A week later, and not a creature was stirring at Valley Ranch, not even Jerry.
Reports from the Irving compound say it was an uneasy week, which would have been the case anyway after another end-of-season failure, but uncertainty about the future added greatly to the negative fog.
Jerry would be button-popping proud, if he had been hanging around, to witness, yes, an "uncomfortable" bunch of football people.
When Mr. Jones declared he was placing Valley Ranch on "uncomfortable" lockdown, and said "change" was coming, some of us laughed. Well, OK, I laughed anyway. This man loves and promotes the country club atmosphere for his football team, and now, suddenly, he’s going Vince Lombardi on us?
But my paycheck doesn’t have Jerry’s signature on it, so laughing comes easy. For those, however, who draw paychecks from Mr. Jones, they are sweating the fact that this time — yes, this time — Jerry might be serious about "changes."
Whatever, Jerry has already achieved his declaration that "uncomfortable" would prevail. And since Jerry wasn’t in sight at Valley Ranch by the end of the week, that added to the agony of waiting.
The guess from here, and I’d say it’s a good guess, is Jerry is dug in, maybe at his duck hunting lodge in Arkansas, and working the phone lines nonstop, calling his long-standing list of priority "advisers."
That would include such names as Gibbs, Holmgren, Switzer, Wolf (Ron, the former Green Bay GM), and surprisingly enough, even Parcells and, yes, Johnson, as in Jimmy.
Due to a little verbal dust-up in early November between Jimmy and Jerry, it’s not certain Jones will be making that particular call this time.
But if so, it’s already a fact that Jimmy would deliver a message that Jerry has heard before from him. And so has Jason Garrett.
I’d call that message the No. 1 priority of the off-season: Hire an offensive coordinator and play-caller, while making Garrett the head coach only.
And this is really not about Garrett. It’s about Tony Romo.
Over the last six years, Tony has had only one offensive guru, confidante, adviser and friend.
Most quarterbacks, due to the nature of the job, need all that.
What Tony also needs, however, is a guy who will scream at him when a scream is necessary. Say, oh, maybe like halftime in Washington last week.
We all know Tony is a good quarterback who also screws up at the worst possible time. Garrett gives him love. But at this point, Tony needs to hear some screaming.
Besides, what can that kind of change actually hurt? It’s not like you’d be attempting to fix what’s not broke.
I was talking to an NFL guy last week about quarterbacks in general, and Romo in particular.
His praise, by the way, for Romo was immense, and this was just 72 hours after the meltdown against the Redskins.
The Romo defenders — I’ve long been one, but there’s some serious backsliding at the moment — will agree totally with what this guy had to say. Even the Romo haters will have to concede he has a good point.
"There might be 10 to 12 teams out there who don’t need Romo, but there’s close to 20 that would take him in a minute," he said. "He’s good. But he’s not good enough to do what the Cowboys have to ask him to do.
"Tony has to win every game for that team. I’m not kidding. This season he had to win every game. You couldn’t count on the defense to steal you a game. You couldn’t count on the running game to bail him out.
"Tony had to win every game. Even Aikman, even Montana, didn’t have to win every game. Tony got on that roll in November and December and he was winning every game. But the law of averages said it would catch up with him.
"In Washington the other night, it caught up with him."
This guy’s bottom line was the Cowboys have got to get better around Romo. Much better. We all agree with that. That’s just common sense.
But as this particular NFL voice added, "Tony can also make some of the damndest mistakes. He makes bad throws that leave you stunned. I like him, but when asked to do so much, he does have his history of screwing it up."
Would a different offensive voice from a coaching standpoint change that? Maybe not, but what’s wrong with giving it a try?
On the topic of NFL quarterbacks, the name Philip Rivers came up while talking to the NFL guy. The last two seasons, Rivers had been awful. And even while Rivers adamantly defended head coach Norv Turner, when heads rolled last week, it was Norv’s neck that took the hit.
"See, the difference between Romo and Rivers is that Rivers cannot move in the pocket at all," said the guy. "Romo is one of the best at avoiding the rush. Over the last couple of years, teams blitzed Rivers like crazy.
"In the past, you could blitz Rivers, and he had a tight end, a receiver, a running back he could get the ball to, and Rivers made you pay for the blitz. But look what Rivers now plays with. His best weapons all left in free agency and went down with injuries. The front office made some decisions that really backfired.
"Romo, however, has the weapons to beat the blitz. Witten, the emergence of Dez, and the running back, Murray. Tony should have eaten the Redskins alive with all the blitzing they did. Instead, three picks happened."
Let’s not blame that on Garrett, the game-plan man and the play-caller. But would a different voice in Romo’s ear make a difference?
And the name of this new guy, if there is one? I don’t have a name. Norv is out there. Jimmy would tell Jerry to hire Norv, we know that. But a guy in San Diego told me this week that Norv has already been contacted by at least 10 teams to be the new offensive coordinator.
Certainly, Norv is in no rush to make a decision. He can basically pick and choose.
But if Jerry is really going to make good on his making a "change," the No. 1 priority has to be …
OK, there are many priorities. I’ve got my No. 1. Jerry, meanwhile, is polling his "advisers."
IT’S ALL ABOUT TIMING: Tony Romo on Dez Bryant; why Laurent Robinson was successful with the Cowboys
Tony Romo rarely goes into detail about the Cowboys offense. During his weekly interviews at Valley Ranch he routinely states how he doesn’t want to give anything away to opposing defenses, which results in generic answers.
Tuesday was an off day for the Cowboys, so Romo had some extra time to call into 103.3 [KESN-FM] and talk about a variety of topics, and the Cowboys offense was part of the discussion.
It’s no secret that the Cowboys are hurting offensively without the 11 touchdown receptions Laurent Robinson provided last season in his 14 games with the club. Many wonder why he and Romo worked so well in their only season together.
According to Romo, it’s because Robinson was usually in the right place at the right time.
“Laurent did a good job of … if it was a 12-yard curl route, he’d hit 12 yards and turn,” Romo said. “You don’t have to win by three yards every time. … Sometimes receivers will want to give the extra moves here and there and in some systems they allow you the freedom to do a lot of stuff.
