Kyle Bosworth had been practicing with the offense in short-yardage and goal-line situations for a few weeks, but it wasn’t until Sunday that he got to play on that side of the ball. Bosworth, who makes his living as a linebacker, got to play three snaps at fullback against the Washington Redskins.
It’s the first time the Plano West graduate has been on offense since high school.
“It was a great experience,” Bosworth said. “It’s been a long time since I’ve played fullback. I know they want me to be versatile and as a utility player as possible. It was just the next step in the process. It was really exciting I got the three plays.”
The Cowboys lack a true fullback on their roster after cutting Lawrence Vickers in the off-season. Bosworth is a perfect fit in the team’s jumbo package, which also utilizes an extra offensive tackle in Jermey Parnell.
“I think we had three short-yardage plays in the game, and he did a good job,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said of Bosworth. “He’s learning. He hasn’t really done it before. But I thought one was particularly good. I thought a couple of other runs were OK. I think he’s just learning how to do it. He’s not afraid to stick his nose in there. We know that. That’s a positive thing.”
The Cowboys converted on all three plays Bosworth played. DeMarco Murray had a 1-yard run on third-and-one on the fourth snap of the game. On the Cowboys’ second drive, Murray followed Bosworth into the hole for a 2-yard gain on third-and-one. Then, on their third drive, Phillip Tanner gained 2 yards on a third-and-1 behind Bosworth.
“I was pleased with the second and third [plays],” Bosworth said. “The first one could have been better. But I was 3-for-3 in getting the first downs, so that’s good.”
Bosworth laughed when asked if he’d start lobbying to get a pass thrown his way.
“Man, I have great hands,” he said. “I know coach throws me a lot of balls when we’re in scout team and stuff like that, and I haven’t dropped one yet. Knock on wood. But progression. I hope that comes, because that would be just unbelievable. But in time. I’m good with blocking right now.”
Bosworth played three plays on offense, 19 on special teams and none on defense against the Redskins.
ARLINGTON, Texas – As his defense continues to force turnovers, Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett has to hope he got his message across about committing them.
Garrett created one of the dominant storylines of Saturday nights’ 24-18 win against Cincinnati when he benched running back DeMarco Murray for fumbling during the Cowboys’ second possession of the night.
“We took DeMarco out in the first half because he put the ball down,” Garrett said. “So we gave Phillip Tanner the chance to play with the ones in the first half.”
It was a nightmare start for Murray, who was slated to see his biggest chunk of playing time this preseason. He had three carries for just five yards when he lost a fumble – which was eventually recovered by right tackle Jermey Parnell – in the first quarter.
When Murray was yanked for Tanner, he had just four carries for six yards.
“I don’t know why De Mo got benched, you know, but we’re a real close family. So when they said another guy go in, that’s what I was going to do,” Tanner said. “De Mo is really supportive, you know, he’s my guy. Everything that I was able to do out there tonight I give all credit to him.”
Murray didn’t speak to reporters, so it’s uncertain to know how he felt as Tanner rumbled for 39 yards on 14 carries to finish out the first half. But whatever his opinion was on the benching, he put it into a torrid third quarter.
Murray lined up behind second-string quarterback Kyle Orton and the starting offensive line after halftime, and he quickly atoned for his problems. He carried eight times on the opening drive of the third quarter, including four in a row to start the possession, tallying 45 yards.
He capped off his return when he evaded three different tacklers en route to a seven-yard touchdown reception from Orton.
“There is no question that we had a little in-house resolve about what we would do if we should turn the ball over, and I think he came back with that resolve,” said Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones. “I still think he had an attitude after he finished that third quarter. I think he still had an attitude when he hid over there, but I think Jason’s making a point.”
Tanner wasn’t the only one who wasn’t sure why Murray left the field. Wide receiver Dez Bryant didn’t know until after the game why Murray had been replaced, but he wasn’t surprised at the response.
“DeMarco is a great back, and he always has that chip on his shoulder. That’s what makes him who he is,” he said.
Murray finished the night with 12 carries for 51 yards – the best average on the team – and two receptions for 14 yards and the touchdown.
It appears as though the message was received, much to Garrett’s satisfaction.
“I thought he did a good job. He’s a pro, and he’s a damn good football player,” Garrett said. “You can’t let not taking care of the football when you’re a running back diminish you as a player. And he’s just not going to do that – he’s not going to put the ball on the ground. I thought he responded well to it.”
Dallas Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones talks to the media following the 2013 Cowboys preseason win over the Bengals. (Duration – 3:45)
- Thoughts and planned strategy regarding the preseason Special Teams units
- Parnell/Free right tackle experiment
- DeMarco Murray benching by Jason Garrett
- Tanner’s effort and inspirational value to other backs
- Randle cuts and instincts
- Postgame interview ends, short.
POSTGAME VIDEO HIGHLIGHTS – Cincinnati Bengals vs. Dallas Cowboys
Video | No Audio
Phillip Tanner looks like a new man. He feels like one, too.
The Dallas Cowboys running back lost 10 pounds in the offseason, down to 210. He credits his weight loss to better eating and different workouts.
“The coaches see the difference,” Tanner said Tuesday. “Coach [Bill] Callahan messaged me in the offseason and said, ‘I thought about putting you at fullback last year,’ joking around because I was so big. It really has helped me, and I appreciate all the hard work I put in during the offseason.”
Tanner played in 14 games last season but carried the ball only 25 times for 61 yards with four catches for 41 yards. He had expected his second season in the league to be more productive, especially considering DeMarco Murray missed six games and Felix Jones was non-productive.
“There were a lot of times last year where I would see it, but I wasn’t able to get there as fast I wanted to,” Tanner said. “In the NFL, holes are only open for so long. So it was kind of hindering me from that. My goal this offseason was just to get leaner, faster and quicker and play at a certain weight.”
He is as light as he has been since his sophomore season in college. It has him playing faster. He outran Bruce Carter in an 11-on-11 drill Monday, something he admits he probably wouldn’t have done last year.
Tanner’s eating habits changed in the offseason. At Chili’s, his favorite restaurant, he chose the salmon and broccoli. At Wendy’s, it was a grilled chicken salad and a baked potato. He was allowed two cheat meals per week, with Wingstop and Dominos the favored stops. Snacks became granola bars instead of candy.
It has turned him into a lean running back ready to compete not only for a job but for playing time.
“We come out, and we compete against each other every day,” Tanner said of the running backs, “and it just makes the team better.”
IRVING – Dallas Cowboys running backs coach Gary Brown likes the players he’s tutoring.
“They are mature guys,” Brown said of lead horse DeMarco Murray, backups Phillip Tanner and Lance Dunbar and fifth-round pick Joseph Randle, who signed a four-year deal worth more than $2 million Monday. “They are guys who want to win, work hard and be the best they can possibly be.’
But being a fan of his backs doesn’t necessarily mean Brown is on the same page with them when it comes to their running styles. For instance, he and Murray differ over the controversial crown-of-helmet rule the NFL Competition Committee passed in March.
The new rule, designed to make the game safer, penalizes players for lowering the crown of their helmet outside the tackle box.
Murray last week became the latest NFL tailback to express his disappointment with the rule, following the lead of such standouts as Adrian Peterson, Trent Richardson, Ray Rice and Matt Forte, who called it “absurd.”
Speaking to reporters at a charity event, Murray said he has no plans to tone down his aggressive style, which includes strong finishing kicks and, yes, an occasional lowered helmet. “I’m not changing my running style,” Murray said. “If I get fined, hopefully (Tony) Romo will take care of the first couple for me. I’m doing it for him.”
While Romo’s six-year, $108 million contract extension gives him the funds to cover his teammates’ fines for the rest of their careers, Brown is hopeful the quarterback won’t have to dig into his pockets to bail out Murray.
Asked about Murray’s penchant for seeking contact, Brown said last week, “I noticed that. I’ve seen that. We’ve talked about it. We are going to have a plan to try to get better than that. He’s explosive enough that he can freeze people’s feet and get away from them and do the things he needs to do to gain more yards.
“With he and I working together to get him better, it should be a great thing.”
Brown, a former Houston Oilers running back who joined Dallas after it fired Skip Peete in January, actually likes the rule and thinks it will benefit Murray.
“What is going to happen is he’s going to be better because he will be able to see,” Brown said. “He will have to keep his eyes up, his head up.”
But it’s the safety aspect of the rule Brown likes best.
“We want them to be safe,” he said. “We want them after their careers are done to be able to play with their children and things like that. So it is a bigger picture. It’s for their future.”
