Dallas Cowboys: Aaron Rodgers

What QB tier is Tony Romo on?

July, 2, 2014
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IRVING, Texas -- When it comes to ranking quarterbacks, the debates can be endless and sometimes pointless, but Mike Sando took the question to people inside the NFL with his latest ESPN Insider piece. Insider

Romo
It might surprise some of you that Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo finished tied for eighth in the tier-rankings of 26 general managers, former GMs, pro personnel people, coordinators, head coaches, position coaches and an executive.

Four players tied for the top spot in Sando’s rankings, using a 1 for the best at the position and a 5 for the worst. Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees shared the top spot. Andrew Luck was fifth.

Romo checked in after Philip Rivers and Ben Roethlisberger and tied with Russell Wilson and Eli Manning in the second tier.

Here’s what Sando wrote and the insiders had to say about Romo:
T-8. Tony Romo, Dallas Cowboys (2.23 average rating)

A few evaluators questioned whether Romo had the mind-set to play at the highest level consistently. It's a familiar refrain in league circles, a feeling that Romo is an undisciplined QB playing for an undisciplined organization with a poorly constructed roster.

"People want to knock him," one GM responded, "but the guy has talent and is one of the top 10 starters in the league."

Romo is 34 years old and coming off back surgery, but he still could be in line for a "monster" season, one evaluator said. "But I absolutely believe they will not win big with him. As soon as he decides it's a clutch moment, his brain goes elsewhere. He loses focus and tries to create something."




What’s funny is that the GM and evaluator have the same thoughts of those who love Romo or loathe Romo who are not on the inside. Pete Prisco of CBS Sports went so far as to call Romo “underrated” in his yearly rankings, which drew the ire of some.

The “clutch” talk has been a big thing around Romo since the bobbled snap in 2006 against the Seattle Seahawks in the playoffs. That talk is always followed up with Romo having the best fourth-quarter passer rating in NFL history (102.4) and his 20 come-from-behind wins.

Those numbers aren’t hollow, although with one playoff win to his credit that’s what his detractors will say.

That’s why this debate is a good one. Both sides can declare victory with their points. If Romo were to ever win a Super Bowl -- or perhaps just get to one -- then the perception would change entirely.

Where does Tony Romo rank all time?

June, 11, 2014
Jun 11
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IRVING, Texas -- The NFL offseasons are built for rankings, top-10 lists, five-best signings, five-worst signings.

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Which quarterback would you rather have?

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Discuss (Total votes: 13,140)

Chase Stuart at footballperspective.com has ranked NFL quarterbacks in history a few times and his recent ranking has Tony Romo ranked fairly high all time and among current quarterbacks.

You can read about the methodology used in the rankings here and see the entire list here.

Romo is ranked No. 23 all time. Roger Staubach checked in at No. 14. Where is Troy Aikman? He came in at No. 38. The last time these rankings were put together Staubach was No. 15, Romo No. 30 and Aikman No. 42.

Among the active quarterbacks, Romo is behind Peyton Manning (No. 1), Tom Brady (No. 2), Drew Brees (No. 7), Aaron Rodgers (No. 16) and Philip Rivers (No. 21). The next active quarterback after Romo is Ben Roethlisberger (No. 32), and he’s won two Super Bowls.

It’s an interesting look and offers up debates that make the “greatest quarterback of all time” debate so lively.

Cowboys stay Romo friendly with pick

May, 8, 2014
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IRVING, Texas -- It seems as if Jerry Jones is remembering he was an offensive lineman on a national championship team at Arkansas.

For the third time in the past four years the Cowboys selected an offensive lineman with their first pick by taking Zack Martin with the 16th pick. In 2011, they took Tyron Smith with the ninth pick. In 2013 they took Travis Frederick with the 31st pick.

The Cowboys had gone from 1982 to 2010 without taking an offensive lineman in the first round. Now they love picking linemen.

The pick helps Tony Romo and it also helps the Cowboys for whenever they decide to find Romo's successor.

[+] EnlargeTony Romo
AP Photo/Tony GutierrezThe Cowboys drafted an offensive lineman in the first round for the third time in the past four years in the hopes that they can better protect Tony Romo.
At 34 and coming off two back surgeries, Romo will have to be protected perhaps more than he has ever been protected. Some of Romo's finest moments have come when he has broken free from an onrushing defender with a spin move and bought time outside the pocket. It's what made Romo, Romo.

With three first-round picks along the offensive line, the Cowboys have fortified Romo's protection. Romo was sacked 35 times last year. In four of his past five full seasons he has been sacked at least 34 times. Not all sacks are created equal, and part of Romo's decline in interceptions in 2013 was due to the fact that he took more sacks.

