Dallas Cowboys: NFC East

Cowboys proving to be road warriors

November, 18, 2014
IRVING, Texas -- Four of the Dallas Cowboys’ final six games are away from AT&T Stadium, starting with Sunday’s game against the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium. For some teams that might seem like a daunting task, even with a 7-3 record.

But the Cowboys are the only undefeated team away from home this season, going 4-0. Going back to last year, the Cowboys have won five straight away from home.

“I think this team has done a really good job of it doesn’t matter who, when or where,” tight end Jason Witten said. “That’s not just talk. I really believe this team has kind of bought into this is how we have to play and when we do this, we play well and when we don’t we get beat.”

Tony Romo has had one pass intercepted on the road this season. The Cowboys have rushed for at least 123 yards in every road game. They have won the turnover battle in three of the four road games, losing it only at the Seattle Seahawks.

“We’ve made big plays in big moments that allow you to win those games,” Witten said.

Against the Tennessee Titans, Romo converted a third-and-15 pass to Dez Bryant on a third-quarter scoring drive that stopped a Titans comeback. Bruce Carter had an interception return for a touchdown against the St. Louis Rams. The Cowboys dominated the Seahawks on the ground but needed a third-and-20 completion to Terrance Williams to win the game. C.J. Spillman recovered a fumbled punt that led to the Cowboys’ first touchdown in the win against the Jacksonville Jaguars at London’s Wembley Stadium.

“I think we approach the game the same every week regardless if it’s home or away,” defensive end George Selvie said. “With our offense, they have a great running game. We know they’re going to run the ball, get first downs, and that’s going to quiet the crowd.”

The Cowboys have not finished with a winning record away from home since 2009 (5-3), the last time the made the playoffs. They have not won their first five road games of a season since 2007 when they finished with an NFC-best 13-3 record.

The Cowboys final two home games are against the Philadelphia Eagles (Thanksgiving) and Indianapolis Colts (Dec. 21).

“I guess maybe there’s less distractions for us, I’m not sure,” defensive tackle Tyrone Crawford said. “But I know that we’ve got to do better at home. We’ve still got two games at home, so we’ve got to do better there and take care of what we’ve got to do on the road and everything will work out.”

Cowboys ready to get away, if not completely

November, 14, 2014
IRVING, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys layers are off until Tuesday. The coaches get out of the office today and will be back to work on Monday.

The bye week is here and much needed for a team that has played 10 straight regular-season games and has not had a lot of time off since flying to Oxnard, California for the start of training camp on July 22.

“It’s good to recharge your batteries at the right time, going into the bye 7-3 and in a good position,” defensive end Jeremy Mincey said. “We just got to not lose ourselves during the bye and stay focused.”

Some players are going out of town, like Mincey, who will cut some music at his studio in his Jacksonville, Florida, home. Some will stay in the area, like tight end Jason Witten and Henry Melton. When he was with the Chicago Bears, Melton would come home. Now he is at home and “will definitely be low key,” he said.

At 7-3, the Cowboys are in position to make the playoffs for the first time since 2009.

“It will be good to get away for a couple of days,” Witten said. “But I’ll be here. You wait a long time for opportunities like this. I’ve got plenty of time in the offseason to enjoy vacation.”

Coach Jason Garrett said it is important for the coaches to get away. They will discuss the good and the bad of the first 10 games with a self-scouting report and then call it a weekend.

“Obviously, you’re always maybe be doing a little bit of work and having conversations about different things, but I do think it’s important to have shorter days for coaches this week and give them a chance to get away,” Garrett said. “Then, when we come back, we feel recharged a little bit and ready to go for the next challenge.”

So as much as they are away, they’re not completely away. Mincey said he plans to watch the Philadelphia Eagles, the NFC East leaders, and New York Giants, the Cowboys’ next opponents. If football players play football during football season, they also like watching football during football season, too.

It’s good to pull back a little bit,” Witten said. “I think, especially after last week -- just the schedule going over there [to London]. I think guys are excited to get away from it. We worked hard to get ourselves to get to the point where we’re at. We’ll get away, get rested and obviously it’s a big push.”
LONDON -- If the Cowboys’ pass rush can’t get to Jacksonville quarterback Blake Bortles, then you probably shouldn’t expect it to get to any other quarterback this season.

Jacksonville has yielded 35 sacks this season, most in the NFL and five more than any other team. The Jaguars have yielded a league-leading 15 sacks on first down and third down.

