2014-2015 GAME 3 RECAP: Dallas vs. St. Louis | Your comeback Cowboys corral the Rams, 34-31 | The Dallas Cowboys historic game of redemptions | Gameday videos | NFL Analysis
GAME RECAP – Dallas Cowboys post historic comeback win
Turnovers, turnovers, turnovers. It’s amazing the things you can accomplish when, you know, you actually hold on to the ball. And when you can take it from the other guy? Well, that’s a recipe for success.
ARLINGTON, Texas – Only the Saints are geographically closer to the Dallas Cowboys among NFC teams than are the Rams, who based on the NFL’s conference logic, reside in the West, while the Cowboys have long been in the East.
And there are no plans to change that to put the Rams in the Cowboys’ division. Sorry, DeMarco, that would be convenient for you.
Maybe the Rams were the exact cure for DeMarco Murray and this running game. No, he didn’t challenge his franchise single-game record of 253 yards he set as a rookie. But his 175 yards are now the second-highest total of his career.
In need of some rushing relief, call on the Rams. Yeah, it doesn’t matter if Jeff Fisher has changed the culture there in St. Louis, the holes looked the same. Unlike that game against the Rams two years ago, Murray didn’t have a 91-yarder to get him going.
And that’s actually even better. For this game was much more workmanlike for Murray and the Cowboys offense. It’s amazing how efficient Tony Romo can be when he’s got a running game like he did Sunday.
Romo wasn’t flashy at all, and that’s perfect. Quarterbacks don’t have to be flashy in a 31-7 win at home. Romo was really good: 17-of-24 for 210 yards and three touchdowns with no picks for a 137.2 passer rating.
When your quarterback can be good, and your running back is great, that’s a recipe for success. Throw in the fact that the Cowboys were downright dominant on defense and that’s your 24-point blowout. And yes, in the NFL, winning by 24 is a complete blowout.
But again, it all started with the running game, and that all starts with the mindset.
You could sense earlier in the week that the Cowboys would indeed focus more on the run. Romo said they needed to run more. Play-caller Bill Callahan said he needed to call more runs. Head coach Jason Garrett said the running game needed to improve and even owner Jerry Jones not only echoed all of that, but also predicted much more success running the ball.
So you knew they would focus on running the rock.
First play – DeMarco Murray left side for 14 yards.
Did anyone else think, just for a moment, Murray might take it the distance just like he did for 91 yards on his first carry against the Rams two years ago, a run also to the left side? He obviously didn’t make it that far, but to that point, it was still his longest rush of the season. That would change later in the day, but he would also get another 14-yarder on that first drive.
Murray for 14, 7, 2, 14, 6 and then no gain. The drive ended with a Dez Bryant touchdown pass, but the message was set. The Cowboys were indeed focused on toting the rock on this day. Hey, those 43 yards on the first drive far exceeded last week’s total of 25 yards in the entire game.
By the end of the first quarter, Murray had 86 yards on 10 attempts. He was at 96 by halftime and then in the third quarter is when he really poured it in, eventually finishing the day with 175.
So what did Murray have to say about this performance?
Well, nothing actually. He spent all day dipping and dodging Rams defenders, that he continued that trend in the locker room after the game. Murray chose not to speak to reporters, later citing that he needed to attend to a family matter. Make no mistake, he ran the ball so well inside AT&T Stadium that he made sure to rush out of the building, too.
Maybe he felt like he did his talking on the field. Whether or not he talked to reporters, Murray’s performance was not only stellar, but was also needed for a Cowboys team that is striving to be balanced.
Yes, Romo is a good quarterback. He has moments when he’s great and he’s had some not-so-great moments, too. That’s Romo. But all quarterbacks need some help. John Elway got a little better when Terrell Davis showed up. Not comparing Romo to Elway, or even Murray to Davis, who coincidentally ripped Murray this week on NFL Network, saying he struggles with his vision and leaves yards on the field.
He didn’t leave much of anything out there on Sunday. And saw things pretty clear from start to finish.
When he’s running well, the entire offense just looks better. It’s amazing how well the play-fake can work when the defense has to respect the run. The line looks better. The receivers are open more, and the quarterback has more time to find the right targets.
This result right here is why every coach in the NFL, college, high school and probably junior high will continue to stress the importance of a good ground game. Even with all of these wide-open, spread attacks that we’re seeing everywhere, it’s still important to run the ball. You have to be able to run it. You have to run it near the goal line. You have to run it on third-and-short, and you have to run the ball when you need to run out the clock and protect a lead.
Say what you want about the NFL becoming a passing league – and clearly it’s changed dramatically over the years – but even a decent running game can open up so many things.
The Dallas Cowboys Texas-2 Defense surely appreciates the rest.
Stats and Notes:
Sunday’s win gave the Dallas Cowboys a 2-0 home record to start the season for the first time since 2007 and fourth time since 1999. The club also did it in 2006. When Dallas opened its home schedule 2-0 in 2007, the club beat the N.Y. Giants in the home opener, followed by a win over St. Louis – the same as this season.
The Dallas defense yielded 18 yards to the Rams offense in the first half of Sunday’s game. The 18 yards was the fewest Dallas allowed in a half since giving up 17 against Seattle (10/11/92) with Jimmy Johnson’s young squad.
The defense also held St. Louis to 1-of-13 on third downs. It was the 18th time since 1991 an opponent had one-or-fewer third down conversions. The last time was at Philadelphia (11/11/12) when the Eagles were one-of-10.
The Dallas Texas-2 defense registered six sacks, the most since six at San Francisco (9/18/11).
Gavin Escobar hauled in his first career touchdown catch on a 24-yard third quarter Tony Romo pass.
Jason Hatcher’s sack Sunday gave him 19.0 for his career to pass Bill Bates (18.0) and Lee Roy Jordan (18.5) and tie Anthony Dickerson and Jimmie Jones for 21st in team history.
Hatcher’s sack was also his third straight game with a sack – the longest streak in his career.
DeMarco Murray rushed for 175 yards Sunday – the second-highest single-game rushing figure in his career. His prior high was the club-record 253 yards also against St. Louis (10/23/11).
Murray’s 175 yards also tied Tony Dorsett (at Baltimore, 12/6/81) for the ninth-best single-game rushing yards figure in franchise history.
Murray carried the ball a career-high 26 times Sunday. His average of 6.7 yards-per-carry were good for his third-highest single-game average (minimum 10 carries).
When Murray tallies 20-or-more carries in a game, the Dallas Cowboys own a 10-0 record – including one non-start.
Murray now has five career 100-yard outings.
Caesar Rayford made his Dallas Cowboys debut playing in the defensive line rotation Sunday.
Tony Romo’s touchdown tosses Sunday gave him a scoring pass in each of the previous 15 games. It also gave him 183 career touchdown throws to pass Rich Gannon (180) and Steve Grogan (182) and tie Craig Morton for 47th in career touchdown passes in NFL history.
DeMarcus Ware had two sacks in Sunday’s game to up his career sack total to 115.0. He passed Harvey Martin (114.0) as the all-time (unofficial since Martin’s sack totals are pre-1982) Dallas Cowboys sack leader. Ware also broke a tie with Sean Jones for sole possession of 17th on the NFL’s all-time sack list.
Ware’s 2.0 sacks Sunday also upped his club record of multiple sack games to 28.
