HOT PROSPECT: Chicago Bears interested in talking to Joe DeCamillis about head coaching job
Dallas Cowboys special teams coach Joe DeCamillis is on the Chicago Bears list of head coaching candidates. Bears general manager Phil Emery has asked the Cowboys for permission to interview DeCamillis. (The Cowboys cannot deny the request since it is a head coaching position.)
DeCamillis and Emery worked together in Atlanta for three years, when Emery was the Falcons director of college scouting and DeCamillis the special teams coach there.
DeCamillis, 47, just completed his fourth season with the Cowboys. He also previously has been a special teams coach for the Broncos (1988-92), Giants (1993-96) and Jaguars (2007-08) besides his stint in Atlanta (1997-2006).
John Harbaugh was the Eagles special teams coach when the Ravens hired him as their head coach in 2008.
The Bears also reportedly will interview Falcons special teams coach Keith Armstrong, Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy and Bucs offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan. Chicago fired Lovie Smith on Monday after Smith went 84-66 in nine seasons.
TWELVE SEEDS SET: Road to Super Bowl XLVII
After 17 grueling weeks, the playoffs are finally here. The seeds are set and the field is stacked.
A quick look at the 12 teams that survived to play another game. Here’s a case for and against each squad in the race to Super Bowl XLVII:
1) Atlanta Falcons (13-3)
How do they make a deep run? The Falcons continue to be an excellent home team. The running game provides just enough balance to complement a potent passing attack, and the defense routinely baffles elite quarterbacks, producing several turnovers.
How do they get eliminated? The Falcons struggle to rush the passer, and they become too one-dimensional on offense. In their three losses this season, they produced just two sacks and were out-rushed, 487-146. A team like the Seattle Seahawks or San Francisco 49ers could pose a huge problem.
2) San Francisco 49ers (11-4-1)
How do they make a deep run? The defense dominates the line of scrimmage and Colin Kaepernick produces three or four big plays per game. Receiver Michael Crabtree continues to emerge as a top-shelf talent, and the running game benefits from the fresh legs of rookie LaMichael James.
How do they get eliminated? The49ers’ defense can be attacked; the New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks provided a blueprint for doing so in Weeks 15 and 16. The 49ers’ offense, meanwhile, is capable of stalling for long stretches of time. The poor play of kicker David Akers could also end up costing San Francisco a game.
3) Green Bay Packers (11-5)
How do they make a deep run? Led by Aaron Rodgers, the Packers’ passing attack gets hot and puts up huge numbers, outscoring every opponent. A different receiver steps up every week and a healthy Clay Matthews closes out games with pressures and sacks.
How do they get eliminated? The offensive line can’t protect Rodgers and the running game fails to provide the necessary balance. The Minnesota Vikings match up very well against the Packers; they’re fully capable of quickly ending Green Bay’s postseason.
4) Washington Redskins (10-6)
How do they make a deep run? The Redskins’ unique offense controls the clock, shortens games and piles up just enough points. The defense covers up some soft spots by sending lots of pressure and creating key turnovers. Relishing their postseason opportunity, steady veterans DeAngelo Hall and London Fletcher produce game-changing plays.
How do they get eliminated? Robert Griffin III’s knee injury makes the offense more predictable, and a talented defensive opponent manages to take away Alfred Morris. The Redskins’ defense struggles to create a pass rush, and the safety play is exposed by a top-notch quarterback.
5) Seattle Seahawks (11-5)
How do they make a deep run? They carry their momentum right through the postseason. Russell Wilson continues to play clutch, mistake-free football, while Marshawn Lynch grinds out tough yards. The defense continues to create high numbers of turnovers and finds the end zone a few times, as well.
How do they get eliminated? An opponent stacks the box to take away Lynch, and the athletic Wilson is contained. The lack of a true No. 1 receiver ends up being an issue, and the offensive production takes a nosedive.
6) Minnesota Vikings (10-6)
How do they make a deep run? Adrian Peterson continues to carry the entire offense, and Christian Ponder protects the football. Jared Allen gets hot; his pressures create sacks and turnovers. Kicker Blair Walsh hits a long, game-winning field goal along the way.
How do they get eliminated? An opponent sells out to slow down Peterson, and Ponder is unable to make them pay for it. Peterson puts the ball on the ground, and Ponder struggles to play from behind. The defense allows a mobile quarterback to create plays with his legs.
1) Denver Broncos (13-3)
How do they make a deep run? Peyton Manning will have two weeks to prepare for his first opponent. The Broncos are the NFL’s most complete team, ranking in the top five in virtually every important statistic. This balance will make Denver very difficult to eliminate. The pass rush can take over a game, giving Manning’s offense a short field and allowing the Broncos to pile up points quickly.
How do they get eliminated? If the weather is horrible in Denver and the Broncos’ rushing attack is unable to get on track, they could struggle offensively. A matchup against Tom Brady and the New England Patriots in the snow would pose a very formidable challenge.
2) New England Patriots (12-4)
How do they make a deep run? Recently returned tight end Rob Gronkowski sparks an offensive explosion. Brady benefits from a solid ground attack, utilizing his tight ends to produce chunk plays down the field. The young secondary allows some big gains, but comes up with a few key turnovers.
How do they get eliminated? A physical Baltimore Ravens team pushes around New England’s offensive line, or the Pats simply run into a red-hot Denver team on the road and lose a shootout. I don’t see any of the other AFC teams giving New England much of a problem.
3) Houston Texans (12-4)
How do they make a deep run? They forget recent struggles and recapture their early-season form. Arian Foster shoulders the load on offense, and the defensive line creates numerous sacks and turnovers. The secondary avoids giving up the big play.