Injuries have been an issue for the 6-foot, 215-pound Murray ever since Dallas drafted him in the third round in 2011. The Oklahoma-ex missed three games his rookie year and six in 2012 but still managed to lead the club in rushing both seasons (897 yards in 2011, 663 in 2012).
While Brown said he’s powerless to prevent the ankle and foot issues that have plagued Murray, he’s certain the new rule will help prevent catastrophic injuries.
“If you keep your head up, you can see what’s going on,” Brown said. “If you drop your head…you are going to break your neck eventually. “It’s a good thing. You can still stay low and keep your head up. That’s what the thing was when (the rule) first came out, ‘Oh, running backs aren’t going to be able to protect themselves.’ Well, that’s not true. We are always going to run low to the ground. We’re just going to keep our heads up.”
Dallas Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett suggested the club must walk a fine line when tinkering with Murray’s style.
“One of the things we like about him is he finishes runs,” Garrett said of Murray. “You think it might be blocked for three or four yards and he makes five or six because of how he finishes.
“You don’t want to lose that. At the same time, you want to make guys miss. You want to make longer runs and, at the end of runs, not be so susceptible to contact. But, again, you don’t want to lose that finish trait we like about him.”
RELATED: Coach Brown’s thoughts on drafted backs, new blocking scheme
IRVING – With 1,265 rushing yards last season, the Cowboys ranked next to last in the NFL and established a franchise low for a 16-game season. New running backs coach Gary Brown, though, is optimistic there will be improvement this season with a healthier DeMarco Murray, the addition of fifth-round pick Joseph Randle and some new blocking schemes.
Murray has missed nine games due to injuries the last two seasons, so Brown has his fingers crossed that the Oklahoma-ex in 2013 will finally put in a full season.
“There’s nothing a coach can do (to prevent injury),” Brown said. “You can just coach him hard and try to encourage him and try to just make sure he’s doing the right thing to take care of his body because of lot of those injuries are freak things. Nothing we can do about it. He just has to be blessed with a 16-game season and, hopefully, that will happen.”
Brown is a big fan of Randle, who was limited at rookie minicamp because of a cast to protect his injured thumb.
“I think he is a great player,” Brown said of Randle, an Oklahoma State-ex. “We are happy to have him. Just happy he was there for us, and he’s going to fit in real well.”
Asked why Randle slid to the fifth round, Brown said, “It’s a lottery. I don’t know why. (Former Denver running back) Terrell Davis slipped to the sixth and he had a 2,000 yard season. You don’t know why (Houston star) Arian Foster never got drafted. Things just happen. This whole draft thing, it ain’t a perfect science. We make mistakes, so that’s what it is.”
Speaking of Houston, the Cowboys plan to take a page out of the Texans’ playbook and run more zone blocking schemes. “We feel like we have players that can run it, blocking that can do it, so we are going to emphasize it and get better at it,” Brown said.
ARLINGTON, Texas – Think about the 83 yards Dallas Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray gained. The four catches for 19 yards also mattered.
So does the touchdown he scored.
Beyond that, Murray’s impact is bigger than any stat you want to discuss after the Dallas Cowboys beat the Philadelphia Eagles, 38-33, on Sunday night.
He gives the Cowboys a toughness and a physical mentality they lack when he’s not in the lineup.
Murray is the reason Tony Romo had his best game, passing for 303 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions. Murray is the reason Jason Garrett didn’t abandon the run with the Cowboys trailing by a touchdown at halftime like he usually does.
He’s the reason offensive line coach Bill Callahan was laughing and joking with all of his starters after the game. And he’s the reason why more than one lineman talked about Garrett’s commitment to running the ball the entire game.
Murray missed the past six games with a sprained foot, and that’s the biggest reason the Cowboys entered the game ranked last in the NFL in rushing (78.7 yards) and attempts (22.0). They ranked 31st in average per carry (3.55) and hadn’t had a run of more than 20 yards in 166 carries.
Just so you know, they also ranked last in first-down rushing (3.45), which meant Romo and Garrett usually found themselves in second-and-long.
Here’s the deal: No team can consistently win — even in today’s NFL — throwing the ball 68 percent of the time, which is what the Cowboys did in their first 11 games.
The six-game absence was also difficult for Murray, who watched the Cowboys lose three of six games without him.
"I thought I was going to play against Washington, but it was a short week and the training staff just wanted to be careful," Murray said.
Against the Eagles, the Cowboys ran 33 times and passed 27 times. It’s the first time Garrett has called more runs than passes since the Cowboys ran the ball 42 times for 227 yards against Baltimore, when Murray hurt his foot.
"I knew once I got out there, I wasn’t going to want to come out," Murray said. "To be honest, I wasn’t expecting to get that much work. I was telling Coach, ‘Hey, I’m going to come a little bit to make sure my foot is ready and right.’
"Once I got out there and adrenaline started rushing, I felt good. It’s not there where I’m 100 percent. There were a couple times it got tweaked and I definitely felt it, but after a few minutes it goes away.
Murray ripped off a 14-yard run on his first carry, and Philadelphia never really slowed him down enough to discourage Garrett from giving him the ball. Murray had only 35 yards on nine carries in the first half.
But Murray gave Garrett every incentive to keep giving him the ball on the first possession of the third quarter.
With Dallas trailing 17-10, Murray gained 13 yards on the quarter’s first play.
On third-and-1 from the Dallas 42, Murray bounced an inside run around the right end and gained 27 yards yards to the Philadelphia 31. It was only the Cowboys’ fourth run of more than 20 yards this season.
Three plays later, Dez Bryant’s 23-yard catch-and-run tied the score at 17-17.
"I was off a little bit," Murray said. "There were some runs I felt good and some I knew I had been out for six weeks."
Murray’s presence was enough.
Miles Austin scored on a 27-yard touchdown pass set up by a run-fake to Murray. Jason Witten had six catches for 108 yards and his first two catches of more than 20 yards in four games. Bryant had 98 yards receiving and two touchdowns.
Murray created all of that. Every bit.
That’s the kind of balance Garrett wants on offense. Now, he just needs Murray on the field for the last four games.
DALLAS — Jason Witten shows up at the Salvation Army every year to serve an early Thanksgiving lunch. On Tuesday, he brought his buddy with him.
Quarterback Tony Romo was one of the 12 Cowboys veterans who worked the food line and brought plates out to the clients at the Salvation Army’s Collins Social Services Center in Dallas. It’s part of the kickoff to the team’s annual Thanksgiving holiday drive for the charity.
In Fort Worth, another group of players and cheerleaders served a Thanksgiving lunch to Salvation Army residents there.
Romo doesn’t make a lot of public appearances, so it was a treat for the lunchtime crowd and the hosts. The Salvation Army staffer who introduced him — a Cowboys fan since she was 10 years old despite growing up in Washington, D.C. — couldn’t resist calling him over and saying, to cheers, "This is the first time I’ve met Tony Romo. I’m standing by Tony Romo!"
Witten got a grin out of it.
"He does a good job of seeing those fans, and obviously, they have words of encouragement or, sometimes, advice — for all of us, and especially the quarterback," Witten said, drawing a laugh.
Parenthood, said Witten, has affected Romo’s outlook.
"Being a father himself and a family guy, it does provide a perspective," he said. "It’s unbelievable how good his motives are. He just wants to spend time with them and stay away from all the other stuff. That’s what it’s all about, to come here and get the impact, more than anything else."
Romo stayed in the kitchen for the most part, but he took charge there, too. He put Miles Austin on dressing, put himself on rolls.
"He was on the rolls, but you know what? It was a little hot back there," Witten said. "He did provide some entertainment for the staff. Those are stories those people will be able to tell for a long time, getting to work with Tony in the back. He didn’t quite have it mastered like they did."
Other players who participated included DeMarcus Ware, Miles Austin, DeMarco Murray, Phillip Tanner, Kyle Orton, Robert Calloway, Derrick Dockery, Eric Frampton, Orlando Scandrick and Brandon Carr.
Murray, who has missed four games with a sprained foot, said it lifted his spirits to do his part.
"Getting away from everything that deals with football, enjoying life, giving back, being around people who really don’t see football, it was nice to come out here and give," he said.
Sherby Nixon shows rookie Cowboys linebacker Kyle Wilber, left, and running back Lance Dunbar how to prepare a thanksgiving lunch plate.