Kyle Wilber had his first career sack in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s game.
J.J. Wilcox made his first career start Sunday when he opened up as one of the team’s starting safeties.
With his five catches for 67 yards, Jason Witten has now caught at least one pass in 74 straight games and trails only Michael Irvin (117 from 1990-98) for the team record. Witten’s last game without a reception was at the N.Y. Giants (11/2/08).
Witten’s five catches Sunday brought his career receptions total to 822 to pass Steve Largent (819) 22nd among all NFL pass catchers.
For his career, Witten now has 9,097 receiving yards and passed Tony Martin (9,065) to crack the top-50 and land in the 49th spot on the NFL’s all-time receiving yards chart.
Can you tell us this- We hear that you got in front of the team again in here after the game today?
I was just telling them how proud of them I was. We came out and played great tonight. I’m happy. I wouldn’t trade, I wouldn’t be in no other place. We’ve got great guys on this team and they responded well. They came out. We did what we were supposed to do. We were supposed to win this game and we won.
There’s also a report you had to get on to Romo too (separate series of questions)…
I love Romo to death man. I wasn’t getting on Romo. I love Romo to death. He came out and he balled out tonight. Did you see that? He balled out. They ran the ball, he threw the ball great, he’s the best quarterback in the league. So I love Romo to death. That’s my brother.
You all are good then?
Hell yeah. Where is Romo at? Tell him to come over here. I’m gonna hug his neck. We ain’t got no issues. Where’d you get all that from? I love Romo-Romo loves me. We are teammates, we’re brothers-brotherhood.
Editors note: This questioning relates to a post regarding Romo’s changing run plays to throw the ball vs. KC last week.
Sean , first of all, can we get your thoughts on Ware getting the all time sack record for the Cowboys?
I mean he’s one of the greatest pass rushers of all-time. To play with him has been an honor. Not only is he a great player, he’s a great leader, he’s a great person. So for him; it’s just a testament for how hard he works because everyday in practice he’s working on his game; he’s motivating guys. He’s a complete player and a complete person and it’s been fantastic to play with him.
Sean, when DeMarco’s controlling the ball like that, and you guys have a lot more time of possession, how does that help you guys as a unit when you’re able to get off to the sideline and get some rest and get back out there and fly around the football?
It’s great. DeMarco is an unbelievable running back and they did a fantastic job today: The offensive line and DeMarco. If you give DeMarco holes he can make great cuts and can take it all the way. He’s a complete back and so it was fun to see him break out a little bit today.
Are the ribs continuing to feel better?
Yeah, they’re feeling good. And I think the next game, they’ll be fine.
Did you sense the running game would be this successful today?
I don’t know that you ever go in thinking…I don’t know how many yards we rushed for? Yeah, that’s almost 200 yards, I mean that’s a lot at any level, especially the NFL. That’s just a credit to the guys up front and DeMarco and what they did today. That makes my job and everyone else’s much easier. We wanted to run the football today, and we did a good job of obviously having production to make it easy to do so.
How well did the offensive line play?
They did great. They created some big holes and they also gave me time throughout the game to do some different things and get to some certain guys that you normally wouldn’t get to. Like I said before, it makes everyone’s job easier when you have some good guys up front.
How do you feel Gavin Escobar is coming along?
He’s young. He almost had the one [touchdown] earlier in the game, like you said. I think he lost his shoe against New York on one where I think he would have had one. So, it was just a matter of time. He did a good job on the route today. He’s a big target, so that helps.
Offensive Game Ball: Offensive Line
It would be real easy to hand the ball to DeMarco Murray for his effort in this game, but without those guys up front, Murray would not have had the day that he did. Murray received his share of blame for his lack of production last week against the Chiefs, but he alone should not have shouldered the criticism. This Cowboys offensive line was outstanding today both in the run and pass. Murray had more than enough room to operate and Tony Romo was hardly touched as he sat in the pocket. Head coach Jason Garrett and his offensive staff have strived for balance, and they got it today from a line that hasn’t always been given the credit that it deserves.
Defensive Game Ball: Jason Hatcher
Going into this game, the Rams offensive line was expected to have problems handling the Cowboys defensive tackles. For the third straight game, Jason Hatcher was outstanding. For a player who had questions about staying consistent in this scheme, he has more than proved himself. Hatcher played with explosive quickness and power. He was disruptive on the move and was relentless in the way he attacked the pocket. His play did not allow Rams quarterback Sam Bradford any room to step up and make a throw. Hatcher was quick to shed blocks, and he was technique-sound the entire day. His play overall caused this Rams’ offensive scheme huge issues.
Coaches Game Ball: Rod Marinelli
The Rams were going to have trouble running the ball, which meant that defensive line coach Rod Marinelli and his troops were going to have to play the majority of the game rushing the passer. Bradford put the ball up 49 times for St. Louis with an average gain of only 3.6 yards per completion. Bradford was never comfortable in the pocket, and it started on the opening series and did not end until the final whistle. Despite playing shorthanded without Anthony Spencer, Marinelli’s group put on quite a show. There was a slot blitz or two mixed in from Orlando Scandrick, but the majority of the pressure came from a four-man rush. Marinelli has always preached quickness off the snap and to get up the field as quickly as you can. He did an outstanding job of rotating his defensive line, and they rewarded him with a dominating performance against a Rams club that has some explosive offensive weapons, totally holding them in check. Today, it started up front with his guys.
ARLINGTON, Texas – The announcement in the AT&T Stadium press box momentarily hushed the crowd – Miles Austin had left the game against St. Louis with hamstring problems.
Austin had a quiet afternoon before aggravating his legs on a deep route in the third quarter. He came away with two catches for 22 yards.
The veteran wideout didn’t reappear, though Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said that was a precautionary move.
“The discussion we had was that he was going to continue to stay warmed up,” Garrett said. “I said ‘That’s a good thing, he needs to be ready, but we’ll keep looking at that scoreboard and making sure we can handle the situation without him.’”
The lopsided win against the Rams certainly made it an easy call to rest Austin. The Cowboys scored to go up 31-7 with roughly 12 minutes remaining in the game and were able to cruise to a comfortable win without their No. 2 receiver.
“Because the game – you know, we were ahead in the ballgame – we decided to keep him out of it,” Garrett said. “We’ll just evaluate it over the next couple of days.”
Austin’s absence opened the door for receiver, Dwayne Harris, for his first touchdown of the season.
“He really showed a lot of mental and physical toughness throughout the game,” Garrett said.
Fittingly enough, it was Harris’ hands – shaky to start with the muffed punt – which sealed the win, as he brought in his lone catch for a 24-yard touchdown.
“It was a bad play,” Garrett said of the muffed punt. “It was a bad play by him and our defense went out and responded the right way, and I think Dwayne responded the right way himself as the game wore on.”
Here are some more notes from the Cowboys’ 31-7 win against St. Louis:
- Anthony Spencer was inactive for the second time in three weeks with the same knee injury he had surgery on in July. The Cowboys managed fine without the Pro Bowler, as they racked up six sacks, but there’s no doubt they’d like to get one of their sack artists back to the field. “It’s just real frustrating for this to be the same lingering problem, but it is what it is and I’m handling it the best way I can,” Spencer said. Defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin said the team had an idea earlier in the week that Spencer would be unavailable. Spencer tried to work out on the knee as late as Friday but “it wasn’t going.” The thought is that the knee is still sore from the stress of playing against Kansas City, and Spencer said he’ll “play it by ear” going forward.
