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.
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?
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.”
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.
ELEVATING THEIR GAME: If the Dallas Cowboys are going to make a run, these five players need to step up
IRVING — Running back Felix Jones has replaced the departed Marion Barber and Roy Williams as the whipping boy of the media and fans for what’s wrong with the Dallas Cowboys when things don’t go as expected.
Certainly, through two games the criticisms of Jones are not without merit — considering his lost fumble that set the tone in the 27-7 loss to the Seattle Seahawks and otherwise lethargic play.
Jason Garrett said he has no issue with either Jones. He is in concert with the owner, and the former first-round pick will keep his job as the primary kick returner because of his history of success, but other options will be ready.
"The lines of communication are open," Garrett said. "We’ve never had any issues that way regarding personnel or really any kind of decision we have to make as an organization."
Surely, Felix Jones needs to play better, but he is not alone on the list of Cowboys who need to step up their play if they are to realize their dream of making the playoffs and finally making a deep run.
RB Felix Jones
Jones has been a lightning rod since failing the conditioning test at the start of training camp, blamed partly on him missing the off-season because of shoulder surgery. He has yet to regain the coveted burst that makes him dangerous as a returner and a change-of-pace option out of the backfield. Owner Jerry Jones bristled when asked whether the running back is in danger of being cut. Garrett’s limited use of him in the offense is quite telling. He has one carry for 1 yard and just four receptions in two games. If the Cowboys are not going to use him on offense, he needs to play a big role on special teams. He is averaging a career-low 21.3 yards per return. He has one fumble and has shown questionable decision-making in bringing out kicks from 8 yards deep in the end zone. If he gets replaced on returns and doesn’t have a bigger role in the offense, then there would be no reason to keep him active and, thus, on the roster.
TE Jason Witten
Witten has been one of the team’s most productive players over the past decade and likely is a future Hall of Famer. He has been to the Pro Bowl seven times and could break Michael Irvin’s club record for receptions this year. Witten hasn’t been himself through the first two games largely because he is still dealing with a lacerated spleen he injured in the preseason. He has been medically cleared to play, but he is not yet 100 percent. That has showed on the field, where Witten has six catches for 68 yards through two games. He shockingly leads the NFL with four dropped passes. Witten averaged only three drops a season over the past four seasons. He also misplayed a deep ball against Seattle that he could have caught. He has been limited by the injury, but he is not using it as an excuse, admitting he needs to play better.
WR Dez Bryant
Bryant is not just the most physically gifted player on the Cowboys, but there aren’t many in the NFL with his combination of size, speed and athleticism. The problem with Bryant is that he has yet to put it all together. He has one 100-yard receiving game since being a first-round pick in 2010. That’s the same number as Kevin Ogletree. This was supposed to be the year that Bryant figured it out because he finally knew the playbook and had a full off-season for the first time in his career. Through two games, he has seven catches for 102 yards, two drops and a fumble. Most notably, according to Garrett, he struggled against physical, man-to-man coverage in Sunday’s loss to the Seahawks when Bryant had three catches for 17 yards. He will see more of that type of coverage until he proves he can consistently win those matchups — which, considering his own physicality, is surprisingly a concern.
LT Tyron Smith
Smith was moved to the left side after spending his rookie year on the right because of his potential as a future Pro Bowler at the position. He has the talent, athleticism and work ethic to be great and plays with great effort as witnessed when he ran down Giants linebacker Michael Boley after an interception, preventing a touchdown. But Smith has been a mixed bag so far at left tackle. The Cowboys got the season-opening win against the New York Giants despite Smith being abused repeatedly by defensive end Jason Pierre Paul — a matchup in which he must hold his own over the next decade. He also leads the NFL with four false start penalties. His penalty against Seattle killed a potential scoring drive in the third quarter.
NT Jay Ratliff
Ratliff is on this list by default considering he has missed the first two games with a high ankle sprain and is questionable for Sunday’s game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. While the combination of Josh Brent and Sean Lissemore has been solid, they have not been dynamic. Ratliff is a four-time Pro Bowler for a reason. He is the only true mismatch the Cowboys have on the defensive line because of his quickness. He also plays with relentless effort and passion. For the defense to truly reach its full potential, it needs Ratliff back on the field and playing to that potential.
The Dallas Cowboys don’t need mathematicians to take down the Seattle Seahawks tomorrow afternoon, but that doesn’t mean we can’t pretend to be one. Here are six numbers that represent meaningful aspects of Sunday’s Cowboys-Seahawks tilt. . .
4.5: Yards-per-attempt for Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson in his first NFL game—the second-worst mark in the league behind Cleveland Browns rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden
In my game plan for the ‘Boys against Seattle, I suggested the defense sit back in safe coverage. The reason is that, with Wilson struggling early in his NFL career, the Cowboys should force him to beat them again and again instead of opening up the window for a big play.
2.87: The difference in yards-per-attempt given up by Seahawks cornerback Brandon Browner (8.74) and cornerback Richard Sherman (5.87) in 2011
I explained why the Cowboys would be smart to test Browner when I detailed four ways the ‘Boys can beat Seattle.
21: The number of penalties called on Browner and Sherman in 2011
This was the highest for any cornerback duo in the NFL. They’ll likely struggle against both Miles Austin and Dez Bryant, regardless of the Cowboys’ rushing efficiency.
.276: The Cowboys’ winning percentage when they pass the ball on at least 57 percent of their snaps, suggesting they should throw it less frequently
Continue reading for evidence as to why that isn’t really the case.
.636: The Cowboys’ winning percentage when they pass the ball on at least 57 percent of their snaps through the first three quarters, suggesting they throw the ball to get ahead and then run it late to close out games
In my article on Jason Garrett’s play-calling, I showed why the Cowboys aren’t really a balanced team, nor should they be. Like most NFL teams, Dallas thrives through the air and only becomes “balanced” when they run with frequency late in games.
45: The number of pressures from Seahawks defensive end Chris Clemons in 2011—the fourth-best mark in the NFL and one ahead of DeMarcus Ware.
Clemons is one of the most underrated players in the NFL. He lined up on the right side of Seattle’s defense on 76.5 percent of snaps in Week 1, so he’ll be matched up primarily with left tackle Tyron Smith.
Tyron Smith had four penalties in his first ever game at left tackle. Still, he earned an "attaboy" from the Dallas Cowboys, one of the weekly awards the team gives after victories.
Smith won it for his hustle in chasing down Giants linebacker Michael Boley after a second-quarter Tony Romo interception. Smith was docked $15,750 by the league for his horse-collar tackle on Boley, which saved a touchdown.
He will not, he smiled, pass the helmet around the locker room for his teammates to help pay his fine.
"It was a way to help my team out," Smith said. "If you care about the money that much, you’re playing for the money. I’m playing because I want to."
Smith, who gave up no sacks, was unforgiving about the tackle, calling it a last-ditch effort. He is more concerned about the league-leading three false starts. Doug Free and Jason Witten also had false starts, Dez Bryant had an illegal motion and the Cowboys had two delay of games.
Smith said it had more to do with the unfamiliarity of new center Ryan Cook, who arrived at Valley Ranch on Aug. 31 after a trade with the Dolphins, than being twitchy about facing Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul.
"It’s more just being on the same page as the center on the snap count," Smith said. "That’s why I was off-sides a few times. We’re more on the same page this week. It’ll help this week coming up."
Phil Costa reinjured his back after only three plays last week, forcing Cook into the lineup. Cook has practiced with the first-teamers this week and is expected to get the start with Costa’s back still bothering him.
“Everybody’s on more of the same page this week with the new center we have moving in,” Smith said. “He’s working hard and everybody’s working hard as a unit to get everything cleaned up.”
Smith will face his college coach, Pete Carroll, this week. Carroll is not surprised to see Smith at left tackle, though he played only the right side for Carroll. Smith, the No. 9 overall pick last year, also spent his rookie season at right tackle before he and Free switched sides this off-season.
"We always thought of him as that, that he could do that," Carroll said Wednesday. "He’s a fantastic athlete. He’s extraordinary in what he’s capable of doing. There’s nothing he can’t do. We’re not surprised at all. I see why they did it. They gave him a chance to be comfortable for the first year and then make the move and it looks like it’s working out great for them."