Related: Dallas Cowboys get, give good vibes at annual Salvation Army meal
DALLAS – The Cowboys have a couple of Thanksgiving traditions: Playing football on Turkey Day and serving meals to the less fortunate earlier in the month.
Tuesday was the day for the latter tradition.
The Cowboys manned two Salvation Army locations, with the rookies serving meals in Fort Worth and a group of veterans serving meals in Dallas.
“Every time you do it, you’re in the middle of the season and the grind and coming here provides a little perspective,” said Jason Witten, who has been part of the event in each of his 10 seasons. “You’re on somewhat of a platform. You have to say, hey, I’m going to give back to some of the people that look up to you. That’s what being a role model is all about, providing perspective and hopefully encourage them in some way.”
It’s not just about serving meals. The Cowboys sign autographs and interact with people who generally need some good vibes.
“It’s good just to come out here and just give back,” running back DeMarco Murray said. “You always have a soft place in your heart for them. Growing up, you always tried to pray for them and do the right things by them, no matter if it’s bringing them over for a meal, just saying hi or talking to them. Doing anything you can possibly do to make them feel better is what counts.”
Added outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware: “You’ve got to count your blessings. Being a role model for the Dallas Cowboys and having some positivity come into the Salvation Army always feels good.”
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.
ATLANTA — The season is now in jeopardy for the Dallas Cowboys.
They came here trying to knock off the undefeated Atlanta Falcons but failed, 19-13, at the Georgia Dome on Sunday night. The Cowboys have now lost eight consecutive games on Sunday night and are 3-5 overall at the halfway point of the season. The Falcons improved to a perfect 8-0.
What it means: The Cowboys are two games under .500 and most likely will have to win seven of the next eight to get into the playoffs. If the Cowboys win six of the next eight, they might need some help to reach the postseason.
Scandrick with some gaffes: Slot cornerback Orlando Scandrick struggled in the fourth quarter against the Falcons. He missed a tackle on a 31-yard run play by Michael Turner on a third-and-6, then was flagged for defensive holding on a third-and-8 play against Roddy White. Both plays extended the last drive of the night for the Falcons. It’s these kinds of plays that Scandrick has to make, especially with the game on the line.
Running back rotation: Felix Jones started, but Lance Dunbar (North Texas) got a majority of the snaps as the backup instead of Phillip Tanner. For the game, the Cowboys rushed for 65 yards on 18 carries. Jones had 39 yards on nine carries and Dunbar, on eight carries, picked up 26 yards. It’s clear the Cowboys miss starting running back DeMarco Murray, who was out with a sprained foot. His return for the Philadelphia Eagles game next week is a possibility.
Witten makes Cowboys history: Coming into the game, tight end Jason Witten needed three catches to tie Michael Irvin as the franchise’s all-time leader in receptions. Witten finished with seven catches for 51 yards. But once again, he had no touchdowns.
No Bryant in second half: Dez Bryant started despite a sore hip and finished with one catch for 15 yards, none in the second half. Quarterback Tony Romo didn’t target him in the second half. Instead, Miles Austin and Kevin Ogletree were the main targets, along with Witten.
Ratliff plays hurt: Nose tackle Jay Ratliff hurt his left ankle late in the first half. While he didn’t start the second half, he played through the injury. There were no other major injuries for the Cowboys.
Who’s next? The Cowboys finish their toughest stretch of the season (four of five on the road) with a trip to see the Eagles on Sunday.
IRVING, Texas – The Atlanta Falcons are the only undefeated team left in the NFL. But don’t think that makes them unbeatable. In fact, of their seven wins, only one has come against a team (Broncos 4-3) that currently has a winning record.
There was also a three-week stretch in which the Falcons narrowly won games against less than stellar teams.
In week four, the Falcons beat the Carolina Panthers 30-28 on a last second field goal.
In week five, the Falcons beat the Washington Redskins (who played the end of the game without Robert Griffin III) 24-17.
In week six, the Falcons beat the Oakland Raiders 23-20 at home.
A win is a win in the National Football League, so the point is not to fault the Falcons, but to look to these three games for a formula to beat Atlanta. And after taking a second look at all three games the verdict might not bode well for the Cowboys.
These three teams had success against the Falcons by effectively running the ball.
The Cowboys’ offense looked great against the Giants in the second half as they all but abandoned the run game. Don’t expect that to be the most effective strategy against the Atlanta Flacons.
It’s no secret that the Falcons are a big-play, quick-strike offense. With Tony Gonzalez, Roddy White, and Julio Jones, they have three players that average over 10 yards per carry and they have 13 touchdowns between them. Not to mention that Matt Ryan is playing at an elite level.
Teams’ only sustained success this year against the Falcons has been by running the ball and keeping Ryan and the offense off of the field. The Falcons have the 26th ranked rushing defense in the NFL.
In their loss to the Falcons, the Panthers rushed for 199 yards. Perhaps more importantly, they ran the ball 35 times versus just 25 passing plays. Ryan still played quite efficiently, but Carolina controlled the tempo for most of the game meaning the Falcons’ offense had more pressure to rely on the big plays of their offense (which they happened to get just enough of to win).
Ironically, it was a Panthers fumble in the last moments of the game that forced them to punt it to the Falcons who drove from their own 1-yard line to hit a game-winning field goal.
The Redskins managed to hang with the Falcons despite losing Robert Griffin III in the third quarter to a concussion.
They did so with a game plan that relied heavily on running back Alfred Morris who got 115 yards off of 18 carries. The predictability of Atlanta’s offense was apparent as Matt Ryan threw the ball 52 times in order for the Falcons to reach 24 points. Perhaps with Griffin playing the fourth quarter the Redskins could have continued the success of their ground attack and limited the opportunities for Ryan’s passing plays.
The next week the Oakland Raiders nearly beat the Falcons by dominating the time of possession. The Raiders ran for 149 yards compared to just 45 from the Falcons. The Falcons once again relied on big plays from their wide receivers, but this time it cost them as Ryan threw three interceptions almost costing the Falcons a win.
Like the Panthers and Redskins before them the Raiders played kept a very balanced blend of running and passing the ball. They threw the ball 33 times to go along with 32 running plays. Atlanta made just enough big plays to sneak out a 3-point victory.
What we can take from all of this is relatively obvious; the Falcons rely heavily on the expectation that their receiving threats (mainly Gonzalez, Jones and White) will make enough game-changing plays for them to win. Those players are talented enough for that to be a logical strategy. But no matter how talented your players are, such plays are rarely a given. You can’t just expect to convert every time you throw it deep to your Pro-Bowl receiver. But the Falcons take so many shots that they typically convert enough to win games.
These three teams had success against the Falcons by limiting the amount of shots they could take at big plays. In a sense they gambled that when it came down to crunch time they would be able to prevent the big passing plays. Even though they were wrong, they kept themselves in the game until the final moments.
I think that the Falcons have a clear weakness at running back and it has yet to be fully exposed. The Cowboys’ reluctance to run the ball has been well documented as they have only rushed the ball 24.1 times per game. But the Falcons are actually right behind them at 25.1 times per game.
The Cowboys and Falcons have shared many of the same weaknesses and their strengths lie in some of the same places. But considering how effective the Falcons have been this season compared to the Cowboys it might not be wise to go head to head with them on their strengths.
In other words, the Cowboys don’t want to try to get into a shoot out with the Falcons. Both teams have great weapons on offense, but the Falcons have been much more successful taking advantage of their weapons and winning games off of passing situations.
Compared to their 26th ranked rush defense, the Falcons have the 10th ranked passing defense. Their secondary is a big step up from the Giants’ secondary that the Cowboys passed all over in the second half of last Sunday.
There may be little reason to have faith in the performance of Felix Jones (who is not 100 percent), or Phillip Tanner or Lance Dunbar for that matter. But beating the Falcons will likely require a commitment to the running game.
Both teams will likely make big plays in the passing game. But Sunday’s game might come down to who can control the game in between those big plays. If the Cowboys fall behind by a touchdown early in the game, handing the ball off to Felix Jones and controlling the clock might not be the most popular decision, but that type of discipline and faith in the running game could be what it takes to take down a team like Atlanta.