- Brian Waters said following the win he thought he could play a full game on the offensive line. Waters and Mackenzy Bernadeau rotated at guard against the Rams, after Waters worked just a few series of each half last week against the Chiefs. “At the end of the day, that’s the coaches’ call. I’m just going to continue to do what I can,” Waters said. “We got some good guys – we got a good group, and the more players the better, because it’s a long season. As we find in the NFL, you’ve got to have more than five offensive linemen to be successful.”
- At one point, both Bernadeau and Waters played guard together, as Ronald Leary tweaked his knee in the third quarter. Garrett said it was the same knee Leary injured during training camp, but he was fine and was able to return to the game.
- Like Harris, Gavin Escobar made the most of a small opportunity. The rookie tight end managed just one catch, but it isn’t one he’ll soon forget. Escobar brought in a beautiful 24-yard touchdown catch in the third quarter to put Dallas up, 24-0. “I was very excited,” Escobar said. “That’s usually not a play where I’m the go-to guy, but you never know and you have to be ready to catch the ball.” The play was actually the exact same as the one Harris would late score on. Escobar had just missed on several opportunities this season, but Tony Romo said the rookie is coming along nicely. “He almost had one earlier in the game. I think he lost his shoe against New York on one where he would have had one. So it was just a matter of time,” Romo said.
- Not everything went swimmingly for the Cowboys in an otherwise easy win. Kicker Dan Bailey missed a manageable field goal wide right from just 35 yards out. Harris’ muffed punt also factored into a forgettable day.
- Orlando Scandrick’s sack of Sam Bradford in the first quarter gave the cornerback 7.5 sacks for his career – fourth-best among defensive backs in Cowboys history. It seems like a stat that could be more common for Scandrick in this defense. “He’s got good timing, and he wants to be around that football,” Garrett said. “He’s got that big ass chip on his shoulder, too.”
ARLINGTON, Texas — DeMarco Murray found the perfect antidote for his recent malaise: the St. Louis Rams.
Murray rushed for 175 yards and a touchdown two years after torching St. Louis with a franchise record as a rookie, and Tony Romo threw for three scores in a 31-7 victory Sunday.
Murray’s first 100-yard game in more than a year started with a 14-yard run on Dallas’ first offensive play, and he had plenty of open space on a 36-yarder to start Dallas’ second drive to a 10-lead late in the first quarter.
Sam Bradford, Murray’s old college teammate at Oklahoma, didn’t have nearly as much room to operate.
The Cowboys (2-1) sacked him four times in the first half and had six in total after St. Louis (1-2) hadn’t allowed a sack in four games dating to last season. It was the longest streak for the Rams since John Hadl was under center for a division champion in 1973.
Bradford still went 29 for 48 and was not intercepted.
DeMarcus Ware had two sacks and broke Harvey Martin’s 30-year-old franchise record of 114.
The Rams, trying for their first 2-1 start since 2006, had just 18 yards total offense in the first half compared to 96 for Murray alone. The Cowboys had 202 yards before halftime.
Romo, who had 217 yards passing, went 2 yards to Dez Bryant for the first Dallas score. He had a pair of 24-yarders in the second half to rookie tight end Gavin Escobar and Dwayne Harris, who bounced back from a muff on the game’s first punt.
When the Rams finally started getting defenders around Murray at the line of scrimmage, Romo found him on the outside for a pair of catches on a drive that ended with a 2-yard run by Murray for a 17-0 lead. Murray, who had 253 yards against the Rams in 2011, went around left end before extending the ball over the goal line right on the pylon, and there was no review. His last 100-yard game was the 2012 opener, and he was coming off a 25-yard performance in a loss at Kansas City.
St. Louis avoided the shutout on Bradford’s 4-yard pass to Austin Pettis on fourth down late in third quarter after an interception by rookie safety J.J. Wilcox was wiped out by a roughing-the-passer penalty against Jason Hatcher.
The Rams had a chance to stay in the game on their next drive, but Bradford threw behind Chris Givens while Givens on fourth down. Dallas scored three plays later for a 31-7 lead when Romo hit Harris in stride in the back of the end zone.
Tavon Austin had an 84-yard punt return for a touchdown called back by a holding penalty. The Rams also were penalized for a blind-side block that laid out Dallas’ Kyle Wilber, who stayed down for a few minutes before leaving the field on his own.
After a deflating loss to Kansas City last weekend that killed the momentum they built with their victory in the opener, the Dallas Cowboys face St. Louis today. Two seasons ago, Dallas blasted the Rams, 34-7. But St. Louis has improved considerably since then with a different coach, Jeff Fisher, and better personnel. In 2012, St. Louis went 4-1-1 within an NFC West division that includes San Francisco and Seattle. This year, the Rams are 1-1 and have one of the most productive passing attacks in the NFL. Here is a look at how both teams match up:
When the Cowboys run
After Dallas gained only 37 yards on 16 carries, the Cowboys faced questions about their deficient ground attack. Head coach Jason Garrett said they need to run it more frequently. So did DeMarco Murray, who in his last game against the Rams set a single-game franchise record with 253 rushing yards in a 2011 victory. St. Louis appears much stingier than it was then, conceding an average of 61 yards per game on the ground this season.
When the Cowboys pass
Despite the fact that Tony Romo had the fourth-most pass attempts in the league after Week 2, his productivity has left plenty to be desired. Fifteen quarterbacks have thrown for more yards than Romo has. Romo has protected the ball well but only two of his completions have resulted in gains of 25 yards or more. Luckily for Romo, the Rams’ pass defense has been leaky as they’ve conceded 330.5 yards per game.
When the Rams run
For the first time in 10 seasons, Steven Jackson isn’t lining up in the backfield for the Rams. He’s now a member of the Atlanta Falcons. His replacement is Daryl Richardson, the second-year player from Vernon who never started an NFL game until this season and has gained only 98 yards in two games. Richardson will have a tough time gaining traction against a Cowboys’ run defense that has allowed 82 yards per game and held Kansas City’s Jamaal Charles to 55 rushing yards last Sunday. (Editors note: Alex Smith also ran for 57 yards on 8 carries)
When the Rams pass
Sam Bradford looks more comfortable in his fourth NFL season. After two weeks, the Rams quarterback has accounted for the sixth-most passing yards in the league and has developed an instant rapport with rookie Tavon Austin, the speedy receiver who has already made two touchdown receptions. So the Cowboys, who have allowed quarterbacks to produce a healthy 98.9 passer rating against them, will have their work cut out for them.
This season, the Cowboys’ Dan Bailey and the Rams’ Greg Zuerlein have made all of their field goal attempts. That’s 11 combined. But Bailey’s conversions have been more impressive because he’s connected on two tries of 50 yards or longer. Bailey remains one of the Cowboys’ biggest weapons and he has led a special teams group that managed to block a field goal last Sunday.
The Cowboys return home smarting from their defeat to Kansas City last Sunday. AT&T Stadium hasn’t exactly been an intimidating environment for opponents, who have won 46 percent of the time there. But while Jerry Jones’ football palace hasn’t given the Cowboys a significant edge, the team seems to perform well there when the game kicks off at noon, winning eight of the previous 12 times they’ve played in that time slot. Dallas should be feeling good about the early start.