Dallas Cowboys tackle Tyron Smith expected to be fined for a horse collar tackle against linebacker Michael Boley following an interception against the Giants.
The NFL didn’t disappoint, fining him $15,750 for the play.
That works out to $3937.50 per point …
It was money well spent considering that Smith’s tackle prevented Boley from scoring a touchdown as he knocked him out at the 2-yard line. The penalty moved the ball to the 1. The Cowboys defense rose up and forced a field goal.
It proved to be huge momentum-turning play in a game the Cowboys won 24-17.
None of it would have happened without Smith’s hustle and effort to chase down Boley _ penalty or not. Fine or not.
“It was a really big play in the game,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said in the days after the game. “As coaches we always try to emphasize the ball, and the importance of the ball, and taking care of the ball, and quarterbacks making good decisions, holding it the right way in the pocket, anybody who’s carrying the football, make sure you carry it the right way, and we do drills every day. One of the things we talk about is when there is a turnover, going to get the ball back, going to make the tackle if there is an interception or the other team is running with the football.
“You can preach that till you’re blue in the face, but until that situation happens in the game, it’s hard to know the guys are going to respond the right way. But if you watch that play, like we have, you see a lot of guys running the football, trying to make the play, and sure enough, Tyron’s the guy who makes the play. And you said it. It’s a difference-making play in the ballgame, to force an offense to say, ok, you don’t have a touchdown, you’ve got to score from the 2-yard line, and the challenge that that presents to a defense. You always want to be in a situation where you’re trying to have a goal-line stand. And our guys stepped up. I thought our run defense was outstanding. We knocked them back on the first play, knocked them back on the next play, forced them into a passing situation, and defended well on third down to hold them to a field goal. None of that happens if Tyron doesn’t make that play. So his hustle, his determination, his will, did a great job of carrying over the practice emphasis to the game.”
IRVING — Cornerback Mike Jenkins will likely play this week, but he’s not sure how he will react to his first action since last season or how the Cowboys plan to use him.
"Won’t know until I talk to somebody," he said. "When I get a full practice in with full equipment, then we’ll know."
He hinted that he is eager to play.
"If you saw the game, you would know how anxious I was," he told reporters Monday at Valley Ranch, meaning the Giants game last week. He could be seen gesturing excitedly on the sideline in replays of DeMarco Murray’s 48-yard run.
"It ain’t about me right now," he said. "It ain’t about me."
Coach Jason Garrett said the Cowboys first want Jenkins confident with what he has been doing, playing on the outside versus playing in the slot.
"He has been mostly an outside corner for us, so we want to get him back comfortable doing what he does," Garrett said. "At the same time, he does have some experience in this defense and experience playing on the football team."
Rookie cornerback Morris Claiborne put up an electronic billboard ad in Baton Rouge. It pictured him in his LSU uniform and read: "Thank you Tiger fans. Mo."
"I was just trying to find a way that I could give back to the fans," Claiborne said Monday. "The fans at LSU are great. So I sat down with my agent and tried to think of something, and we just started throwing out certain things. That was one of the things that stuck out for me."
Claiborne said the billboard was a hit.
"Everybody loved it," he said. "They were pumped up about it. … I just know those guys help us when we’re in Tiger Stadium. It doesn’t matter what’s happening — they’re always there cheering us on and pumping us up."
Claiborne said he does not know how much the billboard cost. He told his agent, Bus Cook, to pay whatever it cost.
Jay Ratliff practiced Monday, but owner Jerry Jones said the nose tackle’s availability for Sunday is still a question.
"I watched him out there today. It’s possible," Jones said. "But I can’t tell you that one way or the other. He’s being very aggressive on it. He’s making really good progress."
Ratliff is recovering from a high ankle sprain suffered in the third preseason game.
Safety Gerald Sensabaugh said he was held out of practice Monday because of concussion symptoms suffered against the Giants.
He said he will be fine and seemed optimistic about playing against the Seahawks. He will likely have to pass a concussion test before returning.
If Sensabaugh can’t go, Danny McCray could replace him. McCray missed the Giants game with a neck injury but he practiced Monday.
The Cowboys don’t have plans right now to get more work at center for Mackenzy Bernadeau.
"We’ll probably proceed as we’ve proceeded on the offensive line," Jason Garrett said. "Again, we like how those guards are playing, so we anticipate playing them in those spots."
The Cowboys considered developing Bernadeau at center in the off-season to push starter Phil Costa, who is expected to miss the Seattle game while he recovers from a back injury.
"But he does have position flex, so we’ve got to make sure we have a guy who can snap the football if Ryan can’t snap the football," Garrett said.
Tyron Smith penalty
Offensive tackle Tyron Smith smiled when someone mentioned the horse-collar tackle that saved the Cowboys a touchdown against the Giants.
Coach Jason Garrett called it one of the most important plays of the game.
"Yeah, but I’m going to get fined for it," Smith said Monday.
Any fine probably won’t come until mid-week. The league office said any fines from the Wednesday game would come along the regular schedule.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – The Dallas Cowboys had plenty of highlights in their 24-17 win over the Giants Wednesday night at MetLife Stadium. But like always, there are some hidden plays that will get overlooked, but yet played a big part in the final outcome.
Here is a handful of plays that changed this game.
1. Lee’s Force – The Giants were threatening to score in the first quarter and had moved the ball to the Cowboys’ 29. But Sean Lee darted through the blockers and smashed Giants rookie David Wilson, jarring the ball loose for a fumble, which was recovered by Barry Church. That likely saved three points for a field goal, and possibly more.
2. Tackle’s Tackle – Tyron Smith’s debut at left tackle won’t go down as one of his best games. There were plenty of rough moments for him, especially from a penalty standpoint. But one of his penalties gave the Cowboys four points. After Romo’s interception to Michael Boley, it looked like the Giants linebacker was headed for six. That’s until Smith stuck his left arm out and tackled him, getting a personal foul horse collar penalty in the process. It put the ball on the Cowboys’ 2, but the defense stiffened and forced a field goal for a 3-0 lead.
3. Third-and-1 Pass – The Cowboys had trouble running the ball early in the game and facing a third-and-1 from their own 47, they opted to take it to the air. Romo hit Dez Bryant on a deep ball down the right side line for 38 yards. It set up the first score of the game just two plays later.
4. Murray Keeps Going – On a second-and-3 play midway through the third quarter, it appeared DeMarco Murray was headed for a three-yard loss. Instead, he managed to not only sneak away, but dart down the sideline for a 48-yard run. It’s hard to think the longest play of the game would be forgotten, but it only led to a field goal. Still, after the Giants had scored to cut the lead to 14-10, a big run like that changed the momentum back toward the Cowboys.
5. Hatcher Avenges Penalty – With the Cowboys up 17-10, it appeared the defense was getting off the field on a third-down stop, but Jason Hatcher was flagged for a personal foul penalty, hitting Eli Manning in the head and late. It kept the Giants on the field, but three plays later, Hatcher sacked Manning to give the ball back to the Cowboys early in the fourth.
– A five-yard offside penalty on the Giants gave Cowboys a first down early in the fourth quarter, setting up a TD pass to Miles Austin.
– Kevin Ogletree’s 13-yard catch on third-and-10 to seal the game. It doesn’t make the list because it’s likely not forgotten, but still worthy.
RELATED: Jerry Jones thrilled by Dallas Cowboys’ tenacity
Jerry Jones said the win over the Giants “can be inspirational,” but he has no trouble remembering that the story of the season for them or the Cowboys is a long way from being told.
“The Giants have shown us that you can have a marathon here,” the Cowboys owner said after Wednesday night’s 24-17 victory. “They’re the role model on how to adjust and go home with the trophy. The Cowboys and Giants, neither of us is happy unless we end up in that Super Bowl and get a win.”
When the game got tight at the end, Jones admitted to nervous thoughts.
“What I didn’t say and didn’t know – would this team have the courage to play against a quality team like that, on the road, and have the courage to stay in there and win a ballgame?” he said. “And I really was concerned there late in the game that we were going to fool around here, get them to get back in it. But this bunch persevered. It was a very significant win for the franchise.”
Jones said the Cowboys did show courage in the win, but he didn’t doubt it was there.
