Teammates glad to see Josh Brent

September, 30, 2014
Sep 30
IRVING, Texas -- Josh Brent spent his first full day around his teammates since Dec. 2012 with the NFL modifying his suspension so he can be work out and be around his Dallas Cowboys teammates two weeks earlier than planned.

Brent cannot practice with the Cowboys until Week 9 and cannot play until Nov. 23 against the New York Giants.

“I talked to him, just telling him we’re happy to have him back and life goes on,” cornerback Brandon Carr said. “You learn from everything that happened, and it’s another opportunity for you to make the best of it.”

Brent has not played in a game since Dec. 2, 2012, after a car accident that cost the life of teammate and friend Jerry Brown. The Cowboys placed Brent on the non-football injury list for the remainder of the season and he retired before training camp began in 2013. Brent was sentenced to 180 days in jail and spent the final 45 days at a treatment facility. On Sept. 2 commissioner Roger Goodell suspended him 10 games for violating the league’s personal conduct and substance-abuse policies.

“He’s looking good,” linebacker Bruce Carter said. “He looks like he’s in shape. He’s got a smile on his face. He’s got a great spirit to him. I think that’s going to be good for our team, especially on our defense.”

Bruce Carter (quad) out 10-14 days

September, 30, 2014
Sep 30
[+] EnlargeBruce Carter
Dilip Vishwanat/Getty ImagesCowboys LB Bruce Carter will miss Sunday's game against the Texans with a strained right quadriceps.

IRVING, Texas -- Dallas Cowboys linebacker Bruce Carter said he was told his strained right quadriceps will need 10-14 days to heal, knocking him out of Sunday's game against the Houston Texans.

"It's just one of those things where the body has to heal it just with him," Carter said. "Just rehab basically. I've just got to keep doing my rehab and I should be fine. ... Hopefully it goes a lot faster than that. I want to get back out there."

Carter was hurt in the fourth quarter of the Cowboys' win against the New Orleans Saints, while chasing down running back Khiry Robinson on a 62-yard run. He was replaced by Rolando McClain in the nickel defense.

"I felt like I got shot," Carter said. "I was opening up about to catch him and then just, 'Pow! Out of nowhere.'"

Former Cowboys LB DeMarcus Ware missed three games last season with a quadriceps strain.

(Read full post)

Loss to Texans in 2002 made Jerry Jones cry

September, 30, 2014
Sep 30
The Houston Texans' 2002 win over the Dallas Cowboys was a big moment in the Texans' history.

Yesterday, Texans coach Bill O'Brien said he knows how much the Texans' upcoming game against the Cowboys means to the fans in Houston and owner Bob McNair.

It means a great deal to Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, too.

From the Fort Worth Star-Telegram:
Jerry Jones has been brought to tears three times since buying the Dallas Cowboys in 1989 and recalled those moments because the Houston Texans are coming to town.

That’s because the last time he shed tears over his football team was in 2002 when the Texans won their inaugural game over the Cowboys, 19-10, at Reliant Stadium.

“It was because we had such a base of fans,” Jones said on his KRLD-FM radio show Tuesday morning.

“We’d go down there when they were the Oilers ... and we knew we had a big base. We were big supporters, huge supporters, of Houston getting that franchise back, but that loss killed us. That will always be there for me.”

You can read more here.

There's no mistaking how much that game meant to the Texans' franchise and its fans. A lot of firsts happened that day. This summer the touchdown pass from David Carr to Billy Miller was voted as one of the most memorable moments in franchise history.

Cowboys make practice squad move

September, 30, 2014
Sep 30
IRVING, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys released center Ronald Patrick from the practice squad and signed guard Rishaw Johnson.

Johnson, 6-foot-5, 313 pounds, was cut by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last week. He started his college career at Ole Miss but was kicked off the team in 2010 for violating team rules. He transferred to California (Pa.) University and played in the 2012 Senior Bowl.

He has spent time with the Seattle Seahawks and Kansas City Chiefs.

Patrick joined the Cowboys as an undrafted free agent in May and was among their final cuts in training camp.

Cowboys up to No. 10 in Power Rankings

September, 30, 2014
Sep 30
IRVING, Texas -- At 3-1, are the Dallas Cowboys for real?

According to a panel of 80 ESPN writers, editors and TV personalities, they just might be.

In the Week 5 Power Rankings, the Cowboys are No. 10, up eight spots from the previous week as a result of their 38-17 win against the New Orleans Saints. They are the sixth-best NFC team behind the Seattle Seahawks (No. 1), Arizona Cardinals (No. 4), Philadelphia Eagles (No. 6), Detroit Lions (No. 8) and San Francisco 49ers (No. 9).

