Tag Archives: Barry Church

DALLAS COWBOYS TRAINING CAMP: ‘Boys unite for player-organized conditioning test | Players building team identity | Dallas Cowboys 2014-2015

DALLAS COWBOYS TRAINING CAMP - ‘Boys unite for player-organized conditioning test - Players building team identity - Dallas Cowboys 2014-2015

OXNARD, CA – The camaraderie among many of the Dallas Cowboys players got a jumpstart this week (Monday) before the team ever traveled out to training camp.

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BOYS BYE-WEEK BREAKDOWN: Texas-2 Safeties huge in overall success of this defense

BOYS BYE-WEEK BREAKDOWN - Dallas Cowboys Texas-2 Safeties have the advantages and disadvantages of youth - Barry Church

Dallas Cowboys Safety Breakdown

This article is part of a series. To see all related posts, click HERE. Enjoy!

Top Performer: Barry Church

There were plenty questions coming into the Dallas Cowboys 2013 season of how Barry Church would play coming off the Achilles injury that he suffered in Week 3 of 2012. At this point, Church and his injury appear to be holding up well.

What we fail to realize about Church is despite coming into his fourth season in the league, he had only made three starts at safety and all of those came last season. From what we’ve seen from Church through 10 games in 2013, there has been some hit-and-miss play – something you’d expect from a player who doesn’t have a great deal of experience.

Where Church has always been his best is as that physical player that is fearless when it comes to sticking his nose in there to make a tackle. But with this type of play comes those plays where he is too aggressive and finds himself in trouble when he takes a bad angle on his way to the ball like he did in the Lions game on the long pass to Calvin Johnson.

For Church, each snap has been a learning experience for him in his progression as an NFL safety. There are days where he has looked rough but compared to what has happened this season with the other safeties, he has managed to hold things together.    

Need More From: J.J. Wilcox

It’s hard to say that you need more from a player who, at times for a rookie, has played very well, but that is the case of J.J. Wilcox. It has been three games since Wilcox suffered a knee sprain during practice getting ready for the Lions game.

In his absence, Jeff Heath has had to make those starts. Heath has had his share of struggles and the New Orleans game was by far his most disappointing showing, but this is not to say that Wilcox hasn’t had his share of missed tackles on third down as well.

Both of these rookies are trying their best and that is really the main problem — they are still only rookies. The word is that Wilcox should return after the bye in preparation for the Giants and that will allow Heath to go back to work in his role as a core special teamer.

Where this team needs more from Wilcox is in those plays like we saw from him in the Philadelphia game, where he showed range to knock the ball away from DeSean Jackson to save a touchdown, and being in position when the ball gets knocked in the air by Jason Avant for a potential interception.

Wilcox has proven in his young career that he has a knack for the big play around the ball, which is something that defense desperately needs.

Six-Game Forecast: Safeties huge in overall success of this defense 

The play of the cornerbacks would be the key for this defense going forward. Let’s believe that will be the case, but how these safeties play in the remaining games will also tell a story.

As far as experience, it is a very young group with Barry Church, J.J. Wilcox, Jeff Heath, Danny McCray and Jakar Hamilton. For this club, Darren Woodson is not going to come walking through that door to save the day, so it will be up to this group to find the right combination and make plays when their number is called.

What we have learned about the safety play in this Monte Kiffin scheme is that the safeties are huge in the overall success of the defense. Whether it is Church playing as the eighth man in the box or Wilcox showing range deep, this group has to make plays. There are games ahead where the ball will once again be going down the field. Can these young safeties handle that?

There have been moments this season where they have been up to that challenge, but we’ve also seen some poor play as well, which has cost this defense far too often.  

Courtesy: Bryan Broaddus | Football Analyst/Scout

INJURY AND PRACTICE UPDATE: 2013-2014 Dallas Cowboys vs. Minnesota Vikings | DeMarco Murray back in lineup

INJURY AND PRACTICE UPDATE - 2013-2014 Dallas Cowboys vs. Minnesota Vikings - DeMarco Murray back in lineup

ARLINGTON DeMarco Murray will be active today against the Vikings after missing each of the Dallas Cowboys’ previous two games with a sprained knee.

DeMarcus Ware, on the other hand, highlights the inactives list, which also includes wide receiver Miles Austin, cornerback Morris Claiborne, safety J.J. Wilcox, linebacker DeVonte Holloman, tackle Darrion Weems and tight end Andre Smith.

Wilcox (knee), Holloman (neck) and Claiborne (hamstring) were all ruled out after Friday’s practice. Ware (thigh) and Austin (hamstring) were both listed as doubtful. Along with Murray, Ware’s also missed each of the last two weeks after getting injured against the Redskins, and he’ll now miss his third straight game.

Austin has been given rest and sat out last week after trying to give his sore hamstring a try against the Eagles on Oct. 20.

All the Cowboys players who were probable entering the weekend will be active, including Jason Hatcher (neck), George Selvie (shoulder) and Barry Church (hamstring).

Guard Brian Waters was also ruled out after Friday’s practice with a triceps injury, which has since moved him to injured reserve. Defensive back Micah Pellerin took Waters’ spot on the 53-man roster and will be active.

POSTGAME INJURY UPDATE: Dallas Cowboys vs. Detroit Lions | MO down; Church praying; and we’re wondering about Waters

DALLAS COWBOYS INJURY UPDATE - 2013-2014 Dallas Cowboys injury report - nurse button

Dallas Cowboys cornerback Morris Claiborne and safety Barry Church both left with hamstring injuries Sunday. Executive vice president Stephen Jones said today that Church’s isn’t serious, and he should be back this week.

But Jones was more pessimistic about Claiborne’s injury. He said Claiborne could miss a couple of games, which would point toward Claiborne’s return after the bye week in a Nov. 24 game at the Giants.

“Church, his injuries kept him out there a little bit at the end,” Stephen Jones said on KRLD-FM 105.3. “I do think he can recover and get back for the Vikings. Claiborne, on the other hand, has a soft tissue injury there with his hamstring that is a real deal, and probably more than likely we’re looking at him missing the next couple of weeks.”

Claiborne has had a tough season. He dislocated his shoulder in the season opener against the Giants and has played with a harness. He temporarily lost his starting job to Orlando Scandrick, though the Cowboys have started several games in the nickel, including Sunday’s at Detroit, with three cornerbacks in the starting lineup.

In three games, Claiborne has come off the bench. He played 33 of 80 plays Sunday, missing the end of the game with his hamstring injury. Church played 64 of 80 plays, with Jakar Hamilton replacing him late in the game because of his hamstring injury.

Jones was not asked about Brian Waters‘ injury, but a source said the Cowboys do not have an update on the offensive guard yet. Waters left with knee, rib and triceps injuries, playing 32 of 57 snaps.

2013-2014 COWBOYS ROSTER: Dallas guard David Arkin returns to the practice squad

2013-2014 Dallas COWBOYS ROSTER - Dallas guard David Arkin returns to the practice squad

IRVING, Texas – The Dallas Cowboys made the decision to cut David Arkin on Saturday because they needed the roster spot. But they haven’t completely given up on their three-year investment.

The Cowboys decided to bring back Arkin on the practice squad today. Arkin has only been active for eight games in his career but has yet to play a single snap, which gives him practice-squad eligibility despite this being his third season with the club.

The Cowboys cut Arkin to make room for rookie safety Jakar Hamilton, who played because of an injury to J.J. Wilcox. Hamilton will likely stay up on the roster with Wilcox’s status uncertain and now Barry Church has a hamstring injury.

“We got to the point where we needed a safety based on our safety situation,” head coach Jason Garrett said. “And that was the one we felt we could make that move on the 11th hour and hopefully he can get past through and we can bring him back and put him on our practice roster and we’ve invested in him and we do like him.”

Garrett was asked if he was disappointed in Arkin’s progress, considering he was a fourth-round pick in 2011 and has yet to contribute in the regular season.