How do they get eliminated? Matt Schaub fails to make enough plays to outscore either the Patriots or the Broncos. Facing constant double-teams, J.J. Watt is unable to dominate the game.
4) Baltimore Ravens (10-6)
How do they make a deep run? A well-rested Ray Rice carries the ball more than he has during the regular season, and the Ravens physically pound their opponents. Tight end Dennis Pitta and receiver Torrey Smith produce big plays in the passing game. The defense is sparked by the return of Ray Lewis. Paul Kruger plays the role of unsung hero, making several impact plays.
How do they get eliminated? The offense features too much Joe Flacco and not enough Rice. Baltimore allows too many sacks; opponents manage to strip the ball from Flacco in the pocket, creating turnovers. The defense struggles to contain the run.
5) Indianapolis Colts (11-5)
How do they make a deep run? Andrew Luck continues to excel on third down, and the veteran pass-rushing duo of Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis steps up to make several impact plays. Cornerback Vontae Davis keeps playing at an elite level, picking off a few balls.
How do they get eliminated? The offensive line is overwhelmed and Luck doesn’t get any time to throw the football. The defensive front is pushed around, giving up too many rushing yards to a back like the Ravens’ Rice or the Patriots’ Stevan Ridley.
6) Cincinnati Bengals (10-6)
How do they make a deep run? Receiver A.J. Green gets hot, producing several big plays through the air, and the pass rush dominates on the other side of the ball. Geno Atkins finally gets credit for his outstanding play after collecting several sacks and tackles for a loss.
How do they get eliminated? The running game is unable to provide balance, and Andy Dalton turns the ball over too much. The defense is on the field too often, and the unit runs out of gas late.
FLASHBACK 2011: Dallas Cowboys can’t afford another repeat of McCoy’s historic performance
IRVING, Texas – It has been about 51 weeks, but the Cowboys haven’t forgotten.
Sure, so much has happened to this football since then and most of it hasn’t been memorable. And without a doubt, the Cowboys’ last visit to Lincoln Financial Field wasn’t a fun time, mainly because of one LeSean McCoy.
The Cowboys were trounced that night in Philly, 34-7, and McCoy was the biggest reason. He was also the fastest, the quickest, most elusive and most dominating.
While the Eagles aren’t exactly playing at a high level this season – entering the game with the same 3-5 record as the Cowboys – let’s not forget about 2011. The Eagles weren’t exactly setting the world on fire when these two teams met in Philly last year. In fact, they were a dismal 2-4 when the Cowboys showed up. But, the Eagles made it pretty clear they were going to get McCoy involved.
It turned out to be a good plan, considering McCoy totaled 200 all-purpose yards, including 185 on the ground, the sixth-highest single-game total in Eagles history.
In the rematch at Cowboys Stadium on Christmas Eve – a game that turned out to be one of the more meaningless regular-season matchups ever, McCoy rushed for just 30 yards on 13 carries as the Eagles won 20-7.
This year, McCoy ranks 10th in the NFL in rushing with 623 yards, but has only two touchdowns. He’s also dangerous out of the backfield with 30 catches for 148 yards and three scores.
“I think he’s outstanding,” Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett said. “He has such great lateral quickness, such great elusiveness, speed, ability to get to the edge, ability to break tackles. He just makes so many great runs over and over again. It will be a challenge for us to corral him, get a lot of people around the ball and tackle him to the ground. That’s what we need to do.”
Seems to be harder than it sounds.
“You have to stop ‘Shady’ McCoy,” defensive end Jason Hatcher said. “He’s one of the top five backs in the league. He’s slippery. He cuts and plays like Barry Sanders. He’ll cut it all the way across the field to get yards.”
Linebacker Bruce Carter, who is coming off a 10-tackle game against the Falcons last week, said his experience on special teams might come in handy when facing a guy like McCoy, who is not afraid to change directions, especially in the open field.
“We just have to be disciplined, especially with our ends and outside linebackers,” Carter said. “You have to set the edge. He’s always got a counter move where he can cut it back. He can go the distance the other way. What (linebackers coach Matt Eberflus) told us, every play is like a kickoff return. You just never know.”
The Cowboys need Carter to be effective inside, especially with the injury situation at the other linebacker spot. Sean Lee is out for the season after undergoing toe surgery two weeks ago. His immediate replacement, Dan Connor, missed last week’s game with a stinger and hasn’t practiced in full this week. Second-year pro Orie Lemon suffered a hamstring injury and was placed on injured reserve.
The Cowboys have signed veterans Ernie Sims and Gary Guyton off the street the last two weeks.
ADRENELINE STRATEGY: Jason Garrett likes playing defense on the road first
Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said he likes the idea of playing defense on the road first. For the last three road games, he Cowboys have won the toss and deferred their choice to the second half.
“We feel like there are a lot of statistics that suggest it’s easier to play defense early in games on the road,” Garrett said at his Friday press conference at Valley Ranch. “There are a few other factors that add to this that I don’t want to get into. But we feel like when certain conditions are right, deferring is a better choice for us. A lot of it has to do with being on the road in that kind of environment.”
The Cowboys deferred their choice at Baltimore, Carolina and Atlanta. Baltimore drove 60 yards for a field goal on its opening drive, but Carolina and Atlanta each went three-and-out on the opening drive.
The one time this year the Cowboys won the toss and took the ball on the road, Felix Jones fumbled the kickoff at Seattle.
Other teams might have the same philosophy about opening on defense on the road.
