AROUND THE NFC EAST: Tracking The Evil Empire | The 2014-2015 division pre-training camp watch | Assessing the biggest issues facing the Dallas Cowboys rivals
IRVING, Texas – It’s a bit hard to believe, but football is here – the makings of football, at least.
It’s coming down to the wire. The fate of the 2013-2014 Dallas Cowboys season will be determined in the next four weeks. Will the ‘boys take it to the next level or will another NFC East team step up? As of today, the Dallas Cowboys must face the Chicago Bears on the road, the Green Bay Packers at home, the Washington Redskins on their turf, and close out by hosting the 7-5 Philadelphia Eagles at AT&T Stadium. The Dallas Cowboys have a shot to take the division. Do you think they will? If not, then who?
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This is going to sound a lot like whining, but it’s really just an interesting observation.
A couple of days removed from his injury on Monday Night Football, we’re now aware Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers has a broken clavicle. The Packers’ signal-caller is slated to miss at least three or so weeks, but he is expected back before the end of the season.
By a twist of fate, that simple fact is likely going to affect the NFC East championship race in a very direct manner. The NFC North drew the NFC East on the schedule this season, which pits the Packers against all four East squads.
Rodgers and Co. have only played one team from the division to this point, however. The Packers crushed the Redskins, 38-20, in Week 2 of the season. But the other three matchups against the NFC East are slated for later in the season.
And now it brings us to this point. The Packers’ next two games, with Rodgers sidelined, are a home date against Philadelphia this weekend and a road trip to play the Giants on Nov. 17.
Obviously, anything can happen in any NFL matchup – that’s what makes this league so much fun. But you’ve got to admit the prospects of defeating Green Bay with Seneca Wallace running the offense look a lot brighter than if it was one-time NFL MVP and Super Bowl MVP Aaron Rodgers.
The Packers round into view on the Dallas Cowboys’ schedule on Dec. 15, by which point it’s a good bet Rodgers will be coming back to full health, if not back on the field already.
In the same vein, the Bears look likely to have Jay Cutler back for the home stretch – which includes the Cowboys – after Cutler said he planned to play this weekend against Detroit. Cutler went down with a groin injury early in the Bears’ game against the Redskins – a game they lost. But he will be back in the mix for games against the Eagles and Cowboys.
It’s the NFL. So counting games ahead of the schedule is an exercise in futility. Green Bay is still probably a good enough team to beat Philadelphia and New York without Rodgers. And with four games on the schedule before the Packers come to town, it’s not worth fretting over matters outside the Cowboys’ next opponent.
But it’s certainly not a twist that looks likely to benefit the Cowboys.
NFC BEAST OF THE EAST: Review of the Dallas Cowboys division at the halfway point in the 2013-2014 NFL season (Special Feature)
The focus of this article is on the NFC East as a whole. Outside of the enormous popularity of the Dallas Cowboys, the division features some pretty prominent, popular franchises in their own right – and there’s the undeniable truth that all three are in the way of a Dallas Cowboys playoff berth.
NFC East: Analyzing The Importance Of November
It’s not October anymore. When the ball kicks off this Sunday for our three fair NFC East contestants, we’ll be into the second half of the season. The temperatures are starting to drop, and the games that determine the playoff picture are about to begin.
With that in mind, lets take a look at a stat that Dallas Cowboys fans should be well-familiar with by now, considering it’s one of Tony Romo’s most impressive numbers. As it’s been documented, since he took over starting duties for the Dallas Cowboys on Oct. 29, 2006, Romo has a staggering 21-4 record in the month of November.
That’s a statistic the Cowboys would desperately love to keep in line with. Dallas has four games sandwiched around a bye week this month – Minnesota tomorrow, at New Orleans in a week, at New York after the bye and home for Thanksgiving against Oakland.
That’s a combined record of 12-17, with the Saints comprising 50 percent of that win total. Take the current NFC No. 2 seed out of the equation, and the other three opponents are just 6-16. With outdoor road trips to Chicago and Washington, not to mention a home date against Green Bay, looming in December, a winning mark in November would be huge for Romo and Co.
It’s even more important when you look at the upcoming slates for the rest of the division.
The Redskins, captained by Robert Griffin III, actually begin their six-game win streak and eventual march to the playoffs in November last year. They’re going to need him to improve on his 2-1 November mark to remain in the hunt, as they host the white-hot Philip Rivers this weekend before making back-to-back road trips to Minnesota and Philly, and then finishing the month off with a Monday night game against San Francisco.
Philadelphia has the last bye week in the league, with the final weekend of November the goal for a much-needed rest. In the meantime, they also have back-to-back road trips, to Oakland and Green Bay, before facing the Redskins at home. Nick Foles is winless in November, with an 0-2 mark. The Eagles would love to have Michael Vick back – though his career November record of 12-12-1 is hardly awe-inspiring.
Expect the upcoming month to sink both Washington and Philadelphia’s playoff hopes. Ironically enough, however, this 11th month of the year just may give a fighting chance to the once-buried Giants.
The much-needed bye week falls on the Giants this weekend. After a reprieve and a chance to get some guys healthy, they don’t have to leave the confines of MetLife Stadium until Dec. 1. During the three-game homestand, they’ll host the Raiders, Packers and Cowboys.
Despite the Giants’ run of postseason success, Eli Manning’s November record sits at just 13-19. In fact, New York is just 2-6 in November since 2011.
Does any of that mean anything? It’s hard to say for sure. It’s hard for some to take Romo’s winning ways in November too seriously when he hasn’t guided a team to the playoffs since 2009.
We didn’t decide much in this division in the first eight weeks – other than the fact that there isn’t a dominant team among the four.
Whoever manages the best over the next four or five weeks may find themselves in an enviable position when December starts.
NFC East: Burning Questions At The Halfway Point
Can we just chuck the first half of the season out the window? Is there a fan base in the NFC East that would really mind?
The array of mediocre traverses the entire spectrum among the NFL’s most volatile division. This is a group that’s had four different champions in the past four years, and it’s certainly playing up that moniker of parity.
Division leader Dallas has four wins – just two games ahead of cellar-dweller New York at the halfway point of the season. What’s the worst predicament?
Cowboys fans will tell you they should probably be 6-2, but you could make an easy argument the team has come painstakingly close to winning all eight games – refer yourself to the total margin of defeat of 14 points.
The Giants, continual contenders in the NFC with two Super Bowls in the last six seasons, plummeted to an 0-6 start – their worst such start to a season in 37 years. The division’s middling middle, Philadelphia and Washington, will go the way of their dynamic but injury-riddled quarterbacks.
It has all combined to give the NFC East the worst win total among the NFL’s eight divisions – 11-20. That’s one win more than the AFC South, which boasts a 10-19 mark thanks to hapless Jacksonville, but it’s also one more loss.
Go figure, the league’s western half – the AFC and NFC West, which boast four of the best teams in football in Denver, Kansas City, San Francisco and Seattle – are running away with collective records of 22-8 and 20-12, respectively.
In those divisions, and in several others, things are beginning to settle. We have a good idea of what’s going to happen in four or five of the league’s divisions.
But that’s not so in the NFC East, where the first half of the season hasn’t determined much other than that all four teams are equally flawed.
So what storylines are going to dictate the stretch run and the eventual division champion?
Dallas Cowboys: How well can they weather the injuries?
It sounds like a copout, because there’s a lot to be said about the shakiness of the Dallas offense, not to mention late-game decisions in all four Cowboys losses.
But as of Monday, they have lost starting right guard Brian Waters, likely for the year. Starting cornerback Morris Claiborne is also out for at least a handful of games with a bad hamstring. Starting safety Barry Church may also be iffy with a hamstring.
Don’t forget to factor those injuries in with the prior ones suffered by starters DeMarco Murray, DeMarcus Ware and Miles Austin and J.J. Wilcox. All four players are expected back soon, but as of yet, we don’t know for sure when that will happen.
Don’t count on many teams stringing together wins with as many as six or seven starters missing from the lineup. The Dallas Cowboys need the bye week to get here, and quickly.
Philadelphia Eagles: What is Michael Vick’s status for the last eight games?
Michael Vick tried to give it a go on his injured hamstring last week against New York. It didn’t work out quite as well as he’d hoped – he completed 6-of-9 passes for 30 yards and a pick before exiting prior to halftime.
