Tag Archives: Rob Ryan

ROB RYAN PRESS CONFERENCE: Defense doesn’t want to be ‘second-class citizen’ to Cowboys offense, needs to be ‘a part of this’

Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan - Dallas Cowboys vs Washington Redskins - The Boys Are Back blog

Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan said the defense doesn’t want to be a second-class citizen compared to the offense.

“Our offense, in my opinion, is second to none,” Ryan told reporters Friday at Valley Ranch. “We have a tremendous quarterback, and obviously a great system with Jason. So what we need to do is play better football on defense. We’ve been competitive. Maybe we’re not going to be great, but we need to be better than we’ve been. Need to keep the points down, and that’s how you win as a team.

“Our strength is definitely offense right now, but we don’t want to be a second-class citizen. We played that way last week, and it showed against a great offense and a talented quarterback in Drew Brees. We need to bounce back, have a great game here and be a part of this.”

Ryan said the short week for the Thanksgiving Day game “certainly didn’t help” but that the Cowboys had a good plan for the first game and got good pressure on Robert Griffin, with three sacks and seven quarterback hits.

“We forced him to throw the ball quick sometimes,” Ryan said. “We sacked him … so I was happy with the pass rush we got on him last time. Did he beat some blown coverages? Yeah, he did. What we need to do is be better in our coverage, be more sound in what we do and execute. To me, I liked our plan last time. I just don’t think we executed all that well, especially in short yardage, especially in double coverage when a guy ran by us for about a hundred-yard touchdown.”

 

Rob Ryan’s Friday press conference: I Liked Our Plan Last Time

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

Rob Ryan talks about what went wrong the last time the Cowboys faced the Redskins, and what they will need to do differently this time around.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DUCT TAPE & WD-40: The Replacements – Seven Dallas Cowboys defensive players holding team together

Dallas Cowboys OC Rob Ryan vs Cleveland Browns at Cowboys Stadium 2012 - The Boys Are Back blog

Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan is working with seven players who weren’t on the team to start the season, including five who signed after Thanksgiving. All seven played against the Steelers:

Cornerback Sterling Moore : 37 of 60 snaps against Pittsburgh, signed Dec. 1

Safety Eric Frampton : 29 of 60 snaps against Pittsburgh, signed Sept. 25 for special teams role

Cornerback Michael Coe : 10 of 60 snaps against Pittsburgh, signed Dec. 11

Defensive end Brian Schaefering : 10 of 60 snaps against Pittsburgh, signed Dec. 12

Nose tackle Robert Callaway : 6 of 60 snaps against Pittsburgh, signed to the roster Dec. 8 after Josh Brent charged with intoxication manslaughter

Linebacker Ernie Sims : 5 of 60 snaps against Pittsburgh, started but left early because of concussion, signed Oct. 24

Linebacker Brady Poppinga : 5 of 60 snaps against Pittsburgh, started in sub package, signed Nov. 26

CORNERBACK ATTACK: Dallas Cowboys will need Morris Claiborne to beat Saints

Dallas Cowboys CB Morris Claiborne scores on a 50 yard fumble recovery vs Philadelphia Eagles - The Boys Are Back blog

The Dallas Cowboys were able to get by in pass coverage last week without Morris Claiborne against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

They’ll need him this week against the New Orleans Saints.

Ben Roethlisberger was still showing the effects of a rib injury that kept him sidelined for three weeks over the Thanksgiving holiday. His passes lacked their usual crispness against the Cowboys, sailing high, low and behind his receivers a good portion of the afternoon.

That’s never been a problem for Saints quarterback Drew Brees, one of the most accurate passers ever to play the game. He has completed 65.57 percent of his career throws, second best in NFL history. He hits his receivers in stride, which allows them to add yardage after the catch.

The Saints rank second in the NFL in passing, and Brees leads all quarterbacks with 4,335 yards. All four of his primary targets at wide receiver — Marques Colston, Devery Henderson, Lance Moore and Joseph Morgan — have 100-yard receiving games this season, as does tight end Jimmy Graham.

In addition, Darren Sproles leads NFL running backs with 60 receptions, and fellow halfback Pierre Thomas ranks third in the NFL in yards after the catch at 10.1.

The Saints force defenses to cover every patch of earth on the football field. Brees has Henderson deep, Graham on seam routes and Colston and Moore on slants and outs all day.

If a defense elects to sit back in zones, Brees will feed Sproles and Thomas with screens and swings — so even your defensive ends need to be involved in pass coverage.

The way to beat the Saints is to keep Brees and this explosive passing attack off the field, and opponents have done a superb job of that this season.

New Orleans has only played offense an average of 28 minutes per game this season, which explains why they are out of the playoff hunt at 6-8.

But for those 28 minutes, the Cowboys are going to need Claiborne, Brandon Carr, Mike Jenkins, Sterling Moore and Michael Coe on their A games. The Saints are going to give them a workout.

Brees has thrown 50 passes in a game three times this season. He has a 400-yard passing game and seven 300-yard games. His 36 touchdown passes lead the league, and he’s been sacked only 24 times.

Bring your track shoes.

RELATED: Claiborne expects to play Sunday against Saints

Morris Claiborne said that as of Wednesday, he feels fine and he expects to play on Sunday against the Saints. He said he passed his concussion tests and was cleared.

He knows the Cowboys will need every defensive back they can get against Drew Brees and his five big-play targets, although he was encouraged by the secondary’s showing without him against the Steelers last week.

“I feel like it’s way better the depth that we have, and the guys that are behind someone, they’re still playing,” said Claiborne, who practiced Wednesday. “So if someone were to happen to get out – for instance, I didn’t play last week, but we had a guy who could step in, and we didn’t lose anything.”

Claiborne said he is impressed by the way the team continues to find players who can come in and play. Cornerbacks Michael Coe and Sterling Moore each played days after arriving, and safety Eric Frampton has taken on a big role since originally being signed to help the special teams depth.

“Everybody comes in with some football smarts,” Claiborne said. “To get in here and to focus, to be able to learn this defense, you see guys staying after, just trying to get help and learn their position. It lets us know that it’s important to them because it’s important to us.”

On top of that, Claiborne said the new players have fit in personality-wise.

“Everybody that comes in here, it seems like he connects with us right like that,” Claiborne said. “I think the coaching staff does a great job of the guys they select to be in the locker room.”

DALLAS COWBOYS INJURY UPDATE: Ryan unsure about availability of Claiborne

Cowboys cornerback Morris Claiborne said he still needs to pass one concussion test to be able to play Sunday against the Steelers, and defensive coordinator Rob Ryan said Claiborne got dizzy on Thursday.

“He got a little dizzy yesterday, so I’m not sure about his availability for this game,” Ryan said. “But I know he’s doing everything he can, and he’s got to pass these tests.”

Claiborne said he needs to pass an impact test, but that he’s prepared this week as if he will play. Claiborne did not practice Wednesday and was limited Thursday and Friday. The Cowboys listed him as questionable.

“Right now, I’m feeling pretty good,” he said. “It’s still a day-by-day process. It’s just all I can do right now, is take it day by day and see how I feel coming up on game time.”

The Cowboys signed veteran cornerback Michael Coe this week to cover themselves.

“We’ll be fine with him,” Ryan said of Coe. “He’s a good football player. He’s got a lot of talent. He’s a smart kid, so if he needs to play, he’ll play, and we’re excited about him. He’s got a lot of good talent.”

