Running DeMarco Murray's numbers

September, 17, 2014
Sep 17
11:00
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IRVING, Texas -- DeMarco Murray leads the NFL in rushing through two games with 285 yards on 51 carries.

The last time a Dallas Cowboys running back led the NFL in rushing in a game week was Emmitt Smith in 1999 when he had 748 yards entering Week 10.

Here are some other interesting facts about Murray’s quick start:
  • This is the sixth time a Dallas runner has opened the season with back-to-back 100-yard games. Tony Dorsett did it twice (1978, 1981) and Smith did it three times (1991, 1995, 1999). Too soon to point out the Cowboys made the playoffs in those years?
  • Murray’s 285 yards are the 18th most in NFL history in the first two games of a season and the most since C.J. Spiller of the Buffalo Bills had 292 yards to start the 2012 season.
  • Murray’s 285 yards are the most by a Cowboys running back through two games. Smith had 277 yards in the first two games of the ’95 season.
  • Murray’s 115 yards in the first half against the Tennessee Titans last week were the fourth most in team history. Smith had 140 yards on Nov. 8, 1999, against the Minnesota Vikings and 129 yards against the Philadelphia Eagles on Oct. 31, 1993. Julius Jones had 119 yards against the Seattle Seahawks on Dec. 6, 2004.
  • Murray’s 71 yards in the first quarter against the Titans were not even a personal best for an opening quarter. He had 77 yards against the Green Bay Packers last year and 72 yards against the Baltimore Ravens in 2012.

NFL, union approve new PED policy

September, 17, 2014
Sep 17
10:50
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The NFL and its union announced agreement Wednesday on "improvements" to the policy on performance-enhancing drugs that includes testing for human growth hormone, neutral arbitration for appeals and will make three previously suspended players eligible to play this weekend.

The NFL announced that HGH testing would be implemented by the end of this month. Information on the testing procedures will be sent to teams this week. Testing for HGH was originally agreed upon in 2011, but the players had balked at the science in the testing and the appeals process for positive tests.

In addition, the NFL and NFLPA are near agreement on changes to the substance abuse policy, which will be announced when it is completed.

Denver Broncos receiver Wes Welker, Dallas Cowboys cornerback Orlando Scandrick and St. Louis Rams receiver Stedman Bailey are now eligible to return for Week 3 as a result of the new policy. All three players had received four-game suspensions for testing positive for substances that now will be covered under the substance abuse policy.

Appeals of positive tests under the PED policy, including HGH, will be heard by a third-party arbitrator that will be jointly chosen by league and union officials. The statement promises that appeals will be heard more expeditiously due to improved procedures under the policy.

A first violation of the PED policy will result in a suspension without pay for up to six games depending on violation:


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Cowboys trust McClain to fulfill potential

September, 17, 2014
Sep 17
10:00
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IRVING, Texas -- Rolando McClain really doesn't like to talk much.

McClain is intelligent and can be insightful when interviewed, but he'd rather not talk to reporters, and does so only to avoid being fined by the NFL. The twice-retired 25-year-old linebacker isn't a rah-rah guy on his field, where he "leads with his pads," as Dallas Cowboys defensive end Jeremy Mincey put it.

[+] EnlargeRolando McClain
Ron T. Ennis/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/MCT/Getty ImagesRolando McClain, a first-round pick by the Raiders in 2010, is leading the Cowboys in total tackles through two games this season.
McClain definitely isn't the kind of guy who is going to make meaningless small talk. That's what made the brief conversation McClain initiated on the practice field one day so memorable to defensive captain Barry Church.

"He came up to me and was like, 'I love y'all. Y'all make this game fun for me again,'" Church recalled after McClain starred in Dallas' 26-10 win Sunday against the Tennessee Titans. "Once he said that, I knew he was back to his old ways, like how he was back at Alabama. Just a love for the game and love for winning. We need that type of guy around us. We just need him on our defense and I'm glad he's here."

Man, do the Cowboys ever need that kind of player, that type of talent on their defense. The no-risk deal to acquire McClain's rights from the Baltimore Ravens -- and recruit him out of retirement -- was rooted in desperation after a defense that ranked last in the league last season lost playmaking middle linebacker Sean Lee to a season-ending knee injury in May.

McClain was a miserable failure for the Oakland Raiders, who made him the eighth overall pick in the 2010 draft but released him less than three years and countless headaches later. He never stepped on the field in Baltimore, and many figured he was a lost cause if fellow Bama man Ozzie Newsome, the Ravens' general manager, couldn't get McClain on the right track.