It was not too long ago when the Cowboys went up to northern New Jersey and defeated the New York Giants 24-17. But a lot has changed since that Sept. 5 season opener. The Giants, not the Cowboys, now sit alone atop the NFC East standings. Dallas linebacker Sean Lee is done for the season after suffering ligament damage in his right big toe. And Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray, who rushed for 131 yards in that first meeting with the Giants, is sidelined as he continues to recover from a sprained left foot. The Giants, in totality, are in much better shape than the Cowboys. Here is a look at how both teams match up:
When the Cowboys run
The Cowboys’ rushing attack remains in flux and at this point it’s difficult to project its performance. A week after gaining 227 yards on the ground against Baltimore, the Cowboys managed to collect 85 against Carolina. Of course, tailback DeMarco Murray didn’t play last Sunday and he won’t be available this week as he continues to recover from a sprained left foot. That is a big blow for the Cowboys. Against the Giants in the opener, Murray rushed for a season-high 131 yards – about five more than New York has yielded on average this season. Will Phillip Tanner or Felix Jones, who is nursing a bruised knee, pick up the slack in Murray’s absence?
When the Cowboys pass
Tony Romo’s best performance of the season came in the first game. Romo completed 76 percent of his pass attempts for 307 yards and three touchdowns, posting a 129.5 quarterback rating in the process. Since then, Romo has thrown three more interceptions than touchdown passes. But there is no reason to believe Romo can’t skewer the Giants’ flimsy secondary. New York is allowing 253.3 yards per game through the air, the 12-highest average in the NFL. The question is whether Romo, who has been only sacked once in the past two games, will be able to avoid the Giants’ staunch pass rush.
When the Giants run
The Giants’ running game has improved significantly since last season, when New York was ranked last in yards on the ground. Through seven games, the Giants have produced 116.3 rushing yards per game, the 12th-highest average in the NFL. They have done so while relying on Ahmad Bradshaw, Andre Brown and David Wilson. Yet the Cowboys were able to contain the Giants’ tailbacks in the opener, limiting New York to 82 rushing yards – 23 below the current average they’ve allowed. Of course, linebacker Sean Lee was a big part of that defensive effort. Now he’s out for the season with ligament damage in his right big toe. Will the Giants be able to exploit his absence?
When the Giants pass
The Giants make no secret about their intentions. They will pass the ball, relying on the arm of Eli Manning to power the offense. After Week 7, only three quarterbacks had thrown the ball more times than Manning had. And it’s easy to see why Manning is chucking the ball all over the field. After all he has plenty of targets. Headed by Victor Cruz, who has already made 50 catches, the Giants have six players who have gained more than 100 receiving yards. The Cowboys, who have the third-stingiest pass defense, will try to limit Manning and Co. for the second time this season.
No player this season has attempted more field goals than the Giants’ Lawrence Tynes. He has converted 19 of 21 attempts this season and is part of a special teams unit that includes one of the league’s best directional punters, Steve Weatherford. Weatherford has allowed 5.8 yards per return – the exact average the Cowboys have produced when they have fielded punts. Those modest gains aren’t surprising. Although Dan Bailey has made 92.3 percent of his 13 field-goal attempts, Dallas’ special teams have performed poorly this season.
The Cowboys will have home-field advantage. That should mean something. But in this matchup with the Giants it doesn’t. The Giants have prevailed in all three meetings with their NFC East rivals at Cowboys Stadium. And at this point some wonder if New York feels more comfortable at Jerry World than Dallas does.
For that reason, the Giants have to be brimming with confidence as they invade North Texas seeking revenge for the loss the Cowboys handed them in the season opener.
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GAMEDAY RESOURCES: Dallas Cowboys vs. New York Giants postgame coverage
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IRVING — Because of injuries to others, Dallas Cowboys running back Phillip Tanner has taken plenty of practice snaps this week with the first-team offense.
The second-year back considers himself ready, if needed, to make his first NFL start Sunday against the New York Giants. But the former free agent draws the line at declaring himself comfortable in that role. Or any role in professional football.
"I’m never comfortable. That’s what kills you, when a guy gets comfortable and complacent," said Tanner, who had a career-high 13 carries in last week’s 19-14 victory over Carolina in relief of injured teammates DeMarco Murray (foot) and Felix Jones (knee). "I still come in every day as if I’m a free agent trying to make this team. I study film as if I’ve never seen it before. I take notes as if I’ve never read it before. Just so I can stay on my toes and won’t become complacent …So if I was good at 13 carries, I’ll try to be better at 14. And on and on and on."
That work ethic, coach Jason Garrett said, offers comfort to the Cowboys if Tanner — a third-teamer with 44 career carries for 137 yards — handles most of the workload Sunday against the Giants with Murray out and Jones on the mend. Jones practiced Thursday on a limited basis and, barring a setback, is expected to start Sunday.
But if Jones cannot play or cannot finish Sunday’s game, the spotlight shifts to Tanner. And Tanner’s primary backup would be rookie Lance Dunbar, a free-agent signee from North Texas and Haltom High School whose lone NFL carry covered 11 yards in the team’s 31-29 loss at Baltimore on Oct. 14.
Dunbar said the undrafted duo can handle a showdown with the reigning world champions, if necessary.
"I’m pretty confident in myself and I’m confident in him," Dunbar said. "If that happens, we’ll approach it like, ‘OK, we can do this. It’s just another game.’ We’d play our game and let it happen."
And their games differ greatly.
Tanner (5-foot-10, 217 pounds) offers a blend of power and speed that teammate Tyrone Crawford likened to Doug Martin, Tampa Bay’s first-round pick in the 2012 NFL Draft. Crawford, a defensive tackle, played at Boise State with Martin and said Tanner "reminds me of Doug [because] they both run low, powerful and with good vision. He’s a smash mouth back with speed and it’s good to have him."
Dunbar (5-foot-8, 191 pounds) is more of a breakaway threat who is dangerous in the open field.
"His quickness is sick," fullback Lawrence Vickers said. "He’s great with the ball."
Regardless of who plays running back against the Giants, the Cowboys seek to match the ground-and-pound production they had in a 24-17 victory over the Giants on Sept. 5 (143 rushing yards, including 131 by Murray) and in their past two games. Dallas rushed for a season-high 227 yards against Baltimore and collected 85 against Carolina while controlling the clock for 33:37.
Against the Panthers, Tanner (13 carries, 30 yards) handled the ball seven times in the final 7:32 on drives that resulted in a go-ahead field goal with 3:28 remaining and another to pad the lead with 58 seconds to play. Tanner touched the ball nine times in the fourth quarter (eight carries, one catch), including a 5-yard trap play on third-and-9 that preceded the go-ahead field goal.
"He’s on our team for a reason," Garrett said, praising Tanner’s ability to handle a bigger role in an emergency situation. "At every turn [since signing with Dallas], he came in here and said, ‘You are not cutting me from this football team.’ When he’s gotten more opportunities in the preseason or the regular season, he’s shown us he can do a good job for us."
Tanner’s biggest opportunity could come Sunday if Jones’ knee ailment elevates Tanner into the starting lineup. It would be a moment the Dallas native, who played at Kimball High School, has envisioned since signing with his hometown NFL team on July 28, 2011.
"The most important thing I’ve learned is always be mentally prepared. Just take it to practice every day as if I’m going to be the starting running back," Tanner said. "That’s been my mind-set since the first day. Just to work hard and jell with the offensive line as if I’m the starting running back. So that when my time came, I would be ready."
Vickers said the Cowboys’ ground game can be productive Sunday even if it leans on a Tanner-Dunbar tandem against the Super Bowl champs.
"Absolutely," Vickers said. "Every back in that backfield is ready to go at all times. We’re preparing to make sure we can be a dominant group and hold up our end on the football field."
BALTIMORE — Whatever you do, don’t do that. Whatever the plan, it couldn’t have been that, could it?
Excuse both the rant, and the confusion, but 20 seconds, 20 precious seconds, were wasted by the Dallas Cowboys at the end of Sunday’s game, leading to, if nothing else, a flashback to the horror show of clock mismanagement in Arizona last season.
That one was Jason Garrett’s worst 2011 head coaching moment, and the lack of accountability in the aftermath still hangs over him.
Maybe not so much, which still doesn’t excuse what appeared to be a blunder. In this one, however, at least quarterback Tony Romo and Garrett had the same story, the same explanation on why those 20 precious seconds were left blowing in the Maryland wind.
And no, it wasn’t the "plan," both said.
As in Arizona, however, the Cowboys ended up losing a winnable game, falling 31-29 to the Ravens, and the lament of "oh-so-close" is becoming more hollow the more the Cowboys blow these kind of heartaches.
Always dependable Dan Bailey was a tad wide left on a 51-yard field goal in the final seconds, allowing the Ravens to escape.
But with a little less distance to cover with his foot, or with a better placement of the ball — as in between the hash marks — would the outcome have been different for Bailey?