Aaron Rodgers has done that with the Green Bay Packers, but he's not 34 and coming off two back surgeries.

The Cowboys can play Martin at guard or tackle in 2014 and possibly move him to tackle in 2015 if Doug Free is not re-signed. It is possible Free could move to guard as well. He took some snaps there last summer but had a bounce-back year at right tackle in 2013.

While the Cowboys are committed to Romo, he cannot play forever. Whenever they move on, they will have an offensive line that will allow the young quarterback to learn behind a veteran offensive line.

Smith had his first of what should be many Pro Bowl seasons in 2013. He is considered the best young tackle in football and could sign a long-term deal with the Cowboys as early as this offseason. Frederick started every game as a rookie in 2013 and is signed through 2016 with an option for 2017. Now the Cowboys have Martin.

Breaking in a young quarterback is always difficult. If Martin can play the way Smith and Frederick have played, the Cowboys will ease that transition.

And if you think about it, this move can help the defense, too. If Martin plays well, the running game improves. If the running game improves, the offense improves. If the offense improves, the defense, which was ranked last in 2013, is on the field less in 2014.

Blame falls on Jones -- not the system

February, 26, 2014
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Chip KellyTommy Gilligan/USA TODAY Sports
PHILADELPHIA -- The best news from the NFL combine, at least as far as the Philadelphia Eagles are concerned, might have come from the mouth of Jerry Jones.

The owner/general manager of the Dallas Cowboys told reporters that NFL realities make it impossible for his franchise to make a major change in direction.

“You can't do what I did in 1989 because of the contracts and cap," Jones said Monday, according to ESPN.com’s Todd Archer. "The system automatically creates about a third turnover, but it also creates contractually for clubs a situation where you cannot just strip it. You couldn't even field a team with the hits against your cap by canceling the contracts."

If the chief decision-maker of their chief division rival feels constrained by the NFL system, that is very good news for the Eagles. Good because it means the Cowboys are more likely to remain trapped in a cycle of 8-8 finishes. News because the Eagles themselves just demonstrated that it is not only possible to tear things up and start over, but it is easier in the NFL than in any other major American sports league.

The Eagles went 4-12 in 2012 with Andy Reid as their head coach. It was Reid's 14th season, making the Eagles one of the most stable franchises in sports. While it was admittedly difficult for owner Jeffrey Lurie to pull the plug on Reid's tenure after working so closely together for so long, Lurie did just that.

Lurie hired Chip Kelly out of the University of Oregon. The Eagles went 10-6 in 2013, defeating the Cowboys in Week 17 to win the NFC East title.

If that isn't a quick turnaround, what is?

Across the parking lot from Lincoln Financial Field sits the Wells Fargo Center, where the Philadelphia 76ers are trying to turn their franchise around. The NBA's system -- fully guaranteed contracts and intricate trade rules that make salary dumping impossible -- all but forces teams to tank in order to have a shot at a superstar-caliber player.

The 76ers traded away most of the recognizable names from their already threadbare roster at the deadline. They were rewarded with a 20-point loss Monday night to the Milwaukee Bucks, the team with the worst record in the NBA.

A long 3-point basket away from the arena is Citizens Bank Park, where the Philadelphia Phillies reside. The 2008 World Series champions have spent massive amounts of payroll money to try to win another title while their core of Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley remains intact. But age, injuries and (again) those fully guaranteed contracts have the Phillies trapped in a cycle of ever diminishing returns.

Baseball and basketball present enormous challenges for a team trying to turn itself around quickly. The NFL? Sorry, Jerry, that excuse just doesn't fly.

It may have been easier when Jones bought the franchise 25 years ago, hired Jimmy Johnson and started amassing the talent that won three Super Bowls in four seasons. Things did change with the introduction of free agency and a salary cap, but that was 22 years ago. There has been time to adjust.

Since the Cowboys' last title in 1996, the Green Bay Packers have built two separate Super Bowl-winning programs -- one with Mike Holmgren and Brett Favre, one with Mike McCarthy and Aaron Rodgers. So have the Baltimore Ravens, who won it all in 2000 with Brian Billick and Trent Dilfer and in 2012 with John Harbaugh and Joe Flacco.

The New York Giants won a Super Bowl in 2007. When they won another four years later, there were only 14 players left from the 2007 team. New England, the team the Giants beat both times, had only seven players on the roster for both games.

Seattle just won the Super Bowl with a team that had exactly four players who were on the roster before 2010.

You get the point. It is very possible in the NFL to change cultures, turn over rosters and flip a losing franchise into a winner in a short period of time. It takes two things: the ability to recognize change is needed and smart decisions when making it.

