COWBOYS OFFSEASON OUTLOOK: Evaluating the offensive fits as 2014-2015 mini-camps conclude | Dallas Cowboys roster
IRVING, Texas – With the Dallas Cowboys 2014-2015 offseason practices now finished, here’s a breakdown of what to look for at each offensive position moving forward.
INSIDE THE 2014 PLAYBOOK: Dallas Cowboys offensive coordinator Scott Linehan sees strength in running | More deep shots downfield will stretch defenses
Scott Linehan is known for directing pass-heavy offenses. During his previous five seasons as Detroit’s offensive coordinator, no team threw the ball more. Over those 80 games, the Lions averaged 40.7 pass attempts per game, four more than the Dallas Cowboys averaged during that time.
So, it was somewhat surprising to hear the new Dallas Cowboys offensive play-caller talking on the radio about how Pro Bowl running back DeMarco Murray and the Dallas running game would be the team’s strength this season.
“Things that were done last year in the running game with DeMarco, the running style that was created here is really a good fit,” Linehan said recently on 105.3 The Fan. “That’s going to be our strength, being able to lean on that running game a little bit more than the past.
“Obviously, with this offensive line, this is going to be something that’s going to help our passing game. The looks that Dez [Bryant] started to get as the year went on, people started giving him the attention that Calvin [Johnson] and Randy Moss would get as far as getting those double coverage’s. You need to have those other facets of your offense as far as your running game.”
Linehan also mentioned how an increased emphasis on running the ball could lead to the Cowboys using a fullback more often than they did in 2013.
Four-year veteran Tyler Clutts is the only fullback on Dallas’ current roster. LSU fullback J.C. Copeland was one of 24 undrafted free agents signed Tuesday by the Cowboys. Copeland was considered one of the top blocking fullbacks in college football.
“The No. 1 goal, and I told Jason [Garrett] this when I came here, is to keep a lot of things the same,” Linehan said. “It’s a lot easier for the players to not have to change how they call things. To the naked eye, they’ll be similar.
“I just want to be an asset and bring some ideas that maybe haven’t been implemented that I can add to current things that were done well in the systems I’ve been around.
“Jason and I have a good background. … There are a lot of similarities. It’s just the language. I just basically made the commitment to transfer over what I’ve called things, the way people call things to keep it consistent for the players so they can step on the field and be ready to go from the get-go of OTAs.”
Historically, the Dallas Cowboys’ new offensive play-caller has never been afraid to stretch a defense by taking deep shots downfield.
He did it with Calvin Johnson and Randy Moss. Expect him to do the same with Dez Bryant in Dallas.
“That’s a big part of what I grew up in or believe in,” Linehan recently said. “It’s going to be our philosophy to do those kinds of things maybe a little more. I think we have the personnel for it, for sure. It’s a way to get people backed up a little bit and also create big plays.
“Everybody says it’s a low percentage play. Depending on the look, it’s a high percentage play, as long as you got weapons on the outside part of the field. I really believe we have that. We also have some big targets with our tight ends. Having the talent, the speed and the length we have at our skill positions I think it’s something you got to implement, and that really helps open up things for your running game as well.”
Going deep wasn’t a large part of the Dallas Cowboys offensive attack in 2013. Tony Romo ranked 17th in the NFL last season in pass attempts of 21 or more air yards.
“One of the most intriguing things for me coming here was we got some great weapons on offense,” Linehan said. “Obviously we’ve built a heck of an offensive line. Tony’s a proven player that I’ve always been a big fan of throughout his career. We’ve got a pretty decent receiver [Bryant] and a pretty decent tight end [Jason Witten]. Those guys are pretty good.”
Williams played in all 16 games, starting eight as the team’s No. 2 receiver last season. The third-round pick caught 44 passes for 736 yards and five touchdowns. Escobar, a second-round pick, was used sparingly, catching nine passes for 134 yards and two touchdowns from the tight end position.
“The Escobar kid … is a guy that’s kind of somewhat untapped at this point,” Linehan said. “It’s not because he doesn’t have the ability to do it. We really liked him [in Detroit] last year coming out in the draft. I followed him when he came here. Now that I’m working with him, I’m really excited to see what he can do for us, too
POINT AND COUNTERPOINT: DC Marinelli vs. OC Linehan – Debating which coaching change will impact the 2014-2015 Dallas Cowboys the most
IRVING, Texas – For some, it can still be an issue deciphering the specific roles of each coach after the various offseason changes, but it’s no issue picking out the most impactful move.
That is, without question, the move to make Rod Marinelli the defensive coordinator.
Dallas Cowboys officials can say whatever they want about Monte Kiffin’s new position by adding the title of assistant head coach, but the reality is Marinelli’s now in charge of the defense. It’s a switch that should help change the course of next season more significantly than any other coaching move.
For starters, Marinelli won’t need to do much to at least improve the defense from where it was at last year as the NFL’s worst total defense, allowing 415 yards per game. No other NFL team allowed even 400 yards per game.
In addition to earning the unwavering faith of all the many linemen who cycled in through Dallas last season, Marinelli also experienced recent success as a defensive coordinator in the NFL.
The Bears finished as the No. 5 total defense in Marinelli’s final season as the defensive coordinator for Chicago in 2012. Throughout Marinelli’s tenure, that defense had a penchant for pressure and takeaways. The Bears ranked in the top 10 in sacks, interceptions and forced fumbles in Marinelli’s final season as coordinator.
Since arriving as the defensive line coach last season, he’s preached the importance of finishing. A sack is not enough to Marinelli. He wants the ball to pop out and for his linemen to be athletic enough to take that to the house. He’ll now get to preach the same objective to a wider audience on defense.
The Bears led the league with 24 interceptions in his final season in Chicago, returning eight of them for touchdowns. Chicago also ranked in the top 10 in total defense two out of three times during Marinelli’s three years as coordinator.
Now, this is a different team he’s dealing with. His personnel in Chicago undoubtedly played a role in those numbers. But Marinelli’s recent past gives reason to believe this defense has a better chance to succeed under his tutelage, and no one would have scoffed had this changed been made last season. Any marginal change will be an improvement from finishing last in the league, but he gives the Cowboys the potential to be better than just “not the worst.”
On the other side of the ball, the Dallas Cowboys realigned a coach (Bill Callahan) who’s now still on the staff and part of the game-planning process on offense while adding to the mix a new play-caller (Scott Linehan) and voice for the offense with new terminology.
Last year, owner/general manager Jerry Jones said it was his intention for Jason Garrett to be significantly less involved on offense before circumstances changed the original plan. Will that happen again if the offense is out of sync early on as it adjusts to Scott Linehan’s offense?
The decision to make Marinelli the defensive coordinator is the major move everyone was waiting for, and it’s the move that will make the most impact among the various changes that occurred to the coaching staff this offseason.
It makes sense for the focus of this offseason to rest squarely on the Dallas Cowboys defense.
We’re talking about a unit that finished last in the NFL and was the worst in franchise history. The Cowboys surrendered 500 and 600 yard days, 40 and 50-point totals and first downs galore in 2013; in 2014, they changed their defensive coordinator from Monte Kiffin to Rod Marinelli.
All eyes will be on how the defense improves, and it will certainly have to if the Dallas Cowboys are going to compete for anything meaningful. For the money, though, the real improvement comes on offense, which is also under new management in the form of offensive coordinator Scott Linehan.
