Tag Archives: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

MOVING ON: Kevin Ogletree reunites with John Garrett in Tampa Bay

dallas cowboys trainers help dallas cowboys wide receiver kevin ogletree (85) off the field - the boys are back blog

Bucs receivers coach John Garrett added one of his former players today (Thursday), reuniting with Kevin Ogletree. Garrett was the tight ends coach with the Cowboys during all four of Ogletree’s seasons in Dallas.

Ogletree, signed as an undrafted free agent in 2009, became the Cowboys’ No. 3 receiver in both 2011 and 2012. He lost the job early during the 2011 season to Laurent Robinson, who was signed off the street after final cuts. Ogletree lost playing time late last season to Dwayne Harris.

Ogletree played 457 plays to Harris’ 257, but 212 of Harris’ plays came the final seven games, including 68 on Thanksgiving Day against Washington when Ogletree sat out with a concussion. In the final seven games, six of which he played, Ogletree was in for only 143 snaps.

Harris is expected to get the first shot at the No. 3 job this season behind Miles Austin and Dez Bryant.

Ogletree finished his four seasons with 46 games played, two starts, 57 receptions, 730 yards and four touchdowns.

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COACHES ROSTER SET: Jason Garrett introduces his finalized coaching staff; discusses new hires

Jason Garrett - Will decide who calls offensive plays for the Dallas Cowboys - The Boys Are Back blog 2013

IRVING, Texas – In his first press conference since the end of the regular season, Dallas Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett tried to use the setting to discuss the new faces on his coaching staff.

While he was able to do that, the focus shifted quickly to the issue of play-calling and the possible change next season involving Bill Callahan’s role on the sidelines.

Whether or not Callahan’s situation will be different, many faces surrounding him certainly will be.

Garrett shared some stories about the new coaches, including his involvement with the former Buccaneers assistants Monte Kiffin, Rod Marinelli and Rich Bisaccia when Garrett played for Tampa Bay in 2004.

Here’s a short briefing from Garrett on each of his new assistants, including Wes Phillips who has been here for six seasons but is now the new tight ends coach.

Garrett on defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin: Early on, I think he was on to me because every day

after practice I would walk up to him and ask him a football question. He’s a very generous and gracious guy. I learned not only from watching him and how he handled himself and meetings, but just being around him. He’s very gracious and generous. We developed a relationship back then.  My respect level for him is really off the charts. We’re fortunate to have him here to coordinate this defense. He’s done it better than anyone else has.

Garrett on defensive line coach Rod Marinelli: He’s one of those guys who talks about the greatness of

the game of football. He talks about preparing the right way. There’s great honor about playing and coaching this game and doing it the right way. The way he conducted himself that year I was around him, was really, really impressive to me. As impressive as a football coach as I’ve ever been around.

Garrett on special teams coordinator Rich Bisaccia: He’s been one of the premier teams guys in the league. He just has an infectious personality. It’s particularly important for a special teams coach.

He’s got a great demeanor. The players play as hard for him as I’ve ever seen players play for any coach. He’s a great teacher, loves the game. He’ll be a great resource for us. He’ll make this team better.

Garrett on wide receiver coach Derek Dooley: When I was a player here in the 90’s, he was coaching receivers at SMU. Our relationship goes back that far. We coached together on Nick Saban’s staff with the Dolphins in 2005-06. We’ve known each other well. He played receiver at Virginia and has a great receiver background. He and I know each other well. He knows our system and I think that transition will be really good for us.

Garrett on tight end coach Wes Phillips: He’s really someone who is my right-hand man. We spent some time together putting the offense in a number of years ago. He’s really been a great asset and resource for me. Wes was a quarterback himself and coached receivers earlier in his career.

Garrett on running back coach Gary Brown: He’s really a guy I have a tremendous amount of respect for. I’ve known him for afar and competed against him. This is really a football guy. I’m excited about him. Often times, guys that play in the NFL don’t have a willingness to do what’s necessary to coach at this level. He’s a really bright guy. He’s someone who is a really, really good teacher. I know him the least of the guys we hired but I might be as excited about him as anybody else.

Garrett on asst. offensive line coach Frank Pollack: Frank played for Bill Callahan at Northern Arizona in the late 80’s and they go way back. Some of the contributions he can make, along with his relationship with Bill, can make us a really good football team.

SUPER BOWL SABATAGE DRAMA: Bill Callahan denies Tim Brown’s allegations

MOBILE, Ala.As Bill Callahan’s name gets brought up as a possibility for the new Cowboys’ play-caller, his calling of plays for a previous team 10 years ago has been brought to the forefront. 

Dec 2, 2012; Arlington, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys offensive line coach Bill Callahan talks with tackle Doug Free (68) during the game against the Philadelphia Eagles at Cowboys Stadium. The Cowboys beat the Eagles 38-33. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Callahan said he was “shocked, saddened and outraged” in a statement released Tuesday night regarding the allegations made by former Oakland receiver Tim Brown that the former Raiders head coach tried to sabotage the team by changing the game-plan on the Friday prior to Super Bowl XXXVII.

Former Oakland receiver Jerry Rice later came forward on ESPN and sided with Brown, stating that Callahan disliked players on the team and wanted the Buccaneers to win the game. Tampa Bay beat Oakland, 48-21, in one of the more lopsided Super Bowls.    

Here is Callahan’s full response:

“There are many people who are disappointed by the outcome of Super Bowl XXVII, but none more than me. While I fully understand a competitive professional football player’s disappointment when a game’s outcome doesn’t go his team’s way, I am shocked, saddened and outraged by Tim Brown’s allegations and Jerry Rice’s support of those allegations made through various media outlets over the last twenty four hours. To leave no doubt, I categorically and unequivocally deny the sum and substance of their allegations. Like every game I ever coached on the professional or collegiate level, I endeavor to the best of my professional ability to position my team to win. To suggest otherwise, especially at this time when it involved the Super Bowl, is ludicrous and defamatory. I have always honored the spirit of competition that drives us to sport as children and, for the luck few, sustains us in adulthood. Any suggestion that I would undermine the integrity of the sport that I love and dedicate my life to, or dishonor the commitment I made to our players, coaches and fans, is flat out wrong. I think it would be in the best interests of all including the game America loves that these allegations be retracted immediately. I want to extend my personal and my family’s deep appreciation to the coaches, players and fans who have come forward and thoughtfully spoken out against these ill-conceived allegations.”

Brown said on SiriusXM NFL Radio that Callahan changed the game-plan from a run-heavy attack to a pass-heavy attack late in the week, taking away from the Raiders’ advantage on the offensive line. He said Callahan did it because of his disdain for the organization and his friendship with Bucs head coach Jon Gruden.

The comments that Oakland lost simply because of Callahan’s late switches and not because of Tampa Bay’s defense essentially ripped both current coordinators for the Cowboys, as Monte Kiffin led the Bucs’ defense in that game. The Tampa Bay defense led the league in total defense and interceptions that season, picking off Raiders quarterback Rich Gannon five times in the Super Bowl.

The Raiders entered the game with the top total offense in the league, averaging 67.5 more passing yards per game than the rest of the NFL. They didn’t have a 1,000-yard rusher that season and averaged six fewer rushing yards per game than the rest of the league.

Oakland rushed 10 times and passed 17 times in the first half of the Super Bowl game, entering the second half trailing, 20-3, while averaging just 1.8 yards per rush. The Raiders ran just one more time the rest of the game, as they played catch up the rest of the way.

GRAMPA TWO DEFENSE: Explaining the Tampa 2 defensive strategy

The Tampa 2 is the defensive strategy popularized by (and thus named after) the Tampa Bay Buccaneers of the mid 1990s-early 2000s. The Tampa 2 is typically employed out of a 4-3 defensive alignment, which consists of four linemen, three linebackers, two cornerbacks, and two safeties. The defense is similar to a Cover 2 defense, except the middle linebacker drops into a deep middle coverage for a Cover 3 when he reads a pass play.

The term rose to popularity due to the execution of this defensive scheme by then-head coach Tony Dungy and defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin.

The roots of the Tampa 2 system actually are in the Steel Curtain days of Pittsburgh football. “My philosophy is really out of the 1975 Pittsburgh Steelers playbook,” said Dungy during media interviews while at Super Bowl XLI. “That is why I have to laugh when I hear ‘Tampa 2′. Chuck Noll and Bud Carson — that is where it came from, I changed very little.” Lovie Smith mentions having played the system in junior high school during the 1970s, though Carson introduced the idea of moving the middle linebacker into coverage. Carson’s system became especially effective with the Steelers’ addition of aggressive and athletic middle linebacker Jack Lambert.

