Dallas Cowboys: 2012 Cowboys-Eagles

Anthony Spencer not fined for QB hit

December, 7, 2012
IRVING, Texas – Cowboys linebacker Anthony Spencer was able to miss out on being fined for the third straight year for a hit on a Philadelphia quarterback.

In the fourth quarter of last week’s win against the Eagles, Spencer was called for a roughing-the-passer penalty on quarterback Nick Foles, but the NFL did not fine him.

In 2011 he was fined $7,500 for a hands-to-the-face penalty after hitting Michael Vick, and in 2010 he was fined $12,500 for hitting Vick in the head.

Postgame audio: Cowboys-Eagles

December, 4, 2012
Dallas Cowboys QB Tony Romo talks about setting the record for the most touchdown passes in Cowboys history.

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Cowboys coach Jason Garrett talks about the Cowboys' balanced attack and the return of DeMarco Murray in their win over the Eagles.

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Jerry Jones looks forward to the rest of the season and talks about the Cowboys' chances at making the playoffs.

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Running back DeMarco Murray talks about returning to the field in the Cowboys' win over the Eagles.

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Miles Austin talks about the wide receivers' role in the Cowboys' win over the Eagles.

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Cowboys rookie cornerback Morris Claiborne talks about his first NFL touchdown.

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Plenty of mistakes on punt return TD

December, 4, 2012
IRVING, Texas –The Cowboys entered last week’s game against Philadelphia having allowed just 99 yards on 18 punt returns all season.

Cowboys rookie cornerback Morris Claiborne talks about his first NFL touchdown.

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Damaris Johnson ruined what had been a stellar season for the punt return unit with a 98-yard punt return for a touchdown late in the fourth quarter for the Eagles’ final score. It tied for the longest the Cowboys have ever given up. Terance Mathis had a 98-yarder for the New York Jets on Nov. 4, 1990.

The previous long punt return allowed by the Cowboys this year was 21 yards.

So what happened?

“We were going to directionally kick in that situation and Line One in that situation is don’t get the thing blocked,” coach Jason Garrett said. “So the protection is first and foremost and the punter needs to catch the thing and punt it and get it out of there as quickly as he can. We wanted to punt that thing out of bounds. Unfortunately, we didn’t. It was long and high and deep right down the middle, the classic ‘outkick your coverage.’ The punt wasn’t good enough. It was not where we wanted the punt to be, and Brian (Moorman) knows that. We talked to him about that. And the other part about that is even though the coverage was outkicked, we didn’t tackle very well on the play. Guys had opportunities to make tackles and we didn’t make them and that was an important play in the ballgame. It gave them a chance with under a minute to go to get back in the game. We did a good job of handling the hands’ team. (Jason Witten) did a good job, the protection in front of him was good so we were able to ice the game at that point. That punt return should not have happened, and there were a lot of different reasons for it.”

Replay was good to Jason Garrett

December, 4, 2012
IRVING, Texas -- Jason Garrett is getting pretty good at using replay.

In what was perhaps the biggest decision in the Cowboys win Sunday against Philadelphia, Garrett helped the Cowboys get a first down by challenging a spot of a DeMarco Murray run.

Murray was ruled to have been stopped short on a fourth-and-inches carry in the third quarter, but once Garrett got a good look at a replay on center-hung digital board, he went with the challenge.

“I was pretty adamant about what I saw live but that really is irrelevant,” Garrett said. “What is relevant is there video evidence because we were going to have to change what the original spot was, and if you analyze the challenges spotting the ball in that kind of situation it’s not one that typically gets overturned. You not only need the look, but you need a landmark on the field and all of those things come into play and our guys upstairs do a great job upstairs of communicating with me and ultimately I’ve got to pull the trigger and throw the flag.

"And once we got that overhead view I thought it was pretty apparent the spot was much better than what they gave us initially and we thought we would get it overturned.”

The Cowboys got the call overturned and three plays later they scored the tying touchdown early in the fourth quarter. Had the play not been overturned, the Cowboys would have lost their second timeout of the half.

Garrett is now 4-0 on replay challenges on the season. He was 2-2 last year.