Tampa Bay and Chicago both won the toss at Cowboys Stadium and deferred. The Buccaneers got an interception on the third play. The Bears gave up three first downs but forced a punt.
Two weeks ago at Cowboys Stadium, the New York Giants won the toss, took the ball and drove for a field goal.
SOURCE: Jason Garrett Press Conference 11/09/2012
Jason Garrett Press Conference
Jason Garrett closes out the week from Valley Ranch as the Dallas Cowboys wrap up their final day of preparation for the Philadelphia Eagles.
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SEALING THE DEAL: Unbeaten Atlanta Falcons pull away from Dallas Cowboys in fourth quarter
ATLANTA — Unbeaten Atlanta scored 13 points in the fourth quarter to pull away from the Dallas Cowboys en route to a 19-13 win at the Georgia Dome Sunday night.
Atlanta moves to 8-0. Dallas falls to 3-5. The Cowboys play at Philadelphia next week.
“We didn’t do enough to win this game,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. “We have to find a way to make enough plays to win. They are a very talented team. They won eight games for a reason."
Michael Turner scored on a 1-yard run and Matt Bryant kicked two field goals in the fourth quarter to break open a close game.
Turner finished with 102 yards on 20 carries, including a long of 43 yards. Matt Ryan threw for 342 yards, but no touchdowns. Roddy White had seven grabs for 118 yards and Julio Jones had five catches for 129 yards.
“They have a lot of weapons,” Garrett said. “They did a good job making moves in the open field and the yards after catch.”
Tony Romo passed for 321 yards and no interceptions. Miles Austin and Jason Witten each had seven catches and Kevin Ogletree had three for 96 yards and one touchdown.
The Cowboys defense, similar to the previous weeks, controlled the game, but wilted late with a couple of missed key tackles.
“I thought our defense did a good job early forcing them to kick field goals,” Garrett said.
Dallas got off to a good start when the defense forced a punt on Atlanta’s first possession.
Dwayne Harris returned the punt 33 yards to the Atlanta 31.
Seven plays later, Dan Bailey made a 23-yard field goal to make it 3-0 at the 10:46 mark.
Atlanta drove to the Cowboys’ 18, but on a third-and-2 play, Bruce Carter dropped Michael Turner for a 1-yard loss. On fourth down, Matt Bryant’s 37-yard field goal was wide right.
Dallas took over and struck quickly when Romo completed a 65-yard pass to Ogletree at the Falcons’ 18. Four plays later, Bailey made a 32-yard field goal for a 6-0 lead at the 3:42 mark.
Atlanta finally got on the board with a 45-yard field goal by Bryant on the second play of the second quarter to make it 6-3.
Dallas tried to answer by moving to the Falcons’ 37. On third-and-7, Ogletree dropped a pass from Romo. Then Bailey missed a 54-yard field goal wide left.
Taking over on its own 44, Atlanta drove to the Cowboys’ 36, but was forced to punt.
From their own 3, the Cowboys moved to midfield where they punted on fourth and inches.
Atlanta moved from its 12 to the Dallas 28 in 48 seconds where Bryant made a 47-yard field goal on the final play of the half to tie the game at 6-6.
“Obviously, we rather have touchdowns than field goals,” Garrett said.
Dallas punted away its first possession of the second half after working out from its 14 to the Atlanta 44.
Atlanta drove from its 13 to the Dallas 25 where Bryant barely missed a 43-yard field goal to the right at the 6:43 mark.
Dallas was on the move and faced a third-and-13 play at the Dallas 41, but a wide-open Miles Austin dropped the pass and the Cowboys punted.
Atlanta countered with the first touchdown of the game. The Falcons drove 81 yards in six plays with Michael Turner scoring on a 1-yard run on the second play of the fourth quarter to make it 13-6.
After another Dallas punt, Atlanta drove to the Cowboys’ 18, but a sack, short run and an incompletion forced Bryant’s 36-yard field goal to push the Falcons lead to 16-6 with 7:49 left in the game.
Now running out of time, Dallas went to its hurry-up, no-huddle offense and it paid off.
Dallas drove 78 yards in six plays for a touchdown. Romo threw 20 yards to Ogletree for the touchdown to make it 16-13 with 5:21 left in the game. Romo completed all six of his passes, including two to Jason Witten, who became the Cowboys’ all-time leading receiver on the drive, passing Michael Irvin.
With 5:21, Atlanta began its victory march by converting three third downs, including two on short passes to Jacquizz Rodgers, to put the game away. Bryant made a 32 yard field goal to make it 19-13 with 17 seconds left.
Four plays later, the game ended with a completion to Felix Jones at the Atlanta 21.
“We have to stay together and go back to work,” Garrett said.
RUNAWAY WIN TO REMAIN UNDEFEATED: Atlanta Falcons 19, Dallas Cowboys 13
ATLANTA — The season is now in jeopardy for the Dallas Cowboys.
They came here trying to knock off the undefeated Atlanta Falcons but failed, 19-13, at the Georgia Dome on Sunday night. The Cowboys have now lost eight consecutive games on Sunday night and are 3-5 overall at the halfway point of the season. The Falcons improved to a perfect 8-0.
What it means: The Cowboys are two games under .500 and most likely will have to win seven of the next eight to get into the playoffs. If the Cowboys win six of the next eight, they might need some help to reach the postseason.
Scandrick with some gaffes: Slot cornerback Orlando Scandrick struggled in the fourth quarter against the Falcons. He missed a tackle on a 31-yard run play by Michael Turner on a third-and-6, then was flagged for defensive holding on a third-and-8 play against Roddy White. Both plays extended the last drive of the night for the Falcons. It’s these kinds of plays that Scandrick has to make, especially with the game on the line.
