The Dallas Cowboys came back to work this week with their mind on turnovers.
At least, that was one of the main things they were asked about after their bye-week break.
“We’re stressing that every day at practice,” safety Danny McCray said. “We should get it right sometime.”
The Cowboys are minus-7 in turnover ratio, second-worst in the league. Only Kansas City, at minus-15, is worse. New England and Atlanta are first at plus-10.
“Some of it is luck,” McCray said. “Some of it is catching the ball when it comes to you. And other ones are disruptions – getting hands up in the quarterback’s face. If you know you’re not going to get there when we’re blitzing on a sack or something, just try to get a hand up and get a tipped ball.”
Cornerback Brandon Carr, with eight interceptions in four years before coming to Dallas, said each player must aim to find a way to make a takeaway.
“It’s a personal challenge that each one of us has to accept,” he said. “You have to challenge yourself to put it upon yourself within the scheme of our defense to go out there and you be the one to make that play. You be the one to make the difference for the defense. But at the same time, you have to be smart about it, read your keys. Just try to remember everything you went over in film, studying what your coaches taught you and just go out there and just play.”
The Cowboys have one interception this year, from linebacker Sean Lee off a ball that bounced off the intended receiver. Victor Butler, Barry Church and Orie Lemon have each recovered fumbles. DeMarcus Ware has forced three fumbles, and Lee has caused one.
Still, the Cowboys have only two interceptions over the past 10 games. They had only one in the final six games last year (also Sean Lee, against the Giants at Cowboys Stadium) and have only one in the first four games this year.
“You work on a lot of different things during the week with drills, and those things have been good for us in the past, and you just have to carry those things to the game,” coach Jason Garrett said. “But it’s a team thing, we talk about that all the time. On offense, the ball security is a team thing. It starts with the guys up front, the guys protecting, the guys blocking, certainly the guys who have the ball in their hands, and similarly on defense, if you create havoc for the quarterback, and he has to do things quicker than he wants to do, typically those result in interceptions.”
IRVING, Texas – The bye week typically is a time for a few tweaks and changes, especially after a tough loss like the Cowboys had Monday night against the Bears, falling to 2-2.
Expect a few roster alterations to either the 53-man roster and/or the practice squad before the Oct. 14 game in Baltimore.
The Cowboys made on Tuesday, waiving cornerback LeQuan Lewis from the roster, dropping the roster down to 52 players. Obviously, the move was made to add another player although the Cowboys didn’t officially announce a roster addition. The Cowboys might use it to bring back safety Mana Silva, who was released a week ago.
Lewis, who was added from the Jets’ practice squad two weeks ago, played in the last two games, mostly on special teams. He was forced into action near the end of the Tampa Bay game on Sept. 23, playing cornerback in nickel situations as the Bucs were throwing into the end zone to try and claw back into the game.
The speedster was the gunner on the punt team and one of the middle players on the kickoff coverage units as well. Brought in three weeks ago as they were getting ready to face Seattle’s return ace, Leon Washington. Monday night, they got past Chicago’s Devin Hester.
Lewis had one tackle and one pass defensed in the regular defense.
Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan said the Cowboys may be one of the few teams that can afford to play nickel defense on third down. That’s because their inside linebackers, Sean Lee and Bruce Carter, can cover.
“We can keep both those guys in because most people have liability in coverage,” Ryan said. “These guys excel in coverage. We like to keep both of them out there as much as possible. They’ve been doing a great job.”
Lee and Carter are the leading and fourth-leading tacklers on the team, with 67 tackles between them. Each has a pass defensed and two tackles for loss. Lee has an interception.
Head coach Jason Garrett said Carter learned from the touchdown catch behind him in short yardage last week against Tampa.
“The biggest thing on the touchdown was, it’s a really difficult play for a linebacker,” Garrett said, “because you’re down in that short-yardage situation, that goal-line situation, and he has to be the guy who fits the run and hits the run and makes the play in the run game – and, oh, by the way, you gotta cover that 7-route by that tight end. So it’s a hard play. He was playing the run more than he was playing the pass and reacted back late to it. But that’s what you have to do. You see teams around the league complete that play all the time.”
Garrett said with time, Carter will see tell-tale signs when that play is coming.
“Seeing the separation between the back and the quarterback, maybe not seeing the linemen come off quite as low and firm as if it’s a run, maybe processing all that, and that’s just going to take time,” Garrett said. “But he certainly has the physical skills for it. He made a ton of plays for us.”
DALLAS’ TRIPLE-CORNER FLEX DEFENSE: Dallas Cowboy CB Brandon Carr willing to play safety the rest of the season; three cover corners could be the solution to pass-happy NFL.
Dallas Cowboys cornerback Brandon Carr has accepted the accolades that accompanied his surprising – and successful – debut as an NFL safety in Sunday’s 16-10 victory over Tampa Bay. Carr played much of the game at safety in place of injured starter Gerald Sensabaugh, who skipped the contest with a strained calf.
Carr’s future could include an extended run at that position now that Barry Church, the other starting safety, is out for the season with a torn Achilles tendon. Sensabaugh’s availability remains day-to-day, said coach Jason Garrett, which could mean additional time for Carr at safety while Morris Claiborne and Mike Jenkins handle the cornerback spots.
Although he signed a five-year, $50.1 million contract in the off-season to be the Cowboys’ shutdown cornerback, and coaches still consider him their best player at that position, Carr said he would embrace an extended run at safety if that is in the best interest of the team.
“If that’s what we have to do for us to get our best 11 on their 11 and to get off the field and win ball games, I’m all for it,” Carr said. “I came here with one thing in mind and that was to win ball games.”
Although he last played safety in high school, and only briefly then, Carr said he is willing to spend the rest of the season there if coach Jason Garrett and defensive coordinator Rob Ryan believes it is in the team’s best interest.
“If this is the role that I’m going to have to have this whole season, then I’m going to accept it and be ready to work and have everybody ready to go when my number’s called,” Carr said.
Because the Cowboys are expected to sign a veteran safety this week to replace Church, who is headed to the injured reserve list, Carr’s days at the position may be numbered. But it became clear against Tampa Bay that having three cover corners on the field at the same time _ Carr, Jenkins and Claiborne _ can be a positive defensive move in today’s pass-happy NFL.
Might the three-corners defense become a Cowboys’ staple going forward?
“I have no clue,” Carr said, smiling. “That’s the good thing about being a player. After each game is over with, you tell me what to do and I say, ‘Ok, coach’ and get ready and prepare myself for Sunday. Each week is going to be exciting to see what new wrinkle we add to our defense. I feel like we have a lot of guys that can play a lot of positions, so, hopefully, that will help us out in our versatility and our different looks. It’s going to be fun.”
RELATED: Jason Garrett credits Rob Ryan, Jerome Henderson for idea of Carr to safety
Jason Garrett gave defensive coordinator Rob Ryan and secondary coach Jerome Henderson credit for finding a way to have Brandon Carr play safety and Mike Jenkins to play cornerback while also keeping Vincent Jackson in check.
The Cowboys needed a way to make up for the loss of safety Gerald Sensabaugh, and putting Carr at safety was one way to do that and also to open up snaps at cornerback for Jenkins, who had been working his way back from offseason shoulder surgery.
“I think it was a real good idea by Rob and by Jerome early on in the week to do that,” Garrett said. “I think it was a great job by Brandon Carr of embracing the idea, saying, ‘Hey, I can do this. Absolutely, I’m excited to do this. I haven’t played safety since high school.’ He was kind of champing at the bit to do it.