Ryan also praised another cornerback the Cowboys picked up two weeks ago off the New England practice squad, Sterling Moore, who came in against the Bengals when Claiborne went out.

“They let their guard down on him, and we slipped up and gobbled him up,” Ryan said. “He’s been an excellent football player. He’s playing all over the place for us. He’s playing inside. He’s playing outside. He’s playing safety. He’s a smart guy , but he’s a very talented kid and we really got something here with this guy.”

RELATED: Claiborne, Livings, Ware and Bryant questionable

Five Cowboys are listed as questionable for Sunday’s game on today’s injury report: cornerback Morris Claiborne (concussion), offensive guard Nate Livings (concussion), receiver Dez Bryant (finger), linebacker DeMarcus Ware (elbow) and safety Charlie Peprah (foot). Ware did not participate in Friday’s practice. The others were limited.

Among those listed are probable are center Ryan Cook (knee), running back DeMarco Murray (foot), running back Felix Jones (knee) and left tackle Tyron Smith (ankle). Jay Ratliff, who underwent surgery Thursday for a sports hernia, is out for Sunday’s game.

NAME POSITION INJURY WED. THU. FRI. GAME STATUS
Bryant, Dez WR Finger DNP LP LP Questionable
Claiborne, Morris CB Concussion DNP LP LP Questionable
Cook, Ryan C/G Knee FP FP FP Probable
Jones, Felix RB Knee FP FP FP Probable
Livings, Nate G Concussion DNP LP LP Questionable
Murray, DeMarco RB Foot DNP LP LP Probable
Peprah, Charlie S Foot DNP LP LP Questionable
Ratliff, Jay NT Groin DNP DNP DNP Out
Smith, Tyron T Ankle FP FP FP Probable
Ware, DeMarcus LB Elbow DNP DNP DNP Questionable

IN THE TRENCHES: Dallas Cowboys work out veteran DL

IRVING, Texas – With Josh Brent out for the season and Jay Ratliff’s availability still in question because of a lingering groin injury, the Cowboys have brought in veteran Brian Schaefering for a workout.

Brian Schaefering - The Boys Are Back blog

“We need somebody to help us right now,” executive vice president Stephen Jones said. “Jay’s a question mark, so we’re down to five guys. If we get an injury we’re down to four, so we’ve got to get someone in here getting ready to play in case somebody gets injured.”

Schaefering played for defensive coordinator Rob Ryan in Cleveland. From 2009-11, he had 72 tackles in 37 games, but he was cut by the Browns on Aug. 31.

Jones said he was not sure if Ratliff could return this week from a groin injury that has kept him out of the last three games. Ratliff went for a second opinion on his injury, which concurred with the team’s medical staff, according to Jones.

Without Ratliff and the impending move of Brent to NFI, the Cowboys have Jason Hatcher, Marcus Spears, Sean Lissemore, Tyrone Crawford and Robert Callaway on the defensive line.

DALLAS RISES AMID TRAGEDY: Cowboys emotional 20-19 victory over Cincinnati Bengals

Dallas Cowboys vs. Cincinnati Bengals 2012 - Emotional victory honoring Cowboy Jerry Brown - The Boys Are Back blog

With heavy hearts, the Cowboys took the field knowing football was only a diversion to the tragic events that occurred only a day earlier. The task at hand was both monumental and trivial. A loss was expected by virtually everyone.

But with perhaps something more to play for, the emotion-filled Cowboys pulled off a last-second, come-from-behind victory in Cincinnati, defeating the Bengals, 20-19.

Even from a purely football standpoint, this was going to be a tough game regardless. On the road against a surging Cincinnati squad, injuries having decimated the defense with no less than six key members of the defense sidelined.

Instead, Rob Ryan’s unit came up big when they needed to. They allowed only one touchdown on the day and when the team absolutely needed to stop its opposition, the defense forced the Bengals to punt on their final two possessions.

All in all, Cincinnati held the upper hand as far as total yards, posting 336 to the Cowboys’ 288. But Dallas had only one meaningless interception, kept the penalties manageable and narrowly took the time of possession, 30:11 to 29:49.

The Dallas defense held Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton to 206 yards off 20-of-33 passing with only one touchdown and one key interception. Four different players collected at least 40 yards receiving, but only one went for more than 20 yards.

With the middle of their defense decimated, the Cowboys struggled against the run, as Cincinnati rushed for 146 yards, Ben Jarvus Green-Ellis doing most of the damage with 89 yards on 12 carries.

Conversely, Dallas again wasn’t able to do much in the running game with DeMarco Murray topping the club with just 53 yard on 21 tries, although he came up big late in the game with two huge first-down gains, and he scored the team’s first touchdown.

Continuing his stellar play, Tony Romo threw for 268 yards on 25-of-43 plays, tossing one touchdown. Jason Witten, Dez Bryant and Miles Austin each had four catches while nine players overall hauled in a pass. Witten finished first with 62 total receiving yards while Bryant scored the lone touchdown grab.

Continue reading →

RELEASE THE HOUNDS: Time for Rob Ryan’s D to showcase Anthony Spencer, DeMarcus Ware

IRVING, Texas — It’s hard to have much hope for the Dallas Cowboys’ defense right now.

Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett and Rob Ryan on the sidelines vs Cleveland Browns - The Boys Are Back blog

Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan is basically holding open tryouts to try to plug holes at inside linebacker and in the secondary. The recent results have been about as pretty as the pictures of a shirtless Ryan that surfaced after the Cowboys’ training camp beach party.

Rookie running backs Alfred Morris and Bryce Brown combined to rack up 282 yards and three touchdowns on 48 carries against the Cowboys the past two games. Rookie quarterbacks Brandon Weeden, Robert Griffin III and Nick Foles have picked apart the Dallas secondary for 765 yards and seven touchdowns the past three weeks.

The Washington Redskins and Philadelphia Eagles embarrassed Ryan’s boys, lighting up Jerry World for 860 yards and 71 points in a pair of games the Cowboys were extremely fortunate to split.

Any reason to believe the Dallas D isn’t doomed against Andy Dalton, Ben Roethlisberger, Drew Brees and RG3 again down the stretch?

"Hell, we’ve got to fix it," a weary Ryan said on Sunday night. "We’ve got to play better than that, and we will. We’ve got some excellent coaches, we’ve got some excellent players. We’ll find out what we can do best with what we have."

Here’s some free advice, Rob: Play to the strengths of the only two certified studs left standing on that decimated defense.

Dallas' Anthony Spencer (93) and DeMarcus Ware (94) celebrate after Spencer recovered a Cleveland fumble - The Boys Are Back blog

Let Anthony Spencer and DeMarcus Ware loose. If they don’t dominate, this season is dead.

Defensive end Jason Hatcher mentioned the need for the defensive line "to do more" to make up for the off-the-street newcomers the Cowboys have to put on the field. That’s nice and all, but it needs to come from the Cowboys’ two best defensive players.

No doubt that’s Spencer and Ware, in that order, at this point.

"Whoever’s out on the field just has to do their jobs," said Spencer, who is having a career year while playing on a one-year, franchise-tag deal. "We can’t really get to the point where everybody’s trying to do too much and messing up on their responsibilities."

Asked if the outside linebackers needed to dominate, Ware subtly noted that they’ve been watching a lot of coverage tape before concluding, "We put a lot on our backs to get out there and perform."

Dallas Cowboys outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware (94) pressures Cleveland Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden - The Boys Are Back blog

A rough reading between the lines: Hey Rob, let ’em rush the passer. Put your best players in position to do what they do best.

