Tag Archives: Bruce Carter

SHAKEUP AT VALLEY RANCH: Sean Lee’s injury leaves every LB spot in question | DeVonte Holloman is currently the best option at MLB | Dallas Cowboys roster 2014

SHAKEUP AT VALLEY RANCH - Sean Lee’s injury leaves every LB spot in question - DeVonte Holloman is currently the best option at MLB - Dallas Cowboys roster 2014

IRVING, Texas – One practice into Organized Team Activities (OTAs), and the perceived weakness of the defense shifts entirely from one position group to another.

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THE 2014 LINEBACKER BATTLE: Dallas Cowboys linebackers competing for starting spots | 2014 Dallas Cowboys roster

Bruce Carter #54 and Sean Lee #50 of the 2013-2014 Dallas Cowboys walk down the tunnel to play San Diego Chargers

IRVING, Texas – A year ago at this time, the Dallas Cowboys linebacker corps seemed set in stone. With OTAs a week away and training camp on the horizon, that’s anything but the case in 2014.

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LINEBACKER SHAMBLES AND GAMBLES: Bruce Carter expected to return; Rookie may start at MLB | Cowboys Cross-Training

LINEBACKER SHAMBLES AND GAMBLES - Bruce Carter expected to return; Rookie may start at MLB - Dallas Cowboys roster 2013 2014

IRVING, Texas – There isn’t a spot on the team more in shambles than at linebacker.

Earlier in the season, it was the defensive line, a position that has seen nearly 20 different players take the field at some point.

But it’s never been as bad as it was, or is right now, at linebacker.

What the Dallas Cowboys finished with Sunday against the Packers should be worse than what they will play with this week in Washington. The main reason for that is the availability of Bruce Carter, who all but guaranteed he will play this Sunday, despite missing last week’s game with a hamstring injury.

Not only playing, but Carter is expected to wear the defensive headset in his helmet, something the Cowboys played most of the second half without last week against the Packers. Carter will make the defensive line calls despite staying at weak-side linebacker.

That means DeVonte Holloman, a rookie who had missed five straight games until last week with a neck injury, and a player who played both outside linebacker and safety in college, will be the Dallas Cowboys starting middle linebacker this week.

Holloman has played other positions before in his collegiate and high school days, but never in the middle. He’ll get that shot Sunday with perhaps the season on the line for the Cowboys.

So what’s the hardest thing for Holloman?

“Knowing what to look for before it happens. Guys have been in the fire before, they can see things coming a lot faster than guys that are just thrown out there or their first time out there,” he said. “Just seeing a couple things before they come at you.”

Holloman was thrown into action last week after both Justin Durant and Ernie Sims left the game against the Packers. And because both players had the headsets, it left Holloman having to get relayed signals from the coaches on the sideline.

“Hopefully we’ll have a guy with a microphone this time and we won’t have to do too many signals,” Holloman said. “Bruce will have the mic to start, and I’ll be the backup with it.”

Durant has been placed on IR with a hamstring injury and it’s unlikely Sims (hip/groin) will play. The Cowboys signed Orie Lemon to the roster and will get rookie Cameron Lawrence ready as well. Lawrence had to play most of the second half on the outside.

They certainly can’t afford any more injuries at linebacker. The team is preparing to play again without Sean Lee, who is dealing with a neck injury that likely keeps him out the rest of the regular season.

As for Carter, who missed one game already due to his hamstring, he knows both time and linebackers are running out.

“We understand we don’t have really any depth right now at linebacker, so if we can get guys back healthy like me, try to get Ernie there, he’s been banged up,” Carter said. “We just need to get anybody, really.”

And while Carter’s season hasn’t lived up to the high expectations set for him in the offseason, he knows he has a job to do, especially if he’s the only experienced starter out there, with Kyle Wilber on the strong side.

“My job is to try to lead the defense to a victory and just play as good as we can. When things get out of hand, try to get everybody to calm down and just try to get back to our game plan and play sound,” Carter said. “I’m up for the challenge. I know what’s ahead of me. We’ve just got to go out there and execute.”

And facing the Redskins won’t be easy, simply because of the way they run the football. Washington ranks third in the league at 140.9 rushing yards per game. Even with Kirk Cousins now in for Robert Griffin III, the Redskins will still rely on Alfred Morris, who ranks fifth in the league at 1,125 rushing yards.

RELATED: Cross-Training allows the Cowboys to shift linebackers during roster crisis

Cross-Training allows the Cowboys to shift linebackers during roster crisis - DeVonte Holloman

IRVING, Texas – To the Cowboys, the term “cross-training” means learning multiple positions to be ready at a moment’s notice.

They’ve put that term to full use this year. Head coach Jason Garrett said it was essential particularly in training camp to cross-train the linebackers, and that could pay off now with all the mixing and matching to adjust for injuries.

“Sometimes you do it out of necessity in training camp to get through a practice or get through a preseason game,” Garrett said. “But you always want to cross-train your guys because it’s a long season. We understand that injuries happen.”

DeVonte Holloman’s getting set to start at middle linebacker for the first time in his career. Next to him on one side will be Bruce Carter, who many thought would shift to the middle after Sean Lee’s injury, considering he’s gotten experience there before.

Next to Holloman on the other side at strong side linebacker is Kyle Wilber, who began the year as a defensive end. Justin Durant, who played middle linebacker last week, had started the year as a strong side linebacker.

“Sometimes you can’t just simply put the next guy in,” Garrett said. “You have to find the next best guy from somewhere else. So we have done that in the past and it’s benefiting us now.”

That goes to show just how much versatility has been necessary for a defense searching for any possible answers at the tail end of the season.

Holloman said he’s been learning middle linebacker all season, but he never played the position before coming to the Cowboys. He was used to playing more of a hybrid safety/linebacker role in college.

“Coming from a safety to a hybrid guy and then finally playing linebacker, I’ve been learning since I got here, so it’s not much different,” Holloman said.

Holloman was forced into action last week after injuries to Durant and Ernie Sims. That was a tough circumstance for Holloman, but the brief experience he had earlier in the year helped out some.

“We all cross-train each others’ positions, so I was familiar with it, but I hadn’t done it,” Holloman said. “It was going out there and just learning on the fly.”

Garrett hopes Holloman can take what he learns from this experience moving forward.

“He’s a smart guy, he cares about football and he works very hard at it,” Garrett said. “Like some of the other young guys we’re talking about, he’ll learn from the experiences. When you get a chance to play Mike for the first time in the NFL, he’ll go back and reflect on those 60, 70 plays that he was in there and he’ll learn from them because he goes about it the right way. I think it was a good experience for him. He did a lot of good things, and hopefully he can build on that.”

Redskins coach Mike Shanahan said earlier this week he can’t worry about what personnel is on the field for the Cowboys, because in the NFL it’s such a common occurrence for one player to go down and another to have to step up and that everyone’s in the league for a reason.

With his band of backups, defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin said he still has confidence in his group with only two regular season games remaining to turn things around.  

