Tag Archives: Dallas Cowboys 2012-2013 Schedule

ROSTER REVIEW: Final grades for the 2012 Dallas Cowboys

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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.

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NFL GAMEDAY RESOURCES: Dallas Cowboys vs. Washington Redskins

Dallas Cowboys vs. Washington Redskins - NFC East Rivals - The Boys Are Back blog

HEAD2HEAD: A look at the Dallas Cowboys and Washington Redskins match up

Almost a year to the day the Cowboys’ 2011 season ended with a loss to the New York Giants in a winner-take-all game for the NFC East title, Dallas will have a chance to claim the division championship Sunday in a showdown with one of its other rivals, the Washington Redskins. Led by quarterback Robert Griffin III and a rushing offense that is the most prolific in pro football, Washington has won six consecutive games. One of those victories came against Dallas in November. The Cowboys will try to exact revenge and earn their first playoff berth since the 2009 season. Here is a look at how both teams match up:

When the Cowboys run

Last Sunday, DeMarco Murray authored his worst performance since he returned from a six-game absence because of a sprained left foot. He rushed for 40 yards on 11 carries and lost a fumble that led to a touchdown. But Murray could be a difference-maker Sunday. He didn’t play in Dallas’ first game against Washington when the Cowboys gained only 35 yards on the ground. If he returns to form, he could help Dallas crack the Redskins’ run defense that is the fifth-stingiest in the NFL.

Edge: Redskins

When the Cowboys pass

The connection between quarterback Tony Romo and Dez Bryant is stronger than ever and it’s the reason why the Cowboys have a chance to win the division Sunday. Romo has thrown 17 touchdown passes in his last eight games. Bryant has been the recipient of 10 of them. The Redskins’ tattered secondary will struggle to contend with the Cowboys’ dynamic duo. Washington is surrendering 287.7 yards per game through the air, the third-highest average in the NFL.

Edge: Cowboys

When the Redskins run

Washington has the most productive ground attack in the NFL, averaging 162.3 yards per game. But it doesn’t look nearly as potent as it did a few weeks ago. Quarterback Robert Griffin’s sprained knee suffered in Week 14 has weakened the rushing offense. He gained only four yards on two carries last week against Philadelphia as rookie Alfred Morris, who has amassed 1,413 yards this season, carried the load. If Griffin’s mobility is reduced, the Cowboys’ suspect run defense that has allowed 124.5 yards per game in its last eight contests may stand a chance.

Edge: Redskins

When the Redskins pass

Rookies are usually prone to making mistakes. But Robert Griffin III is the exception. He’s thrown 20 touchdown passes and only five interceptions. His quarterback rating of 104.1 is the second-highest in the league. Griffin burned the Cowboys’ secondary in a 38-31 victory over Dallas on Thanksgiving, as he passed for 304 yards and four touchdowns. Since then, Dallas’ defense, which is allowing 239.8 yards per game through the air, has been bombarded by other quarterbacks – from Nick Foles to Drew Brees. And now Griffin may be ready for an encore.

Edge: Redskins

Special teams

Last season, the Cowboys had two of the most promising young kickers in the NFL. Now they have one and the Redskins have the other. Dallas kept Dan Bailey, who has made 28 of 30 field-goal attempts this season and has already converted seven game-winning tries in 31 NFL games. But it unloaded Kai Forbath, who was signed by Washington in October and set an NFL record by making the first 17 field goals he has attempted in his career. Forbath has the slight edge over Bailey because he is used to kicking outdoors and on the grass at FedEx Field.

Edge: Redskins

Intangibles

The Redskins are one of the hottest teams in the NFL right now. They’ve won six consecutive games, including the Thanksgiving Day matchup with the Cowboys. Dallas has also fared well of late, but its defeat to New Orleans last Sunday squelched some of the momentum it had established since that loss to Washington. The Cowboys will have to regroup in order to beat the Redskins at FedEx Field, where Washington is 4-3 this season. A partisan home crowd should help the Redskins in this duel for the division title.

Edge: Redskins

GAMEDAY RESOURCES: Trackers and Scoreboards

GAMETRAX - Dallas Cowboys vs. Washington Redskins - The Boys Are Back blog

View game stats and scores online while you watch or listen to the game. Click HERE to choose from a list of popular online game trackers.

GAMEDAY RESOURCES: Sounds of the game

Listen to the “Voice of the Dallas Cowboys” Brad Sham on KRLD in Dallas.

The Dallas Cowboys Radio Network - 105_3 The Fan KRLD

Click HERE. Don’t live in the Dallas area? Click HERE.

GAMEDAY RESOURCES: Watch the game

To watch on TV, tune to your local FOX station.

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Click HERE to watch online (NFL Sunday Ticket)

GAMEDAY RESOURCES: Bookmark The Boys Are Back blog

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GAMEDAY RESOURCES: Dallas Cowboys vs. Washington Redskins postgame coverage

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Dallas Cowboys Postgame Show

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LOOKING AHEAD TO GAMEDAY: Scouting the Washington Redskins

The Washington Redskins chose to take it easy on Robert Griffin’s injured knee last week, scratching most of the running out of the playbook for the rookie quarterback.

With a sore knee, Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III only ran twice in last week's win over the Eagles - The Boys Are Back blog

And now they know he can win that way, too.

Griffin ran only two times for 4 yards but still put up a 102.4 passer rating, completing 16 of 24 passes for 198 yards, two touchdowns and an interception (that went off the receiver’s hands) in a win last week against the Philadelphia Eagles.

It gives the team confidence that Griffin, even if he is slowed down a bit, still can be a weapon against the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday.

"We did not do everything that we would normally do," Redskins coach Mike Shanahan told Washington reporters. "I didn’t want to put that pressure on that LCL."

The ligament strain caused Griffin to miss a game two weeks ago against the Cleveland Browns. He came back last week with a bulky knee brace that hampered him.

"My mobility was down a little bit just because of the brace, but at the same time, I was still able to do everything a quarterback is supposed to do," Griffin said. "It didn’t necessarily slow me down by any means, and I was able to protect myself out there."

Rivalry talk

Tight end Chris Cooley has played the Cowboys 13 times, so he appreciates the rivalry.

"This game is going to be unbelievable," he said. "This is what should be one of the best rivalries in all of football, one of the top two or three games in all of football … but it hasn’t been Redskins-Cowboys where we both have great teams."

Winning feeling

The Redskins’ six-game winning streak included a stretch of three games decided by one score, and four in all. But that’s good, Mike Shanahan said.

"You’ve got to get used to winning those tight games," he said. "I think that’s where our football team is right now. They expect to win."

The Redskins escaped Cowboys Stadium with a one-score margin, winning 38-31. They also beat the New York Giants 17-16, the Baltimore Ravens 31-28 and the Eagles 27-20.

Injuries

Right tackle Tyler Polumbus did not play last week because of a concussion. The Redskins are optimistic he can play on Sunday.

Safety DeJon Gomes sprained a knee against Philadelphia. The Redskins were waiting to see how the knee responded today.

Center Will Montgomery played with a sprained knee against the Eagles, and defensive end Stephen Bowen suffered a torn biceps, but both are expected to play Sunday.