Running back rotation: Felix Jones started, but Lance Dunbar (North Texas) got a majority of the snaps as the backup instead of Phillip Tanner. For the game, the Cowboys rushed for 65 yards on 18 carries. Jones had 39 yards on nine carries and Dunbar, on eight carries, picked up 26 yards. It’s clear the Cowboys miss starting running back DeMarco Murray, who was out with a sprained foot. His return for the Philadelphia Eagles game next week is a possibility.
Witten makes Cowboys history: Coming into the game, tight end Jason Witten needed three catches to tie Michael Irvin as the franchise’s all-time leader in receptions. Witten finished with seven catches for 51 yards. But once again, he had no touchdowns.
No Bryant in second half: Dez Bryant started despite a sore hip and finished with one catch for 15 yards, none in the second half. Quarterback Tony Romo didn’t target him in the second half. Instead, Miles Austin and Kevin Ogletree were the main targets, along with Witten.
Ratliff plays hurt: Nose tackle Jay Ratliff hurt his left ankle late in the first half. While he didn’t start the second half, he played through the injury. There were no other major injuries for the Cowboys.
Who’s next? The Cowboys finish their toughest stretch of the season (four of five on the road) with a trip to see the Eagles on Sunday.
NFL GAMEDAY RESOURCES: Dallas Cowboys vs. Atlanta Falcons
HEAD2HEAD: A look at how the Dallas Cowboys and Atlanta Falcons match up
The Dallas Cowboys are expected to face their most challenging test to date when they travel to the Deep South to face Atlanta. The Falcons are the only remaining undefeated team in the NFL and there is a reason why their record is unblemished. They avoid mistakes. Atlanta is the least-penalized team in the league and has a plus-10 turnover differential. The Cowboys, meanwhile have been their own worst enemy. They have been flagged 54 times and committed 19 turnovers — the second-highest total in the NFL. For the Cowboys to march into the Georgia Dome and defeat Atlanta, they first have to make sure they don’t beat themselves. Here’s a look at how both teams match up:
When the Cowboys run
There are three teams in the NFL that are allowing more than five yards per carry. Atlanta is one of them. The Falcons’ defense has shown vulnerability when teams have elected to keep the ball on the ground. But whether the Cowboys have the ability to take advantage of their weakness is uncertain. Starting tailback DeMarco Murray won’t play as he continues to recover from a sprained left foot. And backups Felix Jones and Phillip Tanner gained only 19 rushing yards on 15 carries in the Cowboys’ 29-24 loss to the Giants.
When the Cowboys pass
Tony Romo’s never attempted more passes or thrown for more yards than he did last Sunday against the Giants. But Romo also tossed four costly interceptions. His performance encapsulated the inconsistency of the Cowboys’ air attack, which has been reliably unreliable this season. Now Romo and Co. face the Falcons, the tenth-stingiest pass defense in the NFL. Atlanta is allowing an average of 216.9 yards through the air per game and has made 10 interceptions. Safety Thomas DeCoud has four of those picks.
When the Falcons run
Neither Michael Turner nor Jacquizz Rodgers stands taller than 5 feet, 10 inches. Just as small as their stature have been their gains on the ground. The two Atlanta tailbacks are averaging 3.76 yards per carry this season for a team ranked 24th in rushing that has accumulated more than four yards on only 36.9 percent of its attempts. The Cowboys, meanwhile, have been solid against the run – holding teams to 104.7 yards per game on the ground. Without inside linebacker Sean Lee for the first time, the Cowboys fared well against the Giants, never allowing a carry longer than 14 yards.
When the Falcons pass
Spearheaded by quarterback Matt Ryan, the Falcons’ air attack is potent. Ryan has completed more than 68 percent of his throws, accumulating 17 touchdown passes and only six interceptions. Ryan’s success, in part, can be attributed to the weapons at his disposal. Receivers Roddy White and Julio Jones, two players who can stretch the field, are each made averaging more than 14 yards per reception. Tight end Tony Gonzalez, meanwhile, leads the team with 46 catches. The Falcons will test the Cowboys, who have surrendered fewer passing yards per game than all but two teams.
After Sunday, the Cowboys can add another special teams mistake to their ledger. After Dez Bryant fumbled against the New York Giants, the Cowboys’ return units have turned the ball over twice this season. Dallas has also allowed a blocked punt and surrendered a 108-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. Atlanta’s special teams aren’t much better. The Falcons have also conceded a blocked punt. But Atlanta’s mistakes haven’t been as frequent and their kicker Matt Bryant has performed just as well as the Cowboys’ Dan Bailey. Bryant is making 94.1 percent of his field-goal attempts. Bailey is converting 92.9 percent.
Since head coach Mike Smith was hired before the 2008 season, the Falcons have made the Georgia Dome a house of horrors for opponents. Atlanta has had a 29-6 regular-season record there during Smith’s tenure, posting a home winning percentage so high that it has only been eclipsed by the New England Patriots and Baltimore Ravens the last five seasons. The Cowboys, meanwhile, have fared terribly in Sunday night games, losing the last seven they’ve played since September 2010.
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FLASHBACK: Dallas Cowboys hope to draw on history Sunday
IRVING, Texas – The Dallas Cowboys will play the only undefeated team left in the NFL on Sunday. They will play in a dome on Sunday. They will pay against an NFC South team.
What is this 2009 again?
The Cowboys hope so.