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When: Sunday, September 22nd, 2013 at high noon (Dallas time)
Where: AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas
Watch on TV: FOX and DIRECTV: 709
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Rams Nemesis: DeMarco Murray
In the long history of the Dallas Cowboys there have been games by running backs that have been legendary. Calvin Hill, Duane Thomas, Tony Dorsett and Emmitt Smith have all at one point in time during their careers had a game or two that has left you in awe. DeMarco Murray was a rookie in the league when he made his one and only start against the St. Louis Rams but it was a performance that was for the record books.
Murray pounded the Rams that Sunday afternoon for a Dallas Cowboys single game rushing record of 253 yards on 25 carries. When asked about what he remembered about that game Murray could only recall how well the offensive line played that day. It is not likely that Murray will rush for a club record as these two teams once again met, but after what we saw last week against the Kansas City Chiefs, something different needs to be done. Not all the blame should be placed at Murray’s feet but there will be opportunities to run the ball here. The Rams defensively at times will play light in the box with their personnel trying to get the safety down late to help. The front is also light on the edges with Chris Long and Robert Quinn, look for Murray and this Cowboys rushing attack look inside of those ends to pop some runs to get things going.
The Weapon: Jason Hatcher
Through the first two games of the 2013 season, it is extremely clear that Jason Hatcher is playing with a purpose. Some will say he is playing for a new contract with the club or the opportunity to move on to another club after the season. Whatever his reasoning, he is getting the job done. In his play, Hatcher has shown quickness and technique but where he has made this biggest improvement in his game is through his use of power. I have always thought the one area that held him back was his lack of functional strength in terms of controlling blockers and getting off blocks at the point of attack.
Hatcher has done a much better job of playing with power and being able to sustain that down-after-down where in the past he would be in the mix for two or three snaps, then you would not see him for the rest of the game. His endurance and play making ability has improved greatly because of it. From what I have observed from Rams’ guards, Chris Williams and Harvey Dahl, this will be a difficult matchup for them to have to deal with Hatcher. These guards don’t move all that well which means they struggle with quickness. Jason Hatcher is playing at the top of his game right now and has an opportunity to control this game inside.
Under The Radar: Dwayne Harris
In this game against the Rams, Dwayne Harris might only get one or two shots at either a kickoff or punt return but it could make a difference in the outcome of the game. The Rams are one of the best in the league when it comes to covering punts and kicks largely because of the job that both Johnny Hekker and Greg Zuerlein do in that area. Hekker is one of the top punters in the league with a 46.7 net average. Last week against the Chiefs, the Cowboys special teams unit did a much better job of blocking to give Harris a chance to find some space.
After studying the tape, Harris left some yards on the field during his 22 yard punt return, when he could have cut it back inside. I don’t expect Harris to make the same mistake this week. This Cowboys special teams group under Rich Bisaccia is starting to develop some core guys to go along with the veterans like Danny McCray, Phillip Tanner and Lance Dunbar that have been on the squad in the past. You are seeing players step up like J.J. Wilcox and Jeff Heath. This group is much closer to making more plays like we saw last week with a big return either on a kickoff or punt return and Dwayne Harris will play a critical role in making that happen.
St. Louis Rams
Cowboys Nemesis: Cortland Finnegan
Finnegan is a non-stop competitor that will fight you during the play and many times afterwards. He has always played the game to the echo of the whistle.
Finnegan has played his entire career under Jeff Fisher, who has always taken a liking to these types of players. He has an edge to his game. Finnegan will line up mainly on the left side at corner and when defensive coordinator Tim Walton goes to his nickel package, he puts Finnegan in the slot and he will cover from there. Finnegan plays with a great deal of quickness and savvy. He will line up very tight and looks most comfortable playing this way but there have been some snaps in the first two games where he and Janoris Jenkins have been asked to play in off coverage or more zone. When he plays tight, there is not as much room or space with him, so you have to be careful attacking him. It is when you can get him in off coverage that you will have the most success. There were some snaps in nickel against the Falcons where they did just that out of the slot.
The Weapon: Tavon Austin
One of my favorite players in the 2013 NFL Draft was West Virginia wide receiver, Tavon Austin. There is a real dynamic to his game, with the explosiveness in which he plays with. He is one of those players that you can line up at any position and he is going to cause the defense problems. He is a fearless player that will go all over the field to make a play.
Offensive coordinator, Brian Schottenheimer has lined him up in the slot, out wide and in the backfield as a running back. Schottenheimer has been very creative getting him the ball. Once in his hands, you really hold your breath when on defense because he has that ability to score from anywhere on the field. On tape through these first two games, you can see that opponents are struggling to gage his speed and quickness. For a short player, he does play with power and he can break tackles. Austin can be a nightmare to cover in the open field one-on-one because of his elusiveness. You have to get people to the ball in a hurry to get him on the ground now to not allow him to make those explosive plays.
Under The Radar: Greg Zuerlein
It’s not often that you break down an opponent’s kicker, but here you go. Dallas Cowboys kicker Dan Bailey is just as valuable to the team as Dez Bryant and DeMarcus Ware. What Bailey brings to this squad is nothing short of amazing. When you have a player on your roster that has the ability of Bailey, it takes a great deal of pressure off of the coaches to have to make decisions. Rams kicker, Greg Zuerlein is similar to Bailey in that he is as automatic as they come when kicking field goals. Through two games this season, Zuerlein is a perfect 5-for-5 and is 2nd in the NFL on kickoffs with 75 percent of his kicks travelling out of the end zone.
During the 2012, Zuerlein was able to connect on 7-of-13 field goals from 50 yards plus, so you can see that Jeff Fisher is not afraid to trot him out there once the Rams cross midfield. What has to concern Jason Garrett and this defensive staff, if the score is within three or less points, how do you play defense to not allow the Rams to get in field goal range either at the end of the half or game. It can be a tricky situation to deal with when you have a kicker that can change the direction of the game with one swing of the leg.
IRVING, Texas – Here are some thoughts on the St. Louis Rams from the film room:
The loss of offensive tackle Rodger Saffold to a knee injury is a big blow to this Rams offense. Saffold for such a large man is an outstanding athlete. He is a right tackle with left tackle feet. In the Arizona and Atlanta games to start the season, I felt like he was better than Jake Long on the left side Saffold is a hard guy to play because he is so long and it was rare to see him out of position run or pass. Joe Barksdale replaces him who they got off waivers from the Raiders. Barksdale is a large man himself but he tends to be very slow out of his stance and will give up the edge much too often.
These Cowboys safeties will have their hands full in coverage with tight end, Jared Cook who will line up all over the place in these Rams formations. I have seen him play as the inline “Y” and arc release up the field against the Cardinals, snatch the ball and head for the goal line with a burst of speed. Would be interested to see if these defensive coaches would try and match up against him more with size than speed. This could be a game where we see Barry Church or maybe even J.J. Wilcox, line up across from him then try and bang him down the field. Will Allen could cover but I don’t believe is physical enough to handle the job.