The story is well-known by now: Jason Garrett brought in an old colleague in Linehan – someone with similar offensive philosophies to himself – to oversee the passing game and manage play calling duties in place of Bill Callahan.
Both Marinelli and Linehan have had their share of success at these positions before. Chicago led the league in turnovers and finished fifth in total defense under Marinelli’s supervision in 2012. With Linehan serving as offensive coordinator, Detroit finished sixth, third and fifth in total offense in the past three seasons.
Take a look at who each coordinator is working with for your answer about which unit will look better in 2014. The defense could possibly lose Jason Hatcher and Anthony Spencer, and there is the ever-present question about whether DeMarcus Ware returns – or how well he’ll play if he does. The secondary remains a question mark, particularly at safety, and the linebacker corps appears unsettled – its lone constant, Sean Lee, is once again returning from injury.
Yes, it’s likely that Marinelli will have some new draft picks to work with, and there’s no telling what free agency could bring. As much as that might help, though, any rookie contributions would have to be substantial to bolster the Dallas Cowboys standing that much.
Meanwhile, this Dallas offense – which finished a surprisingly mediocre 16th in total offense – returns four of the team’s five Pro Bowlers from 2013. The Cowboys have 2013 Pro Bowlers at wide receiver, left tackle, tight end, and running back. Although not an award winner last season, Tony Romo has a few accolades of his own.
Everyone knows the gaudy numbers Linehan was able to put up with Calvin Johnson and Matt Stafford in Detroit, and that can only benefit Romo and Dez Bryant. Similarly, it should open up opportunities for Jason Witten, Terrance Williams, and even Cole Beasley to get more involved.
And take a look at the Lions’ 2013 rushing totals before you worry about DeMarco Murray’s production. Murray is coming off his first 1,000 yard season and his first Pro Bowl nod, and the Dallas Cowboys will undoubtedly want to continue that momentum.
Fortunately, 2013 saw Reggie Bush manage just the second 1,000-yard season of his career under Linehan in Detroit. The Lions offense also produced a 650-yard, eight-touchdown effort from backup Joique Bell. The two backs weren’t exactly slouches in the passing game, either. Bell caught 53 balls for 547 yards, while Bush nabbed 54 for 506.
None of that accounts for an offensive line that may finally be considered a strength of this team. Anchored by Tyron Smith and bolstered by the addition of Travis Frederick, the Dallas offensive line caught fire in the second half of 2013.
So it’s not as if I think Linehan is a better coach than Marinelli, and I’m also not saying Marinelli can’t improve this defense. I don’t think there’s any argument Linehan has more to work with, though, and that should show when the offense returns to its more explosive ways.
COORDINATING THE COORDINATORS: Jerry Jones confirms that Jason Garrett, not Bill Callahan, was the Dallas Cowboys offensive coordinator in 2013
INDIANAPOLIS – Owner/general manager Jerry Jones shed some light today on head coach Jason Garrett’s role in the offense last year, which was greater than expected going into the season.
Jones said it’s a fact that Garrett was really the offensive coordinator last year, despite Bill Callahan having that title. The Dallas Cowboys entered the year with a plan to lighten Garrett’s offensive load, but that didn’t come to fruition the way they’d planned.
“That was one of the issues,” Jones said. “It was unfair to Bill, but it was the offense that we’d had since we got there and it was very difficult. That’s why we had such a hard time articulating it early. That’s why we made some of the switches we made during the middle of the season. All of it was just manifested by the fact that it was just very difficult for Jason to get out of that role.”
Jones said Garrett ended up having “the last pencil down all the way through.” The original plan and design for Callahan to call the plays and serve as the play-caller changed, and Jones said Callahan was frustrated and should have been.
Jones still called Callahan “a hell of a coach” and said he’ll be involved heavily in the offense this year, although the offense will focus around incoming offensive coordinator and play-caller Scott Linehan.
“There’s a difference when you’re sitting in the room as the head coach and you say, ‘Wait a minute, you put some salt and pepper in there,’” Jones said. “Then, after it’s already been cooked and you’re tasting it outside the room and you say it might need a little salt and pepper. There’s a big difference. One you’re involved in the cooking, and one you’re not. Jason was involved in the cooking last year. That’s just a fact, and everybody knows that, really, or should. That won’t be the case this year, and the addition of Linehan caused that. So it will be cooked.” (Translation: “Too many cooks in the kitchen” … “the main Chef was being burned”)
The explanation can get confusing, and the answers get a little more convoluted when it comes to the play-calling process between Callahan, Garrett, quarterbacks coach Wade Wilson, and Tony Romo. But the bottom line is Garrett had more say in the offense than originally planned (or publically disclosed), and Jones added that Romo had the final say play-calling say.
“More importantly than anything, the guy that’s ultimately calling the plays is on the football field, the quarterback, Romo,” Jones said. “He’s the one that’s got the check outs, he’s the one that’s got the ability to decide the run, pass, a lot of options and not just in the red zone and not just in hurry-up, two-minute. Not just there, although he was really predominant in the red zone and really dominant in no-back, that type thing.” (Translation: Tony Romo had veto power over Callahan that may be scaled back somewhat under Linehan)
Jones said last year Garrett felt he needed to have more of a presence on offense than originally planned. So, when did it become apparent that Callahan wasn’t going to be as involved in the play-calling as originally expected?
“That evolved as it went along,” Jones said. “Again, it evolved, but you get in situations during the season that have lesser time to sit back and say, ‘Wait, what are we doing here? How are we doing it?’ And make no mistake about it, it was something that was being discussed, which isn’t uncommon at all, vigorously in the staff rooms.”
Editors comments: Bill Callahan’s title of ‘Offensive Coordinator’ was always in “title only” used to fulfill the NFL rules in regard to hiring procedures. Callahan’s original responsibility (when he was hired) was to coach the offensive line and serve as the OL coordinator as it pertains to the passing and running phases. Last season, this was never Bill Callahan’s offense. As we’ve pointed out many times on The Boys Are Back website (last season), he was assigned the additional responsibility of ‘play-caller’ for Jason Garrett’s offensive game plans in an attempt to delegate a large portion of Garrett’s gameday focus. As the year progressed, changes were made in the way calls were delivered to Tony Romo. The chain of command was shortened (simplified) to a more fluid Box2Garrett2Romo delivery system.
All of this offseason talk about Callahan’s ‘demotion’ is ridiculous. His value to the Dallas Cowboys offense is (and has always been) his coaching of offensive linemen in the zone blocking scheme and also his input into their individual abilities as it pertains to the running and passing phases of Garrett’s system. Callahan is going back to what he does best … coach and consult. In simplified terms, looking ahead into this season, the Dallas Cowboys have a passing game coordinator, running game coordinator, and OL coordinator that help new actual offensive coordinator Scott Linehan formulate an offensive game plan. This will be Linehan’s offense. It will incorporate Jason Garrett’s offensive philosophy. You will see significant similarities (and production) to the Jason Garrett offense you’ve seen in the past. As the team moves ahead, look for a Linehan2Garrett2Romo or a direct Linehan2Romo delivery system to be utilized with this new structure.
VALLEY RANCH RESTRUCTURED: Expect Dallas Cowboys coaching changes to bring aggressive, attacking style on both sides of the ball
Here’s what to expect from the 2014 restructuring of the Dallas Cowboys coaching staff:
The differences with Rod Marinelli as the defensive coordinator
Nothing against George Selvie, Nick Hayden and what appeared to be the cast of thousands that played along the defensive line this past season. They were not what these defensive coaches believed they had before they went to Oxnard. Rod Marinelli and Leon Lett were outstanding in what they were able to do with the group that Jones and Will McClay assembled.