“There’s probably nobody on our football team who works harder and is more committed than David Arkin,” Garrett said. “He’s the right kind of guy and he’s working at it and he’s getting better. I think he has improved over the last couple of years and that’s why we’re happy to get him back and put him back on the practice roster and continue that development.”

During the last two training camps and preseasons, Arkin received more practice reps than any other linemen the last two years. With an abundance of injuries on the line, Arkin has played both at guard and center. This past summer, he was mostly at guard. He started the first preseason game at right guard, then started the third and fifth games at left guard.

The year before, he started the first three preseason games at center.

TWEAKING THE TEXAS-2 TEMPO: Dallas Cowboys offense and defense simulate Eagles pace this week

TWEAKING THE TEXAS-2 TEMPO - Dallas Cowboys offense and defense simulate Eagles pace this week

Dallas Cowboys linebacker Bruce Carter said some of the defensive players might wear wristbands with the calls on them to help get the defense organized against Philadelphia’s tempo offense.

“That’s their scheme, to get guys tired, get them thinking too much,” Carter said Friday at Valley Ranch, after a week of practice in which the Cowboys tried hard to simulate the pace of the Eagles’ offense.

Safety Barry Church said the Cowboys used two scout teams on offense, shuttling in to get snaps off within 15 seconds.

Carter said it made a difference.

“Wednesday, we were kind of rough,” he said. “But as the week went on, we got used to it. … We actually sped it up to where we can get it between 10 and 15 seconds, so when we get in the game, it’ll actually be a lot slower than what we’re used to in practice.”

Carter said there won’t be much time for communication, but the information that does get communicated will come from the linebackers.

“We’ve got to make sure everybody gets lined up and gets the call,” he said. “If we don’t know what the call is, just make sure we all get lined up, cause they run a lot of tackle-over and unbalanced looks. So we got to make sure the line is set and echo the call.

“I doubt we’ll huddle up at all this game.”

Editors note: Just a little food for thought. Since the Dallas Cowboys offense used the Eagles pace to prepare their defense, is it possible they’ll incorporate some of that in the offensive gameplan vs. Philly? After all, what’s good for the goose is also good for the gander. Bill Callahan and Jason Garrett hinted at some offensive twists earlier this week. Could be interesting to see the Dallas Cowboys offense use the Philadelphia tempo and turn the tables!

TESTING THE TEXAS-2: Dallas Cowboys defense should expect to see this play again

As we all know, Peyton Manning used his ‘once every five-year” quarterback keeper to score against the Dallas Cowboys last week. Let’s take a look at the play …

Manning TD - 1 - WR will shift right

Denver in I-formation with a wide receiver set left

Manning TD - 2 - WR will shift right - moves defender to weak side

Receiver shifts to right side, Dallas defense adjusts

Manning TD - 3 - Fake handoff to RB in I formation - Ware in pursuit from strong side

Play in motion, Manning fake handoff to running back, Ware in pursuit, secondary set for run defense

Manning TD - 4 - Ware in pursuit from strong side - Bites on fake handoff as Manning rolls away from pocket

Ware and Dallas secondary close, while Manning rolls out. Carter held up by Denver receiverManning TD - 5 - DEN WR 81 blocks and holds Carter - Church also sees play but is out of position - Manning rolls away from pocket toward endzone

Bruce Carter breaks free, heads toward Manning. Church recognizes play, but is out of position.

Manning TD - 6 - Carter and Church in pursuit - Manning rolls closer to endzone

Bruce Carter and Barry Church in pursuit as Peyton Manning approaches goal line

Manning TD - 7 - Carter closes in but delay by WR hold makes stop impossible - Manning crosses into endzone

Manning crosses into end zone, Carter pulls back

Manning TD - 8 - Manning TD bootleg run

Peyton Manning scores touchdown on quarterback keeper.


The play, from the end zone …

Manning TD - 3 - Fake handoff to RB in I formation - Ware in pursuit from strong side - Linebacker view

Carter held up by DEN receiverManning TD - 5 - DEN WR 81 blocks and holds Carter - Church also sees play but is out of position - Manning rolls away from pocket toward endzone - Carter held by Dressden

Carter sees Manning rolling out towards the end zone

Manning TD - 7 - Carter closes in but delay by WR hold makes stop impossible - Manning crosses into endzone - Carter from endzone pursuit

Carter in pursuit as Manning walks in for the scoreManning TD - 9 - Manning TD bootleg run Dressen Carter and Manning in endzone

Manning scores one of the key plays in the game.


See it for yourself … check out NFL Game Rewind

Rewatch the Dallas Cowboys vs Denver Broncos game on NFL Game Rewind for Free - Limited time offer - FREE GAME OF THE WEEK

POSTGAME PRESS CONFERENCE: Jason Garrett’s impressions from Giants win, looking to Kansas City

POSTGAME PRESS CONFERENCE - Jason Garrett’s impressions from Giants win, looking to Kansas City - Barry Church - 2013-2014 Dallas Cowboys

IRVING, Texas – Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett spoke extensively Monday evening following his team’s season-opening win on Sunday night.

Garrett answered questions for roughly a half hour, both about the Cowboys’ performance against the Giants and the upcoming trip to play the Chiefs.

The storyline of six defensive takeaways has dominated much of the discussion of the young season since the Cowboys cemented their 36-31 victory against the Giants. Garrett said it was refreshing to see such a large point of emphasis come to fruition in live action.

“What you preach and what you practice and what you drill is not your team – it’s what shows up on Sunday,” he said.

Having acknowledged that, Garrett admitted there was plenty to work on, as the defense allowed 450 passing yards and four touchdowns to Giants quarterback Eli Manning and his receivers.

“They did make some big plays – they had six pass plays of 20 yards or more – so we have to get better in that area,” he said. “We’ll continue to work with our guys individually on that and also from a scheme standpoint – making sure our guys are standing where we want them to.”

Garrett said the Cowboys secondary needs to work on defending tighter in passing situations.

Here are a few more notes from Garrett’s Monday press conference:

  • Garrett was asked about the availability of several players who missed the Giants game for Week 2 against the Chiefs. He said he had “no idea” about what to expect from defensive end Anthony Spencer, though he hopes to see Spencer practice this week.
  • He also reiterated that guard Brian Waters has a strong week of work in his first days with the team, and the coaching staff will evaluate his availability going forward.
  • Much was made of the Giants’ apparent practice of faking injuries in order to slow down Dallas’ no-huddle offense on Sunday. Dallas Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones addressed it following the game. Garrett addressed the issue, by saying, “Our officials do such a great job with handling all those situations, and that’s a challenge for the league,” he said. “What you have to do as an offense is just go play.”
  • Garrett was asked about the Cowboys’ use of the pistol formation, which puts a running back behind the quarterback in a slight tweak of the shotgun formation. Garrett said the formation gives defenses less of an idea of what the offense plans to do with its running back. “We probably started running it about five years ago, but we’ve never used it as extensively as we did last night.”
  • With eight tackles and a fumble return for a touchdown, safety Barry Church earned the Cowboys’ weekly boxing glove award, given to the game’s outstanding player.
  • Regarding Dez Bryant: “He got a lot of attention from their defense, and he has to understand that’s the world he’s going to live in for the rest of his career.