It doesn’t look likely he’ll be ready for this weekend’s trip to Oakland, and that’s a problem for the Philadelphia offense. Yes, the Eagles romped over winless Tampa Bay with Nick Foles at the helm. But it’s becoming increasingly more evident that as Vick goes, so goes the Philly attack.
In the four full games that Vick played before injuring the hamstring in the first game against the Giants, the Philadelphia offense was averaging 458 yards per game. In the three games since the injury, the average has plummeted to 300 yards per game.
Yes, the Eagles’ defense is atrocious, and it has cost them opportunities at a better record. But Chip Kelly’s offense has not hummed without his starting quarterback behind center. With a bad defense, they’ll need a strong offense to earn wins.
They need Vick.
Washington Redskins: Can RG3 rediscover his mojo?
It’s a pretty similar situation in D.C. as it is in Philly. The Redskins are an average team with a bad defense. They need a strong performance from their leader and pace-setter of a quarterback if they’re going to match last season’s division championship.
It seemed like Griffin had turned a corner after a slow start to 2013. He threw for a combined 544 yards in Weeks 6 and 7, and he led the Redskins to a last-minute victory against Chicago.
More notably in that, he rushed for a combined 181 yards in those two games after totaling just 72 yards on the ground in the first month of the season. He was beginning to look comfortable using both of his skillsets.
That all derailed in Sunday’s blowout loss to Denver. Griffin managed just seven rushing yards on five attempts, and he completed 50 percent of his passes for just 132 yards. He left the game in the fourth quarter with an apparent knee injury, though he has since been declared OK.
The fact of the matter is that Griffin is slumping across the board in his sophomore season. His completion percentage after seven games is at just 59 percent. He’s actually on pace to throw for 1,000 more yards than his 3,200 yards last season, but he already has eight interceptions in seven games, where he threw just five picks his entire rookie campaign.
The running issues are well-documented. Griffin is averaging roughly 34 yards on the ground to this point, and he hasn’t found the end zone as a runner yet.
These are the pressures that go with being a No. 2 pick. The Redskins need to win at least six of the last nine games, and they won’t do it unless Griffin’s play improves.
New York Giants: Can the lines continue to improve?
Sunday’s win against Philadelphia was not pretty, but it saw two significant improvements for the New York Giants.
Firstly, the offensive line won the day. The Giants weren’t great running the ball, with just 88 total yards, but they outrushed an Eagles rushing attack that has been tops in the league for most of the year. It also gave Eli Manning time to the make decisions, which allowed him to put together his second-straight interception-free game.
The Giants are 2-0 in games where Manning hasn’t thrown a pick. In their previous six, all losses, he threw 15 balls to the other team.
Secondly, the Giants’ defense managed four sacks against the Eagles after notching six combined sacks in the seven previous games. It’s a long way to go before anyone believes New York has re-discovered its pass rushing reputation, but it’s a start.
No team has ever started 0-6 and reached the playoffs. But in this division, the Giants now just sit two games out of first. If they can keep people away from their quarterback, and keep finding ways to reach opposing quarterbacks, they have a chance.
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Regular readers already know that The Boys Are Back blog features the ALMOST WORLD FAMOUS predictions from The GREAT Robbini. Last season, the predictor disappeared for several weeks. While the exact age of The Great Robbini is unknown, it’s widely believed that he was experiencing some kind of midlife crisis.
It has been a very productive offseason. As promised, it became ‘uncomfortable’ for last years Dallas Cowboys. Jason Garrett delegated offensive play-calling duties to Callahan, new defensive coaches and scheme (the Texas 2 defense), more gameday planning from quarterback Tony Romo, and Cowboys Stadium has been renamed. Jerry Jones is younger, Stephen Jones has secret sauce, and Jay Ratliff isn’t playing (ooooh, that’s the same). The Great Robbini is geeked! He has tuned his crystal ball directly to the AT&T network! We expect that his apparatus is beaming signals loud and clear!
The GREAT Robbini is psyched about the 2013-2014 Dallas Cowboys incoming vibe… and ready to share his prognostications that we all count on from week-to-week. Without further delay, it’s time for The GREAT Robbini’s predictions. I’m sure you’ll agree … a lot of these will come true. OK, here we go …
The GREAT Robbini’s – 2013-2014 Dallas Cowboys week #1 predictions:
Cowboys roll over the Giants! Dallas Cowboys start it off right in newly named AT&T Stadium.
It seems that “in the Garrett era” that consistently, the top division rival has been the uhhhh …New Jersey Giants. Mostly for the way they’ve taken a W out of the past four Cowboys Stadium contests. Usually a close game leaving bitterness in the mouths of us all. This time around the ‘Boys take Eli & Co. out in an execution style massacre in Arlington.
Predictions for the Texas 2 Defense …
- 4 sacks on Eli Manning
Sean Lee forced fumble
JJ Wilcox INT
DeMarcus Ware 2 sacks
Victor Cruz Injured
Bruce Carter/Barry Church lead tackles
Predictions for the offense …
- Tony Romo 3 TDs
Dez Bryant 2 TDs
Gavin Escobar TD
DeMarco Murray TD
RB committee 130 yds. +
Dan Bailey 2 FGs
Miles Austin 60 yds.
Dez Bryant 100 yds.
Cole Beasley 30 yds.
Terrence Williams 30 yds.
Jason Witten 45 yds.
Gavin Escobar 25 yds.
Tony Romo sacked twice
The GREAT Robbini
Remember, you read it here! The Great Robbini predictions for week #1. Leave your final score or predictions in the comment section.
IRVING, Texas – There’s been talk for six months about Tony Romo’s increased role in the Cowboys’ game week preparation.
Well, game week is finally here.
Romo was never likely to discuss the finer points of the Cowboys’ season opener strategy against the Giants. But with the days dwindling down until the start of the season, he did acknowledge the amount of work put into the Cowboys gameplan along with offensive coordinator Bill Callahan and the coaching staff.
“We’ve had a lot of meetings, a lot of meeting time. I don’t want to get into detail about what it is, I don’t know if it’s an advantage for us to be communicating all this stuff,” Romo said. “But I have a great rapport with Bill – he’s got a great understanding through his experience about football and what it takes to win games. On top of it, we have great communication as to the things I like to see and the things we’re going to put together.”
That has been a common line from Romo about the input of his personal preferences into the gameplan. But the extent of that is yet to be seen this year – Romo did not play in preseason games against Miami and Houston, and he combined to throw just 36 passes in the other three exhibitions.
When Romo did have the chance to throw, though, he looked strong with a completion percentage of 72 percent for 367 yards with two touchowns and, more importantly, no interceptions.
“We’re really not going to do anything different than what we did at training camp and preseason games. We’re going to run, probably, some plays that are similar, some different plays — some things like that,” Romo said. “But as far as the rest of it, I’m going to treat it the same way I’ve treated every day I walk out there: the ball is important, moving the team, getting us in and out of the right plays and finding the right guys and letting them go do what they do best.”
It will be interesting to see how that changes against live opposition. Despite their lofty reputation, the Giants’ defensive line was among the 10 worst in the NFL in both rushing defense and sacks. New faces such as veteran defensive tackles Cullen Jenkins and Shaun Rogers have been added to the rotation along with familiar names like Justin Tuck and Jason Pierre-Paul.
“If you look at them, they might actually be better up front than they were – that’s saying a lot, because they’ve always had a pretty good front,” Romo said. “They’ve added some guys inside that allow them to do some things. Getting Pierre-Paul back, and getting the rest of those guys going – they’re going to be tough to handle.”
That’s a lot of variables for Romo to handle, especially with his expanded role in the gameplan. As has been the case this offseason, he downplayed that thought. Regardless of Romo’s role in the gameplanning, the job on the field remains the same.
“I’m going to do the job that this team needs to win the football game, and that’s what we’re trying to do every week we play. That’s my job when I step out there,” he said. “Obviously the number one thing for me will be not having anything negatively happen – and when I say that, it’s not just turnovers. It’s negative plays, getting us into the right plays, doing little things that will get us out of other things. A lot of that stuff falls on the quarterback’s plate, and that’s a good thing – especially when you’ve been in a system for an extended period of time.”
Dallas Cowboys cornerback Morris Claiborne got a full practice and then some on Monday for the first time in month.
Sidelined since the first week of the preseason because of sore knee, Claiborne took all the first reps and some scout team reps in preparation for Sunday’s season opener against the Giants.