“My thing is that our timing is pretty good as an offensive unit that you just need to be where you need to be on time. If you’re covered, you’re covered and I’ll move through to the next guy. If you’re not, then you’re not. But you can’t be places late. And that’s really what we preach as an offensive system and I think Laurent did a good job of that. But we got some pretty darn good guys now that do that.”
Dez Bryant is obviously someone that needs to be on the same page with Romo. While that hasn’t always been the case, Romo says Bryant has improved greatly since his rookie year and is continuing down the right path.
As a rookie, Bryant finished with 45 receptions for 561 yards. He improved to 63 catches for 928 yards last season. Through nine games in 2012, Bryant is on pace for 80 catches and 1,040 yards. However, after catching six touchdowns as a rookie and nine last season, Bryant has only three this season.
“Dez has come full circle from where he was a couple of years ago,” Romo said. “We go by catches whether or not someone has a good game as fans or as media, sometimes. But when we watch the tape, we go by how he blocked, did he get open? The coverages are going to dictate who’s going to get the ball. But does he run his route right? Is it precise? Is he quick in it?
“He’s come 180 degrees, almost full circle where he basically gets to a point where he understands the game. Let’s say he started off doing it 70 percent when he first got here. Then he got to 85. He’s really close to being a guy where it’s 100 percent. You got to go through some things sometimes but he’s a kid that wants it, that works hard, and he’s got a really bright future.
BALTIMORE — Whatever you do, don’t do that. Whatever the plan, it couldn’t have been that, could it?
Excuse both the rant, and the confusion, but 20 seconds, 20 precious seconds, were wasted by the Dallas Cowboys at the end of Sunday’s game, leading to, if nothing else, a flashback to the horror show of clock mismanagement in Arizona last season.
That one was Jason Garrett’s worst 2011 head coaching moment, and the lack of accountability in the aftermath still hangs over him.
Maybe not so much, which still doesn’t excuse what appeared to be a blunder. In this one, however, at least quarterback Tony Romo and Garrett had the same story, the same explanation on why those 20 precious seconds were left blowing in the Maryland wind.
And no, it wasn’t the "plan," both said.
As in Arizona, however, the Cowboys ended up losing a winnable game, falling 31-29 to the Ravens, and the lament of "oh-so-close" is becoming more hollow the more the Cowboys blow these kind of heartaches.
Always dependable Dan Bailey was a tad wide left on a 51-yard field goal in the final seconds, allowing the Ravens to escape.
But with a little less distance to cover with his foot, or with a better placement of the ball — as in between the hash marks — would the outcome have been different for Bailey?
Count that as one of a hundred coulda, shoulda, woulda questions the Cowboys had to answer in the aftermath.
First of all, they finally got a call, maybe a gift call, in the final minutes from an officiating crew that made the replacement boys look more acceptable with every yellow hanky that fell.
After a pass interference flag, the Cowboys had the ball at the Ravens’ 34-yard line with 26 seconds left and one timeout.
That has to be two-play territory, right? Heck yes, it’s right.
The Cowboys ran one play. Then came the failed kick.
What happened after a quick Romo inside throw to Dez Bryant netted only a yard? At that point the clock was running with 20 seconds left when Dez was taken down.
"What we were trying to do there is what we talked about before the play," Garrett said. "Tony was trying to get them on the ball as quickly as possible [after the Dez catch] knowing we had one [timeout] in our pocket.
"It just took too long for everyone to get unpiled, so it got down into single digits, so we said take it down to four seconds and bang the timeout."
Obviously, it’s up to the Cowboys to get "unpiled." The unpiling was not quick enough. But was there also clock panic? It sure looked like it.
Romo: "With the time left, we didn’t think it was in our best interest to run another play. We had guys who needed to get off the pile and receivers who needed to come to the huddle. There just wasn’t enough time."
But was there enough to time to get a snap off, with Romo diving forward to the middle of the hash marks, then get the timeout? It appeared to be the case, but Bailey wanted no such excuse after the game.
"Being on the hash mark makes no difference," he said. "My job is to make the kick. If the hold is on the hash, I’ve got to still make the kick. If you’re always hoping for the middle of the field, you aren’t going to be kicking very long."
But while Bailey blew off the advantage of kicking from the middle of the field, his long attempt was extremely tricky due to the windy conditions. The wind was swirling inside the bowl, and although not necessarily against him, there was a crosswind involved. He had plenty of foot on the kick, just not between the uprights.
Garrett’s boss, Jerry Jones, backed the decision to let 20 seconds escape at the end of the game. "I wanted the kick right there rather than take the risk of attempting to get more yards," said the owner-GM.
But even as Jerry admitted, it was a "sickening" kind of loss.
The Cowboys’ offensive line totally manhandled a once proud Ravens’ defense, paving the way for 227 yards rushing, the most ever allowed by this defense. And much of the pounding was done by, yes, Felix Jones (he lives, he lives), because of a foot injury to DeMarco Murray that took him out for the second half.
Garrett went an unheard-of four deep at running back, with third stringer Phillip Tanner heavily involved, and even rookie Lance Dunbar, signed off the street last week, getting a carry that went for 11 yards.
The Cowboys game-planned the run after the Ravens had been plowed under by the Kansas City ground attack a week ago. It worked incredibly well, but not for a win.
And here we go again. Garrett has one dumb football team. The penalties were immense (13 for the Cowboys) and some were very questionable, but heavily penalized, dumb teams normally end up on the short end of the officiating.
Once again, a special teams coverage breakdown also factored into this loss, with Baltimore’s Jacoby Jones returning a kickoff untouched for 108 yards and a touchdown, tying an NFL record for the longest runback.
And even with Bryant repeatedly making tough, productive catches, he still muffed the biggest throw of the game. In the final minutes, after Romo made a gutty 120-yard drive (including 40 yards in penalties), the Cowboys had to go for two points and a tie game after the touchdown catch by Dez.
The 2-point throw was right there for Bryant. He flat missed it. The Cowboys, however, recovered the onside kick that led to the missed field goal. The Dez drop, however, low-lighted a frustrating end to a frustrating afternoon and a frustrating loss.
Also frustrating were the 20 seconds the Cowboys will never get back.
ARLINGTON — It was Tony Romo’s Monday night nightmare, low-lighted by an ongoing display of quarterbacking malfunctions that sunk him, sunk the Cowboys and considering what’s immediately ahead on the schedule, probably also Titanic-ed the season.