During the 2005 NFL season, the Buccaneers, under defensive coordinator Kiffin, ranked first in the league in fewest total yards allowed, Smith’s Bears ranked number two, and Dungy’s Colts ranked eleventh. By 2006, the Buffalo Bills, Minnesota Vikings, Kansas City Chiefs, and Detroit Lions had also adopted the defense.

The scheme is known for its simple format, speed, and the aggressive mentality of its players. Tampa 2 teams are known as gang tacklers with tremendous team speed, and practice to always run to the ball. It also requires a hard hitting secondary to cause turnovers.

Tampa 2 description

The personnel used in the Tampa 2 are specific in position and required abilities. All positions in this defense place a premium on speed, and often the result is that they are all undersized by league standards. The defensive linemen in this scheme have to be quick and agile enough to create pressure on the quarterback without the aid of a blitz from either the linebackers or the secondary, with the defensive tackle in the nose position having above-average tackling skills to help stop runs.

The three linebackers, two cornerbacks and two safeties are responsible for covering the middle of the field. The outside linebackers’ general zone is between the cornerbacks, covering the area of the field from the line of scrimmage to 10 yards back. The middle linebacker must have better-than-average speed, and additional skills to be able to read the play and either maintain his central position to help the outside linebackers cover short passes, drop behind the linebackers in coverage and protect the zone of the field behind the outside linebackers from 11-20 yards out, or run up to the line of scrimmage to help assist in stopping the runs. “It takes a special linebacker to do that, a guy with speed,” says Pete Prisco, senior NFL writer for CBSSports.com.The cornerbacks protect the sidelines of the field from the line of scrimmage to anywhere between 15-20 yards out. According to Prisco, they “don’t have to be great man-to-man cover players, but they have to be guys who can tackle.” An additional requirement for all of Dungy’s linebackers and cornerbacks is to be above-average tacklers, as they are usually the primary tacklers in the defense.

The two safeties are responsible for covering their respective halves of the field from 20 yards out and more. The safeties in the system are expected to be above-average cover men with the ability to break up passes, but each safety also is expected to have additional specific skills. The strong safeties, while not expected to be great tacklers, are expected to be hard hitters. The hard hitting strong safety protects the middle of the field from being exploited by small, fast receivers, and running backs on wheel route. The free safety will be called upon to do one of two things in certain situations: either blitz the quarterback, requiring him to have the skills necessary to beat a blocking halfback or fullback, or to assume the coverage zone left by a blitzing cornerback.

The Tampa 2 is particularly effective against teams who are playing with a lead, theoretically because it limits big plays. It forces offenses to be patient and to settle for short gains and time-consuming drives. This may be due to the nature of the “bend-but-don’t-break” 2-deep zone coverage scheme and responsibilities safeties play in the Tampa 2.

Teams that have been successful against this defense have managed to run the ball up the middle past the defensive tackles, or throw passes in the seams between the outside linebackers and the cornerbacks (often the most effective receiver against a Tampa 2 defense is a tight end, since they often line up against this seam). Other tactics that have shown to be effective are misdirection plays that take advantage of the defensive speed and rely on the defense ‘over-running’ the play (such as the middle linebacker rushing to the line of scrimmage on a play-action pass), or overloading the safeties by having multiple receivers running deep routes, creating more targets in a zone than defenders. Recently, some teams have also been able to exploit the seam between the cornerbacks and the safeties, when the quarterback can throw a pass to a receiver in that seam faster than the safety can rush up to close it and cover the receiver. A recent trend is for teams to send a receiver up the middle, creating a mismatch against the linebacker in coverage. The Tampa 2 means that offenses are now finding it effective to exploit the deep middle, where the safeties have to cover the most ground.

Tampa 2 run defense

To defend running plays, the Tampa 2 is a single gap defense where each player is responsible to defend his own gap. The assigned gap changes with game conditions and personnel.

Typically this style of defense utilizes smaller but faster linemen and linebackers with above average speed. Also, the defensive backs must be above average hitters.

The key theme in stopping the run from a Tampa 2 is directing traffic to the weak-side linebacker. It is therefore necessary to have a skilled tackler at the WLB position.

BREAK DOWN: BASIC COVERAGES EXPLAINED

Cover 0

Cover 0 is a strict man-to-man alignment where each defensive back covers one receiver.

Advantages: Cover 0 is an aggressive scheme that allows for numerous blitz packages, as it’s easier for players to drop off their coverage and rush the quarterback.

Disadvantages: The main disadvantage of Cover 0 is that there is no “help over the top” – if a wide receiver “beats” (runs past) his defender, there is no one left in the secondary who can make up the coverage on the receiver, which could result in an easy pass completion and possible touchdown.

Cover 1

Cover One is a man-to-man coverage for all the defensive backs except for one player (usually a safety) who is not assigned a man to cover but rather plays deep and reacts to the development of the play. Often the safety will remain in a pass coverage position and play a zone defense by guarding the middle of the secondary, reacting to runs or completed passes and double-teaming a receiver if needed.

In a traditional Cover 1, the free safety plays deep and all of the other defenders lock in man coverage to an assigned player for the duration of the play. Essentially, during the pre-snap read, each defender identifies the coverage responsibilities and does not change the assignment. Some teams play a variant of the Cover 1 called Cover 7. In Cover 7, the free safety still plays deep, but the underneath coverage is much more flexible and the defenders switch assignments as the play develops in an attempt to improve defensive positions to make a play on the ball. Examples of these switches include double covering a certain receiver and using defensive help to undercut a route to block a throwing lane.

Advantages: Cover 1 schemes are usually very aggressive, preferring to proactively disrupt the offense by giving the quarterback little time to make a decision while collapsing the pocket quickly. This is the main advantage of Cover 1 schemes – the ability to blitz from various pre-snap formations while engaging in complex man-to-man coverage schemes post-snap. For example, a safety may blitz while a cornerback is locked in man coverage with a receiver. Or the cornerback may blitz with the safety rotating into man coverage on the receiver post-snap.

Disadvantages: The main weakness of the Cover 1 scheme is that there is only one deep defender that must cover a large amount of field and provide help on any deep threats. Offenses can attack Cover 1 schemes by sending two receivers on deep routes, provided that the quarterback has enough time for his receivers to get open. The deep defender must decide which receiver to help out on, leaving the other in man coverage which may be a mismatch.

A secondary weakness is inherent in its design: the use of man coverage opens up yards after catch lanes. Man coverage is attacked by offenses in various ways that try to isolate their best athletes on defenders by passing them the ball quickly before the defender can react or designing plays that clear defenders from certain areas thus opening yards after catch lanes.

Cover 2

In traditional Cover 2 schemes, the free safety (FS) and strong safety (SS) have deep coverage responsibilities, each guarding half of the field.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Minnesota Vikings, Chicago Bears, and Detroit Lions all run or have run a variant of this defense called the Tampa 2. In the Tampa 2 defense, a third player (usually the middle linebacker) plays a middle zone, guarding an area closer to the line of scrimmage than the safeties but farther out from typical “underneath” pass coverages. The Tampa 2 defense actually originated, at least in its earliest variant, with the Pittsburgh Steelers during the 1970s.

Cover 2 can be run from any seven-man defensive front such as the 3-4 and the 4-3 defenses. Various kinds of “underneath” coverages played by cornerbacks and linebackers may also be implemented. For example, “Cover 2 Man” means the two safeties have deep coverage responsibility while the cornerbacks and linebackers follow their offensive assignment in one-on-one coverage. The San Diego Chargers inherited a base Cover 2 Man 3-4 from former coach Wade Phillips. Cover 2 can also be paired with underneath zone schemes: “Cover 2 Zone” refers to two safeties with deep coverage responsibility, but now the cornerbacks and linebackers drop into specific coverage zones where they defend passes only in their assigned area.

In cover 2 the cornerbacks are considered to be “hard” corners, meaning that they have increased run stopping responsibilities and generally defend against shorter passes, although if two receivers run a deep route on a certain side of the field, that side’s corner has deep coverage responsibility as well. It also relies heavily on the “Mike” (Middle) linebacker’s ability to quickly drop deep downfield into pass coverage when he reads a pass.

A variant of cover two is the Inverted Cover 2, in which either right before or after the snap the corners “bail” out while the safeties come up – in effect switching responsibilities. This strategy may be employed to trick a quarterback who has not correctly interpreted the shift. The main drawback is that the middle of the field is left open, a disadvantage that allowed Larry Fitzgerald to score a touchdown in Super Bowl XLIII against the Steelers.