Count that as one of a hundred coulda, shoulda, woulda questions the Cowboys had to answer in the aftermath.
First of all, they finally got a call, maybe a gift call, in the final minutes from an officiating crew that made the replacement boys look more acceptable with every yellow hanky that fell.
After a pass interference flag, the Cowboys had the ball at the Ravens’ 34-yard line with 26 seconds left and one timeout.
That has to be two-play territory, right? Heck yes, it’s right.
The Cowboys ran one play. Then came the failed kick.
What happened after a quick Romo inside throw to Dez Bryant netted only a yard? At that point the clock was running with 20 seconds left when Dez was taken down.
"What we were trying to do there is what we talked about before the play," Garrett said. "Tony was trying to get them on the ball as quickly as possible [after the Dez catch] knowing we had one [timeout] in our pocket.
"It just took too long for everyone to get unpiled, so it got down into single digits, so we said take it down to four seconds and bang the timeout."
Obviously, it’s up to the Cowboys to get "unpiled." The unpiling was not quick enough. But was there also clock panic? It sure looked like it.
Romo: "With the time left, we didn’t think it was in our best interest to run another play. We had guys who needed to get off the pile and receivers who needed to come to the huddle. There just wasn’t enough time."
But was there enough to time to get a snap off, with Romo diving forward to the middle of the hash marks, then get the timeout? It appeared to be the case, but Bailey wanted no such excuse after the game.
"Being on the hash mark makes no difference," he said. "My job is to make the kick. If the hold is on the hash, I’ve got to still make the kick. If you’re always hoping for the middle of the field, you aren’t going to be kicking very long."
But while Bailey blew off the advantage of kicking from the middle of the field, his long attempt was extremely tricky due to the windy conditions. The wind was swirling inside the bowl, and although not necessarily against him, there was a crosswind involved. He had plenty of foot on the kick, just not between the uprights.
Garrett’s boss, Jerry Jones, backed the decision to let 20 seconds escape at the end of the game. "I wanted the kick right there rather than take the risk of attempting to get more yards," said the owner-GM.
But even as Jerry admitted, it was a "sickening" kind of loss.
The Cowboys’ offensive line totally manhandled a once proud Ravens’ defense, paving the way for 227 yards rushing, the most ever allowed by this defense. And much of the pounding was done by, yes, Felix Jones (he lives, he lives), because of a foot injury to DeMarco Murray that took him out for the second half.
Garrett went an unheard-of four deep at running back, with third stringer Phillip Tanner heavily involved, and even rookie Lance Dunbar, signed off the street last week, getting a carry that went for 11 yards.
The Cowboys game-planned the run after the Ravens had been plowed under by the Kansas City ground attack a week ago. It worked incredibly well, but not for a win.
And here we go again. Garrett has one dumb football team. The penalties were immense (13 for the Cowboys) and some were very questionable, but heavily penalized, dumb teams normally end up on the short end of the officiating.
Once again, a special teams coverage breakdown also factored into this loss, with Baltimore’s Jacoby Jones returning a kickoff untouched for 108 yards and a touchdown, tying an NFL record for the longest runback.
And even with Bryant repeatedly making tough, productive catches, he still muffed the biggest throw of the game. In the final minutes, after Romo made a gutty 120-yard drive (including 40 yards in penalties), the Cowboys had to go for two points and a tie game after the touchdown catch by Dez.
The 2-point throw was right there for Bryant. He flat missed it. The Cowboys, however, recovered the onside kick that led to the missed field goal. The Dez drop, however, low-lighted a frustrating end to a frustrating afternoon and a frustrating loss.
Also frustrating were the 20 seconds the Cowboys will never get back.
The Dallas Cowboys had a chance to steal a victory in the final seconds but Dan Bailey’s 51-yard field-goal attempt sailed wide-left.
Here are my five thoughts on the Cowboys’ 31-29 loss in Baltimore on Sunday.
1.) The pre-snap penalties throughout the game and time management on the final drive was out of control. It wasn’t just the number of penalties but it’s when they occurred. In several red zone and third-down situations, false start calls stalled drives. That shouldn’t happen in Week 6. I’m not sure a team can win in a hostile environment when they’re making so many mistakes before the ball is snapped. Most of the blame goes on the players that committed the infractions but coaching and game-planning isn’t doing them any favors. Last week, Cowboys offensive line coach/offensive coordinator Bill Callahan said there was talk of simplifying the offense so Tony Romo didn’t have to do as much adjusting at the line of scrimmage. Ha! That clearly didn’t happen, especially on Dallas’ final touchdown drive. Romo barely got two plays off because of confusion at the line of scrimmage. The way the Cowboys managed the clock on their final drive prevented Bailey from having a closer attempt to win the game.
These are four examples of costly pre-snap penalties the Cowboys committed in Baltimore.
1-Early second quarter: Third-and-4 on Baltimore’s 12. Illegal Shift, 5-yard penalty.
2-Early fourth quarter: First-and-10 on Baltimore’s 10. Illegal Shift, 5-yard penalty.
3-Late fourth quarter: Third-and-1 on Dallas’ 29. Jeremy Parnell, false start, 5-yard penalty.
4-Late fourth quarter: Third-and-22 on Baltimore’s 44. Kevin Ogletree, false start, 5-yard penalty.
2.) Yes, the running game looked outstanding, but don’t be fooled. The Ravens aren’t the defense they once were. Fresh off of allowing the Chiefs to run for 214 yards, the Cowboys amassed 227 yards on the ground. Having Phil Costa back at center obviously helped and running behind Tyron Smith and Nate Livings on the left side continued to be Dallas’ best option. DeMarco Murray was dominant early, Felix Jones looked like a first-round pick for the first time this season and Phillip Tanner and Lance Dunbar each filled in nicely. Sorry, I need to see this more often to believe it was all because of what the Cowboys were doing.
3.) Dez Bryant had a costly drop that would’ve tied the game on a two-point conversion, but he still played his best game as a Dallas Cowboy. Bryant caught all five passes thrown his way in the first half and finished with 13 catches on 15 targets. His two touchdown receptions showcased how his physical ability makes him one of the most difficult assignments for any defender. Bryant finished with 95 yards and a pair of scores after not recording a touchdown in the first four games of the year. There’s still a long way to go for Bryant to be a complete receiver, but dropping a two-point conversion pass with a defender draped on his back shouldn’t overshadow what he did before that play.
4.) This loss wasn’t only significant because there was an opportunity to steal a game in arguably the league’s toughest road venue but because of how difficult the schedule lines up over the next four weeks. The Cowboys will not be favored in three of their next four games as they host the Giants before traveling to Atlanta and Philadelphia. Losing three of their next four would put the Cowboys at 3-6, not exactly the recipe for a playoff berth. And Dallas’ current 2-3 mark is much worse historically than had they won and been 3-2. Teams that start 3-2 have a 51 percent chance of reaching the playoffs. Teams that start 2-3 have a 21 percent chance. Not good for a team with a closing window.
5.) My fifth thought is actually a combination of things. Hats off to Jason Witten. He has clearly put his dropped-passes issue in his rear-view mirror. Witten made two difficult grabs during the final touchdown-drive, including a diving catch on fourth-and-long. … How bad will the injury report look on Monday? Already without Anthony Spencer, Morris Claiborne exited with a left knee injury, DeMarco Murray barely played in the second half after sustaining a foot sprain and Sean Lissemore had his day ended with an ankle sprain in the first quarter. … Joe DeCamillis’ special teams unit isn’t the worst in the league but it’s also not very good. After the Cowboys cut Baltimore’s lead to 17-13, DeCamillis’ bunch allowed Jacoby Jones to return the ensuing kickoff untouched for 108-yard touchdown. The Cowboys get very little out of their own punt and kick returns, showcased by averages that rank among the NFL’s worst. They also allowed a punt to be blocked and returned for a touchdown in Seattle.