“You go in your defensive room and split up and away you go,” Kiffin said. “You ain’t walking, get your heads up, let’s go. That’s the way it works. There ain’t no pouting around. We’ll be ready to play.”

BOYS BYE-WEEK BUZZ: Sean Lee’s absence leads to Texas-2 linebacker shuffle | Sims Carter Holloman

BOYS BYE-WEEK BUZZ - Dallas Cowboys LB Sean Lee’s absence leads to Texas-2 linebacker shuffle with Ernie Sims Bruce Carter and DeVonte Holloman experiments

IRVING, Texas – The defensive injuries have become crippling enough that a rookie who still hasn’t taken contact in four weeks since his neck injury is now lining up in drills as a starting linebacker.

DeVonte Holloman, who’s never started a regular season game at linebacker, ran with the first-team unit during Wednesday’s no-pads practice, while Ernie Sims manned the middle linebacker spot and Bruce Carter stuck at weak side linebacker.

“We don’t know that for sure, but that’s what we’re looking at right now,” said defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin. “That’s what I say about the bye week, we don’t have to be ready Sunday. We’ve got some time.”

The Cowboys will need all that time to see how Sims, who says he hasn’t played middle linebacker in the 4-3 defense since his third year in Detroit in 2008, and Holloman can adjust. Holloman still isn’t sure if he’ll be ready to play against the New York Giants after what he described as a C3 and C4 spinal contusion, which occurred a month ago in practice.

He said the trainers and coaches are taking it slow with him and waiting until the team gets back in pads to take a couple hits and see how he holds up.

“I still haven’t hit anything, so can’t really say that yet,” Holloman said. “But it felt good to be out there running around with the team again.”

Holloman’s been a special teams contributor this season, totaling four tackles and a fumble recovery, but moving to starting linebacker would be a colossal jump for the rookie. Head coach Jason Garrett said he liked what Holloman was able to do before the injury and that Holloman made “a very favorable impression” early in camp.

One of the main goals for Holloman now is to get back in shape and work out as hard as possible during the bye week so he can physically be ready to go if he’s medically cleared. He’s working in primarily at the strong side linebacker spot, but he’s also played middle linebacker before.

“I’m just waiting on my chance,” Holloman said. “Seeing how things played out last week, it looks like it’s coming up. I’m just trying to be as prepared as possible.”

Of course, all these possibilities have arisen because of injuries to Sean Lee and Justin Durant, who are both expected out at least for the Giants game with hamstring injuries. Garrett said the Dallas Cowboys have to explore every possibility with their current roster to see how to adjust, including looking at defensive end Kyle Wilber at linebacker.

The Cowboys had moved Wilber from outside linebacker to the defensive line to start the year, but this is the time to experiment with the bye week.

“That’s not really a permanent move right now,” Kiffin said. “We don’t know. We’re banged up right now at linebacker and we’re short some guys. Some of the guys are going to be out for a while.”

Regardless of what happens around him, it does seem like Sims will be given the first opportunity to take hold of the middle linebacker spot. He said he’s excited for the opportunity ahead of him, but it’s disappointing for him to see Lee, the leader of the defense, go down the way he did.

“Guys just got to step up to the plate,” Sims said. “It’s not going to come easy.”

It took a while last week against New Orleans for Sims to even realize Durant had joined Lee on the injured hamstring list and off on the sideline.

“Last game it kind of happened on the run,” Sims said. “Durant was in there at Mike. Literally, we were in the middle of a drive, and me and Bruce didn’t see Durant in the game. It was just kind of second nature to me to just kind of take the initiative to put myself at Mike.”

Though Carter had played the middle linebacker spot last year after Lee went down, Kiffin said right now they’d like to keep Carter at his current spot.

That means Sims will lean on Lee to teach him the intricacies of the middle linebacker position in this particular 4-3 defense. It’s not all that different from the situation Sims found himself in last year, when the Cowboys signed him and he had to learn the 3-4 defense for the first time when Lee went out.

“This type of stuff happens all the time,” Sims said. “Me and the other guys are going to have to step up to the plate. I’m going to have to really get some extra time with the coaches.

“I haven’t played Mike linebacker in this scheme in a long time. Schemes have changed drastically. At the end of the day, I’m a football player, I’m a competitor, and I’m going to do whatever I have to do to study the details of Sean’s position and try to help this team out to win ballgames.”

RELATED – WEDNESDAY PRACTICE UPDATE: DeVonte Holloman returns

BOYS BYE-WEEK BUZZ - Dallas Cowboys LB Sean Lee’s absence leads to Texas-2 linebacker shuffle with Ernie Sims Bruce Carter and DeVonte Holloman practice as starters

IRVING, Texas – With Sean Lee sitting out for a few weeks, the Dallas Cowboys showed a new look for their depleted linebacker corps at todays bye week practice.

Ernie Sims took Lee’s place in the middle of the unit, while Bruce Carter remained outside (weak side linebacker). In a surprise move, rookie DeVonte Holloman, who has been injured since the Cowboys’ Oct. 13 win against Washington, returned as a starter at outside linebacker (strong side).

The trio of Carter, Sims and Holloman got all of the first-team reps during the portion of practice that was open to the media.

Holloman wasn’t the only injured player to return to practice during the Dallas Cowboys’ bye week. Miles Austin and Jason Hatcher both participated in the practice, which was not padded, after missing last week.

Dez Bryant, who missed last Wednesday’s practice with back problems, was also participating with the Cowboys’ offense.

Several remaining injuries still lingered, however, as the team is still struggling to get healthy. Lee’s absence was a given, but DeMarcus Ware, Morris Claiborne and J.J. Wilcox also did not participate.

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

COWBOYS CHIP CHALLENGE: Bruce Carter responds to Dallas’ linebacker rotation

COWBOYS CHIP CHALLENGE - Bruce Carter responds to Dallas’ linebacker rotation - 2013-2014 Dallas Cowboys roster

IRVING, Texas – If the coaches’ decision to bench Bruce Carter for part of last week’s game was to motivate the linebacker, then consider the job accomplished. 

Carter said he’s not sure if that was the coaches’ intentions one week after a poor performance against the Chargers, but the temporary benching makes him more excited to get back on the field and prove his worth.

“It definitely puts a chip on your shoulder,” Carter said. “You’ve just got to go out there and prove to everybody that you can play at a high level and you’re capable of what you’re able to do. You can’t take anything for granted.”

Carter was one of the standouts on defense last season and even early this year, as he accumulated 24 total tackles and three sacks through the first three weeks of the season. But a rough performance against the Chargers in Week 3 led to the coaches going more with Ernie Sims last week in the nickel package against the Broncos.

Never before in his life had Carter been in a situation like that.

“I’ve never been benched or a backup or none of that,” Carter said. “It’s a learning lesson. I definitely will say that. I can’t take my position for granted or playing for the Cowboys, period.”

Carter said he’s not positive what will happen with the rotation in the nickel this week, although it’s likely he gets more snaps going forward. He had trouble in coverage against the Chargers, as Danny Woodhead got behind him for two scores.