DALLAS COWBOYS POSTGAME PRESS CONFERENCE - Jason Garrett’s impressions from Giants win, looking to Kansas City - 2013-2014 Dallas Cowboys

Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett Press Conference 9/9/2013

Jason Garrett speaks to the media from Valley Ranch about the win over the New York Giants and upcoming game vs. Kansas City Chiefs

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Coach Garrett discussed:

  • Six takeaways vs. big plays given up
  • OL grade vs. very good NYG defensive pressure
  • Tony Romo’s injury, x-rays, and going back in to play
  • Explanation of secondary in this scheme, angles, anticipated help
  • Attitude of players that fight thru injuries (Romo, Claiborne, Bryant)
  • Barry Church came in as free agent, impact on team, young leader
  • New York Giants faking injuries to slow down no-huddle
  • Player of the Game awards and recognition
  • Extensive information on the ‘pistol formation’
  • Lessons on last years week-1 win followed by week-2 loss
  • Respecting KC’s win (vs. JAX) and Andy Reid’s track-record vs. Cowboys
  • Wants more balance from OC Callahan
  • Romo2Williams INT breakdown and DeMarco Murray stopping TD
  • Murray’s stop vs. last years stop with Tyron Smith, allowed goal-line stand
  • Dez Bryant drawing attention and respect from defenses
  • Trend of No-Huddle around league, Cowboys implementing similar
  • OG Brian Waters progress towards upcoming Kansas City game
  • Running No-Huddle at home vs. road stadiums
  • Gameday execution and relation to meetings, practices, drills, and coaching
  • Continually moving playmakers into different looks and fronts
  • Young starters Frederick and Leary grade vs. NYG front
  • Special Teams production and Bailey’s impact with deep kickoffs
  • Recent roster additions impact on Special Teams
  • Harris’ playing complete game as receiver, ST tackles, and ST returns
  • DeMarco Murray production running and catching the ball
  • Jason Hatcher and rotation of linemen to gain experience, provide relief
  • Offseason planning for week 1 vs. short prep times for remaining games
  • Gameday preparation for familiar coach Andy Reid and his system
  • Miles Austin rise from past and his first start vs. Kansas City few years ago
  • Big school vs. small school analysis of players coming into league

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2013 TRAINING CAMP WRAP-UP: Jason Garrett end of camp press conference (Video)

2013 TRAINING CAMP WRAP-UP - Jason Garrett end of 2013-2014 Dallas Cowboys training camp press conference

Dallas Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett speaks to the media for the final time from training camp in Oxnard, California.

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VIDEO - TRAINING CAMP LIVE Video - Witten - Team has the right mindset after oxnard - The Boys Are Back blog 2013 Video - Callahan - All OL combo possible - The Boys Are Back blog 2013

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Video - Allen - We've built a good foundation Video - DeMarcus Ware - Effort is key to turnovers - The Boys Are Back blog 2013 Video - Barry Church - Texas 2 defense communicating well - The Boys Are Back blog 2013

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MOTIVATING MOMENT: Current Dallas Cowboys linemen attend Larry Allen’s Hall of Fame induction

MOTIVATING MOMENT - Current Dallas Cowboys linemen attend Larry Allen’s Hall of Fame induction - The Boys Are Back blog 2013

CANTON, Ohio – Head coach Jason Garrett wasn’t going to let the Dallas Cowboys’ offensive linemen miss the induction of Larry Allen into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Garrett brought all of his team’s offensive linemen, as well as select veterans on the team to watch Allen’s speech as he was inducted a day before the Cowboys are set to play in the Hall of Fame Game.

Bust of Dallas Cowboys offensive lineman Larry Allen - Pro Football Hall of Fame - The Boys Are Back blog 2013

Left tackle Tyron Smith was just five years old when Allen won his Super Bowl with the Cowboys in January 1996, so needless to say he only watched Allen sparingly growing up. But Smith quickly learned what Allen meant to the team.

“I didn’t learn much about him until I got with the Cowboys,” Smith said. “It’s a great experience to be here, and I definitely didn’t want to miss it.”

Dallas Cowboys offensive lineman Larry Allen inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame speech - The Boys Are Back blog 2013

The experience was just as great for the young undrafted players and backup offensive linemen in attendance. First-year tackle Edawn Coughman, who’d never been to the Hall of Fame before, said words couldn’t express how he felt to walk through the Hall of Fame and watch Allen get inducted.

“It’s a great honor,” Coughman said. “I watched him a lot when I was younger. I’m excited to see this man in person. I’m elated.”

Smiling Dallas Cowboys offensive lineman Larry Allen - Pro Football Hall of Fame speech - The Boys Are Back blog 2013

Jason Garrett wanted to make sure the majority of his veteran starters and the players on the team who knew Allen got to see the induction.

The list of veteran players at the ceremony included Tony Romo, Miles Austin, Dez Bryant,Jason Witten, DeMarco Murray, Sean Lee, Bruce Carter, Justin Durant, Jason Hatcher,DeMarcus Ware, Danny McCray, LP Ladouceur, Will Allen, Barry Church, Morris Claiborne and Brandon Carr.

TRAINING CAMP SCOUT REPORT: Dallas Cowboys veterans making strides in new scheme

TRAINING CAMP SCOUT REPORT - Dallas Cowboys veterans making strides in new scheme - The Boys Are Back blog 2013

• Hope you had a chance to catch the TRAINING CAMP ON-DEMAND segment from Tuesday where we featured the one-on-one drills with the wide receivers and cornerbacks. If you did, you saw a show from Dez Bryant. Through three days of camp, this is not unusual for Bryant, who has been nothing short of spectacular in the manner in which he has gone about his business. The route running along with the sheer physical strength that he has played with has made him difficult to defend. In our video, he was matched against Morris Claiborne on each one of his reps, and, to Mo’s credit, he didn’t take himself out or away from working against Bryant.

Every rep that the two went at each other was intense, where technique went out the window and it came down to the sheer will of who was going to make the play. When you are battling Bryant, you might be in position in the route like Mo was several times but just his ability to adjust while in route makes him so dangerous.

It wasn’t that Claiborne was struggling to fight Bryant, but more like Bryant can physically beat you up as he is going down the field, then find the ball no matter where it is in the air and this is something that NFL cornerbacks are going to have to deal with when they line up across from Bryant the entire season.

Dez being Dez - Dez Bryant made three spectacular catches in the teams 1-on-1 portion of 2013-2014 Dallas Cowboys training camp practice - The Boys Are Back blog

VIDEO CLIP – Dez being Dez – Dez Bryant made three spectacular catches during 1-on-1 portion of Dallas Cowboys training camp practice – Click HERE to watch (Duration – :37)

• Continuing my thoughts on Morris Claiborne, I was very interested to see how he would respond to playing against the run in this new scheme off the edge, especially with pads on. I have addressed this situation plenty with both he and Brandon Carr on what is expected of them on the outside. From my observations, there were several plays where the ball was spilled to the outside and Claiborne had to step up and make the play.

Like his battles with Bryant, he could shy away and hide but instead he stepped up and forced DeMarco Murray to the sidelines and out of bounds when Murray tried to plant a stiff arm in his face. Later in the Team Run period, he again stepped up off the edge playing close in a tight formation and handled Lance Dunbar for a short gain in the open field. For Claiborne, this has now become his responsibility full-time because soft corners don’t win in this scheme.

The physical matchups against Bryant and having to successfully play the run are part of the gig. His first day in the pads showed that he understands the task ahead.

2013-2014 Dallas Cowboys training camp - Sean Lee, Bruce Carter, Jason Witten, Will Allen - The Boys Are Back blog

• Another player who is off to a nice start in camp is Doug Free. In the first day of pads, I thought he did a nice job of showing up and handling the position with some nice technique. In just watching him play, you can see that his confidence level is much better as well. With each rep, he has been on point with how his hands and feet have to work together. His sets have put him in positions where he looks stable and solid.

I have yet to see the problems he has struggled with when a defender goes from speed to power on him. He is playing stronger at the point and when he has to sit down on a rusher, he has been able to do so without giving much ground.

In the running game, he has shown the ability to adjust in this zone scheme with the front side reach and backside cut off. When the ball has been run to his side, he is not late or struggling with his technique.

He has played with good quickness and has been able to finish his blocks or tie up his man. Still plenty of practices to go for Free, but so far he is heading in the right direction.

2013-2014 Dallas Cowboys training camp - DeMarco Murray running in pads - The Boys Are Back blog

• It was a good learning experience for Barry Church on Tuesday on how to play safety as the single high guy in this scheme. In the 7-on-7 drill, Church was in the middle of the field when Dez Bryant went on a “9” route against Brandon Carr up the field. Church reacted well to the route to help Carr but the angle he took to the ball was too deep and behind Bryant who once again went straight up for the ball at its highest point.

