IRVING, Texas – The Dallas Cowboys could get their top returner and coverage player back for Monday night’s matchup against the Chicago Bears.
Dwayne Harris described himself as questionable for the game with a hamstring injury he sustained against the Giants, but he’s running routes and doing sprints and hopes he can be ready to go in Chicago.
“I’ve just got to keep it as warm as possible if I do play,” Harris said. “I’ve just got to see how I feel. I can’t say I’m going to be able to go or I’m not going to be able to go, because I’ve been running around and feeling good. We’re just going to see how it feels come game day.”
Harris, who’s second in the league in both punt return average and kick return average, was sorely missed in last Thursday’s game against the Oakland Raiders. Not only is Harris the team’s top returner, but he’s also their best special teams player on the coverage units and still leads the team in special teams tackles despite being out last week.
Wide receiver Cole Beasley filled in as a punt returner for Harris, while rookie Terrance Williams served as the kick returner against the Raiders. Harris tried to boost Williams’ spirits after the rookie fumbled the opening kickoff on Thanksgiving.
“I gave him some words,” Harris said. “It was a rough thing to happen to him, first kickoff return you fumble and they score on it. It’s going to make you down, but I just tell him there’s a lot of football to play. You’ve got to keep your head up and keep going.”
Harris said he’s going to go through this week of practice to see how it feels before making a conclusion on his playing status. Harris and cornerback Morris Claiborne were the only players listed as non-participants in Thursday’s practice, with both suffering from hamstring injuries.
Harris sustained a hamstring injury early in his NFL career, but he said this one is different because it’s lower down on the back of his leg closer to his knee. Typically, the higher hamstring pulls are the ones that take longer to heal.
“It’s not a bad pull, but it’s one of them things you’ve got to take care of or it’ll get worse,” Harris said.
The hamstring isn’t yet 100 percent and still feels sore, but if Harris feels ready to go later in the week, he said he’ll be on the field.
“I’ve been running full speed,” Harris said. “I went out last week and ran, came out today and ran. I ran some routes today, did routes Monday. So I’ve been feeling good.”
The one bright spot for Harris is the rest allows him to rest the bevy of injuries he fought through previously during the season. He said he’d been playing with a shoulder injury, a hip injury and a tear in his lower abdomen.
“It definitely gives me a chance to get a little bit more healthy,” he said. “It just gives me a chance to rest up, get my whole body back together, so that way I can be back to my old self and be back quicker, faster and more explosive.”
Dallas Cowboys Wide Receivers Breakdown
This article is part of a series. To see all related posts, click HERE. Enjoy!
Top Performer: Dez Bryant
The ultimate compliment to a player is when opponents focus their entire game plan in an attempt to take you out of the game for that day. There is no question when you study these games that defensive coordinators are determined to not allow Dez Bryant to take over a game.
Kansas City has been the only club this season that tried to play Bryant with single coverage and that almost got them beaten. The numbers say that despite all this attention, Bryant is still finding ways to continue to make plays, but I will also say that it has come at a price. Bryant has had to fight his rear off every snap to try and find space.
It hasn’t been easy for him and at times it has been frustrating, but these are the situations that the top receivers around the league have to deal with every day. There has never been a question of Bryant’s ability to go get the ball, but where he needs to improve his game is his ability as a route runner to work those routes against the various schemes designed to take him out of the game.
There was a time early in his career where he had no shot — now at least he has an understanding of what he needs to do to give himself a chance to succeed. Bryant is also going to need the help of the coaching staff to put himself in a better position to make plays, as well.
Need More From: Miles Austin
The medical staff made the determination to shut Miles Austin down after the Philadelphia game and attempt to get him ready for these final six games. If ever a player needed to step up on this offense and make a difference, it is Austin.
With no disrespect to Terrance Williams, Cole Beasley and Dwayne Harris, the reason that Dez Bryant and Jason Witten are seeing the type of coverage that they are is because there is no threat on the outside. In regards to Williams, teams are making the rookie to have to fight playing through press coverage all day, and he just doesn’t have the knowledge of how to beat that with any consistency.
At least with Austin in the lineup, Jason Garrett and Bill Callahan can pair Austin with Bryant on the same side of the field and that will draw coverage away from Bryant. They can also use him in those bunch formations along with Witten and make teams have to play man against it or take their chances in zone.
Understandably, there is not a great deal of confidence in how well Austin’s health may hold up these last six weeks and beyond, but right now, it is the best option this offense has in trying to help them move the ball with more consistency, convert third downs and finish drives.
Austin is back on the practice field at his normal spot at the “Z,” and from all reports he’s made it through without any issues.
Six-Game Forecast: More weapons mean more pressure on defenses
We have seen some games this season where these receivers have been clutch, but also some times where they have been completely shut down.
As this offense goes, so do the receivers. Getting Austin back for this group is a huge step in the right direction in terms how it will help take coverage away from Bryant and Witten.
The more potential weapons they have on the field, the more opportunity to see them put pressure on these defenses to have to defend the entire offense. Dez Bryant is still the best option here and should continue to be, but he needs help.
That means Austin, Williams, Beasley and Harris need to step up their games as well. When this group is on, it can be hard to deal with — like it was in the final drive of the Minnesota game. For these next six games, these receivers need to find a way to be a nasty, play making group, because their postseason lives are on the line.
DETROIT – Early, when the Dallas defense was hot the offense was not. Late, when Dez was hot, the defense was not.
With all of the fourth quarter scoring, it’s easy to forget a few plays that changed the course of the game. Here are five, of many, plays that helped determine the game winner:
1. Incomplete to Harris after fumble – Late in the third quarter, the Cowboys led 13-7 and had a first down at the Lions’ 35 following a fumble recovery by Brandon Carr and a penalty on Detroit. Still, the Cowboys never gained a yard and settled for a field goal. On third-and-10, Romo seemingly had Cole Beasley darting over the middle, but went for Dwayne Harris, who also had a step on his defender. The pass went right through Harris’ hands around the 10-yard line, forcing the Cowboys to kick a field goal and keep it a one-score game.
2. Pass interference on Scandrick – The Cowboys led 20-10 with the Lions driving with 10:13 to play. This is a play that really bothered the team’s coaching staff, probably more because of what happened in the first quarter. But Scandrick’s feet got tangled up with receiver Kris Durham, who fell to the ground as the ball passed by. The pass interference penalty resulted in 21 yards to the Cowboys’ 36. Earlier in the game, the Lions were flagged for the same call on a pass to Terrance Williams. However, the officials met and decided to wave off the flag for incidental contact. While Detroit was scoring quickly, an incomplete pass there sets up a must-have third-and-1, and the Lions likely run the ball. Even if they pick up the first, that’s even more time off the clock and Detroit is not at midfield yet.
3. A 54-yarder to Calvin Johnson – Take your pick on big plays to Johnson, who was there all day long. And while this was likely his best catch, it still might be forgotten considering the big plays that occurred afterward. But the Cowboys had just scored again on a 50-yard pass to Dez Bryant. The Lions were down 10 with 6:45 left. Stafford heaves it up for Johnson, who is double-covered by Carr and Heath. But it doesn’t matter, as Johnson hauls in the 54-yarder that puts the Lions in great position again. Detroit used that big play to score with 3:37 left. And with two timeouts, they can kick the ball away and play defense.