Welcome to October.
December is where the Cowboys usually go to die, but this sucker may be over by Halloween. Jerry Jones, who as of this week is now selling women’s panties at the Big Yard, at least learned the answer to this question:
What exactly is Victoria’s Secret?
Easy answer. Victoria knew. Knew all along the Cowboys belonged in the Lingerie League.
The Chicago Bears enjoyed an MNF road breeze, winning by 34-18, in what will rank as Romo’s most despicable home-field performance ever in this venue, and makes it an early fire-at-will open season for the army of local Romo haters.
Sure, Tony had his helpers in this debacle.
Dez Bryant, come on down. Way down.
Also throw in a Cowboys defense that helped Bears quarterback Jay Cutler restore his tattered reputation by a lack of pressure, despite a Chicago offensive line every bit as much maligned as the Cowboys’ offensive line.
But the bottom line is still a greasy smudge on Romo’s permanent record, and the bottom line showed two Bears defensive touchdowns off a Romo pick and a Romo fumble (ruled an interception), two missed receivers running open for touchdowns, and, overall, being tagged with five interceptions.
Chicago’s defense is respected, of course, but this, this was a start-to-finish evening of what could go wrong for the quarterback did go wrong for the quarterback.
In what actually started as a defensive struggle both ways, the Cowboys trailed 3-0 late in the second quarter when Romo attempted a short out route pass to Bryant. Somebody blew it, and afterward, coach Jason Garrett wouldn’t place blame.
But since Romo does know the plays, and who knows what Dez knows, let us guess, yes, Bryant screwed it up. The pass was picked off by Charles Tillman for an easy TD, and a 10-0 lead. Dez had run upfield. Romo threw short.
Romo, however, came back with a good TD drive before halftime, and it was anybody’s ballgame with a 10-7 intermission score.
The second half, however, was pathetic for the home team, with a Bears opening drive that featured Cutler operating in a rocking chair in whipping his offense to a quick touchdown. No blitz by Rob Ryan meant no chance for pressure.
Down 17-7, the meltdown began. Romo threw a pick that was in the hands of receiver Kevin Ogletree but appeared to be dislodged by a defender, resulting in a pop-up interception near the Bears’ goal line. That was a huge missed chance.
When the Cowboys’ defense got the ball right back on a Cutler fumble, Romo was grabbed by the Bears’ Henry Melton, free because guard Mackenzy Bernadeau blew a block, and a pop-up fumble/interception resulted.
Lance Briggs picked it out of mid-air and rambled 74 yards for a touchdown. A Cowboys scoring threat became a one-eighty disaster and the Bears were on their blowout way, leading 24-7.
Most disturbing, among many disturbing moments for Romo, was him missing a wide-open Bryant in the first half in what could have been a touchdown in a still scoreless game. And again in the second half, Romo missed a wide-open Miles Austin with what could have been a touchdown pass, cutting the lead to 24-14 with still 17 minutes to play.
This just in:
The woulda, shoulda, couldas don’t count.
What does count is the Cowboys crashed to a 2-2 record, and now have a long, long wait through the bye week before attempting to regroup. That regrouping will coincide with the season’s toughest stretch of schedule.
Four of the next five games are on the road, including at the Ravens, at Carolina, then the Giants here a few days before Halloween, followed by at Atlanta and at Philly.
A show of hands please from those local fools who attempted to "style-point" the home debut win last week over Tampa Bay.
The Cowboys aren’t good enough to downgrade any kind of win.
Due to the shaky state of the Bears’ offense, Monday night was as good a chance for a victory as the Cowboys will have between now and almost Thanksgiving.
And then Romo crashed and burned.
And then the flames started building around the entire season.
Jerry still has women’s panties to sell.
Bring on the lingerie.
Hang with me here. Stay alert but patient. I’m thinking hard about stuff this morning. I’m putting this large football brain into supercharged gear. This may take awhile.
But why now, after all these years, would the cerebral objective be to think before you write?
The self-imposed assignment for today is a very difficult challenge:
Find 10 wins for the Cowboys this season.
You doubt, right? You even dog-cuss such foolishness, right?
Eight wins, we can all agree. Nine wins and many rats jump ship, although plenty of Cowsheep will stay aboard. But 10? Women and children first, and the rest of us will cue up the Titanic ballroom band.
But in attempting to make a 10-win case, first you have to wade through a numbers whipping:
Factor in 400. Then factor in 346.
Keep those numbers in mind for Wednesday night at the Meadowlands, when the Cowboys open the season against the world champion New York Giants.
But first, allow 2011 to also be a gateway into 2012. Last season can and will tie directly into this season. "We failed last season, but many areas of that failure we can definitely turn it into a positive for this season," said senior team spokesman Jason Witten, speaking out in Oxnard several weeks ago.
Witten, of course, is going to be optimistic. But he’s not far off in this optimism.
It was an 8-8 team in 2011. Comparing the schedule, and while it’s a crapshoot on strength of schedule until you actually see a season, it appears to be about the same. Non-divisional foes will be tougher in Arlington (Bears, Steelers and Saints are the headline visitors) and the road is about the same.
Headliners this season on the road are Ravens, Falcons and Bengals. Last season it was Jets, 49ers and Pats.
The division? Tough, maybe very tough, but the Eagles are still at the mercy of a quarterback who can’t and won’t stay healthy, and the Giants face a traditional Super Bowl letdown for the next season, and the Redskins, well, how much can RG3 pump up the offense?
I’d make the schedule comparisons pretty much a wash.
Last season, the Cowboys went into December with a 7-4 record. Two of those losses were dreaded Romo giveaways, meaning the early Lions loss and the season-opening Jets loss.
Tony rebounded, of course, and had a good season after that, but he had already inflicted huge damage. Still, the record going into the final month was 7-4 even with the two giveaways. Hey, we’ve found a positive for this season.
Then came the December crash. That loss in Arizona to open the month remains mind-blowing. And of the four losses in the final five games, the L against the Eagles here came with an injured Romo on the sidelines and Stephen McGee at the wheel, plus, it was a meaningless game for playoff implications.
With a little tweaking here and there, the Cowboys’ season could have been much better than 8-8, except for one glaring negative.
The defense. Rob Ryan got caught in the middle of a mess.