All the linebackers seem to be struggling more in coverage this year in their first season in Monte Kiffin’s 4-3 defense. He said at times the linebackers might be thinking too much instead of playing quickly. At times, stopping to diagnose plays can appear like a lack of effort.

“It’s a lot of stuff you have to cover, and it might not even be right in your face, it might be on the other side of the field,” Carter said. “That’s where, for me, things get complicated, just getting back in your drops, having to look across the field. That’s something we’ve just been working at all week and I think we’re getting better at.” 

GAME FILM BREAKDOWN: THE TWIT FACTOR – Taking What Is There

GAME FILM BREAKDOWN - THE TWIT FACTOR - Taking What Is There - 2013-2014 Dallas Cowboys vs. San Diego Chargers - Church on coverage

IRVING, Texas –  After a closer look at Sunday’s loss, here are some thoughts from the film room at Valley Ranch:

Take What Is There — TWIT

The execution of the offensive game plan by the San Diego Chargers was outstanding. From the press box, it appeared very simple and after studying the game, it was. It was tailored to not put Philip Rivers in any poor situations because of the condition of his offensive line. Going into this game, it was clear that if Monte Kiffin did not put pressure on Rivers, his defense could struggle no matter who was blocking for him or catching the ball.

Given the time that Rivers had to work with, he made this Cowboys defense pay. When Kiffin played his normal zone coverage, Rivers found answers underneath with quick, simple throws to Antonio Gates, who was 10-for-10 on targets and receptions. When Kiffin tried to adjust to handle plays underneath and in the middle of the field, Rivers worked the ball in the flat to Ryan Mathews or Danny Woodhead, who found themselves in space with no defender to contest the play. For every adjustment that Kiffin tried to make Mike McCoy and Philip Rivers were just better.  

On the second touchdown to Woodhead, Rivers in the shot-gun is reading the defensive alignment and noticed where the safety is playing and understands that Bruce Carter is going to be in one-on-one coverage to his left. Rivers moves Woodhead from his right to his left, to take advantage of the matchup. On the outside to the left, the Chargers receivers come off the line running routes like they have not one clue what Rivers is trying to do but Woodhead does. As the play develops, Woodhead starts up the field on the wheel route. Carter as of the majority of the day was late to adjust and Woodhead gets separation instantly, then it became a simple game of pitch-and-catch for the touchdown.

The Chargers despite being short-handed at several positions, did a much better job of playing to the strengths of what they had to work with. There protection along the offensive line at times was not perfect and at times was boarder line, criminal in the way they held on plays but where they were perfect was in the way that their star players did play and that was the biggest difference in this loss for the Cowboys. 

Need MO confidence

GAME FILM BREAKDOWN - THE TWIT FACTOR - Taking What Is There - 2013-2014 Dallas Cowboys vs. San Diego Chargers - MO burned

All the great cornerbacks speak about how you have to play with confidence each and every play. Skill and ability are important but if you do not believe you can succeed, you will fail. We have seen Morris Claiborne play with that skill and ability but right now, he is a lost football player. Even when he is in position to make a play, something bad happens to him. Not matter how hard he tries, it’s just not good enough and that is hurting this defense. 

Mentally the breakdowns that he has struggled with in coverage and the penalties are taking their toll on him. Each snap that he takes, has made him a shell of the player he once was when he lined up at LSU. Keenan Allen is a nice player but there is no way on a 3rd – 8, that he should catch a jump ball for 31 yards to keep a drive alive. Those high point balls are what made Claiborne the player he was at LSU. I cannot tell you how many times, I have seen him defend that pass either knocking it away or grabbing an interception. Instead, he is off balance with no clue where the ball is.

It has not mattered, off or press you name it, he has struggled to play it. Cornerbacks live on the edge each play, you are out there for all to see and that’s Claiborne’s problem. Opponents are not seeing him make any plays and he does nothing to dictate, that quarterbacks needs to go the other way. There were times in that Chargers game where Claiborne, was not even in the same area code as the receiver. Is that the sign of a confident player?

To his credit, Claiborne has not used injury or physical pain as an excuse for his play. I believe the coaching that he receives from this staff is putting him in positions to attempt to make plays as we all know, the problem is finishing those opportunities. Opponents have figured out real fast to put three receivers on the field and attack this defense that way and until Claiborne plays better, that is the hand they will be dealt. Regardless, you don’t throw your hands up and say we quit. Morris Claiborne still has the confidence of the front office and the coaching staff despite the fact that he is playing like he is struggling with his own. Making consistent plays should help both parties in that regard but it needs to start now. 

Carter lost in space

GAME FILM BREAKDOWN - THE TWIT FACTOR - Taking What Is There - 2013-2014 Dallas Cowboys vs. San Diego Chargers - Carter and Lee

There have not been many days in his young career where you can say that Bruce Carter did not play his absolute best. Against the Chargers, he had one of those rough days. Sean Lee is the best linebacker in coverage on this team but Carter was right there with him. Whether the ball was going to the flat or like Sunday where the ball was going up the field. Carter had always played with the correct technique. He was often quick to read and put himself in position in the route to make the play.

There is nothing more difficult for a linebacker to have to deal with than man-coverage in space. It is where offensive coordinators and quarterbacks live to create those matchups. On both of the touchdown passes to Danny Woodhead, the Chargers were able to create these types of situations. Carter was left on Woodhead, when Rivers sent Antonio Gates to the outside which caused Carter and Orlando Scandrick to have to trade the coverage. I understand how they were trying to defend this because of the threat of Gates down the field so putting Scandrick on him was the best option. The second touchdown, was just an adjustment made by Rivers when he saw how the safeties were aligned and was able to get Woodhead up the sideline and on Carter.

There was also a post route run by Gates where he started from the right and went across the field left. Both Carter and Lee were on deep drops but Lee was more to the inside which left Carter to handle Gates who was behind him and just in front of the safety. Rivers was able to correctly read the depth of the linebackers’ drops and float to the ball right over the top of Carter, who was unable to make the play. After the play on tape, you see Carter clap his hands upset he didn’t make the play but you also see Lee turns to look at him in a way like they missed one there.

Carter was later replaced in the lineup by Ernie Sims, who responded with six tackles which was good to see but this is Carter’s job. Where these Cowboys linebackers have had their issues this season playing this scheme, is with their drops in pass coverage. Sean Lee has stood before us in the media and said that he has to even get better if this defense is going to improve. Bruce Carter had a terrible day coverage wise but we have also seen him play at a very high level in this league.

Improved rookie on his own

2013-2014 Dallas Cowboys vs. San Diego Chargers at Qualcomm

This was the second time in three weeks that Travis Frederick had the opportunity to line up and play against a 3-4 defense and his level of play was night and day from what we had seen in Kansas City. Frederick will not face another odd front until the trip to New Orleans in November. Where Frederick made his biggest improvements was how he was able to handle blocks one-on-one without help from Ronald Leary and Brian Waters.

