Tag Archives: Gerald Sensabaugh

TALKING TEXAS-2 DEFENSE: The versatility of DBs should be effective in new 4-3 scheme

    jerome henderson

    IRVING, Texas – As the Cowboys focus on the offseason, training camp is still in sight.

    Coming off two straight 8-8 seasons and three full seasons removed from the playoffs, the Dallas Cowboys have plenty of question marks surrounding them as they prepare for the 2013 season.

    With 19 days (July 20th) until the Cowboys take the field in Oxnard, Calif., one question centers on the versatility of defensive backs.

    The versatility of DBs should be effective in new 4-3 scheme

    Last year, we saw the Cowboys use a variety of defensive back rotations – some of which because of injury and other times to simply put players in effective spots.

    dallas cowboys players congratulate defensive back brandon carr (39) after his second interception against the san diego chargers - the boys are back blog

    Brandon Carr manned the cornerback spot most of the year, but he spent some time at safety early in the year after the Cowboys lost both Barry Church and Gerald Sensabaugh to injury.

    Orlando Scandrick has played primarily slot corner, but has been used as a safety in certain packages. The Cowboys also signed Sterling Moore in midseason from the Patriots’ depth chart and he immediately helped at both safety and cornerback.

    In this new 4-3 scheme from Monte Kiffin, the Cowboys might have to rely on their versatile players more than ever.

    Looking back in Cowboys’ history, no player excelled at both cornerback and safety better than Mel Renfro. The 10-time Pro Bowler made it five times as a safety and five times as a corner – often going back and forth later in his career. If anyone came close to excelling like that, it would be Renfro’s teammates Cornell Green, who often swapped roles with Renfro on those early Doomsday Defenses.

    Obviously it’s a stretch to assume the Cowboys will have any player on this roster, or any in the future, that can be as dominant as Mel Renfro, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1996.

    However, having versatility at any position is clutch, especially in the secondary. With the NFL becoming a more passing league by each year, having players with the ability to cover ground like a safety, coupled with the skills to cover in the slot is almost a lost art.

    That trait alone might keep a player like Moore on the roster and actually get him activated on game day as well.

    This team suffered many injuries last year so guys like Carr and Scandrick might be asked to play some safety in a pinch as well.

    They don’t have to be all-world like Renfro or even Green, but just serviceable at another position can be beneficial.


    A closer look at the number 20:

    • The Cowboys have picked 20th overall four different times in club history, getting Marcus Spears in 2005, Ebenezer Ekuban in 1999, Billy Joe DuPree in 1973 and Dennis Homan in 1968.

    • No player has ever worn No. 20 as long as Mel Renfro, who had it from 1964-77. Other notable players to wear No. 20 include Ron Springs, Ray Horton and Richie Anderson.

    • Currently, rookie B.W. Webb wears No. 20.

    • Roger Staubach’s 20 rushing touchdowns are the most by any Cowboys’ quarterback and ranks 11th all-time in Cowboys history.

    • Preston Pearson ranks 20th in Cowboys history with 1,207 rushing yards.

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    HANGING UP HIS HAT: Former Dallas safety Gerald Sensabaugh retiring as a Cowboy

    August 13, 2012; Oakland, CA, USA; Dallas Cowboys defensive back Gerald Sensabaugh (43) runs with the ball after intercepting a pass against the Oakland Raiders in the first quarter at O.Co Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-US PRESSWIRE

    Safety Gerald Sensabaugh, who released by the Dallas Cowboys in March for salary cap reasons, confirmed via text message that he has decided to retire.

    Sensabaugh said he has drawn interest from a couple of teams but was no longer interested in playing football, bringing his eight-year career to an end.

    Sensabaugh signed a one-day contract with the Cowboys on Thursday to officially retire with the club the team he has spent the last four years with. He was drafted in fifth round by the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2005. He stayed their for four years before joining the Cowboys in 2009.  

    He started 84-of-112 games, posting 469 tackles, two sacks, six tackles for loss, 43 pressures, four forced fumbles, five fumble recoveries and 14 interceptions in eight years in the league. Sensabaugh had 62 tackles in 15 games with the Cowboys last year but he had no interceptions and just two in the past two years combined.

    The Cowboys saved $1.5 million by releasing him March, while hoping the upgrade the position with more playmaking ability.

    According to some, safety still remains a concern for the team. They do have options in veteran Will Allen, untested second-year man Matt Johnson and rookie third-round pick J.J. Wilcox.

    ROSTER REVIEW: Final grades for the 2012 Dallas Cowboys

    america's team - dallas cowboys helmet 2012 - the boys are back blog

    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:

    QUARTERBACKS

    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.

    RUNNING BACKS

    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.

    Continue reading →

    PLAYER PUZZLE PIECES: How the Dallas Cowboys current personnel fit Monte Kiffin’s 4-3 defense

    2012 dallas cowboys defense loses bruce carter to ir - the boys are back blog

    A lot has been made about the Cowboys’ switch from the 3-4 defense to Monte Kiffin’s 4-3, and rightfully so. Although a great defense ultimately comes down to talented players executing a well-crafted scheme, it’s not as if elite players can simply line up at any position and succeed. If the chances of success at a particular position are optimized at a certain height, weight and speed, it follows that getting farther from those ideal traits will lower the probability of succeeding.

    Kiffin’s defenses have typically emphasized speed over size at most positions, and that’s certainly a plus for a Cowboys defense that seems as if it hasn’t kept up with the NFL’s pass-happy evolution. Still, the truth is that the best defensive coordinators tailor their scheme around their personnel.

    Kiffin’s version of the 4-3 in particular, known as a 4-3 Under, could potentially accommodate the Cowboys’ personnel better than most other 4-3 schemes. One reason is the presence of the 1-technique defensive tackle. A 1-technique tackle shades the offensive center, nearly playing heads-up over the top of him like a 3-4 nose tackle. The other defensive tackle, the 3-technique, is typically a smaller player that almost acts as a large defensive end in the interior.

    There are certainly areas where the Cowboys might have holes to fill, of course. To figure out just how far away Dallas might be from Kiffin’s “dream” defense, we’ve researched the height and weight of each defensive player for Tampa Bay from 2003 to 2008. Kiffin was the defensive coordinator for the Buccaneers during that stretch, emphasizing specific traits at each position. Below are the averages of each player on the roster at every position.

    4-3 defense

    1-DT: 6’3’’ 304 pounds

    As mentioned, the 1-technique tackle is a strong presence in the inside, but he also has to be nimble enough to shoot up field.

    Cowboys’ fit: Jay Ratliff (6’4’’ 303 pounds) matches Kiffin’s prototypical player at this position to a tee. The issue is whether or not the Cowboys can afford to continue to pay Ratliff the big bucks. Sean Lissemore (6’3’’ 303 pounds) also fits the bill.

    3-DT: 6’2’’ 285 pounds

    The 3-technique defensive tackle is much smaller than the 1-technique. Also note that, at an average of just 6’2’’, the 3-technique is shorter than the defensive ends.

    Cowboys’ fit: This position in particular is difficult to project for the Cowboys. Jason Hatcher could potentially play any position along the defensive line, although at 6’6’’ 305 pounds, he’s much taller and heavier than the typically short, light tackles Kiffin has used in the past. Tyrone Crawford (6’4’’ 285 pounds) will probably play defensive end, but he also could have some versatility.