“I got all the reps today and scout team,” Claiborne said. “I didn’t get all the scout team, but some. It’s been good for me because I haven’t been out there. To get those extra reps, trying to get into some shape will be good. I feel like I’m getting closer. I know if I had to go play a game tomorrow I feel like I can get through that whole game, but I’m going to get a little winded. I ran some sprints after practice. That’s why I’m still a little winded.”
In addition to working on his conditioning, Claiborne is using the extra reps to shore up his technique and get his body to catch up with his mind.
“I feel like I can clean up my feet a little bit,” Claiborne said. “I’m a little bit all over the place right now, but I know that’s no problem. I feel like my mind is right. I feel like my mind is ready. I’ve just got to get by body caught up with my mind.”
The second-year cornerback, however, expects the Giants to come after him with quarterback Eli Manning and receivers Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks just as he experienced last year as a rookie.
“Well, last year I knew they were going to come after me regardless of the fact, if I had double coverage, triple coverage, they were coming at me,” Claiborne said. “But last year I learned a lot going against those receivers, they’ve got some good receivers over there, getting that work in, try to carry over what I learned last year all the way up to this year.
Oh, yeah, I expect everybody to (come at me again),” he continued. “It’s my mindset, each and every play they’re coming after me. I like it. It’s good for me when guys throw the ball at me to actually seize the moment and have a chance to go make a play.”
IRVING – Kyle Bosworth grew up dreaming of playing for the Dallas Cowboys.
On Sunday, the linebacker’s dream was realized when the Cowboys claimed him off waivers from the New York Giants.
“I’m really excited to be here, really happy with how everything turned out, and I’m just ready to do everything I can for this team to make it a championship team,” Bosworth, a Plano West graduate who idolized Dat Nguyen as a youngster, said Monday.
Bosworth said being cut by the Giants on Saturday “was definitely a low.” But, thanks to the Cowboys, his sadness didn’t last long.
“I’ve never been released before, so it was definitely a low,” the fourth-year pro said. “I had a moment where it just wasn’t going right, and a couple of hours late I got a call from my agent saying the Cowboys picked me up off of waivers, and that turned it around.
“So, it was definitely a very, very low to high quick, like a lighting bolt.”
Bosworth got picked up mainly for his skills as a special teams performer, something he said he has no problem with.
“That’s what I’ve doing every year since I’ve been in the league,” he said. “I know I’m very good at special teams and I know I’m a really good backer…I can be utilized on special teams right away, no problem. And I absolutely have no problem with that, I love it. I’m definitely looking forward to it.”
Another reason Dallas signed Bosworth is he might be able to provide inside skinny on what New York is up to. Asked if quarterback Tony Romo has talked to him about what the Giants are planning for the season opener, Bosworth said, “Yeah, we’ve talked about it a little bit, but not too much. I’m sure that’s for later.”
Two big bits of injury news pertaining to the Cowboys’ season opener is grabbing attention.
As many people no doubt saw on Saturday night, the Giants lost safety Stevie Brown for the season during their loss to the New York Jets. Brown made a textbook interception of an awful pass thrown by rookie quarterback Geno Smith, and he tore his ACL while being tackled on the return.
It’s a devastating blow, especially as the Giants were so close to wrapping up their final test of the preseason. However, since the loss of Brown, the team has received several bits of good news in anticipation of the opener against the Dallas Cowboys in 13 days.
Safety Antrel Rolle and cornerback Corey Webster are slated to return to the field this week ahead of New York’s preseason finale against New England. It’s pretty crucial timing, as the Giants were set to take the field without three of their starting four defensive backs.
Rolle rolled his ankle – no pun intended — several weeks ago, but he has been adamant he would be fit for the start of the regular season. Webster has been battling groin and MCL injuries for most of training camp, but Giants coach Tom Coughlin told reporters on Sunday he would return this week, as well.
Perhaps the bigger news coming out of New Jersey on Monday is that injured defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, whose return from back surgery has dominated Giants training camp headlines, was activated from Physically Unable to Perform list Monday.
Pierre-Paul doubtless has plenty of work to do before he’d be cleared to line up against the Cowboys on Sept. 8, but with 13 days to spare, he can now begin that process.
It’s a bit of the opposite scenario for the Cowboys. Starting cornerback Morris Claiborne returned to practice on Monday, which further solidifies his confidence that he’ll be good to go for the opener. With any luck, the Cowboys just might have four healthy starters in the secondary to start the year.
On the other hand, defensive end Anthony Spencer and defensive tackle Jay Ratliff – particularly Ratliff – don’t look like the locks for Week 1 action that they once were. Neither player has returned to practice, but Spencer said last week he has not yet started running on his convalescing knee.
Dallas Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones has typically been steadfast in his belief that Ratliff would be ready for the Giants game. But Jones didn’t sound so sure when asked about it on Saturday night after the Bengals game.
It’s not quite September yet, so there’s still time for more developments for both teams. But the window of recovery time is closing rapidly.
IRVING — Cincinnati is next up on the schedule.
That doesn’t mean the Bengals have the Dallas Cowboys’ undivided attention.
The regular season opens in less than three weeks. While the coaches get the players ready to face Cincinnati this weekend, they are also starting to prepare for the game against New York on Sept. 8.
“Yeah, we’re watching some of the Giants tape,” tight end Jason Witten said. “Obviously, they’re a big division opponent. We know them well. They know us.
“Everything’s moving that way.”
The Cowboys aren’t overlooking the Bengals. This and the final preseason game are chances to clean up what’s not working as the team gets ready for the regular season.
Saturday’s game is significant because the starters will play into the second half.
“This is the game we’ll get most of our work for the preseason,” Witten said. “I think it’s been a good, productive camp. We just got to continue to build it here down the stretch.”
And cast an eye toward the Giants.
“We’ve started doing a little in the card drills, going over what they run,” defensive tackle Jason Hatcher said of New York. “But we’re still in training camp mode.”
Jones: Cowboys can compete: Jerry Jones isn’t going to make any grandiose claims. But the owner is confident of how his team stacks up going into the season.
“If you look at the fact that these teams are pretty equal in the NFL and you look at where we are, you know we can compete,” Jones said Tuesday on KRLD-FM (105.3). “We really can compete.
“Now, will injury decimate that? Will injury impact that? Who knows? The bottom line is, we can compete.
“Over the last two years, a lot of people would say, ‘I don’t call 8-8 competing.’ They’d be justified in saying that. But we were real close there, getting down to the end of the year. We were close to getting in the tournament and doing some good things.”
Practice update: Morris Claiborne will miss Saturday’s dress rehearsal against Cincinnati.
The cornerback jammed his knee two weeks ago and hasn’t practiced since. Head coach Jason Garrett said he doesn’t anticipate Claiborne will do much in practice this week or play this weekend.
Receiver Cole Beasley (foot) and safety Matt Johnson (foot) are also expected to miss the game, but Garrett is hopeful the two will be able to work into practice next week and play in the preseason finale against Houston.
Defensive tackle Sean Lissemore (groin injury) returned to practice after a one-week absence and hopes to play against the Bengals. Rookie safety J.J. Wilcox, who has been excused from the team following the death of his mother, is scheduled to return.
“I have not spoken to him,” Garrett said. “We have texted back and forth with him, and we anticipate him coming back [Wednesday] to hopefully practice on Thursday.”
OT Bell shaping up: OT Demetress Bell tipped the scales at 350 pounds when he reported to Oxnard. He is down to 328 and would like to drop another 10 or so pounds.
“I can’t say nothing bad about the Cowboys,” Bell said. “It sounds like they love me. I’ve just got to do my job, do my part to stick.”
Cut by the Dallas Cowboys on Monday, Dan Connor has latched on with one of Dallas’ NFC East rivals. The 27-year-old linebacker signed a one-year contract with the New York Giants, a league source confirmed today (Saturday).
Connor was released by Dallas earlier this week in a wave of moves to clear room under the NFL’s $123 million salary cap. By parting with Connor the Cowboys saved $3 million, a total equivalent to his base salary. Connor’s tenure with Dallas ended less than a year after it began, when he signed a two-year, $6.5 million deal last March.
This past season — his only one with the Cowboys — Connor made 56 tackles and started eight games after Sean Lee suffered a season-ending toe injury last October.