“The concerns we had in the discussion was, they have this big guy, Vincent Jackson, and we have this big corner, this is the best matchup, should we really do this? And I think the combination of him playing corner but also playing safety and getting Jenks out there was a good way to go, and I think everybody responded really well to it.”
Garrett said now that Carr has put in some time at safety, the Cowboys have developed a little versatility.
“It’s nice to have that option in your hip pocket,” he said. “If we get in trouble and don’t have other options, we can say, let’s go back and do that again. We obviously want him to play corner. That’s what we feel like he’s best at. But to be able to do that with a guy to absorb an injury, that’s a good thing to have in your hip pocket going forward.”
IRVING, Texas – As he sat on the Cowboys bench in the second half of Sunday’s win over the Buccaneers, his right shoe and sock taken off, Barry Church had a look of sheer disappointment.
He had just learned his season was over far too early following a Achilles tendon tear – either full or partial – that will require surgery on Tuesday. Teammates came around to try to console him, but what could they say to make it better? Called too slow, Church had gone undrafted following four years as an all-conference star at Toledo, only to make the Cowboys in 2010, slowly work his way up the ranks and easily beat out veteran Brodney Pool for a starting job this offseason.
As disappointed as Church was on the sideline, his mood had turned less than an hour later. Speaking to reporters in the Cowboys locker room, he supported himself not only with a pair of crutches, but with his familiar smile.
“On the sidelines it was kind of just shock, like, wow, this really happened. But once I sat down I just kind of had a little talk with myself and figured, you know, you can’t be negative about everything. If you keep on the negative, you’re just going to become a negative person, so I’ve got to keep upbeat and keep positive, and see what happens.”
What will happen is a months-long recovery that will determine the direction of Church’s career.
Some players returning from Achilles injuries are never quite the same – longtime Cowboys fans will remember former first-round pick Kevin Smith, who was hurt in the season opener in 1995 and came back the next year, only a half a step slower. But outside linebacker Greg Ellis suffered the same injury in 2006 and then won NFL Comeback Player of the Year in 2007 after posting a career-high 12.5 sacks.
With the final year of Church’s contract coming in 2013, a lot is riding on his recovery. It will only help to remain optimistic.
“I’ve just got to keep my mind straight,” Church said. “I’ve got to keep my head up. I can’t let this injury get the best of me. I’ll be at the house for a while just relaxing with the cast, but I just can’t let it get the best of me. I’ve got to go out there and continue to get better.”
Though the injury certainly has career path implications, the thing that bothered Church the most in the aftermath of Sunday’s game was that he won’t be able to help this year. Over the preseason and his three starts in September, he had appeared to solidify the safety position of a much improved defense.
“It’s pretty tough,” Church said. “I came out this year looking to make improvements on my game. I feel like I did that the first couple games I played, but this happened. It’s a freak accident. Things happen. But I’ve just got to battle back and try to come back stronger.”
EDITORS COMMENT: Barry Church was a favorite here on The Boys Are Back blog. It looked like he was coming into his own this year. Hopefully, Church will be able to come back from this injury and pursue his dream of playing football in the NFL.
F: Rushing Offense
The Cowboys got their first rushing touchdown of the season, but that’s about the only thing that went right for the running game. DeMarco Murray finished with only 38 yards on 18 carries. He lost yardage seven times. Felix Jones lost a yard on his only carry. Other than Murray’s 11-yard touchdown run, in which Tyron Smith made a dominant block, this was a really poor performance by the offensive line. It’s one thing for the interior offensive line, which was whipped by McCoy, to be shaky. Doug Free, the Cowboys’ most expensive, experienced O-lineman, has been the weakest link. He got dominated by Bennett, who matched McCoy with two tackles for losses.
F: Passing Offense
The Cowboys’ passing game committed three turnovers and produced zero points. That’s awful, especially against a Tampa Bay defense that allowed 510 yards against the New York Giants the previous week. Tony Romo threw for 283 yards on 25-of-39 passing — 107 yards coming on five catches by Miles Austin — but the QB took a beating from a defensive line that barely touched Eli Manning last week. The Buccaneers sacked Romo four times, forcing two fumbles. The Cowboys couldn’t figure out how to keep defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and defensive end Michael Bennett away from Romo.
A: Rushing Defense
A week after Marshawn Lynch marched all over them in the second half, the Cowboys made it tough on the Tampa Bay running backs. The Bucs averaged only 3.0 yards on their 25 carries. Outside linebacker Anthony Spencer was a force again, leading the Cowboys with seven tackles, including one for a loss. Speedy inside linebackers Sean Lee and Bruce Carter each had a tackle for a loss, too. The run defense got stronger as the game went on, a stark contrast to last week in Seattle. Tampa Bay gained on 28 yards on 13 carries after halftime.
A+: Passing Defense
Give defensive coordinator Rob Ryan a ton of credit. He came up with a genius game plan to mask the absence of strong safety Gerald Sensabaugh, one of three starters who weren’t available, and rattle Tampa Bay quarterback Josh Freeman (10-of-28 for 110 yards with a TD and INT). In nickel situations, Brandon Carr played safety for the first time in his career, with Mike Jenkins coming in at cornerback. Those two combined to shut out $55 million receiver Vincent Jackson until the Bucs’ final possession. A week after being shut out, DeMarcus Ware had another two-sack outing, forcing fumbles both times he got to Freeman.
A-: Special Teams
The Cowboys avoided disaster, although they came close on a punt that the Bucs should have blocked, and they made big plays. Orie Lemon made his mark in his NFL debut by recovering a muffed punt, the key play on a scoring drive. Dez Bryant set up the field goal that essentially sealed the win with a 44-yard punt return, the first time this season he has resembled the elite punt returner he was during his rookie season. Dan Bailey was 3-for-3 on field goals. And, hey, Felix Jones didn’t fumble.
This grade reflects solely on the head coach. Rob Ryan’s performance would lift the overall grade to a passing mark, but we’ve got to flunk Jason Garrett after such a ridiculously sloppy outing by his offense. The Cowboys committed 13 penalties, including six false starts. (Strange but true: They are 2-0 when committing 13 penalties this season.) The offense was out of sync all day, and Garrett never adjusted to keep Tampa Bay’s defensive line from teeing off on his quarterback. That’s two straight weeks Garrett’s offense scored only one touchdown. The offensive coordinator looks overwhelmed.
Tim MacMahon | ESPN Dallas
EDITOR COMMENT: Do you agree with this assessment? What are YOUR grades?
AN UGLY WIN IS STILL A WIN: Tony Romo doesn’t impress with stats, but is very satisfied with the outcome
Tony Romo entered with a 3-0 record against the Bucs, with a 70.1 completion percentage, 908 yards, 11 touchdowns, no interceptions and a 144.8 passer rating.
This one wasn’t so pretty.
Romo went 25-of-39 for 283 yards with no touchdowns and an interception. He also lost two fumbles.
The Cowboys had 297 total yards, as the Dallas defense saved the day.
“I don’t want this to go by without talking about how great it feels really to win this game, with the way that our defense played and our ability to grind it out on the offensive side when nothing was easy,” Romo said. “This is a very, very satisfying win, even though it’ll kind of get lost in the shuffle as you move through the season sometimes, because of the way it looked. But these are the kinds of wins that you have to have. We’ve played better on offense before and lost football games. We’ve played better as a team sometimes with the way that it looks and lost games. But to win the game with the way that we did today really excites me and gives us a chance going forward.”
Romo was sacked four times, losing fumbles on two of them, while taking four other hard shots.