    DE (Strong): 6’3’’ 279 pounds

    Kiffin has typically used a very large, bulky player to man his strong-side defensive end position.

    Cowboys’ fit: If there’s evidence that the Cowboys could let Anthony Spencer walk, this might be it. At 250 pounds, Spencer doesn’t come anywhere near matching the profile of Kiffin’s past ends. As mentioned above, Crawford checks in around this size, but his pass-rushing ability is a question.

    DE (Weak): 6’3’’ 267 pounds

    On the weak side, Kiffin’s defensive ends have been relatively close to the same size as the typical 3-4 outside linebacker.

    Cowboys’ fit: DeMarcus Ware will play this position, although even he is listed at only 254 pounds. Ware shouldn’t have much of a problem adjusting, however. Alex Albright might need to transition to this position as well at 6’5’’ 260 pounds.

    MLB: 6’1’’ 232 pounds

    The “Mike” linebacker in Kiffin’s 4-3 defense has to have the ability to turn and run, so it’s no surprise that they’ve averaged only 232 pounds.

    Cowboys’ fit: At 6’2’’, 245 pounds, Sean Lee is a bit oversized compared to the average 4-3 middle linebacker. He’ll often be asked to run downfield when tight ends run vertically, but Lee should be up for the challenge.

    WLB: 6’1’’ 224 pounds

    At only 224 pounds, the average “Will” linebacker in Kiffin’s defense must have the speed to run sideline-to-sideline.

    Cowboys’ fit: Like Lee, Carter is “oversized” for the 4-3 at 240 pounds, but it really shouldn’t matter. As one of the fastest linebackers in the NFL, Carter won’t have a problem transitioning to the 4-3. He could potentially play any of the three linebacker spots, giving the Cowboys plenty of flexibility heading into the draft.

    SLB: 6’1’’ 235 pounds

    As the biggest of Kiffin’s linebackers, the “Sam” is still smaller than all but one linebacker the Cowboys had on the roster in 2012, Ernie Sims.

    Cowboys’ fit: Assuming Carter plays the “Will,” the Cowboys may have a hole to fill here (and vice versa if Kiffin uses Carter as the “Sam.” If Dan Connor (6’2’’ 242 pounds) ends up starting for Kiffin, he’ll almost assuredly play this position and Carter will play the weak side.

    CB: 6’0’’ 193 pounds

    Due to Kiffin’s emphasis on Cover 2, his cornerbacks don’t turn and run in man coverage as much as in other defenses. Playing near the line, they need to be able to press and play the run, meaning they’re typically tall, although perhaps not as heavy as many believe.

    Cowboys’ fit: Although there are questions about how Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne can transition to Kiffin’s scheme, I think they’ll be just fine. Carr has great size at 6’0’’ 210 pounds, and it isn’t as if they’ll be in Cover 2 every play. Even at 5’11’’ 185 pounds, Claiborne isn’t that far off from Kiffin’s prototypical cornerbacks over the years.

    S: 6’0’’ 207 pounds

    Since Kiffin generally plays with two-deep alignments and dares offenses to run, his safeties don’t need to be excessively big, but rangy.

    Cowboys’ fit: The Cowboys could have an issue here since starters Gerald Sensabaugh and Barry Church are both at least 212 pounds and don’t necessarily excel in deep coverage. Kiffin has made it work with big safeties like John Lynch in the past, however, but the ’Boys still might need to look for a faster safety of the future in this upcoming draft.

    We so often hear that teams need to find “their guys” that fit into their particular schemes, and that’s true; certain players are tailored to play in specific ways. However, the job of any coordinator is to mold their scheme to fit the skill sets of the current personnel. It’s certainly preferable to have a roster full of players built for a particular scheme, but creating that is a whole lot more challenging than slightly altering the scheme to fit the most talented players on the team.

    When all is said and done, the success of Kiffin’s tenure in Dallas will be determined by how well he can manage this delicate balancing act, acquiring “his” guys while still being flexible with his scheme to accommodate what he already has.

    ROB RYAN RADIO NETWORK: Anthony Spencer will relay defensive plays, Gerald Sensabaugh the backup signal caller

    Dallas Cowboys Rob Ryan ready to play the Cleveland Browns - The Boys Are Back blog

    Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan opted to have linebacker Ernie Sims call the signals last week, but Sims was sidelined after only five plays with a concussion. Teams can designate only two defensive players to wear a radio helmet, and that left Anthony Spencer to go back to having Ryan in his ear.

    "I think last week he started hearing other voices in his head, so we took him out of the game," Ryan joked Friday. "That was the problem. And he started to listening to them, too. That was really bad when he started listening to the other guy."

    Dallas Cowboys outside linebacker Anthony Spencer, left, and outside linebacker Alex Albright - The Boys Are Back blog

    Spencer will return to play-calling duties this week, with Gerald Sensabaugh serving as the backup signal-caller. Sean Lee had the radio helmet until he was lost for the season with a toe injury in the Carolina game. Spencer had it after that except for the five plays last week.

    "These guys [the Saints] are famous for getting you caught with too many men on the field and all that," Ryan said. "We’ve seen that a few times. We’ve got to work on that, but they do punk teams. Try to substitute a lot, you’ve got to be careful; you’ve got to pick our spots on that, and it’s important to make sure we have a guy out there that is on everything so you can call your game. It’s really difficult signaling nowadays, and it’d be tough to go back to how we used to do it. We’d do it, but it is tough."

    CALMING THE WAVES: Gerald Sensabaugh has emerged as a steadying influence in the Dallas Cowboys secondary

    August 13, 2012; Oakland, CA, USA; Dallas Cowboys defensive back Gerald Sensabaugh (43) runs with the ball after intercepting a pass against the Oakland Raiders in the first quarter at O.Co Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-US PRESSWIRE

    During a season marked by personnel turnover on defense, Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett cited free safety Gerald Sensabaugh as someone who has emerged as a calming influence in a patchwork secondary.

    “He certainly has. I think he’s grasped that leadership role more and more as he’s been here,” Garrett said of Sensabaugh, who is the longest-tenured Cowboys’ defensive back (four seasons with the team) slated to start Sunday against the New Orleans Saints. “When you’re playing with different combinations of guys, he’s the guy who’s been here. He’s the steadying influence. He communicates well before the snap. He plays well after the snap. The guys respond to him really well.”

    Sensabaugh, who posted five tackles and a pass breakup in last week’s 27-24 victory over Pittsburgh, has been flanked by lots of fresh faces in recent weeks because of injuries to others. The list includes Sterling Moore, Michael Coe, Eric Frampton and Charlie Peprah _ all signed Sept. 25 or later as free agents, and all expected to contribute against the Saints.

    Garrett said Sensabaugh’s most endearing trait is his durability. He has played the past 10 weeks despite a series of nagging injuries and has started 58 of his 60 games in Dallas.

    “Sensabaugh is so impressive because he’s just there every week,” Garrett said. “He’s had a lot of different injuries over the past couple of years … but he gives you that look on Wednesday (that says), ‘I’ll be ready.’ He responds well to injuries. He’s a tough guy. He cares about his team and he loves to play football. Somehow, some way, you expect to see him out there on Sunday regardless of what’s going on with his body.”

    Sensabaugh said he adjusts his on-field responsibilities based on whoever is lined up next to him in the Cowboys’ coverage package.