In November, Connor did not play against Atlanta and Philadelphia because of a stinger he incurred in a loss to the Giants. Connor’s value to the Cowboys appeared to be tied to the considerable experience he has in the 4-3 defense, which Dallas adopted after hiring Monte Kiffin as a coordinator in January. The Giants employ a similar scheme and for that reason Connor should fit well with his new team.
The major pieces are back: General manager Jerry Reese, coach Tom Coughlin, quarterback Eli Manning, defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, wide receiver Hakeem Nicks, both coordinators and (probably) receiver Victor Cruz. The Giants did release veterans Ahmad Bradshaw, Michael Boley and Chris Canty, but there is young depth at those positions. The David Wilson-Andre Brown combination looks ready to carry the load at running back. Plus, Reese has earned a level of faith throughout the years to keep the team in the hunt without a complete rebuild.
Biggest free agents
WR Victor Cruz: Cruz is restricted, but it’s hard to believe some team wouldn’t be willing to give up a second-round draft pick for the young Pro Bowler. The two sides sound like they are far apart in negotiations, but there’s no way the Giants will let him walk after consecutive 1,000-yard seasons.
LB Chase Blackburn: Led the team with 93 tackles and added three sacks, an interception and four forced fumbles. He was a full-time starter for the first time in 2012, but will turn 30 years old in June.
LT Will Beatty: Pro Football Focus rated him the No. 4 free-agent tackle based on his performance last season. The 2009 second-round draft pick will turn 28 in March and has his entire career ahead of him.
TE Martellus Bennett: Broke out in his first year as a Giant with career-highs in receptions (55), yards (626) and touchdowns (five) after four disappointing years with the Dallas Cowboys.
Other key free agents: LG Kevin Boothe, SS Stevie Brown (restricted), DE Osi Umenyiora, WR Domenik Hixon, LB Keith Rivers, CB Kenny Phillips.
What they need
Consistency, especially on defense. The Giants looked like the best team in the NFL at times and didn’t make the playoffs in 2012. The defense allowed the second-most yards per game, but had the No. 12-ranked scoring defense. That often means too many big plays. The run defense ranked No. 25 and the pass defense was No. 28. That’s very un-Giant-like. Injuries haven’t helped the offense, but Manning needs to live up to that elite status on a weekly basis. They’ll also need some offensive line help if Beatty and Boothe leave via free agency.
Offseason crystal ball
The Giants remain a championship contender that will make smallish tweaks without a disruption of their core. The organization has missed the playoffs just three times in the last eight seasons. The Giants will continue to have a puncher’s chance with Manning under center, but their defense was the problem in 2012 and that’s something Coughlin won’t accept.
Dallas Cowboys special teams coach Joe DeCamillis is on the Chicago Bears list of head coaching candidates. Bears general manager Phil Emery has asked the Cowboys for permission to interview DeCamillis. (The Cowboys cannot deny the request since it is a head coaching position.)
DeCamillis and Emery worked together in Atlanta for three years, when Emery was the Falcons director of college scouting and DeCamillis the special teams coach there.
DeCamillis, 47, just completed his fourth season with the Cowboys. He also previously has been a special teams coach for the Broncos (1988-92), Giants (1993-96) and Jaguars (2007-08) besides his stint in Atlanta (1997-2006).
John Harbaugh was the Eagles special teams coach when the Ravens hired him as their head coach in 2008.
The Bears also reportedly will interview Falcons special teams coach Keith Armstrong, Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy and Bucs offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan. Chicago fired Lovie Smith on Monday after Smith went 84-66 in nine seasons.
With just one week left in the regular season the NFC East comes down to one game between the Redskins and Cowboys.
Washington Redskins 9-6
Dallas Cowboys 8-7
New York Giants 8-7
Philadelphia Eagles 4-11
It didn’t seem possible six weeks ago, but the Washington Redskins are currently the sole leaders atop the NFC East after winning their sixth straight game. Last Sunday they welcomed back Robert Griffin III from a leg injury and the rookie quarterback didn’t look like he had missed a beat.
Griffin was able to post a 102.4 passer rating while throwing two touchdowns in a 27-20 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles. The Redskins continued to do what they do best: run the ball well on offense. They rushed for 128 total yards and made the big plays when it mattered. At this point in the season the Redskins are very comfortable running their college-like offensive scheme and few teams have had any success stopping them.
The Redskins will be champions of the NFC East if they defeat the Cowboys at home on Sunday night. If they lose they could still potentially make the playoffs as a wildcard assuming that both Chicago and Minnesota lose their final game.
Perhaps the most exciting game the Cowboys have played all season turned out to be completely irrelevant. After the Giants were defeated by the Baltimore Ravens the Cowboys’ 34-31 loss to the Saints earlier in the day became meaningless.
But that doesn’t take away any of the thrill (or concerns) that came with the game. The Cowboys came back from down 14 points with less than five minutes to play in the fourth quarter. After getting the first touchdown, the Cowboys still needed a 4th and 10 conversion with 15 seconds left in the game. They not only converted the 4th down, they scored a 21-yard touchdown pass to Miles Austin to force overtime.
In the end, a controversial fumble by Marques Colston that bounced 22 yards forward until being recovered by Jimmy Graham set up a field goal to win the game for the Saints.
Tony Romo was nearly flawless in the game throwing for over 400 yards and four touchdowns, while posting a passer rating of 123.8. He was helped out by the career performance of Dez Bryant who recorded 224 yards receiving and two touchdowns.
Despite the loss, the Cowboys can win the division with a win over Washington on Sunday. That is their only chance at making the playoffs.
It was hard not to assume that the Giants would just “turn it on” when they really truly needed a win. Well, the past two weeks New York has needed wins and they have been blown out each week. After being shutout by the Falcons the previous week, the Giants lost 33-14 to the Ravens.
At a time when they needed their best players playing their best, the Giants received poor performances from Eli Manning (only 150 yards passing), Ahmad Bradshaw (only 39 yards rushing) and their much heralded defensive line was unable to record a single sack on the immobile Joe Flacco.
The Giants’ weakness all season has been their secondary and they once again struggled as Flacco was able to throw for over 300 yards and two touchdowns on the Giants’ defense.
They’ve been inconsistent all season and now the Super Bowl champions find themselves in a position where they will need a miracle to make the post season.
The Eagles have been able to get a good look at some of their younger players the past few weeks. Unfortunately for them, at 4-11, that’s about the only positive to come from this season.
In a 27-20 loss to the Redskins, rookie quarterback Nick Foles threw for 345 yards but suffered a broken right hand that will likely force him to miss the season finale. That will put Michael Vick back into the lineup, likely for the last time with the Eagles.
McCoy returned to the lineup, which meant less carries for rookie Bryce Brown and together they were only able to combine for 63 yards.
The Eagles are obviously looking towards the future as they finish the season Sunday against the Giants.
Dallas Cowboys: DeMarcus Ware has been dealing with elbow and shoulder injuries all season and he was forced to miss significant portions of the Cowboys’ loss to the Saints. Jason Garrett claimed that he believes that Ware will be ready to suit up and play the season finale despite his injuries. The Cowboys also lost Ernie Sims in the first quarter against the Saints after experiencing concussion-like symptoms. There is no word on his availability for Sunday and will likely be a game-time decision.
New York Giants: The Giants’ defensive line was out of sorts on Sunday after Chris Canty reinjured his knee against the Ravens. There is no word on his status for next Sunday. Justin Tuck was already inactive in the game due to a shoulder injury.
Philadelphia Eagles: McCoy returned to the field after missing a few weeks with a concussion, but was largely ineffective rushing the ball. With Nick Foles (hand) out, Michael Vick is expected to start.
Washington Redskins: There was some concern leading into Sunday’s game over whether or not Robert Griffin III was fully healed and prepared to comeback after only missing a week from his leg injury. Griffin not only returned, but looked as sharp as ever. However, he refrained from running the ball like he normally does.
-Dallas (@Washington) clinches NFC East title with a win over Washington.
-Washington (vs. Dallas) clinches NFC East division title with a win or tie against Dallas.
-Washington clinches a playoff spot with a Chicago loss and a Minnesota loss.
-New York Giants (vs. Philadelphia) clinches a playoff spot with a win and a Dallas loss or tie and a Chicago loss and a Minnesota loss.
