IT’S PAYDAY FOR DANNY MCCRAY: Now former Dallas Cowboys special teams ace signs one-year deal with Bears
IRVING, Texas – Former Dallas Cowboys safety and special teams ace Danny McCray has agreed to a deal with the Chicago Bears.
McCray was an unrestricted free agent this year after being with the Cowboys since 2010. McCray and Barry Church both made the team as undrafted safeties that season, and McCray would go on to be one of the Dallas Cowboys top special teams stars.
He’ll rejoin former Cowboys special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis in Chicago. DeCamillis quickly had an affinity for McCray after watching the safety’s special teams abilities at LSU and seeing them translate to the field in Dallas.
McCray didn’t waste any time demonstrating his skills as a special teams player with the Cowboys. He finished his rookie season with a team-high 28 tackles on special teams, which marked the third-most in a season for the Dallas Cowboys since the club began recording special teams tackles in 1988.
He also led the Cowboys in special teams tackles with 19 in 2011. McCray’s the first player since Bill Bates in 1989-90 to lead the Cowboys in special teams tackles in consecutive years.
McCray still managed to finish second on the team with 18 special teams stops in 2012, despite his increased role as a safety after Church went out for the season with an Achilles injury. McCray started the first and only 10 games of his career in 2012, notching 87 tackles and an interception.
His production lessened in 2013, particularly with the rise of Dwayne Harris as both a returner and cover player, along with Jeff Heath’s emergence on special teams. Heath led the team with 13 total special teams tackles, while Harris, Cameron Lawrence and Kyle Bosworth each had 12.
COWBOYS CALENDAR COUNTDOWN: 2014-2015 NFL season officially begins on March 11th | Tough decisions looming with Dallas’ free agents
IRVING, Texas – In other sports, this is the month where pen goes to paper for a bracket, or teams are playing sunny practice games at spring training.
In the NFL, the month of March has its own madness with the upcoming start of the new league year, which is the beginning of free agency. That officially takes place on March 11 this year, but this is also the time when things start happening around the league. High-profile guys will get cut, possibly sign new deals or in some cases, both.
The franchise tag deadline passed on Monday with the Cowboys, to no one’s surprise, choosing not to tag any of their players. Anthony Spencer had been tagged in each of the last two years, but after undergoing microfracture surgery, he’s just hoping to get back healthy enough to play football this season, whether it’s with the Cowboys or another team that signs the unrestricted free agent-to-be.
What to do with Spencer is one of many decisions the Dallas Cowboys have to make here in the next few days. In fact, Spencer might be the last guy the Cowboys decide about, considering he will be a free agent on March 11 but far from healthy. If teams, including the Cowboys, choose to pay big bucks to Spencer, it’ll be with a hope that he can return to form.
But there are plenty of other guys on whom the Cowboys must decide. Let’s break down the team’s free agents and other players who could be cut or have their salaries restructured and/or lowered this month.
Miles Austin – The most likely offseason scenario involves Austin, an eight-year veteran who was once a fan favorite when he burst onto the scene in 2009. A two-time Pro Bowler, Austin’s career has spiraled downward as hamstring injuries have taken their toll. It’s not really about if the Cowboys cut Austin, but when. If they make him a June 1 cut, it can’t happen until March 11. They can save about $5.5 million on the cap, which won’t come off the books until June. That will still be plenty for the Cowboys to sign their draft picks and maybe other cap-casualties that occur in the summer.
DeMarcus Ware – Probably the biggest decision the Cowboys have to make this year, and perhaps in the last several years. Ware has been one of the more consistent and dominant players in franchise history, but injuries have slowed him down the last two seasons. Ware is coming off elbow surgery this offseason, and it’s clear the Cowboys don’t want him to count $16 million on the cap. If the two sides can come to an agreement for a lower base salary, Ware will probably agree to that and stay. But if the Cowboys try to trim too much off his $12.25 million base, Ware could decide against that and be released. That move saves the Cowboys $7.5 million on the cap this year. And there wouldn’t be a reason to make him a June 1, considering they would need to use that extra cap space in free agency now.
Justin Durant – The veteran linebacker was a solid player last season, but with DeVonte Holloman and Kyle Wilber both showing enough promise late last year, coupled with the $1.2 million the Dallas Cowboys save by cutting Durant, it seems likely he will not return in 2014 – at least not at that price.
Phil Costa – Like Durant, here’s another player that will probably be on his way out. Costa backed up Travis Frederick and is scheduled to make $1.5 in base salary. Perhaps they could restructure that and lower his base but at that price, a $1.725 million cap charge, it’s likely Costa will be released.
Key Unrestricted Free Agents:
Jason Hatcher – One of the top defensive linemen on the free-agent market, he’ll be 32 when the season starts and that could affect his payday. Don’t rule out the Cowboys getting back into the mix if Hatcher doesn’t get the early-market cash he’s seeking.
Anthony Spencer – This will be interesting because of the nature of his injury. Microfracture surgery won’t be an easy rehab for any player, but Spencer has enough time to get ready for the start of the season. The Cowboys will know his rehab process better than anyone, so they should be the favorites to re-sign him. The key will be how much risk teams like the Cowboys will take by paying him and how much of a pay cut or below-market price will Spencer be willing to accept.
Danny McCray – The Cowboys’ best special teams player over the last four years has been beat up here of late. Injuries have been tough to overcome for McCray, who has proven he is more of a special teams ace only. Likely to sign somewhere else, look for the Bears to have interest with former special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis in Chicago.
Ernie Sims – He filled some voids for this team, but with the development of Wilber and Holloman, don’t expect Sims back in the mix anytime soon. The Cowboys tried to go in another direction last year, but he played too well in training camp to get released.
Brian Waters – The veteran guard hasn’t publicly made a decision on his future, which could include retirement. Waters has not undergone biceps surgery and might not at all if he decides to retire. If he does choose to play, he will likely time it out right so he’ll miss camp but be ready for the season. The Cowboys have to move on mentally, but if he chooses to play, Waters could end up back in Dallas for the right price.
Jarius Wynn – He could be back in 2014, but probably for nothing more than the veteran minimum. But he played well at times last season and since defensive end is a need, Wynn could be a solid option, considering his development last year and his current knowledge of the system.
Dallas Cowboys Safety Breakdown
This article is part of a series. To see all related posts, click HERE. Enjoy!
Top Performer: Barry Church
There were plenty questions coming into the Dallas Cowboys 2013 season of how Barry Church would play coming off the Achilles injury that he suffered in Week 3 of 2012. At this point, Church and his injury appear to be holding up well.
What we fail to realize about Church is despite coming into his fourth season in the league, he had only made three starts at safety and all of those came last season. From what we’ve seen from Church through 10 games in 2013, there has been some hit-and-miss play – something you’d expect from a player who doesn’t have a great deal of experience.
Where Church has always been his best is as that physical player that is fearless when it comes to sticking his nose in there to make a tackle. But with this type of play comes those plays where he is too aggressive and finds himself in trouble when he takes a bad angle on his way to the ball like he did in the Lions game on the long pass to Calvin Johnson.
For Church, each snap has been a learning experience for him in his progression as an NFL safety. There are days where he has looked rough but compared to what has happened this season with the other safeties, he has managed to hold things together.
Need More From: J.J. Wilcox
It’s hard to say that you need more from a player who, at times for a rookie, has played very well, but that is the case of J.J. Wilcox. It has been three games since Wilcox suffered a knee sprain during practice getting ready for the Lions game.
In his absence, Jeff Heath has had to make those starts. Heath has had his share of struggles and the New Orleans game was by far his most disappointing showing, but this is not to say that Wilcox hasn’t had his share of missed tackles on third down as well.
Both of these rookies are trying their best and that is really the main problem — they are still only rookies. The word is that Wilcox should return after the bye in preparation for the Giants and that will allow Heath to go back to work in his role as a core special teamer.
Where this team needs more from Wilcox is in those plays like we saw from him in the Philadelphia game, where he showed range to knock the ball away from DeSean Jackson to save a touchdown, and being in position when the ball gets knocked in the air by Jason Avant for a potential interception.