The New Orleans Saints established themselves as one of the league’s elite teams and won a Super Bowl. The key was hiring Sean Payton, a coach who had spent the three previous seasons working as an assistant for Jones.

The Eagles have had three major reboots with Lurie as their owner. They hired Ray Rhodes in 1995 and cut their losses after a 3-13 season in 1998. Lurie hired the virtually unknown Reid in 1999. While Reid did not produce a championship, he was coach and eventually chief personnel man for a six-year stretch in which the Eagles were the class of the NFC East.

Lurie stuck with Reid a year or three too long, out of some combination of loyalty and finger-crossed hope things would improve. When he finally did make a change, Lurie admitted it was the toughest decision of his tenure as owner. Clearly, there was no guarantee he was going to find as good a coach as the one he fired.

For Jones, such a wrenching decision is even harder because the man whose work he's judging is one Jerry Jones. A clear-eyed owner wouldn't accept a GM's rationale that the team is stuck in mediocrity because of bad cap management, ill-advised contracts and misplaced loyalty.

It was hard for Lurie to reach that point with his friend Reid. Evidently, it's even harder to get there when the guy making excuses is yourself.

Where do Staubach, Aikman rank on QB list?

February, 5, 2014
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IRVING, Texas – Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel is one of the finest football writers around, and before Super Bowl XLVIII he ranked the top 25 quarterbacks he has seen play.

Roger Staubach and Troy Aikman made the list. So did one-time Cowboy Randall Cunningham.

Joe Montana was at the top of McGinn’s list and it’s hard to argue that spot. The rest of the top five was Johnny Unitas, Tom Brady, Dan Marino and Peyton Manning.

McGinn did not have any set criteria. He called some of it just a “gut feeling.” He is not afraid to make some decisions others might think are off, like having Ken Anderson check in at No. 14 and Donovan McNabb come in at No. 21.

Brady and Manning were two of the four active quarterbacks on his list. Aaron Rodgers was not on his list, but Ben Roethlisberger (No. 18) and Drew Brees (No. 25) were.

As for Staubach and Aikman, they were ranked Nos. 10 and 19. Staubach was one spot behind Dan Fouts. Aikman not only checked in after Roethlisberger, but also Kurt Warner. He ranked one spot ahead of Steve McNair.

Thoughts?

NFLN Survey/Super Bowl QB: Cowboys

January, 29, 2014
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The answers came quickly and were the same two quarterbacks the 10 Dallas Cowboys anonymously quizzed and answered for ESPN’s NFL Nation survey regarding which quarterback they would want with the Super Bowl on the line.

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady got seven votes. Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning received three. In the overall vote, Brady, with his three Super Bowl titles, was the winner (128 votes) and Manning, with one title and the chance for a second Sunday, was second (86 votes).

Fourteen quarterbacks received votes in the survey, but Tony Romo was not one of them.

Until Romo delivers the Cowboys deep into the playoffs or maybe even to a Super Bowl, he will have to live with the perception that he can’t get it done when it matters most, even if the fourth-quarter numbers say otherwise.

Once that happens, then Romo would receive votes the way Super Bowl winners Aaron Rodgers (32), Drew Brees (21), Ben Roethlisberger (20), Eli Manning (nine) and Joe Flacco (one) did.
Romo remains the NFL’s highest rated quarterback in the fourth quarter (102.4) with 66 touchdown passes and 26 interceptions. He has 20 come-from-behind victories in the fourth quarter or overtime in his career. He had five in 2012 and two last season.

With a herniated disk causing pain down his leg, Romo beat the Washington Redskins with a last-minute touchdown pass to DeMarco Murray as the Cowboys overcame a nine-point fourth-quarter deficit to win.

He would have surgery less than a week later and miss the season finale against the Philadelphia Eagles.

Welcome to AT&T Stadium

December, 15, 2013
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ARLINGTON, Texas -- Welcome to AT&T Stadium where the Dallas Cowboys hope to keep their playoff destiny in their hands with a win against the Green Bay Packers.

At 7-6, the Cowboys trail the Philadelphia Eagles by a game in the standings, and a loss would mean the Cowboys would need the Eagles to lose in Week 16 to even make the Dec. 29 regular-season finale mean something.

Before the Cowboys can win three in a row, they must win one in a row.

Better at home: It took some time but the Cowboys might have figured out how to make AT&T Stadium something of a home-field advantage.

The Cowboys are 5-1 at home and the only loss was to then-undefeated Denver, 51-48, in October. But it’s not like the Cowboys have been dominant in their last two home wins. They needed a 90-yard drive in the final minute to beat the Minnesota Vikings and overcame a sluggish start to beat the Oakland Raiders on Thanksgiving.