What you will see from Marinelli that you didn’t see from Monte Kiffin is playing more to the strengths of your personnel. Marinelli and the other coaches were not going to step on the toes of Kiffin and what he wanted to do scheme wise, that just was not their style.
You will see a more aggressive approach from Marinelli when it comes to attacking offenses. His defenses while he was with the Bears, were this way. His front seven played a huge role in how he called the game. You will still see some two deep schemes but you will see even more of the single high packages that they went to in the second half of the season in Dallas. Kiffin was more willing to sit there and play sound than he was to come after an offense. This is where Rod Marinelli was be totally different.
Changes with Scott Linehan as the new offensive play caller
The hiring of Scott Linehan as the offensive player caller for the Dallas Cowboys did catch many by surprise. Once Jason Garrett came out after the bye week and said that he would be the coach relaying the play call to Tony Romo, it signaled the end of Bill Callahan in that role.
At that point, some believed Garrett was coaching for his job and by taking over that role, he was trying to save it.
What Linehan can bring to the table is a scheme that will get Dez Bryant even more involved in the offense. During his NFL career, Linehan has made it a point to make the “X” receiver the focus of the passing game. We all witnessed firsthand what Calvin Johnson was able to accomplish with Linehan as the play caller.
What Garrett and Callahan were able to do later last season was move Bryant around to create some matchup opportunities which Linehan should build on. There were times during the Lions games where you observed Johnson playing out of the slot and with effectiveness.
We should also appreciate what Linehan was able to do with Reggie Bush in the backfield. There were creative ideas of where to line him up and how to get him the ball in space. That’s not to say that Lance Dunbar is Reggie Bush but the thought of what he can do with a loose-play running back is inviting.
Scott Linehan has moved the ball wherever he has coached and with this offense at key positions, he should once again have that opportunity.
Bill Callahan said coach Jason Garrett wanted to return to the relationship he used to have with Tony Romo on the sideline, one reason the Dallas Cowboys changed their play-calling mechanism.
“He’s had that relationship with him on the sideline in his career, and he wanted to get back to that a little bit more,” Callahan said Wednesday in his weekly meeting with reporters. “And he should, and rightfully so, as the head coach.”
Callahan, the offensive coordinator and play-caller, was joined in the coaches box by quarterbacks coach Wade Wilson last week. Wilson used to be on the sideline, receiving the play calls from Callahan and sending them to Romo. Now Garrett receives the calls and passes them to Romo.
But Callahan said that does not mean Garrett changes the calls.
“We’re all on the same page. Nothing’s changed in terms of the play-calling, whatsoever,” he said. “There’s not changes of plays, or anything like that. Here is what I think everyone needs to understand: that there’s great communication among the offensive coaches. Jason’s a part of this process, of game-planning, and being on the sideline during the game, I think he’s just become more active with Tony in that regard.”
Callahan said the changes wait until halftime.
“Then we’ll tweak it or we’ll look at what we want to amend or maybe bring up or possibly showcase a little bit more,” he said. “But really, there’s no changing of plays. There’s no power struggle or anything like that. I have this responsibility, and we communicate, I think, really well, as we have been. But anything that gets us going is always positive. If Coach feels it was a good change, we’re all for it. I was all for it.”
Asked for specifics on what Garrett communicates to him, Callahan said, “It’s more like, ‘What are you thinking on this series, Bill? What are your thoughts going into this next drive? What do you have going?’ He just wants to know, and that’s communicated. ‘We’re gong to do this, we’re going to try to get to this personnel grouping, we’re going to try to get to this run or this group of passes.’ That’s what’s communicated, essentially, on the headset during the course of the game.”
PRYING EYES IN THE SKY: Communication tweaked in the Dallas Cowboys offense by Wade Wilson elevation
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — For all the discussions regarding Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett’s move to relay the offensive plays to quarterback Tony Romo for Sunday’s game against the New York Giants, it was all about improving communication and reiterating the value of quarterbacks coach Wade Wilson.
This season when Bill Callahan took over the play-calling duties, Wilson moved into the role of relaying the signals to Romo. But when Garrett decided to take over for the Giants game, Wilson moved to the press box and tight ends coach Wes Phillips moved to the sidelines.
Cowboys officials contend Wilson helped in the play calling by seeing the defense from the press box, in comparison from the sidelines because he can recognize defenses better.
“I thought it was an opportunity to get Wade upstairs to see the game that way,” Garrett said. “Wade has great eyes. He sees the game as well as anybody I know. Just getting him up there I thought was good for us. We brought Wes Phillips down and Wes does a great job just interacting with the players and I just thought the whole thing worked out well.”
The Cowboys’ offense wasn’t great, the windy conditions had something to do with it, but Romo threw for 250 yards and finished a solid game-winning fourth-quarter drive to help the Cowboys defeat the Giants, 24-21.
The rushing attack had a solid effort, gaining 107 total yards including 86 from starter DeMarco Murray. While the third-down issues continued, going 4-for-12 overall, the Cowboys needed to do something with the offense.
Dallas Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones said the change wasn’t about Garrett or Callahan but more about Wilson helping the offense.
“That’s the wrong interpretation of the decision,” Jones said when asked whether it was about Garrett. “The decision was to give Wade, who is standing on the sidelines an aerial view of the field. It was all about that and it’s a skill that we’ve long [for], since [we] haven’t taken advantage of Wade Wilson. Wade Wilson is outstanding and can do a better job for us.”
Jason Garrett: Dallas Cowboys vs. New York Giants postgame press conference
BOYS BYE-WEEK BREAKDOWN: All tight ends, including James Hanna should be more involved in the offense
Dallas Cowboys Tight Ends Breakdown
This article is part of a series. To see all related posts, click HERE. Enjoy!
Top Performer: Jason Witten
It’s no surprise that Jason Witten continues to play at the level that he has. Despite all the battles that this veteran has seen, there still is that skill when it comes to route running and securing the ball when it is thrown in his direction. What all these seasons in the league has done for Witten, it has allowed him to become crafty of a player. When it comes to the ins and outs of offensive football, Jason Witten would be that guy to ask. He has such an outstanding working knowledge of what teams are trying to do to him and how he needs to combat them.
Jason Garrett has told us many times, there is nothing new of Witten having to fight through these defensive schemes that are trying to take him out of the game. Where Witten has been at his best, is when he does get those opportunities to work against single coverage and find that space. These offensive coaches, are working the ball to Witten in the red zone. It’s never a bad situation to put your best player in when it comes to catching the ball in tight spaces. Jason Witten has proven, he can consistently deliver in that role, which he has all season.
Need More From: James Hanna
Offensive coaches need to get James Hanna more involved in the offense but doesn’t appear that will be the case. Like Lance Dunbar, there are things that Hanna can do to help this offense in the passing game. For example, more routes up the field, instead of those chances that he just gets in the flat. If Hanna is not going to be used in the passing game, then expect more from him at the point of attack in the running game.
On DeMarco Murray’s 35-yard run against the Saints, Hanna had an outstanding kick-out block on Kenny Vacarro that allowed Murray to sneak inside of him. Jason Witten sealed the edge that got Murray to the 2nd level and off to the races. Where Hanna has had his struggles is when he hasn’t been as powerful as he needed to be and he gets compressed into the backfield causing the ball to be stopped for no gain or even for a loss. Where this offense needs to take advantage of Hanna is allowing him to block on the move like he did in the Saints game. He is a much better player when he can attack a defense this way because of his athletic ability to stay on his feet and run with his man. Regardless, this offense needs more from James Hanna on the edge.