Week 17 Schedule:
Philadelphia Eagles @ New York Giants
Sunday, December 30th, 12:00 CT (FOX)
Dallas Cowboys @ Washington Redskins
Sunday, December 30th, 7:20 CT (NBC)
ARLINGTON, Texas — The Cowboys lost control of their season.
It’s something coach Jason Garrett didn’t want. It’s something Jerry Jones doesn’t want but that’s the reality of things as the Cowboys head into Christmas Day.
New Orleans defeated Dallas, 34-31 in overtime at Cowboys Stadium on Sunday afternoon. The Cowboys playoff hopes are now on life support thanks to this defeat.
What it means?: The Cowboys needed to win their last two regular season games to clinch the NFC East. But the loss, combine with the Washington Redskins victory, keeps the Cowboys on the outside of the playoff picture. Later today, a New York Giants victory will also hurt the Cowboys chances of reaching the postseason. Wins by the Giants and Redskins only hurt the Cowboys. But any loss by the Cowboys’ rivals helps.
DeMarcus Ware’s injury: The Cowboys outside linebacker missed a bulk of the second half with a right shoulder strain. Ware was battling a hyper-extended elbow and a shoulder that was popping out of place. With Ware out of the game, the Cowboys asked Victor Butler and Anthony Spencer to pick up the pass rush in Ware’s absence. Ware did return with 12:05 to play in overtime for one snap then left.
DeMarco Murray’s fumble: With 4:17 to play in the third quarter, Murray fumbled at the Cowboys 5. He was stripped by linebacker Curtis Lofton, who also recovered. Murray lost the ball just before his knee hit the ground. The turnover, with the game tied at 17-17, was costly. Drew Brees found Pierre Thomas for the touchdown to give the Saints a 24-17 lead. It would be a lead the Saints would barely hold onto.
Dez Bryant’s big day: Dez Bryant finished with nine catches for 224 yards and two touchdowns. He’s scored a touchdown in his last seven games and continues to be a big play threat for the Cowboys. However, after a solid first half effort by Bryant, he didn’t make a catch until the fourth quarter.
The fumble or was it a catch?: The game turned in overtime when Drew Brees completed a pass to Marques Colston. Morris Claiborne striped Colston of the ball and the ball rolled down the field where Jimmy Graham and Eric Frampton gave chase. Graham recovered at the Cowboys 2. After a review to see if Colston gained possession of the ball before he lost it, the play was confirmed. Kicker Garrett Hartley booted a 20-yarder to clinch the victory.
Jason Witten sets single-season record: Tight end Jason Witten finished with six catches for 60 yards. He now has 103 catches on the season setting the NFL single-season record for catches by a tight end, breaking the mark set by Tony Gonzalez. Witten caught a five-yard pass in overtime to break the record.
Who’s next?: The Redskins host the Cowboys in the regular season finale and a victory by the home team clinches the NFC East. But the Cowboys need help to reach the postseason, like a Giants loss.
With just two weeks left to play in the season, the drama only continues to build in the NFC East, as three teams are tied for the division lead.
Washington Redskins 8-6
Dallas Cowboys 8-6
New York Giants 8-6
Philadelphia Eagles 4-10
The Texas sized Terrible Towels fittingly became Texas-Sized Tear Towels for approximately 15,000 visiting Pittsburgh Steeler fans.
ARLINGTON — Brandon Carr intercepted a pass from Ben Roethlisberger to set up Dan Bailey’s 21-yard field goal in overtime, and the Dallas Cowboys beat the Pittsburgh Steelers 27-24 on Sunday.
The Cowboys won a Bailey kick on the final play for the second straight week since practice squad linebacker Jerry Brown was killed in a one-car accident that led to manslaughter charges against teammate Josh Brent.
Carr intercepted Roethlisberger’s pass along the sideline and returned it 36 yards to the 1. Bailey’s kick came after Tony Romo took a 2-yard loss to put the kicker in better position.
It was a disappointing ending for tens of thousands of Terrible Towel-waving Pittsburgh fans at Cowboys Stadium.
The Cowboys (8-6) moved into a three-way tie for the NFC East lead with the New York Giants and Washington Redskins. The Steelers (7-7) lost for the fourth time in five games.
A CLOSER LOOK AT THE NFC EAST STANDINGS
There were a pair of early Sunday games that had big implications to the Cowboys’ playoff hopes. One worked out for Dallas while the other didn’t. Here’s an updated look at the NFC East standings after the Cowboys’ win this afternoon, the remaining games for the NFC East contenders and a pair of recaps of the Sunday NFC East action (reminder: The Philadelphia Eagles played on Thursday and lost to the Cincinnati Bengals).
NFC East Standings
t-1. Dallas Cowboys: 8-6
t-1. Washington Redskins: 8-6
t-1. New York Giants: 8-6
4. Philadelphia Eagles: 4-10
Dallas Cowboys: vs. New Orleans, @Washington
Washington Redskins: @Philadelphia, vs. Dallas
New York Giants: @Baltimore, vs. Philadelphia
Recap: Redskins 38, Browns 21
CLEVELAND — Robert Griffin III watched as the Redskins’ other rookie quarterback won again.
Rookie Kirk Cousins threw for 329 yards and two touchdowns filling in for an injured Griffin, leading Washington to its fifth straight win, 38-21 over the Cleveland Browns on Sunday.
Cousins connected with Leonard Hankerson for both TDs in his first career start and the Redskins (8-6) barely missed a beat without the talented and multi-dimensional RG3, who sat out with a sprained knee.
Last week, Cousins came off the bench after Griffin got hurt and rallied the Redskins to an overtime win. Cousins was behind center from the start of this one and delivered a performance that extended Washington’s longest winning streak since 2007 and moved the Redskins into a tie for first in the NFC East.
Rookie Trent Richardson had a pair of TD runs for the Browns (5-9).
Alfred Morris, a childhood rival of Richardson, had two touchdowns for the Redskins.
Wearing a burgundy warm-up suit instead of his No. 10 jersey, Griffin, who sustained a mild sprain in the fourth quarter last week against Baltimore, cheered from the sideline as Cousins kept the Redskins (8-6) moving toward a possible spot in the playoffs.
Cousins may not have RG3’s talent, but the fourth-round pick from Michigan State was efficient, accurate and only made one major mistake — an early interception to set up Cleveland’s first TD.
Cousins finished 26 of 37 as the Redskins improved to 5-0 since their bye. They’ll end the season with games against NFC East rivals Philadelphia and Dallas, teams they beat in consecutive weeks to start their streak.
Griffin’s playing status was in doubt all week before the Redskins surprisingly announced late Saturday night that Cousins would start. If the Browns thought they were getting a break, Cousins proved to be as challenging to stop as his more elusive and hyped teammate.
The Browns (5-9) had their winning streak stopped at three and faint playoff hopes snuffed out. Coach Pat Shurmur’s fate may have rested on the Browns winning out, but that won’t happen and his days in Cleveland could be dwindling quickly.
Rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden struggled from the outset. He went 21 of 35 for 244 yards and two picks, both leading to Washington touchdowns.
Cousins’ second TD pass to Hankerson, a 2-yarder, gave the Redskins a 24-14 lead. As Cousins came to the sideline, Griffin gave him a fist bump and then sat on the bench with his backup, who for the past two weeks has shown he too can lead the Redskins to victory.
Washington went ahead 31-14 on Evan Royster’s 4-yard run.
Weeden came back with a 69-yard scoring strike to speedy rookie Travis Benjamin to pull the Browns within 10, but Cousins calmly took the Redskins down the field again with Morris scoring from eight to make 38-21.
The Redskins needed this win, and Cousins made sure they got it.
He shook off the early pick and showed exceptional play faking ability. With Griffin out and inactive, Redskins coach Mike Shanahan had to alter his game plan and Cousins ran it with precision.
Linebacker Rob Jackson’s interception of Weeden helped the Redskins take a 17-14 lead less than two minutes into the third quarter on Morris’ 3-yard TD run.
Jackson picked off Weeden and returned it to the 15. Three plays later, Morris pulled in for his eighth rushing TD, tying the team rookie record set by Skip Hicks in 199
Richardson’s second TD run gave the Browns a 14-10 lead with 1:11 left before halftime.
Cleveland’s offense had been in a funk for most of the second quarter before Weeden completed five passes to get the Browns to Washington’s 3. Richardson did the rest, busting over the left side for his 11th rushing TD. Earlier, he broke Hall of Famer Jim Brown’s 55-year-old team rookie record for rushing TDs.