"I was on a bad path," said McClain, who has been arrested three times since entering the NFL and is appealing an 18-day jail sentence stemming from a 2013 incident in his Alabama hometown. "I didn't deserve to play football, so to say. I wasn't all the way there in the game. You ain't going to be the best if you ain't focused on the job, so I needed to take time to do what was important, get myself right, and I got that right.

"Now I'm in a great organization, got some great teammates, and just happy to play football again."

It finally looks as if McClain has a legitimate chance of fulfilling the potential that prompted Alabama coach Nick Saban to tell NFL people that the 6-foot-4, 260-pound physical specimen with a nasty streak, natural instincts and an excellent X's and O's mind was one of the best players he'd ever coached.

Cowboys coach Jason Garrett remembered Saban, Garrett's boss when he broke into coaching in Miami, raving about McClain during Garrett's trip to an Alabama pro day. He called Saban when the Cowboys first considered McClain as an option and was told it was worth taking a shot on a gifted player with a troubled past who was truly trying to get his life together.

McClain, the father of two young boys, refocused his life around faith and family. He weeded out the negative influences, giving him a chance to take advantage of his football gifts, which he's done to the tune of a team-high 22 tackles (per the coaches' film), a sack and a spectacular interception in two games for a defense that is exceeding basement-low expectations.

There have been bumps in the road for McClain during his brief time with the Cowboys. Training camp was especially tough for him after a 20-month layoff. He missed a handful of practices due to his Alabama court date and minor, conditioning-related health issues.

But McClain, who quit on two NFL teams, convinced the Cowboys that they could count on him.

"[We] tried to give him an opportunity to come in and show us he can be a football player," Garrett said. "Create the right kind of environment for him to do that, and really emphasize taking day by day, play by play. Just focus on this task right here, and I think over time, he's demonstrated he can be a trustworthy player for us."

With his actions speaking a lot louder than words, McClain has definitely demonstrated his talent.
video 
Dallas Cowboys reporter Todd Archer discusses the Cowboys' new-found, ground-and-pound running game under offensive coordinator Scott Linehan.

DeMarcus Lawrence's recovery on track

September, 17, 2014
Sep 17
8:00
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IRVING, Texas -- DeMarcus Lawrence is a month away from practicing and six weeks from being eligible to play in a game, but the Dallas Cowboys rookie defensive end received some good news on Monday.

Lawrence
Lawrence had his surgically-repaired right foot examined by doctors and was told "everything's on track with my recovery."

The Cowboys put Lawrence on injured reserve/designated to return on Sept. 2. He can return to practice on Oct. 13 and play Nov. 2 against the Arizona Cardinals. He has yet to start running, but he is doing more work in the weight room and started some resistance training,

"We're waiting a little bit more for it to heal better for that," Lawrence said of running.

The time off will not only help Lawrence heal, but he sees a benefit to learning by watching as a rookie.

"It's hard because I want to be out there with the team, but other than that it's just a process," Lawrence said. "Go week by week just in the playbook and in the film room just trying to get my mindset right so when I do return everything is going to be what I expect it to be."

The Cowboys hope a fresh Lawrence can bring a jolt to a pass rush as other players start getting worn down by the grind of the season.

"That's the point," he said with a smile.

Pro Football Hall nominees unveiled

September, 16, 2014
Sep 16
9:47
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Super Bowl-winning quarterback Kurt Warner and linebacker Junior Seau are among 15 first-year eligible modern-era candidates nominated for the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Tuesday.  

Also nominated for the class of 2015 in their first year of eligibility are receivers Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt, tackle Orlando Pace and place-kicker Jason Elam.

A total of 99 players and 14 coaches comprise the 113 nominees. A modern-era player or coach must be retired at least five consecutive seasons to be eligible.

The selection committee will choose 25 candidates as semifinalists in late November. That list will be reduced to 15 modern-era finalists in early January. The 2015 class will be voted on the day before the Super Bowl.

One senior committee nominee, former Vikings center Mick Tingelhoff, also will be on the ballot.

Between four and eight new members will be selected. Inductions will be in August at Canton, Ohio, site of the Hall of Fame.

Some other familiar names who have been nominated are running back Jerome Bettis, receivers Tim Brown and Marvin Harrison, guard Will Shields, defensive ends/linebackers Charles Haley and Kevin Greene, safety John Lynch, and place-kicker Morten Andersen. All were finalists in 2014.