Six-Game Forecast: Tight ends are a safe, high percentage tool for extending drives
These games down the stretch are going to be tough and tight which requires your players to be at their absolute best when it comes to executing plays. The safest route when trying to control or finish games is how you use your tight ends in certain situations.
Despite the fact that we have really only seen Jason Witten as that go to guy. James Hanna and even Gavin Escobar are going to have to make some tough plays down the stretch. All three of these tight ends have the ability to get down the field and secure the ball when it is thrown in their direction. You use your tight ends, when you want to make simple, easy throws. We understand that their “11” and “01” personnel groups might be their best packages when it comes to moving the ball, but there will be a game or two where this “12” personnel group will be the difference in the outcome in the game.
There is just too much talent with these tight ends not to fully take advantage of their ability. These final six games will prove that to be the case.
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.
The Dallas Cowboys entered the 2013 NFL bye-week in the same position they’ve finished the past two seasons – with a .500 record.
Unlike the way those other seasons ended, the Dallas Cowboys currently find themselves atop the NFC East standings. Translation: If the playoffs started tomorrow, the Dallas Cowboys would be hosting the Carolina Panthers in a Wild Card game.
But since the playoffs don’t begin Sunday and the Cowboys don’t have a game this weekend, it’s a good time to see how they stack up against the other 31 teams in several categories.
According to Pro Football Focus, here are how some of your favorite Dallas Cowboys compare to other players around the NFL:
2013-2014 DALLAS COWBOYS OFFENSE
- Tony Romo is ranked No. 12 among quarterbacks. A few of the most interesting names ahead of him: Miami’s Ryan Tannehill, Chicago’s Jay Cutler and Atlanta’s Matt Ryan.
- Just grading Romo as a passer, he ranks seventh.
- Romo trails Cincinnati’s Andy Dalton in number of drop backs. Dalton 496, Romo 399, New Orleans’ Drew Brees 391, Detroit’s Matthew Stafford 389, Matt Ryan 389.
- Romo received the offense’s lowest grade for the 49-17 loss in New Orleans.
- Over the last five weeks, Romo has posted his four lowest grades of the year.
- Dez Bryant ranks 13th among the league’s wide receivers. Cole Beasley is 36th, Miles Austin is 84th and Terrance Williams is 90th.
- Beasley is No. 1 in the league in percentage caught, hauling in 76.5 percent of the passes thrown in his direction. Williams led this category earlier in the year but has since fallen to 66th, catching 58 percent of the passes thrown to him. Williams, however, does lead the team in yards per reception at 17.2, 12th best in the NFL.
- Doug Free is No. 13 among offensive tackles. Tyron Smith is No. 15.
- Although he hasn’t played in the last two games, Brian Waters is still the team’s highest-graded guard, ranking 24th. Mackenzy Bernadeau, who had the offense’s best grade against New Orleans, is 31st and Ron Leary is 49th.
- Rookie Travis Frederick is eighth among centers.
- Surprisingly, the Dallas Cowboys, who are 26th in the NFL in rushing, are graded as the eighth-best run blocking team.
- Among tight ends, Jason Witten is No. 17. The biggest knock on the eight-time Pro Bowler is his run blocking. He ranks 29th in that category.
- DeMarco Murray has missed two games but he still ranks 12th among running backs. Murray is No. 5 in blocking among backs.
2013-2014 DALLAS COWBOYS DEFENSE
- George Selvie had been one of the top 10 defensive ends in a 4-3 scheme earlier in the year but three negative grades over the last five weeks have dropped him to 27th. DeMarcus Ware is No. 9.
- Of the 80 outside linebackers graded, Ernie Sims is 78 and Bruce Carter is 77.
- Jason Hatcher is third among defensive tackles. Nick Hayden is the lowest-graded defensive tackle in the league.
- Sean Lee is sixth among inside linebackers.
- Cornerback grades: Orlando Scandrick 31, Brandon Carr 46, Morris Claiborne 86.
- Barry Church is the Cowboys’ top-rated safety, tied for 25th in the league.
2013-2014 DALLAS COWBOYS SPECIAL TEAMS
- Dan Bailey is third among kickers, trailing only Denver’s Matt Prater and Carolina’s Graham Gano.
- Dwayne Harris is No. 3 among returners. He’s 18th on punt returns and second on kick returns, trailing only Minnesota’s Cordarrelle Patterson.
The Dallas Cowboys finished with single-digit rushing attempts for the first time in team history.
They ran just nine rushing plays Sunday against the Vikings, despite never trailing by more than a touchdown. It marked the least amount of rushing attempts by the Dallas Cowboys since running 10 times in a playing from behind 34-7 loss to the Eagles on Oct. 30, 2011.
“Oftentimes when you look at the stat sheet, when you throw it the last 18 times in a game because of what the game situation is, that can skew those numbers,” said head coach Jason Garrett. “But having said all that, we need to run it more.”
The Dallas Cowboys actually ran the ball well in the first quarter, rushing four times for 25 yards, including two carries for 25 yards by DeMarco Murray in the running back’s return from a knee injury. But they only ran five more rushing plays the rest of the game, as Tony Romo threw the ball 51 times. The Cowboys finished with 36 yards on the ground.
“You’d certainly like to have more balance than that, obviously,” Garrett said. “We’ll keep striving for that. We did run the ball a little bit fairly well early on. DeMarco looked like he was going to have a good day, but as it wore on there were some minus runs that happened that got us behind the sticks a little bit.”
Interesting historical reference:
During Bill Callahan’s tenure as head coach/offensive coordinator for the Oakland Raiders, his Raider offense led the NFL in rushing (in 2000) and led the league in passing (in 2002). In 2002, the Raiders became the first team to win games in the same season while rushing at least 60 times (against Kansas City in a 24–0 win) and passing at least 60 times (against Pittsburgh in a 30–17 win). His 11-5 Raiders faced the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the end of their 2002 season. The Bucs were coached by his former boss, Jon Gruden. Bill Callahan kept Gruden’s old playbook more or less intact. The Bucs had so much information about the Raiders’ offensive scheme that they knew exactly what plays were coming. Oakland suffered a lopsided defeat in Super Bowl XXXVII, losing 48–21, to Gruden’s new team. In 2003, the Oakland Raiders finished 4-12. Callahan was fired by Al Davis, replaced with Norv Turner
Three points immediately come to mind regarding Dallas Cowboys playcaller Bill Callahan. One, he does not necessarily believe balance is necessary to win. As you can see (above), he’s won games with both extremes. The question remains, how many games did he lose with that imbalance. The answer is 7 times in his 2003 season, when he went 4-12.
Second, the Dallas Cowboys offense is wildly inconsistent. Callahan shows a tendency to completely dismiss successful plays executed one week, when oftentimes, they would be appropriate the following week. Players that show a spark and hot-hand during a game are frequently overlooked during the remaining portion of the game. As a fan, how many times have you honestly believed the Cowboys would be participating in a blowout or shootout, because of mismatch opportunities provided by opponents? More often than not, what we see is a low scoring, mostly defensive or special teams standout plays that keep the Cowboys in games.