There were several plays where Frederick was able to snatch his man on a front side reach or cut off block. He played with solid power and did not get compressed or worked back into the play. He was able to work his body and feet in a way that allowed the ball to be taken to either side. He played on his feet and he did not struggle to sustain his blocks. His second level blocks improved to the point where you did not see his man in on the tackle like we did in Kansas City. In pass protection, when uncovered in nickel front, he was solid in the front of the pocket. He showed the ability to sit down on rushers and not give up ground inside. There appeared no mental busts or problems with his assignments.

Coming in this season, there were questions about his ability to play against power and have that guy on his nose the entire game. Against Kansas City, there were some issues but he was able to put that behind him and have a solid, productive game against the Chargers, where he can take some confidence from it.

TEXAS 2 TAKEAWAYS: Cowboys’ defenders create sacks, but no turnovers

IRVING, Texas – The Dallas Cowboys failed to create a single takeaway in Sunday’s loss to the Chiefs after forcing six turnovers a week prior.

Safety Will Allen and linebacker Bruce Carter both had opportunities for interceptions, and it still sticks with them a day later that they weren’t able to secure the picks.

“Not creating the turnovers, not getting the takeaways, that’s what’s painful about (the loss),” Allen said. “If we get one at a crucial moment, that’s the game for us.”

The safety, who had an opportunity early on while crashing on a route to secure a tough pick, said the lack of takeaways sticks in his mind more than the fact that the defense allowed the Chiefs to eat up time and pick up crucial first downs to secure their win.

“If we get takeaways, it doesn’t even matter at the end of the game,” Allen said.

Pressure on the quarterback wasn’t the problem for the Cowboys’ defense, as they brought Alex Smith down four times for sacks. They just couldn’t capitalize on the pressures, failing to intercept a pass and allowing the quarterback to scramble and run for 57 yards on eight attempts.

Carter had one of those sacks, but he also had an opportunity to potentially take an out-route back for six points. He read the pass, but he couldn’t secure the catch near the sideline at midfield.

“That was a key play that I have to make to put my team in position to win the game,” Carter said. “I just have to finish and catch and go to the house. I was already thinking about going to the end zone before I caught it.”

Carter said it’s difficult to go through a game without a takeaway, considering how hard the defense works in practice to rip the ball out.

The special teams unit also had a chance to secure a fumbled kickoff return by the Chiefs, but Knile Davis recovered the catch he muffed inside the Chiefs’ 20-yard line. B.W. Webb was one of the defenders close to the play.

“I was pretty close, but I was hesitating because that really wasn’t my job to be in that area,” Webb said. “I was like, ‘Should I go or stay in my job?’ I was the safety on that play and didn’t know if he was going to get it back. When I looked at it, I was closer than I thought.”

The Cowboys had a few opportunities to make the game-changing types of plays the Kansas City defense came up with. The Chiefs ended the night leading the turnover ratio, 2-0, after forcing two fumbles.

Allen said the defense can’t go entire games without forcing a takeaway and that keeps him up at night, but they have to forget about it now and move on.

“Me and Bruce Carter both had opportunities to turn the game around, to get the offense an extra possession or two,” he said. “We didn’t do that.”

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.

TEXAS 2 DEFENSIVE PREP: Dallas Cowboys linebacker Bruce Carter studying vintage Derrick Brooks film

dallas cowboys inside linebacker bruce carter (54) tackles cleveland browns running back trent richardson - the boys are back blog

Dallas Cowboys linebacker Bruce Carter has been studying tape of former Tampa Bay Buccaneers great Derrick Brooks ever since Monte Kiffin came over to coordinate the new Texas 2 Defense.

Brooks was the prototypical Tampa 2 weak-side linebacker, with the range to cover like a defensive back and the closing speed to stuff the running game. The coaching staff has high expectations for Carter as he takes on Brooks’ old role.

“Everybody’s just been hitting me with it — Derrick Brooks, Derrick Brooks. That’s a good thing,” Carter said. “He was always around the ball. He was always flying around. He was a playmaker. He was always in the right position at the right time. That’s something I want to do.”

Dallas Cowboys linebacker Bruce Carter ran down Atlanta Falcons speedster Julio Jones - The Boys Are Back blog 2012

Carter was emerging as a defensive star before a dislocated elbow ended his 2012 season in November. He has a long way to go before he can match Brooks’ 11 Pro Bowl appearances, but it helps that Kiffin’s Texas 2 scheme is a natural fit for his talents.

There may be no faster linebacker in the NFL. Carter reportedly clocked a 4.39 40-yard dash before a torn anterior cruciate ligament ended his North Carolina career. Perhaps even more impressively, he ran down from behind Atlanta Falcons speedster Julio Jones last season.

Don’t be surprised if Carter and middle linebacker Sean Lee both earn their first Pro Bowl nods this season.

BONUS: Click HERE to watch the NFL AM interview video on NFL website


RELATED: Cowboys linebacker Sean Lee talks about new Texas 2 defense

VIDEO - Sean Lee one-on-one interview in 2013-2014 offseason - The Boys Are Back blog

One-on-One: Dallas Cowboys linebacker Sean Lee (Click HERE to watch)

Sean Lee took some time to speak with Mickey Spagnola during the Dallas Cowboys annual Home Run Derby.

TURN THE BRUCE LOOSE: Carter says Dallas Cowboys new Texas 2 Defense feels natural to him

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

Dallas Cowboys stud linebacker Bruce Carter said everything is back to normal with his arm, and he is eager to get started in a new defense that feels natural to him.

“It just puts us in position, guys like me, Sean, the rest of the linebackers, just to go out there and make plays, just fly around,” he said Wednesday at a charity event in Arlington. “That’s what I did in college. That’s what got me to this point. I feel natural there. I feel comfortable. I’m just going to go out and play ball.”

Carter missed the last five games last year because of a dislocated elbow suffered in the Thanksgiving game.

He said his arm is fine now.

“My arm’s great. Everything’s back to normal,” he said. “I’m back bench-pressing. I’m just ready to go.”

Carter said he has been impressed by new defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin’s enthusiasm.

“He comes into work more excited than we are, sometimes,” Carter said.

But right now, the players are in a learning phase.

“Everything’s going good with the new coaches,” Carter said. “Me, Sean, the rest of the linebacker guys, we’re really absorbing everything he’s trying to tell us. Details, details, details. We’re just trying to do the right thing.”

NO DESPARADOS: With this nucleus, the 2013 Dallas Cowboys may not need a free agency splash

Dallas Cowboys NT Jay Ratliff ready for the new 4-3 defense - The Boys Are Back blog - Tim Heitman - USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Cowboys have no cap room and aren’t signing anyone. Does it really matter? How desperate are the Dallas Cowboys, really?

Bryan Broaddus wrote about defensive tackle Jay Ratliff and the way he’ll fit into Monte Kiffin’s 4-3 defensive alignment. Bryan’s excited because he thinks Ratliff is the kind of player who will flourish in the 4-3, and that he can play either of its defensive tackle positions well:

In this scheme, the defensive coaches want their guys to play with more speed and quickness, which is right down the alley for Ratliff. There is a reason that Jerry Jones and Jason Garrett never wavered about Ratliff coming back for this 2013 [season] despite the legal problem he faces in the coming months. He was built to play in this scheme.