4. Incomplete pass to Beasley – If you’re watching close, this play shouldn’t be forgotten. This was arguably the play of the game. The Cowboys have a 20-17 lead with 2:38 remaining and have third-and-12 at their 23. The Lions have just called their first timeout on the previous play. Instead of a draw play or another run that would’ve forced Detroit into taking its second timeout or letting the clock run down to the 2-minute warning, the Cowboys call a pass. Romo rolled to his right after heavy pressure and flung a pass to Beasley, which landed closer to the front row of the seats. Even taking a sack there might have been better off for the Cowboys, who were able to stop the Lions on the next possession. Had they gotten the ball back with 1:24 remaining and Detroit had just one timeout, the game is over with three kneel-downs.
5. Holding on Tyron Smith – The Cowboys lead 27-24 and it’s third down on the 35 of Detroit. At this point, the Cowboys are thinking a safe run to keep the clock rolling. The snap started at 1:14 and without any stoppage, it would’ve rolled down to under 30 seconds. The Cowboys considered punting the ball and try to pin Detroit around their 10 yard line. The Lions had no timeouts and needed to get into field-goal range. But on the third-down run, left tackle Tyron Smith was flagged for holding. Even though Detroit declined the penalty, the stoppage of play kept the clock from starting. Instead of punting, the Cowboys kicked a field goal to extend the lead. The Lions got the ball back, needing a touchdown with 1:02 to play.
OK, Dez Bryant calls himself the X-factor. He’s got the trademark hand signal that is becoming a fan favorite in the stands. When he gets introduced before the game, flashes his “X” symbol with the fireworks blasting off and the sparks to each side … it’s the closest thing the Dallas Cowboys have to Monday Night Raw.
So – Dez is the X factor and that’s what he’ll continue to call himself.
But when it comes to this offense, the real definition of the term might be better suited for another person. For everything Bryant is and will be for this offense, it’s starting to become a given. Teams know exactly where No. 88 is at all times. He’s the guy defensive coordinators are losing sleep over.
That’s a staple for this offense. But the true X-factor is now in the form of a 5-8, 175-pounder who is sometimes difficult to spot on the field.
Yes, Cole Beasley is becoming the real X-factor of this offense. He’s the wild card of this bunch, and one that can prove to be a real difference maker as the second half of the season approaches.
Make no mistake, no one is calling Beasley a better player than Bryant. Of course not. He’s still probably the fourth-best receiver on the team when everyone is truly healthy. And because of tight end Jason Witten in the mix, the fourth receiver is really your fifth option.
But in this world of “Empty Sets” and five-wide looks all around, your fifth option can lead to a first – as in first down.
That’s what Beasley has become. Nearly every time Tony Romo throws him the ball, it’s being caught, and usually for a first down.
Romo has thrown 20 passes to Beasley this year, and 18 have been caught for an average of 9.3 yards.
How much more reliable can you be than a guy who pretty much gives you a first down, not just every time he catches it, but every time you throw it to him?
Because he’s such a matchup nightmare, that’s what makes him the real X-factor. Teams have been forced to put a slot cornerback on Beasley but by doing that, especially in a five-wide look, it means one of the defense’s best cover corners is being relegated to the line of scrimmage, because that’s really where Beasley is doing most of his damage – 1-10 yards off the ball.
And, of course, we know what happens if they choose to match up Beasley with a linebacker. That’s a mismatch all day long, no matter what linebacker it is. He can’t cover Beasley and his quick feet.
Where the Dallas Cowboys have a done a nice job is making sure Beasley is off the line of scrimmage or slightly moving in motion so bigger defenders – wait, that’s all defenders – can’t get their hands on him and jam him at the line.
When it comes to running routes, Beasley is easily the best on the team. And he’s probably the most sure-handed guy on the roster. Then again, with his size, Beasley has to run the best routes and have the best hands.
Jason Garrett hinted on Monday that maybe it’s time to rest Miles Austin and his hamstring. And he can do that because of the emergence of Terrance Williams on the outside and Cole Beasley in the slot.
Dez is the man, no doubt. He’s a beast of all beasts. Sunday will truly be a showdown between the NFL’s two best receivers. This is a chance for Dez to show the world just where he stands against Calvin Johnson.
But in terms of an X-factor on the Dallas Cowboys offense, it very well might be Cole Beasley.
PHILADELPHIA – It doesn’t really matter who lines up alongside Dez Bryant at receiver, as long as they keep having games like this.
It’s safe to call it a trend now. For the third straight week since the Dallas Cowboys lost to San Diego, Terrance Williams and Cole Beasley – considered the third and fifth options, respectively, at wideout in the preseason – made the opposition pay for focusing on Bryant.
Sure, Bryant had a great game of his own with eight catches for 110 yards in the 17-3 win against the Eagles. But while Philadelphia focused on No. 88, the two youngsters combined for 124 yards and a touchdown.
“Man, I love it. We talk about it each and every day at practice, about taking advantage of our opportunities,” Bryant said. “We believe in one another, and we believe any one of the receivers can make a big play.”
The Cowboys’ first possession of the fourth quarter demonstrated exactly that. Bryant, ever the bell cow of the Cowboys’ passing attack, delivered on his end with two catches for 26 yards, but it was Beasley and Williams who shined in the clutch.
Beasley gained 13 yards on two big red zone catches, including one on third and two, to move Dallas inside the Philadelphia 10-yard line.
“I think Beasley today showed everyone that he’s got great hands, great vision, and he’s just got instinct about getting open,” Jones said. “That’s a major plus for a wide receiver. It can make a big impact.”
Once there, Tony Romo found Williams for their fifth connection of the day – a nine-yard touchdown to seal the win.
“Terrance Williams has improved as much as maybe anyone I’ve seen in the six months that he’s been here,” Romo said. “It usually takes wide receivers a while to get to that point, but he continually takes coaching and does the things you need to do to improve and it’s just a testament to his work ethic and his commitment to the football team. You love having guys like that.”
It’s been quite a ride for both receivers since the first few weeks of the season. Beasley could have made a bigger impact on the Cowboy’s first two games if he had bought a ticket. The diminutive receiver was made inactive for the season opener against New York and the Week 2 trip to Kansas City.
His involvement in the gameplan has improved every week since the Week 3 win against. St. Louis.
Williams’ bounce back from his goal line fumble in the loss to the Chargers has been a sight to behold. In the buildup to that Week 4 game, Williams caught a combined five passes for 60 yards in three games.
In the three games since that fumble, his collective tally is a fantastic 12 catches for 249 yards and three touchdowns – a score in every game.
“Each of those guys in their role has stepped up over the last few weeks and I think Tony has a real comfort level with them and he is not afraid to go to them at all,” said Cowboys coach Jason Garrett. “In fact, when there is a match up that is favorable for us involving those guys he throws the ball there with confidence.”