“I think there a lot of things that go into it,” Garrett said. “You’ve got to take the emotion out of it is first and foremost. It’s very easy to become emotional about those kinds of things and just throw the flag out there and it not be a real smart decision. We try to communicate as best we can and get as much information as best we can and try to talk it out as much as we can. The significance of the situation, there are a lot of times in a game you can challenge something, ‘OK, what does that give you? It gives you a 3-yard gain? What does it give you? It negates something that's fairly insignificant.’

"So you’ve got to make sure your using them at the right time because they're valuable.”
IRVING, Texas -- Philosophically, Jason Garrett believes the more players a defense has to stop, the better, because it allows his offense to attack favorable matchups.

The problem with Garrett's philosophy is that way too many players have roles in his offense, something that must change if the Dallas Cowboys are somehow going to make the playoffs this season.

See, Garrett's philosophy is built around taking what the defense gives you. It's the reason guys such as Kevin Ogletree and Cole Beasley have had more than 10 passes directed their way in a single game this season.

It's also the reason Dez Bryant had one pass directed his way in 32 first-half plays.

"We always want to get the ball to a guy like Dez, but we want to get it to Witten, too, we want to get it to Miles, we want to get it to the other guys," Garrett said. "We want to run the football. All of those guys are a part of what we want to do for 60 minutes in the game."

No. No. No.

The other guys -- Beasley, Ogletree, John Phillips and Felix Jones -- had five passes directed their way in the first half. They caught two of them for 1 yard.

This team isn't good enough to let Bryant, one of its best offensive players, be a nonfactor for an entire half, but that's what occasionally happens in Garrett's offense because the ball is supposed to go wherever the coverage dictates it should go.


Sometimes, an offense needs to take what it wants -- not what the defense gives it.

To read the rest of this column, click here.

A Look Back: Simple was better for defense

December, 4, 2012
IRVING, Texas -- Rob Ryan talked last Friday about his defense being simple but multiple.

In this week’s A Look Back, when Ryan was simple against Philadelphia, the Cowboys were a lot better. On the Eagles’ first four scoring drives -- three touchdowns and one field goal -- the Cowboys were in their nickel defense 17 times and in their dime defense seven times out of 28 plays.

When the Cowboys shifted to playing predominantly their base defense, they were much better. On the Eagles’ final scoring drive -- a 43-yard field goal by Alex Henery -- the Cowboys were in their base personnel one nine of 10 plays.

In other words, when Ryan went simple, they were better. Keep it simple.

Ryan dialed up five-man or more pressure eight times against Nick Foles, one more than he did on Thanksgiving against Robert Griffin III. Foles wasn’t as successful as Griffin, completing five of eight passes with three going for a first down.

He went with just four-man pressure 22 times and Foles completed 15 of 22 passes. Victor Butler recorded the Cowboys only sack, which came in four-man pressure. Foles’ touchdown pass to Riley Cooper came with the Cowboys keeping seven guys in coverage.

Ryan did not use any three-man pressure in the first half but used it four times in the second half. Danny McCray dropped an interception in the fourth quarter on four-man pressure. The final play from scrimmage came with eight guys dropping deep.

Once again the Cowboys barely used press coverage. In fact, they used across-the-board press coverage a season-low one time and it came on the first drive of the game. Ryan can talk about all the press the Cowboys play, but the film shows something different. The Cowboys played half press 12 times with 10 coming in the second half.

After the game, Foles said the Cowboys played off and soft coverage for most of the game. He was right. The Cowboys were in off coverage 49 times. How does that play to the strength of Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne?

For the first time this year, DeMarcus Ware has gone back-to-back games without recording at least a half sack. By my count he had three quarterback pressures.

The Eagles paid attention to Ware, double teaming him in some form either with a tackle and a guard, a tackle and tight end or a tackle and a back 11 times in 25 rushes on Foles. He was in one-on-one situations against the Eagles tackles 12 times. On the first snap of the game the Eagles had tight end Brent Celek block him and Ware pasted Foles for a near-sack fumble. On one play the Eagles did not block him when they went with a rocket screen.