Wilcox has proven in his young career that he has a knack for the big play around the ball, which is something that defense desperately needs.
Six-Game Forecast: Safeties huge in overall success of this defense
The play of the cornerbacks would be the key for this defense going forward. Let’s believe that will be the case, but how these safeties play in the remaining games will also tell a story.
As far as experience, it is a very young group with Barry Church, J.J. Wilcox, Jeff Heath, Danny McCray and Jakar Hamilton. For this club, Darren Woodson is not going to come walking through that door to save the day, so it will be up to this group to find the right combination and make plays when their number is called.
What we have learned about the safety play in this Monte Kiffin scheme is that the safeties are huge in the overall success of the defense. Whether it is Church playing as the eighth man in the box or Wilcox showing range deep, this group has to make plays. There are games ahead where the ball will once again be going down the field. Can these young safeties handle that?
There have been moments this season where they have been up to that challenge, but we’ve also seen some poor play as well, which has cost this defense far too often.
Courtesy: Bryan Broaddus | Football Analyst/Scout
IRVING, Texas – Dallas Cowboys rookie safety J.J. Wilcox is arguably coming off the best game of his young career last week in Philadelphia. But it’s unlikely he’ll be able to follow head coach Jason Garrett’s motto and “stack good games together” when the team travels to Detroit.
Wilcox will likely have to miss Sunday’s matchup against the Lions after suffering a sprained right knee, which required an MRI Thursday afternoon. Wilcox said he had a sprained MCL, an injury he suffered on his left knee in college at Georgia Southern.
“It feel better this time than that injury,” Wilcox said. “I’m disappointed, but that’s football. That’s the way it goes.”
Wilcox suffered the injury late in today’s practice during red-zone drills when he came down awkwardly after competing for a pass with tight end Gavin Escobar.
Wilcox agreed he likely wouldn’t be able to play this week against the Detroit Lions and said it’s too early to tell if the Nov. 2 game with Minnesota Vikings is a possibility. But the rookie definitely perked up when asked about a possible return for the Saints game on Nov. 10.
“I don’t know just yet, but I don’t think it’ll be that bad,” Wilcox said. “I just have to work hard to get back soon.”
A third-round pick in the 2013 draft, Wilcox has been improving each week, and made a key play in last Sunday’s game against the Eagles.
“I really felt like I was coming on,” Wilcox said. “I’ve always had a lot [of confidence] but I know I’ve gotten better and felt like I was starting to really help the team. So hopefully this won’t be a big setback.”
If Wilcox doesn’t play, the Cowboys will likely start rookie Jeff Heath, who is battling an injury sustained on his right forearm last week. He said the issue won’t keep him out of practice or the game.
“I might wear something on it but it won’t be anything major,” Heath said of possible brace. “It’ll be more like a tight wrap.”
The Cowboys also have Danny McCray, who is one of the team’s better special teams contributors. The club could add a fourth safety – possibly rookie Jakar Hamilton, who is currently on the practice squad.
Wilcox is currently seventh on the team with 28 tackles. He took over as a starter in Week 3 against the Rams and started five straight games, making a career-high nine tackles against Denver.
He won the starting job outright from Will Allen, who was eventually waived. Wilcox had a stellar training camp and preseason despite having to miss nearly a week in the middle of camp to be with his ailing mother, who passed away in August.
Wilcox still returned to play in the last two preseason games and got a few snaps in the first two regular-season games before the coaching staff made him a starter. Wilcox has had two interceptions nullified this year – one by penalty against the Rams and the other by the replay booth last week.
IRVING, Texas – This time of year is always a tough time to make judgments on the roster. And it’s not for a lack of news, but only because we should know by now the roster is far from fluid.
We’ve already seen a few changes since Saturday’s 22 roster moves to get down to 53 players.
But if we’ve seen any kind of theme here in the last few days pertaining to the roster, it’s a rare emphasis on improving the special teams units.
For starters, the Cowboys decided to keep both Danny McCray and Eric Frampton as backup safeties, along with Jeff Heath and J.J. Wilcox. McCray and Frampton have lead the team in special teams tackles over the last three years.
McCray has been the special teams captain the last two years. He showed last year that he struggles as a safety, especially in coverage. But when it comes to covering kickoffs and punts, few have been as good or consistent as McCray in recent history.
The one decision the Cowboys didn’t make regarding the kicking game centered on wide receiver. They chose to keep just five receivers, including Cole Beasley, who is a better route-runner and slot player than Anthony Armstrong. However, Armstrong played with every special teams unit and had more speed than arguably any other player on the squad.
After the cuts, the Cowboys started making more special-teams related moves. A few hours after trimming the roster to 53, the club put Nate Livings on IR and traded a seventh-round pick to Kansas City for linebacker Edgar Jones, a six-year veteran who thrives on special teams. He is a hybrid linebacker/defensive end as a position, but special teams is his forte.
On Sunday, after the Cowboys sent Sean Lissemore to San Diego for 2015 seventh-round pick, they filled his spot by claiming linebacker Kyle Bosworth from the Giants. Yes, it’s that Bosworth – he’s the nephew of former Seattle Seahawk first-rounder Brian Bosworth. And Kyle is another local product, having starred at Plano West before attending UCLA. He played the last two years for the Jaguars, playing 25 games, including five starts last season.
Again, Bosworth is a special-teams player. That will be his role here with the Cowboys.
They tried to fill Alex Albright’s (lost during the preseason, placed on waived/injured list) spot from within. Rookies Brandon Magee, Cam Lawrence and Taylor Reed, along with first-year pro Caleb McSurdy all made it to the final preseason game. But the Cowboys chose to put all of them on waivers on Saturday.
The goal was to bring Magee back to the practice squad, but he was claimed off waivers by the Browns. Lawrence, an undrafted rookie from Mississippi State, has been added to the Cowboys’ practice squad.
But the Cowboys weren’t confident in any of them being ready to play Sept. 8 against the Giants. That’s why Bosworth has been signed. The same goes for Jones. And ditto for having both McCray and Frampton on the team.
I’m sure new special teams coach Rich Bisaccia is appreciative. After watching five games in the preseason, it was clear the kicking game had its issues. Although sometimes those tend to show up more because the players are being shuffled more than a deck of a cards in Vegas.
Who knows if the special teams miscues will carry over into the regular season. But if they do, it’s not likely they can blame personnel on this one.
IRVING, Texas – The Dallas Cowboys have apparently decided to keep Danny McCray on the roster for a fourth season.
But not before he reduced his salary from the $1.323 million price he was initially slotted for during the offseason.
McCray, one of the team’s top special teams players the past three seasons, has been a special teams captain the last two years. He was a restricted free agent this year and the Cowboys issued him the original draft tender of $1.323 million considering he was undrafted.
Terms of McCray’s new salary were not revealed by the Cowboys, but it’s expected the backup safety is now making in the range of $700,000.
McCray had to start 10 games at safety last year when Barry Church went down with an Achilles injury. White he finished with 87 tackles, good for second on the team behind Anthony Spencer (107), McCray struggled at times at safety, especially in coverage.
In 2012, McCray was second on the team with 18 special teams tackles, finishing behind Eric Frampton (21), who has been injured the last three weeks with a calf strain. His spot on the roster is still up in the air. His $715,000 price tag is favorable to the Cowboys, along with his experience to play safety and special teams. But his injury status could be a reason the Cowboys might be forced to go long at safety when they reduce to 53 players by Saturday.
McCray made the team as an undrafted rookie from LSU in 2010 and promptly led the special teams in tackles with 28. He came back with a team-high 19 during an injury-riddled 2011 season. But McCray became the first player since Bill Bates (1989-90) to lead the Cowboys in special teams tackles in consecutive years.
IRVING, Texas – Several big names returned to practice Monday morning, while the Dallas Cowboys also began the process of cutting their roster down.
The team released defensive tackle Jeris Pendleton on Monday morning. It’s the only cut the team is expected to make Monday, which gives the Dallas Cowboys 12 more cuts to make in order to reach the NFL-mandated number of 75 by 3 p.m. Tuesday.