Advantages: The advantage of cover 2 is that it provides great versatility to the defense as the corners can play run, short pass, and deep pass with the confidence that they have support from two deep safeties.

Disadvantages: The main weakness of the Cover 2 shell occurs in the middle of the field between the safeties. At the snap of the ball, many times the safeties will move toward the sidelines in order to cover any long passes to quick wide receivers. This movement creates a natural hole between the safeties that can be attacked. By sending a receiver (usually a tight end) into the hole, the offense forces the safety to make a decision: play the vulnerable hole in the middle of the field or help out on the wide receiver. The quarterback reads the safety’s decision and decides on the best matchup (i.e. which mismatch is better: tight end vs. safety or wide receiver vs. cornerback).

Another disadvantage of Cover 2 is that it leaves only seven men in the “box” (the area near the ball at the snap) to defend against the run. In contrast Cover 1 and Cover 3 usually leave eight men in the box.

A potential problem with the Cover 2 is that defensive pressure on the Quarterback must be provided nearly exclusively by the front linemen as all other defenders are involved in pass coverage. If the defensive linemen do not provide adequate pressure on the Quarterback, the offense is afforded plenty of time to create and exploit passing opportunities. Blitzing in the Cover 2 often creates greater areas of weakness in the defense than other coverages. Thus, unsuccessful blitzes can prove to be more productive for the offense than in other schemes.

Cover 3

In cover 3, the two corners and free safety each have responsibility for a deep third of the field, while the strong safety plays like a linebacker. This coverage is generally considered to be a run stopping defense as it focuses on preventing big pass plays and stopping the run while giving up short passes.

On the snap, the CBs work for depth, backpedaling into their assigned zone. One safety moves toward the center of the field. The other safety is free to rotate into the flat area (about 2-4 yards beyond the line of scrimmage), provide pass coverage help, or blitz.

Advantages: One of the biggest benefits of the cover 3 coverage scheme is the ability to walk the strong safety up into the box with minimal to no changes in the coverage due to the pre-snap center field position of the free safety. This enables the defense to play both man and zone coverage out of an 8 man front while cover 2 schemes allow only for man coverage with 7 man fronts.

Disadvantages: Cover 3 schemes are susceptible to short, timed passes to the outside due to the hard drop of both cornerbacks. This puts pressure on the outside linebackers to react to pass plays and get into their drop quickly if they need to cover a receiver.

Another disadvantage of cover 3 schemes is they are relatively easy to diagnose by opposing quarterbacks. Because of this, teams will often employ slight wrinkles in their coverage to confuse offenses. An example of this includes employing man coverage on one side and zone on another or swapping coverage zones between defenders.

Cover 4 (Prevent Defense)

Cover 4 refers to four deep defenders, each guarding one-fourth of the deep zone. Cover 4 schemes are usually used to defend against deep passes. (i.e., Prevent defense).

The most basic Cover 4 scheme involves two cornerbacks and two safeties. Upon snap, the cornerbacks work for depth, backpedaling into their assigned zone. Both safeties backpedal towards their assigned zone.

As with other coverage shells, Cover 4 is paired with underneath man or zone coverage in its most basic form.

Advantages: The main advantage of a Cover 4 defense is that it is extremely difficult for even the best quarterbacks to complete long passes against it. Therefore, this coverage is generally used as a prevent defense to be used near the end of a game or half, meaning that the defense sacrifices the run and short pass to avoid giving up the big play with the confidence that the clock will soon expire.

Cover 4 also has the advantage of using safeties in run support as opposed to cornerbacks as would be the case in a Cover 2 scheme. This gives the defense nine in the box and the ability to stop the run with an extra defender on either side. The play-side safety would come up in support on a running play while the back-side safety would be responsible for the middle third of the field and the cornerbacks would have the deep outside thirds.

Disadvantages: The main weakness of Cover 4 shells is the large amount of space left open by the retreating defensive backs. Since the defensive backs are working for depth, short pass routes underneath can enable the quarterback to make short- and medium- length passes, as well as isolate a defensive back on a wide receiver near the sideline with little help.

Cover 6 (Hybrid Cover 2 and Cover 4)

Cover 6 refers to three deep defenders. However, unlike the ‘Cover 3′, the field is not split equally. Most teams that use Cover 6 are 3-4 Defenses, call offensive strength to the Field instead of to the offensive formation or front, and organize personnel by Field-side player and Boundary-side player. The position of the ball on the field therefore dictates strength of the offense. In Cover 6 the field safety and field corner cover fourths of the field, and depend on a field outside linebacker to support underneath them. The free safety covers the boundary-side deep half and the boundary corner plays the flat. Thus the field side of the coverage is quarters, and the boundary side is cover 2.

The Cover 6 gets its name from the fact that it combines elements of the Cover 2 (the strong safety covering half the field) and the Cover 4 on the opposite side. The Pittsburgh Steelers are a Cover 6 team. The quarters play of the strong side safety, like the Steelers’ Troy Polamalu, allows him to support on runs quickly. The Tennessee Titans have also been known to use it.

Advantages: Cover 6 blends the best of Cover 2 and Cover 4. On the boundary, Cover 6 uses a Cover 2 corner. The boundary corner sits at 5-7 yards and is in excellent position to attack flat passes and wide runs, as well as blitz from a short field position. The boundary safety plays at 12-15 yards and supports the boundary corner, providing good pass defense over the top, as well as being able to assist on any vertical release by a 3rd receiver from the field side. The Field safety plays a hard read technique from 7-8 yards, reading first for run. He will fit hard and fast on run plays. He defends the pass by squatting or dropping over the #2 wide receiver. He will then play vertical patterns and out patterns by #2, passing off inside patterns. The Field corner plays a quarters deep coverage from 7-8 yards, reading the #1 wide receiver and playing all vertical and inside patterns.

Disadvantages: Cover 6 has the disadvantages of both Cover 2 and Cover 4. The Field side is generally soft on flat coverage. The Field side corner can be left in single coverage deep as well. On runs, the field side may be spread by a tight end and 2 receiver formation, offering an advantage on the edge. The Boundary side is soft behind the corner to the sideline, as well as in the seam between corner and linebacker.

LATEST POST ON MONTE KIFFINKIFFIN’S TEXAS 2 DEFENSE: Passing up defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd at 18 was the right decision

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HAPPY TRAILS: John Garrett is headed to Tampa Bay as new WRs coach

Cowboys' assistant John Garrett worked with tight ends in Dallas - The Boys Are Back blog

Dallas Cowboys tight ends coach John Garrett has accepted a job to become the Tampa Bay Buccaneers new receivers coach. Garrett worked in Dallas for six seasons, arriving when his brother, Jason Garrett, became offensive coordinator. John Garrett added the title of passing game coordinator to his title in 2011.

“I’m really excited about this opportunity in Tampa,” Garrett said. “We had a had a great time interviewing down there, getting to know coach [Greg] Schiano more and more and the offensive coaches and the rest of the staff of the Buccaneers. It really went well, and I’m thrilled for the opportunity and just really excited to get started working for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.”

Though Garrett still was under contract with the Cowboys, Dallas already had OK’d his leaving. He and other coaches had been allowed to look for other jobs, and Garrett had applied for the University of Delaware head coaching job. The opportunity with the Bucs came last week.

Garrett, 47, will leave his brothers Jason and Judd, the Cowboys’ director of pro scouting, but he said he will miss his tight ends room just as much. Garrett said he developed a special relationship with Jason Witten, John Phillips and James Hanna. Witten left for Hawaii and his eighth Pro Bowl on Sunday.

“My six years with the Cowboys have been fantastic,” Garrett said. “I want to thank the [Jerry] Jones family and the entire Cowboys organization. The opportunity to work with the coaches here on staff and everyone in the administration has been fantastic. I loved coming to work every day. But most importantly, working with the players in my position. The tight ends are just fabulous people, really good players and do it the right way. They love football. They prepare. They execute. They have just tremendous integrity and character. It was a great, great tight end room from Jason Witten to John Phillips to James Hanna. I just loved coming in and coaching them every day. They were like sponges, soaking everything in and being prepared for the games and the practices. I really appreciate that and the fact that they gave everything they had.”

Garrett has seen his career come back to where it started. He began his post-playing career as a pro personnel assistant for the Bucs, staying in that role from 1992-94. He worked with the Bucs receivers, too, during the week those two seasons and assisted the defensive staff on game days.