Third, opponents know what’s coming. These are still largely Jason Garrett’s plays … without Romo’s ‘out of the box’ sparks. No designed rollouts for Romo to speak of. Predictable plays called during pivotal moments in games. Four running backs, four tight ends on the roster … each with unique skills and characteristics. Yet, no multi-back sets to base run and pass plays off of. No multi-back sets to provide forward momentum against an advancing pass rush or blitz. No multi-back sets to provide the vision advantage a blocker can use to bang open a running hole, or slip out to become an eligible receiver. There are reasons why the I-formation, split-back, and multi-back sets are predominate in all levels of football. With a total of eight players (nine including FB/LB Kyle Bosworth) built for blocking, the Dallas offense can’t establish a run? Why aren’t formations being designed with this in mind? You blame the offensive line for any of this? If so, Callahan has nine players (running backs, tight ends, and Bosworth) to bolster them until they mesh on their own. Use them. Put a wide receiver, tight end, or running back in motion … to help create a lane or stop a penetrating defender.
Romo standing alone the new 5-wide spread formation does little if he doesn’t have blockers behind him to allow for that obvious pass play. Not to mention, your telegraphing pass because there is no running back in the box. This is a great idea if you stay with it on a scripted drive and/or use it in a hurry-up situation. You can rotate players (edge) to keep fresh legs on sustained drives. For example, after the play is run, swap out Harris for Dunbar before you snap the ball again. Any number of combination hot swaps could make this formation scary for defensive coordinators.
My contention is this. If you’re imbalanced on offense, you put yourself in come from behind situations. If you’re balanced, you’re scoring. Their defense is guessing. If you show an imbalanced look (scheme), you’re telegraphing. Their defense is not guessing. Run multiple plays off of a base scheme (formation) that can be used for run or pass … or screen or end around … or reverse or draw … or play-action or rollouts. From that base formation, move Romo behind center … use him some in the pistol … or back in the shotgun occasionally.
The 2013-2014 Dallas Cowboys has more star-power (a subsequent salary cap dollars) on offense than on the defense or special teams. With very few exceptions, through nine games, it’s not the offensive stars producing the excitement and scoring … especially lately. The defense and special teams are providing ample sparks and opportunities.
With strong arm Tony Romo, freak Dez Bryant, dasher DeMarco Murray, future famer Jason Witten, hands James Hanna, developing Gavin Escobar, elusive (when healthy) Miles Austin, emerging Terrance Williams, clutch Cole Beasley, sprinter Dwayne Harris, speedy Lance Dunbar, pounder Phillip Tanner, and workhorse Joseph Randle … this offense is underperforming. They should be scoring in the forties … consistently. Can you imagine what other offensive minded coaches could do, and would do, with these weapons? If Bill Callahan doesn’t figure out a way, someone else will. The Denver game showed the potential. Nearly every other game exposed the flaws.
CALLAHANDOFF QUESTION: Why does the Dallas Cowboys stop trying to run before you can even establish a run game?
Why do the Dallas Cowboys abandon the run? DeMarco Murray looks healthy, and he got 4 carries in the game. They stopped trying to run before they could even establish a run game.
Nick: Did they abandon the run or could they simply not run the ball and so they scrapped it? I think it’s somewhere in the middle. This team hasn’t been able to run it effectively for about two years. I think Brian Waters’ injury was bigger than we thought it’d be. All of a sudden Doug Free looked bad? I think Waters has helped him just by being in the lineup. But yes, there are times the Cowboys don’t run it enough. I think this was one of these games.
Rowan: I was all for spreading it out and tossing the ball around, but I’ll admit nine runs in a game that was this tight throughout is kind of shocking. More than that, the backs never really had a chance to get going as they took a whole lot of delayed runs in shotgun and were met in the backfield. The backs actually had some success with four runs for 25 yards in the first quarter. Then, we never really saw them again.
David: I don’t mind that the Cowboys don’t commit to the run in a strict sense. But I do mind that they talk often about balance and controlling the game, and then they throw 51 times compared to nine total runs. Either accept that you can’t or don’t want to run, or actually make the effort to run. Murray was averaging eight yards per carry, but he disappeared.
CHANNELING THE X-FACTOR: Jason Garrett has talk with Dez Bryant; team appreciates his passion and emotion (Special Feature)
Jason Garrett talked to Dez Bryant after Sunday’s game, encouraging the receiver to put his passion and emotion to better use than with sideline outbursts.
“You talk to him very direct, man-to-man and you just say, ‘Hey, we’ve got to get locked in on what’s happening,’” Garrett said on his weekly radio show on KRLD-FM 105.3. “We appreciate the passion, the enthusiasm. That’s what we want from all of our players. The great players have that, the great teams have that, but you just have to focus it and channel it. He understands that.”
Since Bryant received national headlines for his behavior on the sideline Sunday, including criticism from analyst Brian Billick during the telecast, the Cowboys repeatedly have defended Bryant, insisting his emotional outbursts are not a distraction.
TV cameras twice caught sideline rants by Bryant. In the third quarter, Bryant appeared to be expressing his displeasure at not getting the ball more. Tony Romo targeted Bryant six times in the game, with Bryant catching three passes for 72 yards and two touchdowns.
After the Lions scored with 12 seconds left, Bryant had a heated exchange with teammates Jason Witten and DeMarcus Ware, who said they were trying to calm down Bryant and get him focused for the final play.
“I know everybody wants to read into Dez’s emotion on the sidelines, but contrary to popular belief, he’s not as negative as you would think over there,” Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones said on his radio show on KRLD-FM 105.3. “He’s not every time that happens, saying, ‘Give me the ball! Give me the ball! Give me the ball!’ He’s encouraging in his way. Obviously, everyone has their opinion, and they’ll have that. But Dez will be fine.
“…It’s not an issue. The only thing Jason Witten was telling him, ‘Get your mind right here. We may have to get back out and try a Hail Mary.’ …Dez is highly competitive. He really wants to win the game. Winning is important to him.”
Editors note: Bill Billick was selected in the 11th round of the 1977 NFL Draft by the San Francisco 49ers but was cut by the 49ers and the Dallas Cowboys, and never played in the NFL. Billick coached for the Minnesota Vikings from 1992-1998, and was the head coach of the Baltimore Ravens from 1999-2007.
RELATED: Dez Bryant explains his sideline emotions
Dez Bryant wants to make it perfectly clear: He is a team player who wants nothing except to win.
Bryant talked for some 15 minutes Monday, explaining his sideline behavior that drew national attention during the Dallas Cowboys’ 31-30 loss tot he Lions. He said he is misunderstood outside the locker room.
“I think for the most part, all of my teammates, they know,” Bryant said. “They know how much I love this game. They know we compete; we battle; we go hard. It’s all about wanting to win. But I honestly feel – me speaking for myself – that’s the kind of attitude you have to have to try to get where you want to go.”
The Cowboys have defended Bryant, whom TV cameras caught ranting on the sideline twice.
The first came in the third quarter after a Tony Romo incompletion on a pass intended for Dwayne Harris on third down, leading to a field goal and a 13-7 lead. Bryant yelled at Romo, receivers coach Derek Dooley and head coach Jason Garrett, none of whom seemed to pay him much attention.
Bryant said he was not demanding the ball, though he had only two catches for 22 yards to that point.
“It wasn’t directly to [Romo],” Bryant said. “It was like, ‘Our defense, they’re getting turnovers. We’ve got to help them out.’ I’m saying that to everybody, including myself. We’ve got to help them out.”