Not exactly rocket science, but all the dudes on that defense who still need directions to Valley Ranch aren’t ready for complicated schemes anyway. Keep it simple and count on Spencer (6.5 sacks this season) and Ware (10.0) to be disruptive forces.

The weak three-man rushes aren’t working. We shouldn’t see Ware or Spencer drop back into coverage on a third down the rest of the season. Especially not Ware, who has a two-game sackless streak going for the first time since Ryan’s arrival in Dallas.

Dallas Cowboys team captain DeMarcus Ware fires up teammates - The Boys Are Back blog

OK, let’s blend in a little ray of sunshine with all the injury related gloom and doom. If you want a little hope, go back to the last time the Cowboys were in a playoff race and actually finished strong.

Spencer and Ware were the dominant forces during the Cowboys’ defense-fueled four-game winning streak the end of the 2009 season, including the franchise’s only playoff victory in the past decade and a half.

Ware racked up 4 sacks, 11 quarterback pressures and 2 forced fumbles during that late-season win streak. Spencer had 5 sacks, 10 pressures, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery during that run.

That span started with arguably the best performance of Ware’s career, when he had two strip sacks to key a Superdome shocker over the previously undefeated New Orleans Saints only six days after leaving Cowboys Stadium on a stretcher with a neck injury. That overshadowed an outstanding performance by Spencer, who had 7 tackles, 3 pressures, 1.5 sacks and a fumble recovery in that win.

The Cowboys were a desperate team that night in New Orleans, having lost their previous two games, causing the discussion about Dallas’ December demons to reach deafening levels.

DeMarcus Ware, right, with Giants center David Baas, had two of the three sacks the Giants allowed - The Boys Are Back blog

Head coach Jason Garrett, doesn’t like the word "desperate," but how else would you describe a 6-6 team clinging to a playoff dream? If the Cowboys don’t beat a talented Cincinnati Bengals team, we might as well start talking about the draft around these parts.

To do that, they better get pressure on Dalton. If they don’t, the Cowboys’ secondary will be prominently featured on elite receiver A.J. Green’s highlight reel.

"I’ve got to step it up this week, get those plays, make those big plays this week to win the game," Ware said.

A helpful hint to Ryan: Release your two best hounds and let ’em hunt. It’s your only hope.

ROB RYAN – LOUD AND CLEAR: Spencer takes over play-calling for the defense

Dallas Cowboys linebacker Anthony Spencer now calling defense - The Boys Are Back blog

Dallas Cowboys linebacker Anthony Spencer’s strong season now includes more responsibility.

He’s going to be the play-caller for the defense now that Bruce Carter is lost for the season to injury.

Spencer got his first chance to wear the communication helmet last week in the second half against Washington, when Carter went out with a dislocated elbow that put him on the injured reserve list. Carter himself had taken over that job from Sean Lee, who went on injured reserve last month.

“It went pretty well,” said Spencer, who had two sacks against the Redskins to match his career high for a season, 6.5. “It was louder than I expected. But it went well.”

What was louder than expected?

“His voice,” Spencer said, breaking into a smile.

Rob Ryan’s?

“Yes. Him in my head was louder than I expected,” Spencer said.

Everyone laughed in understanding. Ryan is certainly a vocal defensive coordinator. But Spencer knows what Ryan expects, and relaying the signals to the defense is just one extra step for him.

“I say them to myself in my head after I hear them, so it was just repeating,” Spencer said. “I mean, that was the only different thing, is he’s yelling, “Watch out for this!” and “Check with this!” and all of the other stuff like that.”

Was he ever tempted to say, “Coach, enough!”

Spencer smiled.

“Nah. I mean, I can’t do that on the field,” he said and laughed. “I just throw him the thumbs-up like, ‘I got it! I got it!’ ”

SPECIAL FEATURE: Dallas Cowboys 2012-2013 Roster – An in-depth look at … depth.

Dallas Cowboys running back Felix Jones (28) breaks through the Philadelphia Eagles defense - The Boys Are Back blog

IRVING, Texas – Boy, isn’t it a good thing the Dallas Cowboys didn’t dabble in reckless fantasy football roster machinations before this season began?

         Remember? Remember all the suggestions?

         Man, go ahead, trade Felix Jones. He’s in the last year of his contract. DeMarco Murray will carry the load, and he can be backed up by Phillip Tanner and rookie free agent Lance Dunbar. Hmmmm …

         Or, now that they have Brandon Carr and Mo Claiborne, along with Orlando Scandrick, no need for the disgruntled Mike Jenkins. Trade the guy. Right?

Marcus Spears, too. Why, Kenyon Coleman is going to be the starter and you got Sean Lissemore and drafted Tyrone Crawford in the third round. What do you need an eight-year veteran in a backup role for? See what you can get for the guy.

         Oh, and let’s go one more. How many of you wanted Anthony Spencer out of here? Now come on, don’t be shy, raise your hands high. Get ’em up.

         Scary the bind the Cowboys could be in had the team’s coaching staff and front office resorted to these kneejerk reactions, as if there would be something wrong with having a little depth on this roster littered with 23 guys in no more than their third NFL season. And because they didn’t, check this out:

         Jones is preparing to start his fifth consecutive game of the season since Murray’s foot sprain, which nearly needed surgery, is still keeping him out of practice. And not only is he doubtful for Sunday’s game against the Cleveland Browns, but with only one semi-tough practice available during the short week prior to the Thanksgiving tradition, he’s possibly out for the Washington game four days later, too.

         Spears will start at his old left defensive end position Sunday against the Browns since Coleman has been placed on injured reserve following surgery to repair the torn triceps muscle he suffered in the win over Philadelphia. Crawford will be the next guy up there, since Lissemore still isn’t practicing thanks to the high ankle sprain he suffered against Baltimore a month ago. And the guy they kept on the practice squad, rookie free-agent Ben Bass, an after-thought signee just because they needed another body on the defensive line for that first rookie minicamp – and he was close, having grown up in Plano, Texas – he’s now their sixth defensive lineman for Sunday and will get some snaps.

         Then there is Jenkins. You know what? Wouldn’t it have been nice this past Sunday in Philadelphia, with Claiborne suffering from rookie-itis, becoming grabby and of all things for a corner, jumping off sides, if the Cowboys could have turned to the veteran cornerback to give the kid a series or two to collect himself? But no, Jenkins’ back was still weak, having suffered spasms, leaving him a game-day inactive. And the way things are going this week – he still hasn’t practiced – he’s likely inactive again.

           Looking at defensive stats, Spencer, the guy everyone wailed over after the Cowboys franchised him at $8.8 million to reserve his rights, is fourth on the team in tackles, his 53 behind only Sean Lee (77), Bruce Carter (66) and DeMarcus Ware (54). These stats also say he is second on the team (just where he finished last year) with 3.5 sacks, behind only Ware’s 9.5; tied for second with Ware with three tackles for losses (behind only Carter’s eight); and his 15 QB pressures is second behind Ware’s 20. And if not for Claiborne unnecessarily grabbing on the other side, Spencer would have had an interception this past Sunday against the Eagles, and maybe even returned it for a touchdown.

         The lesson, loud and clear?

         In football – and remember this isn’t basketball or baseball, it’s football – there is nothing wrong with having a couple of good guys at the same position since there usually is enough plays to go around. And, as you’ve been reminded when watching the Cowboys this season, people do get hurt. A lot.