Bryant was able to make the catch but Church would have had a shot at the play if his angle was more to or in front of Bryant, instead he goes sweeping by him with no chance at the ball. On Monday, we observed Will Allen playing the same route to Miles Austin correctly and in position for the interception.

Later in the period, Church was able to show a nice drive and reaction to a ball that was thrown in front of him to Gavin Escobar up the field to deliver a big hit on the rookie tight end. For Barry Church, every day is a new experience when it comes to techniques that he is going to have to learn coverage-wise. He has the physical ability to handle the job but he just needs the experience of reading and positioning himself in routes to make those necessary plays.

SCOUTING REPORT–SAFETIES: Dallas Cowboys rookie J. J. Wilcox may contribute right away

barry church of the dallas cowboys returns a fumble in front of tashard choice of the washington redskins - the boys are back blog

As we sit just a few short days from the opening of training camp in Oxnard, on top of the depth chart for the safety position are the names of Barry Church and the veteran Will Allen. The names that are below those of Danny McCray, Matt Johnson, J.J. Wilcox and Jakar Hamilton.

It’s not a group at this point that would make you forget the names of the greats that have played here before but it’s a group that has a great deal of potential.

pittsburgh steelers strong safety will allen (26) brings down dallas cowboys wide receiver dwayne harris - the boys are back blog

This coaching staff has the upmost respect for Allen and his body of work through the years which is why you see him a top this depth chart. I studied Allen myself in games last season for the Steelers when he made some injury starts against Cowboys’ division foes, New York, Philadelphia and Washington and he was more than solid. His play was steady and sure. Where Allen has an advantage over the others is in his experience which is a nice trait to have.

Over the past season, despite the fact that he was dealing with an injury, I still had a great deal of faith in Matt Johnson and what he could bring to this squad and I still believe that but the player that has drawn my most interest, is J.J. Wilcox.

When I first observed him on tape at Georgia Southern, I was shocked that he had only played the position for one season. He didn’t play like a small college player. You could see in his awareness and passion for the position and that he was a natural. When you watched him play, you saw a player that loves the game. A player that was not afraid or scared to mix it up when called on. 

Dallas Cowboys safety JJ Wilcox played for Georgia Southern - The Boys Are Back blog 2013

Where there were some concerns in my view was how much coverage that he actually played and would his movement skills translate in order to function in this scheme. There are times where the safety is asked to take the middle of the field and react to the sideline to help the corner.

In OTA’s and minicamp practices, you could see that he understood his responsibilities. He was capable of playing with range. One of the first things you notice about his game, is that he is always around the football run or pass. There were times in the practices where he was playing in the short middle of the field and he was able to read and adjust to the routes not only to knock balls down but secure interceptions as well. 

Dallas Cowboys draft Georgia Southern safety JJ Wilcox - The Boys Are Back blog 2013

Wilcox doesn’t play like a guy that lacks experience for the position. I can only recall one time in the several practices where Jerome Henderson had to correct him on the angle that he took to the ball. With Wilcox, you didn’t see the mental busts and mistakes or confusion that goes with a rookie safety. The mental side of the game is where I thought he might struggle the most because when they put on the pads that will not be an issue at all. He is more than willing to light up a ball carrier when given the opportunity.

I thought it was an outstanding move by this front office to go out and try to protect itself by signing Will Allen but there are some talented players behind him which is a good thing depth wise but the one that might be the most talented is J.J. Wilcox. I do not see J.J. Wilcox waiting around to play in this defense. He has already picked up things very easily that I thought he would have struggled with and that is a positive sign.

It is right that the coaches have put Allen in the spot that he is on the depth chart because of his experience but the more that we see Wilcox practice and the more opportunities that he gets, it will be harder for these coaches not to line him up next to Barry Church much more sooner than later.

TALKING TEXAS-2 DEFENSE: The versatility of DBs should be effective in new 4-3 scheme

    jerome henderson

    IRVING, Texas – As the Cowboys focus on the offseason, training camp is still in sight.

    Coming off two straight 8-8 seasons and three full seasons removed from the playoffs, the Dallas Cowboys have plenty of question marks surrounding them as they prepare for the 2013 season.

    With 19 days (July 20th) until the Cowboys take the field in Oxnard, Calif., one question centers on the versatility of defensive backs.

    The versatility of DBs should be effective in new 4-3 scheme

    Last year, we saw the Cowboys use a variety of defensive back rotations – some of which because of injury and other times to simply put players in effective spots.

    dallas cowboys players congratulate defensive back brandon carr (39) after his second interception against the san diego chargers - the boys are back blog

    Brandon Carr manned the cornerback spot most of the year, but he spent some time at safety early in the year after the Cowboys lost both Barry Church and Gerald Sensabaugh to injury.

    Orlando Scandrick has played primarily slot corner, but has been used as a safety in certain packages. The Cowboys also signed Sterling Moore in midseason from the Patriots’ depth chart and he immediately helped at both safety and cornerback.

    In this new 4-3 scheme from Monte Kiffin, the Cowboys might have to rely on their versatile players more than ever.

    Looking back in Cowboys’ history, no player excelled at both cornerback and safety better than Mel Renfro. The 10-time Pro Bowler made it five times as a safety and five times as a corner – often going back and forth later in his career. If anyone came close to excelling like that, it would be Renfro’s teammates Cornell Green, who often swapped roles with Renfro on those early Doomsday Defenses.

    Obviously it’s a stretch to assume the Cowboys will have any player on this roster, or any in the future, that can be as dominant as Mel Renfro, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1996.

    However, having versatility at any position is clutch, especially in the secondary. With the NFL becoming a more passing league by each year, having players with the ability to cover ground like a safety, coupled with the skills to cover in the slot is almost a lost art.

    That trait alone might keep a player like Moore on the roster and actually get him activated on game day as well.

    This team suffered many injuries last year so guys like Carr and Scandrick might be asked to play some safety in a pinch as well.

    They don’t have to be all-world like Renfro or even Green, but just serviceable at another position can be beneficial.


    A closer look at the number 20:

    • The Cowboys have picked 20th overall four different times in club history, getting Marcus Spears in 2005, Ebenezer Ekuban in 1999, Billy Joe DuPree in 1973 and Dennis Homan in 1968.

    • No player has ever worn No. 20 as long as Mel Renfro, who had it from 1964-77. Other notable players to wear No. 20 include Ron Springs, Ray Horton and Richie Anderson.

    • Currently, rookie B.W. Webb wears No. 20.

    • Roger Staubach’s 20 rushing touchdowns are the most by any Cowboys’ quarterback and ranks 11th all-time in Cowboys history.

    • Preston Pearson ranks 20th in Cowboys history with 1,207 rushing yards.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    DALLAS COWBOYS 2013-2014 ROSTER: Team counting on Barry Church’s recovery and return from Achilles injury

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

    Bryan Broaddus takes a closer look at Dallas Cowboys safety Barry Church and how he fits into the team’s 2013 plans.

    Name: Barry Church
    Position: Safety
    Height/Weight: 6-2/218
    Experience: 3 seasons
    College: Toledo

    Key stat: In less than two games, Church didn’t accumulate many stats, garnering just eight tackles, including five solo stops.

    Contract Status: Signed through 2016.

    How he played in 2012: There were three players that really had a chance to have outstanding seasons in 2012: Dez Bryant, Dwayne Harris and Barry Church. They physically looked like different players and they were playing the game must faster than what I had seen the previous season.

    I have to give Church a lot of credit for stepping up and taking the starting job away from those that were in competition with him, but I also have to give secondary coaches Jerome Henderson and Joe Baker that same credit for getting him ready to play. There was never a question about the toughness of Church, but there were concerns about his ability to play in coverage. His size is ideal but was his quickness or speed?

    There were times early in camp where you saw him matched up with Jason Witten and he was in good position throughout the route and you knew he had a chance. During the preseason games and the practices with the Chargers, it became even clearer that he could handle the job. His awareness and understanding of the scheme really showed, and it was rare that you saw him out of position or not around the ball.