“Not their courage, just the tenacity to overcome those mistakes,” he said. “That takes a lot out of you. I think we might have had like four first downs or four second downs and then had them reversed on penalties there – I’ve lost count. But the point is, I like the way that we won the game. We made a lot of mistakes against a good team that maybe should have beaten us and didn’t because this bunch played and stayed the course.”
Less than nine months after the New York Giants defeated the Cowboys in a winner-take-all game to determine the NFC East title, the two division rivals meet again at the same place. A lot has changed since the previous encounter.
The Giants went on to win the Super Bowl while the Cowboys entered the off-season with a plan to revamp the secondary that was bombarded by Eli Manning. Here is a look at the keys to victory for the Cowboys.
The Giants’ pass rush is fierce. In the final eight games they played, including four postseason contests, they accumulated 26 sacks. Jason Pierre-Paul, Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck can make any offensive line look weak. The Cowboys’ front must stand strong for Romo to do his job. If it does, then Romo may flourish. In his career, Romo has produced a better quarterback rating – 97.9 – against the Giants than any other NFC East opponent he has faced.
Eli Manning has been a thorn in the Cowboys’ side for years. In his career against Dallas, Manning has amassed 33 touchdown passes and thrown only 18 interceptions. Last season, he picked apart the Cowboys’ secondary – producing a combined quarterback rating of 109.7 in two games against Dallas. He did so while avoiding pressure. In 120 minutes of football, the Cowboys managed to sack Manning only twice. Dallas has to increase that total if it wants to keep Manning and the Giants’ offense at bay.
Establish running game
Jason Garrett preaches balance. But his offense has rarely shown it. Against the Giants last season, Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo dropped back 78 times, attempting 68 passes. The running backs, meanwhile, had only 37 carries. Dallas needs to make a concerted effort to give DeMarco Murray the ball. Last season, the Cowboys prevailed in each game he rushed 20 or more times.
Rob Ryan wants a defense that not only snuffs out plays but also makes them. Yet the Cowboys struggled to do all of the above last season. That was especially true against the Giants, when Dallas’ defense was skewered. The Cowboys struggled to stop the Giants, in part because they only forced one turnover against them in 120 minutes of football. They need to do better Wednesday.
RELATED: Matchup to watch – Dallas Cowboys LT Tyron Smith vs. New York Giants DE Jason Pierre-Paul
Tyron Smith is aware of the challenges he will face this season, his first as a left tackle in the NFL. Each week the Cowboys play, he will contend with the best pass rushers the league has to offer. On Wednesday, he will face Justin Tuck, Osi Umenyiora and Jason Pierre-Paul.
Among the Giants’ trio of fearsome defensive ends, Pierre-Paul is considered the greatest threat. During his sophomore campaign in 2011, he had a breakout season. He accumulated 16.5 sacks and was invited to the Pro Bowl for the first time in his career.
In one memorable performance against the Cowboys last December, he forced a fumble, recorded a safety and blocked a field goal.
Smith, who allowed 9.5 sacks last season and was Dallas’ top offensive lineman, will have a challenging first test at his new position.
IN THE TRENCHES: New York Giants defense could expose and improve Dallas Cowboys OL continuity concerns
IRVING, Texas – When the Cowboys signed veteran guards Mackenzy Bernadeau and Nate Livings just three days apart back in mid-March, there was an expectation of the offensive line would look this year.
From left to right, it was supposed to be Tyron Smith, Nate Livings, Phil Costa, Mackenzy Bernadeau and then Doug Free – after the Cowboys also decided to swap tackles Smith and Free for this year.
So that’s how it was supposed to look. But not until Saturday afternoon, a mere four days before Wednesday’s much-anticipated season opener against the defending champion Giants, has it actually looked that way.
Because of injuries throughout the middle of the line, the starting five hasn’t been able to work together at all in the OTAs, minicamps, training camp and four preseason games.
So they’re finally ready now, but will it be enough time to get on the same page, especially with the menacing Giants’ defense that features pass-rushers like Jason Pierre-Paul and Justin Tuck, along with a wave of other veterans that have made that group one of the best in the NFL?
Outside of this locker room at Valley Ranch, there might be some heavy speculation. But on the inside, they seem to be ready.
“We’ve got things in sync,” said Bernadeau, who missed all of the offseason and two weeks into camp with a hip injury that required surgery. “There’s a lot of reps we’ve been having. It’s getting better every day. I’m just glad to have Phil (Costa) back and have everyone together so we can just get better.”
The continuity seems to be the biggest question. With Costa only returning from a back injury last week, it’s put a strain on those three working together. Livings missed some time with a hamstring injury that kept him out of the first two preseason games.
“They have practiced a lot recently and they have practiced together,” head coach Jason Garrett said. “That’s a good thing. Costa has been practicing the last 2-3 days and we feel like he’s ready to play in this ballgame. Having those guys just working next to each other and communicating is really important. It’s important at every position, but certainly on the offensive line. We’ll continue to evaluate the status of those guys. It’s nice to see them practicing together and hopefully they’ll continue to grow as they progress.”
Livings, who signed in free agency after spending the last four seasons in Cincinnati, doesn’t seem too worried with trying to rush continuity. When asked about it, he focuses more on what he can control, which is preparing for the Giants and their pass-rush.
“When you’re on the field, you’re not looking at continuity,” Livings said. “The one objective is getting the play right. No mental mistakes. Continuity is something that comes in time. you just focus on the play and assignment.
“It’s time to go. It’s that time of year. It’s time to get it,” Livings added. “If we’re up there to play together, then let’s play together. Continuity is something that comes in time. It’s just about getting the job done.”
And it certainly won’t be an easy task, especially considering the atmosphere that is expected come Wednesday night at MetLife Stadium in the Meadowlands. It’s the first game of the NFL’s regular season and it’s expected the Giants will unveil a Super Bowl banner before the game.
A crowd like that won’t make it easy on the line, especially one that hasn’t worked too much together and will need to figure out hand-signals and silent counts.
“It’s a factor. You’re not at home,” Livings said. “You have to have that aspect on the road. You know what it takes and you know it’s coming.”
Knowing it is the first part. Being ready for it, and then handling it will be completely different. We’ll find out rather quickly if the Cowboys are up for the challenge.
The New York Giants are the defending Super Bowl champions but even then, you still make changes to your team. For the Giants the majority of their changes happened on the offensive side of the ball.
Tackle David Diehl switches from the left to right side. Will Beatty takes over there but has been battling injuries all summer so Sean Locklear has been manning that spot and doing a credible job. Mario Manningham is no longer the third receiver with Jerrel Jernigan and Domenik Hixon splitting time there. Gone too is running back Brandon Jacobs and taking over his spot is first round selection David Wilson. To me, Wilson is a more complete back than Jacobs and is really a nice fit in this Kevin Gilbride attack. Wilson shows the ability to run the ball with the same kind of power as Jacobs but he does it quicker. It took Jacobs time to get to the outside where Wilson is on the edge right now. Where Wilson can also hurt you is his ability to catch the ball on the swing pass or inside routes and get up the field.
Ahmad Bradshaw is still the starter but don’t be one bit surprised that when these two clubs meet again in late October that Wilson is not the starter, he has that much talent. The Giants also added former tight end Martellus Bennett to the roster. Where Bennett has looked good this preseason has been his ability to work the middle of the field but also having an understanding of what his role is on “hot” routes when Manning faces the blitz.
On defense, the Giants will still present problems with their four man line. Defensive coordinator Perry Fewell does a really nice job of creating situations that puts your blocking scheme to the test. Defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul is the most dangerous player along the front four. Pierre-Paul will usually line up on the defense’s right side, so that will be a match up with Tyron Smith. But there will also be times where Fewell will put Pierre-Paul inside at defensive tackle in the nickel next to Justin Tuck with Osi Umenyiora over the left tackle and Mathias Kiwanuka over the right tackle. You will also see Pierre-Paul line up as the left defensive end where in the game I watched against the Jets where he had a sack from that side. What Fewell is looking for is the opportunity to create mismatches and he does a good job of it with this front.
Where the Cowboys can take an advantage of a match-up is against these Giants linebackers in the passing game. We have seen this summer where DeMarco Murray has been a nice player out of the backfield on the edge in space. Chase Blackburn and Kiwanuka are not good coverage players and with Murray’s ability to run routes, then catch the ball, it could put a great deal of pressure on the Giants to have to match up. Of the Giants linebackers that can cover, Michael Boley is their best man but he might be called on for other responsibilities in the scheme.