The Cowboys are averaging 34 points per game at home and the defense, which has been bad, is a field goal better at home than on the road. The Cowboys have also had 15 of their 25 takeaways at home.

Overall the Cowboys are 21-16 in the regular season at AT&T Stadium.

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Will the Cowboys make the playoffs?

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Another backup: The Cowboys will face a backup quarterback for the third straight week with Matt Flynn starting for Aaron Rodgers. That’s the good news.

The bad news is the last backup quarterback they saw, Chicago’s Josh McCown, tore them up in the Bears’ 45-28 victory. McCown threw for 348 yards and four touchdowns and had a 141.9 passer rating. He also ran for a score.

Flynn threw for 258 yards on 24-of-32 passing with a touchdown and interception in the Packers’ 22-21 win against the Atlanta Falcons.

Time to get going: With the defense almost in a complete disrepair, the Cowboys’ offense will have to carry the day.

But can it?

The running game has improved greatly. DeMarco Murray is averaging 96 yards a game on the ground in the past four games.

The passing game has been ineffective. Tony Romo has not thrown for more than 234 yards in his past four games. Dez Bryant is coming off a two-catch, 12-yard game. Jason Witten has 10 catches in his last four games. Miles Austin has four catches in his three games since returning from a hamstring injury.

The Packers are allowing 369.4 yards and 25.1 points per game.

Power Rankings: No. 15 Dallas Cowboys

December, 10, 2013
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A weekly examination of the Cowboys' ESPN.com Power Ranking:

Preseason: 20 | Last Week: 11 | ESPN.com Power Ranking since 2002

The Dallas Cowboys tumbled in the ESPN.com Power Rankings to No. 15 after their embarrassing 45-28 loss to the Chicago Bears on ESPN’s "Monday Night Football."

It is a wonder they did not slip further. And their main competition in the NFC East, the Philadelphia Eagles, climbed into the top 10 at No. 9 thanks to their fifth straight win. At this point, you have to wonder whether the Week 17 finale against the Eagles at AT&T Stadium will be for anything more than pride.

A week ago, Mike Sando and Kevin Seifert were the biggest believers in the Cowboys, moving them up to No. 9. This week they have them at No. 16 and Jamison Hensley gave the Cowboys the lowest grade, dropping them to No. 17.

The defense continues to be a mess and might not have Sean Lee or Bruce Carter this week. The offense has to play near perfectly to have a chance, and it has been close to perfect just once this year against the Denver Broncos.

If there is a good note for the Cowboys, it is that the No. 18 Green Bay Packers visit AT&T Stadium this week.

Wait, Aaron Rodgers might play? Never mind.

Rapid Reaction: Dallas Cowboys

December, 9, 2013
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CHICAGO - A few thoughts on the Dallas Cowboys' 45-28 loss to the Chicago Bears on Monday.

What it means for the Cowboys: With this embarrassment, the Cowboys now find themselves chasing the Philadelphia Eagles, and they need to win intervening games versus Green Bay and at Washington to make sure the Week 17 meeting at AT&T Stadium is for the NFC East title.

If they can, they will be in their third straight de facto NFC East title game to close the season. If they can't, owner and general manager Jerry Jones will have to reassess his statement that Jason Garrett will be the coach in 2014.

It's December, so the Cowboys struggle because that's what they do. Tony Romo has taken the brunt of the criticism for that record, but Monday's loss falls squarely on the defense. Josh McCown threw for four touchdowns and ran for another score. Wide receivers Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall did whatever they wanted against whomever they wanted. Matt Forte ran for more than 100 yards.

If there was ever a sign that Monte Kiffin should be out as coordinator after this season, it was this game. It's one thing to get lit up by Peyton Manning and Drew Brees. It's quite another to have it happen against a backup quarterback, even if McCown had been playing well in Jay Cutler's absence.

Stock watch: DeMarcus Ware, falling. Last week, Ware said the strength had finally returned to the quadriceps that kept him out for three games. But he was invisible versus the Bears before he was gifted a sack in the fourth quarter. Ware has two sacks since his return but is likely to see his streak of having at least 10 sacks in a season end at seven.

There's no defense in Dallas: Blame the injuries all you want, but Rob Ryan at least had an injury-riddled defense competitive last year. Kiffin has had to deal with injuries, but he had zero answers for the Bears.