After losing to the Niners in the season opener, the Cowboys dropped to No. 27 in the rankings.

This is the highest the Cowboys have been in the Power Rankings since Week 8 last year after they beat the Eagles 17-3 at Lincoln Financial Field. The last time the Cowboys were inside the Power Rankings’ top 10 was in Week 14, 2011 when they were 7-5.

A win Sunday against the Houston Texans (No. 13) could propel the Cowboys inside the top 10.

Where did I vote the Cowboys? I had them at No. 15. What’s keeping me from moving them up? Maybe the recent past. Are you sure they can be trusted?

Three thoughts on the Cowboys' win

September, 30, 2014
Sep 30
Three thoughts on the Cowboys’ 38-17 win over New Orleans:

 1. I think Bruce Carter must wonder what football gods have against him, since a quadriceps strain will probably cost him at least one game.

Two seasons ago, he was playing the best he’d ever played when he suffered a dislocated elbow that ended his season. He spent last season in an unproductive fog but seemed to find his niche again this season after moving to strongside linebacker.

He had six tackles an two pass deflections before getting hurt against New Orleans. The Cowboys hope he’s not out long and that he returns with the same passion and performance.

  2. I think the Cowboys need to make sure they continue to get Joseph Randle involved, which is admittedly hard to do with DeMarco Murray leading the NFL in rushing and carries.

Murray, who has missed 11 games in his first three seasons, has 99 carries in the first four games. He’s on pace to carry 396 times, a huge number for a dude who has never carried more than 396 times in a season.

Coach Jason Garrett gave Randle the final series of the third quarter, and he responded with three carries for 21 yards and had an 18-yard run negated by a penalty. Garrett said Randle is running confidently and aggressively.

That’s why it’s time to ease Murray’s load just a tad, so he’s still able to grind in November and December.

3. I think the Cowboys’ defensive line is going to be better than I figured.
It’s because they don’t have any bad players in their rotation. You don’t think about it much, but there’s a significant difference between an average player and a bad player.

You can survive with average players in the right circumstance. You can’t survive with bad players.

The Cowboys don’t have any stars, but with the mix of guys they have, there’s little difference when one comes out and another goes in, and the result is the defensive line plays to the same standard the entire game. They can play with maximum effort because they’re getting consistent rest and the offense has been keeping them off the field.

KEY STAT: 50.8

Garrett always talks about having the ability to attack a defense in a lot of different ways.

Well, the Cowboys have achieved perfect offensive harmony during their first four games, as they’re running it 50.8 percent of the time -- and that has helped lead to a three-game winning streak.

The Cowboys are No. 1 in the NFL with 165.0 yards rushing per games and rank fourth with a 5.08 average per carry.

This is the first time under Garrett that the Cowboys have made the running game the epicenter of their offense -- and it’s opening up everything else.

That’s because the more opponents have to use an additional safety to stop Murray, the more the Cowboys can attack downfield with Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams or Jason Witten.

Bryant and Williams each scored on touchdown passes Sunday against New Orleans, in part, because they were facing single coverage so the Saints could devote more manpower to stopping the Cowboys’ running game.

 PLAYER TO WATCH: Barry Church

He’s not flashy, but he doesn't mistake that for not being effective. Actually, Church would be really good on a great defense because he could freelance more and put himself in position to make more plays.

But in the Cowboys’ defensive scheme and with their personnel, he tends to play it safe, as he should.

Church is solid in coverage, a willing tackler and a guy who makes the right play most of the time. He had six tackles against the Saints and made a couple of nice tackles that stopped New Orleans from converting third downs.

They weren’t spectacular plays, but they were effective and ended the drive. They were typical Church plays.

Dwayne Harris stands out as blocker

September, 30, 2014
Sep 30
IRVING, Texas -- Dwayne Harris caught just two passes for 18 yards in the Dallas Cowboys’ win against the New Orleans Saints.

That doesn’t seem to be much of a contribution, but Harris had a huge impact on the game. He was the seventh or eighth offensive lineman at times, joining the five big guys up front as well of the tight ends.

On nine running plays by DeMarco Murray or Joseph Randle, Harris served as an edge blocker and the Cowboys gained 68 yards.