The Giants have been scrambling in the secondary to get their lineup set. Gone from that Super Bowl team is cornerback Aaron Ross who signed with Jacksonville. Former first round selection Prince Amukamara is out with a high ankle sprain and Terrell Thomas has been put on injured reserve. So Michael Coe will make a start on the right side with Justin Tryon and rookie Jayron Hosley as the backups. Left corner Corey Webster played well during the playoff stretch of 2011 and looks like he has carried that over to the start of 2012. Safeties Kenny Phillips and former cornerback Antrel Rolle are a physical pair. Rolle is used more in coverage and will most likely be paired with Jason Witten during the game.
Overall, this is a talented team at several positions on both sides of the ball. You have to be able to handle players like Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz on the outside. Pressure on Manning has proven the best way to handle the Giants but the Cowboys have struggled with that the last two meetings. Getting Manning to have to move his feet to throw with be key. Defensively the Cowboys had better be ready for four man pressure with some line stunts up front. Perry Fewell is not a big blitzer like Rob Ryan but with this defensive line he doesn’t have to be.
Bryan Broaddus | Football Analyst – Scout
IRVING, Texas — Go ahead and put most of these names in ink.
There are a handful of roster spots up for grabs entering Wednesday’s preseason finale, but the vast majority of the decisions will have already been made. The toughest calls come at the last spots for receiver, offensive line, defensive end and how to handle Matt Johnson’s situation (great potential, but can’t count on him this season).
Tony Romo Kyle Orton
If Stephen McGee wants to stick around for a fourth season, he needs to give the front office and coaches good reason to keep him with a strong performance in the preseason finale. At this point, it makes more sense to try to put Rudy Carpenter on the practice squad.
RUNNING BACKS (3)
DeMarco Murray Felix Jones Phillip Tanner
Tanner didn’t help his cause with a blown assignment in pass protection that almost got Orton killed against the Rams, but he’s a solid No. 3 back and core special teams player. North Texas alums Lance Dunbar and Jamize Olawale are good practice squad candidates.
Lawrence Vickers Shaun Chapas
Chapas, a fixture on first-team special teams units Saturday, is likely to last only one week on the roster. An extra fullback can help mask the lack of depth at tight end in case Jason Witten misses the season opener.
TIGHT ENDS (3)
Jason Witten John Phillips James Hanna
The Cowboys could opt to go with rookie Andrew Szczerba as temporary insurance instead of Chapas.
WIDE RECEIVERS (6)
Miles Austin Dez Bryant
Kevin Ogletree Dwayne Harris Cole Beasley Danny Coale
It comes down to Coale vs. Andre Holmes, the Jerry Jones pet cat who reported to camp in poor shape and has shown no consistency. Holmes has more upside. Coale, who has hardly been on the field due to injuries, is more likely to contribute this season. The Cowboys envisioned Coale as a Sam Hurd-type No. 4 receiver/special teams stud (without the felonious side business, of course) when they invested a fifth-round pick in him.
OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (9)
Tyron Smith Doug Free Nate Livings Mackenzy Bernadeau Phil Costa
David Arkin Jermey Parnell Ronald Leary Pat McQuistan
Is being a third guard good enough reason to keep Derrick Dockery? He probably wouldn’t be active on game days due to his lack of position versatility. McQuistan has experience at tackle, guard, blocking tight end and has even worked some at center. Addressing the lack of depth at center would be a wise move after Week 1.
DEFENSIVE LINEMEN (7)
Jay Ratliff Jason Hatcher Kenyon Coleman Sean Lissemore Marcus Spears
Tyrone Crawford Josh Brent
Clifton Geathers (6-foot-7, 325 pounds) looks the part, but he hasn’t done enough to push Coleman or Spears off the roster. The Cowboys can save a little money by cutting (or perhaps trading) one of the veterans, but keeping both gives them quality depth in the defensive end rotation.
INSIDE LINEBACKERS (4)
Sean Lee Bruce Carter Dan Connor Orie Lemon
Lemon is a guy you notice a lot in practices and preseason games. He has developmental potential and can contribute now on special teams.
OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS (5)
DeMarcus Ware Anthony Spencer
Victor Butler Kyle Wilber Alex Albright
Can the Cowboys get pass rusher Adrian Hamilton through waivers onto the practice squad? It appears that they will try. He’s not getting reps with the first-team special teams units, a strong sign that they don’t see him as a fit for the 53-man roster this season.
Brandon Carr Morris Claiborne
Orlando Scandrick Mike Jenkins Mario Butler
Jerry Jones has said there is a roster spot for Jenkins, meaning the Cowboys don’t plan for him to start the season on the physically unable to perform list. That doesn’t mean he’ll be ready for the season opener.
Gerald Sensabaugh Barry Church Danny McCray Mana Silva
What to do with fourth-round pick Matt Johnson? He has hardly practiced because of a hamstring injury and he strained the other hamstring in his preseason debut Saturday night. The Cowboys could try to get him through waivers to the practice squad or put him on injured reserve, essentially making this a redshirt season. With such limited practice time, putting him on the 53 would be a waste of a roster spot.
Dan Bailey Chris Jones L.P. Ladouceur
No drama here after rookie deep snapper Charley Hughlett’s release Monday. The Cowboys were willing to pay more for the proven commodity.
ARLINGTON — Little by little, the Dallas Cowboys vision of what to expect from their retooled offensive line has come into focus throughout training camp. The operative word is "little," because the projected starters have yet to line up shoulder-to-shoulder in a preseason game.
That is not expected to change Saturday in Cowboys Stadium against the St. Louis Rams (7 p.m., KTVT/Ch. 11), with center Phil Costa projected to miss his third consecutive game with a back ailment. But left guard Nate Livings, who has yet to take a preseason snap, plans to make his debut in a Dallas uniform after returning to practice this week from a hamstring injury.
That will give the Cowboys four projected starters in the trenches, plus reserve center David Arkin, to protect quarterback Tony Romo for the brunt of the team’s most extended dress rehearsal in preparation for a Sept. 5 regular-season opener at the New York Giants.
How is Romo’s comfort level with the guys protecting him?
"It’s comfortable," Romo said. "They’re fighting. They’re getting better and better, and they just keep working hard. We’re going to be all right."
Livings (6-foot-4, 320 pounds), a starter for Cincinnati the past two seasons, joined right guard Mackenzy Bernadeau as the team’s free-agent additions to shore up a suspect area from last season. For the first time, the two will play in tandem Saturday against the Rams.
Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said continuity among his three interior linemen "might be as important as at any position on your team" and that he is eager to gauge how the pieces are fitting together as the regular season approaches.
"They work together in combination blocks, identifying fronts … all of that stuff that centers and [guards] need to do," Garrett said. "It is really, really important to the success of the play, the success of your run game and your pass protection. The more experience you have spending time with these guys, taking snaps together, the better you’re going to be."
Livings cannot wait to turn it loose after being given a clean bill of health from Cowboys trainers.
"It’s all good, baby," Livings said of his physical condition. "In the game the other day [against San Diego], when we were coming out of the tunnel, I was getting chills myself. But I wasn’t playing. And that’s a feeling I don’t like. I’m here to play football. I’m looking forward to [Saturday]. I’m just getting my feet back under me and getting better one day at a time."
Bernadeau, who missed most of the off-season while recuperating from hip and knee surgeries, believes Livings — a former LSU player who started 41 of his last 46 games with the Bengals — can be a stabilizing force.
"It’s good to have ‘Big Nate’ back," Bernadeau said. "He’s a big force inside, a big influence. We’re excited to have him back and give him as many reps as we can."
Livings, Bernadeau and Arkin joined starting tackles Doug Free and Tyron Smith for the majority of the first-team reps in Thursday’s Silver & Blue Debut at Cowboys Stadium. Garrett said he is eager to get his projected starters together for as much work as possible in the preseason and expressed disappointment that injuries to Costa, Livings and Bernadeau during various stages of training camp prevented that.
But he’ll at least see four of the five — including both newcomers at guard — operate together Saturday.