Courtesy: Jon Machota | DMN
A look at the snaps played by Cowboys’ offense in the team’s 34-18 loss to the Chicago Bears, while analyzing what it means:
RT Doug Free: 70 of 70
RG Mackenzy Bernadeau: 70 of 70
LT Tyron Smith: 70 of 70
C Ryan Cook: 70 of 70
TE Jason Witten: 70 of 70
LG Nate Livings: 70 of 70
WR Dez Bryant: 68 of 70
QB Tony Romo: 59 of 70
WR Miles Austin: 49 of 70
WR Kevin Ogletree: 49 of 70
RB DeMarco Murray: 47 of 70
WR Cole Beasley: 13 of 70
FB Lawrence Vickers: 11 of 70
QB Kyle Orton: 11 of 70
RB Phillip Tanner: 11 of 70
TE John Phillips: 10 of 70
RB Felix Jones: 9 of 70
WR Andre Holmes: 8 of 70
WR Dwayne Harris: 6 of 70
You can tell the Chicago Bears blew out the Cowboys because Tony Romo missed 11 snaps and he wasn’t hurt. Down by three touchdowns and three two-point conversations in the fourth quarter, Jason Garrett gave backup Kyle Orton his first playing time. Orton, with Cole Beasley and and Andre Holmes receiving extensive playing time by their standards, led Dallas on a scoring drive. … Late in the fourth quarter, Phillip Tanner replaced DeMarco Murray. … Felix Jones played only nine snaps but showed some burst and quickness on his only carry, which could increase his playing time down the road.
Here are the notes compiled after tonight’s game:
Jason Witten (112 yards) and Dez Bryant (105) each topped 100 receiving yards to mark the first time the Cowboys had a pair of100-yard receivers in a game since Miles Austin (143) and Witten (102) did it at San Francisco (9/18/11).
Miles Austin’s 57 yards tonight gave him 3,594 for his career to pass Billy Joe DuPree (3,565), Jay Novacek (3,576) and Terrell Owens (3,587) for eighth in club record books.
Austin’s touchdown catch gave him his 31st career scoring reception to tie Lance Rentzel for ninth in Cowboys history.
Cole Beasley had his first career reception tonight, finishing with two for 14 yards.
Josh Brent notched his first career sack tonight.
Dez Bryant’s eight receptions tonight gave him 129 for his career to pass Pettis Norman, Alvin Harper (124 each) and Eric Bjornson (127) and tie Dan Reeves for 33rd in franchise history.
Bryant totaled 105 receiving yards tonight to give him 1,758 yards for his career to pass Pettis Norman (1,672) and Dan Reeves (1,693) for 31st in club history.
Bryant’s 105-yard performance was his second career 100-yard game and a career-high. His first was at the N.Y. Giants (11/14/10) when he finished with 104 yards.
Victor Butler recovered his second career fumble following the force by DeMarcus Ware’s sack.
Andre Holmes had caught his first career pass tonight for seven yards.
Danny McCray made the first start of his career, filling in at safety after Barry Church was placed on Reserve/Injured (Achilles) last week.
Brian Moorman made his Cowboys debut, punting in place of Chris Jones (knee). Moorman punted three times for a 37.0 average, a 34.3 net and two downed inside the Bears 20.
DeMarco Murray rushed 11 times tonight to give him 237 career rushing attempts. He passed Chris Warren (217) and Daryl Johnston (232) for 25th in Dallas record books.
Murray rushed for 24 yards tonight to up his career rushing yards total to 1,134 and pass Doug Dennison (1,112) for 22nd in franchise history.
Kyle Orton made his Cowboys debut tonight in the fourth quarter and completed nine-of-10 passes for 89 yards with a touchdown.
Tony Romo’s touchdown toss tonight was his 154th career touchdown throw. He broke a tie with Roger Staubach for sole possession of third place on the Dallas Cowboys all-time touchdown pass list.
Romo finished the game with 307 passing yards, to up his club record of 300-yard passing games to 33.
Romo also suffered five interceptions tonight to tie his career high previously established at Buffalo (10/8/07).
Phillip Tanner had his first career catch tonight and finished with two grabs for 20 yards.
DeMarcus Ware had a sack tonight in which he forced his 30th career fumble to extend his club record. His last three sacks (two from last week) have each resulted in a forced fumble.
Ware now has three forced fumbles on the season, his sixth career season with three-or-more forced fumbles which ties the fifth-highest figure by a defender in league history.
Jason Witten finished with 13 catches for 112 yards and a touchdown tonight. His 112 yards tied the ninth-most receiving yards in a game in his career while his 13 receptions were the third-most in his career, tied the third-most by a Cowboys pass catcher in franchise history – Lance Rentzel (vs. Washington, 11/19/67) and tied the eighth-most by a tight end in a single game in NFL history.
Witten’s Single-Game Receptions
15………… at Detroit (12/9/07)
14………… at N.Y. Giants (12/6/09)
13………… vs. Chicago (10/1/12)
Witten’s 100-yard outing upped his Cowboys tight end record of 100-yard games to 15.
Witten’s touchdown reception tonight was his 42nd career scoring grab and his first since his 59-yard score at Washington (11/20/11). His 42 touchdown catches broke a tie with Billy Joe DuPree for sole possession of sixth on the club’s all-time touchdown receptions list.
Jason Garrett answers questions from the Dallas media about the Dallas Cowboys 27-7 loss in Seattle on Sunday afternoon. The topics below, and others, were addressed.
Felix Jones won’t be benched, but Jason Garrett considering alternatives
IRVING — Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said the fumble on the opening kickoff return against Seattle is the type of play that makes him consider other options.
Felix Jones lost the ball, and the Seahawks recovered and kicked a field goal as they built a 10-0 lead five minutes into the game.
"When you make a play like that, you look hard again at that and what the alternatives are," Garrett said Monday at Valley Ranch.
"… We have a few different guys working at that, and we’ll evaluate that again this week."
Jones averaged 21.8 yards on five returns against Seattle, but he started two returns deep in the end zone and got past the 20-yard line only once. He has been the only returner this season. Dwayne Harris and Phillip Tanner are also back to return on kickoffs.
Garrett said Jones’ explosiveness hasn’t shown, perhaps because he missed the off-season with a shoulder injury, but that ball security is most important.
"We have to improve in that area obviously, and then hopefully we’ll continue to improve, both our returner and how we’re blocking things to get him better opportunities," Garrett said.
There was no thought about benching Jones.
"He was going to go back out there the next time, and we had to make sure that he was ready to go. And he returned the ball better as he got more opportunities in the game and certainly protected it better," Garrett said. "But I think the situations vary. Sometimes you say, ‘Hey, you’ve had enough opportunities, let’s put the next guy in,’ and other times you believe in the guy because of his body of work and you give him another chance to do it."
The Cowboys might have to start backups Danny McCray and Mana Silva at safety against Tampa Bay, and they could use cornerbacks Mike Jenkins and Mario Butler for extra help.
Starters Barry Church (thigh bruise) and Gerald Sensabaugh (calf) are questionable after getting hurt against Seattle, although Church said he will be able to play Sunday.
"He doesn’t have a lot of experience playing true safety, but he is a good athlete and he’s got a good instinct and feel for playing the game," Jason Garrett said of Jenkins. "We will have to make that evaluation and see how he stacks up against the other guys in normal down-and-distance situations as well as the third-down coverage situation."
Dez Bryant was inconsistent getting free against Seattle’s physical press coverage, Jason Garrett said.
"I thought at times he did a good job. Other times, he didn’t win on enough routes," Garrett said. "But that’s what good press corners do to you. You have to keep fighting and keep battling. Typically, what happens is the game feels a little uncomfortable to you when you play a style of defense like that."
Bryant was limited to three catches for 17 yards. He has seven catches for 102 yards this season, no touchdowns and two drops.
Jason Garrett said it’s difficult to defend a player who has been hit hard like Sean Lee was against Seattle but stay within the rules.
"It’s a tricky situation," he said. "You want to have each other’s backs, but you also have to have poise and composure. It’s really important for us to understand how to handle ourselves at the end of a down after a play like that because you don’t want to compound the mistake. You don’t want to add another 15-yard penalty to that. It’s a tricky situation."
Kenyon Coleman left the facility on crutches with his knee wrapped. Jason Garrett said the defensive end suffered a hyperextension.
Garrett said it was a technique error that led to the punt block. "It was not a real complicated look. We just got beat on the edge," he said.
Courtesy: Carlos Mendez | Ft Worth Star-Telegram
IRVING, Texas — The first official injury report was released this afternoon, and the Dallas Cowboys have 14 players listed.
There was one surprise with running back DeMarco Murray listed with a wrist issue. He was a full practice participant, and it doesn’t seem serious.
Tight end Jason Witten (spleen), linebacker Kyle Wilber (thumb) wide receiver Andre Holmes (knee), linebacker Dan Connor (hip) and cornerback Mike Jenkins (shoulder) were limited in practice.
Nose tackle Jay Ratliff (ankle) and safeties Matt Johnson (hamstring) and Danny McCray (neck) did not practice.