On a 5-yard run by Murray in the first quarter, he pinned outside linebacker Junior Galette inside. On a 22-yard run by Murray, he shielded himself between the ball carrier and safety Kenny Vaccaro. On a 3-yard run he pinned Vaccaro and also helped get defensive end Cameron Jordan caught in the wash. On Murray’s 28-yard touchdown he took care of the backside cornerback.

“I love blocking for those guys,” Harris said. “They block for Tony [Romo] when it’s a pass play, so it evens everything out. We all do our job, do our part so somebody can eat.”

Jason Garrett simply called Harris a “football player,” which might sound strange considering, you know, he plays football.

“It shows up as a returner. Certainly it shows up as a cover guy in special teams and it shows up on offense,” Garrett said. “Whatever role we’ve given him, he seems to rise to it. Sometimes we hand him the ball. Sometimes we ask him to block and sometimes we throw it to him. He just seems to handle whatever we ask him to do. He’s got a very calm demeanor about him and he’s just a football player.”

ESPN NFL Insider Dan Graziano discusses the downside to recent major draft-day trades.
IRVING, Texas -- Last week Jason Witten's blocking on Dez Bryant's 68-yard touchdown against the St. Louis Rams brought extra attention. In the win against the New Orleans Saints, it is a critical third-down catch in the fourth quarter by Witten that brings extra attention.

Witten has said thousands of times one of the best feelings is making a play when everybody in the stands and on the sideline knows the ball is coming to you, like Troy Aikman to Jay Novacek in the 1990s.

On third-and-9 with 5:26 to play at the New Orleans 38, everybody knew Tony Romo would look to Witten. The Cowboys stopped the Saints' momentum by sniffing out a fake punt, but needed at least a first down to end their chances of a comeback.

The Cowboys were in 11 personnel (three wide receivers) with Witten flexed wide of right tackle Doug Free. New Orleans safety Kenny Vaccaro was lined up on top of Witten, a sign of how much respect defensive coordinator Rob Ryan had for Witten.

The Saints had nine defenders close to the line of scrimmage. One safety played over the top of Bryant to Romo’s left. The other was splitting the difference between Witten, Cole Beasley and Terrance Williams.

Here’s where playcaller Scott Linehan delivered some genius.

Beasley runs mostly short in- or out-breaking routes, but this time streaked down the field. Williams had an inside release and went vertical as well, to occupy safety Rafael Bush, leaving Vaccaro on Witten.

Witten breaks inside at the snap, takes five steps and reverse pivots back to his right, creating separation from Vaccaro and an easy throw for Romo. With Beasley and Williams running down the field, there is a ton of space for Witten to run for a first down and pick up 16 yards.

“That’s Linehan’s touch,” Romo said. “Pretty good one, too, huh?”

Three plays later, Romo hit Bryant for an 18-yard touchdown on a back-shoulder throw, ending the game.

“After we stopped the fake punt,” Witten said, “our mindset was, ‘We need to score.’”

Before the Cowboys could score, they needed a big third-down conversion.

Tyrone Crawford fits nicely at DT

September, 30, 2014
Sep 30
IRVING, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys drafted Tyrone Crawford to be a defensive end in the 3-4 defense.

When Jerry Jones made defensive coordinator Rob Ryan the scapegoat for the 8-8 record in 2012 and fired him, Crawford became a 4-3 defensive end in the new scheme.

Well, injuries this season forced him to move inside to defensive tackle and provide depth.

It might be his best position.

Crawford, using a combination of speed and power, played well against the Saints, finishing with two tackles, a quarterback hit and a pass deflection.

“We feel like he can play both and be a versatile guy for us,” coach Jason Garrett said. “He really responded well during the week of practice to that spot and carried that to the game, so it’s certainly a very viable option for us.

“He really affected the game. He was around the ball a lot, he was pushing the pocket. He was around the quarterback. He’s played inside in nickel situations, but that was the first extended time in the base defense playing there.”

The Film Don't Lie: Cowboys

September, 30, 2014
Sep 30
IRVING, Texas -- A weekly look at what the Dallas Cowboys must fix:

The Cowboys have been excellent on third down through the first four games of the season, so it isn't necessarily a problem they must fix. But it's an area in which they need to be particularly sharp when they face the Houston Texans on Sunday.

The Texans’ opponents have the worst third-down conversion percentage this season (28.6). The Cowboys are tied for second in third-down success rate, converting 55.1 percent of the time (27-of-49).

The Cowboys' third-down production was awful last year -- they converted just 35 percent of the time and could not consistently help their defense by staying on the field longer. This year they are staying on the field more and keeping their defense rested. The Cowboys have held the ball for at least 31 minutes, 24 seconds in three of the first four games.