In 2009, the Cowboys beat 13-0 New Orleans inside the Superdome, 24-17.
"Going down to New Orleans I think will have a similar type feel in that you know you’re going against a great opponent that does a lot of things well and creates a lot of problems,” quarterback Tony Romo said. “You can draw on the fact of what you did as a team and individually to beat that opponent that day. What were some of the things that you were successful with, whether that was your approach, whether it was a certain fundamental thought that gave you a chance to do something … I don’t want to give away too much, but that allowed you have a chance to be a little better."
A fast start is a must.
“I can remember playing against New Orleans down there I think when they were undefeated and I think we scored pretty early in that game and that helped out a lot so …,” Romo said.
The Cowboys scored touchdowns on their first two drives of the game for a 14-0 lead with 5:15 left in the opening quarter. Romo hit Miles Austin for a 49-yard score to open the game and Marion Barber followed it with a 3-yard TD run as the Cowboys went on their way to a 24-17 win against the Saints.
That win propelled the Cowboys to the playoffs. At 3-4, the Cowboys could use a similar boost with a win Sunday at Atlanta.
“I just think we know we have to go up there and play our best game,” Romo said, “and do the little things right that give you a chance to win football games.”
RALLYING ROLLOUTS: Dallas Cowboys QB Tony Romo wants to ‘push’ Garrett’s style
During Sunday’s 29-24 loss to the New York Giants, the Cowboys might have played their best and worst offensive football of the season.
After three Tony Romo interceptions turned into a 23-0 New York Giants lead at Cowboys Stadium, the Cowboys rallied to pull ahead 24-23 with 3:43 left in the third quarter.
Between early in the second quarter and late in the third, the Cowboys scored on four-of-five possessions. The only possession that did not end with a score came with 13 seconds remaining before halftime and Romo kneeled out the clock.
We’ve questioned Garrett’s end-game play calling already this week – not running the ball to pick up a first down against a six-man box – and he said in his press conference Thursday the Cowboys‘ offense will probably be more balanced in the coming weeks.
According to Romo, he was pleased with the type of offense that Jason Garrett called to get Dallas back in the game.
“We really did a lot of things that I liked,” Romo said Wednesday on a conference call with media members in Atlanta. “I’m pushing coach to kind of get the offense more in that mode a little bit, which is nice. But styles make fights sometimes so we’ll look at different opponents and see different things.”
So, what did Romo like?
During those four drives, Romo was 17-of-23 passing for 252 yards and a touchdown. He also added a one-yard rushing score.
Of Romo’s 23 throws, he targeted Jason Witten 10 times and Miles Austin seven times. Dez Bryant had three passes thrown in his direction, John Phillips had two and James Hanna had one. With the Cowboys attempting to battle back from a four-score deficit, they only ran seven times on those four possessions, which included a Felix Jones four-yard touchdown.
Of Romo’s 17 completions, seven went for gains of 14 or more yards. Of his six incomplete passes, four came on deep throws.
If Garrett follows a similar gameplan Sunday night in Atlanta, Witten and Austin should be prepared to catch a lot of passes.
However, judging by what Garrett said Thursday, expect the Cowboys to be much more balanced than they were during those four drives.
“I just think we were efficient throwing the football,” Garrett said. “Obviously, Tony as the quarterback, appreciates that. We were able to throw the ball a lot of different ways against them and throw it to different guys and move the ball pretty consistently throughout the ballgame.
“But, at the same time, we got to be able to run the ball. We have to run the ball better than we did the other day and be a more balanced offense. We’ll continue to strive to do that well.”
Editors Note: Kevin Patra of NFL.com contributed to this post.
THE TALE OF TWO CITIES: One reigns undefeated, the other faltering into mediocrity
IRVING, Texas – One team’s got one of the league’s most reliable tight ends and two receivers who can make spectacular plays, leading their team to the No. 8 passing offense this season. This team also possesses a decent passing defense but struggles running the football, ranking 24th in that category.
The other team’s got one of the league’s most reliable tight ends and two receivers who can make spectacular plays, helping their team to the No. 3 passing offense this season. This team also possesses the No. 3 passing defense but struggles running the football, ranking 28th in that category.
Deciding which team is 7-0 and which team is 3-4 might not be so simple.
The first is the Atlanta Falcons, who’ve found a way to win every single game despite a mediocre rushing attack. The second is the Dallas Cowboys, who’ve used their outside weapons well at times but continue to be set back by mental mistakes.
“We’re a different style offense than they are,” said head coach Jason Garrett. “Certainly, you aspire to have some of the success they’ve had moving the ball. They’ve made some plays. They’ve minimized the bad plays. That’s something we all aspire around the league to do.”
Two crucial differences exist between these two teams, and neither has anything to do with rushing or passing offense totals. Atlanta’s unbeaten team boasts a plus-10 in turnover ratio, while the Dallas Cowboys are at minus-11. That amounts to exactly three turnovers better per game than the Cowboys.
Secondly, the Falcons have 24 penalties through seven games, averaging a little more than three per game. Among the recurring issues this Cowboys team faces is its penalty problem, pushing the team back, specifically when it gets near the red zone. Dallas has more than twice as many penalties this season as the Falcons, with 55 through seven games, averaging nearly eight per game.
“It’s something that was emphasized since the day we got here as a coaching staff,” said Falcons coach Mike Smith. “I believe if you’re one of the fewest penalized teams in the league, you’re going to have a chance to succeed.”