Pendleton made seven tackles during his preseason action. He played Saturday against Cincinnati, but he did not record any statistics.
While Pendleton left the roster, key defenders Morris Claiborne and Ernie Sims rejoined the team at Monday morning’s practice. Sims has been missing for several weeks with a groin injury, while Claiborne appears to be recovered from the knee injury that sidelined him in Oxnard, Calif.
Wide receiver Cole Beasley also returned to practice after injuring his foot during the Cowboys’ loss to Oakland on Aug. 9.
As if the Cowboys didn’t have enough problems at the guard position, starter Mackenzy Bernadeau missed practice with an ankle injury. Safety Danny McCray was also held out of practice with a hamstring injury, while defensive tackle Jason Hatcher missed with a minor groin injury.
2013 PRESEASON INJURY UPDATE: Dallas Cowboys Bernadeau and Hatcher on bikes; Claiborne and Beasley return
Cornerback Morris Claiborne and receiver Cole Beasley returned to practice with the season opener 13 days away, but guard Mackenzy Bernadeau and defensive tackle Jason Hatcher stayed in as the Cowboys began the final week of preseason.
Claiborne’s final chance to play in the preseason is Thursday in the finale against the Houston Texans. He has not played in a game because of a “jammed” knee he suffered in training camp on Aug. 6. Beasley hurt an ankle in the preseason game against Oakland on Aug. 9.
Bernadeau, who played left guard Saturday against the Bengals, has an ankle injury. He and Hatcher rode the exercise bike as practice began Monday.
Guard Ronald Leary also did not make it out for the start of practice. Leary is recovering from knee surgery less than two weeks ago.
Also not out for the start of practice were linebacker Brandon Magee (concussion), safeties Matt Johnson, Eric Frampton and Danny McCray, defensive linemen Anthony Spencer and Jay Ratliff, running back Lance Dunbar and center Ryan Cook.
CANTON, Ohio – Head coach Jason Garrett wasn’t going to let the Dallas Cowboys’ offensive linemen miss the induction of Larry Allen into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Garrett brought all of his team’s offensive linemen, as well as select veterans on the team to watch Allen’s speech as he was inducted a day before the Cowboys are set to play in the Hall of Fame Game.
Left tackle Tyron Smith was just five years old when Allen won his Super Bowl with the Cowboys in January 1996, so needless to say he only watched Allen sparingly growing up. But Smith quickly learned what Allen meant to the team.
“I didn’t learn much about him until I got with the Cowboys,” Smith said. “It’s a great experience to be here, and I definitely didn’t want to miss it.”
The experience was just as great for the young undrafted players and backup offensive linemen in attendance. First-year tackle Edawn Coughman, who’d never been to the Hall of Fame before, said words couldn’t express how he felt to walk through the Hall of Fame and watch Allen get inducted.
“It’s a great honor,” Coughman said. “I watched him a lot when I was younger. I’m excited to see this man in person. I’m elated.”
Jason Garrett wanted to make sure the majority of his veteran starters and the players on the team who knew Allen got to see the induction.
The list of veteran players at the ceremony included Tony Romo, Miles Austin, Dez Bryant,Jason Witten, DeMarco Murray, Sean Lee, Bruce Carter, Justin Durant, Jason Hatcher,DeMarcus Ware, Danny McCray, LP Ladouceur, Will Allen, Barry Church, Morris Claiborne and Brandon Carr.
As we sit just a few short days from the opening of training camp in Oxnard, on top of the depth chart for the safety position are the names of Barry Church and the veteran Will Allen. The names that are below those of Danny McCray, Matt Johnson, J.J. Wilcox and Jakar Hamilton.
It’s not a group at this point that would make you forget the names of the greats that have played here before but it’s a group that has a great deal of potential.
This coaching staff has the upmost respect for Allen and his body of work through the years which is why you see him a top this depth chart. I studied Allen myself in games last season for the Steelers when he made some injury starts against Cowboys’ division foes, New York, Philadelphia and Washington and he was more than solid. His play was steady and sure. Where Allen has an advantage over the others is in his experience which is a nice trait to have.
Over the past season, despite the fact that he was dealing with an injury, I still had a great deal of faith in Matt Johnson and what he could bring to this squad and I still believe that but the player that has drawn my most interest, is J.J. Wilcox.
When I first observed him on tape at Georgia Southern, I was shocked that he had only played the position for one season. He didn’t play like a small college player. You could see in his awareness and passion for the position and that he was a natural. When you watched him play, you saw a player that loves the game. A player that was not afraid or scared to mix it up when called on.
Where there were some concerns in my view was how much coverage that he actually played and would his movement skills translate in order to function in this scheme. There are times where the safety is asked to take the middle of the field and react to the sideline to help the corner.
In OTA’s and minicamp practices, you could see that he understood his responsibilities. He was capable of playing with range. One of the first things you notice about his game, is that he is always around the football run or pass. There were times in the practices where he was playing in the short middle of the field and he was able to read and adjust to the routes not only to knock balls down but secure interceptions as well.
Wilcox doesn’t play like a guy that lacks experience for the position. I can only recall one time in the several practices where Jerome Henderson had to correct him on the angle that he took to the ball. With Wilcox, you didn’t see the mental busts and mistakes or confusion that goes with a rookie safety. The mental side of the game is where I thought he might struggle the most because when they put on the pads that will not be an issue at all. He is more than willing to light up a ball carrier when given the opportunity.
I thought it was an outstanding move by this front office to go out and try to protect itself by signing Will Allen but there are some talented players behind him which is a good thing depth wise but the one that might be the most talented is J.J. Wilcox. I do not see J.J. Wilcox waiting around to play in this defense. He has already picked up things very easily that I thought he would have struggled with and that is a positive sign.
It is right that the coaches have put Allen in the spot that he is on the depth chart because of his experience but the more that we see Wilcox practice and the more opportunities that he gets, it will be harder for these coaches not to line him up next to Barry Church much more sooner than later.
If you break down the last five seasons of league leaders when it comes to special teams tackles, the Cowboys had only one player that finished in the top five and that was Sam Hurd in 2010 with 19 tackles. The other seasons, the club has not had a player finish better than 28th.
New special teams coach, Rich Bisaccia brings an aggressive, attacking style that should translate well for a player like Danny McCray. What will be different for McCray this season as opposed to last is that his responsibility as a safety will not be as demanding. His special teams play may have suffered because he was called upon to fill that role as a starter. McCray made this team because of his role on special teams and to his credit he was even named it’s captain.
With the safeties that this club has added to the roster in the off season plus Matt Johnson also coming back from injury, McCray can focus solely on being one of the top special teams players in the league. It was just too much to ask for him to handle both the safety responsibilities and be the main contributor of the special teams.
In 2011, McCray finished 26th in the league with 13 special teams tackles. Last season, Eric Frampton managed 12 to lead the team. McCray should flourish in this new scheme and will finish with 20 or more special teams tackles which will place him in the top five for the league and put him back in his natural role on this team.
Nothing against McCray getting an opportunity to play in the defensive scheme this season but there are some players in this league that provide more than just being ok at what they do. Danny McCray is an ok safety but he is much more valuable as a special teams ace and difference maker for a team that needs him just to focus on that task alone.
With training camp right around the corner, let’s take a look at special teams.
Top of the chart: Dan Bailey
It’s been a while since the Cowboys have had a reliable kicker for three straight years. Chris Boniol, who is ironically enough the kicking coach for Dan Bailey these days, was really the last guy to be this steady. But if Bailey has another year like his first two, he’ll likely be considered one of the best kickers in the NFL, if he’s not there already. Bailey hasn’t just made his share of game-winners – seven in the last two years to be exact with two more clutch kicks to force overtime – but he’s been money inside of 50 yards. Last year, Bailey made all 26 attempts of 49 yards or less. He was 3 of 5 from 50 and beyond. If there is one area of his game that needs more work, Bailey admits it has to be on kickoffs. But he did improve with that last year and said he’s spending more hours this offseason working on his kickoffs.