The biggest reason the Cowboys have been good on third down has been their work on first down. They have averaged 6 yards per rush on first down and 8.3 yards per pass on first down. Having the entire playbook open on second and third down has made life easier for playcaller Scott Linehan.

With a pass-rusher like J.J. Watt, the Cowboys have to stay ahead of the chains and continue to win on first down.
IRVING, Texas -- Disappointing cornerback Morris Claiborne's season is over. But owner and general manager Jerry Jones still clings to hope that the former sixth overall draft pick can be an impact player for the Dallas Cowboys in years to come.

“The thing is that I see his future, and I see a good one here with the Cowboys,” Jones said Tuesday on 105.3 The Fan.

Claiborne will go on injured reserve after tearing the patellar tendon in his left knee during the first quarter of Sunday night’s win. That happened days after Claiborne temporarily went AWOL, skipping a walk-through practice and meetings after being informed that Orlando Scandrick would start over him for the second consecutive season.

Jones admitted the obvious during a radio appearance last week when he stated that Claiborne, who cost the Cowboys their top two picks in the 2012 draft, hasn’t been worth the price the Cowboys paid to get him.

Jones claimed Tuesday that four or five coaches and general managers around the league called him after those comments and warned him not to be too negative about Claiborne.

“He is an outstanding player,” Jones said he was told in those conversations. “He has outstanding skills. He is in the top elite group, but he’s got to get his confidence and he’s got to continue to see the relationship between work and repetition.’”

Claiborne will get no repetitions the rest of the season. He has missed 11 of 13 preseason games, as well as the majority of offseason and training camp practices, due to a variety of injuries in his three years in the NFL. He’ll have missed 19 of 48 regular-season games by the end of this season.

Claiborne’s $2.607 million salary for next season, the final year of his rookie contract, is fully guaranteed. The Cowboys can pick up his fifth-year option for the cost of the transition tag, which is $10.081 million this year and will increase, but that’d be a foolish move for a player who has contributed so little.

It’s one thing for Jones to say that he sees a bright future for Claiborne in Dallas. It’s another thing to bet his money on it.

Five Wonders: Stronger Tony Romo more accurate

September, 30, 2014
Sep 30
IRVING, Texas – With a quarter of the season over, the Dallas Cowboys are 3-1. I wonder how many people thought that was possible. Not me.

But these wonders will be a little bit more involved. If it’s Tuesday, it’s time for Five Wonders.

Away we go:

    [+] EnlargeTony Romo
    Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsA more rested, stronger Tony Romo has completed over 70 percent of his passes in each of the last two games.
  • We have spent a lot of time mostly wondering about how taking Wednesday’s off has allowed Tony Romo to move around better. In the two weeks since Romo has adopted this practice schedule, he has been sacked just once and has runs of 16 and 21 yards. But I wonder if the time in the weight room has allowed him to be more accurate. Against the St. Louis Rams Romo completed 78.3 percent of his passes (18 of 23) and against the New Orleans Saints he completed 75.8% of his passes (22 of 29). It’s the first time Romo has had consecutive games in which he has completed at least 70% of his passes since the first four games of last season.
  • “I think all those things fit together,” coach Jason Garrett said. “The best quarterbacks, the most accurate quarterbacks have great feet. You go back through history they get themselves in position to throw the ball well. The objective for a quarterback is to somehow create a mound for yourself back there. Typically in a game if you throw it 30 times, it’s clean about two out of 30. So you have to move in the pocket to get yourself right. Ultimately that effects your accuracy. Guys who don’t move well typically don’t get themselves in great position to throw it, and then their accuracy suffers. So I think it all fits together.”