"You control what you can control in life," Garrett said. "We just had a rash of injuries … Ideally, you want that starting offensive line to be in place year after year. That’s not necessarily the nature of the NFL. We have some new guys. They have been banged up, and we’re going to try our best to get that continuity as well as we can, as fast as we can."
In terms of the Rams’ game, Livings will be under the microscope. The Cowboys’ offensive line struggled to protect Romo or create running lanes in its preseason opener, a 3-0 victory over Oakland, but fared much better in Saturday’s 28-20 loss to the Chargers.
Garrett envisions Livings’ return as another step toward stability in the trenches.
"He’s a pro. You can see that, the way he approaches it," Garrett said. "He needs to play in our offense more, [understand] the communication next to guys, the adjustments he needs to make. He’s got … a quiet intensity that we like."
Although he has yet to take the field in a Cowboys jersey, Livings went through the entire off-season with the team and pointed to training camp as a bonding experience for him and his line mates. He said the group is becoming cohesive despite minimal game snaps together in the preseason, and he is eager to showcase that.
"We’re around each other all day long in meetings and talking," Livings said. "We’re dealing with certain situations on the field [in practice]. That’s our job: to get better every day. To get closer every day. We know what it takes. We’ve just got to get ready to roll."
Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said left tackle Tyron Smith, 21, is “getting more and more comfortable” with his role protecting the blind side of quarterback Tony Romo with each practice.
Smith played right tackle last season but switched sides with fellow starter Doug Free during the off-season.
“There are … challenges that he’s going to face going over on the left side,” Garrett said. “But he’s embraced those. And I think he’s getting more and more comfortable with his stance, with his pass sets, with his communication. I just think he’s an awfully good football player who’s getting better and better every day. It’s great to know that he’s 21 years old and has such a mature way about him and wants to improve every day. He’s certainly been a great asset to our football team.”
Giants left tackle Will Beatty is unproven and can’t get healthy, and they’re thin at tackle in general. Additionally, David Baas was a disappointment in his first season in New York, and they haven’t seen Kevin Boothe as a full-season starter yet. The Giants finished 32nd in the league last season in rushing offense because of a line that couldn’t get any push. Pro Football Focus graded them the 29th-best run-blocking team in the league, and the worst pass-blocking team in the league. Good for them for overcoming it all and winning the Super Bowl, but it remains an issue insufficiently addressed.
The Cowboys’ offensive line has been the dominant story of their training camp — specifically their struggles at center, where Phil Costa has been banged up and the potential backups and replacements for him have had trouble snapping the ball to the quarterback. The Cowboys also are trying to find guards who can protect Tony Romo against the interior pass rush better than they did last season. And starting tackles Tyron Smith and Doug Free have had to switch sides because of Free’s struggles on the left last season. PFF had Dallas as the 15th-best pass-blocking team in 2011 and the 11th-best run blocking one, so it could be worse. But they need everyone healthy and playing together to see if they have a chance.
The Redskins likely were planning to use some of the $18 million in salary cap money the league took from them on the eve of free agency to upgrade the offensive line. But they couldn’t, obviously, so they’re still dealing with Jammal Brown’s hip injury, Kory Lichtensteiger’s knee injury and Will Montgomery’s limitations as a center in their zone-blocking run scheme. The Redskins ranked 26th in pass blocking and 30th in run blocking last season according to those PFF grades, and they also made no significant change or improvement.
After a rocky start, the Eagles had a good season on the line in 2011. They ranked second in the league in run-blocking and 14th in pass-blocking. But they also lost left tackle Jason Peters, their best lineman and one of the best in the league, to an Achilles injury in the offseason. As good as the other four starters on their line are, the Eagles could struggle to replace what Peters gave them last season, and so far they have not figured out whether Demetress Bell or King Dunlap replaces him as the starter.
The NFC East leads the league in hype. The huge media markets in which the teams play, the history of success, the rivalries … all of it combines to create a perception that the NFC East is the best, most competitive and toughest division in the NFL. That the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants play in it — and are not the clear-cut favorites to win it again this season — only adds to the perception, as does the growing excitement over an NFL regular-season opener between the Giants and the Dallas Cowboys 16 nights from tonight.
But while Giants-Cowboys is fun, and each of those teams has something pretty intense going with the division’s other two teams — the Giants’ recent struggles with the Philadelphia Eagles and the Cowboys’ longstanding rivalry with the Washington Redskins — the stats don’t back up the NFC East as the league’s toughest division anymore. The division is, by many measures, coming off its worst season ever. Last season was the first regular season in NFC East history in which no team won at least 10 games. Only the Giants finished over .500, and they gave up more points than they scored. Their Super Bowl run might have saved the division’s honor, but it also disguised the troubling fact that the NFC East is no longer the Beast it used to be.
A large part of the reason for this, I believe, is the state of the division’s offensive lines. We all know offensive line play is important, but in the NFC East these days, concern about the lines affects too many things. Teams that are strong on the line can control games. Teams that aren’t cannot. Eli Manning and the Giants have been talking for months about wanting to not have to come back in the fourth quarter as much as they did last season, and the best way to avoid that is to control games from the start. Given the issues with their offensive line, they could find that a challenge once again.
But they’re not alone. As we look ahead to 2012 and start assessing everyone’s biggest questions, offensive line stands out as an issue for each of the NFC East’s four teams. To wit:
The NFC has no shortage of star power. It has three great quarterbacks and one, Washington rookie Robert Griffin III, who’s getting as much hype as any of the other three these days. It has some of the great wide receivers in the league in veterans such as Hakeem Nicks, Miles Austin and DeSean Jackson as well as rising stars such as Victor Cruz, Dez Bryant and Jeremy Maclin. The Eagles’ LeSean McCoy ranks with the game’s great running backs. And on defense, of course, the division is known for its great pass-rushers. Each team can rattle off names that give opposing quarterbacks heartburn. DeMarcus Ware. Jason Pierre-Paul. Justin Tuck. Trent Cole. Jason Babin. Brian Orakpo.
All of that makes the NFC East very exciting. But very often in the NFL, excitement and hype can conceal issues of quality. And if the NFC East really wants to be the best division in football again, it’s not the quarterbacks or the wide receivers or even the pass-rushers that will bring it there. The NFC East’s teams all need to start paying more attention to their offensive lines, because as those continue to erode, so will the division’s annual claim to Beastliness.
Dan Graziano | ESPN Dallas
Jerry Jones the owner is placing the blame for a struggling offensive line on Jerry Jones the general manager. During an interview Thursday with NFL.com, Jones said the offensive line is “probably where I’ve let us down most.”
“The O-line, if I look back the last two years, if I had some mulligans or some re-dos, I might’ve done that differently. We’re trying to do that this year.”
Over the last two seasons, the Cowboys have failed to put together a line that can adequately protect quarterback Tony Romo. The Cowboys have some stability on the outside with tackles Tyron Smith and Doug Free but the interior was arguably one of the worst groups in the NFL in 2011.
Phil Costa improved later in the 2011 season, but made several mistakes in his first year at center. He has been sidelined with a lower back injury during much of training camp.
Mackenzy Bernadeau and Nate Livings were signed in free agency to solidify the guard positions but both have also struggled to stay healthy. In addition, the Cowboys added one of the top line coaches in the league, Bill Callahan, to improve the group this off-season.
Judging by the team’s preseason opener — a 3-0 victory over Oakland — the protection hasn’t improved. Romo was left scrambling for his life on a couple of occasions and the running game was non-existent with the first team offense. Starting running back DeMarco Murray finished with no yards on two carries. Felix Jones managed four yards on two rushing attempts.
But if there is any type of immediate solution out there, Jones seems to be ready to act on it. After all, he prides himself on never attempting to re-build.
“What we do with the Cowboys, using the analogy of going to Las Vegas and putting it all on the table, we’re shoving it all out there,” he said. “I shove it all out there with the Cowboys every year.”
The regular season starts for the Dallas Cowboys in just a few weeks. Here’s our first of weekly projections on how the 53-man roster will shake out.
Tony Romo Kyle Orton
Comment: Teams that keep three like the third to be a young quarterback that can one day develop into a starter. Does Stephen McGee still fit that profile? Cowboys could save a roster spot here and try to slip Rudy Carpenter by on the practice squad for protection.