Kai Forbath’s 44-yard field goal put the Redskins ahead 10-7. Forbath has started his career 15 of 15.
Cousins threw a 54-yard TD pass to Hankerson in the first quarter to tie it 7-7.
The Redskins gained just seven yards on their first four plays before Cousins, rolling right on the kind of play Shanahan has devised to maximize Griffin’s wondrous skills, hooked up with Hankerson.
Browns safety T.J. Ward intercepted Cousins, on a ball tipped by cornerback Sheldon Brown, to set up Richardson’s TD run in the first quarter. Ward returned the pick to Washington’s 6-yard line, where he was tackled by Cousins, who showed good form in preventing an easy TD.
On the next play, Richardson took a handoff to the left side, was stopped at about the 2 and kept his legs and the pile moving into the end zone.
Recap: Falcons 34, Giants 0
ATLANTA — The Atlanta Falcons sent a message to all the skeptics with a resounding victory over the defending Super Bowl champions.
Matt Ryan threw three touchdowns passes and the Falcons defense handed New York its first regular-season shutout since 1996, stifling the Giants 34-0 on Sunday.
Julio Jones caught a couple of scoring throws from Ryan, who broke his own franchise records for completions and passing yards in a season. Matty Ice finished 23 of 28 for 270 yards.
The Falcons (12-2), who have already clinched the NFC South, moved a step closer to locking up home-field advantage throughout the conference playoffs. One more win would ensure that any postseason contests before the Super Bowl are held at the Georgia Dome.
Eli Manning threw two interceptions for New York (8-6), which dropped into a first-place tie with Washington in the NFC South. Dallas had a chance to make it a three-way tie later in the day, hosting Pittsburgh.
The Giants also went 0-for-3 on fourth down and missed a short field goal.
Despite their lofty record, Atlanta has received plenty of criticism for winning ugly against inferior opponents. A 30-20 loss to last-place Carolina the previous week only seemed to reinforce the notion that the Falcons are headed for another short stay in the playoffs. They have yet to win a postseason game since Ryan took over as the quarterback in 2008, going 0-3.
But one thing the Falcons never seem to do anymore is lose two straight games. They extended the NFL’s longest active streak since consecutive defeats to 49 games, going back to the 2009 season.
For the Giants, it was a miserable performance when they desperately needed a win, at a time of year when they normally play some of their best football.
Manning threw his first pick on the second play of scrimmage, setting up a quick Atlanta touchdown. Coach Tom Coughlin made a curious call late in the first half, passing up another short field goal attempt when his team was almost 2 yards shy of the marker. Asante Samuel batted down a short pass intended for Victor Cruz, sending Atlanta to the locker room with a commanding 17-0 lead and all the momentum.
But even if the Giants had taken the field goal, it’s probably wouldn’t have made much difference.
The tone in this one was set right away.
When Manning attempted to hit Hakeem Nicks on a short pass to the right, Samuel stepped in to make the interception and return it to the Giants 16. From there, Michael Turner ran it four straight times, the last of those a 1-yard plunge that gave Atlanta a 7-0 lead less than 3 minutes into the game.
It was all Falcons after Lawrence Tynes missed a chip shot kick from 30 yards, ruining an impressive second possession by the Giants. Atlanta took it 80 yards from there, with Ryan going to Harry Douglas on a 37-yard gain for the big gainer. Then, on third-and-11 from the 12, Ryan went to his favorite target, Tony Gonzalez, in the end zone. The 16-year veteran leaped over safety Will Hill to haul in the high throw — and hopped up quickly for his customary dunk over the goalposts.
Early in the second half, the Falcons blew it open on Ryan’s 40-yard touchdown pass to Jones down the left sideline. Finally, after a drive that used up more than 9 minutes in the fourth quarter, Ryan went to Jones for a 3-yard TD.
The Giants turned it over one more time in the closing minutes, finishing off their first shutout in the regular season since a 24-0 defeat at Philadelphia on Dec. 1, 1996. The performance came just a week after they put up 52 points on the New Orleans Saints.
There was a moment of silence before the game honoring the Connecticut shooting victims, and the Giants also wore "SHES" decals on their helmets for Sandy Hills Elementary School.
After a Thanksgiving shootout, a Sunday night blowout and a desperate Monday night game, the Giants have retaken a two game lead atop the NFC East.
New York Giants 7-4
Washington Redskins 5-6
Dallas Cowboys 5-6
Philadelphia Eagles 3-8
No team needed a bye more than the Giants did two weeks ago. They had lost two straight with Eli Manning having played his three worst games of the season consecutively.
But as you might expect, they took advantage of their time off and came into their Sunday night matchup with the Green Bay Packers prepared and looking like the defending Super Bowl champs, scoring early and often on their way to a 38-10 victory.
It’s pretty well established that the Giants can go as far as Manning can take them and he seemed to return to his former self, throwing for 249 yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions. The Giants’ offense also seemed to get their balance back. Their running back-by-committee rushed for a combined 147 yards, led by Andre Brown’s 64 yards.
Much more surprising was the fact that the Giants’ normally shaky secondary held the potent Packers’ passing game in check. Aaron Rodgers had just an 81.9 passer rating. Not coincidentally, Rodgers was sacked five times for a combined 29-yard loss.
At 7-4, the Giants are in firm control of the division with just one more game against the Washington Redskins.
If the Redskins are supposed to be planning for the future they sure seem to be having a lot of fun right now. Griffin is doing much more than proving he’s a promising rookie; he’s proving to be one of the best players in the NFL.
Griffin followed up a performance in which he had the rare perfect passer rating by coming into Cowboy Stadium and completing 20-of-28 passes for 311 yards and four touchdowns.
Their other rookie, running back Alfred Morris, ran for 113 yards and a touchdown of his own. So I think it’s safe to say Washington has a bright future.
At 5-6, the Redskins, while still a long shot, have put themselves back in the playoff race. If Washington isn’t able to put together enough of a streak to reach the postseason there will surely be a number of teams happy to avoid them. They have become one of the most dangerous clubs in the league with their balanced offensive attack. Against Dallas they threw the ball 28 times and ran the ball 30. Their defense is certainly flawed, but they compensate that by controlling the time of possession.
The Cowboys were full of newfound hope on the morning of Thanksgiving. They knew that if they could defeat the Washington Redskins and Aaron Rodgers could take down the Giants then the Cowboys would be tied atop the division.
Well, Robert Griffin III came into Cowboy Stadium and sucked most of that hope right out of the building. A 28-point second quarter by the Redskins put Dallas down by 25 at halftime. From there they were just playing catch-up and they fell short, losing 38-31.
The game featured a lot of the characteristics we’ve grown accustomed to seeing from Dallas’ Tony Romo throw an astounding 62 times for 441 yards. He also had two interceptions. And, the rushing game was non-existent. The Cowboys gave the ball to a running back nine times in the entire game, twice in the second half. They had a total of 35 yards rushing.
The defense played solid at times, but ultimately gave up far too many big plays to Griffin. Sitting two games behind the Giants for the division lead and losing tie-breakers to Seattle and Chicago for the wild card, the Cowboys’ only hope may be that DeMarco Murray’s eventual return can spark them with just enough momentum to stay in the running for the playoffs.
IRVING, Texas – Some eight years ago we all received this Football 401 lecture from Professor Bill, at least giving some of us credit for having passed the lower level courses after all these years.
During his four-year reign as head coach of the Dallas Cowboys, Bill Parcells’ teams would get off to 5-2, 3-4, 4-3 and 4-3 starts, causing most everyone to eagerly want to know in each of those seasons if the Cowboys were a playoff-caliber team.
And each year Parcells would deliver the same lecture, cautioning over premature speculation, insisting a seven-game body of work lacked sufficient evidence.
Then, right on cue, as if some sort of edict coming down from on high scribbled on stone tablets, he would bark, “Check with me after Thanksgiving. By then you are what you are.”
Well, in this 2012-2013 season of NFL football, the 53rd for your Dallas Cowboys, Black Friday had more to do with the deafening silence following Thursday’s colossal failure than anything to do with gigantic sales.
And if we are to be black and white, though seasons are always loaded with pastels, here is what the Cowboys are:
- Tied with the Washington Redskins for second place in the NFC East.