Michael Brockers was a draft candidate for the Cowboys, two seasons ago as a defensive end in the Rob Ryan 3-4 scheme. For the Rams, he plays as a load inside at tackle. There is a great deal of power in his game and when he is on the move can be trouble to stop because of his strength. Brockers’ best trait is his strength and power but his weakness is that he doesn’t have many pass rush moves. In the Arizona and Atlanta games, there were times on pass plays with he was stuck on blocks and it was difficult to disengage and work toward the ball. Kendall Langford who plays tackle next to him does a much better job of getting up the field and being disruptive from that stand point. He doesn’t have the power of Brockers but he does a much better job attacking the blockers.
Cornerback Janoris Jenkins was a first round talent that scared NFL teams away from him because of some serious off field character concerns. Jenkins started his career at Florida and was only one of two freshmen to ever start at cornerback there but was kicked off the team after he was found with possession of marijuana. There was a thought that Jenkins might try for the Supplemental Draft but instead transferred to North Alabama for his senior season and he finished his career there. At the time of the draft, the Cowboys front office had Jenkins completely off their board and was not considered a draftable player. The Rams took him in the 2nd round and he has been their starter the last two seasons. He is one of those cornerbacks that has tremendous skill and talent. He tends to play with feel and he is not afraid to take a risk or two because he knows that he can recover if he makes a mistake. He likes to gamble for the big play and he can pull it off. He wants nothing to do with the physical side of the game when it comes to tackling but you have to be cautious when you attack him because he will make you pay for a mistake.
Last week against the Chiefs, I thought their linebackers were an outstanding group as a whole and were really the difference in that football game. This Rams group is not as good as the Chiefs but they are better than the Giants. James Laurinaitis, Alec Ogletree and Will Witherspoon are active and will find the ball on the move. Where I feel this group struggles at times is when they have to take on blocks. Their defensive line is an attacking one and get up the field quickly and it tends to expose these linebackers to some blocks. There were several times where they were bounced around one-on-one and were washed out of the play. I didn’t see the stoutness that I saw from the Chiefs who were outstanding playing with this hands, controlling blockers and making the secure tackle. Where this Cowboys offensive line had to biggest issues in the running game was not getting blockers consistently to the second level and securing those blocks. Unblocked defenders tend to lead small gains in the running game. I believe that these Rams linebackers will struggle badly if they have someone in their face the entire game.
The Dallas Cowboys and St. Louis Rams show similarities after the first 2 weeks
With the first loss of the season out of the way, the Cowboys can now go about assessing how they respond to it. During the past two 8-8 seasons, the team has never lost more than two games in a row, but they have lost two in a row on six different occasions.
The Cowboys’ ability to run the ball – or lack thereof – is going to dominate the discussion all week after the loss to the Chiefs. Regardless of anything else, 37 rushing yards probably won’t beat many NFL teams.
Coach Jason Garrett stressed early in the week that the running game has to improve, and perhaps a large role from Brian Waters could help that. Perhaps the Cowboys can rediscover some of the 2011 magic that helped then-rookie running back DeMarco Murray set the franchise rushing record of 253 yards against the Rams three seasons ago.
The Rams haven’t been quite as careful with the ball as the mistake-free Chiefs. St. Louis has given the ball away three times in two games – the same as Dallas. The Cowboys’ defense is going to have to find a way to take a ball or two away, as everyone saw last week how tough it is to win with a negative turnover margin.
Defensive end Anthony Spencer received a good amount of playing time against Kansas City, and he was moderately effective. It looks likely that the 2012 Pro Bowler will follow the same routine from last week and look to suit up again Sunday.
The Dallas Cowboys might be hoping they run the ball like they did against the 2011 Rams, but these are not the 2011 Rams.
For starters, they can stop the run, as they held Atlanta to 36 yards on 16 carries in a close loss Sunday. The Rams have only allowed 122 rushing yards on 42 attempts through two games, which is sixth-best in the NFL and a far cry from the average of 152 yard per game they allowed in 2011.
These Rams also have Sam Bradford, who missed six games, including the Cowboys game, in 2011. Bradford is off to a hot start and with the help of free agency acquisition Jared Cook and rookie wide receiver Tavon Austin, he has completed 63 percent of his passes for 651 yards and five touchdowns.
Bradford’s 352 yards against the Falcons helped St. Louis rally from a 24-3 halftime deficit, though it wasn’t enough. His efforts were much more effective in Week 1, when he led the Rams 50 yards in the final two minutes to down Arizona with a 48-yard field goal.
Just like the Cowboys, though the Rams’ passing attack couples with a lackluster ground game. Leading rusher Daryl Richardson has just 98 yards on 30 carries – sound somewhat familiar?
Also like the Cowboys, St. Louis looks relatively strong against the run, but the secondary looks vulnerable. The Rams are allowing 330 yards per game through the air, which could open the playbook up for Tony Romo and Co.
SPOTLIGHT – THIRD ROUND STAR: DeMarco Murray’s physical play motivates offense, demoralizes defenses
IRVING — Before they drafted him, the Dallas Cowboys wondered if DeMarco Murray could be a tough inside runner.
They know now.
His performance in the season opener against the New York Giants, on top of the promise he showed last year as a rookie, has them so convinced, they’re no longer even pretending they have a committee or co-starter approach at running back.
"DeMarco Murray is our starter at tailback," coach Jason Garrett said Wednesday at Valley Ranch.
Murray ran for 131 yards on 20 carries against the Giants. Felix Jones got 12 snaps, no carries, two targets, no catches.
"There’s definitely a role for Felix, and we like what he does for our offense both in the run game and in the pass game," Garrett said. "Depending on how the game goes, he’s going to get more touches or fewer touches."
It’s probably going to be fewer as the Cowboys go with the wear-them-down mentality that worked ideally against the Giants.
Murray ran for 111 of his 131 yards in the second half, including a 48-yard run that demonstrated both his bullish power and his open-field dynamic.
"I love it how he explodes into the guy who is trying to tackle him at the end of the run," Garrett said. "His pads are always down, and he’s always finishing forward. I think it’s good to get yards that way, but I also think it sends a message to the guy who’s trying to tackle him."
He came from a spread offense at Oklahoma. He’s known as a speed guy. But he’s also 6-foot and 215 pounds.
The words are almost visible on his face: Why would anyone wonder if he was a physical player?
"At the end of the day, I’d rather go north and south than go east and west and try to shake and make someone miss," he said. "But it just depends on the situation. There are a lot of good defenders in this league, so there aren’t too many times when you can make guys miss, and there aren’t too many games when you’re one-on-one. But I just try to finish as much as I can."
The running style radiates confidence. Murray has it in himself. He is transferring it to everyone else.
"When we see DeMarco attack, it gets us going, too," left guard Nate Livings said. "You see what kind of mindset he’s in. You’ve got a back that’s laying it on the line, too. It kind of makes you feel appreciated for laying it on the line. It just all comes together. It’s real appreciated to see that."
Garrett said Murray’s physical play allows him to squeeze more out of his runs.
"I don’t know if any of us really, really saw how physical he was at the end of plays," Garrett said. "All the great runners that I’ve been around are guys that finish runs. You think it’s a 4-yard run; boy, he made 6. You think it’s an 8-yard run; aw, he made a first down. He has that ability. You see that in space. There were a number of plays where he caught the ball in space, made a guy miss, and before you know it, I’m calling a second-and-4 play."