Briefly

Ryan Kerrigan had two sacks and a forced fumble last week, giving him the team lead in sacks with 8.5.

Kai Forbath, who spent time on injured reserve with the Cowboys last year, has made 17 field goals to start his career, an NFL record.

Rookie Alfred Morris (1,413 yards) needs 105 yards to break Clinton Portis’ single-season club rushing record.

The Redskins haven’t won the NFC East since 1999.

NFC EAST REVIEW: Division race comes down to week 17

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With just one week left in the regular season the NFC East comes down to one game between the Redskins and Cowboys.

Washington Redskins 9-6

Dallas Cowboys 8-7

New York Giants 8-7

Philadelphia Eagles 4-11

Redskins:

It didn’t seem possible six weeks ago, but the Washington Redskins are currently the sole leaders atop the NFC East after winning their sixth straight game. Last Sunday they welcomed back Robert Griffin III from a leg injury and the rookie quarterback didn’t look like he had missed a beat.

Griffin was able to post a 102.4 passer rating while throwing two touchdowns in a 27-20 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles. The Redskins continued to do what they do best: run the ball well on offense. They rushed for 128 total yards and made the big plays when it mattered. At this point in the season the Redskins are very comfortable running their college-like offensive scheme and few teams have had any success stopping them.

The Redskins will be champions of the NFC East if they defeat the Cowboys at home on Sunday night. If they lose they could still potentially make the playoffs as a wildcard assuming that both Chicago and Minnesota lose their final game.

Cowboys

Perhaps the most exciting game the Cowboys have played all season turned out to be completely irrelevant. After the Giants were defeated by the Baltimore Ravens the Cowboys’ 34-31 loss to the Saints earlier in the day became meaningless.

But that doesn’t take away any of the thrill (or concerns) that came with the game. The Cowboys came back from down 14 points with less than five minutes to play in the fourth quarter. After getting the first touchdown, the Cowboys still needed a 4th and 10 conversion with 15 seconds left in the game. They not only converted the 4th down, they scored a 21-yard touchdown pass to Miles Austin to force overtime.

In the end, a controversial fumble by Marques Colston that bounced 22 yards forward until being recovered by Jimmy Graham set up a field goal to win the game for the Saints.

Tony Romo was nearly flawless in the game throwing for over 400 yards and four touchdowns, while posting a passer rating of 123.8. He was helped out by the career performance of Dez Bryant who recorded 224 yards receiving and two touchdowns.

Despite the loss, the Cowboys can win the division with a win over Washington on Sunday. That is their only chance at making the playoffs.

Giants:

It was hard not to assume that the Giants would just “turn it on” when they really truly needed a win. Well, the past two weeks New York has needed wins and they have been blown out each week. After being shutout by the Falcons the previous week, the Giants lost 33-14 to the Ravens.

At a time when they needed their best players playing their best, the Giants received poor performances from Eli Manning (only 150 yards passing), Ahmad Bradshaw (only 39 yards rushing) and their much heralded defensive line was unable to record a single sack on the immobile Joe Flacco.

The Giants’ weakness all season has been their secondary and they once again struggled as Flacco was able to throw for over 300 yards and two touchdowns on the Giants’ defense.

They’ve been inconsistent all season and now the Super Bowl champions find themselves in a position where they will need a miracle to make the post season.

Eagles:

The Eagles have been able to get a good look at some of their younger players the past few weeks. Unfortunately for them, at 4-11, that’s about the only positive to come from this season.

In a 27-20 loss to the Redskins, rookie quarterback Nick Foles threw for 345 yards but suffered a broken right hand that will likely force him to miss the season finale. That will put Michael Vick back into the lineup, likely for the last time with the Eagles.

McCoy returned to the lineup, which meant less carries for rookie Bryce Brown and together they were only able to combine for 63 yards.

The Eagles are obviously looking towards the future as they finish the season Sunday against the Giants.

Injuries:

Dallas Cowboys: DeMarcus Ware has been dealing with elbow and shoulder injuries all season and he was forced to miss significant portions of the Cowboys’ loss to the Saints. Jason Garrett claimed that he believes that Ware will be ready to suit up and play the season finale despite his injuries. The Cowboys also lost Ernie Sims in the first quarter against the Saints after experiencing concussion-like symptoms. There is no word on his availability for Sunday and will likely be a game-time decision.

New York Giants: The Giants’ defensive line was out of sorts on Sunday after Chris Canty reinjured his knee against the Ravens. There is no word on his status for next Sunday. Justin Tuck was already inactive in the game due to a shoulder injury.

Philadelphia Eagles: McCoy returned to the field after missing a few weeks with a concussion, but was largely ineffective rushing the ball. With Nick Foles (hand) out, Michael Vick is expected to start.

Washington Redskins: There was some concern leading into Sunday’s game over whether or not Robert Griffin III was fully healed and prepared to comeback after only missing a week from his leg injury. Griffin not only returned, but looked as sharp as ever. However, he refrained from running the ball like he normally does.

Playoff Scenarios:

-Dallas (@Washington) clinches NFC East title with a win over Washington.

-Washington (vs. Dallas) clinches NFC East division title with a win or tie against Dallas.

-Washington clinches a playoff spot with a Chicago loss and a Minnesota loss.

-New York Giants (vs. Philadelphia) clinches a playoff spot with a win and a Dallas loss or tie and a Chicago loss and a Minnesota loss.

Week 17 Schedule:

Philadelphia Eagles @ New York Giants

Sunday, December 30th, 12:00 CT (FOX)

Dallas Cowboys @ Washington Redskins

Sunday, December 30th, 7:20 CT (NBC)

GO BIG OR GO HOME: It’s NFC East champions or bust for the 2012-2013 Dallas Cowboys

A Dallas Cowboys fan makes her Christmas wish known flashing a sign in the stands vs Saints - The Boys Are Back blog

IRVING — The first day of the Dallas Cowboys’ organized team activities, Jason Garrett stood before his team and had them envision something that hasn’t happened here in 17 years.

“I said, ‘Picture yourself holding the Super Bowl trophy over your head,’ ” Garrett said Monday. “That’s the first thing out of my mouth [every year]. ‘So put that in the forefront of your mind. Really feel that. Feel that experience, where we all want to go?’ Then, you say, ‘OK, take that and put it in the back of your mind. Now what you need to do is focus on today. Focus on this Wednesday practice.’

“That’s the mindset. They hear that from me a lot: This is where we want to go. This is where everybody wants to go. This is why we’re doing all this stuff. Now, we have to get back right here. Let’s get back to focusing on what we need to do today to advance ourselves to that goal. It’s a pretty simple philosophy.”

It’s a pretty simple scenario for the Cowboys if they are to have a chance to do what they envisioned in May: They have to beat the Washington Redskins on Sunday night to extend their season.

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WILD CARD WEEKEND: Cowboys would host either 49ers or Seahawks in playoff game

Dallas Cowboys Stadium 2012 - The Boys Are Back blog

They have to get there first. But while Jason Garrett and his players aren’t looking past the Washington Redskins next Sunday in a winner-take-all NFC East showdown, the Cowboys’ advance scouts are looking ahead.