After the Lions scored to take the lead with 12 seconds remaining, Bryant and tight end Jason Witten were seen yelling at each other with defensive end DeMarcus Ware stepping in calm Bryant. Witten and Bryant both said the tight end was trying to get Bryant to focus on the task at hand, which was a final offensive play.
Bryant said his relationship with Romo and Witten remains solid.
“All Witt was doing was trying to get me focused and get me ready for the next play,” Bryant said. “I was just kind of heated, because they scored. As far as Romo, I know you all got sound bites and stuff on these cameras, I mean, or whatever, if you go back and look at it what I was saying to Romo, Terrance [Williams] just scored a touchdown and I was like, ‘They’re going to play him like that, keep throwing him the ball.’ From all the good stuff that was going on, go look at it. I had the same demeanor, the same demeanor. It was just one of those guys to where you know, we’ve got to win this game.”
Jason Garrett talked to his fourth-year receiver about Bryant better channeling his emotions.
“We love the passion,” Garrett said Monday. “We love the enthusiasm. Just got to keep the focus. We addressed it with him during the game. We addressed it with afterward. And he is going to be ready to go.”
Bryant said he has no regrets and will continue to wear his emotions on his jersey.
“No regrets,” he said. “It’s all love. Like I said, I know it looks crazy, but I promise you all it’s not.”
RELATED: Dez Bryant passionate about winning
Dez Bryant is not going to apologize for his antics on the sidelines. He’s a passionate and emotional player who is driven to win. Something, he said, that has been going on since he first stepped on a football field.
So, yes, he’s going to get into animated and sometimes heated conversations. He had a couple with quarterback Tony Romo and tight end Jason Witten in the second half of the Cowboys’ 31-30 loss to the Lions on Sunday afternoon at Ford Field.
And there will be more throughout his career.
“I love this game. I love my teammates,” Bryant said. “That’s what it is. It’s going to forever remain the same. It started in Pop Warner, went to middle school, went to high school, went to college, and it’s here. It’s going to stay that way. It won’t change.”
Nobody in the Cowboys’ locker room has any issues with Bryant wearing his heart on his sleeve. Jerry Jones, Jason Garrett and his teammates all approved of it in a positive light, saying passion is necessary to succeed in the NFL.
Here’s some reaction on Bryant’s sideline antics:
Jason Witten: “He has more passion than anyone I’ve ever played with. That’s a good thing to have. With 12 seconds left, we were all upset but there was still time left. I tried to communicate that. There was more football to play. We were going to get the ball back and the play we had drawn up, he was a big part of that play. We were trying to get him to calm down because we were going to try to get him the ball on that play.”
Tony Romo: “He’s a competitive guy. … He’s never complained to me about getting the ball. He knows the ball is going to where it’s supposed to. He knows that. I think more than anything it’s about him willing the team. When you guys see emotion sometimes from Dez, it’s just rah rah more than it is being a me guy. That’s not who Dez is. I think that would be completely out of character for him for it to be a me situation. He does a great job…sometimes, it’s come on guys, we’re better than this, really emotionally. But he’s never a selfish guy.”
Jason Garrett: “Dez is a very passionate player. He is a very competitive player. He gets a lot of attention from the opposing defenses. He wanted the football. We want guys who want the football. Dez has never been a distraction to our team. He is a really positive asset to our team on the field and off. The way he works. The passion for the game. That is good stuff.”
Jerry Jones: “That’s emotion and I don’t place any issue on his demeanor or his sideline activity. He’s a very emotional player and this was a tough game for him to compete in because he wanted to really contribute and do everything he could for the team and to win. I have no issue at all in terms of criticizing him for sideline demeanor or sideline behavior.”
Related: Dez Bryant sideline audio (1:53) – (Watch Video)
Want to find out what Dez Bryant says during his sideline appeals vs. the Detroit Lions? Watch and listen as he interacts with quarterback Tony Romo, players, and Dallas Cowboys coaches.
Dez Bryant spoke to the media on Monday for an extended period of time to try to clear up what happened on the sideline on Sunday.
In Detroit, the Dallas Cowboys had 134 yards in the first three quarters. They had 134 in the fourth quarter.
“Give them credit,” Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo said. “That was a very good front we just played against. It felt eerily similar to the Minnesota game up in the dome in the playoffs, scheme-wise and a little bit with the way they were able to rush the passer. If you can rush the passer like that in this environment, it’s going to be a very tough place to play. You’re not going to be able to get to your progressions, and you’re not going to be able to get the ball to certain spots. I thought the guys did a good job as the game went on, giving us a little more time to get to the second and third reads. We were able to exploit that a little bit more.”
In the past three games, Tony Romo has completed only 56.1 percent of his passes for 693 yards – an average of 231 a game – with five touchdowns and three interceptions.
The Cowboys went 2-1 the past three games, averaging only 283 yards in them. And it’s not like the Cowboys have played some great defenses.
The Redskins were 32nd in total defense when the Cowboys played them three weeks ago. The Eagles ranked 32nd in total defense when the Cowboys played them two weeks ago. The Lions entered this week ranked 31st.
Brian Waters had not played football in a year and a half when he signed with the Dallas Cowboys on Sept. 4. It took him a couple of weeks, but playing guard apparently is like riding a bike for him. He has not missed a beat since taking over as the starting right guard in Week 4.
“He’s pretty darn close to being back to himself,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said Friday. “There’s no question about that. That was a concern, or something we talked about a lot, in bringing him back, understanding that he hadn’t played last year and didn’t go through training camp. We have a tremendous respect for the game and the level of competition that goes on every Sunday afternoon. So guys have to be ready to do that. He’s done it really well for a long time. So he had to get back in football shape and just move around and really get his feet underneath him, get his hands back, all that stuff that came so naturally to him for a long time. If you haven’t done it, it just takes you a little bit to get it back.
“I think conditioning, as much as anything else, was an issue for any player in his position. He was surprisingly in very good shape, wasn’t overweight when he first came back. He had to lose a little bit of weight, but more than anything else just get comfortable playing ball again. I think he’s done that over the last few weeks.”
Waters, 36, sat out the 2012 season, returning to football when the Dallas Cowboys signed him to a one-year, $3 million deal. The six-time Pro Bowler has allowed two sacks, according to STATS, and has one holding penalty.
“I’m working just like everybody else,” Waters said. “I’m trying to get better and better. There are some things in my game that I really feel like I need to fix. But I think that’s everybody. We’re Week 7. It’s a long season still yet, and hopefully we’ll have an extended part of our season. I’ve always said you want to be at your best at the end of the season, not at the beginning of the season, not in the middle. We definitely have a ways to go and individually I have a ways to go as well.”
Waters has no regrets about returning. He already lived in Dallas, so it was coming home in a way.
“I’m excited about that,” Waters said. “I’m still ecstatic.”
Watch Video | Play Audio
Offensive Line Ready To Face Their Biggest Test
Go inside the Dallas Cowboys locker room to see how the offensive line feels about their toughest test of the season so far.
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.
Save it, haters. Get a clue.
If you’re stressing the negative on Tony Romo, I’m not sure which game you watched Sunday. It certainly wasn’t the epic game of this NFL season. It certainly wasn’t the game in which Romo’s greatness was the only reason that the Dallas Cowboys even had a chance to trip up the unblemished Denver Broncos.
Frankly, I feel for you if this is what you’re punctuating.
The score was tied at 48, and Dallas had the ball at its own 14-yard line just before the two-minute warning. Romo dropped back to pass on second-and-16, and his throw was off the mark, picked off by Danny Trevathan. It was a brilliant defensive play.