"Obviously, it’s not good enough," center Ryan Cook said. "We would like, in a perfect world, to have no shots [on Romo], no pressures and for him to sit back in the pocket all day and throw the ball. But that wasn’t the reality today. We’ve got to do a better job of protecting him and giving him time to make those long throws down the field."
DALLAS’ NEW FLEX DEFENSE: Brandon Carr’s quick adaptation to safety gives Mike Jenkins a chance to impress at cornerback
Brandon Carr said he got it in a text. The plan was for him to play safety this week.
If it caught him by surprise, it should have. He had not played safety in the NFL or college. Maybe a snap in high school, he said.
But whatever. He had to get ready.
“They let me know on Monday. I got a head start,” he said. “Got my mind right. Watch extra film. Not at corner, but at safety, just to get a feel for how things were going to be coming at me.”
He said he worked with injured safety Gerald Sensabaugh to get ready.
“I picked his brain a little bit,” Carr said. “It helped me just as far as reaction of where to be on the field, pre-snap, what should I be looking for, different personnel, different ways they line up and things like that. He was always there for me, giving me a helping hand.”
Whatever he did, it worked.
Carr shuttled between safety and cornerback, and his work got extra snaps at corner for Mike Jenkins. Between them and Orlando Scandrick and Morris Claiborne, the Cowboys held the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ biggest threats at wide receiver in check in a 16-10 victory Sunday.
Mike Williams caught two passes on six targets. Vincent Jackson caught one pass on seven targets. And quarterback Josh Freeman completed only 10 of 28 passes for 110 yards and a touchdown, finishing with a 45.2 passer rating.
“The game is different back there,” Carr said. “You know, at corner everything happens so quick. It’s at the line of scrimmage. It’s physical. At safety, it’s more reading the quarterback, trying to get a break on balls. Sometimes you have to be the quarterback back there and call out the plays and our checks and stuff. So I knew it was a different ballgame.”
Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said Carr looked good enough at practice to let the Cowboys try their experiment.
“It was a little bit of a challenge for us because Vincent Jackson is such a good football player. He is a big guy, and Brandon matches up with him well,” Garrett said. “At the same time, Mike Jenkins is healthy. … We said, let’s get our four and five best DBs out there as much as we can, and the guy we felt was most suited to play safety was Brandon Carr. He told me he hadn’t done it since 11th grade. He was a quarterback and safety in 11th grade.
“He looked real comfortable when we started doing it in practice early in the week. Jenks played really well. It was good to see him playing the way he is capable of playing, and Brandon’s versatility allows him to do that.”
Of Jenkins, Carr said, “Man, he played outstanding ball. Like I said, I want to give guys the opportunity to go out there and play and make a difference. That’s what he did. He went out there, seized the moment. When he got his chance, he went out there and did an exceptional job on 83.”
Told he might have the best hands on the team, inside linebacker Sean Lee laughed.
"I have streaky hands," Lee said. "I’ve been on a good streak here for a while."
Lee intercepted a Josh Freeman pass in the first quarter as the ball bounced off running back D.J. Ware’s hands and up into the air for Lee to nab. The Cowboys used the good field position to tie the game, going 23 yards in four plays for the touchdown.
"I went to make a tackle, and he tried to hit a check down and the ball was floating right up in the air for me," Lee said. "It’s one of those things where you’re like, ‘Just please catch the ball.’ That’s what you’re concentrating on. Right place, right time."
Lee now has seven career interceptions in only 32 games. It is one less than cornerbacks Mike Jenkins and Brandon Carr have in their careers.
"He has a nose for the football," Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. "You see that in the number of tackles he makes. We have seen his ability to play the ball. He has done that throughout his career. He has made some real signature interceptions in his career. His ability to track the ball and make the play in the air, in traffic, like he did is tribute to his athletic ability. He shows up throughout the game. he is a great leader for our defense."
Lee tied a team record with 21 tackles last week, including 15 solos.
DeMarco Murray scored the Cowboys’ first rushing touchdown of the season with an 11-yard stretch play in the first quarter. It was his third career rushing touchdown and first since Nov. 13, 2011, against Buffalo.
However, that was one of the few holes he found. Murray had only 38 yards on 18 carries.
“All day long, it was tough,” he said. “There weren’t a lot of creases up there.”
Despite the lack of running room, Murray blamed himself for failing to capitalize on a couple of opportunities.
“One was a really, really bad play by me,” he said. “I got tripped up and let a guy arm tackle me. There definitely could have been two home runs for me, and it didn’t happen.”
As a team, the Cowboys (2-1) had only five rushing touchdowns last season: the fewest of any season in franchise history. With one rushing touchdown in three games this season, they are on a comparable pace in 2012. On his TD run, Murray said: ““It felt good. Tyron (Smith) made a good block. Miles (Austin) made a good block and it was open, so I’ve got to give credit to those guys.”
As the saying goes, sometimes you’ve just got to win ugly.
At least that’s one word to describe the Dallas offense as they were able to scrape out a 16-10 victory over Tampa Bay in front of 81,984 fans. Behind an offensive line that struggled to create running room and keep the pocket clean, nearly getting quarterback Tony Romo injured in the process, the Cowboys managed 297 total yards, including just 38 on the ground
Still, it was enough. Why? Because the defense, on the other hand, was a thing of beauty. Coordinator Rob Ryan’s unit dominated throughout the day, despite not having two starters up front in Jay Ratliff and Kenyon Coleman and starting safety Gerald Sensabaugh out as well, all due to injury. Fellow safety Barry Church was then lost for the game, and the season, in the third quarter. He suffered a torn Achilles tendon and will have surgery this week.
No matter, the defense held Tampa Bay to a paltry 166 total yards of offense. Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman threw for just 110 yards on 10 of 28 passing, while the visitors’ running game gained only 75 yards. Of those 110 yards by Freeman, 71 came on his team’s final drive when the Cowboys were sitting in a prevent defense.
Unlike last week when the defense eventually wore down against Seattle, this time they held strong in the second half, allowing Romo and Co. an opportunity to put the game away late. The quarterback finished with 283 yards on 25 of 39 passing with one interception, while Miles Austin had a big day with 107 receiving yards on five catches. Dez Bryant added 62 yards on six grabs, also giving the crowd a jolt with a 44-yard punt return.
Long before that, though, with less than five minutes having ticked off the clock, fans had to be wondering just what was wrong with their Cowboys. An already inept opening possession, only got worse when Buccaneers cornerback Aqib Talib stepped in front of Austin for an interception at the Dallas 29.
That was then followed by the Cowboys allowing Tampa Bay to pick up nine yards on their own, but handing over another 20 yards in penalties to give them first and goal at the Dallas 1-yard line. The Bucs got on the board with a Freeman loft to tight end Luke Stocker in the back corner of the end zone for a 7-0 lead.
Fortunately, Tampa Bay was in a giving mood as well. On their second drive of the quarter, Freeman tried to dump a pass underneath, only to see the ball tip off the fingers of running back D.J. Ware and into the arms of linebacker Sean Lee, giving Dallas field position at the Buccaneers’ 23-yard line.
The Cowboys then turned to DeMarco Murray, the back touching the ball on all four plays of the drive, the last a run around the left end that saw him dive for the pylon and the score, the Cowboys evening things up at 7-7.
With both defenses clamping down, the Cowboys caught another break with just over six minutes to play in the second quarter. Tampa Bay linebacker Dekoda Watson broke free on what should have probably been a blocked punt. Instead, he missed the ball and ran into punter Chris Jones for the penalty.