    “I just try to get into position to put those other guys to where they’re more comfortable,” Sensabaugh said. “Everybody has their different style of play. Some guys like to play deep, middle more. Some guys like to play down in the box more. I just try to base my game off tying to be as versatile as possible to where I can just play wherever needed. We’re just trying to make it as easy as possible for the guys who are coming in new, so they can play fast. If that takes me doing more of the odder jobs, the more complicated roles, I’ll take pride in doing that.”

    SECONDARY SAFETY NET: Dallas Cowboys to sign veteran Charlie Peprah

    In two years, Danny McCray has become the Dallas Cowboys’ special teams ace - The Boys Are Back blog

    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.

    Dallas Cowboys sign veteran safety Charlie Peprah - The Boys Are Back blog

    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.

    CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE WORST KIND: Jason Garrett is smart, so why don’t Cowboys play that way?

    Ray Rice wipes Jacoby Jones' face after Jones returned a kickoff 108 yards for a touchdown - The Boys Are Back blog

    BALTIMORE — Safety Gerald Sensabaugh sat in his locker putting on his socks and said to himself, "Man, we are so close."

    That is what the Dallas Cowboys do so very well — close.

    They do so in the most stupefying, maddening fashion that can be authored.

    Not too far from the same neighborhood where one of the world’s most celebrated authors of fiction — Mr. Edgar Allen Poe — once penned his brilliance, the Cowboys once again created their own version of real-time hell.

    The author of the Ravens’ 31-29 win against the Cowboys? Start with Cowboys coach Jason Garrett.

    The Dallas Cowboys amassed 481 total yards and did not win the game. That is odd.

    The Cowboys ran for 227 yards and did not win the game. That is hard.

    The Cowboys had the ball at their own 46-yard line with 32 seconds remaining, one timeout, and ran but two offensive plays before settling for a 51-yard field goal attempt. That is inexcusable.

    The Ravens defeated the Cowboys when they were clearly not the better team but managed to win because they simply were not the dumber team.

    To show how the Cowboys played on Sunday, their smartest player was Dez Bryant. (In fairness to Dez, other than having to miss one drive because he was receiving an IV for dehydration, he played arguably the best game of his career.)

    "What do you want? I believe in my guys," Cowboys defensive back Orlando Scandrick said. "It’s not an exact science. It’s football. It’s not mathematics."

    Exactly. No one expects the Dallas Cowboys to be NASA.

    The Cowboys are coached by a Princeton grad, but his team plays sometimes as if it barely finished the seventh grade. As much as his Ivy League education should be a reflection of his own intellect, the way his team plays says something about Jason Garrett. Which is why it does not add up.

    The Cowboys had 13 penalties for 82 yards on Sunday, one turnover, allowed a special teams touchdown, and made a series of self-inflicted wounds in the red zone that killed or hurt scoring chances.

    "Three of the five games we’ve had a lot of penalties," Garrett said. "The officials were certainly involved in this game and you have to overcome that stuff."

    And the clock management after the Cowboys recovered the onside kick with 32 seconds to play suggests nothing was learned from the nightmare in Arizona last season.

    Garrett did the same thing at San Francisco last year — played for a long field goal — and got away with it when Dan Bailey nailed a long kick to send into overtime a game the Cowboys eventually won.

    But he got burned on it in Arizona last season, and a little bit against the Giants in Arlington last December.

    You cannot bank on making a 51-yard field goal. You always get closer.

    "I felt like I could knock it through from there," Bailey said of his potential game-winning kick that sailed wide left with two seconds remaining.

    In the Cowboys’ locker room after the game, at least two players were overheard talking about that 2011 loss in Arizona.

    Coach Process looks smart. He acts smart. He is organized. His rhetoric sounds sharp, and yet his team plays the opposite.

    The Cowboys under Garrett sometimes play not too much different than they did under Uncle Wade Phillips.

    I asked Garrett if he thought he has a smart team. His response was some long-winded verbiage about pre-snap penalties, etc.

    Garrett is not going to pull a Bill Callahan, who is on his staff now, and go on some long-winded diatribe about being the "dumbest team in America".

    If effort is not the problem, and the coaches and front office people insist this is not a talent issue, then IQ is having its say, too.

    The environment, as well as the Ravens, had a role in why the Cowboys did what they did. Perhaps the players are taking the cue from their leader and are trying to do too much.

    Unlike the Cowboys’ losses against the Seahawks and Bears, which were blowouts, they were competitive throughout in Baltimore. They gave themselves a chance.

    On the road that’s all you can ask.

    "It wasn’t a perfect game, but we showed fight," tight end Jason Witten said. "You don’t walk away from this saying, ‘Hey, we played a good team close.’ We have to look at the tape and be better."

    Because we have not heard that before.

    The Cowboys should have won this game, and they know it.

    "We should have had this," Bryant said.

    Instead, the Cowboys do what they do so well — they get close.

    Courtesy: Mac Engel | Ft Worth Star-Telegram

    ACHILLES HEEL OR ACHILLES HEAL: Injury puts Barry Church’s future with Dallas Cowboys in a vulnerable spot

    An Achilles’ heel is a deadly weakness in spite of overall strength, that can potentially lead to downfall - The Boys Are Back blog

    Prior to his season-ending Achilles injury Sept. 23 against Tampa Bay, safety Barry Church was offered a new contract by the Dallas Cowboys. Church didn’t turn down the offer or present a counter.

    Church’s agent, Bruce Tollner, didn’t respond to the new deal. The amount of the contract is unknown, but the Cowboys were willing to lock Church up for a couple of years.

    Church is in the final year of his contract with a base salary of $540,000 and will become a restricted free agent. With Church’s injury, it’s doubtful the Cowboys will allow him to sign a new deal.

    “Achilles’ heel” as an expression used for “area of weakness, vulnerable spot” dates - The Boys Are Back blog

    Church should return healthier than ever from his injury, but whether the Cowboys want to give him a new contract appears doubtful until they see if he’s ready to play.

    If Church didn’t get hurt, then we assume he would have gotten a new deal and might be in the Cowboys’ plans for three to four years.

    Now, the Cowboys have the leverage to place a tender on Church.

    A player can get placed under the first-round tender and based on 2012 salary figures, that was worth $2.742 million. Second-round tenders are worth $1.927 million and rights for first refusal are $1.26 million.

    The Cowboys value Church’s skill set and he did enough to earn the starting job opposite Gerald Sensabaugh in the offseason.

    Injured Cowboys safety Barry Church’s pain isn’t only from his torn Achilles - The Boys Are Back blog

    But now the business side takes over and Church’s injury complicates matters for the Cowboys.

    Do you still give him a new contract? He’s coming off a major injury.

    Or do you give him a second-round tender, knowing few teams will be willing to give up a second-round pick?

    ‘BOYS BYE WEEK BREAKDOWN: Dallas Cowboys defensive grades for Top 11 players

    The Dallas Cowboys vs Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Cowboys Stadium 2012 - Rob Ryan's defense comes up big - The Boys Are Back blog

    Although 11 defensive players get named as “starters” in a given week, the Dallas Cowboys have had 15 defensive players participate in at least 38 percent of the team’s snaps through Week 4. Here are the top 11. . .

    ILB Sean Lee: A

    Lee has recorded a tackle on 19.6 percent of his snaps in 2012, which is simply remarkable. In coverage, he has allowed only 5.0 yards-per-attempt.