Four times Ware dropped in coverage, all in the second half.

Vintage Tony Romo in last five games

December, 3, 2012
IRVING, Texas – As Tony Romo walked out of Cowboys Stadium on Oct. 28 after a 29-24 loss to the New York Giants, he could not feel any lower.

He threw four interceptions in the game, bringing his season total to 13 with 10 of the 13 coming at home. The Cowboys fell to 3-4 with their only win in about a month coming at Carolina.

Since that game, however, Romo has been at the top of his game and among the best quarterbacks in the NFL statistically.

He has completed 138-of-200 passes for 1,587 yards. He has thrown 10 touchdown passes and been intercepted just twice.

Romo’s completion percentage (69%) is second during the last five games by a tenth of a point to Washington’s Robert Griffin III. His touchdown passes are third most. His yards are fourth most. His attempts are fourth most. His completions are second most. His 105.5 quarterback rating is fourth best.

“He’s one of the best competitors I’ve ever seen,” said receiver Dez Bryant who has also raised his level of play. “That puts drive in me – not only me, but a lot of the other guys, too. You’ve got a guy that does stuff like (complete passes after remarkable scrambles), just saying, ‘I won’t be denied, I’m going to complete this pass,’ it just puts the fight in everybody else.”

Morris Claiborne gets even with Eagles

December, 3, 2012
ARLINGTON, Texas – Morris Claiborne felt at least a small sense of redemption as he pranced across the goal line Sunday night.

The Cowboys’ first-round rookie cornerback had the worst game of his life in the previous meeting with the Eagles, getting called for five penalties and giving up a touchdown, prompting him to make a promise to his teammates after that win in Philadelphia that he’d never perform that poorly again. That made his 50-yard fumble return for a touchdown that essentially sealed Sunday’s win over the Eagles just a little more satisfying.

“I guess so,” Claiborne said. “That’s all part of the game. The penalties that I had last time were all part of the game. I’m just fortunate enough and blessed and thankful that we came out with the win.”

The fumble, which was the only turnover the struggling Cowboys defense forced all night, occurred on the possession after Dallas took its first lead. Claiborne’s eyes lit up as soon as he saw nose tackle Josh Brent jar the ball from running back Bryce Brown’s grip.

“As soon as I saw it pop up, there wasn’t nothing but green grass,” Claiborne said. “I was already (thinking) touchdown.”

Said defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, who had a rough night, to say the least: “That was a pretty damn big relief. That’s all there is to it.”

Victory does nothing for Cowboys' confidence

December, 3, 2012
ARLINGTON, Texas -- The bottom line is, the Dallas Cowboys beat the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday night at Cowboys Stadium, 38-33.

After watching this contest, you have to believe a few people in the Cowboys' locker room are not happy with how they got the result.

The Eagles took a 14-3 lead, amassed 423 total yards, converted 60 percent of their third-down plays, returned a late punt 98 yards for a touchdown and had a season high in points scored.

This win didn't give you much confidence in the Cowboys' ability to reach the postseason.

"It was a respectful win, that's the way I see it," outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware said. "We could have played better but the way we played, it's not going to get us where we need to be."

The Cowboys kept their playoff hopes alive, as slim as they are, by beating an Eagles team that hasn't won a game since September.

Sometimes, you want to see style points. Of course winning the game is important, but a playoff team needs to beat up opponents who aren't close to reaching the playoffs, right?

"This was huge for our team," Cowboys tight end Jason Witten said. "This is a big win. Our backs are against the wall, we know they're going to play us tough to be able to get that win. It's a four-game season."

Are the Cowboys optimistic they can make the playoffs? Should they be? For more, click here.

Sterling Moore a fast learner

December, 3, 2012
ARLINGTON, Texas – Early Friday morning Sterling Moore had an idea he would be leaving New England’s practice squad and joining the Cowboys’ active roster. By the end of the night he was learning a few of his new team’s defenses.

“Crazy few days,” Moore said.

With just a Saturday walkthrough, Moore made his debut on Sunday against Philadelphia and was on the field for some of the biggest defensive snaps of the game. He even helped on a tackle.

