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Tuesday, October 16, 2012
5 Wonders: Cowboys' pass rush not helping secondary

By Todd Archer

IRVING, Texas – While I’m still wondering how the Cowboys can run one offensive play in the final 26 seconds of a game like they did Sunday at Baltimore, it’s time to move on to the weekly Five Wonders feature as Carolina awaits.

** I wondered at the time whether the Cowboys were making the smart move in improving their cornerback situation in the offseason instead of improving the pass rush. After five games, it seems pretty clear that in the long debate of whether a pass rush makes a secondary or vice versa, that the former is true. Five games into the season the Cowboys are waiting for their first interception by a defensive back. Last year, at least they had two in the first five games and those players, Terence Newman and Alan Ball, are gone. The defensive backs have only 13 pass deflections so far against 130 pass attempts. Blame the defensive backs if you want, but if a quarterback is not under duress, then he’s not going to throw a ball up for grabs.

** I wonder if those who thought Jason Witten had lost it with his poor start to the season are starting to feel a little bit queasy. In the last two games Witten has 19 catches for 200 yards on 21 targets from Tony Romo. He is on pace for 86 catches for 883 yards, which puts the first three games in which he dropped five passes into some different light. If he caught the passes against Seattle and Tampa Bay, especially those down the field, Witten would be on pace for more than 1,000 yards again. If Witten had lost it, then he would not have been as open as he was getting. It was simply a case of the drops. In the last two games, he has been nearly flawless. The lone time he and Romo did not hook up on a pass came on Lance Briggs’ interception return when Romo was hit as he attempted to flip the ball free. The only miss against Baltimore was on an overthrow on a waggle in which safety Ed Reed was lurking.

** Jason Garrett had a particularly strong comment about penalties on Monday and what he can do to rectify the issue. He finally mentioned playing time. “Certainly you have the option of saying, ‘OK, if you continue to get penalized like this you’re going to be out of the lineup or you’re going to be of the football team,” he said. Strong. But I wonder what action he can take. Yes, Doug Free had some penalties again, but do you want to see Jermey Parnell on a full-time basis? Parnell has played a handful of snaps this season in short-yardage situations and has a penalty and two missed assignments. Kevin Ogletree had some illegal shift troubles and his playing time might be in trouble going forward. But do you want to see more Dwayne Harris? If you’re asking me, I’m putting Cole Beasley on the field in the slot and keeping Miles Austin outside all the time.

** The Cowboys dodged a bullet of sorts with DeMarco Murray’s sprained foot. There was an initial fear that he had a Lisfranc injury that would have ended his season. He is not expected to play this week at Carolina and will be viewed as week to week after that. I wonder if the Cowboys look for a more experienced runner to help Felix Jones through however long this stretch is. The Cowboys signed Sammy Morris late last season after Murray was lost for the year and they were already without Phillip Tanner. On Sunday Tanner and Lance Dunbar did a nice job filling in when Jones needed to get an IV after Murray’s day ended. But there is a trickle-down effect on special teams because if Tanner has to run more, then they might have to cut back on his special teams’ snaps. Dunbar maybe as well. I don’t think they’ll go that route, but just something to think about.

**I wonder if we saw on Sunday a little bit of how the Cowboys would like to work their cornerbacks in the base defense. Morris Claiborne started and played the first two series. Mike Jenkins was in on the third series and I’d suspect he would have played the next series if he didn’t need to get his right shoulder examined. Injuries, I think wrecked the plan altogether. Claiborne twisted his knee on the Ravens’ last series of the first half and was called for a pass interference penalty that just defies logic. With Jenkins and Claiborne hurt to start the second half, Orlando Scandrick was in with the base defense. If Claiborne and Jenkins are healthy and the Cowboys are playing a team that does not use a lot of three wides, like Baltimore, I’m betting that rotation will return.