Romo except to hand off. But Romo got into the act as well, throwing a couple of TD passes as the Dallas crushed the hapless Rams 34-7. The Cowboys improved to 3-3; the Rams fell to 0-6.
Veteran A.J. Feeley made his first start since 2007, in place of Bradford who did not suit up because of a high ankle sprain. The Rams couldn’t sustain much of anything on offense, even with the addition of Brandon Lloyd to the receiving corps via last Monday’s trade with Denver.
As for the St. Louis run defense, it made Murray look like the next Emmitt Smith or Tony Dorsett with a mirage of missed tackles and missed gaps.
For the second week in a row, the Rams had their opponent backed up near the shadow of its goal line. And for the second week in a row, they gave up a touchdown of 90 yards-plus. Last week in Green Bay, it was Jordy Nelson racing 93 yards with an Aaron Rodgers pass.
Sunday against Dallas, it was Murray racing 91 yards on a run up the middle for the game’s first touchdown. It was the longest run against the Rams in franchise history and came on a delayed handoff that had the St. Louis defense thinking pass. Defensive tackle Fred Robbins looped to the outside on the play and linebacker Brady Poppinga was blocked at the point of attack, leaving a gaping hole.
Late in first quarter, Cadillac Williams fumbled away a screen pass with the Cowboys taking over at their 38. Despite a sack by James Hall, the Cowboys gobbled up yardage in big chunks in the passing game after the takeaway, with Tony Romo completions of 18 yards to Jason Witten, 34 yards to Dez Bryant, and 17 yards to ex-Ram Laurent Robinson giving them a first-and-goal at the St. Louis 4.
On third-and-goal from the 1, Romo threw to a wide-open Jason Witten for a TD and a 14-0 lead. In what looked like a busted coverage by the Rams, safety Quintin Mikell was left trying to cover two Cowboys in the end zone. Once he left Witten, that’s where Romo threw it.
But the Rams’ offense showed some rare life following the ensuing kickoff, taking over on its 15. The big play came on third-and-3 from the Dallas 46, with Steven Jackson roaring up the middle for a 40-yard gain to the Dallas 6. Operating against the NFL’s top-ranked rush defense, Jackson had only 14 yards on 10 carries until that run. On the next play from scrimmage, Jackson scored on a 6-yard run, running untouched to his right into the end zone.
The Rams got the ball back with a chance to tie before halftime, but a third-down throw by Feeley intended for Brandon Lloyd was intercepted by Dallas corner Mike Jenkins, giving the Cowboys possession on the St. Louis 30 with 3:34 to play in the first half. But Dallas, second-worst in the league in red zone offense ahead of only the Rams, had to settle for a 30-yard field goal by Dan Bailey and a 17-7 halftime lead.
JIM THOMAS | St Louis Post Dispatch | Posted: Sunday, October 23, 2011
With help from the Cardinals, Spagnuolo along with his wife and all the players on the trip attended Game 3 of the World Series on Saturday night. The team was staying at a hotel a short drive away for their game Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys, whose stadium is a few hundred yards from Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.
“We would normally have meetings right now,” Spagnuolo said a few minutes before the first pitch just outside Section 317 in the top deck of the ballpark, ‘so this is our meeting for tonight. It worked out good because we have a 3 o’clock game tomorrow, so we have time to do the meetings (in the morning). I thought it would be a good thing for team bonding. … I thought it would be a great experience for the guys. How often are you going to get a chance to go to a World Series game?”
Spagnuolo said he’d been to one World Series game before, in 2004 at Fenway Park when the Cardinals played the Red Sox. Then, Spagnuolo was an assistant with the Philadelphia Eagles who went because he was a native of Massachusetts and didn’t personally know the people involved. But now, because of his friendship with Cardinals manager Tony La Russa, this game feels different.
“This is special,” said Spagnuolo, wearing a red shirt for the occasion. “I’m close friends with Tony. I think the world of their team and what they’ve done this year. I think it’s a great reflection of what you can do when you persevere and hang in there. They fought their way back there, so we’re proud of them.”
And for a Rams team that is off to an 0-5 start, a team that came back from 10½ down is a good role model.
“It’s early yet for us,” Spagnuolo said, ‘so we’ll see what happens.”
TOM TIMMERMANN | St. Louis Post Dispatch | Posted: Sunday, October 23, 2011
Beware of Ware
Dallas OLB DeMarcus Ware has led the NFL in sacks in two of the past three seasons, and already has seven sacks this year. He’s not just the best pass rusher in the league; he might be the best defensive player in the game — period. “I like his aggressiveness,” Rams left tackle Rodger Saffold said. “I think he does a good job of diversifying his rushes. It’s not just all speed and burst.” Ware can line up on the left edge, the right edge, and as Saffold puts it, has been known to drift to other spots as well.