Jay Ratliff is part of a talented nucleus in Dallas that should contend for the NFC East title again this fall.

Think about it. Sure, Ratliff’s a knucklehead for blowing up at Jerry Jones in the locker room. Worse yet, he was arrested and charged with DUI a month and a half after teammate Jerry Brown was killed in a drunk driving accident for which teammate Josh Brent was charged. And sure, he had no more sacks last year than you or I did. But when healthy and on the field, Ratliff is still an excellent player, capable of disrupting an offense from an interior line position.

Ratliff isn’t exactly alone on the roster. On the defensive side of the ball, DeMarcus Ware is an excellent player. Cornerbacks Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne are very good. Linebacker Sean Lee is outstanding, and fellow linebacker Bruce Carter sure looked headed that way last season before his injury. Jason Hatcher was excellent last season, and so was Anthony Spencer, whether he’s worth his $10.6 million franchise tender or not.

On offense, the Cowboys have excellent players at quarterback, tight end and both starting wide receiver spots. They have a very good running back and left tackle. Can you find fault with any or all of these players? Sure. But on balance, I just gave you 14 starting positions at which the Cowboys are at least above average, and in several cases much better.

The point? Well, as Cowboys fans bemoan the lack of cap space and resultant lack of activity in this first week of free agency, it might be worth remembering that there are some really good players on this team, and that it might not be the kind of team that needed to have a big first week of free agency.

Now, of course they need work. They’ve been 8-8 each of the past two seasons. The offensive line is a wreck, that they have question marks at safety, and that depth is an issue in spots. They need to find another starting linebacker to go with Lee and Carter. And yes, of course Tony Romo’s reputation for playing small in big spots. All of that stuff is true. It’s too easy too often for Cowboys fans to get negative about the way they perceive their team. It’s all doom and gloom in Dallas.

Each of the past two seasons, they made it to the final game with a chance to win the division. By definition, that’s a contending team, and as close to being a playoff team as one can get. They must improve in spots, most notably the offensive line, or it’s going to be hard to believe they can make any big leap forward. You don’t have to agree with the perception that they’re in big trouble because they were hamstrung this week in free agency. In part, because of last years splash, there are a lot of very good players on the Cowboys’ roster. If properly supported by a good draft and some smart free-agent bargain hunting, this a competitive team in 2013, just as it was in 2011 and 2012.

That’s worth keeping in mind.

Editors comments: The Dallas Cowboys have one of the highest payrolls in the NFL. There is a reason for this. They are loaded with talent. The team needs health on their side and a few pieces to break away from the 8-8 mold. Addressing the offensive line will allow the Cowboys to have an offense few can match, week-to-week. This Kiffin experiment has validity also, again … a few pieces are needed to execute on this side of the ball. This offseason, if the Jones’ focus on the trenches and a safety, this team has a chance. This is not a roster of desperation, it’s a core of players on the brink. Dallas doesn’t need another millionaire free agent. What they need can be accomplished on a modest budget (with a little more salary restructuring) … trusting the talent evaluators on staff, and a youth infusion through the draft.

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.

PLAYER EVALUATIONS: Millionaire Miles, Felix Jones, stopping the run, and the Jenkins factor

Dallas Cowboys WR Miles Austin nearly breaks free for a TD vs Cleveland Browns - The Boys Are Back blog

The season is over and it’s time to think about a few things. For example, is Miles Austin earning his money? Is it time for Felix Jones, who’s now a free agent, to find a new team? What do the Cowboys need to stop the run in 2013? And finally, should Dallas keep cornerback Mike Jenkins?

1. In 2010, Miles Austin signed a seven-year $57.1 million contract. Austin’s deal meant a few things: He moved into an elite level in regards with his contract and was to become the No. 1 receiver on the Cowboys. After signing that deal, Dez Bryant surpassed him as a bigger threat, Austin has had just one 1,000 yard season, 2010, he fell 57 yards short of it in 2012 and his health continues to be a question. He failed to finish the game against Washington on Sunday night because of a high-ankle sprain. He’s endured hamstring issues the last two seasons. Austin is scheduled to earn $6.7 million in 2013 and it raises a question: Is Austin earning his money? I doubt if the Cowboys are going to release Austin because no matter how good Bryant is, there is still an unpredictability about him away from the field. Austin is a good player but the team needs more from him considering the money he’s making.

Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo hands the ball off to Dallas Cowboys running back Felix Jones

2. Felix Jones won’t return in 2013 but he did finish the final game of the season with 24 yards on five carries. Jones hit holes with a burst and seemed to run with little limitations. He’s battled injuries to both knees and he probably should have stayed on the bench. But he displayed a toughness that was necessary from the running back position. Jones was put in a bad situation by the Cowboys. He was drafted as a backup to then-starter Marion Barber. When Barber’s health started to betray him, the Cowboys asked Jones to become a starter but his own health failed him too. It’s time for Jones, who becomes a free agent, to find a new team and for the Cowboys to stop drafting players to become backups. If the Cowboys draft a running back this spring, it should be designed to give competition to DeMarco Murray. If Murray is better than the new back, fine, keep the job. Life for a NFL running back is dangerous. One week he’s healthy, the next he’s not and you need to have quality ones on the depth chart. Jones is an average running back, but not starters material and when it was time for him to take over for an injured Murray and Barber, he couldn’t do the job on a consistent basis.

2012 Dallas Cowboys defense loses Bruce Carter to IR - The Boys Are Back blog

3. Want to know why the Cowboys failed to stop the run in 2012? They lost of four players that clogged the middle of the field. Jay Ratliff (injury), Josh Brent (suspension), Sean Lee (injury) and Bruce Carter (injury) were the force up the gut for the Cowboys. When the Cowboys didn’t have Ratliff at the start of the season, the club still had Brent a solid run stopper. But when Brent was lost, Sean Lissemore was moved from defensive end to nose tackle. The Cowboys also moved Robert Callaway and signed Brian Schaefering to help inside. Lee and Carter replacements at inside linebacker were Dan Connor, Ernie Sims and at times Alex Albright. The backups failed to produce for the Cowboys as evident by the run defense allowing at least 100 yards in six of the last seven weeks of the season. Moving forward the Cowboys need to draft or sign another inside linebacker in free agency who can provide depth. The Cowboys allowed 274 rushing yards in the regular season finale and gave up at least 150 rushing yards twice and 125 or more yards five times. It’s hard to win games when that happens regularly.