Smith holds every player accountable for every penalty made, making abundantly clear who was guilty of each penalty and when the penalty occurred, placing a different weight for each penalty. By playing sound football, they’ve been able to mask the areas they don’t excel at, including running the football, averaging 95 yards per game on the ground, and stopping the run, allowing 136.4 yards rushing per game.
“I think they’ve blended the things they’ve done really well for a few years, with some of the new ideas, and it’s been a real good blend for them,” Garrett said. “It’s very effective week in and week out.”
Though Falcons receiver Roddy White teased the notion earlier this year, Smith said the Cowboys’ receiving corps is as good as any in the league. The lack of success goes back to the costly turnovers, penalties and untimely mistakes from players up and down the Cowboys’ roster.
The Falcons have made up for their inconsistencies by holding onto the football, getting the football back to their offense, not committing penalties, and, thus, not halting drives, allowing them to reach the end zone. The Cowboys haven’t been able to do that, and now find themselves with a 2-2 road record and 1-2 record at home.
“In this league, you’ve got to win at home,” Smith said. “There’s a formula that makes you relevant at the end of the season if you can take care of business in your own building, and that’s something we’ve talked about from the very beginning.”
PREGAME PREPARATION: Ten Atlanta Falcons that Dallas Cowboys fans need to know (Special Feature)
The Dallas Cowboys are coming of their most emotional loss of the season and get rewarded by facing the league’s only undefeated team. But you never know what can happen in the NFL especially on Sunday night. So before the Dallas Cowboys head off to Atlanta this weekend, here’s a look at 10 Atlanta Falcons you ought to know before kickoff.
QB Matt Ryan – Dubbed as ‘Matty Ice’ for being cool under pressure, Ryan is quickly climbing the ladder to become on of the NFL’s elite quarterbacks. In 2010, he set career highs in touchdowns (28), completion percentage (62.5) and yards (3,705) and earned a trip to Hawaii as a Pro Bowler. He followed that up by passing for over 4,000 yards and 29 touchdowns last season. Ryan is now on pace to have his best season yet and is the main reason why the Falcons are the only undefeated team in the NFL.
DE John Abraham – The Dallas Cowboys offensive line will have a tough time handling Abraham, who is the Atlanta Falcons career leader in sacks with 64.5. Abraham has racked up six sacks in his past five games and is absolutely dominating opposing offensive tackles. The four-time Pro Bowler has also forced three fumbles and batted three balls down at the line of scrimmage this season.
WR Roddy White – While Julio Jones may be the new kid on the block, White still gets his share of targets and currently leads the Falcons with 40 receptions for 591 yards and four touchdowns. White has posted five straight 1,000-yard receiving seasons and is showing no signs of slowing down. He might not be as big and physical as Jones, but he creates separation and will nab anything in his vicinity.
LB Sean Weatherspoon – Luckily for the Dallas Cowboys, Weatherspoon suffered an ankle injury on Sunday is listed as questionable. If he does play, Weatherspoon will certainly make his presence felt. He has been a tackling machine this season and leads the Falcons with 52 tackles and three sacks. If Weatherspoon is unable to go, it will be a huge loss for Atlanta not only as linebacker but as the leader of this defense.
WR Julio Jones – After being drafted sixth overall in the 2011 draft, Jones has blossomed into one of the NFL’s most dangerous wide receivers. Last season, he led all rookie wide outs in touchdown receptions with eight. This year, he has seen role grow as the Falcons continue to become a pass happy offense. So far, Jones has recorded 35 receptions for 499 yards and five touchdowns.
S Thomas DeCoud – In a secondary that features talented corners Asante Samuel and Dunta Robinson, it is DeCoud, who leads the Falcons in interceptions with four and pass deflections with six. Tony Romo is coming off a four interception game so if he continues this trend, DeCoud will more than likely be the man catching his errant passes.
RB Michael Turner – The burner is on the downfall but is still the primary option in Atlanta. Turner leads the Falcons with 415 yards and three touchdowns but has only rushed for over 100 yards once this season. Despite the decline in production, expect Turner to carry a heavy load and maybe even break a couple of big runs.
TE Tony Gonzalez -Simply put, Gonzalez is Mr. Reliable. The 36-year old has been to the Pro Bowl 12 times and continues to be one of the most dominant tight ends in the game. His 59 targets is tied with Roddy White for the team lead, which means Ryan still trusts his savvy veteran pass catcher. Gonzalez actually leads the Falcons in receptions with 46 and is tied for second on the team with four touchdown catches.
CB Asante Samuel – Low risk. High reward. All the Falcons had to give up to obtain the four-time Pro Bowler was a seventh round pick, which is pretty low price considering Samuel’s 38 interceptions since 2006 lead the NFL. Samuel has rewarded Atlanta by holding down his side of the field this season in place of Brent Grimes, who was lost for the year with a torn ACL. Samuel has deflected four passes and returned an interception for a touchdown against Oakland. Cowboys should already be familiar with Samuel, who is the second on the Eagles all-time interception list.
RB Jacquizz Rodgers – With Turner struggling, expect Rodgers to steal a few more carries. The Oregon State product is used often on third downs and is an excellent pass catcher out of the backfield. Being a scat back makes him a perfect compliment to a bigger back like Turner. This season Rodgers has rushed for 137 yards, caught 20 passes for 137 yards and scored two total touchdowns (see below).
Editors Clarification: Jacquizz Rodgers has scored a total of 2 touchdowns, including his TD in the 27-3 win @SD in Week #3 of the 2011 season.
Special Thanks: A shout out to Tandy at Falcons Life Forums in Atlanta.