Need to see more: Chris Jones
When he punts – in games – he’s pretty good. He had a 45.2-yard average early last year before he was placed on injured reserve with a knee injury. At one point, former special teams coach Joe DeCamillis called him the early-season MVP because he was placing the ball at perfect locations and doing so with the necessary hang time. Now, in practice, Jones doesn’t always strike the ball with perfection and will have a shank or two that often raises a few eyebrows. But let’s not forget that he’s still a 23-year-old punter who is learning his way in the NFL. He probably won’t have much competition in training camp but when the games start, the Cowboys need him to rise to the occasion like he’s done before. Jones will likely get another yard and a half away from the line this year, moving back to a full 15 yards from the line of scrimmage in Rich Bisaccia’s scheme.
Still need to know … who takes over on kickoff returns
Three different players had at least 11 kickoff returns last year, including Lance Dunbar, who led the team with 12. Dwayne Harris and Felix Jones each had 11 and, of course, we know Jones has since signed with the Eagles. Dunbar could be the guy with the first crack at this. He is developing a role in the offense, but if he can solidify kickoff returns, it would only help his cause as a mainstay on the roster. Rookies B.W. Webb and Terrance Williams might get a shot in there as well.
Don’t forget about … Dwayne Harris
Had it not been for Bailey’s excellence the last two years, Harris likely could’ve gone in the “Top of the Chart” category. Harris’ ability to return punts won’t be forgotten. He came on strong at the end of 2012, ranking second in the NFL with his 16.1-yard average. His 78-yard punt return against the Eagles turned the tide in that game and he also had a field-position-altering return against the Steelers in an overtime win. Even if he doesn’t win the No. 3 receiver spot from Williams, Harris has a defined role as a shifty, crafty return specialist who seemed to elevate his play on offense with every stellar return he had on special teams.
Nine year veteran long snapper L.P. Ladouceur will be the lone long-snapper on the Dallas Cowboys camp roster
Dwayne Harris tallied 354 yards and 1 touchdown on 22 attempts with the Dallas Cowboys in 2012
Jerry Jones discussed his confidence in the safeties on the Dallas Cowboys’ roster during last week’s conference call with season-ticket holders.
“I think we’re in good shape at safety,” Jones said.
Yes, Jones is well aware that the projected starting safeties have a combined four NFL starts. Those are all by Barry Church, who was thought highly enough of at Valley Ranch to receive a four-year, $9 million deal (plus $3.4 million in incentives).
The team also has Matt Johnson, who missed all of his rookie season due to hamstring problems and other injuries.
“I don’t know when I’ve ever seen a player impress our staff without having played in a ballgame any more than Matt Johnson,” Jones stated.
The Cowboys’ other alternatives at safety: third-round pick J.J. Wilcox; nine-year veteran Will Allen; and three-year vet Danny McCray.
“I think we’ve really given ourselves a lot of potential,” Jones said. “The coaches told me (with) the scheme, ‘Don’t worry as much about range.’ I said, ‘What? Don’t worry as much about range?’
“(Kiffin) said, ‘No, our scheme gives them the angles. It gives them the angles. Get us somebody that is young. Don’t worry as much about experience as you have in the past. Get us some young players with instincts and let us go from there with them.’”
Believe it or not, that actually passes the smell test, given Kiffin’s Tampa Bay track record.
When Kiffin arrived in Tampa in 1996, the Bucs had precious little experience at safety. Their strong safety had six starts in the previous three seasons of his NFL career. Their free safety started three games as a rookie the previous year.
John Lynch, a third-round pick in 1993, ended up establishing himself as one of the elite strong safeties in NFL history, playing in nine Pro Bowls. The Bucs filled free safety with a handful of mid-round picks and low-priced free agents during Lynch’s Tampa Bay tenure, finishing top 10 in both major defensive categories every year but Lynch’s first full season as a starter, when they were 11th in yards allowed.
Kiffin’s history of making the most out of medium-level investments at safety offers no guarantees, of course. It does, however, provide legitimate proof for those inside Valley Ranch who insist that there’s no need to panic about the Cowboys’ safety situation.
Say what you will about Jerry Jones, but the Dallas Cowboys owner didn’t lie when he promised it would get “very uncomfortable” at Valley Ranch after a second straight 8-8 season. Rob Ryan was sent packing as defensive coordinator and replaced by 72-year-old Monte Kiffin, who will switch the Cowboys to a 4-3 scheme. Offensive coordinator Bill Callahan likely will inherit play-calling duties from coach Jason Garrett. Running backs coach Skip Peete was fired and replaced by Gary Brown.
Biggest free agents
» OLB/DE Anthony Spencer: With Kiffin moving to a 4-3, the Cowboys need another strong presence on the edge opposite DeMarcus Ware. Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones has great respect for Spencer, and the team has the option of using the franchise tag.
» RB Felix Jones: A former first-round pick, Jones had a shot at Dallas redemption when DeMarco Murray went down for six games with a foot injury. Jones (playing on two bad knees) couldn’t fill the void, one reason why the Cowboys set a franchise low for rushing yards in a 16-game season.
» CB Mike Jenkins: The additions of Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne put Jenkins in limbo last season, and a slow recovery from shoulder surgery didn’t help. He worked in the slot after Orlando Scandrick went down, making little impact. He’s expected to look for a starting job on the open market.
Other key free agents: C Phil Costa, SS Danny McCray, WR Kevin Ogletree.
What they need
The Cowboys are overdue for a makeover along their offensive line. It was a problem all season, and quarterback Tony Romo’s mobility is the only thing that kept this unit from total embarrassment. Tyron Smith is a good fit at left tackle, but upgrades should be sought elsewhere. If Jones has run out of chances, the Cowboys would be wise to find a capable backup for Murray, a supremely talented but seemingly injury-prone starter. The Cowboys must protect themselves at strong safety, where Barry Church is attempting to come back from a torn Achilles tendon.
Offseason crystal ball
The Cowboys are currently $20 million over the cap and will need to restructure contracts with several players to get under. In other words, don’t expect a big fish to land in Big D next month. Improving the offensive and defensive line likely will be a focus during the NFL Draft. With Romo turning 33 before Week 1, don’t be surprised if the Cowboys draft a developmental quarterback in the mid-to-late rounds.
No more whistles, no more playbooks, no more coach’s dirty looks. Sure, not quite as catchy as the iconic “no more pencils, no more books, no more teacher’s dirty looks,” but we’re talking football grades here, not math, science and social studies.
The biggest difference in grading pupils and players is expectations. All students are created equal; not so much for a professional football team. Just doesn’t make sense to hold Miles Austin, one of the highest-paid wide receivers in the game and a two-time Pro Bowl selection, and Cole Beasley, an undrafted free agent rookie, to the same standard. Ditto for DeMarcus Ware, headed for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and some dude signed off his couch midseason. Not even Batman.
Without further ado, here are our final grades for the 2012 Dallas Cowboys:
Tony Romo – B
This one is difficult, because for 80-plus percent of the season, 13-of-16 games, Romo played as well as any quarterback in franchise history. Yes, including Roger Staubach and Troy Aikman. His numbers for those contests include 303.1 yards per game, 24 touchdown passes, seven picks and a 100.2 rating. Even with the other three games – vs. the Bears and Giants and at the Redskins – Romo had the league’s sixth-highest rating by Football Outsiders, behind only Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers and Matt Ryan.
He threw for nearly 5,000 yards, and on many occasions was his own best pass protector in terms of finding an extra second or two. There were times when he was brilliant, and never before has he shown the leadership he did this season. Still, in the end, Romo flunked his final. Again. That’s not easy to write. Romo has been sort of the teacher’s pet these last five years, but there is no excuse for those final two picks at Washington.
Kyle Orton – I
He broke Clint Longley’s 38-year-old mark for highest passer rating (minimum 10 attempts) with a ridiculous 137.1. Played just the one game, though, giving him an incomplete.
DeMarco Murray – C
A disappointing season for the second-year back who was expected to anchor the offensive load. Didn’t rush for 100 yards after Week 1 at the Giants and rarely showed the explosiveness from his rookie season with just five 20-plus carries. Finished tied for 21st in the league with 2.5 yards per attempt after contact. He also picked the worst of times for his first two NFL fumbles. His durability has also become a concern as he has missed nine of the team’s last 19 games with injuries.