Running backs (5)
DeMarco Murray Felix Jones
Phillip Tanner Lance Dunbar Lawrence Vickers
Comment: The Cowboys like Dunbar, but he picked a bad time to get injured. He needs to get on the field soon to earn a spot.
Wide receiver (5)
Dez Bryant Miles Austin
Andre Holmes Danny Coale Cole Beasley
Comment: Even though Kevin Ogletree is starting now that Austin is injured, it’s not a lock he makes the team. If the team adds a veteran here as the season nears, a distinct possibility, he could lose his spot to a younger player with more upside. If the Cowboys decide to keep six here it will likely be at the expense of a running back.
Tight end (3)
Jason Witten John Phillips James Hanna
Comment: No intrigue here.
Offensive line (10)
Tyron Smith Doug Free Phil Costa Mackenzy Bernadeau Nate Livings
Ronald Leary David Arkin Jeremy Parnell Pat McQuistan Derrick Dockery
Comment: There remains a lot to sort through here but injuries to Bill Nagy and Kevin Kowalski have thinned the field.
Defensive line (7)
Jay Ratliff Kenyon Coleman Jason Hatcher Tyrone Crawford Sean Lissemore
Josh Brent Clifton Geathers
Comment: One veteran is likely to go as the Cowboys try to get younger in the line. Marcus Spears is odd lineman out at this stage but it could be Coleman.
DeMarcus Ware Anthony Spencer Sean Lee Bruce Carter Dan Connor
Victor Butler Kyle Wilber Alex Albright Orie Lemon
Comment: Who excels on special teams will have an edge on the final couple of spots.
Morris Claiborne Brandon Carr Mike Jenkins Orlando Scandrick
Mario Butler Barry Church Gerald Sensabaugh Matt Johnson Danny McCray
Comment: Mana Silva is still in the running for a spot. He makes plays.
Dan Bailey Chris Jones LP Ladouceur
Comment: Jones is no Mat McBriar as a punter, but he’s the best the team has in camp. It wouldn’t hurt to watch the waiver wire here.
Courtesy: David Moore
Editors Note: RED indicates an injury concern going into the season.
Here’s what stood out from Day 11 of Cowboys’ training camp practices Saturday in Oxnard, Calif.:
- The Cowboys spent a lot of time working on their hurry-up offense Saturday and working more on situational plays. The defense had the upper hand most of the practice.
- Actor Ashton Kutcher was in attendance for the Saturday afternoon practice. He spent some time watching practice with owner Jerry Jones and talked with QB Tony Romo after the practice.
- Recently signed veteran OL Derrick Dockery took first-team left guard repetitions and Mackenzy Bernadeau and Ronald Leary continued to rotate at first-team right guard.
- With starting C Phil Costa out with a back injury, David Arkin took first-team reps at center with Harland Gunn at second-team center and Pat McQuistan at third team. Over the last three days, McQuistan has seen work at offensive tackle, blocking tight end and now at center.
- During the morning walkthrough, QB Tony Romo and C David Arkin spent some extra time working on shotgun snaps, which have been one of the big issues of camp because of all the injuries at center.
- QB Tony Romo gave some fans high-fives along the fence line as he came out onto the field for the afternoon practice and stopped to sign a few autographs. That’s been rare for him this camp.
- WR Raymond Radway continues to fade. He struggled catching kickoff returns early and also had his problems during team drills. Radway appeared to run the wrong route – going long instead of breaking his route short – during team drills. QB Kyle Orton threw the pass underneath as Radway streaked down the field, allowing safety Danny McCray to make an easy interception. Later, Radway dropped a pass in team drills.
- WR Dez Bryant used a double move in 1-on-1 drills to beat CB Brandon Carr for a touchdown deep. Bryant then beat rookie CB Morris Claiborne for a catch along the left sideline. Bryant, however, missed the last half of the afternoon practice because of tightness in his hamstring.
- In 1-on-1 drills, WR Donovan Kemp dropped a pass on a slant route. WR Cole Beasley also had a drop along the right sideline. CB Akwasi Owusu-Ansah intercepted a pass intended for WR David Little. WR Tim Benford had a drop after beating CB Mario Butler in coverage. WR Andre Holmes used three moves to finally get free from Owusu-Ansah and make a catch. CB C.J. Wilson dropped a pass intended for Beasley that he should have intercepted.
- Twice during 1-on-1 drills, speedy CB Teddy Williams ran step-for-step down the sideline with WR Kevin Ogletree and WR Raymond Radway. Tony Romo didn’t even attempt a pass with Williams blanketing Ogletree, and the pass to Radway was incomplete. Both times, defensive coordinator Rob Ryan yelled, “Nice coverage, Teddy.”
- In individual receiving drills and during team drills, RB Javarris Williams dropped passes in the flat.
- LT Tyron Smith had a false start during a hurry-up situation inside the red zone. The offensive line scrambled to get to the line of scrimmage in a hurry and before Tony Romo snapped the ball to spike it, Smith moved.
- CB Brandon Carr had a pass breakup in the end zone against WR Kevin Ogletree on a pass from Tony Romo.
- Safety Barry Church continued his strong play by breaking up a pass from Tony Romo intended for TE Jason Witten near the goal line. Church nearly intercepted the pass.
- Safety Gerald Sensabaugh broke up a pass in the end zone from Tony Romo and almost intercepted the ball.
- RB DeMarco Murray dropped a quick pass out to the left flat from Tony Romo.
- CB Orlando Scandrick had good coverage on WR Andrew Holmes on a deep past down the left sideline from Tony Romo. The ball was overthrown and Scandrick almost intercepted the pass, getting one hand on it.
- LB DeMarcus Ware would have sacked Tony Romo during team drills, flying past him before he threw the ball.
- WR Dwayne Harris dropped a pass to the left side from QB Kyle Orton. Safety Danny McCray was there with tight coverage.
- LB Bruce Carter broke up a pass over the middle from Tony Romo, but the ball hit both of his hands and he should have made the interception.
- On back-to-back plays during team drills, the secondary maintained tight coverage and QB Kyle Orton would have been sacked both times.
- CB Brandon Carr knocked down a quick pass out to the right side intended for WR Kevin Ogletree from QB Tony Romo in a hurry-up situation.
- The Cowboys’ first-team offense was finally able to score late in practice in a hurry-up situation, with QB Tony Romo connecting with TE Jason Witten for a short touchdown pass.
- WR Andre Holmes used his 6-4 height to pull down a Hail Mary pass to end team drills with a touchdown catch from QB Kyle Orton. Holmes jumped over a pack of players in the middle of the end zone to pull down the ball.
Sound the alarms, because the Cowboys’ window of opportunity is closing. The team is littered with players in their prime and, before you know it, the opportunity for a deep playoff run will vanish. Right?
Well, not so fast. One of the most underrated aspects of Jason Garrett’s reign as the head coach in Dallas has been the team’s emphasis on getting younger. The defense in particular has witnessed a youth movement of late. Bradie James and Keith Brooking are out at inside linebacker, with Bruce Carter and Dan Connor filling their shoes. Terence Newman is gone from the cornerback position, and Barry Church appears ready to start at safety.
All told, the Cowboys aren’t really an old team at all. Actually, only 10 players on the roster are over the age of 30, including just six starters (Tony Romo, Jason Witten, Nate Livings, Jason Hatcher, Jay Ratliff, and DeMarcus Ware).
Of course, four of those players are key components of the roster. Even if the rest of the team is quite young, the importance of Romo, Witten, Ratliff, and Ware is so immense that owner Jerry Jones might be right about the potentially closing window of opportunity.
To determine exactly where the Cowboys’ “Core Four” currently sit within their careers, I tracked the past production of other players at their positions. Below, you can see the career outlooks for pass rushers (4-3 defensive ends and 3-4 linebackers), defensive tackles, tight ends and quarterbacks. All production is measured in terms of career approximate value.
There are a few really interesting points on this graph. First, note that the peak production for pass rushers comes at around age 25. Despite the early rise, pass rushers retain at least 85 percent of their peak production until they are 33 years old. Defensive tackles peak a bit later than edge rushers, but their fall from grace is a quick one. During ages 31 and 32, defensive tackles’ production is only about 73 percent of what it was during their peak. That number plummets even more to 55 percent in the subsequent two seasons.