The Cowboys allowed 24 points in Monday's first half. Only New Orleans and Denver had more against the Cowboys in an opening half (28 each). The Cowboys allowed 32 first downs. Only New Orleans (an NFL-record 40) and Denver (34) had more. The Cowboys allowed 498 yards. Only San Diego (506), Denver (517), Detroit (623) and New Orleans (625) had more. It's the fourth time a quarterback has had four touchdown passes against the Cowboys.

In the first half, the Bears had 12 plays of at least 10 yards. They scored quickly (a 37-second drive) and they ate up clock (90 yards, 8:10).

They did whatever they wanted to do.

Hurt again: Sean Lee made his return to the lineup after a two-game absence because of a hamstring injury but he could not finish the game after suffering a neck injury with 12:33 left in the third quarter.

Lee returned briefly for five plays before he went to the locker room for the rest of the game. Lee has yet to play a full season in his career because of injuries. He is the best playmaker on the defense, but even with him the defense has not been close to adequate. Imagine how bad things would be if Lee missed even more playing time?

The Cowboys might be about to find out.

Hey, a running game: Let's get about the only positive the Cowboys had from Monday's game: They ran the ball well. DeMarco Murray ran for 145 yards on 18 carries. He now has 842 on the year and has a shot at reaching 1,000 for the season.

But why be positive on a night like this?

What's next: The Cowboys return to AT&T Stadium on Sunday to face the Green Bay Packers. The biggest question is whether Aaron Rodgers will make his return from a collarbone injury. If he does, the task is much more difficult. The Cowboys are 5-1 at AT&T Stadium this season, but the Packers have some good memories there as well, having won Super Bowl XLV there.

Five Wonders: Tagging Jason Hatcher?

December, 3, 2013
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IRVING, Texas -- The Cowboys have had some time to wonder some things after their win on Thanksgiving against the Oakland Raiders.

Every Tuesday as always wonder about some things. Five Wonders is back and off we go:
  • Jason Hatcher is having a career year and it could not have come at a better time. Hatcher will be a free agent after the season and already has more sacks this year than he has had in any season. And he could make the Pro Bowl, which is something he mentions frequently. But Hatcher will turn 32 next July. I'm on record saying the Cowboys can't pay age. But I wonder if the Cowboys would consider using the franchise tag on him. It would chew up $9-10 million in salary-cap room, but they would buy some time in finding defensive line help for beyond 2014. The Cowboys will have to make a number of moves to get under the cap, but they would be able to fit Hatcher in at the franchise number. Is it worth it? The Cowboys put the tag on Anthony Spencer last year, paying him $10.6 million. I thought it was the right move at the time and did not second guess it after Spencer's knee injury cost him all but one game this season. I'm not as sure about tagging Hatcher. They might have to restructure more deals than they would want and that would also affect the cap in 2015 and beyond. And last year the defensive line market was thin, even for the top players.
  • I wonder if the Cowboys will have a decision to make on backup quarterback Kyle Orton in the offseason. He will make $3.25 million in 2014 and count $4.377 against the salary cap. The Cowboys will have to do a lot of maneuvering to get under the cap in the offseason and could just restructure Orton's contract in the same way they did last March. The Cowboys have yet to start the clock on finding Tony Romo's replacement, which is another reason to keep Orton around. But the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers also offer up valid reasons to keep Orton even if he does not throw a pass this year. The Packers season has gone to shreds without Aaron Rodgers. They have not won since losing Rodgers, turning first to Seneca Wallace, who got hurt, then to Scott Tolzien and now they're on Matt Flynn. The Bears are 2-3 without Jay Cutler, though it is difficult to put much of the blame on Josh McCown. He's done a nice job and been a stabilizing force, but the Bears appeared to learn their lesson when they lost Cutler in previous seasons. Romo turns 34 in April. He's battled injuries in the past and had back surgery last April. Keeping Orton makes sense and something I think the Cowboys do. It's an insurance policy worth keeping.
  • I wonder if the Cowboys had Laurent Robinson in the back of their mind when they have signed some of these defensive linemen this season. Confused? Hear me out. In 2011, Robinson had a career year with 54 catches for 858 yards and 11 touchdowns, but because the Cowboys signed him to a minimum salary-benefit contract they were unable to re-sign him before he hit free agency. Jacksonville swooped in with a five-year, $32.5 million deal with $14 million guaranteed. It was way too rich for the Cowboys -- and ultimately the Jaguars -- but without the restriction Robinson would have re-signed with the Cowboys at a much cheaper rate. That brings me to the defensive linemen. When the Cowboys signed George Selvie, Everette Brown, Jarius Wynn, Drake Nevis and Martez Wilson, they made sure they got a second year on the contracts. They are all signed through 2014, so if they hit -- and Selvie is a hit -- the Cowboys hold their rights for a second year. That's a shrewd move, in my opinion.
  • I wonder if DeMarco Murray can reach 1,000 yards. Yep, I do. Murray missed two games with a knee injury and essentially missed a third when he got just four carries for 31 yards against the Minnesota Vikings when the game plan called for Tony Romo to pass the ball early and often. But with four games to go Murray needs 303 yards to reach 1,000. In his last three games Murray has rushed for 89, 86 and 63 yards. If he keeps up that pace, he would get there. Reaching 1,000 yards should not be that difficult, but the Cowboys sure seem to make it difficult after years of Tony Dorsett and Emmitt Smith almost annually reaching the mark. The last Dallas runner to go for more than 1,000 yards was Julius Jones (1,084) in 2006 and that's the Cowboys only 1,000-yard rusher since 2001.
  • I don't wonder if the Cowboys will rue the day they lost Alex Tanney, just as I don't think the Cowboys have rued the day since losing Matt Moore oh so many years ago. (Long-time readers will know how I feel about Moore). The Cleveland Browns signed Tanney off the Cowboys' practice squad last week. I liked what Tanney did in a short time with the Cowboys over the summer. He showed some things in his preseason work, but there will be a new Tanney next summer. Or even next week. I wonder if the Cowboys add a quarterback to the practice squad over the final month of the season. They could use the last four weeks to bring a guy in for a free look and essentially give him a “signing bonus” for four weeks of being on the practice squad and sign him to a futures deal when the season ends.