But on the other end of the field, Bucs return man Jordan Shipley muffed the catch, linebacker Orie Lemon, just called up from the practice squad yesterday, there to dig the ball out of the scrum. With the additional 15 yards tacked on for the roughing the kicker call, Dallas had great field position at the Tampa Bay 24-yard line.
A Romo scramble picked up a first down to the Buccaneers 12, but there the drive would stall. Dan Bailey then came out for a 32-yard field goal, splitting the uprights to give Dallas a 10-7 lead with 2:51 left in the half.
The Cowboys made the curious decision to go with an onside kick, the attempt failing and giving Tampa Bay a short field at their own 49. But four Buccaneers penalties on the possession effectively killed any opportunities for the visitors, Dallas taking over at their 20-yard line with 57 seconds remaining.
And, they made a go of it, Romo hitting Austin for 15 yards and Ogletree for 19 more to cross midfield to the Buccaneers’ 40-yard line. But, with 16 seconds on the clock, Romo was sacked, pushing them out of field goal range, the score unchanged going into the break.
Adjustments were made by Jason Garrett and his staff during halftime with the Cowboys’ offense coming out after the break and finding success on their first drive with short passes and quick slants. Romo found Ogletree for seven, Bryant for 18 and Austin for 21 yards to work their way down to the Tampa Bay 17.
But then on the ensuing play, Romo stepped up in the pocket to try and escape the pressure, only to have the ball knocked out of his hands, the Buccaneers recovering to take possession.
Soon thereafter, it happened all over again. However, this time the turnover occurred in Dallas territory. With Romo dropping back to pass, he was sacked by two Tampa Bay defenders, the ball coming loose and scooped up by cornerback Eric Wright at the Cowboys’ 31-yard line.
The Cowboys caught a bit of a break when the officials blew the play dead, thinking Romo was down before the ball came loose. A video challenge overturned the ruling, giving Tampa Bay the ball, but had they not blown the whistle initially, Wright would have waltzed into the end zone untouched.
That allowed the Dallas defense to do what it had been doing all day, stifling the Bucs, who were forced to punt when they were unable to move the chains.
With their defense keeping them in the game, the Cowboys offense got on the move again, this time the big blow coming on a 49-yard bomb to Austin that moved Dallas down to the Tampa Bay 30. Two snaps of the ball later, and Romo had a wide-open Jason Witten streaking down the middle, but the tight end was unable to haul in the catch, another tough afternoon for the former Pro Bowler.
Now in the fourth quarter, the offense was able to reach the Buccaneers’ 14-yard line before Romo took a vicious hit to push them back to the 21. Although Felix Jones brought a dump-off pass to the 8, the Cowboys would have to settle for a 26-yard field goal from Bailey, the advantage now 13-7 with 11:10 left in the game.
That would be all the Cowboys would need with the defense playing the way it was but just for good measure, a punt to the Tampa Bay 18 was pushed back 9 more yards due to unnecessary roughness. From there, the Buccaneers had no chance, the Dallas “D” moving them back to the 1-yard line, thanks to a sack and strip of the ball by DeMarcus Ware.
With Tampa Bay punting out of their own end zone, Bryant took the return from the 50-yard line, went to the right sideline, then cut back up into daylight before being taken down at the Buccaneers 6-yard line. His electric 44-yard return was easily the longest by the Cowboys this season.
Settling for a 22-yard field goal, Bailey’s effort, as it turned out, actually provided a little comforting insurance. With the score at 16-7 with just over two minutes left in the game, and the defense sitting back in a prevent, the Buccaneers were able to strike big on completions of 29 yards, 12, 23 and 7 to work their way down to the Dallas 10-yard line.
But on fourth and three, the Buccaneers elected to kick the field goal, narrowing the score to 16-10, and setting up an onside kick with 40 seconds on the clock. It didn’t work. The kick bounced high into the air and into the waiting arms of tight end James Hanna.
Tampa Bay did its best to prolong the celebration, calling two timeouts in the waning seconds, and aggressively charging the Cowboys kneel-down effort just as they had against the Giants the week before, but it was to no avail. The win improved the Cowboys’ record to 2-1 on the season with a showdown at home against the Bears coming up next Monday night.
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ARLINGTON, Texas — The offense still has issues. The offensive line is shoddy. The starting safeties are hurt. But it doesn’t matter because the Cowboys won Sunday afternoon, beating Tampa Bay 16-10 in the home opener at Cowboys Stadium.
Tony Romo was beaten up by the Tampa Bay pass rush, but two key fourth-quarter plays, a 45-yard punt return by Dez Bryant and a late sack by DeMarcus Ware on a third-and-4, sealed the game.
Still, the Cowboys (2-1) have to perform much better if they’re expected to compete at an elite level.
What it means: After the Cowboys knocked off the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants in the opener, they put up a stinker in Seattle. Now, they fooled around with Tampa Bay for four quarters and survived. This tells us the Cowboys, as we said last week, are not ready to move up to an elite level in this league. Yes, they won the game, but I can’t believe the Cowboys can beat elite teams playing like this.
Witten’s bad day: Jason Witten dropped three passes Sunday. He’s got an NFL-high six drops on the season, and he was penalized twice for false starts. When his day ended, the Cowboys’ tight end finished with just two catches for 8 yards. This is one of the worst stretches for Witten since the 2008 season. During a five-game stretch that season, he had four catches for 53 yards and no touchdowns. This season, Witten has just eight catches for 76 yards and no touchdowns. He hasn’t scored since Nov. 20, 2011, at Washington. Is this the beginning of the end for Witten? He is coming off a spleen injury that didn’t cost him any regular-season games, and he said on Friday he’s healthy.
Church injured: The Cowboys lost safety Barry Church to a right leg injury that appeared serious. Church suffered the injury with 7:31 to play in the third quarter, and he was replaced by Mana Silva. Several Cowboys players were tapping Church on the shoulder pads and offering him words of encouragement after he went out. Miles Austin also suffered an injury (ribs), but he returned and ended the day with five catches for 107 yards. Left guard Nate Livings left with a hand injury in the first quarter but returned and didn’t have any more issues. With Church out, the Cowboys were left without their starting safeties. Gerald Sensabaugh didn’t play because of a calf injury.
False start penalties: The Cowboys were riddled with false start penalties. Right tackle Doug Free was flagged three times and Witten twice. Left tackle Tyron Smith was also called for one. The false start penalties could be attributed to center Ryan Cook and the cadence with Romo or a lack of concentration.
Austin outplays Jackson: The two big-play threats from a receiving standpoint, Austin and Vincent Jackson, had opposing performances. Austin finished with five catches for 107 yards, his 12th 100-yard receiving game of his career. Jackson, the deep-play threat for Tampa Bay, had one catch for 29 yards, that one coming in the fourth quarter.
What’s next? The banged-up Cowboys will face the Chicago Bears on "Monday Night Football." Among the missing starters: nose tackle Jay Ratliff (ankle), center Phil Costa (back), Sensabaugh (calf) and Church (right leg).
RELATED: Safety Shuffle – Barry Church out with right leg injury
Barry Church left with 7:31 left in the third quarter after injuring his right leg on a play in which there was no contact. He went to the ground as he was accelerating toward the line of scrimmage and limped off the field after getting examined by the medical staff.
Gerald Sensabaugh, the other starter, didn’t play because of a right calf strain. Danny McCray started in his place.
Church did not finish last week’s game at Seattle because of a quadriceps bruise.