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DREAM TEAM: Charlie Peprah finally plays for his favorite team
IRVING, Texas — Growing up in Plano, Texas, Charlie Peprah was a Dallas Cowboys fan. Emmitt Smith is the reason he’s playing football now.
So when Peprah walked into the Cowboys locker room this week after signing a contract, the safety was living the dream.
"I love the Cowboys," Peprah said. "Once I was employed by the Packers, they became the enemy and I could care less about them, other than that, that was my squad. That’s the reason why I started playing football was Emmitt Smith. That’s why I wore 22 in high school. To be here is cool to become full circle. I would love to finish my career here, it would be great. Just something you thought wouldn’t actually happen, but I’m glad it did."
After graduating from Plano East High School, Peprah went to Alabama and played in 50 games. In 2005, he was a second-team All SEC selection at defensive back. He was a fifth-round pick of the New York Giants but didn’t make the roster and signed with the Green Bay Packers. He played with the Packers from 2006 to 2008 and then spent one season, 2009, with the Atlanta Falcons. But in 2010 and 2011 he returned to the Packers and earned a Super Bowl ring.
In the offseason, Peprah underwent arthroscopic knee surgery and his recovery took a while. He turned down opportunities to sign with several teams, including the New York Giants, and he took physicals for the Detroit Lions and Chicago Bears.
But nearly two weeks ago, a healthy Peprah worked out with 14 other players at Valley Ranch. The Cowboys said of the defensive backs that worked out, he was the best.
This week, the Cowboys made the move official.
"I mean that’s the business and once (the surgery) happened, my main focus was to get healthy before I throw myself out there," he said. "That was the hardest thing for me is to not bite on some of the opportunities that were out there coming my way."
Peprah will see limited work on special teams and certain defensive packages to give Danny McCray a break.
"I’m trying to learn the defense and contribute in any way I can," he said. "The goal for me is obviously be a starter, but who knows what plans they have for me."
BYE-WEEK BOREDOM: What to watch Sunday with Dallas Cowboys idle
With the Dallas Cowboys on the bye this week, these are a few of the NFL games that we can pay attention to. Primarily, sizing up the NFC East teams.
Philadelphia travels to Pittsburgh:
The Steelers are coming off a bye rested and getting healthier. Both teams struggle to protect the quarterback but the Eagles manage to run the ball better than the Steelers. The Steelers are an NFL best on offense in converting third downs while the Eagles are third in the league not allowing them. On the flip side to that, the Steelers really struggle with their own third down defense ranking 30th. This Eagles offense has been a turn over machine and the last thing Andy Reid and his offensive staff want to do is give the Steelers short field opportunities. If the Eagles manage to win this game, its bad news for the rest of the NFC East because they have already beat Baltimore at home which leaves just Cleveland and Cincinnati on the schedule and the real possibility of going 4 – 0 against the AFC North which is a feat in itself. Pittsburgh will not be able to run the ball so it will come down to their receivers having to win on the outside against these Eagles corners. If the Steelers can keep Roethlisberger up right, their chances of winning improve greatly but that is a big if. I have always believed in the NFL that the more desperate team finds a way to win. With the Steelers looking at the possibility of being 1 – 3 that thought has already begin to sink in as they were on their bye.
Atlanta travels to Washington:
I have always felt like that if you take Atlanta out of the Georgia Dome, you had a great chance to defeat them but the Falcons made a cross country trip and slapped around a pretty good San Diego squad. The Redskins had a physical game last week in Tampa and managed to come away with a victory. The Falcons stole a game from the Panthers that they had no business winning but to their credit, they did. The Redskins really struggle to put pressure on the quarterback and without Brian Orakpo that job has become even more difficult. Matt Ryan and the talented wide receiver core for the Falcons of Roddy White and Julio Jones will make it difficult on the Redskins back end. Where the Falcons struggle is playing run defense and Mike Shanahan knows this and will use Alfred Morris and Robert Griffin III to try and control this game much like he was able to do against the Saints opening day. The Falcons are 29th in the league on third down defense and ranked 31st in the red zone. The Redskins have more than enough talent to play with the Falcons but if it turns into a tight, tough game, their kicker Billy Cundiff is one of the worst in the league when it comes to connecting on kicks, just something to keep on eye on.
Denver travels to New England:
There has been a ton of talk in NFL circles that Peyton Manning is playing with limited arm strength and opponents are game planning for that. The Broncos have a real weapon in receiver Demaryius Thomas and how the Patriots play against him will tell you a lot of how they really feel about Manning’s arm strength. Denver’s offensive line is ranked 10th in the league in protecting Manning while the Patriots are ranked 25th in the league at sacks per attempt. So if Manning gets time, there could be some plays made down the field. Throughout his career Bill Belichick has been able to defense Manning like no others. On the other side of the ball, Tom Brady has the Patriots offense humming and with Steven Ridley running the ball with effectiveness it has taken pressure off Brady. You could say that this game could come down to turnovers but Brady doesn’t make those mistakes and the Broncos don’t intercept many passes. The Patriots do a great job of holding the ball and converting third downs where the Broncos have struggled on third down defense. I have a feeling that both quarterbacks will be protected, but this game will come down to who is better in the secondary.
And if you’re REALLY bored:
The New York Giants play Cleveland
INTENTIONAL GROUNDING: Significant and serious gaps divide NFL, veteran officials
NEW YORK (AP) — The NFL and its locked-out officials met the last two days, but a person familiar with the negotiations said Friday the sides remain far apart and no further talks are scheduled.
The source said that there are "significant and serious economic gaps."