The Jaguars have allowed at least three sacks in six different games this season.

 The Cowboys had three sacks against Washington, their season-high, and Henry Melton has had 3.5 sacks in the past two games.

Of course, defensive coordiantor Rod Marinelli isn’t satisfied.

“He’s getting a little bit better, but he’s not there yet,” Marinelli said of Melton. “But he’s starting to improve. I want to see more. It’s still not good enough.”

Melton, who missed the final 13 games of last season with a torn ACL, was hampered by a groin strain in training camp and did not play in the preseason.

He’s getting a little healthier each week, and it’s showing in his pass rush. Marinelli said he might use Melton more on first down this week, but doesn’t want his snap count going past 30.

When DeMarcus Lawrence plays defensive end, the Cowboys might move Jeremy Mincey to defensive tackle in nickel situations to take advantage of his pass-rush skills.

Only four teams have fewer sacks than the 12 the Cowboys have accumulated this season. Other than Melton, no one on the Cowboys has more than one sack.

If the Cowboys can get a lead early, something they did often during their 6-1 start, then they have a chacne to make Jacksonville one dimensional.

That’s the best way to jump-start a pass rush.

Brandon Weeden answers the call

October, 28, 2014
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Since Jason Garrett took over as the main voice for the Dallas Cowboys offense in 2007, he has placed a premium on having a veteran backup quarterback.

 First it was with Brad Johnson. Then it was with Jon Kitna. From 2012-13, it was Kyle Orton.

Brandon Weeden is the exception to that rule, and the Cowboys have to feel better about their backup quarterback play today than they did before Monday’s loss to the Washington Redskins.

After Orton decided to skip the voluntary offseason program and mandatory mini-camp, the Cowboys decided to part ways with him before training camp, handing Tony Romo’s backup job to Weeden.

In his first action since Nov. 1, 2012 while with the Cleveland Browns, Weeden completed 4-of-6 passes for 69 yards and a 25-yard touchdown pass to Jason Witten in two series of work with Romo in the locker room because of a bruised back.

“Brandon did a good job coming in,” Witten said. “When you’re in those situations, you can’t blink. Obviously it’s not ideal, but you just trust the system and trust those guys that are coming in.”

With Romo sitting out Wednesday practices to continue to build strength in his surgically-repaired back, Weeden has taken the first-team snaps. He took all of the first-team snaps in the spring as well with Romo recovering from surgery, and he took first-team snaps every third day in training camp.

“Even though it’s a big run install day, it’s nice to get in the huddle, call out plays, get to the line of scrimmage and take snaps, make some throws,” Weeden said of his Wednesday work. “”It’s huge. I was telling [quarterbacks coach Wade Wilson] the other day, I don’t know if there’s a backup quarterback in the league [who] gets as many reps as I do. I need all the reps I can get. You compound that with all the smart minds, the smart quarterback minds we have around here, and I just kind of soak up all the info. I’ve learned more in however long I’ve been here than I learned in four years playing as a starter dating back to college.”

But there was some rust. Weeden wished he could have had his back-shoulder throw to Dez Bryant on the goal line back.

“That’s kind of a timing deal that takes a lot of reps,” Weeden said. “Tony and Dez have done it for years, so I just tried to watch and see how Tony throws it. Obviously, it wasn’t exactly like Tony threw it.”

But Weeden’s effort was a positive overall.

“The job of a backup quarterback is to be ready at any moment without a lot of reps during the week,” passing game coordinator Scott Linehan said, “so I was proud of him.”

Jason Witten not worried about his numbers

September, 19, 2014
IRVING, Texas -- Jason Witten received a game ball for Sunday’s win over the Tennessee Titans, along with the rest of the offensive line that paved the way for the Dallas Cowboys to pound away for 220 rushing yards.

 Witten has only six catches for 46 yards in two games, but the franchise’s all-time leading receiver isn’t sweating his individual statistics.

“Our focus is trying to create that identity of a running football team,” Witten said.

At some point, the 32-year-old Witten will slow down, but it’d be silly to point to his lack of personal production in the first two games as the sign of a steep decline. He had only eight catches in the first three weeks of the 2012 season -- and some uncharacteristic drops after missing a month of practice after a big hit by then-Oakland Raiders linebacker Rolando McClain lacerated his spleen in the preseason opener. He ended up setting the NFL record for receptions by a tight end with 110 that season.

