Spencer had been sitting out the “Friday” practices that are typically red-zone and short-yardage days to give his surgically repaired knee a day of rest. Spencer missed all but one game last season and all of training camp this summer as he recovered from microfracture surgery.
He is listed as probable for Monday’s game against the Washington Redskins.
“We just believe in practice,” coach Jason Garrett said. “It’s important for guys to get back to practice. You’re obviously trying to get them to be ready for Sunday, and there’s a lot of different ways to do that, but the base way to do that is to make sure they practice as much as they can. We have different guys with different injuries that you have to monitor and work out what the best schedule is, but for the most part we want guys out there practicing regardless of how much you played and we want to make sure we do that with Spence this week.”
Right tackle Doug Free will miss his second straight game with a small fracture in his right foot. The initial diagnosis was that Free would need 3-4 weeks to recover from the injury suffered late in the win against the Seattle Seahawks two weeks ago.
“We’ll see how he is next week when we start off on Wednesday and we’ll go from there,” Garrett said. “Initially it was a three- or four-week type thing. He traditionally heals fast. He’s a tough guy, and we feel like he’s coming back relatively well. We’ll just see how he does next week when we start practicing again.”
Linebacker Bruce Carter, who has missed the last three games with a quadriceps injury, is probable for Monday night, as are: quarterback Tony Romo (back), tackle Jermey Parnell (chest), wide receiver Dez Bryant (shoulder) and safety Jakar Hamilton. Defensive end Jack Crawford will miss his third straight game with a calf injury.
In 10 career games against the Cowboys, Jackson has 35 catches for 663 yards but just one touchdown.
After missing the first two games of the season due to a suspension, Scandrick has solidified the Cowboys’ secondary. He has an interception and four pass breakups, playing equally as well in the slot as outside.
“O can really cover now,” defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli said. “He’s good at man to man. He’s a good zone player. He’s just to me really emerging. He’s a terrific tackler, great instincts and he’s good inside. You just see him growing and growing as a player.”
Scandrick came to the Cowboys with a chip on his shoulder as a fifth-round pick in 2008. He outlasted 2008 first-rounder Mike Jenkins and beat out 2012 first-rounder Morris Claiborne. The edginess Scandrick had when he showed up has not dissipated.
“He is a physical player,” coach Jason Garrett said. “He is aware. He is instinctive. He seems to be around the ball a lot. I just think he's gotten better and better. He has a lot of confidence defending inside and outside. He's got a lot of athletic ability. He is long. He's quick. Again, his instincts for the game are probably his best trait.”
- Jason Garrett, coach of the year
- System running backs
- Jerry Jones doing well
- Rewards for losing Jason Hatcher, DeMarcus Ware
- The return of Josh Brent
@toddarcher: He should be at the top of the discussion. I think he should be the guy so far. The Cowboys had no expectations. Even the most ardent supporter, Jerry Jones, wasn't willing to go out on a limb and predict much at the start of the season. He acknowledged things will be a challenge this year. So Garrett deserves a ton of credit for the team's start, the team's approach and the team's ability to overcome. They are all things he has stressed since taking over. But I don't think he would be the only candidate. Arizona Cardinals coach Bruce Arians and Detroit Lions coach Jim Caldwell deserve some talk too. I don't know that those guys have done a better job than Garrett, but they would deserve attention too. But again, the Cowboys had the lowest expectations of those three teams, to me, at the start of the season, so Garrett would get my vote. And I don't have a vote.
@toddarcher: I don't want to knock what DeMarco Murray has done. No other running back in the history of the game has come up with seven straight 100-yard games to open a season, so he deserves everything he is getting. I wouldn't think you could plug in any back in there and do something like that. But I do think the Cowboys would have a good but not great running game without him. I wondered this a few weeks ago: Would Joseph Randle get 1,200 yards behind this line? Perhaps. Mike Shanahan used to be able to plug in backs every year and get 1,000-yard seasons out of them, but he didn't have a special team without Terrell Davis. He had a good run with Clinton Portis until he traded him. He had a good runner in Washington too with Alfred Morris. There is something to be said for having system backs, but I think Murray is more than just a system back.
@toddarcher: Why shouldn't he get praised? You can't kill him only when things go poorly and say he has no clue as to what he is doing and then ignore the good. That would be hypocritical. He deserves credit. Maybe not all the credit, just as he shouldn't shoulder all the blame either. I've said this before, but he is not a general manager the way, say, Ron Wolf, was a general manager. Jerry takes the consensus and makes decisions. He designates people to bring him the information, listens to them and makes a decision. Sometimes he will go off on his own, but there are a lot of times he doesn't. The Zack Martin decision stands out as an example. He is a product mostly of the information he gets from the personnel department. When they hit on players, Jerry hits on players. Criticize the structure the Cowboys have in place, but with the success of the team's current run, Jones deserves credit too.