When he left the Bucs for Cincinnati in 1995, he was replaced in Tampa by Mark Dominik. Dominik now is the team’s general manager.

Garrett’s tie to Schiano is his father. Jim Garrett was a long-time NFL scout whose path crossed several times with Schiano while Schiano was in the college ranks.

“Greg Schiano is a fantastic person, and a great football coach, and he loves football and does everything the right way,” Garrett said. “I’m really excited to learn more from him and be part of his program.”

Garrett will replace Bucs receivers coach P.J. Fleck, who was hired as the head coach at Western Michigan. Garrett inherits Vincent Jackson, who, in his first season in Tampa, earned a Pro Bowl berth with 72 catches for 1,384 yards and eight touchdowns.

“Vincent Jackson is a fantastic player and from what I hear and what I saw when I had the interview, he is arguably a better person,” Garrett said. “All the coaches there think he’s an outstanding leader, a fantastic worker. He loves to be coached and loves football. They had a lot of comparisons to this is our [Jason] Witten, how he just loves it and as a star player sets the tone and pace for how to work and prepare. I got a chance to visit with him in the course of the interview and that’s exactly the case. I developed a good rapport, and I’m looking forward to working with such a talented guy.”

Garrett is the fifth assistant to leave Dallas, continuing a restructuring of the coaching staff. Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan was let go, replaced by Monte Kiffin. Defensive line coach Brian Baker also was not retained, replaced by Rod Marinelli.

Running backs coach Skip Peete also was let go, and he landed in Chicago. The Cowboys have not replaced him yet. Special teams coach Joe DeCamillis’ job also has not been filled. DeCamillis also joined the Bears staff.

Wes Phillips, who has been on the Cowboys staff for six years, could be considered for John Garrett’s vacated job. Phillips has spent the past two seasons as the assistant offensive line coach.

The Cowboys also are unsettled at play caller, though the job could go to offensive line coach Bill Callahan.

GODFATHER DEFENSE: Monte Kiffin named Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator

New Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin - The Boys Are Back blog

The Dallas Cowboys hired a big "name" as their defensive coordinator two years ago in Rob Ryan. That didn’t work to owner Jerry Jones’ satisfaction, so they found a bigger name.

The Cowboys announced Friday that Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Southern Cal defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin is the team’s defensive coordinator.

The Godfather of the Tampa-2 defense, Kiffin knows how to win in the NFL.  The Cowboys have the framework for a very successful 3-4 defense in place. Kiffin’s approach is diametrically opposed.

They just drafted Morris Claiborne, a cornerback that specializes in press man coverage. They just signed Brandon Carr to a huge contract; he’s also great in man coverage. Orlando Scandrick is best in man coverage. Kiffin’s 4-3 scheme relies on cornerbacks to play zone coverage. One of the big benefits of the system is that they look for cornerbacks with less sought-after skill sets that you can take later in the draft.

Maybe Kiffin can make all the pieces on the defensive line like DeMarcus Ware work. We don’t doubt Kiffin’s coaching acumen.

The team spent a lot of money last offseason on players for Rob Ryan’s defense. Monte Kiffin hired as Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator - The Boys Are Back blog

What does Monte Kiffin hiring mean for Dallas Cowboys?

03:03 – Charley Casserly looks at the Dallas Cowboys hiring of Monte Kiffin and what it means for the Cowboys defense. NOTE: Kiffin comments start at 1:39

Editors Note: Extensive coverage and analysis is coming soon.

TAMPA 2 TWILIGHT ZONE: Monte Kiffin doesn’t make sense for the Dallas Cowboys

Monte Kiffin resigns at USC, wants to return to NFL - The Boys Are Back blog

Monte Kiffin is rumored to become the Cowboys’ next defensive coordinator.

Would that be a wise move?

The 72-year-old Kiffin, credited as the inventor of the famed “Tampa Two” 4-3 scheme, earned a reputation as one of the legendary defensive coordinators in NFL history during his 13-year tenure with the Buccaneers. Tampa Bay ranked among the NFL’s top 10 in scoring defense 11 times and total defense 12 times under Kiffin. The Bucs were top five in both categories six times, including a double No. 1 overall rank during their Super Bowl championship season.

You won’t find many NFL defensive coordinators with more impressive resumes. However, the Tampa Two zone would be a curious scheme fit for a franchise that made two major investments in press-man corners last offseason, giving Brandon Carr a five-year, $50.1 million deal and trading up to draft Morris Claiborne with the sixth overall pick.

And Kiffin didn’t enjoy nearly as much success during his foray into college football to coach on his son Lane’s staffs at Tennessee and USC. In fact, Kiffin’s last season at USC was awful.

The Trojans became the first team in 48 seasons to go from being No. 1 in the preseason polls to unranked at the end of the season. USC finished the season 7-6, losing five of its final six games, a skid that started when Kiffin’s defense allowed 39 points to Arizona and 62 points to Oregon. USC ranked 40th in the nation in scoring defense (24.3 points per game) and 60th in total defense (394.0).

Oregon’s dominance of Kiffin’s defense is especially alarming. The Ducks racked up 730 total yards in their win at Los Angeles Coliseum, with running back Kenjon Barner rushing for 321 yards and five touchdowns.

Chip Kelly stayed at Oregon instead of taking the Eagles’ job, but the Cowboys will still have to face a team that runs a lot of zone read out of the spread twice per season, assuming Robert Griffin III recovers from his knee injury.

How can the Cowboys be confident that Kiffin can help them catch up with the Redskins?

AGING KIFFIN ON CAGING GRIFFIN: At 72, this ‘new’ defensive coordinator could bring the ‘Grampa 2 Defense’ to the Dallas Cowboys

Monte Kiffin vs Robert Griffin - Dallas Cowboys' Defense - The Boys Are Back blog

Monte Kiffin is rumored to be the Dallas Cowboys ‘new’ defensive coordinator. Even his old players didn’t see this one coming.

Former Bucs linebacker Derrick Brooks said he figured the 72-year-old Kiffin would get another shot in the NFL. He just didn’t expect it to be with Dallas.

"I would never have guessed Dallas two weeks ago," said Brooks, who still keeps in touch with Kiffin.

Kiffin would convert the Cowboys back to a 4-3 scheme. The Cowboys played the 4-3 from their first season in 1960 until Bill Parcells’ third season in Dallas in 2005 when he switched to the 3-4. The Cowboys have played the 3-4 since.

Does a 72-year-old Monte Kiffin and his Tampa 2 defense make sense for the Dallas Cowboys - The Boys Are Back blog

"I don’t know if he has the players there yet. I hope he does," Brooks said. "I just know what we did to make our defense great. Some would say it’s so simple, but at the same time, it’s so complex. You always hear about Dallas, ‘They’ve got talent. They’ve got talent.’ Well, now it’s time to roost. They can answer the question: Do they really have talent?"

Brooks compared DeMarcus Ware to Simeon Rice. Rice had 69 of his 122 sacks in his four years in Kiffin’s Cover 2 defense.

"For the most part, all he’s doing is going after the quarterback," Brooks said. "We know [Ware] can do that."

The Bucs had John Lynch at safety, Warren Sapp at defensive tackle, Brooks at linebacker, Ronde Barber at corner to go along with Rice. Sapp and Lynch are Hall of Fame candidates this year.

That is a big reason in 13 years in Tampa, Kiffin’s defenses ranked in the top 10 in total defense all but two years — 11th in 1997 and 17th in 2006 — and top 10 in fewest points allowed for all but 2006 (21st). Six times they ranked in the top 10 in takeaways.

Continue reading →

ADRENELINE STRATEGY: Jason Garrett likes playing defense on the road first

Dallas Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett 2012 - The Boys Are Back blog

Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said he likes the idea of playing defense on the road first. For the last three road games, he Cowboys have won the toss and deferred their choice to the second half.

“We feel like there are a lot of statistics that suggest it’s easier to play defense early in games on the road,” Garrett said at his Friday press conference at Valley Ranch. “There are a few other factors that add to this that I don’t want to get into. But we feel like when certain conditions are right, deferring is a better choice for us. A lot of it has to do with being on the road in that kind of environment.”

The Cowboys deferred their choice at Baltimore, Carolina and Atlanta. Baltimore drove 60 yards for a field goal on its opening drive, but Carolina and Atlanta each went three-and-out on the opening drive.

The one time this year the Cowboys won the toss and took the ball on the road, Felix Jones fumbled the kickoff at Seattle.