Witten, whose 885 career receptions are the second most by a tight end in NFL history, is willing to sacrifice catches as part of the Cowboys’ newfound commitment to the run. He also recognizes defenses will pay less attention to the nine-time Pro Bowl tight end if DeMarco Murray continues to rack up rushing yards, and play-action, in particular, should lead to some big-play opportunities.

“I think for all of us our numbers will come and opportunities will come,” Witten said. “You have less opportunities because of the way you run the football. I think all of us are committed to that and understand it and do whatever we have to do to help out.”

DeMarco Murray among NFL's best backs?

September, 12, 2014
IRVING, Texas -- Adrian Peterson and LeSean McCoy carried on a long-distance argument this summer over their claims as the NFL’s best running back.

 DeMarco Murray’s name doesn’t come up in those conversations. And he doesn’t care about where people think he falls on the pecking order of running backs in the league.

“I don’t worry about that stuff,” Murray said. “I never have, never will. I know what I can do. I have a lot of confidence in myself and those are some great running backs, but I definitely think I can handle a little bit of everything. So it’s something I don’t really get caught up in too much.”

Murray, who was selected for his first Pro Bowl after last season, doesn’t have enough of a track record to be considered elite at this point. But, if the past eight games are an indication, the 26-year-old Murray could be in that class soon.

In that span, Murray has rushed for 780 yards and seven touchdowns on 144 carries.

McCoy and San Diego’s Ryan Mathews are the only backs with more rushing yards after the midway point of last season. Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch is the only back with more rushing touchdowns. Kansas City’s Jamaal Charles and the Jets’ Chris Ivory are the only ones with a higher yards-per-carries average and at least 90 attempts.

Murray, who has had durability issues, must prove he can stay healthy and produce at that level consistently. But he’s beginning to build a case that he’s among the league’s best backs.

Cowboys have to run on the road

September, 11, 2014
IRVING, Texas -- The San Francisco 49ers’ front seven might not have had 100 percent attendance in the season opener, but the Dallas Cowboys were able to run the ball against one of the better defenses in the NFL over the past few seasons.

Now they have to take that running game on the road Sunday against the Tennessee Titans.

“I think anytime you can run the ball on the road, it helps everything,” quarterback Tony Romo said. “Hopefully, we’re able to do that.”

By everything, Romo means everything.

 If DeMarco Murray can run the ball, then that should open up passing lanes for Romo. If Murray can run the ball, then that should slow down the Titans’ attacking defense because they will have to honor the run. If Murray can run the ball, then that should keep the Cowboys in many manageable third-down situations.

Center Travis Frederick has another reason.

“Because you’re always facing an extra opponent in the away crowd,” he said. “What you want to do is go out and kind of quiet it early on and set the tempo. I think the running game is a good way in even things out and really getting over that first swell of emotion. Once things calm down, things open up a little bit better.”

The Cowboys ran for 754 yards away from home in 2013 and 750 yards at home. They were much more willing to stick with the running game away from AT&T Stadium as well. In five of the eight road games, the Cowboys had at least 20 carries five times. They had only three such games at home.

The Cowboys closed last season with three straight games with at least 20 carries away from home and won two of those games.

Of Murray’s eight 100-yard games in his career, only two of them have come on the road. He had 131 yards on 20 carries in the 2012 season-opening win against the New York Giants. He had 148 yards on 18 carries in a Week 14 loss to the Chicago Bears last season. Murray had 118 yards on 22 carries against San Francisco, but he has not posted back-to-back 100-yard games since his rookie season.

Reaching the century mark against the Titans might be difficult. Kansas City Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles led the AFC in rushing in 2013 with 1,287 yards but was held to 19 yards on seven carries last week.

“They do a good job with a combination of things,” Frederick said. “They play multiple fronts. They’re going to give us different looks and a couple different pressures they want to use to stop the run. And they’ve got good personnel, a really good front seven that’s fast and going to flow to the ball quickly. It’s going to be a good challenge for us.”

Too many mistakes for $109M LT Smith

September, 9, 2014
IRVING, Texas -- This can’t be how Tyron Smith wanted to start after joining the NFL’s exclusive $100 million club.

 The Pro Bowl left tackle’s stat line from Sunday’s loss to the San Francisco 49ers: two sacks allowed, two penalties, no comment.

That’s not exactly a case of the Dallas Cowboys getting their money’s worth after giving Smith the biggest contract for an offensive lineman in NFL history, a deal worth about $109 million over the next 10 seasons.