    OLB DeMarcus Ware: A

    How high are the standards for Ware that some are arguing he’s having a down year? He’s on pace for 20 sacks. I don’t know about you, but that’s good enough for me.

    CB Brandon Carr: A-

    Carr got beat by Brandon Marshall on Monday night, but don’t panic. He allowed three catches, albeit a few big ones, but he’s still playing really well. On the season, only 42.9 percent of passes Carr’s way have been completed.

    OLB Anthony Spencer: B

    We saw Spencer’s value most on Monday night when he wasn’t playing. The player who drops into coverage more often than any 3-4 outside linebacker in the NFL also has a higher pressure rate than Ware this season. As I told you in the preseason, the sacks will come. He’s still on pace for 11.

    ILB Bruce Carter: B

    Quietly, the Cowboys have one of the better inside linebacker duos in the NFL. Carter’s tackle rate of 12.4 percent isn’t at the level of Lee, but it’s still pretty darn good.

    CB Mike Jenkins: B

    Jenkins clearly has something to prove this year. You saw Rob Ryan give Jenkins some snaps at safety last week, and that should continue. It’s difficult to quantify Jenkins’ success since he’s been targeted only three times, but his coverage has been the best I’ve ever seen from him.

    NT Josh Brent: B-

    Brent has been really, really good against the run. You can see the difference in the push from the defensive line with Brent in the game as compared to Jay Ratliff. I love Ratliff’s tenacity and pass rush, but the Cowboys might be better served if they allow him to utilize it from the five-technique to allow Brent to stay at the nose.

    S Barry Church: B-

    Even though Church is out for the season, I’m putting him on the list because I really liked what I saw in the three games that he played. Opposing quarterbacks tested Church seven times, gaining just 30 total yards. I still think the Cowboys need to find a ball-hawking free safety in the draft, but Church could stick around if he recovers from his Achilles injury.

    CB Morris Claiborne: C+

    After three games in which he was barely even tested, Claiborne is finally going through some of the growing pains that rookie cornerbacks invariably experience. Claiborne has allowed 9.0 YPA on the 14 passes thrown his way this year, which isn’t a bad mark. He got schooled by Devin Hester on national television, though, so people will naturally believe he’s playing worse than what is actually the case.

    DE Jason Hatcher: C+

    After starting the season with a boom, Hatcher has cooled down over the past two weeks. He has the third-most pressures on the team behind Ware and Spencer, so I think there’s still a good chance he ends the season with five or more sacks.

    DE Tyrone Crawford: C+

    Crawford hasn’t been able to get a ton of pressure yet, but his tackle rate of 8.9 percent is good for a five-technique end. In comparison, Hatcher’s tackle rate is 6.5 percent.

    Just missed the list: DE Sean Lissemore, S Gerald Sensabaugh, OLB Victor Butler

    STRONG WILL, UNBEARABLE PAIN: Anthony Spencer tried to go but couldn’t

    ARLINGTON, Texas – Dallas Cowboys outside linebacker Anthony Spencer missed Monday night’s game against Chicago with a right pectoral muscle injury.

    Spencer said he tried to work out Sunday afternoon, but it just made the injury worse.

    "Did some stuff (Sunday) and it wasn’t strong enough," Spencer said. "It just got a little more sore."

    This was the first game Spencer has missed this season, but with a bye this week and most likely some limited practice time the week after that, Spencer could be ready for the Baltimore Ravens contest Oct. 14.

    "It’s what I do, it’s my life," Spencer said. "By not playing, it’s like saying I can’t live."

    Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said he expects nose tackle Jay Ratliff to return to action after the bye week. Ratliff hasn’t played this season with a high ankle sprain.

    During Monday’s loss, Cowboys inside linebacker Bruce Carter said he suffered a hip pointer. He left the game briefly and took a pain-killing injection before returning.

    Safety Gerald Sensabaugh played with a sore calf but it didn’t cause him any problems.

    GRIN AND BEAR IT: Highs and Lows from the Dallas Cowboys vs. Chicago Bears game

    Dallas Cowboys' Jason Witten catches a pass for a touchdown between Chicago Bears defenders - The Boys Are Back blog

    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."

    Going backward

    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.

    Dallas Cowboys' Felix Jones looks for room to run - The Boys Are Back blog

    Unwanted first

    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.

    Dallas Cowboys cornerback Morris Claiborne (24) trips up Chicago Bears wide receiver Devin Hester - The Boys Are Back blog

    Triple-digit Dez

    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.

    Dez Bryant - The Boys Are Back blog

    Carter injured

    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.

    Starters absent

    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.

    Dallas Cowboys' Tony Romo (from left) teammate Dallas Cowboys' Kyle Orton and others sit on the bench - The Boys Are Back blog

    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.

    Penalty check

    The Cowboys, who had six false-start penalties in last week’s victory over Tampa Bay, had none against Chicago.

    THE FLEX FACTOR: Cornerback Mike Jenkins finds his fit with Dallas Cowboys Triple-Flex defense

    Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Vincent Jackson (83) and Dallas Cowboys cornerback Mike Jenkins - The Boys Are Back blog

    IRVING — Mike Jenkins reached down to his locker and knocked on it when someone mentioned the Dallas Cowboys’ cornerbacks have yet to allow a touchdown.

    Jenkins, in fact, has not even allowed a catch.

    The Cowboys knew all along they would need him, which is why he is still here despite the team’s off-season acquisitions of Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne.

    Safety Gerald Sensabaugh missed last week’s 16-10 victory over the Tampa Bay Bucs with a calf injury, and the other starting safety, Barry Church, joined him on the sideline with a season-ending Achilles injury. That forced the Cowboys to play cornerback Carr at safety with Jenkins back in his familiar spot at outside corner. Jenkins played 31 of 60 plays and broke up a pass.

    "We really like Mike Jenkins," Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. "We like him a lot as a player, and we like him a lot as a person. There are a lot of reasons to like him. We just needed to be patient with his injury. He needed to fight through some of the business aspects of this decision, get him back, embrace him and get him going. That was our philosophy all along."

    Jenkins missed all of the 2011 preseason with a neck injury. He played through shoulder and knee injuries during the season and still was the team’s best cornerback. Garrett said it was a turning point in Jenkins’ career as the "respect level" rose for the former first-round pick with what he played through for 12 games.

    Jenkins needed shoulder reconstruction after the season, and while he was in Florida rehabbing, the Cowboys signed Carr to a $50.1 million contract and moved up in the draft to take Morris Claiborne.

    Dallas Cowboys cornerback Mike Jenkins could see his first action in Sunday's game against Seattle Seahawks - The Boys Are Back blog

    The moves were welcomed by everyone at Valley Ranch. While it was much needed for a defense that had yielded the second- and third-most passing yards in team history in consecutive seasons.

    Jenkins’ agent requested a trade. The Cowboys, in what might have been their best off-season move, showed patience with the fifth-year veteran.

    "It was kind of a crazy situation whether he was going to be back or not," Sensabaugh said. "For him to fight through his injury, work hard and get back on the field, just to see him out there competing the other day, it almost brings a tear to your eye, a guy having that much passion for the game. He’s the Mike Jenkins that he was for us when he was a Pro Bowl player [in 2009]."

    Jenkins finished last week’s game with only one stat — a knockdown of a pass intended for Vincent Jackson. But it was an important play. It let Jenkins know he was back, that his shoulder was good as new.