Other teams might have the same philosophy about opening on defense on the road.

Tampa Bay and Chicago both won the toss at Cowboys Stadium and deferred. The Buccaneers got an interception on the third play. The Bears gave up three first downs but forced a punt.

Two weeks ago at Cowboys Stadium, the New York Giants won the toss, took the ball and drove for a field goal.

SOURCE: Jason Garrett Press Conference 11/09/2012

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Jason Garrett Press Conference

Jason Garrett closes out the week from Valley Ranch as the Dallas Cowboys wrap up their final day of preparation for the Philadelphia Eagles.

BREAKING THROUGH THE WALL: Dallas Cowboys RB DeMarco Murray is being tested by top run defenses

Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo (9) hands the ball of to Dallas Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray - The Boys Are Back blog

Dallas Cowboys RB DeMarco Murray had been expected to join the ranks of elite running backs this season. But after opening the season with 131 yards on 20 carries. Since then, he has 106 yards on 41 carries, a 2.6 yards per carry average.

The Cowboys now rank 30th in rushing with a 67.8 yards per game average.

Murray has had little room to run. Far too often, he e is being met in the backfield by defenders.

Murray is tied for first for the most times being “stuffed” with 13. Murray had only 14 runs that resulted in negative yardage last season when he carried the ball 164 times.

"I think he’s done a good job just being persistent throughout the ball game and trying to continue to be true to the runs and trying to find the hole that’s there," Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said Wednesday. "Teams have done a good job moving around up front and sometimes the run isn’t always as clean as you want it to be. But he’s been a running back for a long, long time, and he understands that. His patience, his persistence, his toughness have all been good. He just needs to understand that we’re going to keep trying to give him some opportunities. He needs to keep doing what he’s supposed to do, trust the other guys can do what they’re supposed to do and we’ll get this running game going."

The Cowboys’ last three opponents, the Seahawks (2nd vs. the run), the Bucs (4th vs. the run) and the Bears (3rd vs. the run), all rank among the best teams in the league against the run. The Ravens, the Cowboys’ next opponent, rank 13th.

OVERDUE OFFENSE: Dallas Cowboys confident that sluggish offense will awaken soon

Dallas Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett (left) and quarterback Tony Romo - The Boys Are Back blog

IRVING — For the first time with Tony Romo as quarterback, the Cowboys are coming off back-to-back games with under 300 yards.

They did not rush for 50 yards in either game.

They couldn’t score more than one touchdown in either game.

Romo’s passer rating sunk to the mid-70s.

But they got a split out of the two games against Seattle and Tampa Bay, so at 2-1 going into tonight’s game against the Chicago Bears, the Cowboys’ belief in their offense remains.

"My confidence doesn’t wane," coach Jason Garrett said. "I believe in the players. I believe in what we do. We just have to do it better."

The 2-1 record is what keeps Romo going, too.

After throwing for 307 yards and three touchdowns in a sparkling season opener against the Giants, he has thrown only one touchdown pass and has been intercepted twice.

But he is not frustrated.

"No. It’s about winning and losing," he said. "That’s what it comes down to. You want to execute to the highest level each week. But at the same time, we know that getting a win is as important as anything else. And all the other stuff is just about getting better.

"But if you lose, you’re still going to have the same process. If you win, you still have the same process about trying to figure out how to be better the next week as a player, as a unit, as an offense or defense, whatever it is."

Garrett does make an allowance for the Seahawks and Buccaneers’ effective defensive lines, which gave headaches to the Cowboys’ still-developing offensive line.

But he said those won’t be the last two good fronts the Cowboys face, and they’ll see another one tonight when the Bears bring one of the NFL’s most productive front four in terms of sacks.

"We played some good defenses. There’s no question about that," Garrett said. "They are good on the front, they have good rushers and good linebackers, and each of those teams have good cover guys. But you’re going to face that every week. There are 13 other teams that are good in those areas, too."

For the Cowboys, the troubling spots are penalties and the way they are executing plays.

They have 12 false starts, five holding penalties (plus one declined) and two delay-of-games in three games.

Romo has been sacked seven times.

On top of that, his favorite target, tight end Jason Witten, has five drops. That is a normally reliable — and important — part of the Cowboys offense.

"It’s a combination of a lot of things," Romo said. "Penalties, negative plays. We need to do the little things better. That will help us a lot because we’re already doing enough good things. We just need to minimize the stuff that you can control. The stuff that should be stuff that we’re good at."

The Cowboys scored in the 30s or more four times last year. It was five times in each of the previous two years, four in 2008 and eight times in 2007.

The last time they went over 30 was at Tampa Bay last year, five games ago.

Could one good scoring half or game spring the Cowboys?

"Sure, but I don’t think we like to think about it that way: ‘Hey, let’s go score 40,’" Garrett said. "Let’s go execute ball plays. If we execute ball plays and do things the right way on a consistent basis, our offense will be the consistent offense and the good offense that we’ve seen in the past."

And paired with what right now is the league’s No. 1 defense? Defensive end Marcus Spears can imagine.

"We’re 2-1, so they’re doing something to put us in position to win games," he said. "And we just want to continue to support them. But when we’re rolling and they’re rolling and our special teams are rolling, we’re tough to beat. We see their work. There’s no criticism from us. We see what type of guys are over there. When it really starts firing like a well-oiled machine, it’ll be something beautiful to watch."

ROMO ON THE RUN: Tony Romo showing patients during offensive slump

Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo (9) makes a call at the line of scrimmage - The Boys Are Back blog

IRVING — Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo has spent the past two games being used as a piñata by opposing defensive linemen and watching his favorite receiver, tight end Jason Witten, let a season’s worth of passes slip through his fingers.

Although there has been no public grumbling from Romo, teammates understand the frustration that is building within their offensive leader as the Cowboys (2-1) prepare to face Chicago (2-1), the team that leads the NFL in sacks (14), in Monday’s game at Cowboys Stadium.

“We’ve been around Tony long enough that we can tell, based on his facial expressions, how he’s feeling. He shows his emotions to us,” said offensive guard Nate Livings. “So he doesn’t have to say anything. We see what he’s going through.”

That included four sacks and multiple knockdowns, triggering two lost fumbles in pass-rush situations, in last week’s 16-10 victory over Tampa Bay. It has included an NFL-high five dropped passes this season by Witten, a seven-time Pro Bowler whose season average for drops had been three per year over the past four seasons (2008-2011), based on data collected by STATS, Inc.

“I’m sure he’s wondering what’s wrong,” Witten said of his uncharacteristic drops of Romo passes. “At the end of the day, those are big plays for him, big plays for our offense. You don’t just get built in to get those throws … next time because of what number is on the back of the jersey. It’s a show-me game.”

And Romo, for now, is showing remarkable patience while maintaining a positive outlook about a Dallas offense that is tied for last among NFL teams in scoring average (15.6 per game). The Cowboys’ 47 points marks the fewest in a three-game stretch by a Romo-led offense since 2009.

Despite Romo’s 89.3 passer rating and 64.8 completion rate, the offense regularly plays from behind the chains because of 12 false-start penalties in three games. But Romo said Friday that his confidence level working behind the team’s rebuilt offensive line remains high — he gave it a “10” on a 1-10 scale — and that frustration, from his perspective, has yet to surface.

Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo (9) warms up - The Boys Are Back blog

“No,” Romo said. “It’s about winning and losing. You want to execute to the highest level each week. But at the same time, [winning and losing] is what it comes down to. All the other stuff is just about getting better.”

From an offensive standpoint, Romo acknowledged the Cowboys “need to do the little things better” if they are to build on their 2-1 start. Toward that end, he has addressed the offense’s shortcomings, particularly the pre-snap penalties, in discussions with teammates.

“You’re always letting the team know what you need to do to be successful,” Romo said. “And me being in a leadership role, that obviously needs to be addressed.

“We need to do the little things better. That will help us a lot because we’re already doing enough good things. We just need to minimize the stuff that you can control. The stuff that should be stuff that we’re good at.”

At the top of the list, Romo cited penalties and negative-yardage runs. So did offensive line coach Bill Callahan, who said shortcomings in those areas against Tampa Bay put the offense in too many obvious passing situations that led to too many “hellacious hits” on Romo, who is 32.

“We have to do a better job keeping Tony clean,” Callahan said.

Romo, who was sacked a career-high 36 times last season, downplayed any concerns about residual hits taking a toll on his abilities or his escapability in the pocket. In fact, he cited making creative plays as part of his job description.