Dallas Cowboys CB Mike Jenkins vs New York Giants - The Boys Are Back blog

4. The Cowboys have 16 unrestricted free agents and one of them is a former first-round pick, cornerback Mike Jenkins. It seems the Cowboys were never quite happy with Jenkins the entire offseason. He didn’t rehab his surgically repaired shoulder in Dallas, instead doing it in Florida. Jenkins didn’t attend the voluntary workouts, although he was there for the mandatory sessions. But as is always the case in the NFL, injuries dictate a lot of things. Jenkins saw playing time, especially when slot corner Orlando Scandrick went down with a hand injury. Jenkins even played some at safety and on special teams. It appears Jenkins may not return in 2013, leaving the Cowboys looking for a fourth corner in free agency or the draft. "Do I want to come back?" Jenkins asked. "I’ve grown attached, I’ve been here for five years, I’ve grown attached to everybody here. It’s hard to just get up and leave and not want to come back. At the same time ,you want to go somewhere and have a fair opportunity and I guess go on from there."

LOCKER ROOM ENDORSEMENT: Players voice support for Jason Garrett and optimism for next season under his leadership.

Dallas Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett - 2012-2013 season - The Boys Are Back blog

IRVING, Texas – As the Cowboys emptied their lockers after another disappointing end to an 8-8 season, they also voiced their support for the head coach who got them there.

Speculation arose all season after a 3-5 start regarding head coach Jason Garrett’s future in Dallas. Despite fighting and failing in a Week 17 effort with a playoff berth on the line for the second consecutive year, his players stood by him and his message the same way they had all season.

“I think he did a great job,” said DeMarco Murray. “He’s a great coach, terrific guy, glad to be a part of this team and I’m 100 percent behind him, as well as everyone else in this locker room. I wouldn’t want to play for anyone else, and I’m definitely happy he was our coach and he led us the right way this year.”

Murray said he and the rest of his teammates needed to do more to step up and make the plays necessary to get into the playoffs. He didn’t pin the loss on coaching, nor did the rest of his teammates.

Cowboys veterans and newcomers both voiced their strong opinions regarding Garrett’s future in Dallas. Livings said the team began to mesh on and off the field, and that feeling of camaraderie was encouraged and developed by Garrett, who always believed the right process would eventually reap the right results.

“Just the way he approaches things, it’s not like he’s blind to the fact of who we are, because he was a player,” Livings said. “He sees things differently from our perspective, and he makes the best of it. One hell of a coach, man, a real good coach. I played three years under Nick (Saban), and I played around some good coaches, and Coach Garrett’s up there.”

Rarely did the Cowboys make things easy, but rarely could question their resolve. The Cowboys still put themselves in position to win the NFC East the last week of the season, despite a losing first half of the season, the death of a teammate late in the year and injuries across the starting defense.

One of those injured defenders was Sean Lee, who voiced his adamant support of Garrett as the right person to lead the Cowboys.

“I don’t think there’s anybody else who could,” Lee said. “I think he’s an unbelievable coach. I think we’ve responded to him, and he’s made us better football players, better people. If you watch us, I think we play with a certain relentless spirit. But we need to find a way to cut mistakes and build on our mistakes so we never make those mistakes again and we can win those close ballgames.”

Bruce Carter, another injured starter who was forced to watch the end of the season slip away from the sidelines, said Garrett’s message to the team after the season was to get away from football and come back in the offseason ready to work again.

Carter said “we really wanted to win that game” when the Cowboys fell late to the Redskins in the finale. He still felt as much a part of the team as anyone else despite sitting out with an elbow injury.

He believes another year of Garrett and defensive coordinator Rob Ryan and a healthier defense can reap different results next season.

“We went through a whole lot,” Carter said. “The only way we can go from here is up. Guys see that and see we’ve got to keep working and strive to push each other and I think things will go in our favor next season.”

When the season ended Sunday, Garrett didn’t change his tune. He was obviously disappointed with how the year ended again, but he remained proud of the team’s resolve and optimistic for what the future can hold.

He said the team’s identity is beginning to get established with its relentless style of play and ability to keep fighting when trailing late in games. The Cowboys played from behind all season, yet they never lost by more than a touchdown from Week 5 to Week 16, a span that included a plethora of injuries on both sides of the ball. 

Garrett realizes, though, that his message and his beliefs need to get established immediately and eventually translate into the results he’s looking for so the Cowboys don’t have the empty feeling they endured after Sunday’s loss.

“I’m proud to be part of this team,” Garrett said. “It’s not proud of, it’s proud to be part of, and I told them that again today because of the commitment they’ve made. You talk a lot about mental toughness, and oftentimes mental toughness is really dealing with adversity. We’ve had a lot of different adversities this year. We’ve had injuries, we’ve lost close games, we’ve had tragedy, tragedy unlike any other I’ve been around in the National Football League, and at every point our guys responded the right way, they became closer, they became stronger and they kept playing with that relentless spirit that we think is really, really important. We think it’s line one in football, and we have to get lines two, three, four and the rest of them right and we’ll keep working hard to do that. But there was a spirit, there was an undeniable will that our team played with.”

DALLAS COWBOYS ROSTER UPDATE: Carter to IR; LB Poppinga, WR Armstrong signed (REVISED)

2012 Dallas Cowboys defense loses Bruce Carter to IR - The Boys Are Back blog

IRVING, Texas – The Cowboys returned from an extended holiday break with a lot of roster moves taking place here at Valley Ranch.

The biggest includes linebacker Bruce Carter, whose season has ended with an elbow injury. Carter is going to injured reserve and will likely require surgery.

The Cowboys have signed two players – veteran linebacker Brady Poppinga and wide receiver Anthony Armstrong to the 53-man roster.

They will take the place of Carter and recently-cut wide receiver Andre Holmes.

The Cowboys also made two moves on the practice squad, placing wide receiver Danny Coale (hamstring) on injured reserve and signing cornerback Reggie Evans. They still have an open spot on the practice squad and could retain Holmes if he clears waivers.

Carter becomes the fourth defensive starter to land on injured reserve, along with Barry Church, Kenyon Coleman and Sean Lee. Carter was blossoming into a defensive stalwart in the middle before the injury last Thursday, which occurred in the third quarter.

The Cowboys are now left with Dan Connor, Ernie Sims, Alex Albright, and now Poppinga, who played six years with the Packers (2005-10) and had 12 starts last year with the Rams.

As for Armstrong, he should be able to provide some deep speed to the receiver position. He was recently cut by the Dolphins but spent two years in Washington from 2009-10 where he caught 51 passes for a 19.1 yard average and five touchdowns.

Armstrong played with the Dallas Desperados, a now defunct Arena League team owned by Jerry Jones and operated by many members of the Cowboys’ organization. Armstrong was head coached in Dallas by Will McClay, who now serves in the pro scouting department for the Cowboys as director of football research.

RELATED: Dallas Cowboys LB Bruce Carter broke bone in elbow

Bruce Carter did more than dislocate his elbow.

The Cowboys linebacker broke a bone in his elbow that will require surgery later this week.

The club initially hoped if the ligament damage wasn’t too extensive that Carter would be able to return in two weeks. But the broken bone prolongs his recovery period into the off-season, which is why he was placed on injured reserve.

No timetable has been established. But Carter should be cleared to participate when the team begins organized team activities in the spring.