Felix Jones – C
Finished with more offensive touches than expected, was much improved in picking up the blitz, caught the ball well, and for the most part, maximized his rushing yards with the gaps provided. He averaged just 3.6 yards per carry after entering the year at 5.1 for his career.
Lance Dunbar – B
Was impressed with the free agent rookie from North Texas from the first preseason game through Week 17. Finished with eight special teams tackles, was solid if unspectacular on kick returns and showed a little burst on offense. Should play a bigger role in 2013.
Phillip Tanner – C
Solid on special teams with 10 tackles, although he didn’t show much in limited action carrying the ball.
Lawrence Vickers – C
Showed promise catching passes, that little dump-off was seemingly always available. But his blocking was average and his four penalties in 305 snaps was the highest percentage of any fullback playing 25 percent of his team’s snaps.
IRVING, Texas – We’re at the halfway point in the regular season and obviously the Dallas Cowboys aren’t happy with a 3-5 record. The talk of head coach Jason Garrett’s future has been a topic, albeit one that owner Jerry Jones has dismissed.
The Cowboys haven’t been able to close out games this season, but the schedule might turn in their favor for the final eight games, where only one team with a winning record exists.
The DallasCowboys.com staff of Bryan Broaddus, Rowan Kavner and Nick Eatman weigh in with their assessment of the season’s first half.
Bryan: The victory on the road against the Giants on opening night. It was a game that nobody had them winning. Might be the only time they have really played a complete game.
Rowan: Winning the opener in New York. The Cowboys felt a victory against the Super Bowl champion Giants might be a statement win and one that could propel them going forward. It turned out to be one of the few positive moments from the first half of the season.
Nick: There’s only been three wins and it’s not going to be beating Tampa Bay or Carolina. Has to be the opener against the Giants when they took it to the defending champs from start to finish. Kevin Ogletree had a career night and the Cowboys kept answering the bell.
Bryan: The last 5:21 of the game against the Falcons. If the defense gets a stop there, Tony Romo has a chance to once again try and score with a no-huddle offense that had previously moved the ball well for their only touchdown of the day. Instead, the offense gets the ball with 22 seconds left and no chance to win the game.
Rowan: When Dez Bryant was called out of bounds on a miraculous catch in the back of the end zone at home against the Giants. Not only would that have given the Cowboys a winning record at the time, and their biggest comeback in franchise history, but it would have also been one of the few breaks for both Romo and Bryant, who’ve had their struggles at times.
Nick: Without a doubt, hearing the referee say, “After review, the receiver’s hand landed out of bounds” following Bryant’s near catch against the Giants. That was a killer for this team. They could’ve had the biggest comeback in Cowboys history from two players, Dez and Romo, who needed a boost like that. While it was still a classic, it would’ve probably been the best game I’ve ever covered had it not been for a few inches.
What They Do Best:
Bryan: Cover punts. It doesn’t matter whether it’s Chris Jones or Brian Moorman, Joe DeCamillis has this unit ranked among the best in the NFL. Rarely do you see their gunners out of position and when given an opportunity to make a tackle, they get the job done. It’s a sound group.
Rowan: Stop teams from driving the field. The defense has played significantly better than the offense this season, particularly in limiting teams from gaining chunks of yardage. The offense continually puts the defense in rough spots with turnovers, and for the most part, the defense has held its own.
Nick: Other than find creative ways to lose games? This team is pretty good at defending the pass. What’s really frustrating is if you would’ve heard two weeks ago that neither Eli Manning nor Matt Ryan would throw a touchdown against the Cowboys and their offenses would only get one each, you never would’ve thought the Cowboys would go 0-2 in those games. But, the Cowboys have had a good pass rush and played well in the secondary, ranking fifth overall on defense.
Where They Struggle The Most
Bryan: Finishing games. Look at the way this team has lost games and that will tell you all you need to know.
Rowan: In the red zone. Not a lot of teams will be able to score in there with a rushing attack as feeble as the Cowboys’, which ranks 30th in rushing average. Dallas scores a touchdown only 44 percent of the time it reaches the red zone and 50 percent of the time it gets inside the 10-yard line.
Nick: It’s the offensive line. That hasn’t changed really since last year, other than probably regressing some. Romo is always running for his life and they can’t run the ball in the red zone, a sure sign this offensive line can’t generate a good enough push when needed.
Best Offensive Player:
Bryan: Jason Witten. Nobody has played with more toughness and skill than him.
Rowan: Witten. The man who is now the team’s all-time leader in receptions has been one of the few reliable targets for Romo this year. After a slow start coming back from a spleen injury, Witten has recorded at least six catches in the last five games, including a 13-catch performance and a record 18-reception outing.
Nick: The wording of this category is tricky. The football player might be Dez. The most valuable is probably Romo because when he’s on they always have a chance, and when he’s not, they have none. But the best offensive player through eight games has to be Witten. Who would’ve said that after those first three games when he wasn’t 100 percent? But, he’s been fantastic of late. Then again, when your best player is a tight end, it’s hard to be successful on offense.
Best Defensive Player:
Bryan: Week in and week out, Brandon Carr has been asked to cover the opponent’s best receiver, plus line up at safety. Carr has been a stable, steady player, which is something you need when trying to match up against different schemes.
Rowan: No player on this defense would cause the kind of commotion and alterations needed after Sean Lee was lost for the year. He had about as productive a start to the season as anyone could ask for and will continue to be the leader of the defense for years to come.
Nick: Sure, I’d like to be cute here and find another worthy selection, but you really can’t. DeMarcus Ware has been the most productive and most durable defensive player on this team for a while. Ware has played in all 120 games of his career, missing just one start, and that was the Saints game in 2009 when he was heroic in a huge upset win. He’s been great again this year and gets my vote.
Editors Pick: Bruce Carter
Best Special Teams Player:
Bryan: It’s amazing that Danny McCray’s special teams play hasn’t suffered because of all the time he’s seeing with the defense as a starting safety. His ability to read schemes, beat blocks and finish plays gets him noticed a lot on tape.
Rowan: It’s Dan Bailey. The only area he’s not automatic is over 50 yards, which is understandable for any kicker. When the Cowboys get in legitimate field goal range, he’ll put it through almost every time.
Nick: It’s too easy to go with Bailey, but what about the snapper L.P. Ladouceur, who has been virtually perfect again this year. He’s the most consistent player on the team. With so many players shuffling in and out of the special teams units, they’ve had little consistency, but Ladouceur is the normal exception.
Don’t Forget About …
Bryan: As much as I wanted to get rid of Phil Costa, he does play on his feet in securing blocks and getting on the second level. Is he great? No, but he is able to do things that Ryan Cook can’t scheme-wise.
Rowan: All the injuries this team has endured. The Cowboys lost their two best young players at different points and for different durations in Lee and DeMarco Murray, not to mention their starting safety in Barry Church and nose tackle Jay Ratliff for the beginning of the year. Health going forward will be crucial.
Nick: The Cowboys have been a different team when DeMarco Murray is in the game, and if he can return soon, possibly even this week, the offense has a chance to turn things around in a hurry.
Bryan: The way this team loses games. It really has been a throw here, a catch there or a key stop not made that’s kept the Cowboys from having a much better record.
Rowan: There have been quite a few disappointments, from a meager rushing attack to a shaky offensive line to a hoard of penalties every other week. But turnovers, particularly interceptions, have kept this Cowboys team from being above .500.
Nick: Since I was preaching back in June how important the Seattle game would be, I’ll stick with that. After winning in New York, the Cowboys simply got manhandled against the Seahawks in Week 2, which gave us a preview of how they would lose the physical battle up front in other games, too.
Bryan: Need to focus and find a way to get on a little four-game winning streak, the game at Philadelphia and then three in a row at home. If this team is going to do anything productive this second half of the season, it starts against the Eagles on Sunday.
Rowan: While the lousy start wasn’t expected after a win in New York, it should get easier for the Cowboys the rest of the way. They only play one team with a winning record, so there’s no excuse to go 3-5 again in the second half of the season.