Coaches Tony Dungy, a finalist this past January, Bill Cowher, Don Coryell and Mike Holmgren also are among the 2015 nominees.


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Complementary Romo is just fine

September, 16, 2014
Sep 16
8:42
PM ET
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IRVING, Texas -- In the past couple of days, plenty of folks have provided a litany of reasons for why too many of Tony Romo's passes are fluttering and floating.

Footwork. Weight transfer. Body position. Leg strength.

Whatever.

If you've seen either of the first two games, and you've seen him play in the past, then you know Romo just doesn't look right. Don't listen to the rhetoric. Trust your eyes.

Common sense says Romo has been affected -- directly or indirectly -- by two back surgeries in the past year, which have either robbed him of arm strength, leg strength or the torque required to produce it.

Until Romo starts throwing the ball the way he used to throw it, then the $108 million quarterback, who's in the first year of a six-year contract extension, needs to be a complementary player.

Take a deep breath. Now, take another.

Don't go crazy grousing about how a $108 million quarterback isn't supposed to be a complementary player. An undrafted free agent, by that logic, should've never reached the point where he could sign a nine-digit contract.

For now, this is Romo's reality. He seems ready to accept it. You should too. This doesn't have to be forever, but it provides the Dallas Cowboys with the best way to win right now.

Hey, the league's best team has a complementary quarterback.


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Davon Coleman strains calf

September, 16, 2014
Sep 16
6:35
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IRVING, Texas -- Despite being on crutches Tuesday afternoon because of a calf strain, rookie defensive tackle Davon Coleman is hopeful he can play in the Dallas Cowboys' meeting Sunday against the St. Louis Rams.

Coleman said he injured himself in the weight room on Monday doing squats.

“It shouldn’t hold me out too long,” Coleman said.

Coleman, an undrafted free agent, started the opener against the San Francisco 49ers and played in a reserve role in the Week 2 win against the Tennessee Titans. He is second among Cowboys’ defensive linemen in tackles with four, trailing Nick Hayden by one.

The Cowboys released safety Jemea Thomas from the practice squad on Tuesday and re-signed fullback Nikita Whitlock, who was cut last week when the Cowboys added wide receiver Reggie Dunn.

Defense ready for Scandrick's return

September, 16, 2014
Sep 16
6:31
PM ET
IRVING, Texas – Dallas Cowboys cornerback Orlando Scandrick is waiting for his formal reinstatement once the NFL and NFL Players Association come to an agreement on a new drug policy, but his teammates can’t wait for his return.

Scandrick has missed the first two games as part of a four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s performance-enhancing drug policy after testing positive for amphetamines in the spring. Under the terms of a new policy, Scandrick, as well as other players, like Denver Broncos wide receiver Wes Welker, will be allowed to play immediately.

Scandrick
“In the secondary right now, guys are playing pretty well,” cornerback Brandon Carr said. “With Scandrick, he's going to fit easily back into the puzzle as far as our chemistry on the back end. He's that guy that has a chip on his shoulder. I know he's going to come back ready to prove some things to us and to the rest of the world. I'm ready for him to come back, man, just get him back into the flow of things. We want all of our pieces up when it's time to go to war. We'll be happy to get that guy back.”

Morris Claiborne has started the first two games opposite Carr, and Sterling Moore has manned Scandrick’s role in the slot and earned the coaches’ praise.

“All I can do is go out there and make plays on the plays I have an opportunity to make,” Moore said. “I think I’ve done that so far, but it’s out of my hands whenever he comes back.”

Scandrick had two interceptions last season and was the Cowboys’ best cornerback. He had a solid preseason and training camp as well.

Linebacker Bruce Carter said Scandrick brings an attitude to the defense.

“Our spirit on defense right now is real high,” Carter said. “Everybody is flying around and just having fun, and a guy like Orlando, for me, I feel like he loves to talk. He’s always talking junk to somebody, so I think it’ll add more flavor to our defense. We’ll be happy to have him back.”

Rams Must Improve Run Defense

September, 16, 2014
Sep 16
3:18
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video

ESPN Rams reporter Nick Wagoner talks about the team facing Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray.

Cowboys will need more than one formula

September, 16, 2014
Sep 16
1:45
PM ET
IRVING, Texas – Jason Garrett likes to say the history of the NFL gets written each week.