    On opening night against the Giants he had a big fumble recovery, but in Week 3 against the Buccaneers he suffered a freak injury to his Achilles and was done for the year. I know that the injuries to DeMarco Murray and Sean Lee were devastating during the season, but I would argue the loss of Church caused just as many problems because the position became unsettled. There were clearly times when the Cowboys missed his physical presence, matching up against some of the tight ends they were having to deal with in Baltimore, Carolina, Atlanta and Pittsburgh. It was a tough break not only for Church, but the defense as well.

    How he fits: There is no doubt that Church will have a long road back from this Achilles injury, but the fact that it happened so early in the season will give him the best chance to rehab it to get himself ready for training camp and beyond. His fit in this new scheme will be that of what John Lynch was but only with better cover skills.

    Head coach Jason Garrett spoke about this recently. He talked about how in this scheme you do see some two deep safety play, but you also see some single high, which means Church can play down in the box and offer help there. Even in the two deep look, Church can handle those inside routes, but when Sean Lee drops out of the middle, it will allow Church to cheat to the outside to help the corners, which he showed the ability to handle some last Fall. I really believed that he was on his way to being a special player before the injury, so hopefully he can get himself back into his 2012 form.

    Eatman’s analysis:

    Nick Eatman: I thought the Dallas Cowboys did a nice thing by signing Church to an extension even though he was in the middle of a difficult injury. It wasn’t a lot of money, so if he comes back 100 percent and plays like they think he will, then it’ll be a bargain for the team. I think seeing LaRon Landry in the Pro Bowl was an encouraging sign for Church. Landry is coming off two torn Achilles and made it back to the Pro Bowl this past year with the Jets. I’ve liked Church from his rookie season, and thought the Cowboys should just let him play and start and see how it goes.

    Courtesy: Bryan Broaddus | Football Analyst/Scout

    ROSTER REVIEW: Final grades for the 2012 Dallas Cowboys

    america's team - dallas cowboys helmet 2012 - the boys are back blog

    No more whistles, no more playbooks, no more coach’s dirty looks. Sure, not quite as catchy as the iconic “no more pencils, no more books, no more teacher’s dirty looks,” but we’re talking football grades here, not math, science and social studies.

    The biggest difference in grading pupils and players is expectations. All students are created equal; not so much for a professional football team. Just doesn’t make sense to hold Miles Austin, one of the highest-paid wide receivers in the game and a two-time Pro Bowl selection, and Cole Beasley, an undrafted free agent rookie, to the same standard. Ditto for DeMarcus Ware, headed for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and some dude signed off his couch midseason. Not even Batman.

    Without further ado, here are our final grades for the 2012 Dallas Cowboys:

    QUARTERBACKS

    Tony Romo – B

    This one is difficult, because for 80-plus percent of the season, 13-of-16 games, Romo played as well as any quarterback in franchise history. Yes, including Roger Staubach and Troy Aikman. His numbers for those contests include 303.1 yards per game, 24 touchdown passes, seven picks and a 100.2 rating. Even with the other three games – vs. the Bears and Giants and at the Redskins – Romo had the league’s sixth-highest rating by Football Outsiders, behind only Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers and Matt Ryan.

    He threw for nearly 5,000 yards, and on many occasions was his own best pass protector in terms of finding an extra second or two. There were times when he was brilliant, and never before has he shown the leadership he did this season. Still, in the end, Romo flunked his final. Again. That’s not easy to write. Romo has been sort of the teacher’s pet these last five years, but there is no excuse for those final two picks at Washington.

    Kyle Orton – I

    He broke Clint Longley’s 38-year-old mark for highest passer rating (minimum 10 attempts) with a ridiculous 137.1. Played just the one game, though, giving him an incomplete.

    RUNNING BACKS

    DeMarco Murray – C

    A disappointing season for the second-year back who was expected to anchor the offensive load. Didn’t rush for 100 yards after Week 1 at the Giants and rarely showed the explosiveness from his rookie season with just five 20-plus carries. Finished tied for 21st in the league with 2.5 yards per attempt after contact. He also picked the worst of times for his first two NFL fumbles. His durability has also become a concern as he has missed nine of the team’s last 19 games with injuries.

    Felix Jones – C

    Finished with more offensive touches than expected, was much improved in picking up the blitz, caught the ball well, and for the most part, maximized his rushing yards with the gaps provided. He averaged just 3.6 yards per carry after entering the year at 5.1 for his career.

    Lance Dunbar – B

    Was impressed with the free agent rookie from North Texas from the first preseason game through Week 17. Finished with eight special teams tackles, was solid if unspectacular on kick returns and showed a little burst on offense. Should play a bigger role in 2013.

    Phillip Tanner – C

    Solid on special teams with 10 tackles, although he didn’t show much in limited action carrying the ball.

    Lawrence Vickers – C

    Showed promise catching passes, that little dump-off was seemingly always available. But his blocking was average and his four penalties in 305 snaps was the highest percentage of any fullback playing 25 percent of his team’s snaps.

    Continue reading →

    PLAYER PUZZLE PIECES: How the Dallas Cowboys current personnel fit Monte Kiffin’s 4-3 defense

    2012 dallas cowboys defense loses bruce carter to ir - the boys are back blog

    A lot has been made about the Cowboys’ switch from the 3-4 defense to Monte Kiffin’s 4-3, and rightfully so. Although a great defense ultimately comes down to talented players executing a well-crafted scheme, it’s not as if elite players can simply line up at any position and succeed. If the chances of success at a particular position are optimized at a certain height, weight and speed, it follows that getting farther from those ideal traits will lower the probability of succeeding.

    Kiffin’s defenses have typically emphasized speed over size at most positions, and that’s certainly a plus for a Cowboys defense that seems as if it hasn’t kept up with the NFL’s pass-happy evolution. Still, the truth is that the best defensive coordinators tailor their scheme around their personnel.

    Kiffin’s version of the 4-3 in particular, known as a 4-3 Under, could potentially accommodate the Cowboys’ personnel better than most other 4-3 schemes. One reason is the presence of the 1-technique defensive tackle. A 1-technique tackle shades the offensive center, nearly playing heads-up over the top of him like a 3-4 nose tackle. The other defensive tackle, the 3-technique, is typically a smaller player that almost acts as a large defensive end in the interior.

    There are certainly areas where the Cowboys might have holes to fill, of course. To figure out just how far away Dallas might be from Kiffin’s “dream” defense, we’ve researched the height and weight of each defensive player for Tampa Bay from 2003 to 2008. Kiffin was the defensive coordinator for the Buccaneers during that stretch, emphasizing specific traits at each position. Below are the averages of each player on the roster at every position.

    4-3 defense

    1-DT: 6’3’’ 304 pounds

    As mentioned, the 1-technique tackle is a strong presence in the inside, but he also has to be nimble enough to shoot up field.

    Cowboys’ fit: Jay Ratliff (6’4’’ 303 pounds) matches Kiffin’s prototypical player at this position to a tee. The issue is whether or not the Cowboys can afford to continue to pay Ratliff the big bucks. Sean Lissemore (6’3’’ 303 pounds) also fits the bill.

    3-DT: 6’2’’ 285 pounds

    The 3-technique defensive tackle is much smaller than the 1-technique. Also note that, at an average of just 6’2’’, the 3-technique is shorter than the defensive ends.

    Cowboys’ fit: This position in particular is difficult to project for the Cowboys. Jason Hatcher could potentially play any position along the defensive line, although at 6’6’’ 305 pounds, he’s much taller and heavier than the typically short, light tackles Kiffin has used in the past. Tyrone Crawford (6’4’’ 285 pounds) will probably play defensive end, but he also could have some versatility.

    DE (Strong): 6’3’’ 279 pounds

    Kiffin has typically used a very large, bulky player to man his strong-side defensive end position.

    Cowboys’ fit: If there’s evidence that the Cowboys could let Anthony Spencer walk, this might be it. At 250 pounds, Spencer doesn’t come anywhere near matching the profile of Kiffin’s past ends. As mentioned above, Crawford checks in around this size, but his pass-rushing ability is a question.