Mana Silva replaced Church and was called for a pass interference penalty on his second snap. The Cowboys don’t have any other active safeties after cutting Mario Butler to make room for linebacker Orie Lemon.
The Cowboys’ season began with promise. But a 27-7 loss to Seattle has raised doubts about whether Dallas can play consistently at a high level. Now, the Cowboys face a Tampa Bay team with a new coach and a new attitude. Here is a look at how both teams match up:
When the Cowboys run
After rushing for 131 yards and carrying the Cowboys to victory in Week 1, DeMarco Murray’s production declined in a 27-7 loss to Seattle last Sunday. Against the Seahawks, he gained just 44 yards on 12 carries. In part Murray’s diminished output was caused by Seattle’s run defense, which was ranked second in the league after Week 2. But the circumstances of the game also affected his performance. Dallas trailed by 10 points before five minutes had expired and Murray was soon rendered a non-factor. Tampa Bay — allowing only 2.74 yards per carry, the fifth-lowest average in the NFL — hopes it will be able to shackle Murray like Seattle did.
When the Cowboys pass
Tight end Jason Witten dropped three passes. Receiver Dez Bryant vanished for long stretches. Tony Romo made ill-advised throws. The Cowboys’ passing offense struggled against Seattle. But despite its failures, it is still ranked sixth in the league after Week 2. Now it faces a Tampa Bay defense that has shown it can be opportunistic but also vulnerable against a trigger-happy quarterback. In a loss to the New York Giants last Sunday, the Buccaneers intercepted Eli Manning three times but also surrendered 510 passing yards and three long touchdowns.
When the Buccaneers run
New Tampa Bay coach Greg Schiano appears committed to developing a running game with rookie tailback Doug Martin as the featured ball carrier. Only nine teams have more rush attempts than the Buccaneers after two weeks. But Tampa Bay’s ground game hasn’t been a roaring success. The Buccaneers are gaining only 3.6 yards per carry – the ninth-lowest average in the NFL. But that may increase this week against a Cowboys defense ranked 23rd against the run after being tormented by Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch last Sunday.
When the Buccaneers pass
Josh Freeman’s 2011 season was one to forget. He threw more interceptions – 22 – than all but one quarterback in the league. But Freeman has been solid in the first two games and has benefited from the free-agent acquisition of receiver Vincent Jackson, who has made nine catches for 175 yards and a touchdown this season. Still, Tampa Bay’s air attack seems to be in the development stages. It’s the fourth-least productive in the league and this week it’s facing a Cowboys team that has the NFL’s third-stingiest passing defense.
The Cowboys’ special teams were atrocious last week against the Seahawks. Returner Felix Jones’ fumble on the opening kickoff and a blocked punt put Dallas in hole from which it never emerged. Kicker Dan Bailey, meanwhile, attempted only one extra point in the loss. Tampa Bay hasn’t experienced the same misfortune. In fact, Connor Barth has converted all five field-goal attempts after producing the second-highest field-goal percentage in 2011.
The Cowboys have yet to establish a true home-field advantage at Cowboys Stadium. In the 25 competitive games they have played there, they have won only 14. But Dallas should feel considerably more comfortable in the confines of Jerry World than they were in CenturyLink Field and MetLife Stadium – the sites of their first two games. If that doesn’t soothe the Cowboys then the knowledge that they have defeated Tampa Bay in their previous four meetings should.
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Regular readers already know that The Boys Are Back blog features the ALMOST WORLD FAMOUS predictions from The GREAT Robbini. Last week, the humidity in Seattle fogged up his crystal ball. We’re gonna let that one slide. Everyone (including the Dallas Cowboys) has a bad week! Right? Surely, the sunny skies in Dallas will help beam in some clear images!
The GREAT Robbini is psyched about the 2012-2013 Dallas Cowboys vibe… and ready to share his prognostications that we all count on from week-to-week. Without further delay, it’s time for The GREAT Robbini’s predictions. I’m sure you’ll agree … a lot of these will come true. OK, here we go …
The GREAT Robbini – Week #3 predictions:
Cowboys continue the winning streak against Bucs with a win at home.
The Dallas Cowboys defense coordinator Rob Ryan flexes his 24-7 defense. DeMarcus Ware and the ‘boys mix it up against Tampa Bay, break the Bucs rhythm.
- 5 team sacks, including:
- 1 sack for Sean Lissemore
- 2 sacks for DeMarcus Ware
- Sean Lee gets a turnover
- Bruce Carter leads in tackles
- 1+ takeaways per half
- 1 Morris Claiborne interception
- Cowboys defend opening kick
The Dallas offense puts on a show in Big D, light it up on offense:
- 3 Tony Romo TD’s, 400 yards passing
- Dez Bryant TD
- Jason Witten TD
- DeMarco Murray TD, rushes for 100 yards
- Dallas uses seven different receivers
- Cowboys win by 7
The GREAT Robbini
Starting left tackle Russell Okung sat out with an injury, yet Ware didn’t register a sack against the Seahawks in a 27-7 loss last weekend. Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan indicated Friday that Ware might not be 100 percent.
“We all know DeMarcus isn’t full speed,” Ryan said. “When he is, look out.”
Ware missed the rest of the preseason after tweaking his hamstring in the week leading into the second exhibition game against the Chargers. He finished with two sacks in the regular-season opener against the Giants, but was a limited participant in practice prior to the Seahawks game.
Ryan said the Cowboys will find out this week just how hampered Ware is by his hamstring.
“I know he’s improving,” Ryan said. “He’s working on it. When he’s full strength, I agree with you, he’s the best in the league, and he’s the best there ever was. But he’s still never gotten a sack when they run the football.”
In addition to his health, Ryan attributed Ware’s lack of sacks to the Seahawks’ propensity to use running back Marshawn Lynch. Seattle rushed 41 times and only threw 20 passes.
Whether or not he was limited, Ware still played and was credited with two solo tackles and six assists against the Seahawks. The Cowboys gave him eight solo tackles and five assists based on coaches’ film, his 13 total tying a career high.
Ryan said the Cowboys got away from their anticipated game plan after falling behind early. He said he plans to pressure the quarterback more, but wants to be more efficient than a junior varsity high school defense that sends a “blitzathon” at the opposing quarterback.
“I think we’re the fifth leading team at sacking the quarterback per pass attempt,” Ryan said. “We’re always up there because we do have great pressures, we do know when to pressure, we know how to pressure, we know how to attack protections.”
SOURCE: Rob Ryan press conference – Efficiency Over Stupidity
Rob Ryan talks about last weekends game against the Seahawks and what they need to do to improve this week.
To watch video, click on picture or HERE. Enjoy!
Rick Stroud and Stephen F. Holder discuss Demar Dotson’s promotion, Preston Parker’s release and what the Bucs must do to stop Tony Romo and the Cowboys.
ALTERNATE LINK: Click HERE to watch the short video
IRVING, Texas – In an attempt to bolster the special teams units for Sunday’s game with the Bucs, the Dallas Cowboys have signed first-year linebacker Orie Lemon from the practice squad.
Lemon will be active Sunday against Tampa Bay, making his NFL debut as he is expected to play on most special teams units. Lemon, who spent all of last year on the practice squad, led the Cowboys with three special teams tackles during the preseason. He also had an interception for a touchdown in the preseason finale against Miami.
Lemon will likely assume a lot of the special teams duties held by Alex Albright, who is out this week with a stinger injury.
To make room for Lemon, the Cowboys waived cornerback/safety Mario Butler, who like Lemon, was also on the practice squad in 2011. Butler was on the 53-man roster for the first two games this year, and active in the season opener against the Giants.