In fairness to Smith, the first sack officially goes on his ledger but wasn’t his fault. Tony Romo, the $108 million quarterback, deserves the blame on that for foolishly opting not to hand the ball to DeMarco Murray on a packaged play on second-and-1 from the San Francisco 2 and not throwing the ball away when he saw the receiver double-covered.

A false start before the first snap of the season, a legitimate sack allowed and a personal foul for leg whipping still represent a disappointing performance for an elite left tackle, although head coach Jason Garrett gushed about Smith anyway.

“Tyron did some really good things in the game,” Garrett said. “He was a dominant blocker both in the run game and the pass game. He had a false start and he had a leg-whip penalty that we’re going to send into the league. I don’t think it was done intentionally by any means. So he had some of those negative plays. He gave up a sack. But for the most part, he did a really good job in this game.”

The standard should be higher for the highest-paid offensive lineman in NFL history.

Garrett: Don't force ball to Dez Bryant

September, 9, 2014
IRVING, Texas -- Common sense dictates that the Dallas Cowboys want to get Dez Bryant the ball a bunch.

 Common sense also dictates that Tony Romo shouldn’t throw Bryant the ball when he has two or three defenders all over him.

That happened twice Sunday. Romo was picked off both times.

“I think it’s pretty clear -- you don’t force the ball to people,” head coach Jason Garrett said. “Dez is a great player, but [Jason Witten is] a great player too, Terrance Williams, Cole Beasley, Devin Street, Dwayne Harris, all those guys are really, really good football players, who, if given an opportunity, are going to come through for us.

“Tony understands that. Tony’s typically struck a really nice balance about trying to give these guys a chance and understanding how to read things out and throwing the ball to the right guy. In each of those cases, he probably was too aggressive throwing to Dez, and those plays hurt us, obviously.”


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Romo targeted Bryant only four other times in the season-opening loss. The Pro Bowl receiver caught those four passes for 55 yards.

The 49ers clearly made containing Bryant one of the primary focuses of their defensive game plan. That’s not exactly a revolutionary concept.

Every team the Cowboys play will pay a ton of attention to Bryant. It’s on Romo and the Cowboys’ offensive coaching staff to figure out ways how to still get Bryant the ball without making ridiculously risky throws.

“It’s what happens every week in the NFL,” Garrett said. “Dez Bryant, if you look at his whole body of work throughout his career, he’s gotten doubled throughout most games every game he’s every play. The same thing with Jason Witten. These guys are really good players. Week in and week out they find ways, we’ve tried to find ways to give them opportunities.”

The Cowboys failed Sunday and paid heavily when Romo forced the issue.

If available, Dallas would call up Scandrick

September, 5, 2014
IRVING, Texas -- With the NFL and NFL Players Association working on a revamped drug policy that could be put in place quickly, the Dallas Cowboys could benefit with the potential earlier-than-expected return of cornerback Orlando Scandrick if the penalties are changed.

 Scandrick was suspended the first four games for violating the NFL’s performance-enhancing drug policy last month after testing positive for MDMA, according to sources. The drug was cut with an amphetamine, which moved Scandrick’s violation from the substance-abuse policy to the PED policy, requiring the four-game ban. He would not have been suspended under the substance-abuse policy.

If the drug policy is changed, the question is whether the sides would allow recently suspended players, like Scandrick and Denver Broncos wide receiver Wes Welker, to play immediately. When the league implemented a new domestic violence policy recently, the two-game suspension of Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice was not increased to six.

The Cowboys would activate Scandrick to the roster if he is allowed to play Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers. His suspension started after the final cuts, and he is scheduled to return Sept. 29. The Cowboys are not allowed to have contact with Scandrick, per league rules, but he said he would work out twice a day on his own with a personal trainer in Los Angeles.

Scandrick has missed four days of practice, but the Cowboys started their game planning for the Niners in training camp.

Owner and general manager Jerry Jones said on 105.3 The Fan in Dallas Friday the possibility of Scandrick returning was news to him.

“I’m not planning on it, let’s put it like that,” Jones said. “Just on first blush, just from what you just said, the quicker we can get him back, the better our team would be because he arguably did have certainly defensively, and in the secondary, a great training camp. I really admired the way that he really kept competing and kept preparing himself for the season even though he knew he was going to be out for the four games. No individual, no person would deserve it more if he could get back early.”