Murray had only one carry over 5 yards in the first half against the Giants. In the second half, he had runs of 9, 48, 9, 15 and 7 among his 15 touches. The Cowboys put the ball in his hands to get the final first down they needed, although it was called back by a penalty.
"It’s demoralizing for a defense to get a back that is going to give more to you than you give to him," owner Jerry Jones said. "I think that pays off."
Livings said he didn’t hear a peep from the Giants’ defense last week.
"No, you didn’t hear anything," he said. "You just heard the pop. The pop says a lot."
For Murray, the 6.6 yards per rush against the Giants marked the seventh time he averaged 4.0 yards or more per rush in a game in his young NFL career. In 14 games with the Cowboys, he has rushed for 1,028 yards.
Can’t do that without being both a good outside runner and a tough inside runner. The Cowboys used to wonder.
"Now they know," Murray said.
COWBOY RAMS THE RAMS: Dwayne Harris uses practice drill to split defense on second touchdown (SEE VIDEO)
Who says the monotonous drills you use in practice don’t come into play during games?
Look no further than Dwayne Harris’ 38-yard touchdown reception against the Rams as proof that practice drills certainly do help.
Harris caught a cross route over the middle and as he neared the sideline, instead of going out of bounds, he turned up field and split the two defenders trying to box him in. He tip toed up the sideline and into the end zone.
"We have a drill we do where we split two defenders," Harris said. The drill came into effect on that play, lower your pads and stay low. Keep your feet moving."
Harris did just that en route to a three-catch, 118-yard night that included two touchdowns. The first one was a 61-yard bomb from quarterback Tony Romo.
"Dwayne did a good job," Romo said. "It’s never been about the big things. It’s the little things. If he can get the little things down he can really help our football team."
Harris had a brief splash as a rookie last preseason as rookie with a 100-yard receiving game. But never was able to put it all together and didn’t have much of an impact.
This year he says his focus has been on being more consistent and not thinking as much.
"They know I can play football," Harris said. "They just want me to execute the play. Don’t do too much thinking and just play. I just came out and just played today."
In the Dallas Cowboys’ third pre-season game, yet another candidate stepped up to make his case in the race to become the team’s third receiver.
But Saturday’s case made by Dwayne Harris, which included a pair of long-distance touchdown receptions from quarterback Tony Romo, resounded louder than anything seen previously in the pre-season by other contenders for the position.
Harris grabbed three passes for 118 yards, including scoring strikes of 61 and 38 yards from Romo, during Saturday’s 20-19 victory over the St. Louis Rams.
In previous games, receivers Andre Holmes (Oakland), Kevin Ogletree (San Diego) and Cole Beasley (San Diego) enjoyed standout moments. But none of them produced touchdowns against an opponent’s first-team defense or finished plays the way Harris did Saturday.
“Dwayne did a good job … It’s never been about the big things (with Harris),” Romo said. “If he can get the little things down, he’s got a chance to really help our football team.”
Harris’ performance moved him to the forefront of the third receiver race, although Ogletree (5 catches, 75 yards) and Beasley (3 catches, 40 yards) also had moments against the Rams.
“Where the conversation starts and ends about that situation, I’ve got a job to do,” Ogletree said. “And that’s to come in and compete and be at my best when the time comes. Guys have been getting an opportunity to make some plays and they’re making the most of it.”
With top receivers Miles Austin (hamstring), Dez Bryant (knee) and tight end Jason Witten (spleen) all missing with injuries, Romo expressed confidence in the team’s young receivers. Dallas threw for 297 yards in the first half, with Romo completing 9-of-13 for 198 yards _ and the two TDs to Harris _ in the first quarter in what projected as his final pre-season tune-up before the Sept. 5 season opener against the New York Giants.
“It’s good to know we have some depth and the guys can do some things,” Romo said. “Our young guys knew what they were doing and it showed.”
Harris topped the list.
“If you’re in the right place at the right time, Tony’s going to find you. He’s a great quarterback and he’s going find the open guy,” Harris said. “Tony tells me, ‘Harris, you’ve got great ability. But you’ve got to eliminate the mental mistakes’ That’s what I tried to do tonight. Eliminate all the mental mistakes and cut down on missed assignments and just do my job.”
He did it well enough to keep his cell phone buzzing during the post-game interview session. How many congratulatory messages did he field?
“I don’t know. It’s still ringing,” Harris said. “I went out there and executed, which is what the coaches wanted to see. It was a really good game for me.”
Members of the Dallas Cowboys’ first-team defense completed their third consecutive pre-season game without allowing a touchdown Saturday against the St. Louis Rams.
In all likelihood, most _ if not all _ of the team’s defensive starters will watch, rather than play, in Wednesday’s pre-season finale against the Miami Dolphins.
Against the Rams, defensive coordinator Rob Ryan dialed up a wide variety of blitzes. The Cowboys responded with four sacks, getting at least one from each level of the defense.
“That shows we’ll be coming from everywhere,” said outside linebacker Anthony Spencer, who played for the first time since tweaking a hamstring during training camp.
Cornerback Brandon Carr said the defense’s confidence level will be high as starters begin turning their focus toward their Sept. 5 opener at the New York Giants.
“We are very confident in ourselves,” Carr said. “It means a lot to us, even though it’s pre-season, to go out there and not give up a touchdown in three games for the amount of plays we’re out there.”
Asked if this defense is primed and ready to start the season, inside linebacker Sean Lee said: “We’re right on the verge. But if we’re going to play the Giants and be successful … then we’re going to have to have all the details cleaned up.”
Lee, who recorded one of the sacks, said he was glad to see the defensive line, secondary and linebackers all involved in taking down Rams’ quarterbacks.
“It just shows we have different guys trying to get pressure and it also shows coach (Rob) Ryan’s pressure is really showing through,” Lee said. “The guy can dial up pressure, and we’ve learned a lot from him.”
Matt Johnson said he felt his hamstring go on the first play
Rookie safety Matt Johnson said he felt a hamstring problem on the first play he was in during Saturday night’s preseason game against the St. Louis Rams.
“I kind of thought to myself, ‘That’s not a hamstring.’ I just didn’t want to believe it,” he said. “But it kept getting worse. So I told one of the trainers.”
For Johnson, a fourth-round pick that the Cowboys were hoping could compete for a starting position, it was an extreme disappointment. He had spent all but a week of training camp rehabbing from a hamstring injury in his other leg, and he had been able to go through his first full practices in pads last week in San Diego.
Now, his future is uncertain. He almost certainly won’t play in the final preseason game on Wednesday.
“I try to believe that everything happens for a reason, but it’s kind of hard to see why it keeps happening,” he said. “Trying to do everything right rehab-wise, diet-wise, strengthening it. And then the other one happens. So we’ll just get on top of it, try to get it healthy as soon as I can.”
Ratliff suffers ankle sprain, injury could be more serious than recent foot problem
Dallas Cowboys nose tackle Jay Ratliff suffered a sprained ankle in the game against the Rams.
He was on crutches in the locker room after the game. He did not come back to the field after halftime.
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones did not want to say whether it was a high ankle sprain.
For Ratliff, it could be a more serious injury than the plantar fasciitis that limited him for much of the second half of last season, the offseason and training camp. A Cowboys source said it could be more difficult to recover from.