    DE (Weak): 6’3’’ 267 pounds

    On the weak side, Kiffin’s defensive ends have been relatively close to the same size as the typical 3-4 outside linebacker.

    Cowboys’ fit: DeMarcus Ware will play this position, although even he is listed at only 254 pounds. Ware shouldn’t have much of a problem adjusting, however. Alex Albright might need to transition to this position as well at 6’5’’ 260 pounds.

    MLB: 6’1’’ 232 pounds

    The “Mike” linebacker in Kiffin’s 4-3 defense has to have the ability to turn and run, so it’s no surprise that they’ve averaged only 232 pounds.

    Cowboys’ fit: At 6’2’’, 245 pounds, Sean Lee is a bit oversized compared to the average 4-3 middle linebacker. He’ll often be asked to run downfield when tight ends run vertically, but Lee should be up for the challenge.

    WLB: 6’1’’ 224 pounds

    At only 224 pounds, the average “Will” linebacker in Kiffin’s defense must have the speed to run sideline-to-sideline.

    Cowboys’ fit: Like Lee, Carter is “oversized” for the 4-3 at 240 pounds, but it really shouldn’t matter. As one of the fastest linebackers in the NFL, Carter won’t have a problem transitioning to the 4-3. He could potentially play any of the three linebacker spots, giving the Cowboys plenty of flexibility heading into the draft.

    SLB: 6’1’’ 235 pounds

    As the biggest of Kiffin’s linebackers, the “Sam” is still smaller than all but one linebacker the Cowboys had on the roster in 2012, Ernie Sims.

    Cowboys’ fit: Assuming Carter plays the “Will,” the Cowboys may have a hole to fill here (and vice versa if Kiffin uses Carter as the “Sam.” If Dan Connor (6’2’’ 242 pounds) ends up starting for Kiffin, he’ll almost assuredly play this position and Carter will play the weak side.

    CB: 6’0’’ 193 pounds

    Due to Kiffin’s emphasis on Cover 2, his cornerbacks don’t turn and run in man coverage as much as in other defenses. Playing near the line, they need to be able to press and play the run, meaning they’re typically tall, although perhaps not as heavy as many believe.

    Cowboys’ fit: Although there are questions about how Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne can transition to Kiffin’s scheme, I think they’ll be just fine. Carr has great size at 6’0’’ 210 pounds, and it isn’t as if they’ll be in Cover 2 every play. Even at 5’11’’ 185 pounds, Claiborne isn’t that far off from Kiffin’s prototypical cornerbacks over the years.

    S: 6’0’’ 207 pounds

    Since Kiffin generally plays with two-deep alignments and dares offenses to run, his safeties don’t need to be excessively big, but rangy.

    Cowboys’ fit: The Cowboys could have an issue here since starters Gerald Sensabaugh and Barry Church are both at least 212 pounds and don’t necessarily excel in deep coverage. Kiffin has made it work with big safeties like John Lynch in the past, however, but the ’Boys still might need to look for a faster safety of the future in this upcoming draft.

    We so often hear that teams need to find “their guys” that fit into their particular schemes, and that’s true; certain players are tailored to play in specific ways. However, the job of any coordinator is to mold their scheme to fit the skill sets of the current personnel. It’s certainly preferable to have a roster full of players built for a particular scheme, but creating that is a whole lot more challenging than slightly altering the scheme to fit the most talented players on the team.

    When all is said and done, the success of Kiffin’s tenure in Dallas will be determined by how well he can manage this delicate balancing act, acquiring “his” guys while still being flexible with his scheme to accommodate what he already has.

    THIRD IR ADDITION: Dallas Cowboys DE Kenyon Coleman suffers season-ending injury

    Sep 5, 2012; East Rutherford, NJ, USA;  Dallas Cowboys defensive end Kenyon Coleman (99) prior to the game against the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jim O'Connor-US PRESSWIRE

    IRVING – First safety Barry Church went down. Then linebacker Sean Lee. On Sunday, defensive end Kenyon Coleman became the third defensive starter for the Cowboys to suffer a season-ending injury, tearing his left triceps muscle in the third quarter of Dallas’ 38-23 victory over Philadelphia.

    The Cowboys received the sobering news about Coleman’s status after he underwent an MRI. The 11th-year veteran will undergo surgery Tuesday and will be placed on the team’s injured reserve list, according to head coach Jason Garrett.

    “That’s a loss for us because he’s been such a good player for us,” Jason Garrett said. “He is one of the leaders of the defensive line and certainly one of the leaders of our defense. He is a very, very good run defender and has shown that he can push the pocket and pressure the quarterback a little bit, too. He’ll be a loss for us, but like with the other guys that have gone out this year, the next man has to be up.”

    Cowboys Raiders Football

    Fortunately for the Cowboys, they have plenty of candidates, including 2005 first-round pick Marcus Spears, rookie Tyrone Crawford and injured veteran Sean Lissemore, who has missed the last four games with a high-ankle sprain.

    Garrett said the Cowboys are “hopeful” Lissemore will be cleared to return this week. But in the event that he isn’t, the Cowboys already developing a contingency plan. In fact, Garrett said the team will likely promote one of their two practice-squad defensive linemen, Robert Callaway and Ben Bass, to the active roster this week.

    “We anticipate making a move to add to the defensive line and those are the logical ones,” Garrett said.

    For the Cowboys, it’s uncertain how the absence of Coleman will affect on the defense. The 33-year-old defender made 15 tackles and forced one fumble in 167 defensive snaps while frequently being spelled by Spears, Lissemore and Crawford at left end.

    “It’s a rotational position anyway,” Garrett said. “Those guys have been playing some snaps through the early part of the season. They will play more now.”

    AND THE WINNER IS: Dallas Cowboys Midseason Awards

    DMN Dallas Cowboys Midseason Awards - The Boys Are Back blog

    IRVING, Texas – We’re at the halfway point in the regular season and obviously the Dallas Cowboys aren’t happy with a 3-5 record. The talk of head coach Jason Garrett’s future has been a topic, albeit one that owner Jerry Jones has dismissed.

    The Cowboys haven’t been able to close out games this season, but the schedule might turn in their favor for the final eight games, where only one team with a winning record exists.

    The DallasCowboys.com staff of Bryan Broaddus, Rowan Kavner and Nick Eatman weigh in with their assessment of the season’s first half.

    Best Moment:

    Bryan: The victory on the road against the Giants on opening night. It was a game that nobody had them winning. Might be the only time they have really played a complete game.

    Rowan: Winning the opener in New York. The Cowboys felt a victory against the Super Bowl champion Giants might be a statement win and one that could propel them going forward. It turned out to be one of the few positive moments from the first half of the season.

    Nick: There’s only been three wins and it’s not going to be beating Tampa Bay or Carolina. Has to be the opener against the Giants when they took it to the defending champs from start to finish. Kevin Ogletree had a career night and the Cowboys kept answering the bell.

    Worst Moment:

    Bryan: The last 5:21 of the game against the Falcons. If the defense gets a stop there, Tony Romo has a chance to once again try and score with a no-huddle offense that had previously moved the ball well for their only touchdown of the day. Instead, the offense gets the ball with 22 seconds left and no chance to win the game.

    Rowan: When Dez Bryant was called out of bounds on a miraculous catch in the back of the end zone at home against the Giants. Not only would that have given the Cowboys a winning record at the time, and their biggest comeback in franchise history, but it would have also been one of the few breaks for both Romo and Bryant, who’ve had their struggles at times.

    Nick: Without a doubt, hearing the referee say, “After review, the receiver’s hand landed out of bounds” following Bryant’s near catch against the Giants. That was a killer for this team. They could’ve had the biggest comeback in Cowboys history from two players, Dez and Romo, who needed a boost like that. While it was still a classic, it would’ve probably been the best game I’ve ever covered had it not been for a few inches.

    What They Do Best:

    Bryan: Cover punts. It doesn’t matter whether it’s Chris Jones or Brian Moorman, Joe DeCamillis has this unit ranked among the best in the NFL. Rarely do you see their gunners out of position and when given an opportunity to make a tackle, they get the job done. It’s a sound group. 