Nick: We knew all along the Cowboys might have an easier road in the second half of the season than in the first, and that should be the case. But the question was always the same: Will it be too late? The Cowboys are 3-5, and although just one of their last eight opponents currently has a winning record, it’s hard to think they will be consistent enough to make a serious playoff run. I still think 8-8 will be the final verdict.
Here are the historical notes compiled after todays game with the New York Giants:
The Dallas Cowboys had three receivers top 100 yards tonight (Jason Witten, 167; Miles Austin, 133; and Dez Bryant ,110) for just the second time in franchise history. The first was at San Francisco (11/10/63) as Frank Clarke (190), Lee Folkins (112) and Billy Howton (107) were the first Cowboys trio to accomplish the feat.
Dallas finished the game with 415 net passing yards – the sixth-most in a game in franchise history:
Single-Game Passing Yards (team history)
Miles Austin finished second on the team with nine catches for 133 yards today. His 133 yards marked his third 100-yard outing of the season and the 14th of his career. His 133 yards today were the ninth-most in a game in his career:
Austin’s Single-Game Yardage Total
Austin’s nine catches today upped his career total to 245 to pass Kelvin Martin (237) for 13th in franchise history.
Austin’s 133 yards today upped his career total to 3,855 to pass Doug Cosbie (3,728) for seventh in team history.
Dez Bryant finished third on the team in both receptions (five) and yards (110) today. His 110 yards marked a career-high, his second 100-yard game of the season and the third of his career.
Bryant upped his career receptions total to 149 to pass Don Perkins (146) for 29th in team history.
Bryant improved his career receiving yards total to 1,977 to pass Timmy Newsome (1,966) for 28th in franchise history.
Bryant had a career-long 55-yard catch today.
Lance Dunbar had a 44-yard kickoff return today for the longest kickoff return of the season to date.
Dwayne Harris tied his career-long punt return of 14 yards today.
Felix Jones rushed 13 times for 19 yards and touchdown today. He now has 507 career rushing attempts to become the 12th Dallas Cowboy with 500 rushes.
Jones’ rushing touchdown today was the 10th of his career to make him the 18th Dallas Cowboy with 10-or-more rushing scores.
Danny McCray picked off his second career pass today.
John Phillips notched his second career touchdown reception – the first was also against the N.Y. Giants (12/11/12).
Tony Romo finished today’s game 36-of-62 for 437 yards. His 62 attempts established a club record while his 437 passing yards were a single-game career-high and good for third in club history:
Single-Game Passing Yards (Team History)
|Don Meredith||460||@SF (11/10/63)|
|Troy Aikman||455||MIN (11/26/98)|
|Tony Romo||437||NYG (10/28/12)|
Romo’s 437 yards was his second career 400-yard game (first was 406 vs. Tennessee, 10/10/10) and his 34th career outing with 300-or-more passing yards.
Romo also rushed for his fifth career touchdown today.
DeMarcus Ware’s sack today was his fifth straight game with at least a half sack – the fourth such streak in his career.
Ware has 13.5 career sacks against the Giants – the second-most against any team in the league (Philadelphia, 15.5). He also has 13.5 sacks of Eli Manning – more than any other quarterback he has sacked in the league.
Ware now has 107.0 career sacks to take sole possession of third place on Dallas’ all-time unofficial (pre-1982) sack list:
Jason Witten led the team with a club-record 18 catches for a team-best and career-high 167 yards. Witten now owns the top-three and is tied for fourth for receptions in a single-game in club history:
Dallas Cowboys Single-Game receptions
|Jason Witten||18||NYG (10/28/12)|
|Jason Witten||15||@Det (12/9/07)|
|Jason Witten||14||@NYG (12/6/09)|
|Lance Rentzel||13||WAS (11/19/67)|
|Jason Witten||13||CHI (10/1/12)|
|Dez Bryant||13||@Bal (10/14/12)|
Witten’s 18 catches tied for the third-most in a game in NFL history (Brandon Marshall, 18, vs. San Diego, 9/15/08) and were the most by a tight end in NFL history.
Witten’s 167-yard performance tied for the 20th-best single-game total by a league tight end and was a club tight-end record.
Witten also extended his club tight end record of 100-yard outings to 16.
Witten upped his season catch total to 51 to give him his ninth career and ninth consecutive season with at least 40 catches. He is now tied with Jeremy Shockey for the third-most 40-plus catch seasons and the third-most consecutive 40-catch seasons among tight ends in NFL history.
40-Plus Catch Seasons by a Tight End
|Shannon Sharpe||11||7||1992-98, 00-03|
Witten’s 51 catches thus far also marked his ninth career and ninth consecutive 50-catch season for the second-most by a tight end behind Tony Gonzalez (14 total and 14 consecutive) in NFL history.
Witten now has 747 career receptions and trails Michael Irvin by only three for tops in team history.
IRVING, Texas — Growing up in Plano, Texas, Charlie Peprah was a Dallas Cowboys fan. Emmitt Smith is the reason he’s playing football now.
So when Peprah walked into the Cowboys locker room this week after signing a contract, the safety was living the dream.
"I love the Cowboys," Peprah said. "Once I was employed by the Packers, they became the enemy and I could care less about them, other than that, that was my squad. That’s the reason why I started playing football was Emmitt Smith. That’s why I wore 22 in high school. To be here is cool to become full circle. I would love to finish my career here, it would be great. Just something you thought wouldn’t actually happen, but I’m glad it did."
After graduating from Plano East High School, Peprah went to Alabama and played in 50 games. In 2005, he was a second-team All SEC selection at defensive back. He was a fifth-round pick of the New York Giants but didn’t make the roster and signed with the Green Bay Packers. He played with the Packers from 2006 to 2008 and then spent one season, 2009, with the Atlanta Falcons. But in 2010 and 2011 he returned to the Packers and earned a Super Bowl ring.
In the offseason, Peprah underwent arthroscopic knee surgery and his recovery took a while. He turned down opportunities to sign with several teams, including the New York Giants, and he took physicals for the Detroit Lions and Chicago Bears.
But nearly two weeks ago, a healthy Peprah worked out with 14 other players at Valley Ranch. The Cowboys said of the defensive backs that worked out, he was the best.
This week, the Cowboys made the move official.
"I mean that’s the business and once (the surgery) happened, my main focus was to get healthy before I throw myself out there," he said. "That was the hardest thing for me is to not bite on some of the opportunities that were out there coming my way."
Peprah will see limited work on special teams and certain defensive packages to give Danny McCray a break.
"I’m trying to learn the defense and contribute in any way I can," he said. "The goal for me is obviously be a starter, but who knows what plans they have for me."
The Dallas Cowboys have agreed on a deal with veteran safety Charlie Peprah, who has 25 career starts, including one in Super Bowl XLV at Cowboys Stadium.
Now Peprah, who is from nearby Plano, Texas, returns to his hometown team of the Cowboys, who have had plenty of injuries at the safety position.
The deal has yet to be officially turned into the league office as the Cowboys are trying to figure out their 53-man roster and how to make room for their new safety.
Peprah, who has had knee issues the last year, was one of 16 players to work out for the Cowboys two weeks ago at Valley Ranch. He’s played six years in the league but his 25 starts have occurred in the last two seasons with the Packers, which included a Super Bowl run.
The Cowboys entered the season with Gerald Sensabaugh and Barry Church as the starters but Church is out for the year with a torn Achilles. Backup Danny McCray (pictured above) has been more than serviceable but rookie Matt Johnson was expected to contribute but has had three separate hamstring injuries, including another on Friday that prevented his NFL debut.
Along with Peprah in that workout two weeks ago was Eric Frampton, who signed right away and has played for the Cowboys the last two weeks.
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.”
- There are days where teams just come up with great game plans how to handle DeMarcus Ware. Give the Bears a lot of credit because on the Monday night, Lovie Smith and his offensive staff were not going to allow Ware to hurt them in this game. Ware did have three tackles and one sack but for the Bears that was a win, they knew that tackle J’Marcus Webb would have little chance or no chance one on one with Ware the entire night so they put tight ends to his side, they chipped backs out of the backfield on him, and they worked the guards his direction any chance they could.