“I mean all that is foresight from the Joneses, their communication,” Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan said. “People say whatever they say, they run the team, sure, but they are also smart. It’s unbelievable.

         “We kept depth on the roster, we kept the right guys, we kept the best players for this very reason. Sometimes you want to keep a young kid, he’s got promise, but you let a big-time veteran go. Well, that’s not the right thing to do. We did the right things. We kept these guys around and it’s helped us.”

         Inject the word “immensely.”

         With seven games remaining, the next two in a five-day span, the Cowboys already have three season-opening defensive starters on injured reserve (Barry Church, Lee and Coleman). They are just getting Lee’s backup, Dan Connor, back after missing two games with nerve damage in his neck (stinger) and have placed one of his called-up backups, former practice squadder Orie Lemon, on IR.

         And how about this? Nine games into the season, 11 defensive players have missed a total of 37 games, and that total will skyrocket since Lee, Church and Coleman definitely will miss seven more each. That’s 58, and it doesn’t appear at this point that Lissemore is ready to return and who knows about Jenkins? Rookie Matt Johnson? The fourth-round draft choice has missed all nine games and was just placed on IR.

         On offense, three guys, Murray, Phil Costa and his backup Ryan Cook have totaled 11 missed games, and Murray could miss two more. Costa (high ankle sprain) will also miss at least two more and the Cowboys are highly uncertain if Cook (knee), who has yet to practice this week, will be ready to play Sunday.

         And by the way, let’s not forget punter Chris Jones also landing on IR four games ago, assured of missing a total of 11 this season. I mean, the punter for heaven sakes.

         Catching my drift?

         The Cowboys are ridiculously testing this next guy up notion, but hey, what you going to do? And guarantee you they aren’t the Lone Rangers when it comes to injuries in the National Football League. They are rampant, and why you never, ever should consider depleting a position of strength … if … you happen to be lucky enough to have a couple three at the same spot and can afford them with the salary cap.

         “We have been recycling guys all year,” Spears said the other day, realizing Jay Ratliff missed the first four games of the season, Spencer missed Games 4 and 5, Lee, the defensive captain, along with its heart and soul, will end up missing 10 of 16, Church will finish with 13 missed games, Lissemore likely with at least six and now Coleman the final seven.

         But so far defensively, the Cowboys have been duck-taping these positions with multiple solutions. Take safety. Danny McCray was the next guy up, but they also have relied on Carr and Jenkins to move from their corner positions at times on the nickel and dime packages, and also have brought on veterans Eric Frampton and Charlie Peprah to play roles.

         At linebacker, without Lee and then immediately Connor, they sign Orie Lemon from the practice squad and Ernie Sims off his couch.

         “To lose Lee was a big blow,” Spears said, “but we have the guys to get it done.”

         At defensive end, they now return Spears to his starting spot, play Crawford more and sign Bass off the practice squad, a guy another team came calling for a few weeks back.

         At running back, the Cowboys simply insert Felix Jones, but with him trying to play through a bum knee and shoulder, they lean on Tanner and sign Dunbar off the practice squad and get the rookie ready for snaps.

         At center, the team first for Cook when Costa was injured – the first time – when it became obvious David Arkin wasn’t good enough to sufficiently back up the position. Cook can’t go Sunday (listed as doubtful), the Cowboys activated Kevin Kowalski off PUP, which necessitated placing Matt Johnson on IR to make room.

         At punter, Brian Moorman fortuitously was released by Buffalo when Chris Jones first injured his knee, and is signed the next day.

         And at corner, with Jenkins missing last week, they sign Vince Agnew off the practice squad and basically let Claiborne take his lumps at Philly.

         This is exhausting, isn’t it? And still there are seven games to go?

          Fortunately for the Dallas Cowboys, they have a few good men with quality heads on their shoulders.

“My mindset from the beginning is you need to know all three positions,” said Mackenzy Bernadeau, who realized when he returned from offseason hip surgery of his own a couple of weeks into training camp that he needed to learn both guard positions and the center position as well, which he has only played in a preseason game.

And then there is Spears, who could have pouted after Ryan brought Coleman with him to Dallas, immediately bumping Spears off the position where he started in his first six seasons with the Cowboys into a backup role. Didn’t happen.

“You have personal feelings, you get angry not being in there, but if you’ve been around long enough you know you’re going to get your chance to play,” Spears said, and best of all, he’s not being vindictive toward this opportunity. “Not trying to beat my chest and prove I should have been playing. I just want to help this team win.”

That’s some right stuff there, all of it, including every one of those insightful decisions made nearly 12 weeks ago to preserve the depth now available for this current excavation project from that 3-5 hole.

RIVAL HEADLINE: Philadelphia Daily News – Thoughts on what comes after Andy

Philadelphia Eagles coach Andy Reid - The Boys Are Back blog

Like everybody else, I’m trying to think about what the Eagles might do when this disappointing season ends and Andy Reid’s 14-year coaching tenure presumably ends.

I’ll be really surprised if the choice is some guy who won a Super Bowl elsewhere — Jon Gruden, Brian Billick, even Bill Cowher, who tends to be more highly regarded than Gruden or Billick in NFL circles. A couple of reasons there: 1. Jeffrey Lurie and Howie Roseman think of themselves as bold, innovative people; they are unlikely to settle for trying to recreate what someone did somewhere else, and more important, 2. IT NEVER WORKS. How many coaches have won a Super Bowl somewhere, then gone somewhere else and won another? The answer is nobody, never, ever. Not Vince Lombardi, not Bill Parcells, not Mike Holmgren, who came closest, not Mike Shanahan.

This last point is something too few people in the fan base seem to understand. The objective here is not to hire somebody who will give us entertaining press conferences, or somebody who once beat the Eagles in an important game.

One caveat: I’d make an exception for Sean Payton, who would be available under unique circumstances that might make him different from the other retreads. But I really don’t think Payton is leaving New Orleans, and if he does, he has strong ties to Dallas.

I’m pretty sure Lurie and Roseman will go for a "bright young man" type. Of course, that has its risks, too. A lot of those guys look less bright, once they’re in charge. See Steve Spagnuolo, Todd Haley, Ron Rivera, Tony Sparano, etc.

POLL - Who replaces Andy Reid in Philadelphia

The guy that everybody is talking about, in regard to every potential NFL coaching vacancy, is Oregon coach Chip Kelly, who certainly is a successful innovator. I am leery. Kelly has never spent a minute in the NFL, as a player or coach. "Pure" college coaches have been really, really unsuccessful in the NFL lately — Steve Spurrier, Nick Saban, Bobby Petrino. Yes, Jim Harbaugh and Greg Schiano have been good hires, but both had strong NFL backgrounds, which they took to college coaching, before returning to the NFL.

Besides, Kelly is the guy who, when a disgruntled Ducks fan wrote him demanding a refund for traveling to a loss at Boise State, sent the guy a check for $439. The Eagles have a much larger, more critical fan base. I see looming bankruptcy for Chip if he comes here.

And it would be hard to keep up with uniforms that would change constantly.

More seriously, Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer is not a bright YOUNG man — he’s my age, 56 — but Zimmer, the longtime Cowboys d-coordinator, sure knows defense.

Dirk Koetter, the Atlanta offensive coordinator, is going to be a hot name if the Falcons’ success holds up into the playoffs. He’s 53, has been a college head coach, unlike Zimmer, who is a career assistant.