    "I used the [surgically repaired] arm to go up and get the ball," Jenkins said. "It was a big challenge for me just going up. That was actually my first time really using my arm like that. Going through practice, I never really get a chance to actually go all out and jump up for a ball and come down on my arm that physical. …It felt good."

    Jenkins’ role remains somewhat uncertain. Carr and Claiborne are the starters. Orlando Scandrick is the nickel back. Carr, Claiborne and Scandrick have combined to allow only 13 catches for 188 yards.

    Jenkins doesn’t know where he fits in, but he accepts that he likely will play less than in recent seasons.

    "I always want to be on the field," said Jenkins, who is in the final year of his contract. … "I’m just going to leave it up to Rob [Ryan]."

    BIG D FLEX IS BACK: Brandon Carr’s position move not without Dallas Cowboys precedence

    Tampa Bay Buccaneers WR Vincent Jackson (83) is unable to grab a touchdown pass as Dallas Cowboys CB Brandon Carr (39) defends - The Boys Are Back blog

    The Dallas Cowboys’ use of $50.1 million cornerback Brandon Carr as a nickel safety against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last week was born out of necessity.

    With free safety Gerald Sensabaugh sidelined with a calf strain, the Cowboys felt Carr had the best combination of size and athleticism among the cornerbacks to make the move and help the team. That Carr was willing to move showed his team-oriented attitude, which is another reason why the Cowboys were excited to add him as a free agent from Kansas City in the off-season.

    Brandon-Carr-interception-Dallas-Cowboys -The Boys Are Back blog

    "Brandon embraced this," coach Jason Garrett said. "He saw how he could help our football team absorb an injury."

    Sensabaugh should be back for the Chicago Bears game on Monday. But with strong safety Barry Church out for the season with a torn Achilles’ tendon, Carr might be called on again to help out at safety. The Cowboys have yet to make a final decision.

    Either way, Carr joins an elite list of Cowboys whose greatness was founded or enhanced by their in-game and in-career position flex and versatility.

    S/CB/KR Mel Renfro

    The epitome of versatility. Renfro was a two-time All-America running back in college at Oregon who moved to defense after being drafted by the Cowboys in 1964. He made the Pro Bowl at safety in each of his first six seasons then moved to cornerback and made four consecutive Pro Bowls, making him arguably the best safety/cornerback in NFL history. He led the NFL as rookie in kick and punt returns and had seven interceptions. He is still the team leader with 52 career interceptions, including 30 during his first six years at cornerback. His 26.4-yard career kickoff return average is also a club record. In the 1971 Pro Bowl, Renfro started at cornerback and returned two punts for touchdowns, earning Most Valuable Player honors in the NFC’s 27-6 victory.

    S/CB Darren Woodson

    An undersized linebacker in college, Woodson moved to safety after being drafted by the Cowboys. He proved to be a hard-hitting strong safety who had the range of a free safety and the coverage ability of a cornerback. He is the team’s all-time leading tackler and a five-time Pro Bowler, arguably the Cowboys best safety and best special teams player. It was the Cowboys’ use of him as a nickel cornerback covering slot receivers on passing downs that really stands out. Playing close to the line allowed him to support the run, pressure the quarterback as well as cover receivers such as Hall of Famer Jerry Rice in the slot. It made him the most versatile safety in the league but hurt his overall numbers, as he was unable to pile up interceptions.

    OG/OT Larry Allen

    There has never been any questioning Larry Allen’s greatness and dominance as an offensive lineman. He is a member of the NFL All-Decade team of the 1990s and 2000s. He made 11 trips to the Pro Bowl in 14 seasons in the NFL. A career guard, Allen started at left tackle in 1998 and made the Pro Bowl. He is one of three players in NFL history to make the Pro Bowl at two line positions. Allen played right guard, right tackle, left guard and left tackle during his career. It was in 1997 when Allen helped invent a new position for the Cowboys, the nickel tackle. George Hegamin replaced injured Mark Tuinei at left tackle midway through the season. He was a good run blocker, but weak pass blocker. For a two-game stretch, the Cowboys moved Allen from guard to left tackle on passing downs to protect Troy Aikman’s blindside. He did it so well, he became the full-time starter there for the final four games of the season.

    CB/WR/KR Deion Sanders

    Deion Sanders is the ultimate Mr. Versatile. A former football, baseball and track standout at Florida State, he joined Bo Jackson as the most decorated modern-day, two-sport professional when he played in the NFL and Major League Baseball at the same time. In 1998, he became the first player to hit a home run and score a touchdown in the same week. He is also the only player to play in a Super Bowl and in the World Series. His versatility in football was always evident during his Hall of Fame career because of his shutdown play at cornerback and game-changing play as a returner. He joined the Cowboys in 1995 for a then-record $13 million signing bonus for the chance to win back-to-back Super Bowls and the opportunity to play receiver on offense. In helping the Cowboys beat the Pittsburgh Steelers 27-17 in Super Bowl XXX, Sanders started at cornerback, returned a punt and caught a 47-yard pass to set up the first touchdown. He went on to make eight starts at receiver in 1996 because of injuries, as well as play at cornerback, catching 36 passes for 475 yards, ranking second on the team in receiving yards.

    INJURY UPDATE: Dallas Cowboys vs. Chicago Bears

    The Dallas Cowboys listed five players as out for Monday night’s game against the Chicago Bears, but they stopped short of that with punter Chris Jones, listing him as doubtful.

    That still means the punter, who has a strained knee after being hit last week against Tampa, has a 25 percent or less chance of playing. But the Cowboys apparently are keeping open the possibility for him for now.

    Linebacker Anthony Spencer, who led the team in tackles last week, is questionable with a shoulder injury.

    Listed as out were defensive end Kenyon Coleman (knee), center Phil Costa (back), safety Matt Johnson (hamstring) and linebacker Alex Albright (neck).

    Fullback Lawrence Vickers, who missed practice Friday, was back with full participation Saturday and is listed as probable.

    Others listed probable are Miles Austin (hamstring), Sean Lissemore (chest), Gerald Sensabaugh (calf), Marcus Spears (knee), DeMarcus Ware (hamstring) and Kyle Wilber (thumb).

    .

    Name Position Injury Thu. Fri. Sat. Game Status
    Albright, Alex LB Neck LP LP LP Out
    Austin, Miles WR Hamstring FP FP FP probable
    Coleman, Kenyon DE Knee DNP DNP DNP Out
    Costa, Phil C Back DNP DNP DNP Out
    Johnson, Matt S Hamstring DNP DNP DNP Out
    Jones, Chris P Left Knee DNP DNP DNP doubtful
    Lissemore, Sean DE Chest FP FP FP probable
    Ratliff, Jay NT Ankle DNP DNP DNP Out
    Sensabaugh, Gerald S Calf LP LP LP probable
    Spears, Marcus DE Knee FP FP FP probable
    Spencer, Anthony LB Shoulder DNP DNP DNP questionable
    Vickers, Lawrence FB Illness DNP FP probable
    Ware, DeMarcus LB Hamstring FP FP FP probable
    Wilber, Kyle LB Thumb FP FP FP probable

    WORK IN PROGRESS: Rob Ryan says it’ll be a bigger deal if Cowboys are No. 1 on defense after 16 weeks

    Video - Rob Ryan press conference - Week 3 2012 Season - The Boys Are Back blog

    Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan promised he’d bring a No. 1-rated defense to the Cowboys, and he’s done it.