Cowboys won't sleep on 49ers defense

September, 4, 2014
IRVING, Texas -- Aldon Smith and NaVorro Bowman have instant name recognition with even casual NFL fans. They’ve been superstars on one of the NFL’s most dominant defenses the past few years.

Who the heck are Dan Skuta and Michael Wilhoite?

The short answer is that Skuta and Wilhoite are the guys expected to replace Smith (suspended) and Bowman (physically unable to perform list) in the San Francisco 49ers’ starting lineup for Sunday’s season opener at AT&T Stadium. But good luck finding anyone at Valley Ranch who will admit that the Dallas Cowboys find comfort in the drop-off from Pro Bowlers to backups.

“They’re good football players,” Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett said when asked what he knows about Skuta and Wilhoite. “Each of those guys you can tell loves to play football. They’re physical players, and they’ve stepped into those roles they’ve been asked to step into. It doesn’t seem like they’ve skipped a beat at all on defense.”

How could the San Francisco defense not skip a beat?

Smith, the talented but troubled outside linebacker who is suspended for the first nine games of the season, has a chance to be one of the premier pass rushers in NFL history. He has 42 sacks in 43 career games. Skuta, a five-year veteran, has a grand total of a half sack in his career.

Bowman, who is recovering from the serious knee injury he suffered in the NFC Championship Game, makes all kinds of plays. He’s racked up nine sacks, seven forced fumbles, five fumble recoveries and three interceptions while making the Pro Bowl the past three seasons. Wilhoite has zeroes across the board in each of those categories for his three-year career.

“Regardless of who is on the field for the 49ers, they are going to come to play,” receiver Dez Bryant said. “You can tell that they play with a mentality.”

It’s not as if San Francisco lacks talent on defense even with two Pro Bowlers watching from home. Garrett still says the 49ers might have the best front seven in the league.

Patrick Willis is as good as any inside linebacker in the league. Defensive end Justin Smith has made five straight Pro Bowls. Outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks played in the Pro Bowl last season.

Quarterback Tony Romo says the Cowboys might not have a better test all season, a statement he’ll surely revise before their trip to Seattle. The point is the Cowboys won’t be caught sleeping on a defense that has been dominant just because two of its best players won’t make the trip.

“Look, I got so much respect for them,” tight end Jason Witten said. “I mean obviously they got some really good players that are out, there’s no denying that, but they know what they are. They’re tough. They’re physical. They play downhill. They tackle well. They’re always in the right position, good technique.

“Just everything you want, they do it. Stop the run, they play good coverage. They get pressure on the quarterback. We’ve got to just match that intensity, and we know it’s going to be a tough physical game. We’ve got to take advantage of every opportunity that we have.”

Jerry: Tony Romo will be 'improved player'

September, 2, 2014
IRVING, Texas -- Jerry Jones doesn’t just expect Tony Romo to be the same quarterback he was before undergoing his second back surgery in the span of less than a year.

 Jones, the Dallas Cowboys’ owner and general manager, expects Romo to be better than before.

Jones has been consistent in insisting this summer that Romo was completely healthy, even as the Cowboys’ $108-million-man missed several practices throughout training camp, with the team attributing those absences to preventative maintenance. Jones firmly believes that a healthy Romo is primed for his best season at the age of 34 because of the blossoming relationship with new offensive play-caller Scott Linehan.

“I also think you’ll see an improved player relative to the experience and the time that he’s spent with his new coordinator,” Jones said Tuesday on 105.3 The Fan after being asked about Romo’s health. “This is a real successful matchup. I think these guys are going to be pretty effective with the way they work together.

“Tony basically said, ‘He’s thinking of it before I do,’ and that’s something because Tony has a lot of thoughts as he plays a ballgame. He stays out ahead of it pretty good, so we’re going to be pretty pleased with that combination.”

Jerry in denial? 'Defense is much improved'

August, 29, 2014
ARLINGTON, Texas -- In a half-joking manner, Jerry Jones declared this spring that the Dallas Cowboys’ defense would get better because it couldn’t be any worse.

When you rank dead last in the league in total defense, there’s only one way to go, he figured. Of course, it’s completely possible for the Cowboys to have the worst-ranked defense again and give up more yards than last season’s franchise record, but Jones would rather not view the situation that way.

“I think the defense is much improved, much improved,” Jones said after the preseason finale. “Awareness, the player we’re going to ask to do the job, I think we’re much improved from the team that was on the field the last four games when we ended the season. This is a better defense.”