ASSESSING THE DAMAGE: Five positions ravaged by injury

Dallas Cowboys running back Felix Jones (28) jumps past Washington Redskins free safety Madieu Williams - The Boys Are Back blog

The Dallas Cowboys head into the weekend with injuries to several starters and main backups that affect five positions. We review.

Inside linebacker

Injured: Bruce Carter (elbow), Sean Lee (toe)

Healthy: Dan Connor, Ernie Sims and Alex Albright

Outlook: Lee is done for the season and Carter’s elbow was dislocated but it popped back into place during the loss to Washington. At one point, Sims and Connor played with the first-team defense. Carter’s season isn’t done, unless results from Friday’s MRI reveal something different. Two of the Cowboys’ best defensive players are at this position and they don’t have any of them. Carter has been an excellent player this season, more so when Lee went out. Now the Cowboys have two veterans who must pick up the slack.

Cornerback

Injured: Orlando Scandrick (hand)

Healthy: Mike Jenkins, Brandon Carr, Morris Claiborne and Vince Agnew

Outlook: The issue here is Scandrick’s season. He underwent surgery on Friday morning to repair a broken left hand. It hasn’t been determined if his season is over, however, he’s had trouble securing the ball with two healthy hands. With a bad one, you have to wonder if the Cowboys still want him out there. The Cowboys can use Jenkins as the slot corner, but he’s endured back issues of late and played on Thursday. Agnew was inactive for the Redskins game and that most likely will change if Scandrick is out for the Philadelphia Eagles game on Dec. 2.

Running back

Injured: DeMarco Murray (foot) and Felix Jones (knees)

Healthy: Lance Dunbar and Phillip Tanner

Outlook: Jones should be given credit for playing through some health issues, but he always has something wrong with him and you can’t depend on him long-term. Murray has missed the last six games with his foot injury and owner Jerry Jones said he’s not sure when the starter will return. It might be time to give Dunbar and Tanner the bulk of the game carries and give Jones limited opportunities, at least until Murray returns.

Wide receiver

Injured: Miles Austin (hip) and Kevin Ogletree (concussion)

Healthy: Dez Bryant, Dwayne Harris, Cole Beasley and Andre Holmes

Outlook: Ogletree missed the Redskins game and Austin was hurt during the 38-31 loss. Currently Bryant is the most accomplished receiver on the team who is healthy. Bryant has played well the last month, but he can’t do it alone. Beasley and Harris played pretty well during the Redskins game as the Cowboys mounted a comeback. More snaps for Beasley, whom quarterback Tony Romo likes, could help the struggling offense.

Offensive line

Injured: Ryan Cook (knee), Phil Costa (ankle), Tyron Smith (ankle)

Healthy: Jeremy Parnell, Derrick Dockery, Mackenzy Bernadeau, Nate Livings, Doug Free,David Arkin, Kevin Kowalski.

Outlook: Cowboys got away with using Smith as the swing tackle on Thanksgiving Day knowing he’s not 100 percent. Cook and Costa’s return are uncertain. Parnell didn’t embarrass himself against Washington, so if Smith isn’t ready he could earn another start. The center spot is troubling, given the health of Costa, who might need another week, and Cook, whom many thought would be ready to play by now.

Note: The defensive line has issues too with end Jason Hatcher going down with a concussion late in the Redskins game. Nose tackle Jay Ratliff and backup lineman Sean Lissemore are also nursing injuries, though those players could return soon.

DALLAS COWBOYS INJURY UPDATE: Absence of Bruce Carter further exacerbates linebacker depth

Washington running back Alfred Morris (46) hurdles Dallas defender Brandon Carr - The Boys Are Back blog

Not long after inside linebacker Bruce Carter suffered a dislocated left elbow in the fourth quarter of the Cowboys’ 38-31 loss to Washington on Thursday, his teammates were left to assess the potential impact the injury could have on the defense. And judging by their reaction, it’s won’t be good.

“That’s tough,” said linebacker Dan Connor. “Bruce is a big-time playmaker and he’s got the helmet radio in it, and he’s in on all packages. That’s hard, throws a wrench in there…Hopefully he has a quick recovery and can come back.”

But there is fear that Carter could be lost for the rest of the season and that would be a damaging blow to the Cowboys, a team that is still being affected by the fallout from the season-ending toe injury inside linebacker Sean Lee had suffered Oct. 21. Eighty days after beginning the 2012 campaign with Lee and Carter as the starters, the Cowboys are dealing with the real possibility of closing it with Connor and Ernie Sims as the team’s primary inside linebackers.

Six weeks ago, no one would have imagined that scenario. Back then, Connor was a reserve player who signed last Match to provide depth. Sims, meanwhile, wasn’t even on the team. Now one of them could be responsible for relaying the defensive signals to their teammates if Carter is unavailable for the foreseeable future.

“I have some experience and I know Ernie definitely does,” Connor said. “So we’ll see how Bruce is and we’ll see where we’re at….We’ll get everything squared away next week.”

The Cowboys must.

“We’ve adjusted on the fly all season,” said nose tackle Josh Brent. “It’s something we have dealt with and know how to come back from.”

GLASS HALF FULL: Dallas Cowboys season-saving win over Eagles

Dallas Cowboys running back Felix Jones (28) breaks through the Philadelphia Eagles defense - The Boys Are Back blog

The Cowboys’ season is alive, but here is what they need

If you prefer the glass-half-full approach, then consider the following:

Sunday’s game was quite possibly the first of four straight against rookie quarterbacks for the Dallas defense. And while Nick Foles did record his first NFL touchdown on a deep pass to a wide, wide open Jeremy Maclin, Foles also contributed directly to two Cowboys touchdowns.

Cleveland’s Brandon Weeden, Washington’s more formidable Robert Griffin III and Foles again (if Michael Vick is not back from a second-quarter concussion) are on deck for Dallas.

Consider this as well:

If Dallas can simply do as the odds makers will pick them to do — that is, beat the Browns and Redskins at home over the next 10 days — New York’s division lead will be one-half game on the Cowboys the next time the Giants take the field.

That’s almost certainly the case if the Cowboys are to entertain wild-card hopes. Even a hot Dallas team won’t catch the Chicago-Green Bay runner-up, and Seattle ran its record to 6-4 Sunday. The Seahawks, 1 1/2 games ahead of Dallas for the final wild card, also own the tiebreaker on the Cowboys’ from Week Two.

Add to that the fact that in order to get into contention for anything — wild card or East title — the Cowboys probably need to run off four straight wins against the Eagles (twice), Browns and Redskins. Maybe you’re inspired by the fact this team won four in a row last November (before riding its first-place lead into the ground by going 1-4 down the stretch).

Mostly, the Cowboys have to accept the fact that there’s plenty of work to do just to reach the level of respectability. And that this was the only possible way to finish the week to avoid cashing in their chips for the season as the Eagles appear to have done at 3-6.

Cowboys rookie, in terrible game, does something right

Rookie cornerback Morris Claiborne felt compelled to address his Cowboys teammates after playing just his ninth NFL game.