It’s obvious from looking at the stats, but the boost in big plays has come at someone else’s expense. Since returning from the hamstring injury that kept him out of the San Diego and Denver games, Miles Austin has been targeted a total of seven times for no yards.
Jones said Austin’s hamstring injury has left him behind the offense as he re-enters the lineup. But Jones said he isn’t worried, as Austin’s health will continue to improve.
“I think you have to recognize that he’s working through his situation with his recovery, and it’s, if anything, being conservative there – if that,” Jones said. “But what’s really great is the way our other guys are stepping up, and you know you’ve got Miles coming.”
The Cowboys would undoubtedly love for that to prove true. But even if it doesn’t, they appear to be in good hands.
COWBOYS IN THE CLUTCH: Dallas’ Cole Beasley and Terrance Williams rank 1-2 among NFL receivers when targeted
IRVING, Texas – There’s an old adage that gets tossed around a lot when talking about wide receivers. The ones with good hands get described as players who “catch everything that is thrown their way.”
For Cole Beasley and Terrance Williams, they’re taking that to another level.
In fact, through six games of the season, Beasley and Williams are the two best wide receivers in the NFL in terms of catching passes when targeted.
Among players with at least 10 targets this year, Beasley has the highest reception percentage among NFL wide receivers at 92.3 percent. He’s caught 12 of the 13 passes thrown in his direction. His only miss occurred in last week’s win over Washington when Tony Romo led him too far on a sideline route, although Beasley nearly hauled it in with one hand. He also caught a pass thrown behind him where he trapped it against his leg to make the catch.
Overall, Beasley ranks third in the NFL in receptions, and he’s the only wide receiver among the list’s Top-10. The next receiver is Williams, who actually might be even more impressive than Beasley because of his 17.2-yard average per catch.
Of all receivers with at least 10 targets, Williams’ average per catch is the highest of the top 15 players.
Williams has come on strong the last three weeks with Miles Austin injured and slowed by a hamstring injury. Williams has caught a touchdown in each of his last two games. In the first three games of the year, he had five receptions for 60 yards. In the last three, he has 13 catches for 249 yards and two scores.
More importantly, and just like Beasley, he’s catching the passes that are thrown his way.
IRVING, Texas – Make that three straight days without Miles Austin at Cowboys practice and that’s not a good sign for his availability for Sunday’s game in San Diego.
Austin was held out again for todays (Friday’s) practice, likely meaning he could miss this week with a hamstring injury.
The wide receiver left last week’s game with the St. Louis Rams in the third quarter with the hamstring injury after awkwardly going to the ground on a pass he caught out of bounds. Coach Jason Garrett said after the game Austin did not re-enter the game because of the lopsided score. However, it seems clear Austin remains slowed by the injury enough to miss a full week of practice.
While the Dallas Cowboys don’t have a definite rule on players missing practice and playing in the games Sunday, it seems unlikely Austin would be ready to go at this point.
Even so, the club is getting Terrance Williams ready to make his first start. Ironically enough, his last collegiate game was also played at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, the site of the Holiday Bowl. Williams had two catches for 68 yards for Baylor.
The Cowboys are also monitoring the health of wide receiver Dwayne Harris, who is also the punt returner. Harris was slowed some this week with a hip pointer injury but returned to practice Friday. Harris’ injury has opened the door for Cole Beasley, who not only will play more in three-wide packages, but could be the primary punt returner as well.
For now, the Cowboys don’t appear ready to sign a practice squad receiver to the roster. The team has Tim Benford and Jamar Newsome on the practice squad.
ARLINGTON, Texas – The preseason ended in underwhelming fashion for the Dallas Cowboys’ backups trying to make their final impressions Thursday at AT&T Stadium.
The backups got the work all day against a Texans team that rushed for 190 yards in a 24-6 loss in the fifth and final preseason game for the Dallas Cowboys.
“They did a good job running the football on us,” said head coach Jason Garrett. “It didn’t seem like we were getting lined up very quickly on defense and some of that goes to a lot of young players playing and those guys responsible for making those calls and adjustments. That goes into the evaluation as well.”
The thrashing doesn’t mean a whole lot going forward outside of deciding final roster spots. Tackle Jermey Parnell and linebacker Ernie Sims were the only potential starters to find the field Thursday.
Just three years ago, the Cowboys played the Texans in the fourth preseason game of the year and lost by 16 points in the dress rehearsal. Dallas faced Houston again when it actually mattered in Week 3 of the regular season and won by 14, so the score of Thursday’s lopsided defeated shouldn’t be dwelled upon.
But many of the backups didn’t exactly leave a lasting impression in the game.
The offense managed just 219 total yards to the Texans’ 427. Houston had eight more first downs than Dallas and finished with a 42 percent third-down efficiency to the Cowboys’ meager 21 percent. The special teams didn’t make any drastic mistakes this week and Chris Jones dropped five punts inside the 20-yard line, but the Cowboys also allowed a 29-yard punt return to the Texans.
“You want to play better than we played tonight in all three phases of our football team, but again, a lot of young guys were playing, a lot of different combinations of guys for us and for them,” Garrett said. “You try to evaluate individuals as much as you evaluate the whole group.”
While the game didn’t mean much to the starters who were held out, it did hold significant value for the players on the bubble attempting to make the 53-man roster.
Alex Tanney threw 31 of the Cowboys’ 32 passes, as he got the majority of the work throughout the day but was pressured and battered around constantly, getting sacked seven times. The Cowboys failed to score a touchdown throughout the day, despite getting into Houston territory multiple times.
Tanney finished 17-of-31 with 177 yards and one interception. Garrett and the coaching staff will take into account the barrage of defenders in his face as they assess the quarterback.
“But then you have to assess how he responds to that,” Garrett said. “That’s part of playing this position. It looked like he kept his composure, moved around, kept his eyes up the field, but just couldn’t get into much of a rhythm throughout the football game.”
Some of the players entering Thursday’s game knew beforehand they had a decent chance at cracking the final roster. But they know that doesn’t mean their spot is completely safe.
Cole Beasley, who could hardly put weight on his injured foot a week ago, managed to heal up enough in time to make a final impression, catching two passes for 30 yards and nearly breaking enough tackles on a catch in Texans’ territory to get past the defense. Beasley said he may have had enough pep in his step to break free if he wasn’t injured recently, but the foot felt good enough to play through.
“Hopefully I did enough to make it, and at least I’ll have another opportunity to get better and keep improving and come back and try to get a role somehow,” Beasley said.
The Cowboys now have one day to make decisions on their 53-man roster. As the backups wait to hear their fate, the starters will continue to prepare for the opener against the Giants, which they’ve had their sights set on since training camp.
“It’s what everybody wants to see,” Bryant said. “Both teams are going to come in, and we want to put on a show.”
RELATED: 2013 preseason finale confirms no need for 3 QBs on roster
ARLINGTON, Texas – Honestly, this article was planned out long before the final outcome of the matchup with the Texas Thursday – a night that mercifully ended a five-game preseason schedule.