“They put a new call in for me,” said Moore, the SMU-ex. “And basically it was supposed to be on third and long. It didn’t come up until later in the game but that was the one play they were counting on me to shut down the tight end.”

Because of injuries in the secondary, the Cowboys will need Moore possibly to play a big role in the sub packages. The Cowboys won’t have Orlando Scandrick for the rest of the regular season with a hand injury. Charlie Peprah is expected to miss at least one more game with a foot injury.

Moore can play safety and cornerback

“Honestly I don’t know how much playing time I’m going to get,” Moore said. “I’m just going to try to come out here and in any way possible help the team either on special teams or on defense. The big thing is mastering the plays they give me to learn.”

Big plays return for Jason Witten

December, 3, 2012
ARLINGTON, Texas -– Jason Witten had his third 100-yard game of the season, but he also had a season-high 18 yards per catch.

Before Sunday’s win against Philadelphia, Witten had more than 10 yards per catch in a game just twice. Against the Eagles, only one of Witten’s six catches went for less than 10 yards.

“I think being able to run the ball and not being one dimensional, they’re not bailing out of there and that’s not something we got to really in the last four or five ballgames,” Witten said “That was big. Obviously I feel good about that.”

It was the 17th 100-yard game of Witten’s career and the fourth he has had against Philadelphia. Witten has 88 catches for 818 yards. He has recorded seven 800-yard seasons in his career, one behind Michael Irvin for the most in team history. The only tight end with more 800-yard seasons in NFL history is Tony Gonzalez (11).

Witten was able to up his yard per catch average on the season from 8.7 yards to 9.3.

Tony Romo focused on victories, not records

December, 3, 2012

ARLINGTON, Texas -- There will be a day when Tony Romo will look back at what happened Sunday night inside Cowboys Stadium and smile about what he accomplished.

Since 2006, when he became the Dallas Cowboys' starting quarterback, Romo has gone from an overnight sensation to frustrating and overhyped to the team's only hope for success.

It's nights like Sunday, when he became the franchise's all-time leader in touchdown passes by surpassing Hall of Famer Troy Aikman, when you see the greatness that has been there far more than many people want to realize.

Romo threw three touchdown passes in the second half -- two to Dez Bryant, one to Miles Austin -- and finished his night 22-of-27 for 303 yards. He didn't throw an interception for the fourth time in five games and finished with a season-high passer rating of 150.5.

Most important to Romo, the Cowboys beat Philadelphia, 38-33, to remain in contention for a postseason spot with four games to play.

"I'm not trying to minimize anything," Romo said. "Really, you're just singularly focused on trying to bring a championship to this town and this organization. In that process, everything else kind of takes a back burner."

For more on Romo's big night, click here.

Miles Austin's hip feeling OK

December, 3, 2012
ARLINGTON, Texas – Statistically speaking, Sunday’s game was not on of Miles Austin's best -- two catches for 46 yards and a touchdown -- but they came at important times in the Cowboys’ 38-33 win against Philadelphia.

A hip injury knocked Austin out of the Thanksgiving game against Washington and kept him from taking part in a full practice last week.

“It’s still a little sore, but from how it did feel to how it felt Wednesday after a bunch of treatment and anti-inflammatories it felt leaps and bounds better than it did at the time,” Austin said.

Austin has 51 catches for 773 yards and five touchdowns on the season, but he has been slowed by hamstring injuries during most of the year for the second straight season. He doesn’t see the injuries related to each other.

“It wasn’t anything other than I hit my hip hard and it got inflamed and some nerve stuff in there, but it feels better,” Austin said.

It is possible Austin could be limited during practice as the season wears on.

“How I feel now to how I feel tomorrow or Tuesday or Wednesday, I wouldn’t know,” Austin said. “But I feel fine.”

Drive of the game: DeMarco Murray's 1-yard TD

December, 3, 2012
ARLINGTON, Texas -- That the Cowboys were trailing 14-3 in the first half to Philadelphia on Sunday was not a surprise.

The Cowboys have faced double-digit deficits at home in every home game but one.