They can focus their attention on the 49ers (10-4-1) and the Seahawks (10-5). The Cowboys would be 9-7 with a win over the Redskins and the fourth seed. They would play the fifth seed. The 49ers or the Seahawks will be the fifth seed. The 49ers will win the NFC West with a victory over the Cardinals or a Seahawks loss to the Rams. The Seahawks would win the West with a victory and a 49ers loss. So either the 49ers or the Seahawks will be the NFC West champion and the other one will be the fifth seed.

Dallas, as NFC East champions, would host the wild-card game at Cowboys Stadium on the weekend of Jan. 5-6. The educated guess is the Cowboys game would be Sunday, Jan. 6 in the 3 p.m. time slot, considering lots of things, including the fact that the Cotton Bowl is Jan. 4. There also is the fact that NBC got this week’s game between the Cowboys and Redskins, so Fox likely will get the NFC East champion’s playoff game. NBC televises the two playoff games on Jan. 5. Fox has an NFC game on Jan. 6, and CBS has an AFC game on Jan. 6. It’s just an educated guess on when the game would be played, but a pretty good assumption, assuming the Cowboys beat the Redskins.

Either way, the Cowboys’ advance scouts will be getting ready in hopes there is a game next weekend.

"The advance guys do a great job of that stuff, and they’ll have that whole thing covered for us," Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. "They have all the different scenarios and who’s traveling to what game. One of the things that I’ve found out being in these kinds of situations is be careful about making too many educated guesses. Make sure you have all your bases covered. Oh, this team will definitely beat them, so we’re definitely going to play them. A lot of times that doesn’t happen. Our guys do a great job of that, and they’ll have all that background work done for us, so hopefully we win this ball game and go get prepared to play the first round of the playoffs. They’ll have all that stuff covered for us to start our preparation."

RIVAL HEADLINE: Here comes the mystery team – Dallas Cowboys still a puzzle as finale vs. Redskins approaches

Dallas Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray (29) gets in on the huddle vs Saints - The Boys Are Back blog

ARLINGTON, Tex. – They were playing this week to decide the meaning of next week, and it’s now clear that it will be winner take all when the Washington Redskins and Dallas Cowboys meet for the NFC East title. The next question for the Redskins is, which outfit should they scout with the playoffs on the line: the Cowboys who can’t solve the riddle of their dazzling but often fatally confused personality, or the terrifying Cowboys who know exactly who they are?

Do you expect the perplexing, dumbfounding Cowboys who suffered yet another upset loss to the New Orleans Saints on Sunday in overtime, 34-31? Or the touchdown-a-minute monsters who almost won a game that seemed unwinnable? Do you plan for the team that can look like a still life? Or the one that can leave you thunderstruck with feats like two touchdowns in the final 3 minutes 35 seconds against the Saints?

Do you expect the strangely complacent team that allowed the Saints to possess the ball for a staggering 41:59 out of more than 64 minutes? Or do you brace for the biting, snap-jawed team that is never, ever out of a game with Tony Romo, who threw for 416 yards and four touchdowns and can make so much happen in such a short period of time? Their late fourth-quarter drives took just 1:10 and 1:14, respectively, the second one ending with Romo’s 19-yard zing to Miles Austin on fourth and 10 with just 15 seconds remaining to force overtime.

Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant (88) runs in a touchdown as teammate John Phillips (89) looks on - The Boys Are Back blog

“We had a lot of good plays,” Romo said. “But we didn’t get off the field on third down, and didn’t stay on the field enough on third down, and that’s not a good recipe. . . .We didn’t make a play or two that can determine it.”

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NFC EAST CHAMPIONSHIP FLEXED TO SNF: Dallas Cowboys and Redskins to end NFL 2012-2013 regular season in dramatic fashion

The Rivalry - Washington Redskins vs Dallas Cowboys Rivalry - The Boys Are Back blog

ARLINGTON, Texas — It had to come down to a final game. Had to. Just like it’s come down to the final drive over and over again. The white-knuckled way the Dallas Cowboys‘ season had gone, it would never end with coach Jason Garrett and his players watching the final day play out with their feet up, coasting into the playoffs. It wouldn’t fit. It had to be like this.

Dallas Cowboys vs. Washington Redskins on Sunday night. Prime time. A playoff spot and NFC East crown for the winner. Just like last year, when it was Giants-Cowboys. Like it should be.

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NFL GAMEDAY RESOURCES: Dallas Cowboys vs. New Orleans Saints

New Orleans Saints vs Dallas Cowboys at Cowboys Stadium - The Boys Are Back blog

HEAD2HEAD: A look at the Dallas Cowboys and New Orleans Saints match up

The Cowboys are making December one to remember for all the right reasons. They’ve won three games this month and five of their last six. Now, they face New Orleans, a 6-8 team that is on the verge of missing the playoffs for the first time since the 2008 season. The Saints have been damaged by the penalties stemming from the bounty scandal that rocked the NFL in the off-season. But they still have one of the most prolific offenses in the league, producing more points on average than every other team except New England. Here is a look at how both the Cowboys and Saints match up:

When the Cowboys run

DeMarco Murray has rushed for more than 100 yards in a game once this season. But his impact is far greater than his output. His presence is vital to the Cowboys’ success. Since entering the league in 2011, Dallas is 10-1 when Murray has 14 or more carries. Murray should get plenty of opportunities Sunday against a New Orleans team allowing 146.3 rushing yards per game – the second-highest average in the NFL this season.

Edge: Cowboys

When the Cowboys pass

In the last seven games, Tony Romo has revived a season that seemed headed for disaster. Since Nov. 1, he has thrown 13 touchdowns passes and only three interceptions. He has also passed for 300 or more yards five times. Romo’s strong performance has coincided with the most productive stretch of Dez Bryant’s career. Bryant has collected eight touchdown receptions in the last six games and has a good chance to find the end zone again against a Saints team giving up 287 yards per game through the air – the second-highest average in the NFL this season.

Edge: Cowboys

When the Saints run

New Orleans’ commitment to its ground game can be questioned. This season, the Saints have rushed the ball 314 times – the second-lowest total in the NFL this season. But when New Orleans has turned to its running backs, they have been successful, averaging 4.45 yards per carry. Mark Ingram, Pierre Thomas, Darren Sproles and Chris Ivory form a strong backfield that will test a Cowboys defense featuring a patchwork front. But Dallas held strong against Pittsburgh last week, limiting the Steelers to 69 yards on the ground.

Edge: Cowboys

When the Saints pass

Drew Brees has become one of the best quarterbacks in NFL history directing a high-powered offense. Even in this season of disappointment, Brees has excelled. He leads the league in passing yards, throwing for 4,335 in 14 games. But his record has been blighted by 18 interceptions – the highest total in the league. Brees commands an air attack that Dallas’ secondary will be challenged to stop. Four Saints players are among the 50 NFL players with the most receptions. The Cowboys, meanwhile, have allowed opposing quarterbacks to throw for more than 250 yards in three of their last four games.