He was expected to play some this week with Gerald Sensabaugh (calf) doubtful for the Bucs game and Barry Church (quad) also banged up. But it appears the Cowboys will go an alternate route for some backup safety help. Cornerbacks Brandon Carr, Mike Jenkins and Orlando Scandrick have all received some work at safety this week in a nickel package and could provide some depth if needed.
Butler is still practice-squad eligible and it’s likely the Cowboys will try to bring him back on the eight-man squad.
Like Lemon, another linebacker expected to make his NFL debut on Sunday is fourth-round pick Kyle Wilber, who has been inactive the first two weeks. Wilber had a broken thumb that required surgery and now a soft cast.
IRVING, Texas – OK, look, let’s cut through all the baloney that has been floating around out there all week.
You know what I mean, all the sweeping assumptions being thrown down ever since the Cowboys’ 27-7 clunker last Sunday in Seattle that a whole lot want to insist has minimized their 24-17 season-opening victory over the New York Giants. Seriously? Minimized? Why, if they had not beaten the Giants the Cowboys would be going into their home-opener against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers noon Sunday at Cowboys Stadium at 0-2 instead of 1-1.
Let’s see, there has been this entire Felix Jones brouhaha taking place. Just cut the guy because he fumbled the opening kickoff in the Seattle game, and is struggling to get any kickoffs back to the 20-yard line. Too slow. Doesn’t care. Come on, this is why the Cowboys are 1-1, why they lost to Seattle?
Well, check this out. The Cowboys average starting point after 10 opponent kickoffs is the 19.7-yard line. That means they are one of 21 teams whose average starting point ranges between the 21.9 and the 15. Guess who was at 15? The undefeated Houston Texans. Guess who is right below the Cowboys at 19.6? It’s the undefeated San Francisco 49ers.
Also, the Cowboys just aren’t physical enough, and this just one week after the Cowboys put up 143 yards rushing against those defensive Giants of New York when many were remarking how physical the Cowboys were. Now it’s, “they just let Marshawn Lynch push them all around.”
Hmmm. Did you realize last year in a 23-13 victory over the Seahawks, Lynch rushed for 135 yards and the Seahawks for 162? Heck, if the Cowboys had simply executed the defense properly or had Rob Ryan not called a safety blitz coming in from the Cowboys right when the Seahawks handed off on the run going left, Lynch would not have set sail on the back-breaking 36-yard run. Take that run away, and he goes for 86 yards on 25 carries. That’s not getting pushed around in my book, and far from getting punked.
Then there is this missing identity thing taking just two games to resurface. As in, who are these Cowboys? What are these Cowboys?
Again, seriously, after just two games? Other than being defending Super Bowl champions, who were the New York Giants after two games before ripping Carolina Thursday night? The team that was whupped by the Cowboys in their own stadium? The team that opened the game against Tampa Bay with three interceptions to trail 27-14 at home late in the third quarter? Or the team that ended up passing for 510 yards and recovering for a 41-34 victory over the Bucs?
Let’s see, there also has been talk like Jason Witten is over the hill, same ol’ Dez Bryant, no pass rush and, love this one, Cowboys just can’t stand prosperity, as if winning just one game is prosperity.
Has anyone considered the Seahawks just might be pretty good? And who knows for sure, and maybe we find out a little more Monday night when they play Green Bay at CenturyLink. Look, I know the Cowboys beat the Seahawks 23-13 last year, but did you realize they finished 2011 with a 7-9 record, just one game behind the 8-8 Cowboys? And did you realize they were throwing for the end zone in the final seconds at Arizona in a 20-16 loss to the Cardinals, the same team that went to New England a week later and won?
Ya know. Goodness, hope so many don’t make such knee-jerk assumptions in real life on more important matters. Let this season breathe just a little. Let’s see, cuz I’m not saying any or all of these two-game assumptions are wrong, but just don’t know yet that they are accurate, especially after playing the opening two games on the road, going from the Right Coast to the Left Coast. Not easy. And Tampa gets a taste of that this Sunday, getting ready to play back-to-back road games.
So really, let’s not be afraid of the truth, of worrying about what needs some worrying over.
Bottom line from the Puget Sound: The Cowboys scored seven darn points, and not too many times will you win a game in the National Football League with seven darn points. Hey, they score seven Sunday and I’m guessing you’d bet the house (your house, not mine) they emerge at 3 p.m. with a 1-2 record. Don’t be clouding the issue with rhetoric.
Here is the issue, first and foremost heading into the Tampa Bay game: Hold on to the darn football. You can’t drop five passes, as they did against Seattle, and then on top of that fail to hang onto at least two or three other throws that would have qualified as big-time NFL catches, and expect to win.
You can’t fumble the opening kickoff, and then on the one time you have a chance to return a punt, you double-dribble the ball and have to end up falling on it, forfeiting an opportunity to gain like the 15 to 20 yards that were out there ahead of Dez Bryant, and expect to win. Ball security is important.
So is securing your quarterback. While Tony Romo has been sacked just twice in two games, too many times he’s being forced to improvise in the pocket because of pressure. Those spin-o-rama moves he continues to make are cute, but also out of necessity because of poor protection. To me, that was a huge cause for the loss to Seattle, in spite of spotting the Seahawks those opening 10 points.
Hey, they had recovered somewhat from the disastrous start, trailing 10-7 at one point, and then 13-7 at halftime. Still, score one touchdown, and you wipe away all the bad and lead 14-13. How’d that make Seattle feel if they think they had dominated the first half, look up early in the third and were trailing?
But no, the Cowboys, after the defense forced a half-opening punt, can only gain 13 yards that first possession and have to punt. Then, even after Seattle scores, thanks to that 36-yard Lynch run and busted coverage on the 22-yard touchdown pass to Anthony McCoy, they only gain 16 yards on the ensuing possession and have to punt again.
Had the offense at least scored those 24 points they did against the Giants, life would have been more difficult on the Seahawks. They would have forced them to play offense. But the Cowboys offense couldn’t move, and too many times the pressure was coming up in the middle in Romo’s face. Too many times blitzes were causing him to alter or force throws.
Remember, the offensive line was a concern heading into the season, and after two games there still should be concern. That five-some is a work in progress, but its work needs to progress at a faster rate, otherwise …
So let’s just see before you start jumping overboard. Isn’t there some sort of saying about better the devil you know than the devil you don’t.
What if you jump into the freezing cold water below, and then the ship doesn’t go down?
Patience, just a little, OK.
IRVING, Texas – Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz, Sidney Rice and Golden Tate. These are the best receivers that the Dallas Cowboys have faced through two games. None of them scored a touchdown against Dallas. In fact, the Cowboys have yet to give up a touchdown to any receiver this season.
The receivers mentioned above and most of the ones the Cowboys have faced so far are known for their dangerous quickness. Vincent Jackson of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers poses a whole other problem.
At 6-5 and 230 pounds, Jackson is a strong and physical receiver that the Cowboys will have to prepare for almost as if they are playing a fast tight end. This could mean trouble for the Cowboys who might not have given up touchdowns to receivers yet, but they have seen tight ends catch touchdown passes on them in each of the first two games.
In his first season with the Buccaneers, Jackson seems to have already picked up some nice chemistry with quarterback Josh Freeman. Last week in a loss to the Giants, he caught five passes for 128 yards and a touchdown.
Cornerback Brandon Carr, who has been instrumental in shutting down receivers this season, talked about preparing to face Jackson.