    Rowan: Stop teams from driving the field. The defense has played significantly better than the offense this season, particularly in limiting teams from gaining chunks of yardage. The offense continually puts the defense in rough spots with turnovers, and for the most part, the defense has held its own.

    Nick: Other than find creative ways to lose games? This team is pretty good at defending the pass. What’s really frustrating is if you would’ve heard two weeks ago that neither Eli Manning nor Matt Ryan would throw a touchdown against the Cowboys and their offenses would only get one each, you never would’ve thought the Cowboys would go 0-2 in those games. But, the Cowboys have had a good pass rush and played well in the secondary, ranking fifth overall on defense.

    Where They Struggle The Most

    Bryan: Finishing games. Look at the way this team has lost games and that will tell you all you need to know.

    Rowan: In the red zone. Not a lot of teams will be able to score in there with a rushing attack as feeble as the Cowboys’, which ranks 30th in rushing average. Dallas scores a touchdown only 44 percent of the time it reaches the red zone and 50 percent of the time it gets inside the 10-yard line.

    Nick: It’s the offensive line. That hasn’t changed really since last year, other than probably regressing some. Romo is always running for his life and they can’t run the ball in the red zone, a sure sign this offensive line can’t generate a good enough push when needed.

    Best Offensive Player:

    Bryan: Jason Witten. Nobody has played with more toughness and skill than him.

    Rowan: Witten. The man who is now the team’s all-time leader in receptions has been one of the few reliable targets for Romo this year. After a slow start coming back from a spleen injury, Witten has recorded at least six catches in the last five games, including a 13-catch performance and a record 18-reception outing.

    Nick: The wording of this category is tricky. The football player might be Dez. The most valuable is probably Romo because when he’s on they always have a chance, and when he’s not, they have none. But the best offensive player through eight games has to be Witten. Who would’ve said that after those first three games when he wasn’t 100 percent? But, he’s been fantastic of late. Then again, when your best player is a tight end, it’s hard to be successful on offense.

    Best Defensive Player:

    Bryan: Week in and week out, Brandon Carr has been asked to cover the opponent’s best receiver, plus line up at safety. Carr has been a stable, steady player, which is something you need when trying to match up against different schemes.

    Rowan: No player on this defense would cause the kind of commotion and alterations needed after Sean Lee was lost for the year. He had about as productive a start to the season as anyone could ask for and will continue to be the leader of the defense for years to come.

    Nick: Sure, I’d like to be cute here and find another worthy selection, but you really can’t. DeMarcus Ware has been the most productive and most durable defensive player on this team for a while. Ware has played in all 120 games of his career, missing just one start, and that was the Saints game in 2009 when he was heroic in a huge upset win. He’s been great again this year and gets my vote. 

    Editors Pick: Bruce Carter

    Best Special Teams Player:

    Bryan: It’s amazing that Danny McCray’s special teams play hasn’t suffered because of all the time he’s seeing with the defense as a starting safety. His ability to read schemes, beat blocks and finish plays gets him noticed a lot on tape.

    Rowan: It’s Dan Bailey. The only area he’s not automatic is over 50 yards, which is understandable for any kicker. When the Cowboys get in legitimate field goal range, he’ll put it through almost every time.

    Nick: It’s too easy to go with Bailey, but what about the snapper L.P. Ladouceur, who has been virtually perfect again this year. He’s the most consistent player on the team. With so many players shuffling in and out of the special teams units, they’ve had little consistency, but Ladouceur is the normal exception.

    Don’t Forget About …

    Bryan: As much as I wanted to get rid of Phil Costa, he does play on his feet in securing blocks and getting on the second level. Is he great? No, but he is able to do things that Ryan Cook can’t scheme-wise.

    Rowan: All the injuries this team has endured. The Cowboys lost their two best young players at different points and for different durations in Lee and DeMarco Murray, not to mention their starting safety in Barry Church and nose tackle Jay Ratliff for the beginning of the year. Health going forward will be crucial.

    Nick: The Cowboys have been a different team when DeMarco Murray is in the game, and if he can return soon, possibly even this week, the offense has a chance to turn things around in a hurry.

    Biggest Disappointment

    Bryan: The way this team loses games. It really has been a throw here, a catch there or a key stop not made that’s kept the Cowboys from having a much better record.

    Rowan: There have been quite a few disappointments, from a meager rushing attack to a shaky offensive line to a hoard of penalties every other week. But turnovers, particularly interceptions, have kept this Cowboys team from being above .500. 

    Nick: Since I was preaching back in June how important the Seattle game would be, I’ll stick with that. After winning in New York, the Cowboys simply got manhandled against the Seahawks in Week 2, which gave us a preview of how they would lose the physical battle up front in other games, too.

    Second-Half Outlook:

    Bryan: Need to focus and find a way to get on a little four-game winning streak, the game at Philadelphia and then three in a row at home. If this team is going to do anything productive this second half of the season, it starts against the Eagles on Sunday.

    Rowan: While the lousy start wasn’t expected after a win in New York, it should get easier for the Cowboys the rest of the way. They only play one team with a winning record, so there’s no excuse to go 3-5 again in the second half of the season.

    Nick: We knew all along the Cowboys might have an easier road in the second half of the season than in the first, and that should be the case. But the question was always the same: Will it be too late? The Cowboys are 3-5, and although just one of their last eight opponents currently has a winning record, it’s hard to think they will be consistent enough to make a serious playoff run. I still think 8-8 will be the final verdict.

    COWBOYS COMMITT: Barry Church wants to reward organization for faith in him

    Dallas Cowboys strong safety Barry Church (42) tackles Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Arrelious Benn - The Boys Are Back blog

    IRVING, Texas – Barry Church is in the early parts of a comeback from Achilles’ tendon surgery, but the Dallas Cowboys safety has some peace of mind.

    Last week the Cowboys signed Church to a four-year extension worth close to $9 million and an opportunity to add another $3 million through play-time escalators. He received a $2.5 million signing bonus.

    Dallas Cowboys strong safety Barry Church (42) is helped from the field - The Boys Are Back blog

    “I’m glad they have a lot of faith in me,” Church said. “I was shocked a little bit. I thought I was going to have to come back from rehab and don’t have a deal or don’t have any security going into camp next year. They’re showing faith in me and I’m going to try to make it worth every penny for them.”

    Church, who suffered the injury Sept. 23 vs. Tampa Bay on a non-contact play, said he will have the cast removed on Monday, “and then I can begin the real rehab.” He said he plans on being 100 percent by the time the offseason conditioning program begins next April.

    He won the starting safety spot in the first week of training camp, allowing the team to cut veteran Brodney Pool, and had eight tackles, two pass breakups and a fumble recovery.

    “He played really well and again is the kind of guy we want on our team,” coach Jason Garrett said.

    Church will use former Cowboys cornerback Kevin Smith and current Cincinnati cornerback Leon Hall as inspirations in his rehab.

    “Leon Hall did his last November and he was back in training camp and starting with the Bengals now,” Church said. “It’s not the same position but there’s a lot more running, but if he can do it I can do it too.”

    SECONDARY SAFETY NET: Dallas Cowboys to sign veteran Charlie Peprah

    In two years, Danny McCray has become the Dallas Cowboys’ special teams ace - The Boys Are Back blog

    The Dallas Cowboys have agreed on a deal with veteran safety Charlie Peprah, who has 25 career starts, including one in Super Bowl XLV at Cowboys Stadium.

    Dallas Cowboys sign veteran safety Charlie Peprah - The Boys Are Back blog

    Now Peprah, who is from nearby Plano, Texas, returns to his hometown team of the Cowboys, who have had plenty of injuries at the safety position.

    The deal has yet to be officially turned into the league office as the Cowboys are trying to figure out their 53-man roster and how to make room for their new safety.