So it’s not actually news-breaking at this point, considering the Dallas Cowboys barely did anything on offense in this 24-6 loss to Houston.
The Cowboys don’t need three quarterbacks on the roster.
Alex Tanney got all but one series Thursday night – a golden opportunity to showcase his skills. He had the chance to prove he could orchestrate drives, throw the ball on the run and make plays in and out of the pocket.
Plain and simple, Tanney had nearly four quarters to prove he needed to be on this 53-man roster.
At some point, he might be on this team. Right now, the Dallas Cowboys simply can’t afford to keep him. With the offensive line injuries, they need to go longer with guards and centers. They likely need to keep more safeties than normal and keeping a sixth receiver or a fifth tight end is actually more of a debate than keeping a third quarterback.
You know, we’ve seen this before.
Just three years ago, the Cowboys were in this same situation going into this very game – the fifth and final preseason contest against Miami. Heading into the game, it seemed like Stephen McGee was on the outside looking in, in terms of making the 53-man roster. He needed a great game to basically save his roster spot – and he delivered. Not only did he lead the Cowboys to a win, but he threw for 304 yards and a touchdown.
Tanney needed that performance Thursday night. Needless to say it didn’t happen. Was it all his fault? Not at all, considering the second-team offensive line might have been the worst-looking group the Cowboys have thrown out there in several years. But then again, if you’re worried about the first-team line, certainly the second group is going to struggle.
But back to Tanney, who was 17 of 31 for 177 yards and one interception (58.1 QB rating). He was on his back most of the night, getting sacked seven times, although it felt like 22 times with that dreadful final drive in the fourth quarter.
It was 10 years ago when Tony Romo was pretty much in the same situation. Only that year, Romo and Clint Stoerner were battling for the No. 3 spot. Romo fired a 60-yard touchdown to Randal Williams and that was just enough to prove he had potential and was worth keeping. We all know what happened next.
And yes, I might have been the first one to say this early in training camp, but Tanney does remind me of a YOUNG Romo. Not the Romo that has started for this team since 2006. But the young, athletic, live-arm thrower who really doesn’t know everything there is to know but is just out there slinging it. That’s the Romo I remembered 10 years ago and I’ve seen Tanney flash the same type of skills.
Obviously, keeping Romo was the right call. But right now, it’s not something the Cowboys should do.
For every Romo, there’s a Matt Baker, Matt Moore, Jeff Mroz, Nick Stephens, or Dalton Williams. Earlier this week, a reporter asked Cowboys vice president Stephen Jones if the club had learned its lesson by cutting Moore back in 2007. Jones was quick to reply with some honesty, pointing out that Moore not only has been a so-so quarterback on a so-so team, but he wouldn’t have ever played over Tony Romo.
I think Tanney should be one of the 22 cuts the Cowboys make Saturday afternoon to get down to 53 players. Certainly, he’s good enough to bring back to the practice squad. And he’d be a good scout team quarterback because not only does he give you a strong arm in the pocket, but he’s also athletic enough to at least run the zone-read stuff that they’ll see a few times this year. No, I’m not saying he’s quick like Robert Griffin III or Michael Vick, but he’s a lot closer to that than Kyle Orton.
The point is, there will be other Alex Tanney’s out there.
If, and it’s a pretty big if after this performance, Tanney gets claimed by another team that wants to put him on the 53-man roster, the Cowboys will be fine. I really don’t see any NFL team deciding Tanney is good enough for their squad.
Maybe that’s the silver lining in Thursday’s night game. Tanney likely will get cut but his performance here probably doesn’t have any team foaming at the mouth to sign him.
I hope this doesn’t come across as a rip-job toward Tanney. I actually like his potential. I think he’s got a nice arm, good awareness in the pocket, quick feet and he’s got that moxie that all good quarterbacks must have.
And obviously he’s got good accuracy or he wouldn’t have a YouTube video on his trick-shot passes. But he certainly wasn’t filming that video with a pass rush in his face. It makes a difference.
I think Alex Tanney should and will be with the Cowboys next week. But it’ll likely be on the practice squad. And if he doesn’t make it, the Cowboys can’t worry about it.
IRVING, Texas – Several big names returned to practice Monday morning, while the Dallas Cowboys also began the process of cutting their roster down.
The team released defensive tackle Jeris Pendleton on Monday morning. It’s the only cut the team is expected to make Monday, which gives the Dallas Cowboys 12 more cuts to make in order to reach the NFL-mandated number of 75 by 3 p.m. Tuesday.
Pendleton made seven tackles during his preseason action. He played Saturday against Cincinnati, but he did not record any statistics.
While Pendleton left the roster, key defenders Morris Claiborne and Ernie Sims rejoined the team at Monday morning’s practice. Sims has been missing for several weeks with a groin injury, while Claiborne appears to be recovered from the knee injury that sidelined him in Oxnard, Calif.
Wide receiver Cole Beasley also returned to practice after injuring his foot during the Cowboys’ loss to Oakland on Aug. 9.
As if the Cowboys didn’t have enough problems at the guard position, starter Mackenzy Bernadeau missed practice with an ankle injury. Safety Danny McCray was also held out of practice with a hamstring injury, while defensive tackle Jason Hatcher missed with a minor groin injury.
2013 PRESEASON INJURY UPDATE: Dallas Cowboys Bernadeau and Hatcher on bikes; Claiborne and Beasley return
Cornerback Morris Claiborne and receiver Cole Beasley returned to practice with the season opener 13 days away, but guard Mackenzy Bernadeau and defensive tackle Jason Hatcher stayed in as the Cowboys began the final week of preseason.
Claiborne’s final chance to play in the preseason is Thursday in the finale against the Houston Texans. He has not played in a game because of a “jammed” knee he suffered in training camp on Aug. 6. Beasley hurt an ankle in the preseason game against Oakland on Aug. 9.
Bernadeau, who played left guard Saturday against the Bengals, has an ankle injury. He and Hatcher rode the exercise bike as practice began Monday.
Guard Ronald Leary also did not make it out for the start of practice. Leary is recovering from knee surgery less than two weeks ago.
Also not out for the start of practice were linebacker Brandon Magee (concussion), safeties Matt Johnson, Eric Frampton and Danny McCray, defensive linemen Anthony Spencer and Jay Ratliff, running back Lance Dunbar and center Ryan Cook.
IRVING, Texas – None of the defensive players who were inactive for Saturday’s preseason game returned to practice Monday at Valley Ranch, while the offense received a mixed bag of news.
Guards Kevin Kowalski and Ray Dominguez returned from knee and shoulder injuries, respectively, but running back Lance Dunbar missed practice for the first time with a foot sprain.
Five offensive players were out Monday, including Dunbar, wide receiver Cole Beasley (foot) and offensive linemen Ryan Cook (back), Ron Leary (knee) and Nate Livings (knee). Leary and Livings are both on the mend from knee scopes.
Safety Matt Johnson (foot) thought he’d be able to return in some capacity Monday, but he wasn’t on the field during the early portion of practice available to the media. Morris Claiborne, whose day-to-day knee injury has now become week-to-week, was also out.