Cue the refrain. Twitter nearly exploded. “Classic Romo in a big spot,” the haters cried. And yes, sadly, Romo did nothing to mitigate the “yeah, but” attached to his career. Tony Romo is a franchise quarterback, “yeah, but” he seemingly plays his worst when it matters the most.
But let’s not confuse things. Let’s not get it twisted.
If Romo truly were ordinary, Dallas would have lost by 20 points. If he put up just the strong numbers I projected in Thursday’s Schein Nine column, the Cowboys would have lost by 10.
But Romo did what an opposing quarterback had not done all season: He outplayed Peyton Manning. A lights-out performance from its QB is the only way a team can beat the Broncos, and that’s what Romo delivered. It cannot, it should not, it will not be overlooked, even though Dallas lost 51-48.
Romo threw for 506 yards, just 48 short of tying Norm Van Brocklin’s NFL single-game passing record. It was the first 500-yard passing game in Cowboys history. If you’re not aware, that history is long and storied. Romo is just the fifth quarterback in league history to throw for 500 yards and five touchdowns in a game.
Yeah, blame Romo. What is this, amateur hour?
When you go through the list of what’s right with Dallas, it starts with Romo. Is he perfect? Absolutely not. Is he on the same “elite” level as Manning, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees? Nope. But Romo clearly is on that next level of quarterbacks you can build a franchise around.
Just imagine if Romo played on a team with a top-flight defense or coach.
Monte Kiffin’s 28th-ranked defense couldn’t stop Manning on Sunday. The jury still is out as to whether or not it was a good call to bring in Kiffin and his Tampa 2 system with the personnel Dallas has. Let’s not gloss over the final score: The Broncos put up 51 points.
It’s also very easy to argue — factoring in time, score and timeouts — that Jason Garrett should have let Denver score a touchdown after Romo’s pick to give Dallas’ offense a chance to get the ball back. I certainly was yelling at Garrett to do so. This is the same coach who’s had major issues with game and clock management and no longer calls the Cowboys’ plays, a change that was reflective of his poor work in that area.
So Romo doesn’t get any help from his defense. He doesn’t get any help from his coaches. And Jerry Jones’ oddly constructed Cowboys are 2-3, tied for first place in the horrid NFC East.
Romo is a top-10 NFL quarterback with whom you absolutely can win a championship. He ended the Broncos’ 15-game streak of winning by seven or more points, which is significant. CBS broadcast the game to the entire country, making it a “big spot.” If only Romo had a little help from his friends.
The haters call it a vintage Romo performance. But it underscores why I feel horrible for him.
Sorry, haters. You missed a great game and a truly great showing.
Dallas has problems. The quarterback isn’t one of them.
Courtesy: Adam Schein | NFL website
EXPLOSIVE MENTALITY: Dez Bryant believes Dallas Cowboys mindset from Broncos loss can be a new foundation for offense
Dez Bryant did not like the loss, but he thinks the Cowboys found something on offense out of it.
“I feel damned good about the way we played,” he said Monday at Valley Ranch. “I just feel like if we keep doing that, we can stack some wins up.”
Bryant, who caught six passes for 141 yards and two touchdowns, said the game can be a foundation for the offense.
“I think what we take from it is how explosive we played, the mindset that we had – to go out there and try to score on every possession,” he said. “I think we did a great job of that. It ain’t like we played some mediocre team. We just have to build on the success and learn from those mistakes that we made.”
Bryant said the Dallas Cowboys showed something in coming back from a 35-20 deficit.
“We were explosive. We didn’t back down like everybody expected us to,” he said. “We went in at halftime, 28-20, and they came back out and scored. It was 35-20. I know a lot of people thought we were going to fold. Terrance came back over the top, 82 yards, big-yard play for a TD, big post route.”
Bryant described the mentality the Cowboys took in facing off against the league’s top quarterback and offense.
“It was to fight, fight, fight,” Bryant said. “We knew it was going to be a battle going in. Like I said, we weren’t going to back down, and we didn’t. Like I said, we just have to take care of some minor things, which I feel like, each and every week, those minor things are decreasing. So we’ve just got to keep on. We’ve got to stack plays on top of plays – good plays.”
Football is a game of competing minds. The Dallas Cowboys’ coaches must not only figure out what their players do best, but they need to determine how they can play to their players’ strengths while knowing that the opposing coaches are trying to limit the effectiveness of those strengths. In many situations, that can lead to counterintuitive thinking; the Patriots, for example, do such a great job of taking away an opponent’s best option that, in many situations, it’s optimal to build the game plan around “sub-optimal” players. Quite the paradox.
The study of this sort of decision-making – the type that’s governed by rational minds, often in a zero-sum game (just like football) – is known as game theory. The best way to make sense of the concepts behind game theory is with an example.
The Cowboys have historically had the most success running to the weak side and from spread formations, i.e. where they have the fewest blockers. It’s not inherently advantageous to run where there aren’t any blockers, of course, but since defenses typically have fewer defenders in those areas, the net effect is positive.
So why don’t the Cowboys just run to the weak side all the time? Well, that would obviously be a problem since defenses would catch on quite quickly, negating the advantage the Cowboys once possessed. So NFL offenses need to find some sort of balance, running optimal plays as much as they can before defenses defend them differently. The point that will maximize overall efficiency is known as the Nash equilibrium. In regards to run location, that point is where the efficiency of weak-side runs matches that of strong-side runs. And since NFL teams are still much more successful when running to the weak side, it follows that they should be doing it more often.
NFL coaches obviously don’t need to concern themselves with the specifics of equilibriums and complex decision theory, but they should be doing two things: 1) calling the “unexpected” in an effort to remain one step ahead of the opponent, and 2) determining when it’s best to play to your strengths and when you should be focused on exploiting opponent weaknesses (or, preferably, both).
Expect the Unexpected
Thus far through two preseason games, we’ve already seen a change in the Cowboys’ play-calls. Although they’ve expectedly stayed “vanilla,” the ’Boys have still run the ball way more often to the perimeter and thrown more screen passes than what we saw in 2012. Those play-types suggest that Callahan is at least taking opponents’ actions into account when picking plays – a rudimentary form of game theory.
So without further ado, here are the “unexpected” play-types, the plays that might be sub-optimal in a vacuum but most beneficial in practice, that the Cowboys should consider running more often in 2013.
There’s no single type of play that I’d like to see more in 2013 than the counter. Counters take a long time to develop and there’s a bigger opportunity for negative yardage than on a dive or other quick-hitting run, but there’s also a (much) larger probability of hitting a home run. From 2009 to 2011, Dallas averaged over 7.0 yards per carry (YPC) on counters! They ran only six of them last year, however, likely due to concerns about the offensive line.
And as mentioned, weak-side runs are usually best. The Cowboys have actually increased their rate of weak side runs, which was as low as 19.5 percent, every year since 2009. In 2012, it was nearly double that.
Everyone seems to believe that the Cowboys need to run the ball more often to take pressure off of Tony Romo (which is a form of game theory itself), but why not run more screens? Screens are high-percentage passes that can hold back pass-rushers, generating the same effect you’d want from a handoff (risk minimization), but with higher upside.
Dallas ran only 24 screens in all of 2012, and 16 of those were to receivers. Those aren’t the screen passes I’m talking about (although they can be useful at times). Rather, the Cowboys look like they’re going to run more running back screens under Callahan, which shouldn’t be difficult considering they called an average of one every two games last season. With exceptional pass-catching backs, there’s no reason that we shouldn’t see more screens in 2013.