@toddarcher: They won't get any compensatory pick for DeMarcus Ware. They cut him. They could get a compensatory pick for losing Jason Hatcher as an unrestricted free agent. The Cowboys' signing of Henry Melton could mitigate just how high of a pick it is, but they should get something for Hatcher. That is always something lost when we talk about teams not re-signing free agents. There is a convoluted formula the league uses to figure out compensatory picks based on players lost, players signed and how those players fared, but teams can earn extra picks if they work the free-agent market wisely. Even if it's just a sixth-round pick, the Cowboys would be able to make up a pick they will likely lose to the Tennessee Titans for the Lavar Edwards trade.
@toddarcher: It's kind of the great unknown. He has not played in a football game since December 2012. He has only been around the Cowboys for about a month. Despite all the working out he did on his own, it wasn't going to be as productive as it would be under the team's watch. I think we need to be careful, however, in expecting too much from Brent. He was solid. He was good. But that was a long time ago in terms of football time and it came in a different scheme. He will have about four weeks of practice before the Cowboys make up their mind. He can start practicing next week and up through the team's game in London. Then the Cowboys can seek another two-week roster exemption. They should use all the time necessary to make sure Brent is not only in good shape but in decent football shape before getting him in a game. As far as pass rush, don't expect much. He is not that type of player. If he can help shore up the run defense, then that should be considered a bonus.
While DeMarco Murray has run well regardless of the defensive front he has seen this season, he has had incredible success against 3-4 schemes.
Against the San Francisco 49ers, Tennessee Titans, New Orleans Saints and Houston Texans, Murray has 106 carries for 570 yards.
"There are some similarities but the players are different, the scheme is always different," Murray said. "We've had a lot of 3-4 teams this year so we're used to it. A lot of our previous games we've had some success against it but it's definitely hard to go against. They have some great players on the other side. We'll have our hands full and we're excited about the challenge."
Not all 3-4 defenses are created equal. Coach Jason Garrett said the key is to trace the roots of Jim Haslett's defense. Like a lot of 3-4 schemes, it goes back to Pittsburgh Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau. So too does the 3-4 San Francisco used, as well as the 3-4 the Titans used, but the Redskins' defense is more like the Titans in how defenders move around.
"The way they play their techniques up front are similar to what we've seen at different points this year and certainly similar to what we've seen from them in the past," Garrett said. "They're not all the same. I think you have to understand what the nuances are and attack it with that knowledge."
Past success can often predict future success, but center Travis Frederick does not look at it that way.
"It gives us something to look back at and get better and improve upon, but you're starting from zero every game," Frederick said. "Every game is different, and every team is different."
He doesn’t much care that he is 31 carries away from the most he has had in a season and that Monday’s game against the Washington Redskins is just the eighth game of the season. He says his body feels good.
Part of it has to do with what he did in the offseason. Starting in March, before the official beginning of the Cowboys’ offseason program, Murray became Jason Witten’s workout partner. For the next two months they were together at Valley Ranch for hours, running, lifting and sweating.
Witten has missed one game in his career. Witten has played in 178 straight games, the longest active streak for a position player.
“I just asked him one day,” Witten said. “Don’t remember exactly how it went down, but we’re going to work out together.”
In every way, Witten is the conscience of the Cowboys. He is their leader. Murray called him “the big dog.”
“I couldn’t say no,” Murray said.
No player has caught more passes as a Cowboy than Witten. He has played in nine Pro Bowls. Not only does he not miss games, he does not miss practices, either.
Murray has missed 11 games in his first three seasons with ankle, foot and knee injuries. He missed a day of practice last week because he was ill. He sprained an ankle in the second quarter of last week’s victory against the New York Giants but finished the game with 128 yards on 28 carries.
Witten turned 32 in May, in the middle of the offseason. Murray is 26.
“I knew it was good for me to be with a young guy that can push you,” Witten said. “Obviously he’s physically talented. I kind of known that was the way our team was going and what we were trying to mold ourselves into. Even since he’s been a rookie, he’s always kind of latched on to certain people and asked questions, eager to learn. The thing I like about him since an early age was you could always see that he wanted to be really, really good. He had a great offseason. There were many days where I was really sore and we’d come in and say, ‘Are you sore?’ And he’d tell me, ‘Nah, not really. What about you?’ ‘Nah, I feel all right.’ He’s everything you want in a teammate from that standpoint. It was good to work out with him that way because I kept telling him, November and December this will pay off for us, the work that we put in. You can see it in the way he’s playing.”
Witten is not taking credit for Murray’s season by any stretch, but Murray believes the workouts have made a difference.
Said Murray, “Whenever you talk to a guy like that that's had the success like that and played so long in this league and done some of the things he’s done, you definitely try to take as much information as you possibly can from him.”