Some good news for the defense was the return of safety Will Allen, who left Saturday’s game after injuring his ribs. Head coach Jason Garrett said after the game the injury wasn’t serious and he could have returned.
The usual suspects were still out on defense, including Anthony Spencer (knee) and Jay Ratliff(hamstring), while Ernie Sims, Sean Lissemore and Eric Frampton are all still recovering from injuries suffered toward the end of camp.
J.J. Wilcox hasn’t returned yet for personal reasons, but has been given as much time as he needs following the death of his mother and is expected back around the middle of this week.
Travis Chappelear and Toby Jackson weren’t at practice for the beginning portion, either. Chappelear wore a boot as he left the field Saturday.
OXNARD, Calif. – There’s vanilla.
And then there is Dallas Cowboys double-secret ultra-vanilla.
That’s exactly what we saw Friday night from that Cowboys offense in a 19-17 preseason game No. 2 loss to the Oakland Raiders.
Not surprising to say the least.
Generally, teams do not like to show much of anything they are planning new for the upcoming season in a mere preseason game, especially just the second of what will be five for the Cowboys this summer. And that’s doubly true when playing an opponent they will be facing at some time during the regular season.
So no way was head coach Jason Garrett going to give the Oakland Raiders any hint of what might be coming down the pipe during the 2013 season from this Cowboys offense, even if the two teams won’t meet until Thanksgiving Day at AT&T Stadium, Game 12 of the regular season. Not an entirely new offense, granted, but one with two tight ends becoming the base set and now Bill Callahan calling the plays.
And, of course, with quarterback Tony Romo having a little more say in game-planning and the implementation of some new plays he’s partial, too. Instead of the 11th-year veteran having to “draw those plays up in the dirt,” which he could have Friday night quite easily (since a good portion of the O’s field is consumed by the A’s infield).
There likely was some great anticipation on everyone’s part to see just how all this would work with the first-team offense making its 2013 preseason debut. The first-team offensive line was allowed to work during last Sunday’s Hall of Fame game. You know, Romo and Jason Witten and Dez Bryant and Miles Austin and DeMarco Murray and them finally out there playing together.
There would be Witten and James Hanna, maybe some Gavin Escobar and Dante Rosario, too, showcasing these two-tight sets we’ve been witnessing here during training camp practices. Then, too, some of these new pass plays that have become a staple of camp workouts. Oh boy.
Nothing. As vanilla as you can get.
Oh, the Cowboys ran some two-tight sets, but for the majority of the first-team offense’s two series (and even when Kyle Orton was in there running things behind the first offensive line with backups galore at running back and wide receiver). The Cowboys, of all things for everyone anticipating a hard-charging running attack, seemed to be in three-receiver sets more than anything.
They weren’t about to expose much of anything, and from my understanding only did so with a couple of plays just to help keep a couple of drives alive to create more reps for some of the younger guys. Secrets are secrets, and no sense putting too much on tape for the Giants to start going to school on at this early date.
In fact, for all those readily jumping to conclusions about this perceived “new” Cowboys offensive philosophy following that first preseason game in which they ran the ball 34 times and threw it only 21 – you know, see there that Bill Callahan, he’ll emphasize the run more – well, surprise, surprise, in this game against the Raiders the Cowboys ran the ball only 20 times and threw it around 32 times – the very reason no one should draw undeniable conclusions from these practice games.
Talk about holding the play-call sheet over your mouth to prevent lip reading.
But having said all this, the Cowboys still piled up 171 yards of total offense in the first half with Romo and Orton totaling three series, scoring on two of them and likely would have scored on all three if not for a blocked 26-yard field-goal attempt Mr. Automatic, Dan Bailey, surely would have made.
OK, can hear the grumbling in the background already. While that all might be true, you’re screaming, same ol’, same ol’ with the Cowboys offense, three penalties inside the Oakland 30 turned potential touchdown drives into field-goal attempts. The nerve of that Witten to get caught holding, or for potentially first-time starter Ronald Leary to false start and Hanna to do so also.
And as Garrett said afterward, bemoaning the penalties, the blocked field goal and the game-turning fumbled punt by rookie B.W. Webb, “We’ll continue to harp on that.”
But did you see, or you should have seen, the ease in which Romo hooked up with Bryant three times for 55 yards; with Austin on slants twice for 22 yards; Orton with Cole Beasley twice, the second for a 15-yard touchdown.
And guess what? Of the 32 attempts, only three times were tight ends targeted, and only one of those Witten. That ain’t going to happen, Witten targeted just once in a game. Please.
Just look at the first-half stats alone, a half the Cowboys had a 10-6 lead, for what that matters. Romo and Orton were a combined 12 of 14 for 140 yards, one touchdown, no interceptions, one sack, finishing with a QB rating of 132.1. Bryant, Austin and Beasley finished the game combining for eight catches on eight targets, totaling 126 yards and the Beasley touchdown.
And for the most part Romo and Orton had the time of day in the pocket behind what most perceive as a worrisome offensive line. Hmmm, while the Cowboys are keeping their eyes open for fortuitous opportunities to enhance that crew, particularly at guard, maybe what you saw Friday night isn’t all that bad, from left to right Tyron Smith, Leary, Travis Frederick, Mackenzy Bernadeau and Doug Free. Especially since, unlike the other four, Bernadeau was playing for the first time after returning from injury.
Maybe their main problem up front is really who is playing behind these guys, especially at tackle since with Jermey Parnell injured (hamstring) and veteran Demetress Bell still trying to get in shape, there isn’t much to write home about. As Jones said after the game, making a move up front “would be determined by the opportunity” available, meaning he’s not necessarily desperate to sign just anybody at this moment.
Romo did get sacked once, but did you see how long he had in the pocket before everything collapsed? And he did have Austin wide open in the end zone, but explained later, on that particular play that Austin was his third read and by time he got there, Austin was covered and pocket time had expired.
“I don’t want to get away from here without talking about the offensive line,” Romo said. “There were a couple of times I had all day and we had a sack, an incompletion on those two plays, so that’s going to help us a lot if we’re able to do that.
“That’s different. I know what it’s like to play behind that, and having that ability like they did tonight would be a huge bonus for us.”
So with three more preseason games to play, another five training camp practices this week, resuming Sunday evening, there is time to clean things up while still playing peek-a-boo with play-calls and offensive intentions.
And oh, by the way, if now your concern is the ability to run the ball more efficiently, at the conclusion of the first half, when the first-team offensive line retired for the evening, the Cowboys had run the ball six times for 36 yards with Murray, Lance Dunbar and Phillip Tanner, a 6-yard average following last Sunday night’s 5-yard mark.
“It was good,” Romo said of what took place in the team’s first three offensive series. “We did what we’ve been doing in training camp and moved the ball real well. We were holding back on a lot of our stuff, red zone stuff and some other things. We would have liked to have scored a touchdown, but we got hurt by penalties more than anything, and that aspect of it is just going to hurt you no matter what.