Edge: Saints

Special teams

In less than two seasons, Dan Bailey has emerged as one of the NFL’s most consistent kickers and a key contributor for the Cowboys. In an overtime victory over Pittsburgh last Sunday, Bailey made his seventh game-winning field goal, tying a franchise record. This season, he has connected on 27 of 29 attempts and every kick inside of 50 yards. Bailey has been considerably more successful than Southlake’s own Garrett Hartley. Hartley has made only 15 of 18 field-goal tries and his conversion rate is ranked in the bottom half of the league.

Edge: Cowboys

Intangibles

The New Orleans Saints haven’t been eliminated from playoff contention. But with eight losses their chances of qualifying for the postseason are extremely slim. The Cowboys, on the other hand, have a very realistic shot of playing beyond the regular season. Their confidence is high after their recent stretch of success and they will be motivated to earn their sixth victory in their last seven games. A rejuvenated home crowd should help them.

Edge: Cowboys

GAMEDAY RESOURCES: Trackers and Scoreboards

GAMETRAX - Dallas Cowboys vs. New Orleans Saints

View game stats and scores online while you watch or listen to the game. Click HERE to choose from a list of popular online game trackers.

GAMEDAY RESOURCES: Sounds of the game

The Dallas Cowboys Radio Network - 105_3 The Fan KRLD

Listen to the “Voice of the Dallas Cowboys” Brad Sham on KRLD in Dallas. Click HERE. Don’t live in the Dallas area? Click HERE.

GAMEDAY RESOURCES: Watch the game on TV or online

NFL on FOX - The Boys Are Back blog

Watch on TV, tune to your local FOX station. Click HERE to watch online (NFL Sunday Ticket)

GAMEDAY RESOURCES: Bookmark The Boys Are Back blog

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The Boys Are Back blog | Read | Listen | Watch | Comment

Check back here for box scores, videos, pictures, highlights, resources, recaps, interesting articles, and Dallas Cowboys information all season long. Signup for email alerts, RSS feeds, or add The Boys Are Back to your favorites.

Enjoy the game!

GAMEDAY RESOURCES: Dallas Cowboys vs. New Orleans Saints postgame coverage

LISTEN LIVE–RIGHT NOW

Dallas Cowboys Postgame Show

on the

Dallas Cowboys Radio Network

Note: The show starts approximately 30 minutes after the game is over.

Editors Note: If you enjoy this Special Feature, please use the LIKE and SHARE buttons below. Help us spread the word about The Boys Are Back blog! Enjoy.

PREGAME PREPARATION: Ten New Orleans Saints that Dallas Cowboys fans need to know (Special Feature)

PREGAME PREPARATION - Ten New Orleans Saints that Dallas Cowboys fans need to know (Special Feature) - The Boys Are Back blog

Photo: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The Dallas Cowboys are right in the thick of things after a big win over Pittsburgh. But an 8-6 record can only take you so far, and the Cowboys must now win against a high flying Saints team to keep the momentum going. So before the Cowboys host New Orleans this weekend, here’s a look at 10 Saints you ought to know before kickoff.

Need to know QB Drew Brees - The Boys Are Back blog

Photo: Chris Graythen/Getty Images

QB Drew Brees – One of the greatest players to ever play the position, Brees is in the midst of another great statistical year despite the Saints’ struggles. In Week 5, he broke Johnny Unitas’ record for consecutive games with at least one touchdown pass, which had stood over 50 years. Brees has passed for 4,335 yards and 36 touchdowns this season but has thrown 18 interceptions including five against the Falcons a few weeks ago. He did bounce back and threw for 307 yards and 4 TD’s with no interceptions against Tampa Bay last week so the Cowboys secondary must be ready a tough challenge.

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RISING STAR: Dwayne Harris emerging as a playmaker on special teams and offense

Pittsburgh Steelers strong safety Will Allen (26) brings down Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dwayne Harris - The Boys Are Back blog

Dallas Cowboys punt returner Dwayne Harris has made major contributions since taking over that role from Dez Bryant on Nov. 4 against Atlanta. Heading into Sunday’s game against New Orleans, Harris has averaged 13.9 yards per return, including a 78-yarder for a touchdown against Philadelphia and three additional efforts of 20 or more yards against Cleveland (20), Atlanta (37) and Pittsburgh (39).

Harris always knew he would be a success once he got his chance. It was convincing the Cowboys that was the harder part. A sixth-round draft choice in 2011, Harris was released during his rookie season. He later was re-signed to the active roster from the practice squad. Harris played in seven games last season with 15 punt returns and eight kickoff returns and no real impact other than a 51-yard kickoff return against the Eagles on Dec. 24.

“Whatever they need me to do, I think I can be a great player for this team and in this league. The sky’s the limit,” Harris said Friday. “I’ve always got … that chip on your shoulder to go out there and play your best. I let my game speak for itself. The doubters, they’ll go away.”

Harris also has 15 receptions _ 15 more than last season _ and is coming off a four-catch, 46-yard performance in last week’s 27-24 overtime victory over Pittsburgh. Three of his four grabs against the Steelers came on second-half touchdown drives, including a pair of pivotal receptions on bubble screens: an 18-yarder on a second-and-23 play to extend one scoring drive, as well a 17-yarder in the Steelers’ red zone that set up a 3-yard touchdown run by DeMarco Murray.

“He’s really grown a lot as a player,” coach Jason Garrett said. “He’s made some splash plays. But you don’t want to be a flash player. You want to be a guy that’s a consistent player. I think he’s shown that over the last half of this season.”

MANAGING EMOTIONS: Drew Pearson sees a lot of Tom Landry in Jason Garrett

Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones shakes hands with Drew Pearson, who was inducted into the Ring of Honor at Cowboys Stadium on Nov. 6, 2011 - The Boys Are Back blog

ARLINGTON — The Dallas Cowboys will take the field for the next two weeks hoping to continue their run to the playoffs.

It will also be their attempt to move forward from the tragedy and emotional roller coaster they have never experienced.

The death of linebacker Jerry Brown, and the status of nose tackle Josh Brent — charged in the death of his best friend and teammate — will certainly cast a shadow on the rest of the Cowboys’ season, no matter how they finish.

“Oh, yeah, it is absolutely that,” said coach Jason Garrett, whose leadership and handling of the team during this trying situation has already been hailed as the crowning moment of his coaching tenure. “It’s an ongoing thing for a long, long time for everybody. Nobody who is associated with this organization, this football team who knows Jerry and Josh and this situation, this tragedy will never be the same as a result of it.”

Mike Jenkins, left, Jay Ratliff and the rest of the Cowboys continue the healing process - The Boys Are Back blog

The Cowboys (8-6) will use football to take their minds off the tragedy and to continue living. Making a run to the playoffs is the best way they feel they can honor Brown.

Still, some things can never be forgotten.

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CORNERBACK ATTACK: Dallas Cowboys will need Morris Claiborne to beat Saints

Dallas Cowboys CB Morris Claiborne scores on a 50 yard fumble recovery vs Philadelphia Eagles - The Boys Are Back blog

The Dallas Cowboys were able to get by in pass coverage last week without Morris Claiborne against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

They’ll need him this week against the New Orleans Saints.