Which brings us back to 400. And to 346.
Those were the Eli Manning aerial numbers in his two December wins over the Cowboys. Six TD passes and 746 yards combined. The loss here for the Cowboys involved an immense late collapse by the Cowboys’ defense. Up there, with a divisional title on the line, it was no-contest from the beginning.
Right away, meaning Wednesday night, we have a sudden window into how much the Cowboys have improved on defense. They have improved, but how much? Eli and his receivers will tell us that.
Brandon Carr is the real deal as a new cornerback. Mo Claiborne will be a real deal at the other corner, but he’s a rookie. Rookie corners usually struggle early. As opposed to past years, there actually appears to be depth at cornerback.
But what about a defense applying pressure on the opposing QB, be it Eli Manning or anyone else? The Cowboys were not good in that area last season, and there’s nothing at the moment to suggest it will change. Nothing, that is, except optimism, and the hope that better coverage in the secondary helps create more sacks and pressures.
In attempting to determine how the Cowboys will finish this season, health issues are always a key component. But there will be injuries, and in many cases the Cowboys don’t appear to have depth. How big a negative the injuries become is strictly a wait-and-see process.
The schedule. The injuries. The talent. The bad hoodoo voodoo that has followed Jerry since the mid-’90s. Combine it all, and…
No, I can’t find those 10 wins. Let’s make it 8-8, and another season of local football frustration.
This is what happens when you actually think too much.
But wait. There’s one disclaimer from the massive football brain:
If the defense on Wednesday night actually holds Eli and his receivers to reasonable instead of outrageous production, then we can re-evaluate the think tank.
Initial reports of the guidelines laid out for Dez Bryant may have been mischaracterized, according to his advisor, Dallas bail bondsman David Wells.
Specifically, Wells told KESN-FM 103.3 in Dallas on Tuesday, the Dallas Cowboys did not impose restrictions on Bryant’s off-the-field comings and goings. Instead, the wide receiver sought such guidance on his own.
“He wanted to make some changes himself,” Wells said. “He wanted to put some people around him that also could be there in case something happened, that they would be able to attest to what’s going on with him. He first of all said that he wanted to make sure his safety was good, because a lot of times athletes are vulnerable to things that go on out there in society.
“But he also wanted to make sure, to the Dallas Cowboy fans, that he’s going to do everything he can to make sure that he’s out there every day, not only practicing as hard as he can, but also on game day producing the product that the Dallas Cowboys want. That’s what Dez is about. … He came to me and said ‘Hey man, can you help me? I want help.”
The panel that laid out guidelines included a “group of well-respected men,” Wells said, including Bryant’s attorney, Senator Royce West, and local ministers. Wells insisted that the so-called rules have not been enforced by the Cowboys, but that the team is happy with the system.
“He looks at life a lot different now,” Wells said. “Dez just wanted to make sure that his welfare is taken care of, as well as the name of the Dallas Cowboys.”
On Monday, head coach Jason Garrett affirmed the team’s desire to support Bryant and his family, and said he’s pleased with the personal progress Bryant has made.
"Fundamentally, Dez does, I’m convinced, want to do many things that give him the opportunity to get on track the way he needs to both on and off the field,” Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said. “He does believe he has a great opportunity.”
That was me the other night, sitting on the couch in an otherwise empty house, yelling choice words at Jason Garrett, who was 1,400 miles away, working the sideline of a fake football game, also billed by the NFL as "the preseason."
Yelling at people on your TV screen probably indicates a mental health issue, but we’ll leave that one for the shrinks to ponder.
Actually, I had just departed the Dallas Cowboys training camp in California a couple of days earlier, having spent eight days out there sending back mostly favorable opinions on the head coaching work of Mr. Garrett.
And then there I sat in Grand Prairie, with Garrett in Oakland, and I’m dog-cussing the man.
Why in the bleep was Tony Romo still playing in that worthless, meaningless exhibition game?
From last Monday, however, let’s fast forward to Saturday night, when the Cowboys play fake football game No. 2, this one against the Chargers in San Diego.
Garrett’s decision on playing time for top players — the absolutely essential players — will be under much heavier review because of what turned out to be a very bad week for the Cowboys.
Two days after the Raiders game it was announced that tight end Jason Witten would not be participating in any form of football for at least two weeks, and his loss to the team might stretch into the regular-season opener.
(By the way, that regular-season opener in the Meadowlands, against the world champs, is, gulp, 20 days away.)
Proven to be a tough, tough football customer over the years, Witten took a hit against the Raiders that resulted in a lacerated spleen, an injury that nobody spits on or rubs dirt on and then suits up anyway.
But once the Witten injury was revealed, it has been noticed locally that many are currently sitting on the couch and delivering a load of second-guesses at Garrett.
These howls ask, what the bleep was Witten still doing in that game? Even Jerry Jones was asked this week in Oxnard if he wanted to second-guess his head coach on Witten. Jones, who has been very talkative all camp, swiftly declined.
To each his own here, but allow me, the initial sofa screamer at Garrett, to defend the head coach here.
To rehash an old Parcells-ism, "football players play football in football season."
This is football season in the NFL, or at least a form of it.
But there is one position that has to be protected in these August games. Protected at all costs. Obviously, that position is quarterback. Even Bill Parcells agreed.
Otherwise, football players play football in football season.
Bad luck can happen, and it did. A key cog like Witten caught some real bad luck.
But his injury, on a blind-side hit after catching a desperation pass from Romo, also brings me back to the Oakland game dog-cussing of Garrett in the first place.
With a makeshift offensive line because of camp injuries, Romo played the first series, and then he came back for the second series. The ball was not moving. In that second series, there were also two massive breakdowns in the offensive line.
On the first one, Romo was scrambling for his health, and still got off the pass to Witten, and that’s the play that later proved extremely costly. On the next play, Romo was again in a scramble, but was hauled down, and his body twisted sideways. It was a scary moment.
Once surviving that, there was no way Romo would be back out there, right? But wait. Garrett did send his quarterback into the game for a third series, obviously because he thought some positive results for the offense would be a camp boost.
Witten, amazingly, also came back for the third series, caught a pass, and took another hit. Ouch. Nobody, of course, knew about the spleen at the time.
The complaint from here centers on one area and one area only.