Jones attempts to muster hope for a defense that lost arguably its three best players from last season with linebacker Sean Lee tearing up his knee, defensive tackle Jason Hatcher leaving in free agency and defensive end DeMarcus Ware being released. Plus, Orlando Scandrick will serve a four-game suspension to start the season after performing the best among the Cowboys cornerbacks last season.

The Cowboys certainly upgraded at defensive coordinator by demoting Monte Kiffin, who the game has clearly passed by and promoting Rod Marinelli. The Cowboys have recent evidence that Marinelli is a quality coordinator from his tenure with the Chicago Bears before coming to Dallas last year.

But Marinelli is no miracle worker. Just look at the Detroit Lions defensive rankings from his tenure as head coach: 28th, 32nd and 32nd in yards and 30th, 32nd and 32nd in scoring.

Marinelli needs playmakers to make his scheme work. Where are they on the Dallas defense?

The reality is this defense is in even worse shape than anticipated when training camp opened. They lost rookie defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence, who they desperately needed to develop as an edge pass-rushing threat, for several weeks due to a broken foot. Defensive tackles Henry Melton and Terrell McClain didn’t play a down in the preseason due to injuries, with Melton still working to chip off rust after missing the last 13 games last season with a torn ACL. Defensive end George Selvie is dealing wth soreness in his surgically repaired right shoulder. Cornerback Morris Claiborne sat out the entire preseason -- again -- and will need to take pain-killing injections to play with a sprained AC joint in his shoulder. Scandrick is suspended four games.

“We know our limitations,” Jones said. “We know our scheme better, and we got players [who] can execute. We’ve got better players, healthier players to execute the scheme.”

That's the hope for the Dallas defense. But it’s definitely not the reality as they get ready for the regular season.
MIAMI -- Brandon Carr, who missed the first two weeks of training camp dealing with the death of his mother, made his preseason debut against Miami.

It was an emotional experience.

 “I had my moment because it was my first time out there without her,” said Carr, “but I know she’s with me, and one of the things she taught me was how to handle adversity and continue to do my job.”

Carr made one tackle and Mike Wallace caught a short comeback route in front of him. Carr said he didn’t know if he would play Thursday against Denver.

The Cowboys need him to start the season strong because Orlando Scandrick has been suspended for the first four games for violating the league's performance-enhancing drug policy and Morris Claiborne has battled knee and shoulder injuries. Th Cowboys don't know if Claiborne will be ready to play against San Francisco, although they're hopeful

“It felt good to get out there and play at a game tempo, which is a lot faster than practice tempo,” Carr said. “The organization did a great job of letting me have the time I needed with my family and keeping my psyche right.

“But I told them once I came back and punched that clock, I would be ready to go.”

Jason Garrett: Cowboys are ready

August, 24, 2014
MIAMI -- The next time Tony Romo, Dez Bryant, DeMarco Murray, Jason Witten and most of the projected starters on defense are on the field will be in the Dallas Cowboys’ regular-season opener against the San Francisco 49ers on Sept. 7.

The Cowboys have not played their starters in the final preseason game since 2006, and there is no reason for Jason Garrett to risk his regulars Thursday against the Denver Broncos at AT&T Stadium.

Despite the 0-3 record, Garrett pronounced the Cowboys ready, but in part because they have no choice but to be ready.

“That’s the nature of it,” Garrett said. “Hopefully, you get better day after day, game after game. You have to improve over the course of the season. One of the things we always preach to our team is the players and teams that improve over the course of the season are the ones that are going to be there at the end. Are we ready? Are we playing at our optimum level right now? Absolutely not. In 31 other cities, if they’re honest, they’ll probably say the same thing. But after three preseason games this is where we are. We go back to work on Monday morning, keep trying to improve our football team and get ready for a great challenge against a team that has advanced to the NFC Championship the last three years.”

The Cowboys will have to reduce the roster to 75 by Tuesday and will have to get to the final 53-man roster by Saturday. There will be plenty of work to be done to fill in roster spots with trades, free-agent signings or waiver-wire pickups.

The Cowboys started some of their game-planning for the Niners while in Oxnard, California, but will kick it up a notch this week and leading into the opener.

“There’s some good things to build on and obviously some things to correct, and we’ll go back to work in practice to do that and get ready for that challenge against the Niners in Week 1,” Garrett said.