“If somebody gets beat, my job is to help them out once in a while and [make a play],” Romo said. “You don’t want to make a living at that. But, at the same time, part of my job is to do that. And they are going to make me look better on other plays.”

But those “other plays” have been few and far between the past two weeks, when Dallas managed just one offensive touchdown against Tampa Bay and during a 27-7 loss to Seattle. Romo figures to do his fair share of freelancing, once again, against the Bears’ stellar pass rush.

In those scramble situations, Romo said he’s “always judging and balancing” his next move based on the circumstances at hand: score, down-and-distance, time remaining.

“You just learn over time what you can do with certain things,” Romo said.

And when things go awry, as they have the past two weeks, Romo has learned to be patient and avoid letting frustrations become public. Even if teammates sense he is masking his emotions.

“It’s not always going to go perfect back there,” Romo said. “But … just keep grinding away and you can do some things. We’re going to continue to get better. I feel very confident.”

Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo (9) hands the ball of to Dallas Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray - The Boys Are Back blog

DALLAS’ TRIPLE-CORNER FLEX DEFENSE: Dallas Cowboy CB Brandon Carr willing to play safety the rest of the season; three cover corners could be the solution to pass-happy NFL.

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

Dallas Cowboys cornerback Brandon Carr has accepted the accolades that accompanied his surprising – and successful – debut as an NFL safety in Sunday’s 16-10 victory over Tampa Bay. Carr played much of the game at safety in place of injured starter Gerald Sensabaugh, who skipped the contest with a strained calf.

Carr’s future could include an extended run at that position now that Barry Church, the other starting safety, is out for the season with a torn Achilles tendon. Sensabaugh’s availability remains day-to-day, said coach Jason Garrett, which could mean additional time for Carr at safety while Morris Claiborne and Mike Jenkins handle the cornerback spots.

Although he signed a five-year, $50.1 million contract in the off-season to be the Cowboys’ shutdown cornerback, and coaches still consider him their best player at that position, Carr said he would embrace an extended run at safety if that is in the best interest of the team.

“If that’s what we have to do for us to get our best 11 on their 11 and to get off the field and win ball games, I’m all for it,” Carr said. “I came here with one thing in mind and that was to win ball games.”

Although he last played safety in high school, and only briefly then, Carr said he is willing to spend the rest of the season there if coach Jason Garrett and defensive coordinator Rob Ryan believes it is in the team’s best interest.

“If this is the role that I’m going to have to have this whole season, then I’m going to accept it and be ready to work and have everybody ready to go when my number’s called,” Carr said.

Because the Cowboys are expected to sign a veteran safety this week to replace Church, who is headed to the injured reserve list, Carr’s days at the position may be numbered. But it became clear against Tampa Bay that having three cover corners on the field at the same time _ Carr, Jenkins and Claiborne _ can be a positive defensive move in today’s pass-happy NFL.

Might the three-corners defense become a Cowboys’ staple going forward? 

“I have no clue,” Carr said, smiling. “That’s the good thing about being a player. After each game is over with, you tell me what to do and I say, ‘Ok, coach’ and get ready and prepare myself for Sunday. Each week is going to be exciting to see what new wrinkle we add to our defense. I feel like we have a lot of guys that can play a lot of positions, so, hopefully, that will help us out in our versatility and our different looks. It’s going to be fun.”

RELATED: Jason Garrett credits Rob Ryan, Jerome Henderson for idea of Carr to safety

Dallas Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett enjoys the win - The Boys Are Back blog

Jason Garrett gave defensive coordinator Rob Ryan and secondary coach Jerome Henderson credit for finding a way to have Brandon Carr play safety and Mike Jenkins to play cornerback while also keeping Vincent Jackson in check.

The Cowboys needed a way to make up for the loss of safety Gerald Sensabaugh, and putting Carr at safety was one way to do that and also to open up snaps at cornerback for Jenkins, who had been working his way back from offseason shoulder surgery.

“I think it was a real good idea by Rob and by Jerome early on in the week to do that,” Garrett said. “I think it was a great job by Brandon Carr of embracing the idea, saying, ‘Hey, I can do this. Absolutely, I’m excited to do this. I haven’t played safety since high school.’ He was kind of champing at the bit to do it.

“The concerns we had in the discussion was, they have this big guy, Vincent Jackson, and we have this big corner, this is the best matchup, should we really do this? And I think the combination of him playing corner but also playing safety and getting Jenks out there was a good way to go, and I think everybody responded really well to it.”

Garrett said now that Carr has put in some time at safety, the Cowboys have developed a little versatility.

“It’s nice to have that option in your hip pocket,” he said. “If we get in trouble and don’t have other options, we can say, let’s go back and do that again. We obviously want him to play corner. That’s what we feel like he’s best at. But to be able to do that with a guy to absorb an injury, that’s a good thing to have in your hip pocket going forward.”

FICKLE FANS: Dallas Cowboys 16-10 win over Tampa Bay one of worst-rated games in recent memory

Traffic builds on Collins Street as fans head to Cowboys Stadium - The Boys Are Back blog

Cowboys-Buccaneers earned a 28.5 rating in Dallas-Fort Worth, making it the lowest rated, non-Christmas-day regular-season Sunday afternoon game of the last two seasons. The 28.5 on KDFW (Channel 4) translates into 737,580 homes.

The game peaked at a 33.2 (859,216 homes) from 3 p.m. to 3:15 p.m.

The Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders entertain fans outside Cowboys Stadium - The Boys Are Back blog

For what it’s worth,  the Rangers-Mariners began at 3:10 p.m. with a rating for that first quarter hour of 0.4  (11,400 homes). The Rangers audience built from there and finished with a 4.5 average (116,460 homes).

Dallas Cowboys fans cheer - The Boys Are Back blog

EDITORS RANT: Someday, Dallas area fans may discover the “12th Man” concept. Traditionally, the crowds at Dallas Cowboy games are among the quietest in the league. Pathetic. The Dallas Cowboys are taken for granted, in many cases. NFL fans in other major markets would LOVE to have the ‘boys in their backyard! I’d like to see people filling the seats that are willing to actually stand up and raise their voices! It’s not a ‘who’s who’ or a corporate board room … it’s a GAME! 

Texas has always prided itself as being the ‘biggest and the best”. You have the biggest and best stadium in the country! You have a franchise respected around the world. Why don’t we hear some Texas-sized loud mouthed hell raising? This should be the loudest stadium in the country. Wake up. Who knows, you might even get seen on the big screen!

Other teams view Cowboys Stadium as THEIR home turf! Doesn’t that bother you?

Fans head to Cowboys Stadium - The Boys Are Back blog

PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Barry Church upbeat despite season-ending Achilles injury

Dallas Cowboys strong safety Barry Church (42) is helped from the field - The Boys Are Back blog

IRVING, Texas – As he sat on the Cowboys bench in the second half of Sunday’s win over the Buccaneers, his right shoe and sock taken off, Barry Church had a look of sheer disappointment.

He had just learned his season was over far too early following a Achilles tendon tear – either full or partial – that will require surgery on Tuesday. Teammates came around to try to console him, but what could they say to make it better? Called too slow, Church had gone undrafted following four years as an all-conference star at Toledo, only to make the Cowboys in 2010, slowly work his way up the ranks and easily beat out veteran Brodney Pool for a starting job this offseason.

As disappointed as Church was on the sideline, his mood had turned less than an hour later. Speaking to reporters in the Cowboys locker room, he supported himself not only with a pair of crutches, but with his familiar smile.

“On the sidelines it was kind of just shock, like, wow, this really happened. But once I sat down I just kind of had a little talk with myself and figured, you know, you can’t be negative about everything. If you keep on the negative, you’re just going to become a negative person, so I’ve got to keep upbeat and keep positive, and see what happens.”

Dallas Cowboys strong safety Barry Church (42) tackles Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Arrelious Benn - The Boys Are Back blog

What will happen is a months-long recovery that will determine the direction of Church’s career.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back LeGarrette Blount (27) falls awkwardly after getting up ended by Dallas Cowboys strong safety Barry Church - The Boys Are Back blog

Some players returning from Achilles injuries are never quite the same – longtime Cowboys fans will remember former first-round pick Kevin Smith, who was hurt in the season opener in 1995 and came back the next year, only a half a step slower. But outside linebacker Greg Ellis suffered the same injury in 2006 and then won NFL Comeback Player of the Year in 2007 after posting a career-high 12.5 sacks.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back LeGarrette Blount (27) tries to hurdle Dallas Cowboys strong safety Barry Church - The Boys Are Back blog

With the final year of Church’s contract coming in 2013, a lot is riding on his recovery. It will only help to remain optimistic.