It’s a poke at the wild week-to-week proclamations made by media and fans after a win or a loss. After the season-opening loss to the San Francisco 49ers, the Cowboys’ season was over. Tony Romo’s best days were gone. The defense was not any better. Who will the Cowboys take with the first pick in the 2015 draft?

[+] EnlargeDeMarco Murray
AP Photo/Mark ZaleskiDeMarco Murray's big day against the Titans can't be the only blueprint for the Cowboys to win.
After their Week 2 win against the Tennessee Titans, the Cowboys are now the best ground-and-pound team in the NFL. DeMarco Murray will set league and franchise rushing records. The defense just might be better than anybody imagined. The Cowboys will be a hard out in the NFC East.

That’s the new history anyway. But in the NFL what is true today won’t necessarily be true tomorrow.

To expect the Cowboys to run the ball 43 times for 220 yards, like they did against the Titans is folly. To expect them to win many games with Romo throwing for 176 yards is not wise. To expect the defense to limit an offense to 68 yards in the first half is crazy, especially with the quarterbacks and offenses the Cowboys will see down the road, though not this week in the St. Louis Rams.

“If you decide that, ‘This is the way we want to play,’ it’s hard to guarantee you’re going to be able to do that week in and week out,” Garrett said. “So you try to be balanced enough on offense to be able to play the way you need to play to win the ballgame and certainly you want to have the success that we had on defense, a lot of different situations that allowed to get us off the field and do the things that we did throughout that game. It’s certainly a good formula, [but] hard to guarantee it every week.”

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Garrett isn’t doing a Bill Parcells and attempting to dampen the mood after a solid win. He’s merely being a realist.

Have you seen the Cowboys over the last, oh, 17 seasons? They are 25-25 in this last 50 games, the epitome of win one, lose one.

For the Cowboys to sustain the formula displayed last week, they will need timely play by the passing game. For all of the good the running game did in the first half, their 16-0 lead was down to six points before the third quarter was half over against the Titans.

Romo responded with a 12-play, 80-yard touchdown drive in which he was 6-of-9 passing.

“I think [Sunday] is the kind of day when you play defense like that and can run the football like that, the Seahawks proved there is a certain way to go about that,” Romo said after the game. “You just need to do a good job, move the chains, do the job on third down when you have the right down and distances then give your team the chance on the one or two drives that make a difference in the game. I think we did that.”

But there will be games where Murray is being stifled and the blocking just isn’t there. In those games, Romo will have to make plays through the air for the Cowboys to win.

It might happen Sunday against the St. Louis Rams.

Three thoughts on Cowboys' win

September, 16, 2014
Sep 16
1:00
PM ET
Three thoughts on the Cowboys' 26-10 victory over the Tennessee Titans on Sunday.

1. Tony Romo can give me a million different explanations about why some of his passes wobble or lack zip, and I’m probably not going to believe him. He just doesn’t look right. I’ve seen 109 of the 110 NFL starts he has made in person, and I’ve never questioned whether he had a strong arm. Now, I do. Maybe, he’ll get stronger as the season goes on. Perhaps, he’ll adjust the way he plays to protect his back and to limit his deep balls. He can still help the Cowboys win games, but I don’t think he can do it as the focal point of the offense.

McClain
2. Rolando McClain showed me something by playing all but one snap of Sunday’s win over Tennessee, especially when the Titans spent a lot of the game using formations with three receivers. That means McClain spent a lot of time in the nickel, and he seemed to operate just fine. Each of the first two weeks, he has put a hit on an opposing player that we haven’t seen around here lately. He’s tackling with bad intentions. The Cowboys haven’t really had a player do that since Roy Williams.

3. Sterling Moore is the kind of NFL player who’s not quite big enough, fast enough or quick enough to excite the coaching staff. But every time they have to use him, he does a pretty solid job. Jason Garrett wants us to believe it doesn’t matter where you came from or where you were drafted. Well, when Orlando Scandrick returns this week, it’ll be interesting to see how much they use Scandrick on the outside and Moore in the slot, while Claiborne heads to the bench when the Cowboys are in their nickel defense.