It also might be relevant that Roseman’s agent is Bob LaMonte, Reid’s agent, and the guy who sometimes seems to orchestrate NFL coaching moves. Jon Gruden is a LaMonte client, as is his brother Jay, the Bengals’ offensive coordinator.

But really, the hottest guys will be the top assistants on the teams that get to the Super Bowl. That game will be played more than a month after the Eagles’ season concludes. (I’m assuming, I think safely, there will be no Andy-job-saving run into the playoffs).

Will the Eagles have hired a coach by then? As somebody who’s going to have to cover this, I think that would be nice, but it’s unlikely. I would anticipate a meticulous search, with Lurie and Roseman seeking advice from people they know across the league, weighing variables, holding multiple interviews. One goal here is to go another 14 years without having to do this. There is no need to rush.

Courtesy: Les Bowen | Philadelphia Daily News

Editors Note: If you want to vote in the poll, click on the poll link above. You’ll be taken to their website. Site should open in another tab.

PENALTY PROBLEMS PERSIST: Stephen Jones – ‘Whatever we’re doing is not working’

Dallas Cowboys penalty flags - The Boys Are Back blog

For the fourth time this season the Cowboys committed 13 penalties in a game.

Oddly enough, the league’s second-most penalized team improved to 3-1 in those contests with a 38-23 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday.

It’s unrealistic to expect more wins if that trend continues and Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones address that topic on Monday.

“We’ve got to stop the penalties,” Jones said on 105.3 The Fan [KRLD-FM]. “They’re inexcusable, yet we continue to have them. They kept drives alive for the Eagles a couple of times by being offsides. That’s just unacceptable.”

Morris Claiborne, Jason Hatcher, Josh Brent and Anthony Spencer combined to go offside six times. Claiborne was also flagged for holding twice and pass interference once. John Phillips had two false starts, Doug Free had another and Orlando Scandrick was called for holding.

In the end, the 13 penalties cost the Cowboys 75 yards and raised their season average to 8.2 penalties per game. Only the Washington Redskins (8.3) average more penalties per game.

While dissecting the problem, Jones said the Cowboys coaching staff has to do more to find a solution before the penalties end up costing the club a chance at the postseason.

“I know [Garrett] wants to do more. We talked about it,” Jones said. “We addressed it after the game. He’s going to get with Rob [Ryan] and we got to do more because whatever we’re doing is not working. They pulled [Jason] Hatcher out of the game after his second consecutive offsides, but it’s got to be more than that.

“Somehow we got to get focused. For some reason, the guys continue to make those mistakes and at some point that’s going to cost us a game that may cost us our season.”

Here’s a game-by-game breakdown of the Cowboys’ 74 penalties this season.

Week 1: 13 penalties for 86 yards in win at Giants.

Week 2: 5 penalties for 47 yards in loss at Seahawks.

Week 3: 13 penalties for 105 yards in win over Buccaneers.

Week 4: 2 penalties for 10 yards in loss to Bears.

Week 6: 13 penalties for 82 yards in loss at Ravens.

Week 7: 6 penalties for 43 yards in win at Panthers.

Week 8: 2 penalties for 10 yards in loss to Giants.

Week 9: 7 penalties for 50 yards in loss at Atlanta.

Week 10: 13 penalties for 75 yards in win at Eagles.

Claiborne, Carter youngsters on the rise for Dallas Cowboys

Dallas Cowboys cornerback Morris Claiborne (24) picks off a Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton - The Boys Are Back blog

ATLANTA — If you are young and a member of the Dallas Cowboys, chances are something bad happened to you recently.

That is, unless your name is Morris Claiborne or Bruce Carter.

While clouds hang over the heads of youngsters plagued by either injuries (DeMarco Murray, Sean Lee), legal/family issues (Dez Bryant, Tyron Smith) or mistake-riddled play (Bryant), life for Claiborne and Carter just keeps getting better.

Tonight, the Cowboys need the two sons of the South to shine in the Georgia Dome.

Claiborne, a first-round pick from LSU, and fellow cornerback Brandon Carr will be charged with slowing down Atlanta’s dynamic receiving duo of Roddy White and Julio Jones.

Coach Jason Garrett and defensive coordinator Rob Ryan agree Claiborne seems up to the tall task after watching him record five tackles, a pass breakup and a fumble recovery in last week’s loss to the Giants.

Claiborne is the only Dallas defender to record turnovers in back-to-back games this season. Two weeks ago, he intercepted a pass in the end zone in the win at Carolina.

“If you look at him over the course of the season, you’ve seen him grow physically and also in his demeanor and how aggressive he’s playing,” Garrett said. “There were a couple of plays against the Giants where he’s making tackles, and he’s really consciously trying to rip the ball out.

“The ball didn’t come out, but his mentality is that of a playmaker. And in relation to the football on the back end, that’s a real positive for us. He’s grown right before our eyes.”

Told Claiborne’s confidence level seems to increase each game, Ryan said, “Doesn’t it jump off the tape that way? The game is really starting to slow down for Mo. And he’s just going to get better and better.”

The same can be said of Carter, a second-year inside linebacker from North Carolina who also excelled against the Giants, notching seven tackles, a tackle for loss and one pass breakup. With Lee out, Carter also called the defensive signals.

Dallas Cowboys linebacker Bruce Carter (54) tackles New York Giants tight end Martellus Bennett - The Boys Are Back blog

It was a remarkable performance, considering that a year ago last week, Carter made his NFL debut after starting his rookie season in the trainer’s room rehabbing a knee injury left over from his senior year.

“It’s a whole lot different,” said Carter, who was limited to special-teams duty against Philadelphia on Oct. 30, 2011. “Last year, I was nervous playing in my first NFL game. This year, I’m really in the mix.”

Garrett said Carter played “particularly well” against the Giants.

“He handled his communication role and did a good job covering and running to the ball and making hits on the ball,” Garrett said.

New York Giants running back Ahmad Bradshaw (44) is tackled by Dallas Cowboys inside linebacker Bruce Carter (54) and nose tackle Jay Ratliff - The Boys Are Back blog

Like Claiborne, Carter has a tough matchup tonight, facing future Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez.

“It’s going to be our biggest challenge of the season,” Carter said of facing the Falcons, who average nearly 30 points a game. “But we’ve got to go in there, stick together and fight our way through.”

Count on Claiborne and Carter swinging to the very end.

Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice, left, rushes past Dallas Cowboys dedenders Bruce Carter, second from left, and Sean Lee - The Boys Are Back blog

FOLLOWUP – REX RYAN: Sean Lee injury caused brother, Rob Ryan, to cry during phone conversation (UPDATED)

IRVING — Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan said he didn’t cry over linebacker Sean Lee’s season-ending toe injury, “but I probably should have.”

On Wednesday, while discussing Jets linebacker Bart Scott’s toe injury, New York Jets coach Rex Ryan said that his brother was “crying, literally, on the phone because they just lost their great linebacker to a toe injury.”

“That guy’s so full of crap,” Rob Ryan said Friday. “Was I [griping] to him? Sure. We have so many damn injuries, of course I was. He did talk me off the plank. But I wasn’t crying tears, actual tears. I save that for the movies I watch with my wife. You know, Lifetime. My god, you guys ever watch Lifetime? Don’t. Trust me, don’t.”

Rob Ryan said moving on without Lee won’t be easy, especially against the high-scoring Giants. Lee had 14 tackles in the Cowboys’ season-opening 24-17 win at the Giants.