Running back Phillip Tanner (hamstring), linebacker DeMarcus Ware (hamstring), wide receiver Miles Austin (hamstring), wide receiver Dez Bryant (knee) and center Phil Costa (back) are also listed on the injury report but were full participants in practice.
New York Giants
- DNP = Did not participate in practice
- LP = Limited Participation in Practice – Less than 100% normal repetitions
- FP = Full Participation – 100% of a player’s normal repetitions
- Out = Player will not play
- (-) = Not Listed = No practice status available
- Out = Player will not play
- Doubtful = 25% chance a player will play
- Questionable = 50% chance a player will play
- Probable = 75% chance a player will play
- (-) = Not Listed – No game status available
DID YOU KNOW?: You can stay up to date on the Dallas Cowboys (and weekly opponents) Injury Update status right here on The Boys Are Back blog. Look in the pages at the top (and the right side) of this blog. The page is titled: INJURY UPDATES
IRVING — The Dallas Cowboys are being stricter about who they consider drafting.
In turn, they’re being stricter about who they consider signing after the draft.
The result of the approach, born under former coach Bill Parcells, appears to mean a higher quality of undrafted free agent is going to training camp with the team lately, and so more are making the squad.
Former SMU receiver Cole Beasley made the Cowboys’ 53-man roster this week as an undrafted rookie, joining four such players who made it in 2011 and four in 2010. In the three years before that, Kevin Ogletree was the only undrafted rookie to make the team.
"We used to put 250 players on the board, however many get drafted. Now we put about 100, 120 players on our board, and they’re just the players we want," pro personnel director Stephen Jones said in training camp at Oxnard, Calif., last month.
"We don’t think about, ‘That guy is going to get drafted,’ so we put him on our board. If he doesn’t fit what we want, even though he may get drafted in the first or second round, we don’t put him up there. It keeps us focused not only all the way through the draft, but also through college free agency."
Last year, the leading scorer on the team came out of the leftover draft pool. Kicker Dan Bailey had the second-highest field goal percentage by a rookie in team history, making 32 of 37 kicks, and set an NFL record for consecutive kicks made by a rookie (26).
Guard Kevin Kowalski played in 11 games, linebacker Alex Albright played in all 16 and running back Phillip Tanner played in eight and scored a touchdown.
The undrafted class of 2010 has yielded a starting safety, Barry Church, and the starting center, Phil Costa.
"I just think if you have an attitude that it doesn’t matter where players come from, it matters what they do once they come here, I think you’re more susceptible, or more able, to find some of those guys, and that’s been our approach," coach Jason Garrett said.
Jones said the approach is a holdover from Parcells’ days as head coach (2003 to 2006). He drafted to a template and paid no mind to players who didn’t fit it.
"He may not fit from a scheme standpoint or from a cultural standpoint or a character standpoint, and those guys, we don’t want them on our football team," Jones said. "So let’s focus on guys that we do like. I think that’s the biggest change is the philosophy there — let’s go after Dallas Cowboys."
The Cowboys’ biggest hits with undrafted players came while Parcells was head coach.
Under his watch, the team found Pro Bowl quarterback Tony Romo and Pro Bowl receiver Miles Austin. Nine other undrafted players made the initial 53 in Parcells’ four seasons.
"We’ve evolved from a personnel department, I think, when you look back at the way we used to do it versus the way we do it now," Jones said. "We’ve got better scouts, better people. We’ve got better philosophies.
"And pretty much every time we sign those 15 to 20 guys, we sign them from our draft board. I think that’s why we’ve had some really good success with players who weren’t drafted."
Dallas Cowboys running back Phillip Tanner said he wasn’t out to prove anything in the fourth and final preseason game Wednesday night. But he did show the ability that helped him stick last year.
He carried nine times for 48 yards and a touchdown against the Dolphins in the first half before giving way to Lance Dunbar and Jamize Olawale in the second half. The other backs were brought in to give him competition for the third running back spot, and Olawale gained an edge on the others when Tanner was out with a broken hand and Dunbar missed time with a hamstring injury.
“It wasn’t like me going out here and proving anything,” Tanner said. “Like we’ve talked before, it was just going out, having fun, playing football – something I’ve been doing since I was 8 years old. Just going out, gelling with the team.”
Tanner gave credit to center Phil Costa and fullback Shaun Chapas for creating running room for him. His first seven carries gained 45 yards. And he said he felt sharp.
“I made sure I stayed in mentally when I was out with the hand,” he said. “I stayed in my playbook, stayed watching film, just going out and gelling with the guys. That’s the biggest thing.”
Dallas Cowboys running back Lance Dunbar, a rookie free agent from North Texas and Haltom High School, made his final audition for a roster spot a memorable one Wednesday night in Cowboys Stadium.
Dunbar rushed for a team-high 105 yards, including a 58-yard touchdown burst in the third quarter of a 30-13 victory over the Miami Dolphins. Dunbar (5-foot-8, 191 pounds), who missed the team’s first two pre-season games with a hamstring injury, also mixed in a 27-yard punt return and a tackle on kickoff coverage. He averaged 7.0 yards per rush (15 carries, 105 yards).
Dunbar’s touchdown marked the longest run from scrimmage by a Cowboys’ back during the pre-season. His performance drew post-game praise from coach Jason Garrett, who acknowledged that several performances in Wednesday’s game “probably made us rethink some things” in regard to the makeup of the team’s 53-man roster.
Asked about landing a spot on the Cowboys’ roster, Dunbar said: “I think I did enough. But I think I could have done better. I could have made more tackles on special teams … it was an alright performance.”
But Dunbar said “it meant a lot” to top the 100-yard mark in a game he viewed as an all-or-nothing evaluation opportunity after missing the brunt of training camp with the hamstring injury.
“I think I did pretty good,” Dunbar said. “They’ll evaluate, and we’ll see what happens soon.”
Garrett called Dunbar’s performance one of the bright spots in Wednesday’s contest.
“I thought Dunbar ran the ball really well. He showed his lateral quickness, his ability to burst through a hole and, obviously, make big runs,” Garrett said. “And he’s a tough guy. He’s not afraid to stick it up in there, either. We’ve felt really good about Dunbar all through the off-season and through training camp. He just hasn’t had a chance to play because he got banged up.”
Dunbar is competing with incumbent Phillip Tanner, who carried nine times for 48 yards and a TD, to be the team’s third running back.
“We like our backup running backs,” Garrett said. “Phillip Tanner has done a really nice job since he’s been here, both as an offensive player and also on special teams.”
ARLINGTON, Texas — The Dallas Cowboys wrapped up the preseason with a 30-13 win over the Miami Dolphins at Cowboys Stadium on Wednesday night. Unlike last season when wide receiver Raymond Radway was injured in the closing seconds of the preseason at Miami, there were no such major health issues coming from this game. This was the last chance for several players to make an impact on the coaches and scouts and join the 53-man roster.
What it means: The Dallas Cowboys finish the preseason 3-1 and have to make some hard decisions regarding the No. 3 quarterback spot, whether or not to keep a fourth running back or which running back to keep, whether Orie Lemon and Mario Butler make the team and should Danny Coale and Matt Johnson earn paychecks in September.
McGee vs. Carpenter: There is this battle for the No. 3 quarterback position. Stephen McGee played the first half and led one touchdown drive and converted 13 first downs. He completed 9-of-18 passes for 124 yards. The Cowboys led 20-6 at the break. Rudy Carpenter also led the Cowboys on a touchdown drive — capped by a a 58-yard run by Lance Dunbar — and finished 4-of-10 for 48 yards. Carpenter also had a 21 yard scramble. But it would appear neither quarterback did enough to secure a shot on the roster.
Only one starter plays: Between both units, only center Phil Costa played. Costa missed the first three preseason games with a strained lower back and the Cowboys wanted to give him some snaps before putting him in a regular season game. Costa didn’t have any bad snaps and it’s unknown if he had any blown assignments. David Arkin replaced Costa.
The running game is strong: There are no questions regarding the status of DeMarco Murray as the starter. Felix Jones has been guaranteed a roster spot by owner/general manager Jerry Jones. We thought the No. 3 running back gig was going to Phillip Tanner, but Lance Dunbar came on strong Wednesday night. Dunbar ran with a burst, scoring on a 58-yard run. Let’s not forget about Tanner, who burst up the middle for a 1-yard score. Dunbar rushed 15 times for 105 yards and Tanner rushed for 48 yards on nine carries.