Upon Further Review: Cowboys Week 13

November, 29, 2013
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ARLINGTON, Texas -- A review of four hot issues from the Dallas Cowboys' 31-24 win against the Oakland Raiders at AT&T Stadium.

Where's the pressure?: For just the second time this season, the Cowboys did not record a quarterback sack. The only other time it happened came against Denver Broncos signal-caller Peyton Manning. Matt McGloin isn't Manning, but he was getting rid of the ball quickly, and that made it difficult for DeMarcus Ware or Jason Hatcher to get to him. With Jay Cutler (possibly), Aaron Rodgers (possibly), Robert Griffin III and Nick Foles left on the schedule, the Cowboys have to hope this is not the start of a trend.

Harris
Missing Dwayne Harris: Things started poorly when Terrance Williams fumbled the opening kickoff and Oakland returned it for a touchdown. The punt return game was only OK with Cole Beasley handling the job. Harris, who did not play because of a hamstring strain, is among the best returners in the NFL and has had a knack for big returns at big times. Beasley has the quickness necessary, but he does not possess Harris' strength to break through tackles. Williams has the speed, but he did not show Harris' vision on kick returns. The Cowboys also missed Harris' coverage skills as a gunner.

Good coaching: DeMarco Murray is the Cowboys' lead runner. That should not be in doubt, but offensive coordinator Bill Callahan should be credited for sticking with Lance Dunbar in the third quarter. The Cowboys found something that was working and kept hitting it. With the field spread with the Cowboys using three wide receivers, Dunbar's quickness kept the Raiders off guard. Dunbar's longest run -- a 45-yarder -- came out of 11 personnel. If Dunbar can stay healthy, he will give the Cowboys a good change-of-pace back down the stretch to complement Murray.

Protect the ball: Dez Bryant could not blame his second-quarter fumble on cold weather like he did his fumble last week against the New York Giants. The Cowboys have had conversations with Bryant about being more willing to go down instead of fighting for extra yards, because he has not always secured the ball. That wasn't the case Thursday, but Bryant has to be careful, and the Cowboys have to be careful it doesn't take some of his aggression away. Facing second-and-15 in the fourth quarter, Bryant fought off three tacklers and gained 14 yards to make a third-down conversion much easier.

Five Wonders: A wild-card possibility?

November, 26, 2013
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IRVING, Texas -- It's a short week for the Dallas Cowboys with the Oakland Raiders visiting on Thanksgiving, but we're not shortening Five Wonders.

It's still five and we're still wondering.