But the Cowboys picked the right time to find an offensive groove when they needed it most, even if it was not the most efficient offense, which is why their 11-play, 75-yard jaunt in the second quarter was the Drive of the Game.

Thanks to a Doug Free holding penalty, an 8-yard loss on a Kevin Ogletree fumble and a minus-3 yard run by DeMarco Murray, the Cowboys had to overcome second and 19, second and 18 and third and 13 to score their first touchdown of their 38-33 win.

Twice Tony Romo found Jason Witten to set up third-and-shorter situations and he connected with Miles Austin for 19 yards on third and 13. After a 28-yard reception by Witten, Murray barged his way into the end zone to cut Philadelphia’s lead to 14-10.

The Cowboys scored on their next four possessions to take the lead from the Eagles.

Report card: Rushing game comes to life

December, 3, 2012

Rushing Offense

For the first time since the last time they faced Philadelphia, the Cowboys had a competent rushing attack. The return of DeMarco Murray after a six-week absence certainly helped. He finished with 83 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries, but Murray was more effective than the numbers indicated, considering he lost 11 yards on his last carry. Murray still appeared tentative at times, but his presence allowed Jason Garrett to call a balanced game for a change. Felix Jones (seven carries, 26 yards) was a nonfactor in a change-of-pace role.


Passing Offense

Once he got some protection, Tony Romo was perfect. He completed all 10 of his passes in the second half for 169 yards and three touchdowns, finishing the game with 303 yards on 22-of-27 passing. Dez Bryant dominated again despite not getting a ball thrown to him for the first 27 minutes, catching six passes for 98 yards and two tackle-breaking touchdowns. Jason Witten caught six passes for 108 yards, making a couple of plays downfield instead of just moving the chains. Miles Austin only caught two balls, but they were both important: a 19-yard gain on a scoring drive and a 27-yard touchdown.


Rushing Defense

The Cowboys couldn't stop rookie seventh-round pick Bryce Brown for most of the game. He rushed for 169 yards and two touchdowns on 24 carries. Dion Lewis also averaged seven yards a pop on his two carries. Just imagine how ugly it would have been if Pro Bowl tailback LeSean McCoy had been healthy. The Cowboys' two leading tacklers, inside linebackers Sean Lee and Bruce Carter, are out for the season, but there are no excuses for looking that bad against an Eagles offense with even more injury issues. Morris Claiborne's fumble return for a touchdown was big, but it doesn't save the defense from a failing grade.


Passing Defense

Nick Foles arrived at Cowboys Stadium as a struggling rookie backup quarterback. You wouldn't have been able to tell by watching this game. The Cowboys let the third-round pick get comfortable in the pocket and he picked them apart for 251 yards and a touchdown without committing a turnover. Cornerback Brandon Carr, the $50 million man, never saw the ball on a 15-yard touchdown pass to Riley Cooper. Victor Butler recorded the Cowboys' lone sack, marking the second straight week that Pro Bowl pass rusher DeMarcus Ware was shut out.


Special Teams

It was an uneventful night for Joe DeCamillis' units until they gave the Eagles a chance to pull off an amazing comeback. How the heck can the Cowboys let Damaris Johnson return a punt 98 yards for a touchdown in the final minute? Brian Moorman outkicked his coverage, and it was a pretty pathetic display of terrible tacking after that point. At least Jason Witten recovered the ensuing onside kick. Kicker Dan Bailey made his only field goal attempt, a 39-yarder. Dwayne Harris' only opportunity in the return game was a 22-yard gain on a kickoff.



Once again, the Cowboys dug themselves a double-digit deficit in the first half. That has happened in five consecutive home games, which is a pretty clear indication that Jason Garrett and Rob Ryan struggle as game-planners or motivators or both. Garrett's decision to call a timeout with 45 seconds remaining in the first half and the Cowboys at the Eagles' 1-yard line backfired, leaving Philadelphia enough time to drive for a field goal. And why didn't Dez Bryant get a ball thrown to him for the first 27-plus minutes of the game? This win was far from a coaching masterpiece.