“I’ve just got to keep my mind straight,” Church said. “I’ve got to keep my head up. I can’t let this injury get the best of me. I’ll be at the house for a while just relaxing with the cast, but I just can’t let it get the best of me. I’ve got to go out there and continue to get better.”

Though the injury certainly has career path implications, the thing that bothered Church the most in the aftermath of Sunday’s game was that he won’t be able to help this year. Over the preseason and his three starts in September, he had appeared to solidify the safety position of a much improved defense.

“It’s pretty tough,” Church said. “I came out this year looking to make improvements on my game. I feel like I did that the first couple games I played, but this happened. It’s a freak accident. Things happen. But I’ve just got to battle back and try to come back stronger.”

EDITORS COMMENT: Barry Church was a favorite here on The Boys Are Back blog. It looked like he was coming into his own this year. Hopefully, Church will be able to come back from this injury and pursue his dream of playing football in the NFL.

ESPN REPORT CARD: Defense, special teams carry day

NFL Dallas Cowboys report card - The Boys Are Back blog

F: Rushing Offense

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

 

F: Passing Offense

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

 

A: Rushing Defense

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

 

A+: Passing Defense

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

 

A-: Special Teams

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

 

F: Coaching

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

Tim MacMahon | ESPN Dallas

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

AN UGLY WIN IS STILL A WIN: Tony Romo doesn’t impress with stats, but is very satisfied with the outcome

Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo (9) instructs his teammates - left - The Boys Are Back blog

Tony Romo entered with a 3-0 record against the Bucs, with a 70.1 completion percentage, 908 yards, 11 touchdowns, no interceptions and a 144.8 passer rating.

This one wasn’t so pretty.

Romo went 25-of-39 for 283 yards with no touchdowns and an interception. He also lost two fumbles.

The Cowboys had 297 total yards, as the Dallas defense saved the day.

“I don’t want this to go by without talking about how great it feels really to win this game, with the way that our defense played and our ability to grind it out on the offensive side when nothing was easy,” Romo said. “This is a very, very satisfying win, even though it’ll kind of get lost in the shuffle as you move through the season sometimes, because of the way it looked. But these are the kinds of wins that you have to have. We’ve played better on offense before and lost football games. We’ve played better as a team sometimes with the way that it looks and lost games. But to win the game with the way that we did today really excites me and gives us a chance going forward.” 

Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo (9) instructs his teammates - right - The Boys Are Back blog

Romo was sacked four times, losing fumbles on two of them, while taking four other hard shots.

"Obviously, it’s not good enough," center Ryan Cook said. "We would like, in a perfect world, to have no shots [on Romo], no pressures and for him to sit back in the pocket all day and throw the ball. But that wasn’t the reality today. We’ve got to do a better job of protecting him and giving him time to make those long throws down the field."

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

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

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

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

But whatever. He had to get ready.

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

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

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

Whatever he did, it worked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LUCKY SEVEN STREAK: Sean Lee gets another interception

Dallas Cowboys inside linebacker Sean Lee (50) intercepts a pass - The Boys Are Back blog

Told he might have the best hands on the team, inside linebacker Sean Lee laughed.

"I have streaky hands," Lee said. "I’ve been on a good streak here for a while."

Lee intercepted a Josh Freeman pass in the first quarter as the ball bounced off running back D.J. Ware’s hands and up into the air for Lee to nab. The Cowboys used the good field position to tie the game, going 23 yards in four plays for the touchdown.

"I went to make a tackle, and he tried to hit a check down and the ball was floating right up in the air for me," Lee said. "It’s one of those things where you’re like, ‘Just please catch the ball.’ That’s what you’re concentrating on. Right place, right time."

Lee now has seven career interceptions in only 32 games. It is one less than cornerbacks Mike Jenkins and Brandon Carr have in their careers.

"He has a nose for the football," Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. "You see that in the number of tackles he makes. We have seen his ability to play the ball. He has done that throughout his career. He has made some real signature interceptions in his career. His ability to track the ball and make the play in the air, in traffic, like he did is tribute to his athletic ability. He shows up throughout the game. he is a great leader for our defense."

Lee tied a team record with 21 tackles last week, including 15 solos.

DeMarco Murray scores Dallas Cowboys first rushing TD of season

Dallas Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray (29) dives over the goal line to score - The Boys Are Back blog

DeMarco Murray scored the Cowboys’ first rushing touchdown of the season with an 11-yard stretch play in the first quarter. It was his third career rushing touchdown and first since Nov. 13, 2011, against Buffalo.

However, that was one of the few holes he found. Murray had only 38 yards on 18 carries.

“All day long, it was tough,” he said. “There weren’t a lot of creases up there.”

Despite the lack of running room, Murray blamed himself for failing to capitalize on a couple of opportunities.

“One was a really, really bad play by me,” he said. “I got tripped up and let a guy arm tackle me. There definitely could have been two home runs for me, and it didn’t happen.”

As a team, the Cowboys (2-1) had only five rushing touchdowns last season: the fewest of any season in franchise history. With one rushing touchdown in three games this season, they are on a comparable pace in 2012. On his TD run, Murray said: ““It felt good. Tyron (Smith) made a good block. Miles (Austin) made a good block and it was open, so I’ve got to give credit to those guys.”

P0STGAME RECAP: Rob Ryan’s defense carries Dallas Cowboys to 16-10 victory over Tampa Bay

Dallas Cowboys QB Tony Romo vs Tampa Bay 2012 - The Boys Are back blog

As the saying goes, sometimes you’ve just got to win ugly.

At least that’s one word to describe the Dallas offense as they were able to scrape out a 16-10 victory over Tampa Bay in front of 81,984 fans. Behind an offensive line that struggled to create running room and keep the pocket clean, nearly getting quarterback Tony Romo injured in the process, the Cowboys managed 297 total yards, including just 38 on the ground

Still, it was enough. Why? Because the defense, on the other hand, was a thing of beauty. Coordinator Rob Ryan’s unit dominated throughout the day, despite not having two starters up front in Jay Ratliff and Kenyon Coleman and starting safety Gerald Sensabaugh out as well, all due to injury. Fellow safety Barry Church was then lost for the game, and the season, in the third quarter. He suffered a torn Achilles tendon and will have surgery this week.

No matter, the defense held Tampa Bay to a paltry 166 total yards of offense. Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman threw for just 110 yards on 10 of 28 passing, while the visitors’ running game gained only 75 yards. Of those 110 yards by Freeman, 71 came on his team’s final drive when the Cowboys were sitting in a prevent defense.

Unlike last week when the defense eventually wore down against Seattle, this time they held strong in the second half, allowing Romo and Co. an opportunity to put the game away late. The quarterback finished with 283 yards on 25 of 39 passing with one interception, while Miles Austin had a big day with 107 receiving yards on five catches. Dez Bryant added 62 yards on six grabs, also giving the crowd a jolt with a 44-yard punt return.

The Dallas Cowboys vs Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Cowboys Stadium 2012 - Dallas defense celebrate big play - The Boys Are Back blog

Long before that, though, with less than five minutes having ticked off the clock, fans had to be wondering just what was wrong with their Cowboys. An already inept opening possession, only got worse when Buccaneers cornerback Aqib Talib stepped in front of Austin for an interception at the Dallas 29.

That was then followed by the Cowboys allowing Tampa Bay to pick up nine yards on their own, but handing over another 20 yards in penalties to give them first and goal at the Dallas 1-yard line. The Bucs got on the board with a Freeman loft to tight end Luke Stocker in the back corner of the end zone for a 7-0 lead.

Fortunately, Tampa Bay was in a giving mood as well. On their second drive of the quarter, Freeman tried to dump a pass underneath, only to see the ball tip off the fingers of running back D.J. Ware and into the arms of linebacker Sean Lee, giving Dallas field position at the Buccaneers’ 23-yard line.

The Cowboys then turned to DeMarco Murray, the back touching the ball on all four plays of the drive, the last a run around the left end that saw him dive for the pylon and the score, the Cowboys evening things up at 7-7.

Dallas Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray dives for a touchdown against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers - The Boys Are Back blog

With both defenses clamping down, the Cowboys caught another break with just over six minutes to play in the second quarter. Tampa Bay linebacker Dekoda Watson broke free on what should have probably been a blocked punt. Instead, he missed the ball and ran into punter Chris Jones for the penalty.