On to the Wonders:
  • The easiest way for the Cowboys to make the playoffs is to win the NFC East. With their 4-0 division record, the Cowboys appear to be in control there. But I wonder if they could sneak into a wild-card spot depending on how things play out. The Carolina Panthers (8-3) and San Francisco 49ers (7-4) hold the wild-card spots right now. The Panthers have two games left with the New Orleans Saints, whom they trail by a game in the NFC South race. San Francisco has an easier schedule the rest of the way and maybe Monday's win is a sign of things to come, but it is scuffling more than people expected. The Arizona Cardinals (7-4) play two teams with losing records the rest of the way and still have the Seattle Seahawks and 49ers. The Cowboys have head-to-head matchups against the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers in December that could aid their wild-card possibilities should the Philadelphia Eagles remain hot. Of course, it all could come down to Dec. 29 at AT&T Stadium against the Eagles for a third straight win-or-go-home game.
  • Because the Cowboys did not employ a dime defense at the start of the season, they felt they were safe in carrying only four cornerbacks -- Brandon Carr, Morris Claiborne, Orlando Scandrick and B.W. Webb -- on the 53-man roster. They kept Micah Pellerin on the practice squad as insurance and needed Pellerin for a game. Now I wonder if keeping only four is catching up to them. Pellerin was cut last week and claimed by the Tennessee Titans, which forced the Cowboys to sign Sterling Moore on Monday now that Claiborne is out with a hamstring injury. Webb is OK in small doses, but it sure seems as if quarterbacks know when he is in the game, doesn't it? The Cowboys viewed Moore mostly as a slot player and did not believe he was worth keeping over Webb, a fourth-round pick. Until Claiborne got hurt, they were right, but the Cowboys now find themselves hoping Moore is in good shape and can pick up the defense quickly after nearly three months out of the game. Claiborne could be looking at a two-game absence again, if not three depending on the severity of his new hamstring injury.
  • I wonder if we'll see more Gavin Escobar and Lance Dunbar down the stretch. Jerry Jones made it a point of emphasis during the bye week that he wanted to see Dunbar get some snap. Dunbar had eight against the Giants and had 20 yards on three carries. His 18-yard run was the longest by a Dallas runner this season not named DeMarco Murray. He offers up a change of pace for this offense. He also caught two passes for 26 yards. So of the eight snaps, he delivered 46 yards, which is not a bad ratio. Escobar played in 12 snaps as the Cowboys used their “13 personnel” more and also had him split some of the No. 2 tight end work with James Hanna. Escobar also had his first catch since Oct. 6. He needs time to develop but he can be a decent outlet in the passing game because of his ability to make plays on the ball.
  • Sean Lee has plenty of incentive to get back on the field. First and foremost in his mind is to help the Cowboys win games. Lee is the best defender the Cowboys have, but he has missed all but one snap in the last seven quarters with a hamstring injury. He would like to play Thursday against the Oakland Raiders, but given the short week of preparation and the need for him to be healthy for the rest of the season, the Cowboys will most likely play it conservative. There is also a financial incentive. I wonder if Lee hits on the 80 percent play-time escalator in his contract that would boost his 2015 base salary from $2.5 million to $4 million. If Lee plays in 80 percent of the snaps this season or next, he would get the extra $1.5 million. Before getting hurt, Lee played in at least 97 percent of the snaps in eight of the Cowboys' first nine games. He played in 78 percent of the snaps in the blowout win against the St. Louis Rams and just 15 snaps against New Orleans before getting hurt. He has missed 127 snaps in the past two games. If he doesn't play against the Raiders, that could be another 60 snaps. The Cowboys are on pace for 1,123 defensive snaps this season and Lee would have to play in 898 snaps to reach 80 percent. I believe he gets it but he can't have any setbacks.
  • I wonder if Tony Romo makes the Pro Bowl. The voting rules have changed. It is no longer the top three quarterbacks per conference. It is six for the league. It's safe to think Peyton Manning and Drew Brees will get in. Tom Brady might not be having the typical Tom Brady season but he's still Tom Brady, so he should get voted in as well. Aaron Rodgers will miss his fourth straight game on Thursday with a broken collarbone, so he's not a lock. Seattle's Russell Wilson has the NFL's best record and good numbers. So where does Romo start to fit in? He's fourth in touchdown passes with 23. He is seventh in passer rating. He has cut back on his interceptions. He has directed two final-minute drives to lead the Cowboys to their last two wins. Who else could be in the mix? San Diego's Philip Rivers will be in there. Philadelphia's Nick Foles has 16 touchdowns and no interceptions. He could be there too. Remember, the two quarterbacks from the Super Bowl teams won't play in the game, so that adds to the pool. If Romo does not make it, you'd have to wonder if there is a Cowboys' bias. I kid. I kid.

Jason Garrett not surprised by Giants turnaround

November, 19, 2013
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IRVING, Texas – After a 0-6 start to the season, the New York Giants find themselves back in playoff contention thanks to four straight wins.

Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett is not surprised at the turnaround.

“They’re a good football team,” Garrett said. “They’ve been a good football team for a long time, they’ve got a lot of good players. They’re doing what winning teams do, and I don’t think that’s anything of a surprise or a revelation at all. When you play winning football and you have talented players on your team and you’re well coached, typically you’re going to win more than you don’t.”