Ben Roethlisberger was still showing the effects of a rib injury that kept him sidelined for three weeks over the Thanksgiving holiday. His passes lacked their usual crispness against the Cowboys, sailing high, low and behind his receivers a good portion of the afternoon.

That’s never been a problem for Saints quarterback Drew Brees, one of the most accurate passers ever to play the game. He has completed 65.57 percent of his career throws, second best in NFL history. He hits his receivers in stride, which allows them to add yardage after the catch.

The Saints rank second in the NFL in passing, and Brees leads all quarterbacks with 4,335 yards. All four of his primary targets at wide receiver — Marques Colston, Devery Henderson, Lance Moore and Joseph Morgan — have 100-yard receiving games this season, as does tight end Jimmy Graham.

In addition, Darren Sproles leads NFL running backs with 60 receptions, and fellow halfback Pierre Thomas ranks third in the NFL in yards after the catch at 10.1.

The Saints force defenses to cover every patch of earth on the football field. Brees has Henderson deep, Graham on seam routes and Colston and Moore on slants and outs all day.

If a defense elects to sit back in zones, Brees will feed Sproles and Thomas with screens and swings — so even your defensive ends need to be involved in pass coverage.

The way to beat the Saints is to keep Brees and this explosive passing attack off the field, and opponents have done a superb job of that this season.

New Orleans has only played offense an average of 28 minutes per game this season, which explains why they are out of the playoff hunt at 6-8.

But for those 28 minutes, the Cowboys are going to need Claiborne, Brandon Carr, Mike Jenkins, Sterling Moore and Michael Coe on their A games. The Saints are going to give them a workout.

Brees has thrown 50 passes in a game three times this season. He has a 400-yard passing game and seven 300-yard games. His 36 touchdown passes lead the league, and he’s been sacked only 24 times.

Bring your track shoes.

RELATED: Claiborne expects to play Sunday against Saints

Morris Claiborne said that as of Wednesday, he feels fine and he expects to play on Sunday against the Saints. He said he passed his concussion tests and was cleared.

He knows the Cowboys will need every defensive back they can get against Drew Brees and his five big-play targets, although he was encouraged by the secondary’s showing without him against the Steelers last week.

“I feel like it’s way better the depth that we have, and the guys that are behind someone, they’re still playing,” said Claiborne, who practiced Wednesday. “So if someone were to happen to get out – for instance, I didn’t play last week, but we had a guy who could step in, and we didn’t lose anything.”

Claiborne said he is impressed by the way the team continues to find players who can come in and play. Cornerbacks Michael Coe and Sterling Moore each played days after arriving, and safety Eric Frampton has taken on a big role since originally being signed to help the special teams depth.

“Everybody comes in with some football smarts,” Claiborne said. “To get in here and to focus, to be able to learn this defense, you see guys staying after, just trying to get help and learn their position. It lets us know that it’s important to them because it’s important to us.”

On top of that, Claiborne said the new players have fit in personality-wise.

“Everybody that comes in here, it seems like he connects with us right like that,” Claiborne said. “I think the coaching staff does a great job of the guys they select to be in the locker room.”

RIVAL HEADLINE: Saints vs. Cowboys – Week 16 scouting report

Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo (9) stretches - The Boys Are Back blog

The New Orleans Saints and Dallas Cowboys will meet for the first time since 2010  Sunday. The surging Cowboys (8-6) are in a three-way tie for first place in the NFC East and have won three straight games. The Saints (6-8) snapped a three-game losing streak with a win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last Sunday. The Saints have had their way with the Cowboys lately, having won six of the last seven meetings. The Saints took the last meeting 30-27 in Cowboys Stadium.

COWBOYS OFFENSE

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BEAST OF THE EAST: Three-way tie with two games remaining

NFC East Division Head Coaches - The Boys Are Back blog

With just two weeks left to play in the season, the drama only continues to build in the NFC East, as three teams are tied for the division lead.

Washington Redskins 8-6

Dallas Cowboys 8-6

New York Giants 8-6

Philadelphia Eagles 4-10

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NFL GAMEDAY RESOURCES: Dallas Cowboys vs. Pittsburgh Steelers

Dallas Cowboys vs. Pittsburgh Steelers - December 15, 2012 - The Boys Are Back blog

HEAD2HEAD: A look at the Dallas Cowboys and Pittsburgh Steelers match up

Pittsburgh returns to Arlington for the first time since it lost Super Bowl XLV in February 2011. This Steelers team doesn’t look nearly as formidable, however. They stand at 7-6 and while they have the top-ranked defense in the NFL they also have a suspect running game and a quarterback, Ben Roetlisberger, who is still trying to regain his form after recently missing three games because of shoulder and rib injuries. The Cowboys, who are also 7-6, are aiming to achieve their fifth victory in their last six games. Here is a look at how both teams match up:

When the Cowboys run

While he Cowboys still can’t depend on their ground attack to move the ball over the course of an entire game, tailback DeMarco Murray has helped give it some punch since he returned to action earlier this month. Murray, who has gained 136 yards in two games after coming back from a sprained left foot, has made an impact. But he will be presented with one of his toughest challenges yet. Pittsburgh’s defense, even though it’s been decimated by injuries, is conceding only 3.69 yards per carry—the fourth-lowest average in the NFL.

Edge: Steelers

When the Cowboys pass

The fractured left index finger Dez Bryant suffered last Sunday could spell disaster for the Cowboys. Bryant, listed as questionable on the team’s official report, was enjoying the most productive stretch of his career, making 33 catches, amassing 525 receiving yards and scoring seven touchdowns in his last five games. Not having Bryant at full strength could be harmful to a passing offense and a quarterback, Tony Romo, that has depended on him. Romo and his receivers will have one of their toughest tests yet. The Steelers have yielded 169.2 passing yards per game – the lowest average in the NFL. They have also allowed 54.2 percent of the pass attempts against them to be completed.

Edge: Steelers

When the Steelers run

Pittsburgh’s most productive back, Jonathan Dwyer, ranks 27th in the NFL in rushing yards. The Steelers have averaged only 98.6 yards on the ground this season. And their running game has accounted for only seven touchdowns – tied for the sixth-lowest total in the league. Yet the Steelers may be able to take advantage of Dallas’ run defense that has conceded 6.1 yards per carry in the last three games.

Edge: Cowboys

When the Steelers pass

Ben Roethlisberger is back. That’s the good news for Pittsburgh. The bad? The two-time Super Bowl winner wasn’t in top form last Sunday in the first game he played since suffering a sprained right shoulder and dislocated rib. In a 10-point loss to San Diego he completed only 52 percent of his pass attempts. That same day, a Cowboys defense that looked ragged in its previous two games stood strong against Andy Dalton, allowing only 206 passing yards and sacking him five times. Whether Dallas can deliver the same punishment to Roethlisberger could be the difference Sunday.