“I understand we played the Giants before and the only reason we stopped them was their lack of execution,” Rob Ryan said. “It had nothing to do with our players or our scheme. We got the message. And like [the Giants] said before, it was all them. That’s the only reason they self-destructed, apparently, against us last time,” Rob Ryan said. “So hopefully they have another bad game. It would take another miracle and it’d be great, though.”

SOURCE: Rob Ryan Press Conference – How Do You Replace Lee?

Video - Rob Ryan press conference - click on picture to watch

Rob Ryan Press Conference: How Do You Replace Lee?

Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan answers questions about the look of the Cowboys defense without middle linebacker Sean Lee.  Duration: 9:28

Click on photo above to watch video. Enjoy!

REX RYAN: Sean Lee injury caused brother, Rob Ryan, to cry during phone conversation

rob ryan - rex ryan - no-more-tears - The Boys Are Back blog

There’s no doubting that the Cowboys lost one of their most valuable players this week when it was announced Wednesday that Sean Lee was being placed on the injured reserve with a toe injury.

Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan was so upset over losing the team’s leading tackler that he was driven to tears, according to his brother, New York Jets coach Rex Ryan.

While discussing Jets linebacker Bart Scott’s toe injury on Wednesday, Rex Ryan said, “My brother was crying, literally, on the phone because they just lost their great linebacker to a toe injury.”

Rex Ryan, who is known for delivering witty remarks, could have been exaggerating. But knowing how valuable Lee is to the Cowboys’ defensive game plan, he might have been telling the truth.

Rob Ryan will likely give his side of the phone conversation on Friday, when he usually speaks with media members at Valley Ranch.

GAMEBALLS: Dallas Cowboys vs. Carolina Panthers

Dallas Cowboys QB Tony Romo vs Carolina Panthers - The Boys Are Back blog

Offense: Tony Romo

The numbers for Romo were fine, but I want to focus on his ability to take the different personnel groups that head coach Jason Garrett was using and making it all work.

Romo knew he was going to get some soft coverage on the outside, and with Panthers cornerback Chris Gamble out of the game, there were going to be some opportunities for him to make throws. In the first half, he was able to find tight end Jason Witten for some key catches, before turning around in the second half, and getting wideout Miles Austin going again after he had the fumble that led to Carolina’s points late in the second quarter.

What I think Romo has done a much better job of in his career is when one of his receivers makes a mistake, he gets that player going right back into the game. It’s a really nice trait to have.

Defense: Anthony Spencer

Anthony Spencer vs Carolina Panthers QB Fig Newton - The Boys Are Back blog

From my view both in the press box seat and on field level, it was a really nice game for Anthony Spencer. Without much work the last several weeks, he was able to shine when his teammates needed him the most. There was a lot talk over the offseason about whether the Cowboys had done the right thing by putting the franchise tag on Spencer, but today he proved that he was worth every penny that the front office is paying him. Spencer has always been known as a run stopper, but defensive coordinator Rob Ryan has told anyone who was willing to listen that Spencer was just as effective rushing the passer. Against Carolina, Spencer proved him right. For a team that has been struggling to finish out games, Spencer’s play was just what they needed. You can bet that Ryan is happy to have him back.

Special Teams: Punt Coverage Unit

Dallas Cowboys punter Moorman - The Boys Are Back blog

I could have selected Dan Bailey and the job he was able to do getting those field goals home, but you have to give Brian Moorman and this punt coverage team a ton of credit. Moorman was a master at directional punting today. In four opportunities, the Panthers managed only four total yards on returns. Moorman averaged 49.3 yards per punt with a net of 48.3. There were plenty of times where he was able to flip the field position, which forced the Panthers offense to take the ball a long way down the field. In a backup role, Moorman has more than done his job and was a big reason why the Cowboys were able to successfully win this game.

EGGSHELL OFFENSE–BOMBSHELL DEFENSE: Dallas Cowboys leave Carolina with crucial win

EGGSHELL OFFENSE–BOMBSHELL DEFENSE - Dallas Cowboys leave Carolina with crucial win - The Boys Are Back blog

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – In the most pivotal sequence of the game, when the Cowboys took a late lead over the Panthers, it appeared head coach Jason Garrett was playing to not lose rather than to win.

Ultimately, though, that’s really all Sunday was about, and Garrett’s conservative decision to settle for a late field goal turned out to be the right call. The Cowboys defense did its job twice, and the visiting Dallas Cowboys left Carolina with a win, keeping this young season out of the ditch by advancing to 3-3, far more palatable than 2-4.

Facing a third-and-nine at the Carolina 15, Garrett elected to run the ball rather than force a pass, which the Panthers were loaded up to stop. While the call would’ve certainly been questioned had it backfired, the coach was sure it was the best decision at the time.

“They wanted to play big-time coverage there,” Garrett said. “We wanted to preserve the opportunity there to kick that field goal. … We felt like that was a good answer against the shell coverage, three-man rush they were going to do. If they had done something else, we would’ve been in something else.

Dan Bailey nailed the go-ahead kick from a manageable distance.

The season has had its ups and downs, but having played just two games at home and four on the road, the Cowboys are not in an awful position. They will have to play better than they did today to win big games ahead. That starts with next week’s rematch of their season-opening upset of the defending champion Giants, now 5-2 and atop the NFC East by 1.5 games.

If the Cowboys are to become a team with even the slightest shot at competing for a title, it’ll be through the kind of perseverance they showed Sunday. Things were less than perfect from the very beginning, when Bailey’s opening kickoff sailed out of bounds, but the defense kept the Panthers from establishing an early edge. Likewise, the Cowboys’ offense got only three first-half drives, going three-and-out once, settling for a field goal after an 18 play march another time, then losing the ball on a fumble, but the defense kept the game close.

The Panthers struggled to run the ball all day, save for quarterback Cam Newton, and he was forced into several mistakes of his own when attempting to pass, none more damning than a second quarter interception in the end zone by Morris Claiborne, amazingly the first pick by a Cowboys defensive back this season.

The Panthers led 7-3 at halftime, making Sunday’s game the 11th they have lost after leading through two quarters under second-year head coach Ron Rivera. Though the Panthers added another touchdown drive in the fourth quarter, the Cowboys had confidence in their defense to stop Newton late.

“We trust our defense immensely,” Garrett said.

On the Panthers’ ensuing possession, Newton appeared to extend the drive by converting a short fourth-down throw near midfield, but officials ruled Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan had signaled a timeout first. When the teams lined up again, Newton’s pass was incomplete, cornerback Morris Claiborne appearing to get away with a physical defensive play on a pass to Louis Murphy.

The turn of events allowed the Cowboys to tack on another field goal, forcing Carolina to have to go the length of the field at the end. Though Newton appeared to have a shot on a deep ball to Brandon LaFell, the Cowboys defense prevailed.

“We feel like we always have pressure on us, no matter what the lead is, no matter if we’re down,” Claiborne said. “We have a lot of pride in what we do to go out and try to get stops.”

The defense will have to be at its best once again in seven days, needing a repeat of Sept. 5, when they limited Eli Manning and New York to just 17 points. They’ll need more help from the offense along the way, too, with a more sustained run game and better protection of the ball than was on display against the Panthers.

Though this team hasn’t yet been able to sustain momentum, they continue to build reasons for hope.

“I think each week you have to start fresh and work hard,” said Miles Austin, who was on the receiving end of the Cowboys’ only touchdown. “It’s going to be big. It’s obviously a huge week … they all are.”