Eli Manning has played better. In the first six games he was intercepted 15 times, including three against the Cowboys. In the last four games he has been intercepted just twice. They have allowed just 47 points in their last four games with linebacker Jon Beason playing like he did in his time with the Carolina Panthers and defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul playing more like he did two years ago.

The competition as certainly helped as well. The Giants played the Minnesota Vikings with Josh Freeman at quarterback. Matt Barkley started for the Philadelphia Eagles. The Oakland Raiders are, well, the Raiders though they have improved some. Last week the Giants got the Green Bay Packers without Aaron Rodgers.

Still, the Giants are hot and the Cowboys aren’t.

“I think it’s really important to focus on what the task is every week,” Garrett said. “You play these games one game at a time. Certainly when you’re feeling good about yourself, that’s a positive thing. But the best teams, the best players are the ones that take each situation independently of the other one and do it to the best of their ability. That’s why you play one game at a time in this league. Anything you did last week really doesn’t have that much of an impact in what you’re doing this week. It’s a clean slate. It happens within ballgames play after play after play. The teams and players who are able to do that, who are mentally strong enough to do that, put the last one behind them and focus on this one, are the ones that typically do the best.”

Cowboys return to work, know where stand

November, 18, 2013
11/18/13
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IRVING, Texas – Jason Garrett isn't one for "global views," in the middle of the season, but with the Dallas Cowboys returning to work today after their bye week it's quite clear where they stand with six games to play.

For the first time this season the Cowboys are not in first place in the NFC East.

The Philadelphia Eagles (6-5) have a half-game lead on the Cowboys with their win against the Washington Redskins on Sunday. If there is a bright spot in falling out of the top spot it is that the Redskins are that much closer to elimination in the division at 3-7.

The Cowboys will face a rejuvenated New York Giants next week after their fourth straight win, a 27-13 decision over the Green Bay Packers. Luck does not appear to be on the Cowboys' side with the Packers having to play third-string quarterback Scott Tolzien against the Eagles and Giants because of an injury to Aaron Rodgers. The Cowboys play Green Bay on Dec. 15 and Rodgers is expected to be back.

By the time the Cowboys walk out of MetLife Stadium, they could be tied with the Giants with five games to play should they lose and in free-fall mode. But for all of the talk about the Giants' dominance at AT&T Stadium before the Cowboys' season-opening win this year, the Cowboys have won two of their three games at MetLife Stadium.

If not for a 90-yard drive in the final minute against the Minnesota Vikings on Nov. 3, the Cowboys would be on a three-game losing streak.

The losses to the Detroit Lions and Denver Broncos eliminated the Cowboys' margin for error. They face a must-win situation on Sunday and possibly must-wins for the rest of the season.

But let's be honest, doesn't it seem like the Cowboys will be playing for the NFC East title in Week 17 for the third straight year when the Eagles visit AT&T Stadium on Dec. 29?

They lost at New York in 2011, and at Washington in 2012. At least this game would be at home.

The Cowboys' rooting interests

November, 16, 2013
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IRVING, Texas – By Sunday afternoon, the Dallas Cowboys could be out of first place in the NFC East for the first time this season. By Sunday night they might be only one game out of third place.

The Cowboys have a rooting interest in what happens this weekend as they rest up on their bye weekend for their final six-game push.

If the Philadelphia Eagles beat the Washington Redskins, the Cowboys will be looking up at the Eagles in the division. It would also be Philadelphia’s third straight win, which would be a boost to its confidence. And it would be Philadelphia’s first home win since last season.

The Cowboys should want the Redskins to win the game so they can maintain the top spot in the NFC East, but a Redskins’ loss would be a huge blow to Washington. Last year the Redskins won their final seven games to win the division, including their Week 17 win against the Cowboys.

Maybe all-but eliminating the Redskins would be a better thing, considering the Cowboys will host the Eagles at AT&T Stadium on Dec. 29 in what could be their third straight winner-take-all finale.

The Cowboys have to be big Green Bay Packer fans this week and hope Scott Tolzien can deliver a win against the Giants. It’s just the Cowboys luck that the Eagles and Giants would play the Packers with Aaron Rodgers injured. The Cowboys might not be as fortunate on their Dec. 15 meeting against Green Bay.

The Giants started out 0-6 and looked putrid. They have now won three in a row and with a win Sunday they would be rolling into the Nov. 24 meeting against the Cowboys at MetLife Stadium. A loss would put the Giants in danger of being out of it entering the final stages of the season.

The Cowboys don’t want these teams to have fighting chances in December.

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