Orie Lemon made his case: If linebacker Orie Lemon was a bubble player, he should make the roster. He returned an interception 26 yards to give the Cowboys a 10-6 lead in the second quarter. Lemon was also active on defense and, given what he does on special teams, should make the 53-man roster. Adrian Hamilton was also fighting for a roster spot, but he hasn’t shown his pass rush abilities on a consistent basis with the Cowboys.
Cowboys lose three players: Guard Derrick Dockery left the game for personal reasons and fellow guard Daniel Loper suffered a hamstring injury. Cornerback Lionel Smith departed the game with a concussion. None of the three returned.
Who played well: Tyrone Crawford, Orie Lemon, Phillip Tanner, Lance Dunbar and Dan Bailey.
Who didn’t: Teddy Williams, David Arkin, Stephen McGee.
Bailey is perfect: Kicker Dan Bailey finished the preseason 8-for-8 on field goal attempts. Bailey made kicks of 25, 30 and 26 yards Wednesday night. The Cowboys didn’t have any concerns about him heading into the preseason but unlike last season when the team had a kicking competition, nothing was going on here. It was all Bailey. The longest kick of the preseason by Bailey was 49 yards.
Ryan Tannehill makes the start: The eighth-pick of the NFL draft, quarterback Ryan Tannehill made the start for the Dolphins. He completed 6-of-8 passes for 41 yards. The former Aggie played with a presence and threw some strong passes, but he still has a ways to go to help the Dolphins.
What’s next?: The Cowboys must cut their roster to 53 players by Friday night and then finalize their practice squad roster with as many as eight players. The team will practice over the weekend at Valley Ranch and prepare for the regular season opener at the New York Giants.
Tony Romo’s mind will be 1,500 miles away tonight. The Dallas Cowboys quarterback and most of the team’s other starters already are thinking ahead to next week when they open the season against the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants.
But for many other players, including third-string quarterback Stephen McGee, this is a last chance to make a good impression. The Cowboys, who have 75 players on their roster, must pare down to a final 53 by Friday night. So jobs are on the line tonight at Cowboys Stadium when they take on the Miami Dolphins:
Stephen McGee has started the final preseason game against the Dolphins each of the past two years, completing 48 of 67 passes for 537 yards, with a touchdown and an interception. He needs another good outing against Miami to convince the Cowboys he has potential to be something other than a career third-string quarterback. The Cowboys could choose to keep only two quarterbacks, with Rudy Carpenter going to the practice squad. But McGee gets one last shot to try to change the Cowboys’ minds.
Most of the team’s 22 starters won’t play, but center Phil Costa is expected to be an exception. Costa returned to the practice field Monday and, because he hasn’t played this preseason, should get at least a few snaps against the Dolphins. Costa had been out with a lower back strain since Aug. 10. David Arkin had started in Costa’s place in the first three preseason games, but Costa is in line to start the season opener against the Giants.
The Cowboys like what they have seen from Kevin Ogletree, Dwayne Harris and Cole Beasley this preseason. They need to see more from Andre Holmes and Danny Coale. Holmes, a favorite of Jerry Jones, did himself no favors when he reported to camp out of shape. A back injury and inconsistency might have done in his bid to make the 53-player roster, as he has six catches for 58 yards this preseason. Coale was drafted in the fifth round with high hopes for his special teams work as much as for his receiving ability. But injuries have prevented him from doing much until now. He made his preseason debut last week and had one catch for 8 yards and one run for 9 yards, but he did not play special teams. Coale, who played 82 snaps on special teams last year at Virginia Tech, is expected to play on kickoff coverage and kickoff return units and possibly on punt returns against Miami.
Third running back
Phillip Tanner earned a roster spot in 2011, as the fourth running back, off his preseason work. He had 24 carries for a team-leading 128 yards in the 2011 preseason. But injuries have slowed Tanner since. A hamstring injury landed him on injured reserve midway through last season, and a broken right hand Aug. 3 has not helped his bid to keep his job this season. He had two carries for 2 yards in his preseason debut last week. He is battling a pair of former North Texas players, Jamize Olawale and Lance Dunbar.
The Cowboys haven’t ruled Jay Ratliff out of the season opener yet, but the starting nose tackle has only 11 days in which to come back from a high-ankle sprain if he is to play against the Giants. More than likely, Sean Lissemore and Josh Brent will split the job on opening day. This could be the dress rehearsal for Lissemore, who is expected to play in the substitution packages, and Brent, who is expected to play in the base package
IRVING, Texas — Go ahead and put most of these names in ink.
There are a handful of roster spots up for grabs entering Wednesday’s preseason finale, but the vast majority of the decisions will have already been made. The toughest calls come at the last spots for receiver, offensive line, defensive end and how to handle Matt Johnson’s situation (great potential, but can’t count on him this season).
Tony Romo Kyle Orton
If Stephen McGee wants to stick around for a fourth season, he needs to give the front office and coaches good reason to keep him with a strong performance in the preseason finale. At this point, it makes more sense to try to put Rudy Carpenter on the practice squad.
RUNNING BACKS (3)
DeMarco Murray Felix Jones Phillip Tanner
Tanner didn’t help his cause with a blown assignment in pass protection that almost got Orton killed against the Rams, but he’s a solid No. 3 back and core special teams player. North Texas alums Lance Dunbar and Jamize Olawale are good practice squad candidates.
Lawrence Vickers Shaun Chapas
Chapas, a fixture on first-team special teams units Saturday, is likely to last only one week on the roster. An extra fullback can help mask the lack of depth at tight end in case Jason Witten misses the season opener.
TIGHT ENDS (3)
Jason Witten John Phillips James Hanna
The Cowboys could opt to go with rookie Andrew Szczerba as temporary insurance instead of Chapas.
WIDE RECEIVERS (6)
Miles Austin Dez Bryant
Kevin Ogletree Dwayne Harris Cole Beasley Danny Coale
It comes down to Coale vs. Andre Holmes, the Jerry Jones pet cat who reported to camp in poor shape and has shown no consistency. Holmes has more upside. Coale, who has hardly been on the field due to injuries, is more likely to contribute this season. The Cowboys envisioned Coale as a Sam Hurd-type No. 4 receiver/special teams stud (without the felonious side business, of course) when they invested a fifth-round pick in him.
OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (9)
Tyron Smith Doug Free Nate Livings Mackenzy Bernadeau Phil Costa
David Arkin Jermey Parnell Ronald Leary Pat McQuistan
Is being a third guard good enough reason to keep Derrick Dockery? He probably wouldn’t be active on game days due to his lack of position versatility. McQuistan has experience at tackle, guard, blocking tight end and has even worked some at center. Addressing the lack of depth at center would be a wise move after Week 1.
DEFENSIVE LINEMEN (7)
Jay Ratliff Jason Hatcher Kenyon Coleman Sean Lissemore Marcus Spears
Tyrone Crawford Josh Brent
Clifton Geathers (6-foot-7, 325 pounds) looks the part, but he hasn’t done enough to push Coleman or Spears off the roster. The Cowboys can save a little money by cutting (or perhaps trading) one of the veterans, but keeping both gives them quality depth in the defensive end rotation.
INSIDE LINEBACKERS (4)
Sean Lee Bruce Carter Dan Connor Orie Lemon
Lemon is a guy you notice a lot in practices and preseason games. He has developmental potential and can contribute now on special teams.
OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS (5)
DeMarcus Ware Anthony Spencer
Victor Butler Kyle Wilber Alex Albright
Can the Cowboys get pass rusher Adrian Hamilton through waivers onto the practice squad? It appears that they will try. He’s not getting reps with the first-team special teams units, a strong sign that they don’t see him as a fit for the 53-man roster this season.
Brandon Carr Morris Claiborne
Orlando Scandrick Mike Jenkins Mario Butler
Jerry Jones has said there is a roster spot for Jenkins, meaning the Cowboys don’t plan for him to start the season on the physically unable to perform list. That doesn’t mean he’ll be ready for the season opener.
Gerald Sensabaugh Barry Church Danny McCray Mana Silva
What to do with fourth-round pick Matt Johnson? He has hardly practiced because of a hamstring injury and he strained the other hamstring in his preseason debut Saturday night. The Cowboys could try to get him through waivers to the practice squad or put him on injured reserve, essentially making this a redshirt season. With such limited practice time, putting him on the 53 would be a waste of a roster spot.
Dan Bailey Chris Jones L.P. Ladouceur
No drama here after rookie deep snapper Charley Hughlett’s release Monday. The Cowboys were willing to pay more for the proven commodity.