But on the other end of the field, Bucs return man Jordan Shipley muffed the catch, linebacker Orie Lemon, just called up from the practice squad yesterday, there to dig the ball out of the scrum. With the additional 15 yards tacked on for the roughing the kicker call, Dallas had great field position at the Tampa Bay 24-yard line.

A Romo scramble picked up a first down to the Buccaneers 12, but there the drive would stall. Dan Bailey then came out for a 32-yard field goal, splitting the uprights to give Dallas a 10-7 lead with 2:51 left in the half.

The Cowboys made the curious decision to go with an onside kick, the attempt failing and giving Tampa Bay a short field at their own 49. But four Buccaneers penalties on the possession effectively killed any opportunities for the visitors, Dallas taking over at their 20-yard line with 57 seconds remaining.

And, they made a go of it, Romo hitting Austin for 15 yards and Ogletree for 19 more to cross midfield to the Buccaneers’ 40-yard line. But, with 16 seconds on the clock, Romo was sacked, pushing them out of field goal range, the score unchanged going into the break.

The Dallas Cowboys vs Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Cowboys Stadium 2012 - Dez Bryant breaks tackles - The Boys Are Back blog

Adjustments were made by Jason Garrett and his staff during halftime with the Cowboys’ offense coming out after the break and finding success on their first drive with short passes and quick slants. Romo found Ogletree for seven, Bryant for 18 and Austin for 21 yards to work their way down to the Tampa Bay 17.

The Dallas Cowboys vs Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Cowboys Stadium 2012 - Miles Austin - The Boys Are Back blog

But then on the ensuing play, Romo stepped up in the pocket to try and escape the pressure, only to have the ball knocked out of his hands, the Buccaneers recovering to take possession.

Soon thereafter, it happened all over again. However, this time the turnover occurred in Dallas territory. With Romo dropping back to pass, he was sacked by two Tampa Bay defenders, the ball coming loose and scooped up by cornerback Eric Wright at the Cowboys’ 31-yard line.

The Cowboys caught a bit of a break when the officials blew the play dead, thinking Romo was down before the ball came loose. A video challenge overturned the ruling, giving Tampa Bay the ball, but had they not blown the whistle initially, Wright would have waltzed into the end zone untouched.

That allowed the Dallas defense to do what it had been doing all day, stifling the Bucs, who were forced to punt when they were unable to move the chains.

With their defense keeping them in the game, the Cowboys offense got on the move again, this time the big blow coming on a 49-yard bomb to Austin that moved Dallas down to the Tampa Bay 30. Two snaps of the ball later, and Romo had a wide-open Jason Witten streaking down the middle, but the tight end was unable to haul in the catch, another tough afternoon for the former Pro Bowler.

Now in the fourth quarter, the offense was able to reach the Buccaneers’ 14-yard line before Romo took a vicious hit to push them back to the 21. Although Felix Jones brought a dump-off pass to the 8, the Cowboys would have to settle for a 26-yard field goal from Bailey, the advantage now 13-7 with 11:10 left in the game.

The Dallas Cowboys vs Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Cowboys Stadium 2012 - Felix Jones bounces back - The Boys Are Back blog

That would be all the Cowboys would need with the defense playing the way it was but just for good measure, a punt to the Tampa Bay 18 was pushed back 9 more yards due to unnecessary roughness. From there, the Buccaneers had no chance, the Dallas “D” moving them back to the 1-yard line, thanks to a sack and strip of the ball by DeMarcus Ware.

With Tampa Bay punting out of their own end zone, Bryant took the return from the 50-yard line, went to the right sideline, then cut back up into daylight before being taken down at the Buccaneers 6-yard line. His electric 44-yard return was easily the longest by the Cowboys this season.

Settling for a 22-yard field goal, Bailey’s effort, as it turned out, actually provided a little comforting insurance. With the score at 16-7 with just over two minutes left in the game, and the defense sitting back in a prevent, the Buccaneers were able to strike big on completions of 29 yards, 12, 23 and 7 to work their way down to the Dallas 10-yard line.

But on fourth and three, the Buccaneers elected to kick the field goal, narrowing the score to 16-10, and setting up an onside kick with 40 seconds on the clock. It didn’t work. The kick bounced high into the air and into the waiting arms of tight end James Hanna.

Tampa Bay did its best to prolong the celebration, calling two timeouts in the waning seconds, and aggressively charging the Cowboys kneel-down effort just as they had against the Giants the week before, but it was to no avail. The win improved the Cowboys’ record to 2-1 on the season with a showdown at home against the Bears coming up next Monday night.

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POSTGAME REACTION: Cowboys 16, Bucs 10

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2013 NFL GAMEDAY RESOURCES: Dallas Cowboys vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Dallas Cowboys vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers - The Boys Are Back blog

HEAD2HEAD: A look at how the ‘boys and ‘bucs match up

The Cowboys’ season began with promise. But a 27-7 loss to Seattle has raised doubts about whether Dallas can play consistently at a high level. Now, the Cowboys face a Tampa Bay team with a new coach and a new attitude. Here is a look at how both teams match up:

When the Cowboys run

After rushing for 131 yards and carrying the Cowboys to victory in Week 1, DeMarco Murray’s production declined in a 27-7 loss to Seattle last Sunday. Against the Seahawks, he gained just 44 yards on 12 carries. In part Murray’s diminished output was caused by Seattle’s run defense, which was ranked second in the league after Week 2. But the circumstances of the game also affected his performance. Dallas trailed by 10 points before five minutes had expired and Murray was soon rendered a non-factor. Tampa Bay — allowing only 2.74 yards per carry, the fifth-lowest average in the NFL — hopes it will be able to shackle Murray like Seattle did.

Edge: Buccaneers

When the Cowboys pass

Tight end Jason Witten dropped three passes. Receiver Dez Bryant vanished for long stretches. Tony Romo made ill-advised throws. The Cowboys’ passing offense struggled against Seattle. But despite its failures, it is still ranked sixth in the league after Week 2. Now it faces a Tampa Bay defense that has shown it can be opportunistic but also vulnerable against a trigger-happy quarterback. In a loss to the New York Giants last Sunday, the Buccaneers intercepted Eli Manning three times but also surrendered 510 passing yards and three long touchdowns.

Edge: Cowboys

When the Buccaneers run

New Tampa Bay coach Greg Schiano appears committed to developing a running game with rookie tailback Doug Martin as the featured ball carrier. Only nine teams have more rush attempts than the Buccaneers after two weeks. But Tampa Bay’s ground game hasn’t been a roaring success. The Buccaneers are gaining only 3.6 yards per carry – the ninth-lowest average in the NFL. But that may increase this week against a Cowboys defense ranked 23rd against the run after being tormented by Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch last Sunday.

Edge: Buccaneers

When the Buccaneers pass

Josh Freeman’s 2011 season was one to forget. He threw more interceptions – 22 – than all but one quarterback in the league. But Freeman has been solid in the first two games and has benefited from the free-agent acquisition of receiver Vincent Jackson, who has made nine catches for 175 yards and a touchdown this season. Still, Tampa Bay’s air attack seems to be in the development stages. It’s the fourth-least productive in the league and this week it’s facing a Cowboys team that has the NFL’s third-stingiest passing defense.

Edge: Cowboys

Special teams

The Cowboys’ special teams were atrocious last week against the Seahawks. Returner Felix Jones’ fumble on the opening kickoff and a blocked punt put Dallas in hole from which it never emerged. Kicker Dan Bailey, meanwhile, attempted only one extra point in the loss. Tampa Bay hasn’t experienced the same misfortune. In fact, Connor Barth has converted all five field-goal attempts after producing the second-highest field-goal percentage in 2011.

Edge: Buccaneers

Intangibles

The Cowboys have yet to establish a true home-field advantage at Cowboys Stadium. In the 25 competitive games they have played there, they have won only 14. But Dallas should feel considerably more comfortable in the confines of Jerry World than they were in CenturyLink Field and MetLife Stadium – the sites of their first two games. If that doesn’t soothe the Cowboys then the knowledge that they have defeated Tampa Bay in their previous four meetings should.

Edge: Cowboys

GAMEDAY RESOURCES: Trackers and Scoreboards

GAMETRAX - Dallas Cowboys vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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GAMEDAY RESOURCES: Sounds of the game

The Dallas Cowboys Radio Network - 105_3 The Fan KRLD

Listen to the “Voice of the Dallas Cowboys” Brad Sham on KRLD in Dallas. Click HERE. Don’t live in the Dallas area? Click HERE.

GAMEDAY RESOURCES: Watch the game on TV or online

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