Edge: Steelers

Special teams

There are only four kickers who have made a higher percentage of their field-goal attempts than the Cowboys’ Dan Bailey.  One of them is Pittsburgh’s Shaun Suisham, who has converted 25 of 26 tries. Suisham stands on the opposite side of the spectrum as the Steelers’ Antonio Brown, who has the lowest punt-return average in the NFL. The Cowboys, meanwhile, averted disaster last Sunday. And that’s a good thing for a team that has conceded a blocked punt, allowed a 108-yard kick return and has committed two turnovers on special teams this season.

Edge: Steelers

Intangibles

The Cowboys will play their first game at home since the one-vehicle accident that killed practice squad linebacker Jerry Brown and led to nose tackle Josh Brent being charged with intoxication manslaughter. The team has been through quite an ordeal ever since and head coach Jason Garrett said the Cowboys were emotionally “spent” earlier this week. Whether Dallas can regain the energy needed to beat a team fighting for a playoff spot is uncertain. But the Cowboys managed to persevere last Sunday and they may find enough in themselves to be able to so again Sunday.

Edge: Cowboys

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LENDING A HELPING HAND: Dez Bryant of Dallas Cowboys intends to play Sunday

Tales of Dez Bryant‘s demise were premature.

Bryant will attempt to play in Sunday’s game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Dallas Cowboys receiver made the decision after gaining a second opinion Wednesday on the broken finger he suffered in a Week 14 win over the Cincinnati Bengals.

Dez Bryant at practice Thursday with his left hand in white glove with a hole for his fractured left index finger - The Boys Are Back blog

Bryant’s thinking doesn’t guarantee he will play, however. The Cowboys placed a hard splint on Bryant’s finger today. The Cowboys want to see if the splint will provide enough protection to prevent permanent damage. Bryant will require surgery after the season if he puts it off now.

"We don’t have a definitive plan for Dez right now," coach Jason Garrett told reporters. "He did see the doctor (Wednesday) and nothing’s really changed. We’re going to see how he feels today and see if there’s a chance that he can play. He went through the walk-through yesterday. He didn’t do anything in practice yesterday.

"It seems like he’s feeling fine, but we have to make a decision there as to what we want to do. Dez is certainly part of that decision. The medical analysis is part of that decision, as well."

Garrett said he doesn’t anticipate Bryant catching passes in Thursday’s session.

"We just have to decide what we want to do," Garrett said. "He certainly has a willingness to play and he certainly has the toughness to play. We just have to see if he can function as he needs do."

RELATED: Cowboys preparing for Dez Bryant to play Sunday vs. Steelers

IRVING – Cowboys coach Jason Garrett confirmed Thursday morning that Dez Bryant’s Wednesday visit with a second hand specialist revealed “pretty similar” information to the first examination. Bryant has a fractured left index finger that requires surgery.

But that doesn’t eliminate the Cowboys wide receiver from playing on Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Bryant has said all week that he desires to play through the injury.

The Cowboys plan to test Bryant’s finger by having him catch passes, however, that has not occurred this week and Garrett said he doesn’t anticipate it occurring on Thursday. Although Bryant still has swelling in his finger he appeared to be prepared to catch passes during the media portion of Thursday’s practice. On his left hand, the 24-year-old was wearing a padded white glove that allowed the tip of his index finger to be exposed.

“We don’t have a definitive plan for Dez right now,” Garrett said Thursday. “He did see the doctor yesterday. Nothing has really changed. We’re going to see how he feels today and see if there’s a chance that he can play. He went through the walk-through yesterday. He didn’t do anything in practice yesterday. Seemed like he was feeling fine. But we have to make a decision there as to what we want to do. Dez is certainly a part of that decision. The medical analysis is part of that decision as well.”

The Cowboys training staff has been looking into splints and taping methods that would allow Bryant to play. The risk with delaying surgery and playing through the injury is that Bryant runs the risk of facing permanent stiffness, which would likely affect his ability to catch passes.

“We’re going to give him every chance to play,” Garrett said. “If it’s wait to Saturday [to catch passes] or wait to Sunday, we’ll give him every chance to do it.”

Bryant made a 27-yard touchdown grab after sustaining the injury in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s 20-19 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals. When it was suggested to Garrett that Bryant’s adrenaline probably allowed him to make that grab despite the injury, the Cowboys coach responded: “There will probably be a little adrenaline on Sunday.”

Garrett then smiled and walked away.

RELATED: Garrett does not anticipate Bryant catching passes today

IRVING, Texas – Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett said Dez Bryant will be evaluated at practice on Thursday. But that likely won’t include catching passes.

Garrett told reporters at his daily press conference that he didn’t anticipate Bryant practicing or even catching the ball off on the side, as was expected by team sources earlier on Wednesday.

Bryant did jog out to practice Thursday with his left hand in a white glove that had a hole for his fractured left index finger to stick out. He didn’t have time to catch a pass during the media portion of practice.

After the morning press conference, Garrett said Bryant’s fractured left index finger still has too much swelling to risk catching passes.

“We’re going to have to do that at some point,” Garrett said of allowing Bryant to catch passes. “But I don’t think that day is today.”

Still, the goal to get Bryant ready to play Sunday against Pittsburgh appears unchanged. Bryant has seen two hand specialists this week and it’s believed that surgery to repair the finger in an option, but one that would end his season. However, not having surgery would increase the risk for long-term injury to his finger.

At this point, that appears a risk that Bryant is willing to take. However, if he doesn’t prove to the Cowboys this week that he can function, albeit wearing a splint, or padded gloves or fingers taped together, then the club will have no other choice but to rest him.

Obviously the Cowboys don’t want to risk further injury for Bryant, but his services are definitely needed. In the last five games, a span the Cowboys have gone 4-1, Bryant has caught seven touchdowns – all in the second half.

This past week, he went over 1,000 receiving yards for the first time in his career, and has a team-high 1,028 yards with nine touchdowns. His 75 receptions rank second only to Jason Witten (92).

Bryant also has a touchdown catch in the last five games, the third-longest streak in Cowboys history.

RELATED: Garrett confirms Dez Bryant plans to delay surgery

Dallas Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant plans to delay season-ending surgery on his fractured left index finger and try to play Sunday against the Steelers, even though it could possibly cause long-term damage.

Coach Jason Garrett said no definitive decision has been made on Bryant. But he said the Cowboys are going to give Bryant every chance to play.

Bryant has not caught passes this week and will not do so today, because the finger still is swollen. Garrett said Bryant will try to do so at some point, possibly even waiting until game day.

"We are going to give him every chance to play," Garrett said. "If that is wait til Saturday (to catch passes), then we will wait til Saturday. If it’s wait til Sunday, it’s wait til Sunday. We will give him every chance to do it."

Garrett indicated the Cowboys are confident Bryant might be able to go Sunday because he caught a 27-yard touchdown pass against the Bengals last week after fracturing the finger and having it taped together with the middle finger.

"He made a good catch after he was hurt the other day in the game," Garrett said.

Asked if that was because of the adrenaline of playing in the game and the lack of swelling at the time, Garrett responded with "it will probably be a little adrenaline in Sunday."

RELATED: Bryant wears white padded glove to start of Cowboys practice

Today brought the first glimpse of what the Dallas Cowboys might do to give Dez Bryant a chance to play.

He came out to practice wearing a white glove on his left hand.