“I won’t have another game like that,” Claiborne promised his teammates.

Just where did that game come from? Claiborne was burned for a touchdown and was penalized five times in the game. The Eagles scored four times against the Cowboys and each drive featured either a misplay or penalty on Claiborne.

“I never had a game like that — ever,” Claiborne said. “Anywhere.”

The Cowboys traded up into the Top 10 of the draft last April to claim Claiborne. He was a shutdown corner, a defensive game-breaker. But on this day, his penalties were breaking the Cowboys.

Claiborne offered no excuses for his performance. He wouldn’t even buy into the notion that this game could be a learning experience for a rookie.

There were other compelling reasons for the Cowboys to draft Claiborne beyond his skill. He displayed them Sunday night in his postgame news conference — his strength of character and accountability. Both traits have been AWOL at times at Valley Ranch over the last decade.

Claiborne showed himself to be a stand-up guy — and this is a locker room that needs more of those players.

You win in the NFL with players like Morris Claiborne. Even when he has a bad day.

Garrett shows resolve and tinkers with offense

Jason Garrett’s trying week began with a tough loss at Atlanta that dropped the Cowboys to 3-5 amid news that suspended New Orleans coach Sean Payton’s contract would likely be voided, leaving him free to sign with any team after the season.

Immediately, because of Payton’s ties to the Cowboys, speculation had him replacing Garrett in Dallas.

Then, in the middle of the week, Garrett’s mentor, former Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson, said on The Dan Patrick Show that Garrett “is probably coaching for his job the rest of the year.”

Johnson, who led the Cowboys to back-to-back Super Bowl wins in the 1990s, also said he believes one of the reasons the Cowboys have underachieved for more than 15 years is that there’s a “country club” culture at Valley Ranch.

Owner Jerry Jones said, “This was a really hard week for everybody,” but praised Garrett for not letting all the outside noise affect him.

Though Garrett’s offense was only responsible for 17 of the Cowboys’ 38 points Sunday, the coach did break from the status quo and tinkered with his offensive game plan.

Garrett had fullback Lawrence Vickers more involved. Vickers had touched the ball only five times coming into Sunday, but he had four touches against the Eagles for 29 yards.

Also, Garrett called undrafted receiver Cole Beasley’s number in a key situation. On third-and-2 during the Cowboys’ opening drive, Tony Romo found Beasley for a 3-yard gain to give them a first down.

Running game and Bruce Carter star

The Cowboys ground game won’t get much credit. But for the first time since DeMarco Murray went down with an injury, this group was effective. The Cowboys rushed for 101 yards and averaged four yards a carry after averaging 56.3 and 2.6 in the previous three. Felix Jones rushed for 71 yards and scored his touchdown with a tough, 11-yard run on a screen pass.

Bruce Carter continues to assert himself in Sean Lee’s absence. The second-year linebacker made plays from sideline to sideline and again led the Cowboys defense in tackles with 10, two of them for losses. Carter’s speed and toughness is evident on virtually every play. Charging him with play-calling responsibilities hasn’t slowed him down one bit.

Trash talk by analysts and Mike Holmgren as new Cowboys coach?

Anyone dropping out of the sky to spend any given Sunday morning watching the pre-game shows would have to think the Cowboys are the most relevant team in the NFL.

— Even before the Cincinnati Bengals embarrassed the New York Giants, 31-13, which the Cowboys followed with a 38-23 victory over Philadelphia Eagles, CBS’ Bill Cowher, once a Super Bowl savvy coach with the Pittsburgh Steelers, declared the Big Blue dead in the NFC East. Honest. Keep in mind there usually isn’t much talk in the AFC network’s studio about NFC teams not playing on CBS.

“The Dallas Cowboys will take over the Giants,” Cowher actually said on national television. “After today, the Cowboys [have] five of their next six games at home, and the New York Giants still have to play at Atlanta, at Baltimore, Green Bay and New Orleans. So I say the Dallas Cowboys overcome the Giants and win that division.”

— Meanwhile, Jason La Canfora, the network’s information man, cited Mike Holmgren, once a Super Bowl winning coach in Green Bay and friend of Jerry Jones, as a willing successor to Jason Garrett should a vacancy occur. But, of course, Garrett doesn’t appear to be going anywhere, especially if Cowher is correct.

— Predictably over on Fox, Jimmy Johnson continued his offensive aimed at owner Jerry Jones.

On Cowboys woes since he split from coaching (and general managing?) the team, Johnson said: “This is bigger than coaching,” Johnson said. “Underachievers — that’s what we’ve called them for years. The Cowboys have one playoff win in 16 years regardless of who was coaching … Players answer to Jerry Jones, not the head coach. There is no fear there … The players are put up on a pedestal before they ever win a game. As a head coach, it’s a chore to keep these players focused, keep their feet on the ground and keep them hungry because there’s no fear.”

— At ESPN, Keyshawn Johnson picked up on Jimmy Johnson’s fear factor theory with a personal account. “I played in Dallas and I played under Bill Parcells, and I witnessed a heated exchange between [Jones] and [Parcells]. And Jerry Jones walked away from that exchange with his head down. It wasn’t pleasant at all, in front of the team. [But] everybody knew that Bill was in charge. So the players acted accordingly. And that’s not the case with Jason Garrett.”

ROSTER MOVES: Jenkins Hurt; Agnew Signed, LB Guyton Waived

Dallas Cowboys inside linebacker Bruce Carter (54) tackles Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end Dallas Clark - The Boys Are Back blog

IRVING, Texas – The Dallas Cowboys made some last-minute roster moves before heading to Philadelphia on Saturday.

With cornerback Mike Jenkins hurting with a back injury, the Cowboys called up Vincent Agnew from the practice squad. Agnew (5-10, 196) will travel to Philly and likely play Sunday against the Eagles, depending on Jenkins’ status, which was questionable on Friday’s injury report.

To make room on the roster, the Cowboys have waived newly-signed linebacker Gary Guyton, who joined the team Wednesday and practiced all week. The Cowboys were hoping Guyton’s experience – four years with the Patriots – and his background in the 3-4 defense would make him a valuable addition to a linebacker corps that has been decimated by injuries.

While Guyton’s release might suggest the Cowboys are confident Dan Connor (stinger) will be able to pay, he’s actually listed on the injury report as doubtful.

The Cowboys will likely start Bruce Carter and Ernie Sims at inside linebacker with Alex Albright, who is listed as an outside backer and former defensive end in college, will be the main backup inside.

As for Jenkins, he suffered the back injury on Wednesday and underwent an MRI after having spasms earlier in the day. Jenkins was on the practice field Friday but didn’t participate much.

Agnew spent training camp with the Dolphins before being released and signed to the Cowboys’ practice squad on Oct. 16.

FLASHBACK 2011: Dallas Cowboys can’t afford another repeat of McCoy’s historic performance

Dallas Cowboys vs. Philadelphia Eagles RB - The Boys Are Back blog

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.

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.

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