“You just got to be ready to go 60 minutes,” Carr said. “Be prepared for a battle every time you come to the line of scrimmage.”
As a member of the Kansas City Chiefs, Carr faced Jackson when he was playing for the San Diego Chargers. He explained that he knew what to expect when lining up against Jackson.
“I just played him for four years so I kind of have a feel for his capabilities on the field. He’s a big, powerful receiver and he’s very physical at the line of scrimmage. … I’ll have my work cut out for me.”
“Yes and no,” Carr said. “He has a different skill set. They do things differently. Off the line of scrimmage he’s more physical, more of a bully, so to speak. When the ball goes up, it’s either he’s catching it or the opposite, nobody’s catching it.”
Although Carr described Jackson as a “bully” he made sure to point out that he is not intimidated by the big receiver. In fact, he relishes the opportunity.
“I like checking big receivers,” Carr said. “This will be a good matchup for me, a good test. I’m ready for the challenge. I just can’t wait for Sunday to get here.”
Safety Barry Church took time to praise the Cowboys’ cornerbacks and what they have been able to do thus far. He is confident that they will continue their success against Jackson.
“Our corners are playing pretty well this year,” Church said. “Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne, they’re showing up all over the field and becoming lockdown corners. I look forward to continuing to play with them and continuing to shut down wide receivers.”
Church elaborated by explaining that the Cowboys know the formula to containing a big target like Jackson.
You’ve just got to be more physical with him at the line of scrimmage,” Church said. “You can’t let him get on top of you because he’s going to out-jump you. He’s got a couple of inches on our corners so they’ve got to be real physical with him at the line of scrimmage.”
This might be the last thing Cowboys fans want to hear, but the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are very similar to the Seattle Seahawks. Both squads play a physical brand of football, limiting turnovers and relying on their running game to set up the pass. Despite a disappointing 2011 season, the Bucs’ win over the Carolina Panthers and close loss to the New York Giants show that this team is a different one from a year ago.
24.8: The yards-per-drive posted by the Bucs through two weeks.
Even with their offensive explosion against the Giants on Sunday, the Bucs are still 28th in the NFL in this category. In comparison, the Cowboys have totaled 36.6 yards-per-drive, good for sixth in the league.
33: The Bucs’ average starting field position.
In today’s pass-happy NFL, the Bucs are playing a truly old-school style of football under new head coach Greg Schiano. They run often and protect the football, playing methodically to keep themselves in ballgames. This can limit offensive efficiency, but it also means the Bucs rarely give opponents a short field. Ranked fourth in the NFL in field position, the average Tampa Bay drive has begun 12 yards ahead of the typical Cowboys drive.
88: The percentage of running back carries given to rookie Doug Martin.
Martin is the Bucs’ workhorse running back, so he’ll rarely come out of the game on Sunday. Martin does a little bit of everything – outside running, rushing between the tackles, catching passes, pass protection – and he’ll be the focal point of Tampa Bay’s offense. He’s fourth in the NFL in carries through two weeks.
50/50: The Bucs’ split between runs to the left and right sides of the field.
Left or right, inside or outside, tosses or dives, the Bucs are going to use their running game to hit the Cowboys from all angles on Sunday. They’re particularly efficient behind guard Carl Nicks and center Jeremy Zuttah, so whoever is playing nose tackle for the Cowboys will need to come up big to halt Tampa Bay’s short-yardage efforts.
7.3: Yards-per-attempt for Bucs quarterback Josh Freeman, a career-high thus far.
If there’s a single stat that can tell the story of an offense, it’s usually passing YPA. The Bucs are a run-first team, but they utilize their running game to set up big plays through the air. Freeman has been able to find wide receivers Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams off of play-action passes and other looks that are set up by their running game.
11.5: The percentage of Josh Freeman’s passes that have traveled at least 20 yards.
That mark is good for 13th in the NFL. The majority of those deep shots have come off of play-action, so the Cowboys safeties will need to hold their ground when the Bucs show run action. Freeman has completed half of his deep pass attempts for 111 yards, two touchdowns, and no picks.
44.8: The percentage of Freeman’s dropbacks during which he has faced pressure.
That’s the highest mark in the NFL. In comparison, Romo has been pressured on 37 percent of his passes.
130.7: The passer rating Josh Freeman has generated when throwing to Mike Williams.
Vincent Jackson is the obvious big-play threat for Tampa Bay, but Williams is a talented receiver as well. Opposing defensive coordinators have spent so much time focusing on Jackson that Williams has garnered a whole lot of single coverage. He’s parlayed that into two touchdowns in the season’s first two weeks.
95.2: The difference in Freeman’s passer rating when he faces pressure versus when he has a clean pocket.
The difference is far, far more substantial than the average quarterback. In comparison, Romo’s passer rating when pressured has historically been just around 20 points lower than when he’s given a clean pocket. Freeman might not be Drew Brees, but he generally won’t make mistakes unless you can get in his face. His passer rating through two weeks is 122.9 when given a clean pocket.
9.3: The percentage of Doug Martin’s yards that have come on runs of 15-plus yards.
In comparison, 61.6 percent of C.J. Spiller’s yards have come on big plays. Despite posting one of the lowest big-play marks in the league, Martin still possesses breakaway capability. He’s a load to bring down, so the Cowboys will need to gang tackle Martin in an effort to make sure that, unlike Marshawn Lynch last week, he doesn’t turn any would-be short gains into long runs.
19: The difference in points scored for Tampa Bay (50) and Dallas (31).
A lot of this has to do with the fact that the Cowboys have run only 18 drives all season, the lowest mark in the NFL. The average team has run 22 drives though the season’s first two weeks, and the Bucs have started 23 drives. Nonetheless, the ’Boys are only 23rd in the league in points-per-drive (1.72).
6: The numbers of teams, including the Bucs, who have called more runs than passes.
The Bucs’ passing game can be efficient because defenses get accustomed to seeing the run. Tampa Bay has run the ball on 52.7 percent of their snaps, making them one of the few truly balanced offenses remaining in the NFL. The Cowboys could be susceptible to big plays with a banged up secondary, but their ability to stifle Tampa Bay’s passing game is directly related to their ability to stop Martin on the ground. If the ’Boys can bottle up Martin without putting eight men in the box, thus allowing for safety help over top of Jackson, it will dramatically increase their chances of winning on Sunday.
ELEVATING THEIR GAME: If the Dallas Cowboys are going to make a run, these five players need to step up
IRVING — Running back Felix Jones has replaced the departed Marion Barber and Roy Williams as the whipping boy of the media and fans for what’s wrong with the Dallas Cowboys when things don’t go as expected.
Certainly, through two games the criticisms of Jones are not without merit — considering his lost fumble that set the tone in the 27-7 loss to the Seattle Seahawks and otherwise lethargic play.
Jason Garrett said he has no issue with either Jones. He is in concert with the owner, and the former first-round pick will keep his job as the primary kick returner because of his history of success, but other options will be ready.
"The lines of communication are open," Garrett said. "We’ve never had any issues that way regarding personnel or really any kind of decision we have to make as an organization."
Surely, Felix Jones needs to play better, but he is not alone on the list of Cowboys who need to step up their play if they are to realize their dream of making the playoffs and finally making a deep run.