On that third series, Garrett foolishly risked the dang quarterback in the exhibition season and did so even after having seen the jailbreak rush on Romo the series before.
For Saturday’s game, allow me to first-guess.
I wouldn’t play Romo even one snap, not with the state of the offensive line remaining in severe flux.
Aim Romo for the third game in Arlington next week, and then even for some snaps in the fourth game, also in Arlington, although the final exhibition game is usually always a no-no for the starting QB.
Red J, of course, will indeed play Romo on Saturday, but didn’t we see enough of the O-line against the Raiders to consider not risking Romo, at least at this point?
Beyond that, however, football players will be playing football in football season. And the rest of us will sit on our butts and watch it, armed and dangerous with the second-guess if there’s a key injury.
Editors Note: I disagree with Randy Galloway on this. I think Jason Garrett likes to end on a positive regarding starters in the preseason. I don’t have a problem with Romo or any other starter being in for the first few drives (including Jason Witten). What is your view?
OXNARD, Calif. — The needs?
What are the Dallas Cowboys’ needs as training camp entered a third week out here right down the road from Ventura County beaches?
The No. 1 need at the moment is…
For all the cussing we do every August about NFL exhibition football, enough is enough at this camp of the same players facing off against the same players on the practice field.
As the last NFL clubs to play an exhibition game, the Cowboys’ Monday night encounter in Oakland with the Raiders can at least provide an early road map in several areas of concern.
Start with wide receiver. Very, very iffy in depth and proven talent. Don’t get me started again on how Jones and Co., or even Jason Garrett, has ignored this position, but "a game" can at least provide the opportunity for an unknown name to emerge.
Include the interior of the offensive line in this preliminary road map, because an injury wipeout in camp has both guard positions and center in a holding pattern.
Cornerback, which on paper is the most improved position for the Cowboys, is also on hold at the moment because of injuries.
Don’t forget safety, also a position of weakness in the past. Will the Barry Church who has surfaced as a positive on the practice field continue that trend Monday night?
OK, you get the point. Even exhibition football will be welcome come Monday night.
Meanwhile, a few observations from eight days of watching practice-field activity, observations that may or may not mean anything:
Tony Romo is a "meaner" quarterback.
"Yeah, I guess I am," answered Romo, who in a show of meanness then cussed at me (joking, I think) but also continued to expand on his noticeable verbal practice-field displeasure when plays are not executed properly.
"It’s about doing what you have to do, and about certain guys responding better to different things."
But why now has his barking at teammates expanded after six years as the starting QB? More leadership?
"It not just a now thing," Romo answered. "It’s not like I just started it. But you let it evolve more and more over the seasons. And now you’ve noticed.
"This has been a progression. Over time, things evolve. Being more vocal has evolved."
From quarterbacks coach Wade Wilson: "Oh, no doubt he’s being a lot more demanding of guys. The good thing is, it’s not been a case of him grandstanding. The positive impact with teammates happens when they know you are sincere instead of grandstanding with it. Tony is good about doing this the right way."
This is as physical a Cow camp as I’ve seen in years, including maybe the Parcells days. The practice-field difference from last August, with the NFL coming off a lockout shutdown, is a one-eighty.
Jason Garrett was a first-time full-time head coach last August.
So, Red J, you’ve really jacked up the intensity this summer, right?
"No," answered Garrett. "There’s not that much difference, not at all."
Huh? Eyes don’t lie. It’s totally different.
But it’s interesting that Garrett dismissed the topic, and for, I guess, psychological reasons, such as he doesn’t want to read or hear that he’s now gone hardball head coach. Or something. I’ve got no answers, really.
But it’s still the most physical and also entertaining training camp I’ve seen in years.
Even if he wants to also deny it, Garrett himself is a one-eighty from a season ago. Instead of the buttoned-up, boring robot when dealing with the media, he’s loose, funny, smiling, engaging, and all this carries over to his practice-field demeanor.
Garrett acts like a head coach totally in charge. Can he be? With Jerry? I guess we’ll see.
I’ll say it again. Sean Lee. Wow. DeMarco (In a Hurry) Murray. Wow. Brandon Carr. Wow
I’ll say it again. It’s a joke, a bad joke, that the Cowboys came to camp with this limited collection of wideouts.
As much as Garrett brings up the name of Kevin Ogletree, as much as we hear publicly about Ogletree being the top candidate as the No. 3 receiver, with an Andre Holmes and a Dwayne Harris the other top contenders…
Late last week, there was one whisper from inside the organizational door that rookie free agent Tim Benford had already become the top candidate as the No. 3 receiver. He’s from Tennessee Tech, and has been impressive.
For seniority reasons, others will get first call on the field Monday night, but Benford, all 5-foot-11 (if that) of him, is definitely a name to remember if you’re watching the Raiders game.
Plaxico Burress? There is limited interest here in plucking this guy off the NFL streets, but he’s signing somewhere soon, and the Cowboys don’t appear ready yet to take a nutcase gamble. It’s a risky gamble I’d take, seeing the state of the receivers in this camp.
On that topic of this being a highly physical camp, I went to new backup quarterback Kyle Orton for an opinion.
Orton has been in camps with the Bears and Broncos. Is this one more physical than those?
"No, not really," he said. "It’s about the same as the others."
So either the eyes did lie, or Garrett has now upgraded the intensity to that of other camps. I believe the latter to be the case.
With so much valid criticism on failed Cowboys drafts in the past, we still don’t know much about the highly acclaimed new cornerback, Mo Claiborne. But future expectations remain high for him.
Meanwhile, keep an eye on defensive end Tyrone Crawford, the third-rounder last April out of Boise State. Maybe his impact won’t happen immediately, but this guy at least has the look of a real find.
All of the above comes under the category of mere observations. They are being offered at no extra charge. Meanwhile, let’s please see "a game."
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The Cowboys waited until June to start signing draft picks, and they now may have to wait until August to get the last member of the incoming class signed.
Cornerback Morris Claiborne, the sixth overall pick in the 2012 draft, has yet to agree to terms. Agent Bus Cook tells Calvin Watkins of ESPNDallas.com that Cook doesn’t know whether a deal will be done before training camp opens on July 25.
“I have no idea, don’t know,” Cook said. “I don’t know. We’ll see.”