Key stat: 12-1

The Cowboys improved to 12-1 when DeMarco Murray gets 20 carries or more in a game. Murray gained 167 yards on a career-high 29 carries against Tennessee on Sunday. It’s no surprise the Cowboys have a winning record when he gets the ball that much because it means the Cowboys are controlling the line of scrimmage and the game. All of that means they can keep handing the ball to Murray. But if all it took was 20 carries to Murray to win the game, then they’d just give it to him the first 20 plays of each game. Zack Martin has given the Cowboys three quality offensive linemen -- Tyron Smith and Travis Frederick are the others -- and two solid players in Doug Free and Ron Leary. The Cowboys feel comfortable running off left or right tackle as well pulling each each guard as well as running wide to each side. That makes their running attack versatile and dangerous and it should result in more games with 20 carries for Murray.

Player to Watch: Joseph Randle

A lot of folks were disappointed when Joseph Randle made the Cowboys’ final roster and Ryan Williams didn’t. You should understand the decision now. Williams is every bit as good as Randle as a runner -- some would argue he’s better -- but there’s no comparison between them as a pass protector or special teams contributor. Randle has been a good special teams player the first two weeks -- not just a guy along for the ride -- and he’s been a much more explosive runner than we was as a rookie. He looks like a player who understands his role, has accepted it and is trying to persuade the coaching staff to give him a bigger role.

Cowboys banking on Murray's health

September, 16, 2014
Sep 16
12:00
PM ET
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IRVING, Texas -- Through two games, Dallas Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray is on pace for 408 carries this season.

It's too early to say Murray will challenge Larry Johnson's NFL regular-season record of 416 carries for the Kansas City Chiefs in 2006. It's probably too early to say Murray will push for Emmitt Smith's franchise record of 377 in 1995.

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But Murray's 51 carries are the most he has had in a two-game span in his career, and he has never had more than 217 carries in a season.

As a rookie in 2011 he had 47 carries for 160 yards in a four-day span in Cowboys' wins against the Washington Redskins (Nov. 20) and Miami Dolphins (Nov. 24). He has not had more than two games in a row with at least 20 carries since his rookie seaason when he went a span of four straight games with at least 20 carries.

This is the first time Murray, who had a career-high 29 carries for 167 yards in Sunday's win against the Tennessee Titans, has had back-to-back games with at least 20 carries since Week 13-14 against the Philadelphia Eagles and Cincinnati Bengals in 2012.

"We feel like DeMarco is a durable football player who can take the pounding of being the primary running back for the Cowboys, so we're going to give him opportunities to do that," coach Jason Garrett said. "We like the other guys. If we ever get to a point where we feel like we're wearing them down, we say, 'OK, let's play the other guys a little bit more.' But we don't feel like we're to that point by any means. He seems to handle the work. He seems to relish in getting the work, and that's a good thing. He seems to get better as the game goes on with more carries, and that's what all the good backs that I've ever been around have. That's part of their demeanor. So we'll certainly be mindful of running him into the ground, just like we would any player on our team, and be willing to use the other guys and trust the guys to carry the ball behind him."

But Murray has yet to play a full season. He missed three games as a rookie with a fractured ankle. He missed six games in 2012 with a foot injury. He missed two games last year with a knee injury.

Garrett clarified what he meant by durable when Murray's injury history was mentioned.

"It probably was more than we don't feel like he wears down, you know what I'm saying?" Garrett said. "We feel like at the end of that ballgame, he was strong. It wasn't like, ‘Boy, he's breaking down, he doesn't look like himself.' I thought he got stronger as the game wore on."

Jerry likes Romo in complementary role

September, 16, 2014
Sep 16
11:30
AM ET
IRVING, Texas -- You don’t give a quarterback a $108 million contract extension to be a bus driver.

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But owner and general manager Jerry Jones insists he’ll be pleased if that is his return on investment for Tony Romo’s contract, as long as the Dallas Cowboys keep dominating with the running game.

Romo played a complementary role in Sunday’s win over the Tennessee Titans, when the Cowboys chewed up 220 yards on the ground, with DeMarco Murray doing most of the damage. Romo completed 19 of 29 passes for 176 yards, tying for his fourth-lowest yardage total in a win during his career.

“I’m probably the one that’s standing right behind Tony and saying, ‘Yes, we like seeing that,’” Jones said Tuesday on 105.3 The Fan. “When you can have that balance – and that’s a word that’s overused, balance, and the other day we had more of a lean to the run – we’ll take it. That offensive line played lights out for us, but when you can have more of a balance, which means that you’re not sitting there with a highway show of passes for Romo, then I think we’re seeing you have a better chance for your defense to be more effective, play less plays, better field position. All of it works together.

“So the way that we played Romo the other day fits me just fine and fits him just fine. It’s called winning, and that’s what we’re here for.”

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