- 1.5 games behind the division-leading New York Giants, who must play the 7-3 Green Bay Packers tonight, trying with all of their might to break a two-game losing streak that only Dez Bryant’s fingertips prevented from being three.
- Possibly just one game behind the Giants in the East if the Packers should win, or two games back with five games remaining if the Giants prevail.
- And once again facing a must-win situation next Sunday night at Cowboys Stadium against the Philadelphia Eagles, the second time in one month they have plummeted into this same pickle against the very same team.
Soooo, Prof. Bill, with 69 percent of the precincts reporting this day after the Thanksgiving line of demarcation in the 16-game schedule, your Dallas Cowboys indeed are who their record says they are:
A maddeningly inconsistent team. One capable of winning two of the first three games, losing four of the next five games, winning consecutive games for the first time since last November and then laying a big fat egg to the 4-6 Redskins with 90,000 crowded into Cowboys Stadium thoroughly convinced the team would stretch their all-time record over their hated rivals on Thanksgiving Day to 7-0.
Instead, in a historically dastardly performance, the Cowboys get skinned alive by Texas’ prodigal son, RGIII (and with his holiday performance on national television there really is no need any longer to make reference to the former Baylor quarterback’s lengthy legal name).
Redskins 38, Cowboys 31, the final score only putting gobs of mascara on ugly, simply highlighting a season seemingly on this loop of constantly going up the down staircase, eliciting this equally ugly word mediocre.
In short, a team steaming toward a .500 finish, certainly no barometer for a division title or playoff invitation. Even Mr. Optimistic, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones now understands the score.
“All I can do is sit here and look at the numbers,” Jones said, understandably down in the dumps following the third home loss in five games. “I can’t enthusiastically talk about our odds because I don’t know what New York’s going to do.
“It looks like our best opportunity would be to end up with the best record in the NFC East. I don’t know if 8-8 will get it there or not, and I sure don’t know if we’re going to be 8-8. I’m not trying to be negative, but we’ve got to play these guys again.”
Jerry had just witnessed what, by all odds, figured to be a joyous Thanksgiving Day. The Cowboys and The Salvation Army kicking off the annual Red Kettle Campaign with a Kenny Chesney halftime extravaganza. Their own drive toward first place in the NFC East by winning their third straight game.
Instead, halftime nearing to a merciful close, you could note:
In fact, embarrassing – embarrassing on offense and especially on defense.
There have been two Cowboys turnovers already, a lost fumble and an interception.
There have been three RGIII touchdown passes, and four total Washington touchdowns against a defense so lost in coverage I wonder if these guys will ever find the locker room at halftime. And time running out is the only reason this Washington second-quarter blitz will ever cease.
Thanksgiving? Bad for Kenny Chesney having to play the halftime show before a less than appreciative crowd …
What else would you have said after witnessing the absolute worst quarter of football in the Cowboys’ 53-season history? That’s right, absolute worst.
Only twice previously had the Cowboys given up as many as 28 points in a single quarter as they did in this second frame against the Redskins. But at least in those horrendous quarters the Cowboys actually scored some points of their own.
But on this Turkey Day, the Cowboys were shut out, those aforementioned self-inflicted wounds – two turnovers, hastening the laying of this goose egg. That’s right beaten 28-0 … in one quarter.
The last time the Cowboys gave up 28 points in a second quarter, going on to a deflating 45-7 loss in Green Bay, the defensive coordinator who happened to be the head coach was fired two days later, Jason Garrett then becoming the interim head coach as Wade Phillips unceremoniously cleared out his office.
So hail to the second half, the Cowboys picking themselves up from under the carpet to outscore the Redskins 25-10, regaining some self-respect and scoring enough points with this show of heart and fight to provoke what remained of this home-game crowd onto its feet after they drew within seven twice, first at 35-28 with 8:18 to go and then again at 38-31 with a mere 18 seconds left.
But the NFL does not accept brownie points, the Cowboys now playing the part of Jack in the Beanstalk chasing their own Giants with five games remaining and the resurgent Redskins an overly-stuff backpack on their shoulders.
“We got a long way to go and a short time to do it,” tight end Jason Witten said. “We have the right guys to do it. I think Tony did a phenomenal job keeping things alive. Dez has really come on and become a special elite player. Not only the big plays but the underneath throws as well.
“But all that means nothing if we’re not winning. It’s that time. We have to start doing it. We have to start playing well early in games so you can stay within the game plan. You can’t play football and try to win in those situations.”
Now worse than all that, winning in the NFL is even far more challenging when finishing a game, as the Cowboys did Thursday, missing 12 of your opening day starters. That’s half if you count nickel back Orlando Scandrick and punter Chris Jones. The list is exhausting: All three starting defensive linemen; both starting inside linebackers; one starting and the third wide receiver; top two centers; starting left offensive tackle; starting running back with the backup playing on two bad knees; starting safety with the backup playing on a bad hip that kept him out of practice all week, and even his backup missing practice because of concussion-like symptoms.
There was a point in the second half I thought I was watching the third quarter of the second preseason game: Lance Dunbar running; Romo throwing to the likes of Dwayne Harris, Cole Beasley and Andre Holmes; Jermey Parnell at left tackle, Derrick Dockery at right guard and emergency center Mackenzy Bernadeau with his hand on the ball; backups Marcus Spears, Josh Brent and Tyrone Crawford the defensive front backed by Dan Connor and Ernie “Off My Couch” Sims at inside linebacker; with Mike Jenkins playing slot corner for the first time and equally off-the-couch Charlie Peprah at one of the safety spots.
This is no excuse, but certainly reasonable fact, especially now in no-man’s land with the status of Bruce Carter (needing surgery for dislocated elbow), Orlando Scandrick (surgery already for spiral fracture of a hand bone), Jason Hatcher (dinged), Miles Austin (hip strain), Jay Ratliff (groin), DeMarco Murray (sprained foot – still), Tyron Smith (ankle), Phil Costa (ankle), Ryan Cook(knee), Sean Lissemore (ankle) and Kevin Ogletree (concussion).
Sure the Cowboys have a lot to fix and not much time to do it, but as Danny McCray said after the game with a wry smile, having played for the first time in his career without having practiced because of injury and knowing the extent of the team’s injury predicament, “That’s one thing you can’t say we can get fixed.”
Just play on. Then see if you are more in the end as the Giants were last year than who you are the day after Thanksgiving 11/16ths pole.
Or is this really as good as it gets, right Bill?
Don’t look now, but after the New York Giants’ 31-13 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals Sunday afternoon and the Dallas Cowboys’ 38-23 win over the Philadelphia Eagles on the road, the NFC East might not be decided just yet.
Here are the current NFC East standings, through Week 10. The Giants hold a 1.5-game lead over the Cowboys:
Here’s a look at the remaining schedules for each team. Notice the Cowboys’ schedule is loaded with home games and non-playoff contenders. The Giants have two fewer home games left and play the majority of their remaining games against contenders.
Cowboys remaining schedule
Week 11: vs. Cleveland
Week 12: vs. Washington (Thanksgiving)
Week 13: vs. Philadelphia (Sunday Night Football)
Week 14: AT Cincinnati
Week 15: vs. Pittsburgh
Week 16: vs. New Orleans
Week 17: AT Washington
Eagles remaining schedule
Week 11: BYE
Week 12: vs. Green Bay (Sunday Night Football)
Week 13: AT Washington (Monday Night Football)
Week 14: vs. New Orleans
Week 15: AT Atlanta
Week 16: AT Baltimore
Week 17: vs. Philadelphia
Editors Note: I think this post is a little premature. Sunday’s win over Philly was huge! Yes, the Dallas Cowboys are still in the hunt … but, there is a LOT of football left to be played.
First, the Cowboys need to take care of business vs. Cleveland Browns and the remaining opponents. Nothing should be taken for granted. Garrett’s conservative style keeps these games close.
Secondly, player health has been an issue all season. The 46-man roaster has changed every week. For Dallas to have a shot, they’ll have to remain reasonably healthy or backup/role players will need to step up. The Cowboys will need Murray and the offensive line to stay healthy while they get in sync as a unit.