Cook declined to delve into the specifics. It widely is believed that, for most if not all of the first eight picks (none of whom are signed), the question of whether their fully-guaranteed contracts will include offset language provides the primary stumbling block.
Last month, Cowboys executive V.P. Stephen Jones acknowledged that the offset language is the culprit. That’s probably what is holding everybody up, because the money is the money,” Jones said, via Watkins. “I think everyone wants to be consistent at the end of the day. I think that is what is holding everything up, see what is going to be the flavor of the day.”
The teams believe that, if the player is cut before his four-year deal expires, and if he gets another job elsewhere, anything he makes with a new team should reduce what he’s owed under his fully-guaranteed contract. The players (or, more accurately, their agents) believe that the compensation has changed so dramatically at the top of the draft under the new labor deal that the teams should be willing to assume the entire financial risk arising from what ultimately would be an admission that they made a mistake by taking the player at the top of the draft.
It’s a given that the first 16 players taken will receive fully-guaranteed four-year deals. Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly, the ninth overall pick, avoided the offset language. The eight players taken before him want that same term — especially since four of them are represented by CAA, the same firm that represents Kuechly.
As to the non-CAA players in the top eight, like Claiborne, there’s a very good chance that the agents are waiting to see what happens with the quartet of CAA clients.
Courtesy: Mike Florio |
Don’t believe a word.
That’s the new policy from here, which, admittedly, should have been the old policy, but based on most all Dallas Cowboys’ off-seasons over the past few years, I’ve tended to believe too much.
This time a year ago comes to immediate mind.
Skid marks all over my head happened because of believing too much. Mainly the impact Jason Garrett would have as the head coach, which I expected to be a Harbaugh-type thing that boosted the 49ers last season.
But no more. I am rededicating my football life to reality when it comes to the Cowboys.
And the 8-8 record of the 2011 season IS reality.
As of last Thursday, the Cowboys wrapped up about a month of off-season OTAs (organized team activities, which are not mandatory), and last week, the one and only mini-camp, which is mandatory for the players.
The next time the team gathers intact will be late July way out west in Oxnard, Calif. That will be the opening of training camp.
But based on the comments coming out of Valley Ranch for the past month, 2012 will have the Cowboys on the verge of a Super Bowl, although it is a positive those two words — Super. Bowl. — were mostly absent from the raging optimism.
On local radio a few weeks ago, running back DeMarco Murray said something along the lines of this being a season when the Cowboys expect to get back to the Super Bowl and win it.
Whoa, kid. Say what?
Murray paused, a tad stunned at our negative reaction to the words Super and Bowl being said in association with the Cowboys.
"Well, shouldn’t that be the way we all think?" he asked. "Shouldn’t that be the goal?"
These kids today. Gotta love ’em.
If that goal is ever met again, and it’s now 16 seasons and counting since the Cowboys made a Super Bowl, players like Murray will be factor in getting them there. At least he will be if the brief run DeMarco had last season, before the ankle injury, was a sign of things to come, including better health.
But after a month of taking notes on all quotes coming out of Valley Ranch, what follows is some of the "optimism" that now overflows as we await the start of training camp:
Garrett had his first full off-season as a head coach. "I need to improve in all areas of the job," he said. Jerry Jones said Jason has improved in all areas, but when it comes to Jerry, we’d prefer to see him improve in all areas of being the general manager. I’m not counting on it.
Rob Ryan had his first full off-season as defensive coordinator. "Blame me for last season," said Rob. When it came to the awful defense last season, I did blame Rob, and maybe too harshly, but he was the captain of that Titanic.
Brandon Carr, the new veteran cornerback, is either the best corner in the history of the NFL or the best corner in the history of the Cowboys. With the $50 million contract, Brandon is certainly the most expensive corner in the history of the Cowboys.
Carr really needs to be good. So does Mo Claiborne, the first-round draft pick. Ryan will be a better defensive coordinator if his corners are better. The corners had better be better with this kind of investment.
It was funny to hear all-world pass-rusher DeMarcus Ware suddenly start using his "critics" as a motivational tool. Ware, also an all-world nice guy, even got snarly with the media at times.
If I can help, let me add: DeMarcus, you were way overrated last season and many of your 191/2 sacks were "empty."
A motivated Ware is a good thing. The Cowboys were weak on the pressure last season, and it doesn’t matter how good your corners are — with no pass rush, even the best will give it up deep.
From an injured and wasteful second-round pick a year ago, inside linebacker Bruce Carter suddenly became the MVP of OTAs and mini-camp.
Of course, let’s see it on the field, but if Carter is possibly taking the same second-year improvement route as the other inside backer, Sean Lee, then that’s something to rah-rah. We await that answer.
Anthony Spencer is actually a good player, meaning our eyes lied all these years. Actually, Spencer is an ongoing borderline bust who was franchise-tagged for 2012 because the Cowboys have failed so badly in drafting outside linebackers that the team had no replacement for him.
Dez Bryant is much, much better as a wide receiver. More mature, too. One question: Has he learned more than three routes yet?
The replacement for Laurent Robinson, the best WR the Cowboys had last season? Don’t worry about a thing. It will either be Kevin Ogletree or Andre Holmes. Oh, great.
Jerry tabbed free agent signee Lawrence Vickers the best fullback here since Moose. Besides being a disgrace to the legend of Moose, Jerry also said that last summer about Tony Fiammetta.
All of the above are a few of the verbal highlights from this Cowboys off-season.
Do yourself a favor.
Until further notice, don’t believe a word.
Randy Galloway | Ft. Worth Star-Telegram
Randy Galloway can be heard 3-6 p.m. on Galloway & Co.
ESPN Dallas’ five-part series on things that went wrong for the Dallas Cowboys in 2011.
No. 5. DeMarco Murray breaks his ankle
AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez
Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray suffered a broken ankle vs. the Giants on Dec. 11, and the Cowboys missed him greatly down the stretch.
Murray transformed the Cowboys’ season in many ways because he brought a balance to Jason Garrett’s play calling. He was the workhorse, getting at least 20 carries in five games of a seven-game span.
Murray suffered the injury on Dec. 11 against the New York Giants when defensive end Dave Tollefsen landed on Murray while making a tackle.
Without Murray, the Cowboys had to rely on Felix Jones to be the main running back. He did a decent job, but he suffered a hamstring strain at Tampa Bay in which he had his first set of back-to-back 20-carry games.