Like defensive tackles, tight ends tend to see a sharp decline in production around age 31. With their peak production coming at ages 29 and 30, the 28 percent drop in production that arrives in the following two seasons is the largest of any position. Quarterbacks, on the other hand, have the ability to lead their teams at near-optimal efficiency into their late-30s.
For the Cowboys, I think these numbers are both good and bad. The good news is that Romo, Ratliff, Witten and Ware are all in the prime of their careers. All except Romo (32) are 30 years old, and none figure to witness a major decrease in production this season.
The bad news is that only Romo isn’t expected to see a drop in productivity in 2013 and beyond. For Ware, the decline could be minimal. For Witten and Ratliff, the drop might be more substantial.
One of the major problems the Cowboys will face over the next couple of years is finding capable replacements for these players. Just as the team did when they replaced James, Brooking, Newman and others, they’ll eventually need to find another well-rounded tight end, productive nose tackle, dominating outside linebacker, and (gasp) even a new quarterback.
The ’Boys should be able to wait on replacing Romo for at least a few years. Quarterback play remains stable until right around age 36, so the Cowboys will likely have Romo in his prime for another four or five seasons.
The above numbers are just averages, however, and an individual player can certainly overcome history to produce well into his 30s. With the dedication exemplified by Witten, Ratliff and Ware and the manner in which they take care of their bodies, they’re just the types of players to defy the odds.
Ultimately, I think the proverbial “window of opportunity” is only closing for those teams that let it. The best organizations in the NFL find replacements for players whose production figures to decrease before the decline actually happens. For years, the Cowboys waited too long to restock their roster. With Garrett manning the ship, however, the ’Boys have shown they’re willing to let go of veterans in favor of youngsters, creating a superior long-term winning strategy.
So while the Cowboys’ window might very well be closing in the sense that some of their best players are aging, that happens to every team. All it takes is an influx of young talent – the kind seen with the acquisitions of Sean Lee, Dez Bryant, Morris Claiborne, Brandon Carr, Tyron Smith and DeMarco Murray – to open that window right back up.
Courtesy: Jonathan Bales | DMN
|LT||Tyron Smith||Jermey Parnell||Jeff Adams||Tyrone Novikoff|
|LG||Nate Livings||Derrick Dockery||Ronald Leary|
|C||Phil Costa||Bill Nagy||Kevin Kowalski||Harland Gunn|
|RG||Mackenzy Bernadeau||David Arkin||Daniel Loper|
|RT||Doug Free||Pat McQuistan||Levy Adcock|
RED: Injury concerns
Injuries piling up at Center, starting to become a concern
When the Dallas Cowboys arrived at training camp nearly two weeks ago, the center position was hardly a concern.
Not only did they have a young starter in Phil Costa entering his second full season at center, but they had two second-year backups that have versatility to play guard.
But a high-ankle sprain to Bill Nagy, coupled with a nagging ankle injury for Kevin Kowalski that got worse, and suddenly the center spot has the Cowboys scratching their heads as they prepare to start the preseason Monday night in Oakland.
Do they go get a veteran center and crowd the position even more, or simply try to make do and piece the position together until either one of the young guys catches on or the injured players return.
For now, it sounds like the Cowboys are going with Option No. 2. But don’t think they haven’t done their due diligence with the first option as well.
“Trust me, we’ve scoured the short lists,” head coach Jason Garrett said in regards to free-agent center. “We’ve talked to different agents about trying to address that. Right now, we feel like the best way to address it is with the guys we have in house. If someone comes available that is attractive to us, we’ll certainly address it that way.”
For now, the Cowboys are using the players on the roster to patch up the center spot, particularly with the backup spots.
Guards David Arkin and Harland Gunn have worked at center in practice and on Thursday, tackle/guard Pat McQuistan took a few snaps before practice.
Costa isn’t expected to have much competition now for the starting job, but don’t be surprised if the Cowboys at least explore the option of using Mackenzy Bernadeau at center, at least as a backup.
While he on Thursday was practicing for the first time since joining the Cowboys, Bernadeau might be an option down the line. For now, he’s a guard and that’s where the focus will remain.
“We’ve just got to see him play guard first,” Garrett said. “That’s where he’s most comfortable. That’s one of the things that we liked about him when we signed him in free agency was his position flex. He has played center, had the ball in his hands before, so that’s a positive thing. But right now we just want to see him break the huddle and play some football first and foremost, and hopefully he’ll function in practice and keep growing day-by-day.”
In the last few days, there have been several poor snaps, with botched shotguns and quarterback-center exchanges. Garrett, a former quarterback in his own right, said most of the center issues this team has stem from injury.
“We felt very good about our center, our backup center, our third center, the guys who can play both center and guard going into training camp – we just had a rash of injuries,” Garrett said. “So you try to adjust as best as you can. Arkin’s done a nice job. He hasn’t snapped before in his life and he’s just taking snaps at guard and then he goes over and he’s trying to learn to play center. We’re trying to cross-train some other guys. It’s part of what you go through when you have a rash of injuries at a particular position. You just try to scramble a little bit and come up with a way to handle it.”
Players on the street include former Cowboys Pro Bowler Andre Gurode, along with other vets Jeff Faine, Jason Brown and Jamaal Jackson.
But most of those guys would likely come in looking to start. The Cowboys have that guy in Costa, whom the coaches and scouts will say has improved tremendously over the offseason.
Costa said his on-field communication with the starting quarterback has been one of the most important aspects he’s tried to improve this year.
“Being on the same page with Tony is really important, making the calls and helping him out in that respect is important,” Costa said. “I’ve been working on the techniques and that makes a big difference.”
Garrett said he’s seen a different player in Costa this year.
“We have more confidence in him. He’s played center for us in games, and for the most part he’s done a pretty decent job,” Garrett said. “He’s had some hiccups over the last year or so with that as well. When you have the ball in your hands it’s a big responsibility. There’s a reason why centers typically are among the smartest guys up on the offensive line because they can handle some of that responsibility, intellectually and also the responsibility that comes with having the ball in your hands. So we’re always working on it, we’re always emphasizing it to our team. We’ve just got to do it better.”
EDITORS NOTE: Excellent video below. You owe to to yourself to check out this show. An MP3 download is also available for your computer or phone. Enjoy!
The Break takes a look at the offensive line today as they continue to break down a position each day of training camp. Duration: 1:01:35 (Download the MP3 HERE)
RELATED: Jerry Jones not concerned about bad snaps, said that’s what practice is for
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones is not concerned about the spate of bad snaps that have turned practice into a circus at times. He said he has no interest in signing a center just to get through practice and believes centers Phil Costa and David Arkin will improve.
“That is what practice is about,” Jones said. “That gives you a good chance to see if the guy can think about the snap as well as concentrate on what he is doing out there. Arkin hasn’t been doing this much, so I give him some slack. Costa needs more consistency.
RELATED: Derrick Dockery takes a few snaps with first team
Veteran guard Derrick Dockery who joined the team a week into training camp has opened a few eyes of late.
So much so that he has thrown himself into the competition for a possible starting job with Nate Livings, Mackenzy Bernadeau, Ron Leary and David Arkin. Dockery alternated some first team reps in practice with Arkin on Thursday.
“I was impressed with Dockery today,” owner Jerry Jones said. “Dockery has a chance to be what he wasn’t last year because of his late arrival last year and his injury situation last year. He did look impressive out there to me.”
Bernadeau and Livings were signed in free agency to be the starters but both have missed time in camp with injury. Bernadeau practiced on Thursday for the first time, alternating at the other guard spot with Leary.
If Dockery continues to impress, it could give the Cowboys even more of a chance to try Bernadeau at center where he compete with Phil Costa.
RELATED: Mackenzy Bernadeau excited to practice for first time
Guard Mackenzy Bernadeau took practice reps with the Cowboys first time in camp.
Actually they were his first reps since joining the Cowboys in free agency with a four-year, $11 million contract after spending the first four years of his career with the Panthers.
He has been sidelined since May because of hip and knee surgeries and began training camp on the Physically Unable to Perform list.
"Yeah it’s always good to get reps with your teammates," Bernadeau said. "I’m excited about that. I’m feeling great. I want to get in there and get as many reps as I can.
It’s been a while since I’ve been out there with the guys. Getting the reps, being there, working hard and being able to hit people will be fun."