QUESTION: What is your thinking on why the Rams have had so many problems protecting Sam Bradford this season?
First of all, the Rams’ offensive line represents the worst investment of money, and the biggest waste of money, in the history of St. Louis professional sports. It must be hard to pass block when your uniform is lined with all of those 100-dollar bills.
Next, there’s the Josh McDaniels’ downfield-passing offense. One problem with that: Rams wideouts can’t get open downfield. Bradford waiting for them to get open is about as futile as a guy trying to catch a taxi in the rain. Gonna get hit. Gonna get wet. (Hopefully, Brandon Lloyd will help in this area). When the receivers do get open, there’s a chance they’ll catch the ball. Maybe, maybe not.
Lastly, Bradford has to get rid of the football with a little more urgency. There’s no need to take a hit or a sack when there’s no chance of making a downfield connection. Throwing it away is a better alternative.
Contrary to popular belief, the pass blocking has been pretty good against the New York Giants and Green Bay. But if you had to name one thing, it would be the play of young offensive tackles Rodger Saffold and Jason Smith. After his strong play last season, Saffold has experienced a sophomore slump; he was much better pass-blocking last week in Green Bay (although he did hurt the team with penalties). And Smith played one of his better games.
And before you line up the offensive line and line coach Steve Loney before a firing squad, consider this: More than a third of the sacks allowed this year have had nothing to do with the o-line. There have been blocking breakdowns by the tight ends, the running backs, and there have been several times when QB Sam Bradford has simply held the ball too long waiting for receivers to get open in a scheme that features more downfield throwing.
Jason Smith is a pass blocking liability at right tackle. Left tackle Rodger Saffold has channeled his inner Alex Barron and become a human penalty machine – forcing Bradford into unfavorable down-and-distance situations. The Josh McDaniels offense features more deep patterns . . . and the Rams receivers haven’t been getting open consistently enough, leaving Sam holding the ball. Throw in an unhealthy number of protection mix-ups and Bradford has taken a beating.
Seems like the O-line is having trouble adjusting to Josh McDaniels’ offense. Bradford’s deeper drops take more time, which puts more pressure on the line. In addition, since the Rams have been playing from behind so much, opposing defenses can take more chances and set their sights on getting to the quarterback.
ROGER HENSLEY | St. Louis Post-Dispatch | Posted: Friday, October 21, 2011 12:56 pm
No NFL team has lived on the edge of victory and defeat quite like the Dallas Cowboys this season. All five of their games have been decided by four points or less. And with the scrutiny America’s Team gets on a daily basis, it has been a well-chronicled, wildly fluctuating roller-coaster ride from week to week.
Just two examples:
• Quarterback Tony Romo has been a superhero, leading the Cowboys to a 27-24 overtime victory over San Francisco in Week 2 despite a cracked rib and a punctured lung.
• Two weeks later, Romo was a dud, throwing three second-half interceptions in a 34-30 loss to Detroit, a game in which the Cowboys blew a 27-3 third-quarter lead.
The winless Rams (0-5) can only hope Dallas and Romo are in dud mode Sunday at Cowboys Stadium. Despite lots of potential firepower on offense, the numbers don’t add up for the Cowboys (2-3). On one hand, Dallas is seventh in the league in total offense, which ranks teams according to yards gained. Somehow all those yards have produced only 10 touchdowns this season.
ST. LOUIS, MO — For Sam Bradford, Sunday’s game in Dallas is as close at it gets to an NFL homecoming. He grew up in Oklahoma City, about 3½ hours north on I-35. Oklahoma is Cowboys country when it comes to pro football; always has been.
But when the Rams drafted Bradford No. 1 overall in 2010, Bradford’s No. 8 jersey started springing up in malls and stores throughout the Sooner state. And some of those Tony Romo No. 9 Cowboys jerseys were moved to the discount racks.
So there could be even more Oklahomans than usual in the stands at Cowboys Stadium when the Rams come to town for a 3:15 p.m. kickoff. Bradford has received more than a few ticket requests from friends and family.
“And I would hate to get tickets for people to watch me stand on the sideline,” Bradford said. “So hopefully, I’m getting tickets for people that are going to see me play.”
Yes, there is that not-so-small matter of Bradford’s high ankle sprain. It occurred on the Rams’ last offensive play of the game against Green Bay. Basically, the entire pocket collapsed on him and he got hit from a few angles. There was such a heap of humanity that game tape doesn’t really show exactly how Bradford’s left ankle was hurt.
“I got hit from the front, I got hit from the back, and that’s about all I know,” Bradford said.