Third, no team plays the Dallas Cowboys like they are non-playoff contenders. Teams play-up to the talent when they face the Cowboys. Cowboys Stadium creates a “Super Bowl” atmosphere for visiting teams … and they respond. The new car smell is gone for most of the players, but for visiting teams that come into town once a year (or on the four year scheduling cycle) … it’s a spectacle! Teams are already hyped. The stadium adds to the adrenaline factor. The Cowboys must learn to feed off of that energy.
It’s good to know that they’re still alive in the playoff race. I think we should be cautiously optimistic. There are six divisional games left. All four teams are fighting for that top spot. It’s not going to be given to Dallas, the Cowboys will have to take it. Comments welcome.
Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said he likes the idea of playing defense on the road first. For the last three road games, he Cowboys have won the toss and deferred their choice to the second half.
“We feel like there are a lot of statistics that suggest it’s easier to play defense early in games on the road,” Garrett said at his Friday press conference at Valley Ranch. “There are a few other factors that add to this that I don’t want to get into. But we feel like when certain conditions are right, deferring is a better choice for us. A lot of it has to do with being on the road in that kind of environment.”
The Cowboys deferred their choice at Baltimore, Carolina and Atlanta. Baltimore drove 60 yards for a field goal on its opening drive, but Carolina and Atlanta each went three-and-out on the opening drive.
The one time this year the Cowboys won the toss and took the ball on the road, Felix Jones fumbled the kickoff at Seattle.
Other teams might have the same philosophy about opening on defense on the road.
Tampa Bay and Chicago both won the toss at Cowboys Stadium and deferred. The Buccaneers got an interception on the third play. The Bears gave up three first downs but forced a punt.
Two weeks ago at Cowboys Stadium, the New York Giants won the toss, took the ball and drove for a field goal.
SOURCE: Jason Garrett Press Conference 11/09/2012
Jason Garrett closes out the week from Valley Ranch as the Dallas Cowboys wrap up their final day of preparation for the Philadelphia Eagles.
ATLANTA – Yes, this team has all kinds of issues, and for the most part, they revolve around a lack of consistency. One week the receivers are making big plays, and the next they come up empty.
The running backs have been hit, but mostly miss this year, and the quarterback, yeah, we all know how up and down Tony Romo has been.
But aside from one game in Baltimore, the one thing that has been rather consistent has been this offensive line. And that’s not really a compliment. The offensive line has consistently struggled, and it was never more evident than Sunday night against the Falcons.
And it was across the board like always. Nate Livings and Ryan Cook had all sorts of problems getting their blocks, while Tyron Smith struggled on the outside. Mackenzy Bernadeau and Doug Free weren’t exactly dominant, but at least held their own.
But none of them were without problems.
Pick your play. Pick your key moment in the game and I’m sure the offensive line had something to do with it.
This team had its moments to make plays, but like always, kept shooting themselves in the foot – or better yet, missing a block on the outside, grabbing a lineman for holding or simply not having enough push up the middle.
Sure, this team misses DeMarco Murray as the running back. He’s the best one they’ve got and he’s been hurt. But the Cowboys have now used four different backs this year at various times and nothing really seems to be working.
Against the Falcons, the Cowboys’ lack of a consistent running game ended up hurting them in the end.
Last week, we thought the Cowboys lost the game in the first half when they got down, 23-0. Yet, they found a way to claw back and take the lead before eventually losing by five points in the final minutes.
This week, although the game was tied in the fourth quarter, the Cowboys arguably lost this game in the first quarter once again. Two chances to score inside the Falcons’ 20 and both times they settled for field goals.
Again, there were plenty of problems to go around, but I think it all starts up front with the line.
Too many times in this game the Cowboys had moments in which they simply needed to run the ball and pick up necessary yards, and they couldn’t convert. It happened early in the game on those scoring drives and then again before halftime with a third-and-1 at midfield.
But honestly, I can’t understand why this team continues to try to go big-on-big in short-yardage situations after constantly failing at it.
It happened several times against the Giants last week and it occurred yet again Sunday night in Atlanta.
When it’s third-and-1, why in the world do they continue to go with a jumbo package of three tight ends and a fullback? It basically draws all 22 players into the center of the field. There’s really no trickery or misdirection here.
It’s basically my guy vs. your guy and let’s see who wins. Well, how many times do we need to see it? The Cowboys had five total rushing touchdowns last year. They’ve got four already this year, but that’s not exactly a high number.
It all starts with the line up front and they just don’t get the push.
On the first drive of the game, the Cowboys get down to a first-and-goal from the 10. Now that’s always a tough place to punch it in, but on second-and-goal from the 6, they need more than a 1-yard run from Felix Jones. He was stuffed at the line of scrimmage, setting up a passing situation on third down that resulted in a field goal.
The biggest rushing miscue was right before the half when they had third-and-1 at midfield with a 6-3 lead. That’s the only time in the game they went with Phillip Tanner, and he was stopped at the line of scrimmage for no gain.
If you’re trying to be aggressive, it’s a spot on the field you at least consider going for it. You have a chance to go up 9-3, or even 13-3, and all you need is a yard. But other than letting Tony Romo go out and try to draw the defense offside, there was no real thought in going for it.
That’s how much the line is struggling. They don’t really trust them to get a yard.
And it’s not just in the running game. Romo didn’t have much time to throw all night. He was often rolling out, scrambling left and right and trying to make throws on the run.
Even in the final play from scrimmage, Romo couldn’t even get enough time to throw a Hail Mary to the end zone – instead having to dump it off to Felix Jones for a meaningless 39-yard pass in which he decided to get tackled and end the game. (Looking back on the coach’s film, Jones might have had something working if he had seen Jason Witten and Kevin Ogletree all alone on the right side of the field, although it would’ve taken quite a throw across the field from a running back).
But let’s not forget about the fact Romo didn’t even have time to set his feet and throw it to the end zone.
It’s not like the Falcons are a menacing, relentless defense that can’t be stopped. Yet the Cowboys simply couldn’t get them blocked Sunday night.
You can’t run it or throw it consistently when you can’t block them. And you can’t sustain much, especially when it gets tight in the red zone.
Add it all up and you can’t win. This team has all kinds of problem areas, but offensive line has been the No. 1 issue for this team, and it was on full display Sunday in Atlanta.
During Sunday’s 29-24 loss to the New York Giants, the Cowboys might have played their best and worst offensive football of the season.
After three Tony Romo interceptions turned into a 23-0 New York Giants lead at Cowboys Stadium, the Cowboys rallied to pull ahead 24-23 with 3:43 left in the third quarter.
Between early in the second quarter and late in the third, the Cowboys scored on four-of-five possessions. The only possession that did not end with a score came with 13 seconds remaining before halftime and Romo kneeled out the clock.
We’ve questioned Garrett’s end-game play calling already this week – not running the ball to pick up a first down against a six-man box – and he said in his press conference Thursday the Cowboys‘ offense will probably be more balanced in the coming weeks.
According to Romo, he was pleased with the type of offense that Jason Garrett called to get Dallas back in the game.
“We really did a lot of things that I liked,” Romo said Wednesday on a conference call with media members in Atlanta. “I’m pushing coach to kind of get the offense more in that mode a little bit, which is nice. But styles make fights sometimes so we’ll look at different opponents and see different things.”
So, what did Romo like?
During those four drives, Romo was 17-of-23 passing for 252 yards and a touchdown. He also added a one-yard rushing score.
Of Romo’s 23 throws, he targeted Jason Witten 10 times and Miles Austin seven times. Dez Bryant had three passes thrown in his direction, John Phillips had two and James Hanna had one. With the Cowboys attempting to battle back from a four-score deficit, they only ran seven times on those four possessions, which included a Felix Jones four-yard touchdown.
Of Romo’s 17 completions, seven went for gains of 14 or more yards. Of his six incomplete passes, four came on deep throws.
If Garrett follows a similar gameplan Sunday night in Atlanta, Witten and Austin should be prepared to catch a lot of passes.
However, judging by what Garrett said Thursday, expect the Cowboys to be much more balanced than they were during those four drives.
“I just think we were efficient throwing the football,” Garrett said. “Obviously, Tony as the quarterback, appreciates that. We were able to throw the ball a lot of different ways against them and throw it to different guys and move the ball pretty consistently throughout the ballgame.
“But, at the same time, we got to be able to run the ball. We have to run the ball better than we did the other day and be a more balanced offense. We’ll continue to strive to do that well.”
Editors Note: Kevin Patra of NFL.com contributed to this post.