Michael Arnold, counsel and lead negotiator for NFL Referees Association, acknowledged the discussions, saying his group reached out to the league last week and the NFL agreed to meet. He said there may be additional talks, but it is "not appropriate" to comment on specific issues.
The NFL locked out the regular officials in June and has been using replacements as the season enters its third full weekend. Many players, coaches and fans have been upset with what they say is poor officiating. The NFL has warned teams that it won’t tolerate confrontational behavior toward the new officials.
The NFL locked out the regular officials after their contract expired. Negotiations with the NFLRA broke down several times during the summer, including just before the season. This is the first time the league is using replacements since 2001.
The collection of small college officials working the games has drawn tough criticism from those on the field. Monday night’s game between Atlanta and Denver underlined the matter, with Broncos coach John Fox and defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio engaging in heated arguments with officials.
In response, the league, according to NFL.com, said Thursday night that senior NFL officials called owners, general managers and coaches from all 32 teams to tell them that respect for the game demands better conduct.
NFL executive vice president Ray Anderson noted "unacceptable behavior" and added "we’re not going to tolerate it." He said flags, fines and suspensions are possible for coaches or players who cross the line.
"There’s no doubt the integrity of the game has been compromised not having the regular officials out there," Giants linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka has said. "We’ve got to get that taken care of."
What the fans seem most annoyed with is the lack of pace to games, notably Monday night’s win by the Falcons that dragged on past midnight. The NFL has said that it is trying to upgrade the officiating through training tapes, conference calls and meetings.
The league and the NFLRA, which covers more than 120 on-field officials, are at odds over salary, retirement benefits and operational issues. The NFL has said its offer includes annual pay increases that could earn an experienced official more than $200,000 annually by 2018. The union has disputed the value of the proposal, insisting it would ultimately reduce their compensation.
"We just all hope, and I’m speaking on behalf of all 31 other head coaches, we hope they get something done," Rams coach Jeff Fisher has said. "We’re trusting that they will."
LOOKING BACK: Ranking Tony Romo’s best performances
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:
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:
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:
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:
Tim MacMahon | ESPN Dallas
GM TALENT SEARCH: Indianapolis interested in Dallas Cowboys’ Tom Ciskowski
Indianapolis has cast a wide net in its search for a general manager, so wide that it extends to Valley Ranch.
Tom Ciskowski, the Cowboys assistant director of player personnel, is one of several candidates the Colts have expressed an interest in interviewing. The club has contacted the Cowboys and received permission to speak to Ciskowski.
Ciskowski keeps a low, public profile, but has risen through the ranks since he joined the club in 1992. He took over as the Cowboys director of college and pro scouting when Jeff Ireland left for Miami in 2008 and acquired his current title in 2011.
Baltimore’s Eric DeCosta, Atlanta’s Lee Snead and Philadelphia’s Ryan Grigson have also been given permission to speak to Indianapolis.
Note: Dallas’ general manager was not interested in interviewing for the position!
WILDCARD WEEKEND: NFC East champ gets Lions or Falcons
At the risk of looking infinitely past this week’s showdown for the NFC East championship, Monday night’s Saints-Falcons game did shed more light on a potential first-round matchup for the Cowboys or Giants.
Sunday’s winner at the Meadowlands will earn the No. 4 overall seed and a Wild Card home game against either the Lions (10-5) or Falcons (9-6).
The Lions get the No. 5 seed with a win Sunday over the Packers.
The Falcons get the No. 5 seed with a win Sunday over the struggling Bucs and a Lions loss to the Packers. Both teams would finish 10-6, and the Falcons own the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Lions.
The Cowboys didn’t play the Falcons this year. They blew a double-digit fourth quarter lead to the Lions in October and lost at Cowboys Stadium, 34-30.
Same thing happened against the Giants three weeks ago. Needless to say, the Wild Card round isn’t (and can’t be) on their minds yet.
NFC Playoff scenarios
ARLINGTON, Texas — The only way the Cowboys reach the postseason is to beat the New York Giants on New Year’s Day at Met Life Stadium. If the Cowboys tie the Giants, they don’t make the postseason.
Whoever wins Cowboys-Giants is the No. 4 seed in the NFC and will host the fifth seed in the wild card round.
Now the No. 4 seed could face either Atlanta or Detroit.
If Atlanta defeats New Orleans Monday night here’s where things get interesting.
In the regular season finale, if Atlanta beats Tampa Bay and Green Bay defeats Detroit, the Falcons become the No. 5 seed.
In another scenario, if Detroit beats Green Bay and Tampa Bay beats Atlanta, the Lions are the No. 5 seed.
Should Detroit and Atlanta win their final regular season games and each finish 11-5, the Falcons win the tie-breaker because Atlanta beat Detroit earlier in the season.
Check out the PLAYOFFS page, right here, on The Boys Are Back blog
Jerry Jones: “We’re going to need to win the division … to get in the playoffs.”
The Cowboys picked up a game on the New York Giants on Sunday. They now are alone in second, one game out of first. Winning the NFC East will be their easiest route to the playoffs.
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones believes it is his team’s only route.
There are six teams with a better record than the Cowboys in the NFC. The Falcons have the same record. The Lions, who will be fighting for a wild-card berth, hold the head-to-head tiebreaker over Dallas.
Since the current playoff format began in 1990, the NFC East winner has won at least 10 games.
“It’s very early, and I wouldn’t dare to venture what can happen,” Jones said Sunday when asked how many victories it will take to win the East. “I wouldn’t dare to venture. I will say this: We’re going to need to win the division, I think, to get in the playoffs.”
The Giants are the only team left on the Cowboys’ schedule with a winning record.