Danny McCray suffers neck strain in second quarter
The Dallas Cowboys lost one of their best special teams’ player in safety Danny McCray, who suffered a neck strain on a fourth-down defensive stop.
McCray, who also plays in the dime package, was hurt after he collided with teammate Gerald Sensabaugh while going for a tipped ball in the end zone with 2:42 left in the first half.
McCray was able to walk off the field under his own power but was holding his right arm close to his side.
On the play, St. Louis quarterback Sam Bradford was looking for Steve Smith across the back of the end zone, but cornerback Morris Claiborne deflected the pass
ARLINGTON, Texas — The Cowboys are finally home after nearly a month on the road for training camp and two preseason games which saw them go 1-1. Dallas takes on the St. Louis Rams (1-1) tonight at Cowboys Stadium.
Here’s a preview.
Get there early: The Dallas Cowboys and Texas Rangers are playing in Arlington on the same day for the first time this season. Parking lots for the Cowboys game open at 2 p.m. East Plaza is open at 3 p.m. and stadium gates open at 5 p.m. The Rangers start at 3:05 p.m. Cowboys officials are asking fans to leave early to help prevent possible traffic delays.
Connections: St. Louis tackle Jason Smith attended W.T. White high school in Dallas. … Rams wide receiver Danny Amendola was on the Cowboys’ practice squad in 2007. … Wide receivers coach Ray Sherman was with the Cowboys for a few years.
$100 million corners: The Cowboys and Rams employ the two highest paid corners from this year’s free agency class. The Rams have Cortland Finnegan and the Cowboys have Brandon Carr. Combined, the two players’ total contracts hit a little over $100 million.
Dress rehearsal: The Cowboys will play their starters for nearly the first half. It will be a good test for the interior of the offensive line consisting of center David Arkin and guards Nate Livings (making his preseason debut) and Mackenzy Bernadeau. This trio could change again if starting center Phil Costa returns from a strained lower back. Kevin Ogletree and Dwayne Harris will start at wide receiver with Dez Bryant (knee) and Miles Austin (hamstring) out with injuries. DeMarcus Ware (hamstring) won’t play. Jay Ratliff, Anthony Spencer and Jason Hatcher are expected to play together for the first time this preseason after recovering from injuries. It’s another good test for rookie cornerback Morris Claiborne, who plays in his second preseason game. In his debut last week, the first-round pick had zero pass breakups but made two good tackles.
Who needs to play well: QB Stephen McGee, CB C.J. Wilson, LB Orie Lemon, WR Danny Coale, WR Andre Holmes, S Matt Johnson, DE Clifton Geathers and CB Akwasi Owusu-Ansah.
Local TV and radio: The game kicks off at 7 p.m., on KTVT/Ch. 11 (CBS).
In many markets, you can listen to ‘The Voice of the Dallas Cowboys”, Brad Sham on The Dallas Cowboys Radio Network for pregame, play-by-play action, and post game interviews and analysis.
In the Dallas area, tune to 105.3 FM. In all other cities, click HERE for more information.
ARLINGTON — Little by little, the Dallas Cowboys vision of what to expect from their retooled offensive line has come into focus throughout training camp. The operative word is "little," because the projected starters have yet to line up shoulder-to-shoulder in a preseason game.
That is not expected to change Saturday in Cowboys Stadium against the St. Louis Rams (7 p.m., KTVT/Ch. 11), with center Phil Costa projected to miss his third consecutive game with a back ailment. But left guard Nate Livings, who has yet to take a preseason snap, plans to make his debut in a Dallas uniform after returning to practice this week from a hamstring injury.
That will give the Cowboys four projected starters in the trenches, plus reserve center David Arkin, to protect quarterback Tony Romo for the brunt of the team’s most extended dress rehearsal in preparation for a Sept. 5 regular-season opener at the New York Giants.
How is Romo’s comfort level with the guys protecting him?
"It’s comfortable," Romo said. "They’re fighting. They’re getting better and better, and they just keep working hard. We’re going to be all right."
Livings (6-foot-4, 320 pounds), a starter for Cincinnati the past two seasons, joined right guard Mackenzy Bernadeau as the team’s free-agent additions to shore up a suspect area from last season. For the first time, the two will play in tandem Saturday against the Rams.
Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said continuity among his three interior linemen "might be as important as at any position on your team" and that he is eager to gauge how the pieces are fitting together as the regular season approaches.
"They work together in combination blocks, identifying fronts … all of that stuff that centers and [guards] need to do," Garrett said. "It is really, really important to the success of the play, the success of your run game and your pass protection. The more experience you have spending time with these guys, taking snaps together, the better you’re going to be."
Livings cannot wait to turn it loose after being given a clean bill of health from Cowboys trainers.
"It’s all good, baby," Livings said of his physical condition. "In the game the other day [against San Diego], when we were coming out of the tunnel, I was getting chills myself. But I wasn’t playing. And that’s a feeling I don’t like. I’m here to play football. I’m looking forward to [Saturday]. I’m just getting my feet back under me and getting better one day at a time."
Bernadeau, who missed most of the off-season while recuperating from hip and knee surgeries, believes Livings — a former LSU player who started 41 of his last 46 games with the Bengals — can be a stabilizing force.
"It’s good to have ‘Big Nate’ back," Bernadeau said. "He’s a big force inside, a big influence. We’re excited to have him back and give him as many reps as we can."
Livings, Bernadeau and Arkin joined starting tackles Doug Free and Tyron Smith for the majority of the first-team reps in Thursday’s Silver & Blue Debut at Cowboys Stadium. Garrett said he is eager to get his projected starters together for as much work as possible in the preseason and expressed disappointment that injuries to Costa, Livings and Bernadeau during various stages of training camp prevented that.
But he’ll at least see four of the five — including both newcomers at guard — operate together Saturday.
"You control what you can control in life," Garrett said. "We just had a rash of injuries … Ideally, you want that starting offensive line to be in place year after year. That’s not necessarily the nature of the NFL. We have some new guys. They have been banged up, and we’re going to try our best to get that continuity as well as we can, as fast as we can."
In terms of the Rams’ game, Livings will be under the microscope. The Cowboys’ offensive line struggled to protect Romo or create running lanes in its preseason opener, a 3-0 victory over Oakland, but fared much better in Saturday’s 28-20 loss to the Chargers.
Garrett envisions Livings’ return as another step toward stability in the trenches.
"He’s a pro. You can see that, the way he approaches it," Garrett said. "He needs to play in our offense more, [understand] the communication next to guys, the adjustments he needs to make. He’s got … a quiet intensity that we like."
Although he has yet to take the field in a Cowboys jersey, Livings went through the entire off-season with the team and pointed to training camp as a bonding experience for him and his line mates. He said the group is becoming cohesive despite minimal game snaps together in the preseason, and he is eager to showcase that.
"We’re around each other all day long in meetings and talking," Livings said. "We’re dealing with certain situations on the field [in practice]. That’s our job: to get better every day. To get closer every day. We know what it takes. We’ve just got to get ready to roll."
ARLINGTON, Texas – The last time the Cowboys played the St. Louis Rams, their offense exploded for 445 yards and 34 points, behind a record-setting 253-yard effort by DeMarco Murray.