“So we have to avoid that [and] stress that this week, and we’re going to make sure that stops.”
But probably not the double-scoops of vanilla approach.
Courtesy: Mickey Spagnola | Columnist
Editors comments: I don’t have a problem with being vanilla with the starters on their first few series this preseason. You come out and keep it simple … basic. The same philosophy deployed with this new 4-3 scheme, also applies to the offense this early in the year. The veterans might not need that as much, sure. But these new roster additions and young rookies do! The beauty of this offensive roster is that they can afford to come out and execute basic runs and passes. See if the opposing defenses can stop that first. With so many Cowboy players wielding star power, it’s a challenge for most defenses to handle them man-for-man. You sprinkle in wrinkles, after you get the basics down … ditch the butterflies, and execute these base plays with precision.
I believe the week-one emphasis (and success) of Dallas’ running attack (in the Hall of Fame game) showed coaches what they needed to see. However, if you think back, there was very little to see (or grade) in the passing game in week 1. The coaching staff needs to grade and develop these young offensive linemen in run and passing situations. I think that’s why we saw more pass (and consequently more pass blocking) in the second preseason game. Expect more balance going forward.
The Romo and Orton led drives were successful. The running game is still on pace. Kiffin’s starters have grasped his base defense … his rookies are coming along. Callahan’s starters are showing rust, but promise. Both of these games were more about weeding out the roster, than going for the kill. I do want to see Callahan/Garrett go for the throat once the regular season starts. They have the weapons to make a statement, and they should.
Friday night, Oakland played their starters longer, and did less with them. The Cowboys will host the Raiders later on … rest assured, we’ll see the full arsenal. Garrett is baking that vanilla cake first. He’ll add the icing later.
OXNARD, Calif. – Just a little clearing of the notebook following Friday’s 19-17 loss to the Raiders in the second preseason game.
— In the amount of snaps that DeMarcus Ware played the other night, he was very productive but the best player on the field for the Cowboys defense was Sean Lee. If there is concern of how he would bounce back from his injury he suffered last season, well put those thoughts to rest. Lee was in midseason form with his reads, adjustments and the manner in which he attacked the ball.
The Raiders offensive line does not touch him the entire opportunity he was in the game and his blitz that caused the first turnover of the game was textbook. His quickness and agility was outstanding but the physical way in which he finished the play was even better.
— Jason Hatcher continues to impress in the way he is going about his business in this camp and in the way he played in this game. Hatcher has been able to handle a steady diet of playing in this scheme.
He not only has played with tremendous quickness and agility but his power has shown to be better as well. I worried about him getting off blocks consistently but now that he doesn’t have to two gap blockers and he can attack the gap, it’s a much better fit for him. He has also shown the ability to understand what Rod Marinelli is asked him to do technique wise. He is better with his hands and you really see it when he rushes the passer.
— Some were expecting a big game from Dwayne Harris but instead, got it from Cole Beasley. Every time I want to doubt Beasley or question his roster spot on this club, he reminds me of the unique skill set in which he plays with.
The Raiders had no answer in how to deal with his quickness and his route running ability. He was money on third downs and his touchdown in the red zone was also a reminder that despite his height, he can still make plays down there. He is a confident and reliable receiver that when put in the right situations can make those catches when no one else will.
Instead of thinking about all the things he can’t do like play consistently on the outside and by the way, he is getting better at that, we need to concentrate on what he does well and that is the reason he will be in this wide receiver mix. If he can give you something in the return game its a plus but there has to be packages that Bill Callahan can do to get him the ball because he has proven he can make plays.
–As much as I want to have concerns about that breakdown in kickoff coverage against the Raiders on Friday night, I am aware that it’s about the opportunity to evaluate players and not for what the scheme looks like.
Still it was a great example of how important that these teams are when young guys like Jakar Hamilton, Kendial Lawrence, and Jared Green are trying to make the team or get noticed by the coaches. Special team are about effort and desire but also playing with smarts. The Greg Jenkins return came after the Joseph Randle had put the Cowboys ahead and though the defense held, the field position was in the favor of the Raiders who recovered the muffed punt from B.W. Webb and kicked the game winning field goal.
But focusing on the kickoff coverage, Green was knocked into Lawrence who both went to the ground. Hamilton was doubled at the point and couldn’t release off the blocks. As the ball came down the hash, two players were on the ground and Webb was widen, which caused a huge crease which Jenkins was able to take advantage of for the return. It really was nice execution by the Raiders on the return but for some young players on this team trying to get noticed, it was the wrong way to get noticed.
Photo: Dallas Cowboys rookie WR Terrance Williams returning to the field
OXNARD, Calif. – The Dallas Cowboys made some personnel changes today (on Sunday) involving special teams, an area that struggled somewhat in Friday’s second preseason game in Oakland.
However, the changes made weren’t exactly a result of Friday’s problems or even deemed solutions to the miscues.
The Cowboys added punter/kicker Brett Maher and long snapper P.J. Mangieri. Both played collegiately at Nebraska.
The Cowboys had to waive long snapper Jackson Anderson, the only player who did not play in the Raiders game. The team already had an open spot on the roster after cutting guard Jeff Olson on Thursday. But the Cowboys also waived punter Spencer Benton last week after he had four punts for in the first preseason game against Miami.
Last year, Maher was 20 of 27 on field goal attempts and also had 61 punts for a 41.8 yard average.
Mangieri played four years at Nebraska, serving as the full-time snapper for punts, field goals and extra points.
It’s likely the Cowboys would like to give veteran L.P. Ladouceur some rest over the next three preseason games. Maher will likely serve as the kickoff specialist and could relieve kicker Dan Bailey and punter Chris Jones occasionally as well.
Injury and Practice update:
The Dallas Cowboys return to practice at 7:15 p.m. (Dallas time). They will be without receiver Cole Beasley, who sprained ligaments in his left foot in the game against the Raiders. They will get back receiver Terrance Williams, who sat out more than a week with a concussion.
Defensive tackle Jay Ratliff (hamstring) and defensive end Anthony Spencer (knee) are among the players who will remain out until after the Cowboys return home next week.
OAKLAND — Cowboys wide receiver Cole Beasley left tonight’s preseason game against Oakland with a left foot injury. He underwent X-rays at the stadium. The X-rays were negative and it’s not considered serious.
Beasley was hurt after catching a 23-yard reception with seven minutes to play in the third quarter.
Beasley finished the game with three catches for 49 yards and one touchdown. He caught a 15-yard pass from Kyle Orton to give the Cowboys a 10-3 lead in the second quarter.
Also, wide receiver Terrance Williams (concussion), guard Nate Livings (knee), guard Demetress Bell (conditioning test), guard Kevin Kowalski (knee), guard/center Ryan Cook (back), guard Ray Dominguez (shoulder), defensive tackle Jay Ratliff (hamstring), defensive end Anthony Spencer (knee), cornerback Morris Claiborne (knee), linebacker Alex Albright (back) and safety Matt Johnson (foot) did not play.
The Dallas Cowboys expect Claiborne, Williams and Albright to return next week at Arizona.