Bernadeau alternated first team reps with rookie free agent Ron Leary but that’s just part of the process for Leary who was signed to help solidify the Cowboys offensive line.
Bernadeau said he was eager to prove himself to his teammates.
"Yeah you have to earn the respect of your teammates," Bernadeau said. "We have a great group of guys here that I’ve worked with. I’ve got their respect but you still want to prove yourself on the field every day and every practice. So I look forward to doing that."
Bernadeau will work first at guard but the Cowboys will give him some reps at center as well in hopes that he can compete with Phil Costa for the starting job or at least give them an option there in case of injury. Costa’s primary two backups and would be competitors for the starting job _ Bill Nagy and Kevin Kowalski _ are sidelined for the entire preseason and possible into the regular season with ankle injuries.
Bernadeau took some snaps in some preseason games in Carolina but none in the regular season. He said he is ready to do whatever is asked of him.
"I’m just going to do what I’m told," Bernadeau said. "I’ll be ready to compete."
Tyron Smith has yet to play a down as a left tackle in the NFL, and the 21-year-old is already being pegged as the next big thing.
The latest pundit to jump on Smith’s bandwagon is NFL.com’s Brian McIntyre, who picked Smith to be the Cowboys’ breakout player in 2012 and wrote that he “could be the NFL’s next elite left tackle.”
“Though he primarily played right tackle in his two years as a starter at USC, and has never started a game on the left side, the Cowboys moved Smith to left tackle this offseason,” McIntyre wrote. “Their reasons are obvious. At 6-foot-5 and 307 pounds, with 36 3/8-inch arms, an 84 5/8-inch wingspan, impressive strength (31 reps on the bench press at his pro day) and quick feet, Smith has all the physical tools to become a Pro Bowl-caliber left tackle and has the added benefit of facing DeMarcus Ware, one the league’s elite pass-rushers, every day in practice.”
McIntyre pointed to the fact that Smith missed just eight snaps during his rookie season as a sign of Smith’s endurance and durability, both of which often prove just as crucial as talent when it comes to developing top-notch linemen.
The writer also predicted that Cowboys fans could be seeing Smith in his first Pro Bowl in the near future.
“Given the state of the tackle position in the NFC — Jason Peters, a starter in last year’s Pro Bowl, has torn his Achilles tendon twice this offseason — and the ballot-stuffing potential of Cowboys fans, the Pro Bowl is a personal achievement that could come sooner rather than later for Smith,” McIntyre wrote.
Vernon Bryant / Staff Photographer
Learning curve: When the Cowboys opened the season with two rookies and an undrafted second-year player making his first start at center, coach Jason Garrett declared the offensive line would be a work in progress. It has been. The line’s performance has been erratic. The good news: Through all the ups and downs, first-round pick Tyron Smith has been the group’s best player. He should help anchor this line for years to come.
Brad Loper/Staff Photographer
Dallas Cowboys receiver Miles Austin (19) is congratulated by Tyron Smith (77) after Austin made a TD against the San Francisco 49ers in the second half of NFL Football action at Candlestick Park in San Francisco, CA Sunday afternoon, September 18, 2011.
G.J. McCARTHY / Staff Photographer
Stephen Jones, Dallas Cowboys executive vice president, looks on as new draftee Tyron Smith dons team clothing next to owner Jerry Jones and head coach Jason Garrett during a news conference on April 29, 2011 at the Cowboys’ Valley Ranch practice facility in Irving.
ERIC GAY / AP
Dallas Cowboys rookie Tyron Smith goes through drills with teammates during NFL football practice on July 28, 2011, in San Antonio.
VERNON BRYANT / Staff Photographer
Tyron Smith positions himself to block DeMarcus Ware during the morning walk through at Dallas Cowboys training camp at the Alamodome in San Antonio on July 29, 2011.
JOHN F. RHODES / Staff Photographer
Dallas Cowboys offensive tackle Tyron Smith (77) works against Denver Broncos defensive end Elvis Dumervil (92) during first half of NFL preseason football action between the Dallas Cowboys and the Denver Broncos at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington on Aug. 11, 2011.
Joe McKnight #4 of the USC Trojans celebrates his touchdown with Tyron Smith #70 and David Ausberry #9 against the San Jose State Spartans.
Tyron Smith #70 of the USC Trojans stretches before the game against the Arizona State Sun Devils.
VERNON BRYANT / Staff Photographer
Dallas Cowboys Tyron Smith (77) listens as DeMarcus Ware (94) gives him advice during the blue-white scrimmage at Dallas Cowboys training camp at the Alamodome in San Antonio on Aug. 7, 2011.
Tyron Smith’s summer of praise continued Monday as the Cowboys’ newly appointed left tackle placed well on a list of top offensive linemen.
In an attempt to project who will be the top tackles, guards and centers three years from now, former scout and current Scouts Inc. writer Matt Williamson compiled a list of who he thinks will be the top 15 offensive linemen in 2015.
Tyron Smith, who excelled at right tackle during his rookie campaign, was in the conversation for the top spot but ultimately finished second to Miami Dolphins left tackle Jake Long. Smith was the only Cowboys linemen to crack the top 15. The Cowboys also didn’t have a player on the list of 19 honorable mention candidates.
“Smith was sensational in his rookie season last year at right tackle,” Williamson wrote. “Wisely, the Cowboys will move him to left tackle with Doug Free heading over to the right side.
“I was tempted to put Smith at the top spot on this list, but after only seeing one season (on the right side), I felt like Long was the safer choice for three years down the road. Plus, Smith didn’t even play left tackle in college, as that job belonged to Matt Kalil (listed below) at USC. But Smith was a very special player as a rookie with remarkable movement skills, leverage and the ability to recover once beaten.
“Bill Callahan is among the league’s best offensive line coaches, which should make Smith’s transition and maturation much smoother.”
Callahan said last month the he has “never had anybody like” Smith, largely because of the 21-year-old’s strength and explosiveness. Those reasons, along with having a 6-5, 311-pound frame are why the coaching staff believes Smith will be just as successful on the left side.
Last season, Smith started all 16 games and was selected to the All-Rookie team by the Pro Football Writers of America.
Fans want to see improvement. So it’s only natural for them to be annoyed, disinterested or even frustrated to see a former player who didn’t work out the first time, re-signed to the squad once again.
It happened here a few weeks ago when the Cowboys brought back Akwasi Owusu-Ansah for the third time. The latest move brings Pat McQuistan back again.
I can’t argue about the first one. But for McQuistan, who worked on Friday and is expected to finalize a contract before the start of Tuesday’s minicamp, it seems like a pretty solid move.
Here’s a guy who knows the system – at least in terms of Jason Garrett’s offense. He will be new to Bill Callahan, but then again, maybe that’s a good thing.
And offensive tackle is a position that appears to be in good shape, especially with the starters. Tyron Smith has the makeup of a guy who will be on the left side for many years to come and Doug Free might not have had a great season as the left tackle, but he should be just fine on the right side. I consider him a young 28 since he didn’t really play much until halfway into his third season.
After the starters, you’ve got Jermey Parnell, who isn’t exactly a new name anymore, arriving at the end of the 2010 season. But he’s still only played three games in his career, and just a handful of snaps as a tackle. Parnell was given a nice contract extension back in April that should keep in the fold for another year after his, simply buying the Cowboys more evaluation time.
But bringing back McQuistan gives this team some depth – experienced depth – at a couple of spots. While offensive tackle is his natural spot and where he will play here in Dallas, he does have the flexibility to play guard, if needed. That’s extremely valuable as you get closer to the season and trying to figure out who stays on the roster.
Plus, McQuistan should help this team in the preseason, an area the Cowboys wanted to improve. We’ve seen too many preseason games in the past where the offensive line couldn’t even function long enough to give anyone around them a chance to succeed. With McQuistan and Parnell likely manning the second- and possibly third-team tackle spots, that should be good enough to evaluate everyone.
And obviously this move should signal the Cowboys aren’t extremely high on their rookie tackles They released Notre Dame’s Taylor Dever, but he isn’t that far behind the other three rookie still on the roster in Levy Adcock, Jeff Adams and Tyrone Novikoff.
So you don’t have to do cartwheels for the move, but this one seems to make a little more sense than some of the other return visitors.