Before practice, coach Jason Garrett talked about how the Cowboys and Bryant can protect the finger.

“We’re looking at that right now and seeing if there’s anything we can get started on,” Garrett said. “I know Jim Maurer and his crew have been working hard on that over the last couple of days. And again, I think it’s very specific to the player. You have to customize it to see how you can function. This has gone on in football for a long, long time. Does that feel comfortable? Do you think you can do this, that or the other thing with that? Let’s change it up, let’s make it bigger, let’s make it smaller.

“Certainly we want to protect Dez. We want to give him every chance we can if we put him out there.”

Bryant did not catch a pass in pat-and-go while reporters were present.

SAINTS GO MARCHING IN VICTORY: Paul Tagliabue overturns suspensions

Saints Bounties Hearings

NEW ORLEANS — Former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue has overturned the suspensions of four current and former New Orleans Saints players in the league’s bounty investigation of the club.

Tagliabue, however, found that the players’ conduct was detrimental to the league. He says they participated in a performance pool that rewarded key plays — including hard tackles — that could justify fines.

But the former commissioner said Tuesday that “this entire case has been contaminated by the coaches and others in the Saints’ organization.”

Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma initially had been suspended the whole season, while Saints defensive end Will Smith, Cleveland linebacker Scott Fujita and free agent defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove received shorter suspensions.

The Saints face the Cowboys on Dec. 23.

RELATED: Tagliabue vacates bounty players’ suspensions

In a sharp rebuke to his successor’s handling of the NFL’s bounty investigation, former Commissioner Paul Tagliabue overturned the suspensions of four current and former New Orleans Saints players in a case that has preoccupied the league for almost a year.

Tagliabue, who was appointed by Commissioner Roger Goodell to handle the appeals, still found that three of the players engaged in conduct detrimental to the league. He said they participated in a performance pool that rewarded key plays – including hard tackles – that could merit fines. But he stressed that the team’s coaches were very much involved.

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DECEMBER TO REMEMBER: Emotional Dallas Cowboys win to be replayed by NFL Network tomorrow (Tuesday)

A jersey for Jerry Brown Jr. who died in an automobile accident lays on the Dallas Cowboys bench during play against the Cincinnati Bengals - The Boys Are Back blog

IRVING, Texas – The NFL Network’s NFL Replay will televise Sunday’s triumphant, come-from-behind 20-19 victory Tuesday at 8:30 p.m.

Following the tragic loss of practice squad linebacker Jerry Brown, the Dallas Cowboys rallied to outscore the Bengals by 10 points in the fourth quarter and win in Cincinnati on a 40-yard field goal by kicker Dan Bailey as time expired.

A 27-yard touchdown pass to Dez Bryant brought the deficit to two points, and the Cowboys defense forced the Bengals to punt on each of their last three possessions, allowing Bailey to seal the win. 

NFL Replay provides viewers an exclusive look at the game in a 90-minute format with bonus footage from NFL films and the NFL Network, along with new camera angles, coaches’ commentary and wired sound.

NFL Game Rewind allows for re-viewing games on your schedule! Check it out!

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DALLAS RISES AMID TRAGEDY: Cowboys emotional 20-19 victory over Cincinnati Bengals

Dallas Cowboys vs. Cincinnati Bengals 2012 - Emotional victory honoring Cowboy Jerry Brown - The Boys Are Back blog

With heavy hearts, the Cowboys took the field knowing football was only a diversion to the tragic events that occurred only a day earlier. The task at hand was both monumental and trivial. A loss was expected by virtually everyone.

But with perhaps something more to play for, the emotion-filled Cowboys pulled off a last-second, come-from-behind victory in Cincinnati, defeating the Bengals, 20-19.

Even from a purely football standpoint, this was going to be a tough game regardless. On the road against a surging Cincinnati squad, injuries having decimated the defense with no less than six key members of the defense sidelined.

Instead, Rob Ryan’s unit came up big when they needed to. They allowed only one touchdown on the day and when the team absolutely needed to stop its opposition, the defense forced the Bengals to punt on their final two possessions.

All in all, Cincinnati held the upper hand as far as total yards, posting 336 to the Cowboys’ 288. But Dallas had only one meaningless interception, kept the penalties manageable and narrowly took the time of possession, 30:11 to 29:49.

The Dallas defense held Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton to 206 yards off 20-of-33 passing with only one touchdown and one key interception. Four different players collected at least 40 yards receiving, but only one went for more than 20 yards.

With the middle of their defense decimated, the Cowboys struggled against the run, as Cincinnati rushed for 146 yards, Ben Jarvus Green-Ellis doing most of the damage with 89 yards on 12 carries.

Conversely, Dallas again wasn’t able to do much in the running game with DeMarco Murray topping the club with just 53 yard on 21 tries, although he came up big late in the game with two huge first-down gains, and he scored the team’s first touchdown.

Continuing his stellar play, Tony Romo threw for 268 yards on 25-of-43 plays, tossing one touchdown. Jason Witten, Dez Bryant and Miles Austin each had four catches while nine players overall hauled in a pass. Witten finished first with 62 total receiving yards while Bryant scored the lone touchdown grab.

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LISTEN LIVE–RIGHT NOW: Dallas Cowboy’s postgame show on the Dallas Cowboys Radio Network

Dallas Cowboys vs. Cincinnati Bengals 2012 matchup - The Boys Are Back blog

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RELEASE THE HOUNDS: Time for Rob Ryan’s D to showcase Anthony Spencer, DeMarcus Ware

IRVING, Texas — It’s hard to have much hope for the Dallas Cowboys’ defense right now.

Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett and Rob Ryan on the sidelines vs Cleveland Browns - The Boys Are Back blog

Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan is basically holding open tryouts to try to plug holes at inside linebacker and in the secondary. The recent results have been about as pretty as the pictures of a shirtless Ryan that surfaced after the Cowboys’ training camp beach party.

Rookie running backs Alfred Morris and Bryce Brown combined to rack up 282 yards and three touchdowns on 48 carries against the Cowboys the past two games. Rookie quarterbacks Brandon Weeden, Robert Griffin III and Nick Foles have picked apart the Dallas secondary for 765 yards and seven touchdowns the past three weeks.

The Washington Redskins and Philadelphia Eagles embarrassed Ryan’s boys, lighting up Jerry World for 860 yards and 71 points in a pair of games the Cowboys were extremely fortunate to split.

Any reason to believe the Dallas D isn’t doomed against Andy Dalton, Ben Roethlisberger, Drew Brees and RG3 again down the stretch?

"Hell, we’ve got to fix it," a weary Ryan said on Sunday night. "We’ve got to play better than that, and we will. We’ve got some excellent coaches, we’ve got some excellent players. We’ll find out what we can do best with what we have."

Here’s some free advice, Rob: Play to the strengths of the only two certified studs left standing on that decimated defense.

Dallas' Anthony Spencer (93) and DeMarcus Ware (94) celebrate after Spencer recovered a Cleveland fumble - The Boys Are Back blog

Let Anthony Spencer and DeMarcus Ware loose. If they don’t dominate, this season is dead.