IRVING, Texas – The wide receiver position had plenty of question marks at the beginning of the year. After 16 regular season games, the group became a MASH unit. Had the Cowboys won in Washington Sunday night, it would’ve been very interesting to see how they would’ve played the game against Seattle this week.
Dez Bryant could barely walk on his own power for two days with a back injury. While the X-rays were negative showing no structural damage, it’s hard to think Bryant would’ve been able to be close to 100 percent, if he’d even play at all.
Miles Austin and Dwayne Harris both suffered high-ankle sprains. Austin couldn’t return in the game and Harris’ injury occurred late and he didn’t come back either. It’s unlikely they would’ve played. And Cole Beasley suffered a shoulder injury that would’ve probably had him limited, if not out.
It’s kind of ironic the player who has taking the most ‘beatings’ from fans and media this year, is the only receiver still standing at the end of the year. Kevin Ogletree started the season with two touchdown catches against the Giants and had another one in the finale against Washington.
Now in between, Ogletree’s production was hit or miss, and mainly miss. He ranked fourth on the team in both catches (32) and receiving yards (436) and third in touchdowns with four.
As an unrestricted free agent once again, Ogletree might not return in 2013. But then again, it could come down to the same thing as last year when the Cowboys didn’t have a lot of players with experience and Ogletree’s presence in the offseason was needed. And then in training camp, the group of Andre Holmes, Harris, Beasley, Danny Coale and anyone else, never did enough to unseat him.
But this time, with Harris and Beasley showing some promise, coupled with Coale’s return, Ogletree might not get re-signed at the start of free agency.
But let’s shift the focus back to the top.
Dez Bryant’s consistency has been in question since he arrived in 2010. And in the second half of the season, Bryant was arguably the team’s most consistent player. He caught a touchdown in seven straight games, which tied a franchise record, but was dominating in the second half of games. He finally reached the potential the Cowboys saw in him to draft him despite some of the off-season risks.
But injuries have been a concern for him all along. Toughness shouldn’t be questioned, considering he played through a fractured left index finger towards the end of the season, and still continued his touchdown streak, including a career game of 224 yards and two touchdowns against the Saints.
Where the Cowboys might have some decisions to make involves Austin, who should be healthy for the start of the offseason conditioning program despite the ankle injury. Overall, it was a quiet 66-catch, 943-yard season that included six touchdowns. His numbers were solid, considering he ranked third in catches and yards, but the “wow-factor” wasn’t always there.
And with a contract that averages $9 million per season, Austin needed more of the big plays, especially in big games. Austin had a catch in every game this season except the two Redskins games, where he suffered a hip injury and then ankle injury last week.
The Cowboys might look to restructure Austin’s deal, but outright releasing him, or even trading him, would take a hit on the salary cap – one they can’t really afford considering they may attempt to re-sign Anthony Spencer and/or Tony Romo this offseason.
Editors note: The Dallas Cowboys will bring in Anthony Armstrong (if still available), Donavon Kemp (IR), and Tim Benford (Practice squad), drafted receivers, and any number of free agents in the offseason. Based on the performance of Harris (and Beasley to a lesser degree) late in the season, it seems unlikely that Ogletree will be back in 2013-2014. Bringing in another veteran is not out of the question. Anybody you like in San Diego? That worked nicely in 2011.
WIDEOUT WIPEOUT: Dallas Cowboys wide receiver injuries neutralizes exploitation of Redskins poor secondary
First, Miles Austin went out. Then, Dez Bryant. Cole Beasley was shaken up, too, and Dwayne Harris left the field on crutches.
If the Cowboys had to play a playoff game this weekend, they would be hurting at receiver.
"We were banged up going into this game, and at this point, I think we would have a tough time having some guys back next week," Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo said. "Some of the injuries don’t look very good."
At crunch time, with the Cowboys down two scores, Romo was trying to spearhead a comeback without his starting receivers. Austin was standing on the sideline with a left ankle injury. Bryant was in the locker room with a lower back injury.
"I went down with the high-ankle sprain, so that wasn’t a good thing," Austin said. "Very difficult [to push off], very difficult. Frustrating."
Romo threw a 10-yard touchdown pass to Kevin Ogletree with 5:50 left. Ogletree had been chastised by Romo after Romo’s first interception, which was intended for Ogletree. Then, Romo hit Dwayne Harris for a two-point conversion to draw Dallas to within 21-18.
On the Cowboys’ final drive, they were without Harris, who had a left ankle injury on the Redskins’ last kickoff in the waning seconds.
"We got beat up pretty good at receiver," Ogletree said. "I know Miles went down and Dez left. As a group, we just try to pick each other up when we can. Missing those two guys is crucial, but we know it’s next-man-up system."
Tight end Jason Witten had seven catches for 56 yards and a touchdown. Bryant had four catches for 71 yards. Austin had no receptions (but several tackles!).
The Steelers came into this game with the top-ranked defense in the NFL. The Cowboys? Well, they had six of their original starters out of the lineup, plus their nickel cornerback, then lost yet another linebacker in the early stages of the game.
But as the old saying goes, the games aren’t played on paper. Instead, it was the Dallas defense that came up big, leading the team to a thrilling 27-24 overtime victory in front of 95,595 raucous fans.
Despite the glaring differences between their defensive units, Dallas’ patchwork side held their own throughout the contest, and when they needed it most, came up with three big sacks late in the fourth quarter. That was followed by a game-changing interception from Brandon Carr in the extra frame, which set up the winning field goal.
It was by no means easy. Twice the Steelers took the lead and three times the game was tied. But Dallas kept battling back.
Pittsburgh put up 388 total yards of offense and did not have a single penalty. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger threw for 339 yards on 24-of-40 passing with two touchdowns. His primary target was tight end Heath Miller, who totaled 92 yards on 7 catches, while wide receiver Mike Wallace had four catches for 95 yards.
But on the other side of the ball, the Cowboys were ready for the the mighty Steelers defense, racking up 415 total yards. Tony Romo was again outstanding, throwing for 341 yards on 30-of-42 passing with two touchdowns and no interceptions. He connected with nine different players, Miles Austin leading the way with seven catches for 79 yards while Dez Bryant and Jason Witten did what they do best, each scoring a touchdown.
Even DeMarco Murray got into the action, rushing for 81 yards on 14 carries with a score. By comparison, the Steelers only ran for 69 yards as a team.
Tony Romo knows what matters the most when it comes to the Dallas Cowboys. So while it’s nice to break Troy Aikman’s franchise record for career touchdown passes, he’s focused on getting his team to the playoffs.
Romo threw three second-half touchdown passes to answer a strong game by Philadelphia’s rookie duo of Bryce Brown and Nick Foles, and the Cowboys sent the Eagles to their eighth straight loss with a 38-33 victory Sunday night.
The first two scoring tosses from Romo erased seven-point deficits, including a 23-yarder to Dez Bryant that was vintage Romo and broke Aikman’s career mark of 165 TD passes. Romo scrambled to his right and threw back across the field to Bryant, who weaved through the Philadelphia defense to tie it at 17 in the third quarter.