Many will point to Murray’s franchise-record 239-yard outing against St. Louis as his best game, but it actually might have been his 73-yard game at Washington on 25 tough carries where he proved his mettle.
Jones is just not built to be an every-down back. Murray, whose rehab is on schedule following surgery, is.
The Cowboys missed the rookie greatly down the stretch
No. 4: Mediocrity from Rob Ryan’s defense
AP Photo/Julio Cortez
Rob Ryan’s unit ranked 14th in total defense and 16th in scoring defense, but the blame should fall on the players — and not entirely on Ryan as he asks it to be.
PODCAST: Coop and Nate rank the Cowboys’ needs on defense. Listen (Link available for limited time)
Rob Ryan promised greatness from a defense he declared had the most talent in the NFL.
He delivered mediocrity with a unit that needs to be upgraded at several spots next season.
The Dallas defense was average as a whole — 14th in total defense (343.2 yards per game) and 16th in scoring defense (21.7 points) — and dreadful when it mattered most. The New York Giants averaged 34 points and 473.5 yards in two wins over the Cowboys that determined the NFC East title.
Ryan often enabled his players by insisting that all the blame should be placed on his wide shoulders. There were some grumbles that his three-thick-playbook scheme was too complicated, causing mass confusion and leading him to simplify game plans in the final few weeks.
Of course, Wade Phillips’ scheme was supposedly too simple and predictable, but it worked pretty well this season for the Houston Texans’ second-ranked defense. At some point, the blame needs to be pinned on the players.
Ryan seemed to realize that in the last couple of weeks, particularly during an angry halftime rant after Michael Vick and the Philadelphia Eagles marched 87 yards in 50 seconds for a touchdown, prompting him to rip the players for poorly executing a good game plan.
Several defensive starters will be gone next season, starting with longtime left cornerback Terence Newman, a two-time Pro Bowler who was terrible down the stretch. Ryan will return, barring the surprising development of a team wanting him to become its head coach after under-delivering so badly in Dallas.
No. 3: Losing five fourth-quarter leads
It’s amazing when you think about how this Cowboys season started — a 27-24 loss to the New York Jets, and how it would set the tone for 2011. When the season was over, the Cowboys suffered eight total losses, but five came when they blew fourth-quarter leads.
Quarterback Tony Romo cost the team two games with fourth-quarter turnovers vs. the Jets. His interceptions helped the Detroit Lions rally from a 24-point deficit.
Rob Ryan’s defense failed to contain Tom Brady and the Patriots, and the loss to the Arizona Cardinals might have been the worst.
Driving for a potential game-winning field goal, coach Jason Garrett mismanaged the game-clock and — in a roundabout way — iced his own kicker, Dan Bailey, by calling a timeout in the closing seconds of the play clock. Bailey would miss a 49-yarder, and Arizona went on to win, 19-13, in overtime.
Said outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware about that loss: "You just had a loss, [so] what are you going to do about it? The good teams, they come back from a tough loss like that and you really see the true team spirit and how teams come back from adversity. That really tells you the type of character we have on this team. We’re going to see that this week."
So what happened the following week? Against the New York Giants — with a chance to put a stranglehold on the NFC East — the Cowboys took a 34-22 lead with 5:41 left in the fourth quarter and went on to lose, 37-34.
At worse, if Dallas defeated Arizona, the odds of a getting wild-card berth and a division title would’ve been greater. But the loss all but kept Dallas out of the wild-card chase and put them in a winner-take-all game against the Giants in the regular-season finale.
When the season was over, Ware found out what type of team he’s playing on: One that doesn’t finish games.
No. 2: Jason Garrett’s clock management at Arizona
The Cowboys had a number of difficult losses in 2011 but the hardest to explain will be the 19-13 overtime defeat at Arizona on Dec. 4.
It was like every game the Cowboys play at University of Phoenix Stadium in some respects because of the strangeness, but this one might have been stranger than the 2008 overtime loss in which the Cowboys lost on a blocked punt for a touchdown and the 2010 loss that was triggered by a missed point after attempt.
This one fell on the shoulders of Jason Garrett.
The Cowboys were driving for a game-winning field goal attempt, like they had done a few times earlier in the season against San Francisco, Washington (twice) and Miami.
A 15-yard completion on third down to Dez Bryant put the Cowboys at the Arizona 31 with 24 seconds to play, however, Garrett chose not to use one of his two timeouts to give the offense the chance to move deeper into Cardinals’ territory for a shorter field goal try.
Tony Romo spiked the ball with seven seconds to play to set up a game-winning try by Dan Bailey from 49 yards. Bailey’s first attempt was good, but Garrett called a timeout because he and special teams coach Joe DeCamillis and assistant Chris Boniol felt the play clock was running low.
Bailey’s second attempt was short and to the left, forcing the game into overtime.
The Cowboys would not get the ball again with LaRod Stephens-Howling scoring on a 52-yard screen pass.
Garrett stood by the decision publicly but in private apologized to the team for the error.
No. 1: The offensive line struggled
Looking back it was too much to ask of the Dallas Cowboys offensive line. Protect Tony Romo with three players who never started a NFL game and two rookies. Just too much.
The Cowboys offensive line battled through injuries and ineffective play for most of the 2011 season. Left tackle Doug Free moved from the right side to the left in 2011 and was credited with 10 sacks allowed, including six the last four weeks of the season. Free didn’t display the strength and athletic ability needed on a consistent basis to contain speedy pass rush ends.
The middle of the Cowboys line had troubles as well. It started when guard Bill Nagy went on injured reserve in October with a fractured ankle, backup Derrick Dockery suffered a knee injury that kept him out for weeks and Montrae Holland returned to the team after getting cut in training camp due to a back and weight issues.
Kyle Kosier, the starting right guard, battled a foot injury the bulk of the season.
If the Cowboys had made the postseason, Holland (biceps) and Kosier (knee) would be lost due to injuries.
Center Phil Costa had some snap issues and didn’t play with a lot of power at times. The team does like Kevin Kowalski and might give him a chance to start next season.
Tyron Smith, the right tackle, was the bright spot. But he had some issues at times dealing with athletic defensive ends, but Smith has tremendous upside and could move to left tackle next season.