But his Dallas Cowboys teammates definitely care about Murray making history.
Murray has already broken Hall of Fame running back Jim Brown's record for 100-yard games to start a season with seven. He's halfway to Barry Sanders' record of 14 consecutive 100-yard games.
Emmitt Smith's franchise record for rushing yards in a season (1,773 yards) is well within the sights of Murray, who has gained 913 yards through seven games. He's on pace for 2,087 yards, so he could challenge Eric Dickerson's NFL record of 2,105 yards.
Only seven backs in NFL history have broken the 2,000-yard barrier.
"I think he can do it," Bryant said of Murray. "I honestly think he can do it."
"Pushing through it one day at a time," Hamilton said after practice.
Hamilton hasn't played in a game after serving his four-game suspension for violating the substance abuse policy.
Defensive end Anthony Spencer was a limited participant in Friday's practice with a sprained foot. Tackle Doug Free (foot) and defensive end Jack Crawford (calf) didn't practice and won't play in Monday's game against the Washington Redskins.
Quarterback Tony Romo (back), tackle Jeremy Parnell (chest), wide receiver Dez Bryant (shoulder) and linebacker Bruce Carter (thigh) were full participants.
Asking those questions and observing practice will be analyst Jon Gruden, who just so happens to be the older brother of the Washington Redskins’ coach, Jay Gruden.
Could that lead to a little awkwardness?
“As you know, we’re probably a little bit guarded with all media people,” Garrett said. “That’s a dynamic that really happens every week. You have to be careful with what you’re sharing with people. You want to certainly help the media do their job as well as they can do it by giving them information, but it’s always short of compromising yourself and creating a competitive disadvantage, so I don’t think it’s different. I know Coach Gruden fairly well. A lot of guys on our staff know him fairly well. He’s a pro. He’s always been a pro, so we don’t think that will be a real issue.”
Jon Gruden coached Garrett for part of the 2004 season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and has the same Super Bowl XXXVII ring as defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli, special-teams coordinator Rich Bisaccia and assistant head coach/defense Monte Kiffin.
The Cowboys hosted Super Bowl XL in 2010 between the Green Bay Packers and the Pittsburgh Steelers. Despite a massive ice storm leading up to the game and a seating fiasco that prompted a lawsuit against the league and the Cowboys, the NFL owners did make money.
This year's Super Bowl is in Glendale, Arizona, home of the Arizona Cardinals, and the next available game for a bid is Super Bowl LIII in 2019.
Under these new rules, if an NFL team wins the bid, it will have to play a game in London.
"We're playing Jacksonville in London and we would not have played in that game if it cost us a home game, and we just wouldn't do it, and haven't done it," Jones said, alluding to the Nov. 9 game. "That's not being mean in any way or [not] being a team player. We made too big of a commitment to our fans and to our organization to play our 10 games here."
With quarterback Tony Romo returning to practice after sitting Thursday’s workout, only right tackle Doug Free and defensive end Jack Crawford were missing from practice.
Free is expected to miss two more games with a small fracture in his right foot. Crawford has been battling a strained calf for the last two weeks. Safety Jakar Hamilton returned to practice Friday after missing Thursday’s session to tend to a personal matter.
Linebacker Bruce Carter is practicing for the second straight day, as is defensive end Anthony Spencer, who is looking to practice all three days leading up to a game for the first time this season.
Defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence is eligible to return Nov. 2 against the Arizona Cardinals and has looked good in practice since he returned last week from a broken foot. Defensive tackle Amobi Okoye, who started the year on the non-football injury list, is practicing for the second straight day. The Cowboys have until the Nov. 16 bye week to activate him to the 53-man roster, keep him on the non-football injury list or release him.
The Cowboys are keeping a close eye on Okoye, who is attempting a comeback from anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis, a brain disease that left him in a coma in 2013.
“We’ve certainly got our arms around where he came from and we’ve been very judicious in bringing him back,” Garrett said. “He’s worked very hard to get back. He was a good player when he was playing before and we want to get him back to that level, but it was a good start for him, good to see him in a uniform, moving around as a football player. He’s worked very hard on the side to get himself there and we’ll monitor his progress and see how he’s doing.”
This will be the Cowboys’ fifth game against a base 3-4 defense. In the first four games, Murray has averaged 26.5 carries and 142.5 yards per game. The Redskins have allowed two 100-yard rushers and were dominated on the ground by the Giants and Seahawks. In the last two games, however, they have held their opponents to 150 yards total on the ground.
But they haven’t faced a running game as committed and as coordinated as the Cowboys’.
The Cowboys have more wins (64) against the Redskins than they have against any other team in the NFL. They’ll make it 65 on Monday.
My prediction: Cowboys 27, Redskins 17
It's just that he has been exceptional in the second halves of games.