    Peprah, who has had knee issues the last year, was one of 16 players to work out for the Cowboys two weeks ago at Valley Ranch. He’s played six years in the league but his 25 starts have occurred in the last two seasons with the Packers, which included a Super Bowl run.

    The Cowboys entered the season with Gerald Sensabaugh and Barry Church as the starters but Church is out for the year with a torn Achilles. Backup Danny McCray (pictured above) has been more than serviceable but rookie Matt Johnson was expected to contribute but has had three separate hamstring injuries, including another on Friday that prevented his NFL debut.

    Along with Peprah in that workout two weeks ago was Eric Frampton, who signed right away and has played for the Cowboys the last two weeks.

    TURNOVER TURNAROUND: Dallas Cowboys defense challenge themselves to increase interceptions

    Dallas Cowboys inside linebacker Sean Lee (50) snares a first quarter interception that was tipped up in the air by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers - The Boys Are Back blog

    The Dallas Cowboys came back to work this week with their mind on turnovers.

    At least, that was one of the main things they were asked about after their bye-week break.

    “We’re stressing that every day at practice,” safety Danny McCray said. “We should get it right sometime.”

    The Cowboys are minus-7 in turnover ratio, second-worst in the league. Only Kansas City, at minus-15, is worse. New England and Atlanta are first at plus-10.

    “Some of it is luck,” McCray said. “Some of it is catching the ball when it comes to you. And other ones are disruptions – getting hands up in the quarterback’s face. If you know you’re not going to get there when we’re blitzing on a sack or something, just try to get a hand up and get a tipped ball.”

    Cornerback Brandon Carr, with eight interceptions in four years before coming to Dallas, said each player must aim to find a way to make a takeaway.

    “It’s a personal challenge that each one of us has to accept,” he said. “You have to challenge yourself to put it upon yourself within the scheme of our defense to go out there and you be the one to make that play. You be the one to make the difference for the defense. But at the same time, you have to be smart about it, read your keys. Just try to remember everything you went over in film, studying what your coaches taught you and just go out there and just play.”

    The Cowboys have one interception this year, from linebacker Sean Lee off a ball that bounced off the intended receiver. Victor Butler, Barry Church and Orie Lemon have each recovered fumbles. DeMarcus Ware has forced three fumbles, and Lee has caused one.

    Still, the Cowboys have only two interceptions over the past 10 games. They had only one in the final six games last year (also Sean Lee, against the Giants at Cowboys Stadium) and have only one in the first four games this year.

    “You work on a lot of different things during the week with drills, and those things have been good for us in the past, and you just have to carry those things to the game,” coach Jason Garrett said. “But it’s a team thing, we talk about that all the time. On offense, the ball security is a team thing. It starts with the guys up front, the guys protecting, the guys blocking, certainly the guys who have the ball in their hands, and similarly on defense, if you create havoc for the quarterback, and he has to do things quicker than he wants to do, typically those result in interceptions.”

    ACHILLES HEEL OR ACHILLES HEAL: Injury puts Barry Church’s future with Dallas Cowboys in a vulnerable spot

    An Achilles’ heel is a deadly weakness in spite of overall strength, that can potentially lead to downfall - The Boys Are Back blog

    Prior to his season-ending Achilles injury Sept. 23 against Tampa Bay, safety Barry Church was offered a new contract by the Dallas Cowboys. Church didn’t turn down the offer or present a counter.

    Church’s agent, Bruce Tollner, didn’t respond to the new deal. The amount of the contract is unknown, but the Cowboys were willing to lock Church up for a couple of years.

    Church is in the final year of his contract with a base salary of $540,000 and will become a restricted free agent. With Church’s injury, it’s doubtful the Cowboys will allow him to sign a new deal.

    “Achilles’ heel” as an expression used for “area of weakness, vulnerable spot” dates - The Boys Are Back blog

    Church should return healthier than ever from his injury, but whether the Cowboys want to give him a new contract appears doubtful until they see if he’s ready to play.

    If Church didn’t get hurt, then we assume he would have gotten a new deal and might be in the Cowboys’ plans for three to four years.

    Now, the Cowboys have the leverage to place a tender on Church.

    A player can get placed under the first-round tender and based on 2012 salary figures, that was worth $2.742 million. Second-round tenders are worth $1.927 million and rights for first refusal are $1.26 million.

    The Cowboys value Church’s skill set and he did enough to earn the starting job opposite Gerald Sensabaugh in the offseason.

    Injured Cowboys safety Barry Church’s pain isn’t only from his torn Achilles - The Boys Are Back blog

    But now the business side takes over and Church’s injury complicates matters for the Cowboys.

    Do you still give him a new contract? He’s coming off a major injury.

    Or do you give him a second-round tender, knowing few teams will be willing to give up a second-round pick?

    ‘BOYS BYE WEEK BREAKDOWN: Dallas Cowboys defensive grades for Top 11 players

    The Dallas Cowboys vs Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Cowboys Stadium 2012 - Rob Ryan's defense comes up big - The Boys Are Back blog

    Although 11 defensive players get named as “starters” in a given week, the Dallas Cowboys have had 15 defensive players participate in at least 38 percent of the team’s snaps through Week 4. Here are the top 11. . .

    ILB Sean Lee: A

    Lee has recorded a tackle on 19.6 percent of his snaps in 2012, which is simply remarkable. In coverage, he has allowed only 5.0 yards-per-attempt.

    OLB DeMarcus Ware: A

    How high are the standards for Ware that some are arguing he’s having a down year? He’s on pace for 20 sacks. I don’t know about you, but that’s good enough for me.

    CB Brandon Carr: A-

    Carr got beat by Brandon Marshall on Monday night, but don’t panic. He allowed three catches, albeit a few big ones, but he’s still playing really well. On the season, only 42.9 percent of passes Carr’s way have been completed.

    OLB Anthony Spencer: B

    We saw Spencer’s value most on Monday night when he wasn’t playing. The player who drops into coverage more often than any 3-4 outside linebacker in the NFL also has a higher pressure rate than Ware this season. As I told you in the preseason, the sacks will come. He’s still on pace for 11.

    ILB Bruce Carter: B

    Quietly, the Cowboys have one of the better inside linebacker duos in the NFL. Carter’s tackle rate of 12.4 percent isn’t at the level of Lee, but it’s still pretty darn good.

    CB Mike Jenkins: B

    Jenkins clearly has something to prove this year. You saw Rob Ryan give Jenkins some snaps at safety last week, and that should continue. It’s difficult to quantify Jenkins’ success since he’s been targeted only three times, but his coverage has been the best I’ve ever seen from him.

    NT Josh Brent: B-

    Brent has been really, really good against the run. You can see the difference in the push from the defensive line with Brent in the game as compared to Jay Ratliff. I love Ratliff’s tenacity and pass rush, but the Cowboys might be better served if they allow him to utilize it from the five-technique to allow Brent to stay at the nose.

    S Barry Church: B-

    Even though Church is out for the season, I’m putting him on the list because I really liked what I saw in the three games that he played. Opposing quarterbacks tested Church seven times, gaining just 30 total yards. I still think the Cowboys need to find a ball-hawking free safety in the draft, but Church could stick around if he recovers from his Achilles injury.

    CB Morris Claiborne: C+

    After three games in which he was barely even tested, Claiborne is finally going through some of the growing pains that rookie cornerbacks invariably experience. Claiborne has allowed 9.0 YPA on the 14 passes thrown his way this year, which isn’t a bad mark. He got schooled by Devin Hester on national television, though, so people will naturally believe he’s playing worse than what is actually the case.

    DE Jason Hatcher: C+

    After starting the season with a boom, Hatcher has cooled down over the past two weeks. He has the third-most pressures on the team behind Ware and Spencer, so I think there’s still a good chance he ends the season with five or more sacks.

    DE Tyrone Crawford: C+

    Crawford hasn’t been able to get a ton of pressure yet, but his tackle rate of 8.9 percent is good for a five-technique end. In comparison, Hatcher’s tackle rate is 6.5 percent.

    Just missed the list: DE Sean Lissemore, S Gerald Sensabaugh, OLB Victor Butler

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