- Spread Runs and Tight Passes
One of the great things about having versatile tight ends is that you can split them out wide and utilize spread formations with heavy personnel. That allows you to keep your best blockers on the field when you want to run, yet still spread out the defense. And that sort of strategy works.
The Cowboys have always been most successful when calling a play that is “unexpected” based on the formation. Again, it might be best to run from tight formations in theory, but in practice, it’s typically most beneficial to run from spread formations (and pass from tight ones) due to the defense’s preconceptions and actions.
- Play-action passes
Play-action passes are underutilized by just about every NFL team. Of the 27 quarterbacks who took at least half of their team’s snaps in 2012, only five of them had a lower yards per attempt (YPA) on play-action passes than straight dropbacks.
And Tony Romo was one of the league’s best. He completed 66.2 percent of his play-action looks, averaging 8.6 YPA and generating a 109.1 passer rating. He recorded a passer rating of 88.3 on all other passes.
Despite that, the Cowboys had the lowest play-action pass rate in the NFL, by far. Romo attempted a play-action pass on just 10 percent of his dropbacks. The difference between Romo and the second-lowest quarterback, Eli Manning, was larger than the difference between Manning and the next 11 quarterbacks!
And I know it’s popular to argue that you can’t run play-action passes without an effective running game, but that’s just not true. Defenses play situations, not necessarily past rushing efficiency, so defenders typically bite up on play-action passes based on the down-and-distance, not whether you’re averaging 5.0 YPC or 3.5 YPC.
We saw Romo have success on play-action without a running game, and the same was true for passers like Matt Ryan, Ryan Tannehill, Ben Roethlisberger, Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck, all of whom ranked in the top 10 in play-action passer rating with rushing offenses ranked 20th or worse in efficiency. Actually, of the 10 most successful play-action passers in 2012, only two, Cam Newton and Robert Griffin III, played on offenses that ranked in the top 10 in rushing efficiency (and that’s really just because of their own rushing prowess).
So the Cowboys’ rate of play-action passes should really increase in 2013, regardless of whether or not the rushing game improves.
IRVING, Texas – Count me in as one of those people that feel that the switch to Bill Callahan as the primary play caller as a positive move for the 2013 season.
Under Jason Garrett, from the 20 to 20, this was one of the most successful offenses in the league, but where it had its biggest issues was inside the red zone where it ranked in the back half. The most alarming stat was how this offense was ranked 27th in the league when faced with goal-to-go. There were plenty of times during these situations where execution was poor by the players and it left Garrett with no choice to try and search for a play to compensate for his lack of confidence.
The numbers over the years will tell you that Garrett was not a poor play caller, but I honestly believe that where Callahan will make a bigger difference is how this offense finishes drives. As good as Dan Bailey is kicking field goals, you don’t want him doing it all day. There are too many weapons on this offense for this team to be ranked near the bottom when it comes to red zone or goal-to-go situations. Even in the OTAs and minicamp practices, Callahan has tried to develop a toughness with his blockers including the tight ends, who I thought struggled some last year at the point of attack.
I believe that the biggest difference between Callahan and Garrett as a play caller is that Callahan will bring a certain toughness to his play calling. He is more likely to stick with things that are working and be consistent about calling the game that way. With Callahan it will not be about how many plays but how will you run the plays you have for that week. He understands the strengths and weaknesses of this offensive line and I feel his play calling will play to that. Moving the ball with Callahan will not be a problem but where he has to be different than Jason Garrett is finishing drives and that is what I feel he will be able to do.
You see this group as a whole getting off the ball quicker and into their blocks. Callahan is more committed to trying to make this work, where at times I didn’t feel like Garrett was as patient. I have also noticed more opportunities for Dez Bryant to take advantage of his ability to make high point plays, which we all know is almost impossible for a corner to have to deal with.
But the biggest difference I have noticed is working the ball to Jason Witten in the red zone. To me, this has never been a bad thing because of his ability to use his route smarts and his big body to create space. One of the best contested ball catchers on this team is Witten. Callahan is smart to take advantage of that.
Courtesy: Bryan Broaddus | Football Analyst/Scout
IRVING, Texas – In an offseason that included a defensive coordinator change, a scheme change, the welcoming of a former defensive coordinator to the coaching staff and position changes for the team’s sack leaders, it was another storyline that dominated most of the attention in the offseason.
The Cowboys’ front office and coaching staff chose not to divulge who would be calling plays for the majority of the offseason. Well, they sort of chose not to.
Owner/general manager Jerry Jones intimated during the Senior Bowl that Bill Callahan would, or could, assume that role. Months later, the news that Callahan would call plays eventually got squeezed out, though nobody involved in the switch seemed to think the news was grandiose. Most of them played off its significance.
That’s because it won’t make a drastic difference.
Sure, the timing of calls during the process of a game will be altered with Callahan up in the booth. But when asking any of the coaches or players about the change, none of them seem to believe that the offense will look much different.
The coaches know before the game starts how they want to call a game, what they will do in certain situations and which plays to feature against certain looks or packages from the opponent. That’s what the game plan is for all week.
Don’t expect dramatic changes from the Cowboys’ offense with Callahan now at the helm. He may incorporate more of the West Coast elements he used as the head man in Oakland and with Nebraska, but the most important people who put the game plan together haven’t changed from last year, and, subsequently, the offense won’t either.
Callahan admitted as much.
“It’s not my offense,” Callahan said. “It’s our offense. That’s the main thing to understand here. Like Jason has talked about, we’ve all mentioned, it’s a collaborative effort, it’s a collective effort across the board with the offensive staff. I’m just a guy that’s up in the box and going to call the play, a play that there’s consensus on, there’s agreement on that we’ve all planned and prepared for.”
The head coach is still the same person. While he may not have the title of play-caller anymore, if he wants a certain play called, that’s what the play will be.
We all know if the offense changes at all for better or worse, the finger will point straight at Callahan now. He’ll deserve some of the flak or the credit, but not all of it, for better or for worse.
Garrett shouldn’t be completely off the hook from poor offensive showings and he should still get a decent amount of credit if the Cowboys’ offense starts finding the end zone. After all, the minor changes that may occur on offense will be more from the week of planning than the new play-caller on Sundays.
Courtesy: Rowan Kavner | Staff Writer
The Dallas Cowboys’ play-caller isn’t undecided. It’s unannounced.
The mystery has been ongoing since the Senior Bowl when Jerry Jones hinted that coach Jason Garrett no longer would call the offensive plays, a role Garrett has held since 2007 when he became offensive coordinator. Bill Callahan, who became offensive coordinator/offensive line coach in 2012, is expected to have a bigger hand in the offense regardless whether he is actually calling the plays. Quarterback Tony Romo also will have more say.
Garrett, though, repeatedly has refused to definitively say how the mechanics will work on game day. He was asked again Tuesday if the Cowboys still were working on the mechanics of the play-calling.
“Yeah,” Garrett answered. “I think that’s a fair way to say it. …I think we have a pretty good plan, and we’ll execute it as the offseason progresses.”
For his part, Romo said he doesn’t care who calls the plays.
“That’s a big topic for you guys,” Romo said of the media. “I’m sure you’ll wear that one out until [it’s announced]. I mean, I’m just the quarterback, and I’m just trying to continue to get better and improve and help this team.”