Romo has the NFL’s best Total QBR at 95.7 in the third and fourth quarters, plus overtime. His 10.1 yards per attempt is first. He has completed 71 percent of his passes, which is second. His eight touchdowns passes are tied for second.
In the second half last week against the New York Giants, Romo completed all nine of his passes for 56 yards and a touchdown.
“I think in the second half, playing teams, you start to get an understanding how they want to attack you,” Romo said. In those possessions, it matters more so with the outcome of the game so you just want to make sure you do things exactly right and go out and execute.”
In it we discuss:
- The win streak
- The release of Michael Sam
- The 2013 draft class
- Trading for a pass-rusher
- Resting DeMarco Murray
Away we go:
@toddarcher: The longest I can say right now is Monday against the Washington Redskins. I'm not going all Jason Garrett on you or anything, it's just that I want to look at the Arizona Cardinals more before I make the bold prediction of eight or nine in a row. The Cardinals have an aggressive, attacking defense. Former Cowboys defensive backs coach Todd Bowles is doing great things there and should be a head coach at some point. If they can get by Arizona, then I say they'll stretch it to nine games with a win against the Jacksonville Jaguars in London. Following the bye they play at the New York Giants and they'll be rested. I'd go as far as 10. Then it gets tricky because that Giants' game is at night and the Cowboys have a short week to get ready for the Philadelphia Eagles. It's almost unfair what the NFL has done to the Cowboys here with a night game on a Sunday, early morning return on Monday and a game on Thursday. But if they can get past the Cardinals, I'd be willing to say 10 in a row. Good night, who would've thought that back in August?
The one thing the Cowboys need is a pass rusher, so why didn't DE Sam get a shot? Does his release mean DE Lawrence is ready? #cowboysmail— ReeRay1 (@ReeRay1) October 23, 2014
@toddarcher: Clearly, the Cowboys didn't think Michael Sam was good enough. This is a defense with seven sacks. They're not going to be so cavalier about not giving anybody and everybody a chance to rush the passer when they haven't been able to rush the passer. Now, did the Cowboys do the right thing by releasing Sam and not giving him a chance? Time will tell. If the Cowboys were going to call up a defensive end from their practice squad it was going to be Ken Boatright. Rookie DeMarcus Lawrence will be back next week, so the Cowboys' hope is that he can provide a spark. Not counting Lawrence and Amobi Okoye, the Cowboys have 10 defensive linemen on the active roster. With Boatright and Ken Bishop, who was re-signed Tuesday, they had two on the practice roster. Garrett is right to say you can't have too many of one position on the practice squad because you can't function in practice. Sam got caught in a numbers game. Simple as that.
That 2013 draft class has been more productive than we thought. Who has the best future out of that class? #cowboysmail— Nolan (@Nolan_Fowler22) October 22, 2014
@toddarcher: I'd go with their first-round pick, Travis Frederick. He has the makings of a decade-long starter and a top-level one, too. He is smart. He is more athletic than people think. He is a good leader. He is a good communicator. The others are doing well as well. Gavin Escobar has found a role but I don't know if he's a 60-play, hand-on-the-ground tight end whenever the Jason Witten era ends. Terrance Williams is a solid player as well. He has a knack for big plays. J.J. Wilcox has grown but still has to grow. Joseph Randle is doing some good things on the field if not off the field. Before his neck injury it looked like DeVonte Holloman would be a player, too. This is a good start for the draft class. The Cowboys haven't had enough classes go this deep in recent years.
@toddarcher: I'd be very surprised if the Cowboys did anything like that before the trade deadline next week. They don't want to give up draft picks to land one worth landing. This is still a team that needs to build. I'm sure there is a temptation to go get a guy considering this start and the seemingly wide open nature of the NFC, but there needs to be a big picture view as well. The Cowboys have enough cap space to fit a player in, but I just don't know if it's easy to plug in a guy and say, 'Be DeMarcus Ware.' I've said this before, but I think you need to look at Lawrence as a trade pick up in a way. He hasn't played all year. He's fresh coming off the injury. The Cowboys know more about him than they would a player they traded for in terms of makeup and how he would fit the defense. With Jerry Jones you can never rule anything out but it would surprise me to see a trade, especially a significant one.
@toddarcher: Hopefully you don't want to kill all of the carries for DeMarco Murray, but this has been a common question the last few weeks. I think you've seen the Cowboys come up with an answer with how they have worked in Randle and Lance Dunbar in the first halves of the last two games. They are backing off Murray in the first half in hopes of keeping him fresher in the second half. It seems to have worked. He had his killer runs late against Seattle and had a big run late against the Giants, too. Maybe we're all getting too caught up in the carries. Scott Linehan said it's more important to monitor snaps. So I think you'll see them continue to give Murray some rest in the first half and then pick it up as the game wears on.