Some thoughts from the film room at Valley Ranch, particularly from the defensive side of the ball.
- Rob Ryan did the best he could moving Ware around but you could see that protection was geared to manage him. Victor Butler was able to get some rushes and even had a chance for a sack one on one on a third down play but he was unable to get Cutler to the ground which kept a drive going which resulted in a field goal for the Bears. I went into this game believing that Ware could have one of those monster nights but there was no chance of that in the way the Bears played him. It was fresh in their minds what happened to them the last time they played on Monday night this season against the Packers Clay Matthews and they did everything in their power not to allow it to happen again.
- Wasn’t surprised how well Danny McCray played in his first opportunity to start at safety for Barry Church. The one thing I will say about McCray’s game is that he is steady. There is not a lot of flash or flair but what you have is a football player that knows his assignments and plays his techniques. I was really impressed with how he manages to work himself around the field. I didn’t feel like there were many plays where McCray wasn’t where he needed to be. Had the one chance where he was in great shape on the tight end Kellen Davis for an interception and just needed to come up with the ball when it hit his hands. There are things about him in coverage that you are probably not going to like but if Rob Ryan can keep matching him up on tight ends, he will continue to have opportunities to make plays. Where McCray also helps you is his ability to make a sure tackle. It was a trait that we all had seen before during his work on special teams but he has managed to carry that side of his game into the regular defense. Danny McCray reinvented himself this summer as a player and you can tell by the way he played against the Bears, he had a good idea what he needed to do to help this team on defense.
- I have always believed that you draft players to play them. I never understood the teams that had all their draft picks on the weekly inactive list. You always need to find ways to get your rookies on the field. In the case for the Cowboys on Monday night, Garrett had Morris Claiborne, Tyrone Crawford and Kyle Wilber on the field taking meaningful snaps with the first team defense. We all know that Claiborne has been a day one starter and you can clearly see the talent that he plays with but also how much he has to learn about his craft and the tricks of the trade. There are going to be days where Claiborne is not going to be in great position on routes and it happened to him on a crossing route against fellow rookie Alshon Jeffery where he was trying to carry him across the field and there was too much separation which made him have to scramble to get in position to try and make the play.
- Claiborne also didn’t play with good inside leverage on the Devin Hester touchdown where he allowed Hester to run the out and up on him and was never able to recover. Claiborne did do a good job of coming forward one time on a third down pass to Hester and cutting him down before he had a chance to get going. There is no doubt in my mind that Morris Claiborne will be tested more these next five weeks. I am honestly surprised that teams have not thrown at him more. Opponents are going to find out if he can handle the ball going at him down after down and he will need to be up to the challenge.
- Tyrone Crawford caught my eye last week when he went toe to toe with the Buccaneers Carl Nicks. This week it was much of the same for Crawford who plays with surprising power and strength to go along with his quickness. The area I have been impressed with Crawford has been with his ability to play with his hands. He is really a technique sound guy and you can see every week that the defensive coaches are giving Crawford more and more of an opportunity to be a part of the defensive line rotation but this is not a gift, he is actually earning his right to see the field more and more each week. With the bye week ahead, there is a chance to we can also see safety Matt Johnson and from what I had seen in college, he has a chance to help.
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The more you studied the Bears on defense, the more you realized that it was going to be difficult to move the ball on them. For the Cowboys on Monday night, moving the ball wasn’t the problem. Instead, it was missed opportunities when the offensive line was able to protect and Romo had time to find an open receiver. Poor execution led to a turnover, or a drop or even an overthrow. This Chicago defense wasn’t dominant like I had seen on film, but it simply took advantage of the Cowboys inability to finish drives and make plays.
While we focus on those missed opportunities, we also need to take note that for the second straight week, this team lacked a running game. Sure, people will blame this solely on the offensive line, but it’s more than that. It was a collective effort. There is really a struggle to get any type of push at the point of attack, but this is a tight end and fullback problem as well. Give the Bears credit for their run defense tonight but going forward, something has to be done.
Not going to make any excuses for this defense tonight, but it was clear that they needed to find a way to make more plays than they did. So far this team has gotten by without Jay Ratliff at nose tackle, but tonight they played without Anthony Spencer and it was the first game without safety Barry Church as well. While Josh Brent has done a nice job at nose, they still need Ratliff. Victor Butler does a much better job of rushing the passer than he does playing the run, although even when he had a chance to get a sack and get the defense off the field, he was unable to make a play.
Tonight we saw Brandon Carr struggle and the Bears go after Morris Claiborne a bit. Danny McCray was in on several plays but had a chance to make an interception late in the game, instead allowing tight end Kellen Davis to take the ball away from him.
For a team that shut Vincent Jackson down last week, Brandon Marshall was unstoppable. There were too many plays where he had space. I was surprised that DeMarcus Ware didn’t have a bigger night against J’Marcus Webb, who had been struggling against everyone at left tackle. Ware did have a sack and three tackles, but again, I expected more. Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan did his best to match the Bears, but Jay Cutler was more than up to the challenge and the Cowboys were able to only generate one turnover from him.
Cowboys punter Brian Moorman was effective in this three punts with two inside the 20. Bears return man Devin Hester wasn’t the factor that he could have been. Hester did manage to have one kickoff return for 29 yards, but the kickoff coverage team was up to the task when given the opportunity. In the three chances the Cowboys did have to punt, it appeared from the press box that the protection was better than the last two weeks.
Here are the notes compiled after tonight’s game:
Jason Witten (112 yards) and Dez Bryant (105) each topped 100 receiving yards to mark the first time the Cowboys had a pair of100-yard receivers in a game since Miles Austin (143) and Witten (102) did it at San Francisco (9/18/11).
Miles Austin’s 57 yards tonight gave him 3,594 for his career to pass Billy Joe DuPree (3,565), Jay Novacek (3,576) and Terrell Owens (3,587) for eighth in club record books.
Austin’s touchdown catch gave him his 31st career scoring reception to tie Lance Rentzel for ninth in Cowboys history.
Cole Beasley had his first career reception tonight, finishing with two for 14 yards.
Josh Brent notched his first career sack tonight.
Dez Bryant’s eight receptions tonight gave him 129 for his career to pass Pettis Norman, Alvin Harper (124 each) and Eric Bjornson (127) and tie Dan Reeves for 33rd in franchise history.
Bryant totaled 105 receiving yards tonight to give him 1,758 yards for his career to pass Pettis Norman (1,672) and Dan Reeves (1,693) for 31st in club history.
Bryant’s 105-yard performance was his second career 100-yard game and a career-high. His first was at the N.Y. Giants (11/14/10) when he finished with 104 yards.
Victor Butler recovered his second career fumble following the force by DeMarcus Ware’s sack.
Andre Holmes had caught his first career pass tonight for seven yards.
Danny McCray made the first start of his career, filling in at safety after Barry Church was placed on Reserve/Injured (Achilles) last week.
Brian Moorman made his Cowboys debut, punting in place of Chris Jones (knee). Moorman punted three times for a 37.0 average, a 34.3 net and two downed inside the Bears 20.
DeMarco Murray rushed 11 times tonight to give him 237 career rushing attempts. He passed Chris Warren (217) and Daryl Johnston (232) for 25th in Dallas record books.
Murray rushed for 24 yards tonight to up his career rushing yards total to 1,134 and pass Doug Dennison (1,112) for 22nd in franchise history.
Kyle Orton made his Cowboys debut tonight in the fourth quarter and completed nine-of-10 passes for 89 yards with a touchdown.
Tony Romo’s touchdown toss tonight was his 154th career touchdown throw. He broke a tie with Roger Staubach for sole possession of third place on the Dallas Cowboys all-time touchdown pass list.
Romo finished the game with 307 passing yards, to up his club record of 300-yard passing games to 33.
Romo also suffered five interceptions tonight to tie his career high previously established at Buffalo (10/8/07).
Phillip Tanner had his first career catch tonight and finished with two grabs for 20 yards.