  • I wonder what the Cowboys will do with Morris Claiborne's roster spot. He will have surgery in the next few days to repair a torn patella tendon and be placed on injured reserve. The Cowboys could use it to add Jakar Hamilton back to the 53-man roster now that his roster spot is up They could use it on a corner and call up Micah Pellerin from the practice squad. It would seem to make the most sense to use it on a cornerback. They have only four corners on the 53-man roster in Brandon Carr, Orlando Scandrick, Sterling Moore and Tyler Patmon. While the Cowboys went with just three corners on their active roster a few years ago, it’s just not wise to tempt fate that much at such a crucial position. One guy I don’t see the Cowboys going after: Champ Bailey. The reaction to a few folks at Valley Ranch drew a collective, ‘meh.’
  • Sunday’s game between the Cowboys and Houston Texans will feature two of the best players from the 2011 draft in Tyron Smith and J.J. Watt. I wonder where these guys would go in a re-draft. The Cowboys took Smith with the ninth pick of the first round. The Texans took Watt at No. 11. Cam Newton (Carolina), Von Miller (Denver), Marcell Dareus (Buffalo), A.J. Green (Cincinnati), Patrick Peterson (Arizona), Julio Jones (Atlanta), Aldon Smith (San Francisco) and Jake Locker (Tennessee) went before Smith. Jackonsville took Blaine Gabbert at No. 10 before Watt. There has to be some buyer’s remorse from Buffalo. Miller and Smith have had off-field issues. Locker clearly was the wrong pick. But the folks in Cincinnati, Arizona and Atlanta can’t be upset with their selections. If we’re re-grading the draft, then Smith and Watt would clearly be rated higher.
  • Last year the Cowboys had to work with 20 defensive linemen because of injuries and ineffectiveness. But the linebacker position was greatly affected by injury as well. Sean Lee missed time. So did Justin Durant. Bruce Carter missed a game. Ernie Sims was dinged up a little bit. I wonder what it is about the linebacker position. Durant didn’t make it through the season opener because of a groin injury and missed two games. Rolando McClain hurt his groin in the second game of the season against the Tennessee Titans and missed a game. Carter had to leave Sunday's game against the New Orleans Saints with a quadriceps injury and his availability for this Sunday’s game is in doubt. This doesn’t even count DeVonte Holloman, whose career ended in training camp because of a neck injury. The Cowboys have had to cross-train guys like Anthony Hitchens and Cameron Lawrence just to be covered. Managing a position because of injuries is never easy. Here’s a mini-wonder: Korey Toomer has been active for two of the first four games but hasn’t played a snap. I wonder why the coaches are hesitant to play him.
  • I wonder if Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones will raise the fact that the Cowboys have had two defensive touchdowns taken away through the first four games because of incorrect officiating to his fellow Competition Committee members. McClain had a potential touchdown taken away against the Titans when an interception was initially ruled to have hit the ground. He was never touched and went to the end zone. The Cowboys correctly used replay to get the ball but lost a touchdown. Last week against the Saints, Moore lost a touchdown when Saints runner Khiry Robinson was incorrectly ruled down. Those plays didn’t end up really hurting the Cowboys, but that’s not the point. The officials need to be sure of what they see and stop guessing at what they see. If there is a doubt, don’t blow the whistle.

Officials breakdown: Pete Morelli

September, 30, 2014
Sep 30
IRVING, Texas – Pete Morelli’s crew will work Sunday’s game between the Dallas Cowboys and Houston Texans at AT&T Stadium after taking last week off.

The Cowboys have not seen Morelli since Week 12 of the 2011 season when they beat the Miami Dolphins on Thanksgiving. They were flagged 11 times for 69 yards in the 20-19 win. They also had Morelli’s crew for their Week 13 win in 2010 against the Indianapolis Colts. They were penalized five times for 35 yards.

Morelli’s crew worked the Week 3 game at Gillette Stadium between the Oakland Raiders and New England Patriots. The crew called 16 penalties with 12 accepted flags. The Raiders were penalized six times for 49 yards and the Patriots had six penalties for 59 yards.

The breakdown:

Illegal block above the waist – 1
Illegal substitution – 1
Defensive pass interference – 2
Offensive holding – 4
Illegal formation – 1
False start – 4
Defensive holding – 1
12-men on the field – 1
Offensive pass interference

Quarter by quarter:

First – 7
Second – 2
Third – 5
Fourth – 2

NFL Nation TV analyzes season's first quarter

September, 30, 2014
Sep 30
Join us today at 1 p.m. ET, 10 a.m. PT for ESPN’s NFL Nation TV’s Spreecast as episode No. 25 will take a look at the first quarter of the season. Host Paul Gutierrez (San Francisco 49ers reporter), co-host Coley Harvey (Cincinnati Bengals reporter) and new regular Mike Wells (Indianapolis Colts reporter) are joined by Todd Archer (Dallas Cowboys reporter), Josh Weinfuss (Arizona Cardinals reporter), Mike Triplett (New Orleans Saints reporter) and Scott Brown (Pittsburgh Steelers reporter) to talk biggest surprises and disappointments thus far. Viewers are encouraged to log in and ask the panelists questions as well as contribute in the chat feature and vote for your first quarter NFL MVP.