    Three weeks into the season, the Cowboys lead the NFL in fewest yards allowed, the league’s traditional measure for defensive ranking.

    Big deal, coach?

    “It’s going to be big if we can get it after 16 weeks,” Ryan said Saturday at Valley Ranch in his usual ‘Friday’ meeting with reporters. “It’ll be good. We’re happy with where we are. Guys have been working hard. We’re not ashamed of being No. 1, that’s where we want to be. We’re excited about that. We want to keep getting better.”

    The Cowboys have gotten to No. 1 on defense despite injuries that have knocked out three starters – nose tackle Jay Ratliff (who hasn’t played yet), defensive end Kenyon Coleman (one game), safety Gerald Sensabaugh (one game) and safety Barry Church (season-ending Achilles last week).

    Now, linebacker Anthony Spencer is slowed. He’s missed practice all week with a shoulder injury.

    “We’ve had a lot of guys play for us, which a lot of people do – you go through injuries, that’s part of the game,” Ryan said. “It’s exciting. Our guys have really worked hard for that, and we’re not making apologizes for being No. 1.”

    Ryan was asked if he simply has better players to work with this year as opposed to his first year with the Cowboys.

    “Well, I definitely think we have excellent players,” he said. “We’ve got excellent coaches. With our team the way we play all three phases, yeah, we can definitely be successful. I think we could have been successful last year. We weren’t as successful obviously. But those guys worked hard, and we had some good veteran players on that group as well. But the guys are really functioning together as a group. And I think no one wants to let the others down, that’s for sure.”

    Video - Watch Now - The Boys Are Back blog - Press play

    Rob Ryan: Not ashamed To be #1

    Rob Ryan talks about his Dallas Cowboys new triple-flex defense through the first three weeks, and what they need to do for the remainder of the season.

    THE FLEX FACTOR: How signing S Eric Frampton helps the Dallas Cowboys

    Chicago Bears wide receiver Devin Hester (23) is tackled by safety Eric Frampton - The Boys Are Back blog

    Before the Dallas Cowboys defeated Tampa Bay 16-10 last Sunday, the ranks were thinning at safety. Starter Gerald Sensabaugh had been listed as inactive for the game, prompting the Cowboys to partially use cornerback Brandon Carr to fill his spot.

    Yet just as the Cowboys patched one hole, another opened when Barry Church tore his right Achilles tendon.

    With Sensabaugh’s status unclear for the Cowboys’ next game against Chicago and Church placed on the injured reserve list, management began seeking reinforcements at the position. And after working out five veteran defensive backs today, the Cowboys signed Eric Frampton to fill Church’s roster spot.

    “Obviously, you would like a guy who is game-ready to play and knows our system that can play quickly and contribute quickly,” head coach Jason Garrett said Monday before any move was made. “But you’d also like a guy who is young and who can contribute on specials teams when the starter comes back.”

    Frampton, who was cut by Minnesota last month, seemed to meet Garrett’s criteria, particularly because of his sterling performance on special teams. Over the previous five seasons he led Minnesota’s coverage units with 85 tackles.

    Eric Frampton #37 of the Minnesota Vikings at Soldier Field - The Boys Are Back blog

    Frampton could conceivably assume the responsibilities of safety Danny McCray, the Cowboys’ special teams captain who has taken on more defensive duties in wake of the injuries to Sensabaugh and Church.

    At the very least, Frampton gives the Cowboys more options as they try to manage the situation at safety.

    So far, the Cowboys have already shown some flexibility by positioning Carr there.

    ESPN REPORT CARD: Defense, special teams carry day

    NFL Dallas Cowboys report card - The Boys Are Back blog

    F: Rushing Offense

    The Cowboys got their first rushing touchdown of the season, but that’s about the only thing that went right for the running game. DeMarco Murray finished with only 38 yards on 18 carries. He lost yardage seven times. Felix Jones lost a yard on his only carry. Other than Murray’s 11-yard touchdown run, in which Tyron Smith made a dominant block, this was a really poor performance by the offensive line. It’s one thing for the interior offensive line, which was whipped by McCoy, to be shaky. Doug Free, the Cowboys’ most expensive, experienced O-lineman, has been the weakest link. He got dominated by Bennett, who matched McCoy with two tackles for losses.

     

    F: Passing Offense

    The Cowboys’ passing game committed three turnovers and produced zero points. That’s awful, especially against a Tampa Bay defense that allowed 510 yards against the New York Giants the previous week. Tony Romo threw for 283 yards on 25-of-39 passing — 107 yards coming on five catches by Miles Austin — but the QB took a beating from a defensive line that barely touched Eli Manning last week. The Buccaneers sacked Romo four times, forcing two fumbles. The Cowboys couldn’t figure out how to keep defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and defensive end Michael Bennett away from Romo.

     

    A: Rushing Defense

    A week after Marshawn Lynch marched all over them in the second half, the Cowboys made it tough on the Tampa Bay running backs. The Bucs averaged only 3.0 yards on their 25 carries. Outside linebacker Anthony Spencer was a force again, leading the Cowboys with seven tackles, including one for a loss. Speedy inside linebackers Sean Lee and Bruce Carter each had a tackle for a loss, too. The run defense got stronger as the game went on, a stark contrast to last week in Seattle. Tampa Bay gained on 28 yards on 13 carries after halftime.

     

    A+: Passing Defense

    Give defensive coordinator Rob Ryan a ton of credit. He came up with a genius game plan to mask the absence of strong safety Gerald Sensabaugh, one of three starters who weren’t available, and rattle Tampa Bay quarterback Josh Freeman (10-of-28 for 110 yards with a TD and INT). In nickel situations, Brandon Carr played safety for the first time in his career, with Mike Jenkins coming in at cornerback. Those two combined to shut out $55 million receiver Vincent Jackson until the Bucs’ final possession. A week after being shut out, DeMarcus Ware had another two-sack outing, forcing fumbles both times he got to Freeman.

     

    A-: Special Teams

    The Cowboys avoided disaster, although they came close on a punt that the Bucs should have blocked, and they made big plays. Orie Lemon made his mark in his NFL debut by recovering a muffed punt, the key play on a scoring drive. Dez Bryant set up the field goal that essentially sealed the win with a 44-yard punt return, the first time this season he has resembled the elite punt returner he was during his rookie season. Dan Bailey was 3-for-3 on field goals. And, hey, Felix Jones didn’t fumble.

     

    F: Coaching

    This grade reflects solely on the head coach. Rob Ryan’s performance would lift the overall grade to a passing mark, but we’ve got to flunk Jason Garrett after such a ridiculously sloppy outing by his offense. The Cowboys committed 13 penalties, including six false starts. (Strange but true: They are 2-0 when committing 13 penalties this season.) The offense was out of sync all day, and Garrett never adjusted to keep Tampa Bay’s defensive line from teeing off on his quarterback. That’s two straight weeks Garrett’s offense scored only one touchdown. The offensive coordinator looks overwhelmed.

    Tim MacMahon | ESPN Dallas

    EDITOR COMMENT: Do you agree with this assessment? What are YOUR grades?