Of course, the last time the two teams met, it was Week 7 of the 2011 regular season, and the 2-3 Cowboys desperately needed a win to try to create some momentum. This time, the Cowboys don’t need a win. But in the preseason “dress rehearsal,” as the third exhibition game is typically called, they at least need to show progress, particularly on offense.
While the first-team defense pitched a shutout during its work against the Raiders and Chargers, the starting offense has moved the ball inconsistently and put up only three points.
At least four starters will sit out the game for the Cowboys offense, receivers Miles Austin and Dez Bryant, tight end Jason Witten and center Phil Costa, and the Cowboys haven’t spent much, if any time game-planning for St. Louis. But given the fact that the exhibition is being played only 11 days out from the regular-season opener in New York, it would seem there’s some pressure on the remaining offensive starters to get things going.
They’ll get plenty of work.
“We anticipate them playing the most that they’ve played in the preseason,” head coach Jason Garrett said. “That’s typically what we do. We build up from the first game to the second game and they get their most extended work in Week 3 before dialing back in Week 4. So, we anticipate them playing a lot, but the game situation will dictate that as well. We want quality work for them, we want to make sure the plays they do get are good plays, and then we’ll look at each other and we’ll make some decisions as the game unfolds.”
In Garrett’s first preseason as the Cowboys’ head coach, Tony Romo’s group played to halftime of the dress rehearsal game, at Minnesota, then gave way to the backups to start the third quarter. While the quarterback can expect to go that long again, along with four of the five starting offensive linemen and new fullback Lawrence Vickers, the team may insist on pulling Murray early.
If the second-year back is going to carry the load for this team, as appears to be the coaches’ intention, there’s no point in trying to let him best his performance against the Rams from last year. In fact, there may not be any reason to let him see the second quarter.
Murray has touched the ball only seven times through two preseason games this year.
“It will still be a limited number,” Garrett said. “We don’t want him banging away out there for too long in this game. At the same time, we want to make sure to give him enough chances to get in the rhythm he needs to. That is a challenge at every position, but particularly that position, a position that is so physical and takes so much of a pounding. You don’t want to put him in a situation where he is leaving it all out there on a preseason-game field. We need to get him ready for the start of the regular season. The same thing with Felix (Jones) and our other backs. We try to rotate those guys to get them the touches they need without wearing them down.”
As for the guy who made his name at the NFL level against the Rams, he promises he’s treating Saturday’s contest just like it was Week 7 and the Cowboys have their backs against the wall, or an even bigger contest.
“We’re going to approach it like any game,” Murray said. “I know it’s a preseason game, but I’m going to approach it like it’s a playoff game or a real game for me. You always want to go out there and play your heart out and definitely try to get the win.
“No matter if I’m playing five snaps or 40 snaps, I’m going to come out there and try to do my best.”
Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said he wants to increase the workload of running back DeMarco Murray in Saturday’s pre-season game against the Rams, but not by much.
“It will still be a limited number,” Garrett said. “We don’t want him banging away out there for too long in this game.”
Murray, the team’s starting running back, touched the fall on five of the Cowboys’ first six plays in last week’s 28-20 loss to San Diego. Those plays produced a combined 30 yards before Murray left the contest and did not return.
On Thursday, Cowboys Stadium opens its doors to fans of all ages for the Dallas Cowboys Silver & Blue Debut Presented by Miller Lite.
The event will be a free practice, open to all Cowboy fans anxious to see the team in action before the 2012 season officially kicks off. The practice will officially start at 4:30 p.m. However, parking will open up at 2:30 p.m., the plazas will open at 3 p.m. and the doors to the stadium will open at 3:30 p.m.
Parking at the stadium will be $10.
The team will be preparing to face the St. Louis Rams in their third preseason game and first home game of the season.
Running back Lance Dunbar returned to practice Monday after missing two weeks with a hamstring. He missed the first two preseason games, so the Cowboys hope to see him Saturday at Cowboys Stadium against the St. Louis Rams.
“He’s mentally into what we’re doing. He understands what we’re doing. He has a good feel for our offense,” running backs coach Skip Peete said after the work at Chargers Park against the San Diego Chargers. “We just have to, obviously, give him the opportunity to get in there and get the work as a runner – carrying the ball, running routes, catching the ball. But he was doing fine before he got injured.”
The former North Texas and Haltom High standout has fallen behind another North Texas product, running back Jamize Olawale, but still remains high in the coaches’ minds.
“He’s a talented runner,” Peete said. “He’s a much better protector than I anticipated, being a guy of his size. So that’s a plus that was very impressive the first couple of days of practice. He’s a very explosive player and very dangerous. I’m excited to see what he can do in a preseason game.”
Mackenzy Bernadeau and Nate Livings were signed two days apart in March to be the Cowboys’ right and left guards, but they had not been on the field together until Monday.
Five months is a long time to wait, but injuries to Bernadeau’s hip and knee kept him out for the entire offseason and early part of camp, while a hamstring injury knocked Livings out for about two weeks in camp.
Monday’s work against San Diego was their first time in the huddle together.
“I felt synced in,” Livings said. “You know how you sync your phone to your computer? I felt like we were in sync. We’ve got a ways to go, but it’s all about getting better every day. That’s what I try to do when I’m on the field. You’re either getting better or getting worse. Today I felt I got better.”
Livings took most of the first-team work against the Chargers, but veteran Derrick Dockery also got some work as the athletic training staff wanted to ease Livings back into his return.
Livings is hoping to play Saturday vs. St. Louis.
“Most definitely,” Livings said. “That’s what I’m here for. I’m here to play ball. I’m not here to be on the sidelines watching my teammates play. I’m here to play and compete. That’s what I want to do. That’s the only way we can get better as a team.”
The line was not complete, however, with center Phil Costa sitting with a lower back strain. He will not practice Tuesday either.
Before they encountered a rash of injuries that decimated the offensive line and forced them to redraft their starting lineup, the Dallas Cowboys already knew the next two weeks would be challenging.
One look at their preseason slate was enough to make that conclusion. After all, their last three exhibition games, starting with Saturday’s meeting with San Diego, will take place in a span of 12 days.
The condensed schedule has forced Dallas into an uncomfortable arrangement. The Cowboys will have only four full practices before the end of the preseason, giving them little time to resolve large-scale problems before Week 1 rolls around and their attention completely shifts to their Sept. 5 season opener against the New York Giants.
“It’s happening fast,” coach Jason Garrett said. “We really talked to our team about that from the start of training camp, that it was really important to lay a great foundation here the first couple of weeks because then the schedule is going to get a little funny, and before you know it we are going to be on a plane, flying to New York to play the Giants.
“So, you do your best to handle the different situations that come up, individually as players and coaches, and certainly collectively. … We don’t anticipate anything on our team being ironed out before we go to the Giants. It’s an ongoing process.”
And the circumstances keep changing. On Friday, it was revealed that linebacker DeMarcus Ware won’t play against San Diego after experiencing hamstring soreness. He joins six other projected starters — tight end Jason Witten (spleen), receiver Miles Austin (hamstring), center Phil Costa (back), guard Nate Livings (hamstring) and linebacker Anthony Spencer (hamstring) — who are sidelined.
“It’s tough not to have some of your guys there that you’re going to roll in the season with,” linebacker Sean Lee said. “But that’s going to happen. … We still have some time to take advantage of and get ready for the Giants.”