DeMarcus Ware had a sack tonight in which he forced his 30th career fumble to extend his club record. His last three sacks (two from last week) have each resulted in a forced fumble.
Ware now has three forced fumbles on the season, his sixth career season with three-or-more forced fumbles which ties the fifth-highest figure by a defender in league history.
Jason Witten finished with 13 catches for 112 yards and a touchdown tonight. His 112 yards tied the ninth-most receiving yards in a game in his career while his 13 receptions were the third-most in his career, tied the third-most by a Cowboys pass catcher in franchise history – Lance Rentzel (vs. Washington, 11/19/67) and tied the eighth-most by a tight end in a single game in NFL history.
Witten’s Single-Game Receptions
15………… at Detroit (12/9/07)
14………… at N.Y. Giants (12/6/09)
13………… vs. Chicago (10/1/12)
Witten’s 100-yard outing upped his Cowboys tight end record of 100-yard games to 15.
Witten’s touchdown reception tonight was his 42nd career scoring grab and his first since his 59-yard score at Washington (11/20/11). His 42 touchdown catches broke a tie with Billy Joe DuPree for sole possession of sixth on the club’s all-time touchdown receptions list.
ARLINGTON — On an otherwise dismal night for the Dallas Cowboys, tight end Jason Witten found a way to cure his season-long battle with dropped passes.
Witten, who dropped an NFL-high five passes in the team’s first three games, grabbed the first seven passes sent in his direction by quarterback Tony Romo during Monday’s 34-18 loss to the Chicago Bears at Cowboys Stadium.
Witten finished with a team-high 13 catches for 112 yards — with no drops — and a 5-yard touchdown catch on the final possession. He more than doubled his season totals for receptions and yardage. Witten entered with eight catches for 76 yards in the team’s first three games.
Soldier Field South?
The noise generated by Bears’ fans during the game made it unclear, at times, which team was playing at home. Especially during a "Let’s Go, Bears" chant in the fourth quarter.
The loudest cheers came on Lance Briggs’ 74-yard interception return for a third-quarter touchdown that upped the Bears’ lead to 24-7. Bears defensive tackle Henry Melton, a former Grapevine and Texas player, caused the interception. The play came one snap after Dallas had recovered a fumble in Bears’ territory with an opportunity to cut into a 17-7 deficit.
"That’s what happens when you don’t give the fans anything to cheer for," Cowboys safety Brandon Carr said. "I don’t like to get embarrassed, especially on national TV. I’m frustrated."
Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray had five runs that produced negative yardage against the Bears, all in the first three quarters. He had seven in last week’s 16-10 victory over Tampa Bay. Murray had only 14 carries for negative yards in 13 games last season.
Murray also fumbled in the first quarter and dropped a pitchout from Romo in the second. The second fumble was credited to Romo, who also threw five interceptions, tying a career high.
Cowboys cornerbacks surrendered their first touchdown of the season when Devin Hester beat rookie Morris Claiborne for a sliding, 34-yard touchdown catch in the third quarter. The ball moved when Hester hit the ground, triggering a replay review. Based on the reaction by Cowboys coach Jason Garrett, it was clear the Dallas sideline thought the catch would be overturned.
The Cowboys came up short on another third-quarter review after a Claiborne fumble recovery was overturned when the Bears’ receiver was ruled down by contact.
Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant (8 catches, 105 yards) had the second 100-yard receiving night of his career and his first since Nov. 14, 2010 against the New York Giants in his rookie season.
Cowboys linebacker Bruce Carter injured his left hip on the team’s opening defensive series but later returned to the game. He finished with two tackles.
Three Cowboys’ defensive starters were declared inactive before the game because of injuries: DE Kenyon Coleman (knee), DT Jay Ratliff (ankle) and LB Anthony Spencer (pectoral muscle). A fourth starter, safety Barry Church, suffered a season-ending Achilles tear in last week’s victory over Tampa Bay. The respective replacements in Monday’s starting lineup were Sean Lissemore (Coleman), Josh Brent (Ratliff), Victor Butler (Spencer) and Danny McCray (Church).
Roof, doors open
For only the fifth time in stadium history, the Cowboys played a game with both the roof and the doors open. With Monday’s loss, Dallas is 1-4 in those games. The team fell to 14-12 in regular-season games at Cowboys Stadium.
Jenkins tries safety
Cornerback Mike Jenkins made his debut at safety, taking snaps at the position during the team’s nickel package. Last week, cornerback Brandon Carr played safety while starters Gerald Sensabaugh and Barry Church nursed injuries against Tampa Bay.
The Cowboys, who had six false-start penalties in last week’s victory over Tampa Bay, had none against Chicago.
Five storylines to watch in tonight’s Cowboys-Bears game. What will tomorrow’s headlines read?
The old Jason Witten
He promised the old Jason Witten would be back last week. He wasn’t. This week is another chance. There is no way one of the franchise’s most respected players, a seven-time Pro Bowl player, can struggle again. This shouldn’t be an every-week thing, right?
Kicking to Hester
The Cowboys had the second-best punt return defense in the NFL through the first two weeks. But they have a new punter for this game against the Bears and Devin Hester. It’s up to Brian Moorman to kick directionally and high. And on kickoffs, Dan Bailey, who has four touchbacks on 11 kickoffs this year, said he is making it a personal challenge to neutralize Hester.
For two games, the offensive line has been battled to a standstill at best, which might be putting it too kindly. Now the Bears come in with a front four that is one of the NFL’s best at getting sacks by itself, not often needing extra rushers. Meanwhile, the Cowboys are running for only 3.5 yards per carry, 23rd in the NFL (same as the Bears).
The Cowboys are already down a safety (Barry Church), cut another at the start of the week (Mana Silva), and merely hoped to get Gerald Sensabaugh over a calf strain in time to play tonight. After that? A novice starter (Danny McCray). And their best corner (Brandon Carr).
Bears quarterback Jay Cutler has thrown six interceptions. The Cowboys’ Tony Romo had two fumbles and an interception last week. This is a game with potential for takeaways on both sides. The Bears already have nine, so they’re plus-3 for the season. The Cowboys? Minus-3.
RELATED: KEYS TO VICTORY – Dallas Cowboys vs. Chicago Bears
The Cowboys and Chicago Bears have a lot in common besides their 2-1 records. They both feature stingy defenses and offensive lines that struggle to protect their quarterbacks. Now, the two teams face each other Monday night at 7:30 p.m. Here is a look at how both teams match up:
The Cowboys’ offensive line resembled a sieve the last two games. Against Seattle and Tampa Bay, defenders routinely crashed the backfield. Quarterback Tony Romo has been sacked five times in the last eight quarters and hit on 10 other occasions. It’s uncertain if the punishment has had a cumulative effect on Romo’s performance. But it’s not good. And against a Bears defense that collected a league -high14 sacks after three weeks, Romo could be in danger if the pass protection doesn’t improve.
Do better on first down
Jason Garrett has repeatedly said he doesn’t want his offense playing behind the chains. In other words, he’d like to avoid unfavorable down-and-distance situations in the early stages of each series. But this season the Cowboys haven’t. After three weeks they are among the least efficient teams on first down, averaging four or more yards only 42.7 percent of the time. That needs to improve if Dallas has designs on being a productive offense.
This season, Rob Ryan’s defense seems a bit tamer. The Cowboys coordinator has dialed back the blitzes. But this week he should consider attacking at will. The Bears’ line is vulnerable, having yielded 11 sacks, the third-highest total in the NFL. They have also allowed 20 knockdowns. Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler has expressed frustration with shoddy line play and it has affected his performance. In a loss to Green Bay, when he was sacked seven times, he completed 41 percent of his pass attempts.
Improve special teams play
The Cowboys’ special teams play this season has left a lot to be desired. Against Tampa Bay, they nearly allowed a punt to be blocked for the second consecutive game. Two other times, they had 10 men on the field. Dallas needs to correct its mistakes quickly. The Bears feature Devin Hester, one of the most dynamic return specialists in NFL history. He’s capable of making a game-changing play and the Cowboys can’t afford to let that happen.