    DALLAS’ NEW FLEX DEFENSE: Brandon Carr’s quick adaptation to safety gives Mike Jenkins a chance to impress at cornerback

    Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Vincent Jackson (83) and Dallas Cowboys cornerback Mike Jenkins - The Boys Are Back blog

    Brandon Carr said he got it in a text. The plan was for him to play safety this week.

    If it caught him by surprise, it should have. He had not played safety in the NFL or college. Maybe a snap in high school, he said.

    But whatever. He had to get ready.

    “They let me know on Monday. I got a head start,” he said. “Got my mind right. Watch extra film. Not at corner, but at safety, just to get a feel for how things were going to be coming at me.”

    He said he worked with injured safety Gerald Sensabaugh to get ready.

    “I picked his brain a little bit,” Carr said. “It helped me just as far as reaction of where to be on the field, pre-snap, what should I be looking for, different personnel, different ways they line up and things like that. He was always there for me, giving me a helping hand.”

    Whatever he did, it worked.

    Carr shuttled between safety and cornerback, and his work got extra snaps at corner for Mike Jenkins. Between them and Orlando Scandrick and Morris Claiborne, the Cowboys held the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ biggest threats at wide receiver in check in a 16-10 victory Sunday.

    Mike Williams caught two passes on six targets. Vincent Jackson caught one pass on seven targets. And quarterback Josh Freeman completed only 10 of 28 passes for 110 yards and a touchdown, finishing with a 45.2 passer rating.

    The Dallas Cowboys vs Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Cowboys Stadium 2012 - Mike Jenkins back in action - The Boys Are Back blog

    “The game is different back there,” Carr said. “You know, at corner everything happens so quick. It’s at the line of scrimmage. It’s physical. At safety, it’s more reading the quarterback, trying to get a break on balls. Sometimes you have to be the quarterback back there and call out the plays and our checks and stuff. So I knew it was a different ballgame.”

    Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said Carr looked good enough at practice to let the Cowboys try their experiment.

    “It was a little bit of a challenge for us because Vincent Jackson is such a good football player. He is a big guy, and Brandon matches up with him well,” Garrett said. “At the same time, Mike Jenkins is healthy. … We said, let’s get our four and five best DBs out there as much as we can, and the guy we felt was most suited to play safety was Brandon Carr. He told me he hadn’t done it since 11th grade. He was a quarterback and safety in 11th grade.

    “He looked real comfortable when we started doing it in practice early in the week. Jenks played really well. It was good to see him playing the way he is capable of playing, and Brandon’s versatility allows him to do that.”

    Of Jenkins, Carr said, “Man, he played outstanding ball. Like I said, I want to give guys the opportunity to go out there and play and make a difference. That’s what he did. He went out there, seized the moment. When he got his chance, he went out there and did an exceptional job on 83.”

    COWBOYS GAMEBALL: Brandon Carr doubles as safety, depth at cornerback proves valuable

    Tampa Bay Buccaneers WR Vincent Jackson (83) is unable to grab a touchdown pass as Dallas Cowboys CB Brandon Carr (39) defends - The Boys Are Back blog

    ARLINGTON, TexasComing into Sunday’s game against Tampa Bay, the Cowboys were burdened with filling the void of Gerald Sensabaugh, who was nursing a calf injury.

    Danny McCray was ready to play significant snaps, but it was Brandon Carr who stepped up and showed his versatility. The fifth-year cornerback was a surprise starter at safety, playing there on nickel downs and allowing Mike Jenkins to start at cornerback.

    The move allowed the Cowboys to take advantage of their depth at the cornerback position. Since Jenkins came back from his shoulder rehab, the Cowboys have been experimenting with ways of getting him onto the field to contribute.

    Through two weeks of the season (and the entire preseason), Carr stood out as the Cowboys’ best lockdown corner. Many expected him to spend the entire game matched up with lengthy Buccaneers receiver Vincent Jackson. Instead, the Cowboys put faith in Carr’s discipline and versatility by moving him over to safety to serve as a security blanket in certain situations.

    It is a credit to Carr that the Cowboy’s felt so strongly about his defensive awareness that they would instruct him to play anything other than the position at which he was the NFL’s most prized free agent this offseason.

    “Whatever it takes to win, I’m down for it,” Carr said. “We put Jenkins out there at corner and it wasn’t a letdown at all. He held his own.”

    While the move was a surprise to many watching the game, Carr explained that he had been preparing to play safety all week.

    “I got a head start, I think it was Monday they let me know,” Carr said. “I just had to get my mind right, watch extra film, not at corner, but at safety, just to get a different feel for how things were going to be thrown at me. I think I did a decent job.”

    When asked after the game how much experience he had at safety, Carr provided a lighthearted, if not revealing, response.

    “60 minutes,” Carr joked. “I took a couple snaps in high schools back in my early, early days playing, but other than that, it’s been a long, long time.”

    After starting safety Barry Church went down, the Cowboys required contributions from every defensive back on the roster.

    Despite depth concerns at safety, the result was a very impressive defensive effort and a near shutdown of the Buccaneers passing game. Tampa Bay quarterback Josh Freeman was limited to only ­110 yards passing after racking up 243 yards against the Giants in his last game.

    Morris Claiborne explained that the Cowboys have such talent at cornerback that when Carr moved over to safety, the coverage did not miss a beat.

    “We have a lot of depth on this team and we have a lot of guys that can fill in when other guys are down,” Claiborne said. “We won’t lose too much.”

    The Cowboys’ cornerbacks were also able to keep their impressive streak of not allowing a wide receiver to score on them all season. In fact, Tampa’s only touchdown of the game – a one-yard pass to tight end Luke Stocker – came after a Tony Romo interception gave the Buccaneer’s terrific field position. Jackson, the $55 million free agent addition, was held to just one reception for 29 yards.

    When asked if he thought the cornerback core was attempting to build upon something special, Claiborne did not hesitate.

    “Oh yeah, I think we are,” Claiborne said. “Coach Henderson does a good job with us, preparing us and getting us ready to go out and play ball. And we take a lot of pride in ourselves, to get ourselves ready to go out and play.”

    POSTGAME REACTION: Cowboys 16, Bucs 10

    The Dallas Cowboys host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Cowboys Stadium 2012 - The Boys Are Back blog

    ARLINGTON, Texas — The offense still has issues. The offensive line is shoddy. The starting safeties are hurt. But it doesn’t matter because the Cowboys won Sunday afternoon, beating Tampa Bay 16-10 in the home opener at Cowboys Stadium.

    Tony Romo was beaten up by the Tampa Bay pass rush, but two key fourth-quarter plays, a 45-yard punt return by Dez Bryant and a late sack by DeMarcus Ware on a third-and-4, sealed the game.

    Still, the Cowboys (2-1) have to perform much better if they’re expected to compete at an elite level.

    What it means: After the Cowboys knocked off the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants in the opener, they put up a stinker in Seattle. Now, they fooled around with Tampa Bay for four quarters and survived. This tells us the Cowboys, as we said last week, are not ready to move up to an elite level in this league. Yes, they won the game, but I can’t believe the Cowboys can beat elite teams playing like this.

    Witten’s bad day: Jason Witten dropped three passes Sunday. He’s got an NFL-high six drops on the season, and he was penalized twice for false starts. When his day ended, the Cowboys’ tight end finished with just two catches for 8 yards. This is one of the worst stretches for Witten since the 2008 season. During a five-game stretch that season, he had four catches for 53 yards and no touchdowns. This season, Witten has just eight catches for 76 yards and no touchdowns. He hasn’t scored since Nov. 20, 2011, at Washington. Is this the beginning of the end for Witten? He is coming off a spleen injury that didn’t cost him any regular-season games, and he said on Friday he’s healthy.