The Cowboys made several moves after the lockout, cutting veterans Andre Gurode, Marc Colombo and Leonard Davis, for younger players. And while the Cowboys knew it would have growing pains, the offensive line should have performed better.
FOLLOWUP – Dallas Cowboys exec Stephen Jones: his father’s sideline visit didn’t undercut Jason Garrett’s authority
The sideline visit owner Jerry Jones paid to head coach Jason Garrett in the first quarter of the Cowboys Christmas Eve loss to Philadelphia continues to spark discussion.
Stephen Jones, the team’s chief operating officer, went on 103.3 F.M. Thursday and said his father did not undercut Garrett’s authority with that move.
"Absolutely not,” Stephen Jones said. "What happens is we were in a situation that Tony (Romo) got hurt. Jerry was dying to find out what was wrong with Tony, whether it was something significant, something is he going to be go back in the game or be out for the rest of the season. He was wanting to get down there to find that out and just as he was heading down, we obviously came to the conclusion that the Giants were going to win the game and we had talked as an organization what our plan would be if the Giants won.
"When we got the information that Tony was going to be alright but probably not a good idea to go back into the game under the circumstances he wanted to just let Jason know that the Giants had won and that was the extent of it. When you’re down there on that sideline a lot of coaches will tell you that you don’t necessarily know who has won other games. You’re totally focused on what is going on in other games.
"That was the extent of it,” he continued. "In my mind, it in no way takes away from Jason. He makes all the decisions in terms of who plays and what plays are called, any duties that a typical head coach would have.”
Tony Romo’s hand is banged up, DeMarco Murray is done for the year, the defense is struggling and the offensive line seems like it will be over-matched in the season finale on New Year’s Day. But other than that, the Cowboys feel like they’re in a good position to win in New York and make a playoff run, according to Stephen Jones.
The team’s executive vice president talked Thursday about the win or go home situation the Cowboys are facing on Sunday and used last season’s Super Bowl champs to explain why there’s hope for a postseason run over at Valley Ranch.
"We feel like we can be one of those teams that get hot in the playoffs," Jones said on 103.3 (KESN-FM) in Dallas. "At this time last year, Green Bay was squeaking in and they ended up winning the championship and went onto have a great year this year. We have a lot of confidence in this team. We feel confident going up to New York and feel that we can beat the Giants and then make a successful playoff run."
Those certainly seem like lofty expectations for a team that has lost three of their last four. But like his father, Jerry Jones, has mentioned several times in the last few weeks, having Romo playing at a high level, gives the franchise hope.
"We certainly don’t back away from expectations," he said. "When you look at the Super Bowl trophies that our franchise has been able to get over the years, we certainly hold that as the gold standard. As long as we’re in it, our goal is to go win a championship and win a Super Bowl.
"We still think that’s the bar of what we want to have, what’s going to get us satisfied in terms of being successful, the only thing is to win a championship. We feel very strongly that we can still get that done this year."
Ron T. Ennis/Star-Telegram
Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Laurent Robinson (81) celebrates his second touchdown against the Miami Dolphins
It’d make a lot of sense for the Dallas Cowboys to seriously consider trying to lock up Laurent Robinson to a long-term extension.
After all, he’s emerged as their most reliable wide receiver this season despite not arriving at Valley Ranch until September. His rapport with Tony Romo has resulted in seven touchdowns over the last five games, a key factor in the Cowboys move to first place in the NFC East.
There’s no good reason the Cowboys wouldn’t want to keep Robinson, who is enjoying a breakout campaign in his fifth NFL season after playing for the Atlanta Falcons and St. Louis Rams and spending the preseason with the San Diego Chargers.
While a contract extension isn’t his priority at this point, Robinson indicated that he’d certainly be open to the idea during an appearance on the Black Friday bonus edition of ESPN 103.3’s The Football Show.
“I would love to be wearing the star the rest of my career,” Robinson said. “I love everything about Dallas, my teammates. The stadium is out of control. That’s why you see me smiling every time I catch the ball. I just feel like this changed my whole career around. I’m just loving it here. I would love to stay a Cowboy, but we’ll see. I’m just going to try to keep getting better every week and see what happens later.”
The Cowboys once gave Patrick Crayton, a quality No. 3 receiver who was solid as a starter, a four-year, $14 million extension during midseason. Does that sound about right?
“You’ve got to talk to my agent,” Robinson said with a laugh.
Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo
Mr. Randy Galloway and Mac Engel debate the reasons for the Dallas Cowboys’ recent roll. Is it Tony Romo? DeMarco Murray? Or the quality of the opposition? (Nov. 22, 2011) Video by Kathy Vetter/Star-Telegram
ARLINGTON — Seemingly overmatched and definitely outplayed in so many areas, including the defensive front, the secondary, the offensive line, and on top of all that, the quarterback throws a couple of what-the-heck-was- that picks to start the game.
There were obviously more than enough butt-whippings on Thanksgiving afternoon for the Cowboys to end up a cooked turkey.
“A lot of things on this tape we aren’t going to like,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said.
Actually, it’s a game tape that would be better off torched.
But NFL rules say that after 60 minutes of clock time, you add up the points for both teams, and…
Ben and Skin host a Cowboys roundtable with ESPNDallas.com’s Tim MacMahon and Calvin Watkins.
Did Tony Romo just say “Super Bowl” when talking about these Cowboys?
Alternate link: Click HERE to listen to the show.
Photo courtesy: Star-Telegram/Max Faulkner
Dallas Cowboys WR Laurent Robinson dishes on how quickly he’s developed a connection with QB Tony Romo, DeMarco Murray’s success, how to correctly pronounce his name and more.
On the uncertainty of his future entering the season:
I had no idea. Didn’t really have too much going on before the start of training camp, and then my agent worked hard and he got me in with San Diego and I thought I was going to be there for a while. But, you know, the nature of this business is it’s a numbers game and I was let go … They worked hard again and I was able to come to Dallas and try to make it home.
On how he’s developed chemistry with Tony Romo:
He went to Eastern, I went to Illinois State, I just call it a little one Double-A connection that’s all I can call it. We’re working hard together.
Alternate link: Click HERE to play the audio from ESPN’s Galloway & Company show.
Podcast link: Click HERE to visit the 103.3 FM ESPN Podcasts page