RB Felix Jones
Jones has been a lightning rod since failing the conditioning test at the start of training camp, blamed partly on him missing the off-season because of shoulder surgery. He has yet to regain the coveted burst that makes him dangerous as a returner and a change-of-pace option out of the backfield. Owner Jerry Jones bristled when asked whether the running back is in danger of being cut. Garrett’s limited use of him in the offense is quite telling. He has one carry for 1 yard and just four receptions in two games. If the Cowboys are not going to use him on offense, he needs to play a big role on special teams. He is averaging a career-low 21.3 yards per return. He has one fumble and has shown questionable decision-making in bringing out kicks from 8 yards deep in the end zone. If he gets replaced on returns and doesn’t have a bigger role in the offense, then there would be no reason to keep him active and, thus, on the roster.
TE Jason Witten
Witten has been one of the team’s most productive players over the past decade and likely is a future Hall of Famer. He has been to the Pro Bowl seven times and could break Michael Irvin’s club record for receptions this year. Witten hasn’t been himself through the first two games largely because he is still dealing with a lacerated spleen he injured in the preseason. He has been medically cleared to play, but he is not yet 100 percent. That has showed on the field, where Witten has six catches for 68 yards through two games. He shockingly leads the NFL with four dropped passes. Witten averaged only three drops a season over the past four seasons. He also misplayed a deep ball against Seattle that he could have caught. He has been limited by the injury, but he is not using it as an excuse, admitting he needs to play better.
WR Dez Bryant
Bryant is not just the most physically gifted player on the Cowboys, but there aren’t many in the NFL with his combination of size, speed and athleticism. The problem with Bryant is that he has yet to put it all together. He has one 100-yard receiving game since being a first-round pick in 2010. That’s the same number as Kevin Ogletree. This was supposed to be the year that Bryant figured it out because he finally knew the playbook and had a full off-season for the first time in his career. Through two games, he has seven catches for 102 yards, two drops and a fumble. Most notably, according to Garrett, he struggled against physical, man-to-man coverage in Sunday’s loss to the Seahawks when Bryant had three catches for 17 yards. He will see more of that type of coverage until he proves he can consistently win those matchups — which, considering his own physicality, is surprisingly a concern.
LT Tyron Smith
Smith was moved to the left side after spending his rookie year on the right because of his potential as a future Pro Bowler at the position. He has the talent, athleticism and work ethic to be great and plays with great effort as witnessed when he ran down Giants linebacker Michael Boley after an interception, preventing a touchdown. But Smith has been a mixed bag so far at left tackle. The Cowboys got the season-opening win against the New York Giants despite Smith being abused repeatedly by defensive end Jason Pierre Paul — a matchup in which he must hold his own over the next decade. He also leads the NFL with four false start penalties. His penalty against Seattle killed a potential scoring drive in the third quarter.
NT Jay Ratliff
Ratliff is on this list by default considering he has missed the first two games with a high ankle sprain and is questionable for Sunday’s game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. While the combination of Josh Brent and Sean Lissemore has been solid, they have not been dynamic. Ratliff is a four-time Pro Bowler for a reason. He is the only true mismatch the Cowboys have on the defensive line because of his quickness. He also plays with relentless effort and passion. For the defense to truly reach its full potential, it needs Ratliff back on the field and playing to that potential.
After the first two weeks of the regular season, the NFC East is just about as hard to judge as most people thought it would be coming into this year. All four teams in the division, including the 2-0 Philadelphia Eagles, have had one game that left their fans cringing and one game that gave them playoff hopes.
Below is a quick recap of the division going into Week Three.
Philadelphia Eagles 2-0
Dallas Cowboys 1-1
Washington Redskins 1-1
New York Giants 1-1
Of course, as the only undefeated team in the conference, the 2-0 Eagles are leading the division ahead of the other three teams sitting at 1-1.
Philadelphia had a very impressive 24-23 victory over the Baltimore Ravens last Sunday, which included a 1-yard touchdown run by Michael Vick to take the lead with 1:55 left in the game.
But while any win is a good win, the Eagles certainly challenged that theory in their sloppy week one victory over the Cleveland Browns in Week One. Philly managed to squeak out a one-point win despite Vick’s four interceptions and two fumbles. The Eagles needed a last-minute touchdown to beat a Browns team that featured an abysmal performance by rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden.
The Cowboys might have been the most “bipolar” team in the division through two weeks. They came out prepared and ready to play the defending champion Giants on the road. Tony Romo picked apart a depleted New York secondary, Demarco Murray ran for 131 yards and Kevin Ogletree had a breakout performance.
But as prepared as the Cowboys looked in Week One, they came out flat against the Seahawks. Seattle held a huge advantage in special teams and the Cowboys offense was never able to sustain any consistent execution. Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch had little trouble with a Dallas defense that spent too much time on the field.
The Cowboys are the only team with a divisional win under its belt, but they are also the only team with negative net points as they enter Week Three at -13 net points.
In typical Giants form, it took a 14-point comeback for this team to avoid being in borderline panic mode. After the disappointing home loss to the Cowboys, the Giants followed up by falling behind to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
To stage a comeback and take the lead with 55 seconds left in the game required a very full box score from Eli Manning. The quarterback managed to throw for a career-high 510 yards and three touchdowns to go along with his three interceptions.
The Redskins are 1-1, but it’s unlikely that Washington fans are talking about the team’s record nearly as much as Robert Griffin III’s ability to somehow exceed expectations. Through two games, RG3 has three passing touchdowns and two rushing touchdowns, earning a signature victory over the Saints in New Orleans.
The Redskins also had a disappointing loss to the St. Louis Rams in a close game, but the silver lining was that Griffin once again looked like a veteran QB who knew exactly what he was doing. The Redskins have proven that they are certainly beatable, but that Griffin’s playmaking ability will keep them in nearly any game.
Dallas Cowboys: The Cowboys have been hampered by injuries since the preseason, but they have been fortunate enough to not lose any major players to season ending injuries. Phil Costa’s back injury will likely keep him sidelined for at least another week or two. Injuries to starting safeties Barry Church (quad) and Gerald Sensabaugh (calf) will be something to monitor going into Week Three. And the unusual struggles of Jason Witten have some people questioning the health of his recovering spleen.
New York Giants: The Giants’ main injury concern is a neck injury sustained by running back Ahmad Bradshaw in their victory over the Buccaneers. Bradshaw sat out of practice Tuesday and it is unknown how much time he will miss, but because the Giants are playing the Thursday night game, it is likely he will sit out against the Panthers. This should be trouble for the Giants who already had a weak running game before Bradshaw’s injury.
Philadelphia Eagles: The Eagles sustained a number of injuries in their victory over the Ravens. Impact receiver Jeremy Maclin hurt his knee and was carted off of the field to the locker room. Their offensive line also took a hit as starting center Jason Kelce will miss most of the season after tearing his ACL, while staring left tackle King Dunlap may sit out Week Three with a strained hamstring.
Washington Redskins: The Redskins suffered a huge blow in their loss to the Rams by losing arguably their two best defensive players to season-ending injuries. Outside linebacker Brian Orakpo tore a left pectoral muscle and defensive end Adam Carriker suffered a torn quadriceps near his knee. Both of these injuries could have huge implications on the Redskins’ competitiveness moving forward.
– The Cowboys and Redskins are the only two teams in the NFL that opened up the season with their first two games on the road. Expect an improvement in energy and focus in their home debuts in Week Three.
– Just through Week Two, the starting QBs of the NFC East have combined for 12 interceptions with the rookie, Griffin, being the most efficient with only one.
Week 3 Schedule:
Thursday, September 20th, 7:20 CT (NFL Network)
Sunday, September 23rd, 12:00 CT (FOX)
Sunday, September 23rd, 12:00 CT (CBS)
Sunday, September 23rd, 3:05 CT (FOX)
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