    Church injured: The Cowboys lost safety Barry Church to a right leg injury that appeared serious. Church suffered the injury with 7:31 to play in the third quarter, and he was replaced by Mana Silva. Several Cowboys players were tapping Church on the shoulder pads and offering him words of encouragement after he went out. Miles Austin also suffered an injury (ribs), but he returned and ended the day with five catches for 107 yards. Left guard Nate Livings left with a hand injury in the first quarter but returned and didn’t have any more issues. With Church out, the Cowboys were left without their starting safeties. Gerald Sensabaugh didn’t play because of a calf injury.

    False start penalties: The Cowboys were riddled with false start penalties. Right tackle Doug Free was flagged three times and Witten twice. Left tackle Tyron Smith was also called for one. The false start penalties could be attributed to center Ryan Cook and the cadence with Romo or a lack of concentration.

    Austin outplays Jackson: The two big-play threats from a receiving standpoint, Austin and Vincent Jackson, had opposing performances. Austin finished with five catches for 107 yards, his 12th 100-yard receiving game of his career. Jackson, the deep-play threat for Tampa Bay, had one catch for 29 yards, that one coming in the fourth quarter.

    What’s next? The banged-up Cowboys will face the Chicago Bears on "Monday Night Football." Among the missing starters: nose tackle Jay Ratliff (ankle), center Phil Costa (back), Sensabaugh (calf) and Church (right leg).

    RELATED: Safety Shuffle – Barry Church out with right leg injury

    Barry Church left with 7:31 left in the third quarter after injuring his right leg on a play in which there was no contact. He went to the ground as he was accelerating toward the line of scrimmage and limped off the field after getting examined by the medical staff.

    Gerald Sensabaugh, the other starter, didn’t play because of a right calf strain. Danny McCray started in his place.

    Church did not finish last week’s game at Seattle because of a quadriceps bruise.

    Mana Silva replaced Church and was called for a pass interference penalty on his second snap. The Cowboys don’t have any other active safeties after cutting Mario Butler to make room for linebacker Orie Lemon.

    NEW FACES IN FAMILIAR PLACES: McCray, Lissemore, and Orie Lemon will be starters tomorrow

    Seattle Seahawks' Marshawn Lynch (24) rushes as Dallas Cowboys' Danny McCray - The Boys Are Back blog

    A pair of third-year pros — Danny McCray and Sean Lissemore — are expected to get their first NFL starts in place of Gerald Sensabaugh and Kenyon Coleman, respectively.

    Ryan Cook will get his second start in place of Phil Costa, who was injured in the opener. Josh Brent will replace Jay Ratliff, who has yet to play this season.

    McCray, a member of Houston Westfield High’s 2004 Class 5A state title team, hasn’t started a game since his senior year at LSU.

    “I’m excited,” he told reporters in Irving. “I’m trying to save it for Sunday.”

    Lissemore played well against Seattle.

    “I know he should have been starting forever — the kid made 10 tackles last week,” defensive coordinator Rob Ryan said.

    Ryan discusses scheme in Seattle: Many observers were puzzled why the Cowboys didn’t blitz Seattle rookie quarterback Russell Wilson more Sunday.

    On Friday, Ryan offered an explanation that centered on the Seahawks often using multiple tight end formations.

    “I know everybody was wanting to kill their quarterback,” Ryan said. “Believe me, I was wanting to hit the kid, too. They had a plan that wouldn’t allow us to do it: max protect.”

    Wilson was 15 of 20 for 151 yards and a touchdown, but he took a backseat to a running game that generated 182 yards, including 122 from Marshawn Lynch.

    “Any time people are running the ball downhill on you, it’s hard to do anything else until you get that run stopped,” Ryan said.

    Ryan said it would be a mistake to believe he’s become conservative.

    “We will pressure the quarterback,” he said. “We do play more three-man front football to go along with it, so the quarterback doesn’t know we’re just a blitz-a-thon like every junior varsity high school football team. We’re not doing that. We’re going to play the efficient way. We prefer efficiency over stupidity.”

    EDITOR COMMENT: As mentioned earlier today, the Dallas Cowboys have elevated Orie Lemon from the practice squad to help in the special teams effort. Link below. What do you think of the new faces in familiar places?

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    ROSTER MOVES: LB Orie Lemon promoted from practice squad; Mario Butler waived

    ROSTER MOVES: LB Orie Lemon promoted from practice squad; Mario Butler waived

    Dallas Cowboys linebacker Orie Lemon interception return - The Boys Are Back blog

    IRVING, Texas – In an attempt to bolster the special teams units for Sunday’s game with the Bucs, the Dallas Cowboys have signed first-year linebacker Orie Lemon from the practice squad.

    Lemon will be active Sunday against Tampa Bay, making his NFL debut as he is expected to play on most special teams units. Lemon, who spent all of last year on the practice squad, led the Cowboys with three special teams tackles during the preseason. He also had an interception for a touchdown in the preseason finale against Miami.

    Lemon will likely assume a lot of the special teams duties held by Alex Albright, who is out this week with a stinger injury. 

    To make room for Lemon, the Cowboys waived cornerback/safety Mario Butler, who like Lemon, was also on the practice squad in 2011. Butler was on the 53-man roster for the first two games this year, and active in the season opener against the Giants.

    He was expected to play some this week with Gerald Sensabaugh (calf) doubtful for the Bucs game and Barry Church (quad) also banged up. But it appears the Cowboys will go an alternate route for some backup safety help. Cornerbacks Brandon Carr, Mike Jenkins and Orlando Scandrick have all received some work at safety this week in a nickel package and could provide some depth if needed.

    Butler is still practice-squad eligible and it’s likely the Cowboys will try to bring him back on the eight-man squad.

    Like Lemon, another linebacker expected to make his NFL debut on Sunday is fourth-round pick Kyle Wilber, who has been inactive the first two weeks. Wilber had a broken thumb that required surgery and now a soft cast. 

    INJURY UPDATE: Dallas Cowboys vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

    Five Dallas Cowboys players, including three starters, have been ruled out of Sunday’s game because of injuries: nose tackle Jay Ratliff (ankle), defensive end Kenyon Coleman (knee), center Phil Costa (back), linebacker Alex Albright (neck) and safety Matt Johnson (hamstring). Ratliff, Coleman and Costa are starters.

    A fourth starter, safety Gerald Sensabaugh (calf), is doubtful and did not participate in Friday’s workout. Defensive tackle Marcus Spears took part in limited drills and is questionable.

    Players listed as probable included receiver Miles Austin (hamstring), safety Barry Church (quad), receiver Andre Holmes (knee), cornerback Mike Jenkins (shoulder), linebacker Sean Lee (hip), linebacker DeMarcus Ware (hamstring), linebacker Kyle Wilber (thumb) and tight end Jason Witten (spleen). Lee was limited in Friday’s drills. The rest participated fully.

    DID YOU KNOW? The Boys Are Back blog provides Dallas Cowboys AND opponent injury updates from the team practices and those officially reported to the NFL. See the Injury Updates page at the top of every page or look on the right side of any post.

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