Defensive end Jason Hatcher mentioned the need for the defensive line "to do more" to make up for the off-the-street newcomers the Cowboys have to put on the field. That’s nice and all, but it needs to come from the Cowboys’ two best defensive players.

No doubt that’s Spencer and Ware, in that order, at this point.

"Whoever’s out on the field just has to do their jobs," said Spencer, who is having a career year while playing on a one-year, franchise-tag deal. "We can’t really get to the point where everybody’s trying to do too much and messing up on their responsibilities."

Asked if the outside linebackers needed to dominate, Ware subtly noted that they’ve been watching a lot of coverage tape before concluding, "We put a lot on our backs to get out there and perform."

Dallas Cowboys outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware (94) pressures Cleveland Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden - The Boys Are Back blog

A rough reading between the lines: Hey Rob, let ’em rush the passer. Put your best players in position to do what they do best.

Not exactly rocket science, but all the dudes on that defense who still need directions to Valley Ranch aren’t ready for complicated schemes anyway. Keep it simple and count on Spencer (6.5 sacks this season) and Ware (10.0) to be disruptive forces.

The weak three-man rushes aren’t working. We shouldn’t see Ware or Spencer drop back into coverage on a third down the rest of the season. Especially not Ware, who has a two-game sackless streak going for the first time since Ryan’s arrival in Dallas.

Dallas Cowboys team captain DeMarcus Ware fires up teammates - The Boys Are Back blog

OK, let’s blend in a little ray of sunshine with all the injury related gloom and doom. If you want a little hope, go back to the last time the Cowboys were in a playoff race and actually finished strong.

Spencer and Ware were the dominant forces during the Cowboys’ defense-fueled four-game winning streak the end of the 2009 season, including the franchise’s only playoff victory in the past decade and a half.

Ware racked up 4 sacks, 11 quarterback pressures and 2 forced fumbles during that late-season win streak. Spencer had 5 sacks, 10 pressures, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery during that run.

That span started with arguably the best performance of Ware’s career, when he had two strip sacks to key a Superdome shocker over the previously undefeated New Orleans Saints only six days after leaving Cowboys Stadium on a stretcher with a neck injury. That overshadowed an outstanding performance by Spencer, who had 7 tackles, 3 pressures, 1.5 sacks and a fumble recovery in that win.

The Cowboys were a desperate team that night in New Orleans, having lost their previous two games, causing the discussion about Dallas’ December demons to reach deafening levels.

DeMarcus Ware, right, with Giants center David Baas, had two of the three sacks the Giants allowed - The Boys Are Back blog

Head coach Jason Garrett, doesn’t like the word "desperate," but how else would you describe a 6-6 team clinging to a playoff dream? If the Cowboys don’t beat a talented Cincinnati Bengals team, we might as well start talking about the draft around these parts.

To do that, they better get pressure on Dalton. If they don’t, the Cowboys’ secondary will be prominently featured on elite receiver A.J. Green’s highlight reel.

"I’ve got to step it up this week, get those plays, make those big plays this week to win the game," Ware said.

A helpful hint to Ryan: Release your two best hounds and let ’em hunt. It’s your only hope.

CINCITY SACKERS: Dallas Cowboys preparing for NFL’s leading pass rush

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IRVING, Texas – The Giants, Seahawks and Bears are all adept at creating pressure, but none of the teams Dallas has faced this season lead the NFL in sacks.

Dallas Cowboys players and coaches are all aware that honor goes to a Bengals squad they’ll see this weekend that’s averaging 3.25 sacks per game.

“We’ve faced some good fronts,” said head coach Jason Garrett. “There’s no question about that. I think the fronts in our division are awfully good. You know me, I don’t like to compare them too much, but this is an outstanding front.”

Former Cowboys defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer has figured out how to utilize his talent to the fullest in Cincinnati with the Bengals, who lead the league with 39 sacks. The constant pressure on the quarterback has also led to nine interception for the Bengals’ secondary.

“You’ve got to be alert for the pressure,” said tight end Jason Witten, one of the few Cowboys who remembers Zimmer personally from the coordinator’s time in Dallas. “He does a lot of different stuff, brings the safeties, so they do a good job with it. You’ve got to be able to handle it.”

Witten said protection will be vital this week against a defensive group containing four different players with at least four sacks. The tight end knows he might need to stay in more to help protect Tony Romo against the multitude of blitzes Zimmer’s likely to bring.

Even when the Bengals only rush four, they tend to figure out a way to generate pressure.

“There’s no question the emphasis is on protecting it,” Witten said. “We’ve seen what Tony does when he can have time, especially off the edge when they bring those linebackers and safeties. We’re going to have to solidify it.”

Offensive line coach Bill Callahan said the most difficult aspect of the Bengals’ pass rush is its versatility. They pressure quarterbacks in an assortment of ways with players coming from every direction. Zimmer isn’t afraid to blitz members of his secondary or use different personnel groupings and alignments.

“It’s fun to watch these guys play, but the challenge is there for us,” Callahan said. They’ll do it a variety of ways, whether it’s secondary pressure, linebacker pressure, or just generating a rush out of their front four. Having been in New York for four years, we’ve faced them many times. I can tell you that year by year you could see Mike’s defense getting better and better, and the front has really established itself.”

Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Michael Johnson (L) sacks Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III - The Boys Are Back blog

The Bengals feature two players on their defensive line who’ve already set career highs in sacks. Defensive end Michael Johnson and defensive tackle Geno Atkins both find themselves in the top 10 in sacks in the AFC.

Johnson has compiled eight sacks after totaling 11.5 sacks combined in his previous three seasons.

“You can see guys like Michael Johnson, who has come into his own, who has gotten bigger, gotten stronger,” Callahan said. “He’s really developed into a premier pass rusher. So just when you think we had the toughest rush in the league in Philadelphia, now we come into Cincinnati and we face a group that’s really well versed, really adept at everything.”

Cincinnati Bengals defensive tackle Geno Atkins - The Boys Are Back blog

Sacks don’t typically come in bulk from defensive tackles, but Atkins is defying that trend with 9.5 sacks this season, placing him No. 5 in the conference in the category. Callahan said Atkins, a former 2010 fourth-round draft pick from Georgia, can do just about everything a coach could want in a defensive tackle.

Bengals linebacker Rey Maualuga’s the AFC’s seventh-leading tackler, and Atkins opens many of the holes for him to bring down opposing backs.

“He’s one of the rare players in the league that can play with great power and leverage at the point of attack and control the point and keep the guards off the second level and linebackers,” Callahan said of Atkins. “Whenever you can control the guards in our league, those backers are free to run, so Ray Mauluga is making a lot of plays. I’m sure he’s taken him out to dinner quite a few times.”

KNOW THE ENEMY–SCOUTING REPORT: A. J. Green of the Cincinnati Bengals

Know the Enemy - A. J. Green - Cincinnati Bengals vs Dallas Cowboys - The Boys Are Back blog

Know The Enemy: A.J. Green – Click HERE to watch the video – Duration: 3:25

The second year wideout from UGA is one of the deadliest in the NFL. Check out the film with Bryan Broaddus to see what makes him so dangerous.

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