POTATO PATATO: Rob Ryan emphasizes takeovers, not turnovers

Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan works the sideline against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers - The Boys Are Back blog

IRVING, Texas – Give Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan credit for coming up with an interesting way to address creating turnovers.

“Obviously we’re not good at getting turnovers, so we’re going to get takeovers this week,” Ryan said. “We’ve changed the game and I think we’re going to do much better. So we’re getting takeovers and we’re ready to go.”

In the first five games, the Cowboys have generated only four turnovers, including a league-low one interception. Only Indianapolis (three) has created fewer than the Cowboys. New England leads the NFL with 16 takeaways (six interceptions, 10 fumbles).

Dallas’ defense does rank #2 in yards allowed per game, only behind the 49ers. The Cowboys also have the #1 passing defense in the NFL.

Sunday’s foe, Carolina, has turned it over 11 times on the season with five interceptions and two lost fumbles from Cam Newton, two lost fumbles from Joe Adams and one each from Steve Smith and DeAngelo Williams.

The Cowboys have emphasized the importance of creating turnovers every possibly way through drills and video. Let’s see if the name change works.

Todd Archer (ESPN – Dallas) contributed to this post

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Ryan: I Can Handle The Option

Rob Ryan talks about handling the Panthers offense, and what he expects once his defense is full speed.

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

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

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

ILB Sean Lee: A

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

OLB DeMarcus Ware: A

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

CB Brandon Carr: A-

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

OLB Anthony Spencer: B

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

ILB Bruce Carter: B

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

CB Mike Jenkins: B

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

NT Josh Brent: B-

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

S Barry Church: B-

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

CB Morris Claiborne: C+

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

DE Jason Hatcher: C+

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

DE Tyrone Crawford: C+

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

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

FIRST IMPRESSION: Something has to be done about running game

Dallas Cowboys offensive line vs Chicago Bears - Line of scrimmage - The Boys Are Back blog

Offense:

The more you studied the Bears on defense, the more you realized that it was going to be difficult to move the ball on them. For the Cowboys on Monday night, moving the ball wasn’t the problem. Instead, it was missed opportunities when the offensive line was able to protect and Romo had time to find an open receiver. Poor execution led to a turnover, or a drop or even an overthrow. This Chicago defense wasn’t dominant like I had seen on film, but it simply took advantage of the Cowboys inability to finish drives and make plays.

While we focus on those missed opportunities, we also need to take note that for the second straight week, this team lacked a running game. Sure, people will blame this solely on the offensive line, but it’s more than that. It was a collective effort. There is really a struggle to get any type of push at the point of attack, but this is a tight end and fullback problem as well. Give the Bears credit for their run defense tonight but going forward, something has to be done.

Defense:

Not going to make any excuses for this defense tonight, but it was clear that they needed to find a way to make more plays than they did. So far this team has gotten by without Jay Ratliff at nose tackle, but tonight they played without Anthony Spencer and it was the first game without safety Barry Church as well. While Josh Brent has done a nice job at nose, they still need Ratliff. Victor Butler does a much better job of rushing the passer than he does playing the run, although even when he had a chance to get a sack and get the defense off the field, he was unable to make a play.

Tonight we saw Brandon Carr struggle and the Bears go after Morris Claiborne a bit. Danny McCray was in on several plays but had a chance to make an interception late in the game, instead allowing tight end Kellen Davis to take the ball away from him.

For a team that shut Vincent Jackson down last week, Brandon Marshall was unstoppable. There were too many plays where he had space. I was surprised that DeMarcus Ware didn’t have a bigger night against J’Marcus Webb, who had been struggling against everyone at left tackle. Ware did have a sack and three tackles, but again, I expected more. Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan did his best to match the Bears, but Jay Cutler was more than up to the challenge and the Cowboys were able to only generate one turnover from him.

Special Teams:

Cowboys punter Brian Moorman was effective in this three punts with two inside the 20. Bears return man Devin Hester wasn’t the factor that he could have been. Hester did manage to have one kickoff return for 29 yards, but the kickoff coverage team was up to the task when given the opportunity. In the three chances the Cowboys did have to punt, it appeared from the press box that the protection was better than the last two weeks.

MONDAY NIGHT MELTDOWN: Dallas Cowboys loss falls squarely on Tony Romo’s shoulders

Randy Galloway - Ft Worth Star Telegram - The Boys Are Back blog

ARLINGTON — It was Tony Romo’s Monday night nightmare, low-lighted by an ongoing display of quarterbacking malfunctions that sunk him, sunk the Cowboys and considering what’s immediately ahead on the schedule, probably also Titanic-ed the season.

Welcome to October.

December is where the Cowboys usually go to die, but this sucker may be over by Halloween. Jerry Jones, who as of this week is now selling women’s panties at the Big Yard, at least learned the answer to this question:

What exactly is Victoria’s Secret?

Easy answer. Victoria knew. Knew all along the Cowboys belonged in the Lingerie League.

The Chicago Bears enjoyed an MNF road breeze, winning by 34-18, in what will rank as Romo’s most despicable home-field performance ever in this venue, and makes it an early fire-at-will open season for the army of local Romo haters.

Sure, Tony had his helpers in this debacle.

Dez Bryant, come on down. Way down.

Also throw in a Cowboys defense that helped Bears quarterback Jay Cutler restore his tattered reputation by a lack of pressure, despite a Chicago offensive line every bit as much maligned as the Cowboys’ offensive line.

But the bottom line is still a greasy smudge on Romo’s permanent record, and the bottom line showed two Bears defensive touchdowns off a Romo pick and a Romo fumble (ruled an interception), two missed receivers running open for touchdowns, and, overall, being tagged with five interceptions.

Chicago’s defense is respected, of course, but this, this was a start-to-finish evening of what could go wrong for the quarterback did go wrong for the quarterback.

In what actually started as a defensive struggle both ways, the Cowboys trailed 3-0 late in the second quarter when Romo attempted a short out route pass to Bryant. Somebody blew it, and afterward, coach Jason Garrett wouldn’t place blame.

But since Romo does know the plays, and who knows what Dez knows, let us guess, yes, Bryant screwed it up. The pass was picked off by Charles Tillman for an easy TD, and a 10-0 lead. Dez had run upfield. Romo threw short.

Romo, however, came back with a good TD drive before halftime, and it was anybody’s ballgame with a 10-7 intermission score.

The second half, however, was pathetic for the home team, with a Bears opening drive that featured Cutler operating in a rocking chair in whipping his offense to a quick touchdown. No blitz by Rob Ryan meant no chance for pressure.

Down 17-7, the meltdown began. Romo threw a pick that was in the hands of receiver Kevin Ogletree but appeared to be dislodged by a defender, resulting in a pop-up interception near the Bears’ goal line. That was a huge missed chance.

When the Cowboys’ defense got the ball right back on a Cutler fumble, Romo was grabbed by the Bears’ Henry Melton, free because guard Mackenzy Bernadeau blew a block, and a pop-up fumble/interception resulted.

Lance Briggs picked it out of mid-air and rambled 74 yards for a touchdown. A Cowboys scoring threat became a one-eighty disaster and the Bears were on their blowout way, leading 24-7.

Most disturbing, among many disturbing moments for Romo, was him missing a wide-open Bryant in the first half in what could have been a touchdown in a still scoreless game. And again in the second half, Romo missed a wide-open Miles Austin with what could have been a touchdown pass, cutting the lead to 24-14 with still 17 minutes to play.