Romo tied it again at 24 on a throw to Miles Austin, and had one more answer after Brown and Foles led the Eagles to a go-ahead field goal. He threw deep to Bryant for 35 yards on third down, and Bryant found his way into the end zone again by taking a screen pass 6 yards just inside the pylon for a 31-27 lead with 5:40 remaining in the game.
”It’s about winning games,” said Romo, who was 10 of 10 in the second half and completed his last 12 passes. ”We desperately had to have this win tonight, and our team fought like heck to get a win.”
The Eagles’ slide continued despite 169 yards rushing and two touchdowns from Brown a week after he set a team rookie record with 178 yards on the ground.
After Romo’s go-ahead touchdown pass, Dallas went up by 11 when Morris Claiborne returned a fumble by Brown 50 yards for a touchdown.
Miles Austin is a dynamic wide out whose versatility hasn’t been properly recognized over the past few seasons. Even this year, over two-thirds of Austin’s pass snaps have come in the slot. At 6’2’’, 219 pounds, Austin doesn’t have the prototypical build of a slot receiver, but he’s been able to succeed in the middle of the field due to his exceptional combination of size and quickness.
On Thanksgiving, however, a new candidate emerged as the Cowboys’ slot receiver of the future: rookie Cole Beasley. With Austin down, Beasley was targeted 13 times. The rookie made some mistakes; he dropped a pass and appeared to run a poor route on Tony Romo’s second interception. But Beasley also displayed a unique skill set that suggests he could be a long-term solution for the Cowboys in the slot.
Most importantly, Beasley’s emergence has prompted Jason Garrett to, at least temporarily, call different sorts of underneath routes. Specifically, there were more option and crossing routes from the Cowboys on Thursday—something we haven’t seen much over the past few seasons and from which the offense could undoubtedly benefit in the future.
BREAKING IT DOWN …
On a 3rd and 5 early in the second quarter, the Cowboys lined up in Gun Tight End Trips Left with “11” personnel, i.e. three receivers. Beasley was aligned to the field on the Trips side of the formation, about five yards outside of Jason Witten.
On the snap of the ball, Witten ran a simple hitch route to just about three yards—an uncommon route length for the tight end on third down. We’ve all seen Kevin Ogletree and other receivers run their routes a bit short of the sticks on third down, but that doesn’t typically happen with the veteran tight end.
The length of Witten’s route suggests it was primarily to allow Beasley to get open on his route. The rookie ran a crossing route right underneath of Witten, giving him the separation he needed to make a big first down grab. Romo’s throw was a bit off the mark, but Beasley hauled it in with one hand to move the chains.
The combination routes we saw from the Cowboys after they got down against the Redskins are something that will probably stay. If Beasley can continue to grow, he should be able to provide the Cowboys with a tremendous presence on third downs while also allowing Dallas to keep Austin on the outside. And if his skill set encourages Garrett to design more combination routes that allow receivers to work off of one another, it will be an added bonus.
IRVING, Texas – Wide receiver Andre Holmes was released Saturday, just two days after snagging his second career NFL catch.
Most of Holmes’ work occurred on special teams, and with wide receiver Kevin Ogletree missing Thanksgiving Day with a concussion, the Cowboys may have felt Holmes roster spot could be better utilized with a more established player.
Free agent wide receiver Anthony Armstrong worked out with the team this week and is the likely replacement, unless the Cowboys choose to bring in a player who can help at another shorthanded position. He would provide the Cowboys with more speed and NFL experience on the outside.
Armstrong played Arena League Football for the Dallas Desperados before signing with the Redskins’ practice squad in 2009. He emerged as a deep threat, snagging a combined 51 passes for 974 yards in Washington in 2010 and 2011 before bouncing between Miami and Jacksonville this year.
Who replaces Holmes on the roster is uncertain. The Cowboys most likely will lose inside linebacker Bruce Carter for the season when he undergoes elbow surgery next week, and cornerback Orlando Scandrick had surgery Friday to repair a broken hand. Scandrick’s long-term status hasn’t been determined.
Holmes challenged to be a possible third receiver candidate in the offseason. He towered over the other receiving options with his 6-foot-4 frame, but he only caught two passes for 11 yards this year. Holmes was signed by the Vikings as an undrafted free agent after the 2011 NFL Draft and waived before the preseason, allowing the Cowboys to sign him to their practice squad last year.
Wide receivers Cole Beasley and Dwayne Harris played more prominent roles in the passing game this year. While Holmes caught one pass for four yards against the Redskins, Beasley finished with seven catches for 68 yards and Harris had four receptions for 71 yards.
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.”
After two consecutive games with mistakes as a punt returner, Cowboys’ receiver Dez Bryant said those duties will fall to others Sunday against Atlanta.
Asked today if he was still a punter returner, Bryant said: “I don’t think so. But I promise you, man, I’m going to bet back in their ear. I’m going to get in their ear about that.”
Bryant, who has the team’s longest punt return of the season (44 yards), said he “wasn’t disappointed at all” when coaches told him they would continue to go with others in that role. Dwayne Harris and Cole Beasley replaced Bryant in that role last week against New York after Bryant fumbled a punt one week after being scolded by coaches for using poor judgment during a return against Carolina.
“I was very understanding,” Bryant said. “But like I said, I’m going to get back in coach’s ear. I think it will be hard for him to tell me ‘no.’ I’m going to continue to keep working at it. It’s not hard for me to catch a punt. I just need to feel it in and stop looking up field and think before catching the rock. That should be my first objective, to catch the ball and then go make a play.”
IRVING, Texas – Maybe there will come a time this season in which Jason Garrett will be able to roll out the same 46-man roster in back to back weeks.
But it won’t happen this week as we ponder the 46-man roster for Sunday’s game at Carolina.
Chris Jones was on the practice field Friday but did not punt during the portion of practice open to the media. Brian Moorman punted Thursday and was extremely effective in his practice work. So let’s say Moorman fills in this week for Jones.
You can rule out DeMarco Murray (foot) and Sean Lissemore (ankle) and all but rule out Ryan Cook (hamstring), as inactive players.
Where do the final two come from?
Well, if Matt Johnson suffered an injury in Friday’s practice that forced him to leave the session early, he would be another.
The other candidates to dress would be Kyle Wilber, Orie Lemon, Derrick Dockery, Andre Holmes and Cole Beasley.
With Cook out, I can’t imagine Dockery is inactive as the Cowboys are going to great lengths to make sure David Arkin is needed only in an emergency. Mark it down that the Cowboys keep eight offensive linemen active vs. the Panthers.
The Beasley-Holmes debate comes down to special teams and since Beasley doesn’t cover kicks, Holmes gets the nod. Holmes, however, does not add much to the offense and Beasley seems to be giving guys fits in practice. But the Cowboys will go with five wides again and it looks like Beasley is down.
Lemon was inactive last week at Baltimore, but could he get the call over Wilber with Anthony Spencer set to return? The Cowboys would not need a fifth outside linebacker active and Lemon might be the better special teams player.