This just in:

The woulda, shoulda, couldas don’t count.

What does count is the Cowboys crashed to a 2-2 record, and now have a long, long wait through the bye week before attempting to regroup. That regrouping will coincide with the season’s toughest stretch of schedule.

Four of the next five games are on the road, including at the Ravens, at Carolina, then the Giants here a few days before Halloween, followed by at Atlanta and at Philly.

A show of hands please from those local fools who attempted to "style-point" the home debut win last week over Tampa Bay.

The Cowboys aren’t good enough to downgrade any kind of win.

Due to the shaky state of the Bears’ offense, Monday night was as good a chance for a victory as the Cowboys will have between now and almost Thanksgiving.

And then Romo crashed and burned.

And then the flames started building around the entire season.

Oh, well.

Jerry still has women’s panties to sell.

Bring on the lingerie.

Galloway and Company - ESPN Dallas - 103 3 FM - The Boys Are Back blog

Randy Galloway can be heard 3-6 p.m. weekdays on Galloway & Co. on ESPN/103.3 FM.

INJURY UPDATE: Dallas Cowboys OLB Anthony Spencer out vs. Chicago Bears

While an earlier source had said that Dallas Cowboys outside linebacker Anthony Spencer would play tonight against the Chicago Bears despite missing practice all week with a strained pectoral, a source with direct knowledge of the situation later confirmed Spencer would not play.

Spencer, a key cog in the NFL’s top-ranked defense, is officially listed as questionable.

Spencer, a former first-round pick playing this season under a franchise tag tender, has been a force during the Cowboys’ 2-1 start. He ranks second on the team in tackles (29, according to coaches’ film review) and sacks (two) and leads the Cowboys with nine quarterback hurries and two tackles for losses.

Rob Ryan’s defense will be missing three starters, including strong safety Barry Church, who was placed on injured reserve after tearing his Achilles tendon in the Week 3 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Pro Bowl nose tackle Jay Ratliff, who had yet to play this season due to a high ankle sprain, might be able to return after the Cowboys’ upcoming bye. Defensive end Kenyon Coleman will miss his second consecutive game with a hyperextended knee.

TOMORROWS HEADLINES: Five storylines to watch tonight in Dallas Cowboys vs. Chicago Bears game

Dallas Cowboys' Jason Witten takes a breather during a time out against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers - The Boys Are Back blog

Five storylines to watch in tonight’s Cowboys-Bears game. What will tomorrow’s headlines read?

The old Jason Witten

He promised the old Jason Witten would be back last week. He wasn’t. This week is another chance. There is no way one of the franchise’s most respected players, a seven-time Pro Bowl player, can struggle again. This shouldn’t be an every-week thing, right?

Kicking to Hester

The Cowboys had the second-best punt return defense in the NFL through the first two weeks. But they have a new punter for this game against the Bears and Devin Hester. It’s up to Brian Moorman to kick directionally and high. And on kickoffs, Dan Bailey, who has four touchbacks on 11 kickoffs this year, said he is making it a personal challenge to neutralize Hester.

Line work

For two games, the offensive line has been battled to a standstill at best, which might be putting it too kindly. Now the Bears come in with a front four that is one of the NFL’s best at getting sacks by itself, not often needing extra rushers. Meanwhile, the Cowboys are running for only 3.5 yards per carry, 23rd in the NFL (same as the Bears).

Safety depth

The Cowboys are already down a safety (Barry Church), cut another at the start of the week (Mana Silva), and merely hoped to get Gerald Sensabaugh over a calf strain in time to play tonight. After that? A novice starter (Danny McCray). And their best corner (Brandon Carr).

Turnover potential

Bears quarterback Jay Cutler has thrown six interceptions. The Cowboys’ Tony Romo had two fumbles and an interception last week. This is a game with potential for takeaways on both sides. The Bears already have nine, so they’re plus-3 for the season. The Cowboys? Minus-3.

RELATED: KEYS TO VICTORY – Dallas Cowboys vs. Chicago Bears

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

The Cowboys and Chicago Bears have a lot in common besides their 2-1 records. They both feature stingy defenses and offensive lines that struggle to protect their quarterbacks. Now, the two teams face each other Monday night at 7:30 p.m. Here is a look at how both teams match up:

Shield Romo

The Cowboys’ offensive line resembled a sieve the last two games. Against Seattle and Tampa Bay, defenders routinely crashed the backfield. Quarterback Tony Romo has been sacked five times in the last eight quarters and hit on 10 other occasions. It’s uncertain if the punishment has had a cumulative effect on Romo’s performance. But it’s not good. And against a Bears defense that collected a league -high14 sacks after three weeks, Romo could be in danger if the pass protection doesn’t improve.

Do better on first down

Jason Garrett has repeatedly said he doesn’t want his offense playing behind the chains. In other words, he’d like to avoid unfavorable down-and-distance situations in the early stages of each series. But this season the Cowboys haven’t. After three weeks they are among the least efficient teams on first down, averaging four or more yards only 42.7 percent of the time. That needs to improve if Dallas has designs on being a productive offense.

Attack Cutler

This season, Rob Ryan’s defense seems a bit tamer. The Cowboys coordinator has dialed back the blitzes. But this week he should consider attacking at will. The Bears’ line is vulnerable, having yielded 11 sacks, the third-highest total in the NFL. They have also allowed 20 knockdowns. Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler has expressed frustration with shoddy line play and it has affected his performance. In a loss to Green Bay, when he was sacked seven times, he completed 41 percent of his pass attempts.

Improve special teams play

The Cowboys’ special teams play this season has left a lot to be desired. Against Tampa Bay, they nearly allowed a punt to be blocked for the second consecutive game. Two other times, they had 10 men on the field. Dallas needs to correct its mistakes quickly. The Bears feature Devin Hester, one of the most dynamic return specialists in NFL history. He’s capable of making a game-changing play and the Cowboys can’t afford to let that happen.

GOING INSIDE OUT: Dallas Cowboys coverage advantages with LB’s Bruce Carter, Sean Lee

Dallas Cowboys inside linebacker Bruce Carter (54) tackles Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end Dallas Clark - The Boys Are Back blog

Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan said the Cowboys may be one of the few teams that can afford to play nickel defense on third down. That’s because their inside linebackers, Sean Lee and Bruce Carter, can cover.

“We can keep both those guys in because most people have liability in coverage,” Ryan said. “These guys excel in coverage. We like to keep both of them out there as much as possible. They’ve been doing a great job.”

Lee and Carter are the leading and fourth-leading tacklers on the team, with 67 tackles between them. Each has a pass defensed and two tackles for loss. Lee has an interception.

Head coach Jason Garrett said Carter learned from the touchdown catch behind him in short yardage last week against Tampa.

“The biggest thing on the touchdown was, it’s a really difficult play for a linebacker,” Garrett said, “because you’re down in that short-yardage situation, that goal-line situation, and he has to be the guy who fits the run and hits the run and makes the play in the run game – and, oh, by the way, you gotta cover that 7-route by that tight end. So it’s a hard play. He was playing the run more than he was playing the pass and reacted back late to it. But that’s what you have to do. You see teams around the league complete that play all the time.”

Garrett said with time, Carter will see tell-tale signs when that play is coming.

“Seeing the separation between the back and the quarterback, maybe not seeing the linemen come off quite as low and firm as if it’s a run, maybe processing all that, and that’s just going to take time,” Garrett said. “But he certainly has the physical skills for it. He made a ton of plays for us.”

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