Dallas Cowboys: alfred morris

All-NFC East: Dallas Cowboys

January, 2, 2014
Jan 2
NFC Teams: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

IRVING, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys had eight players on the All-NFC East team with Tony Romo being the biggest snub.

Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Nick Foles won the vote of the four NFL Nation bloggers that cover the NFC East. Foles had a terrific season taking over for Michael Vick, finishing with 27 touchdown passes and just two interceptions. Romo also had a terrific season with 31 touchdown passes and 10 interceptions in 15 games before back surgery knocked him out of the finale.

To the victor of the NFC East go the spoils, so Foles got the nod.

Wide receiver Dez Bryant, tight end Jason Witten, left tackle Tyron Smith and left guard Ronald Leary were named to the team. Bryant was dynamic. Witten was Witten but his opportunities were down. Smith might have had the best season of any left tackle in football. Leary’s inclusion might speak to the dearth of good offensive line play in the division. Mackenzy Bernadeau played better.

Normally a case could be made for DeMarco Murray, but not so much in a division with LeSean McCoy and Alfred Morris.

The Cowboys had the worst ranked defense in the NFL and had two players on the division’s defensive squad. Jason Hatcher was one of the two defensive tackles after he finished with a career high 11 sacks. Sean Lee missed five games with hamstring and neck injuries but still showed he was the best middle linebacker in the division. If he can stay healthy he might be able to show he is among the best in the league.

If there is a snub on defense it would be cornerback Orlando Scandrick. He did well versus Victor Cruz and DeSean Jackson this year and came up with the biggest play in the win at Washington when he took on Pierre Garcon for a third-down deflection. But he had only two interceptions and missed a few others.

Dan Bailey missed only two field goal attempts on the season and was named the division’s best kicker. There should have been little doubt here. Dwayne Harris averaged 30.6 yards per kick return with a long of 90 yards and 12.8 yards per punt return with an 86-yard TD against the Redskins. He has a great feel for the return game.

Cowboys playing catch-up with Cousins

December, 20, 2013
IRVING, Texas – With only one start under his belt this season, the Dallas Cowboys have done more research than normal in studying Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins.

They mostly studied the Redskins’ scheme even when Robert Griffin III was the quarterback, but spent time on Cousins' work last week against the Atlanta Falcons as well as some of his backup work this year and last year and some preseason work, too.

“You just get a feel for how he plays and how he fits within the scheme,” coach Jason Garrett said.

Cousins threw for 381 yards on 29-of-45 passing with three touchdowns and two interceptions in the loss to the Falcons. He also lost a fumble.

He will be the fourth straight backup quarterback the Cowboys have seen, joining Matt McGloin of the Oakland Raiders, Josh McCown of the Chicago Bears and Matt Flynn of the Green Bay Packers. McCown and Flynn had four touchdown passes apiece against the Cowboys.

While not immobile, Cousins is not the runner that Griffin is.

“We’ve watched enough film to know that there is a difference,” safety Barry Church said. “With RG III, the running attack is a lot more opened up than it is with Cousins, but the passing attack, there’s no limitations on him. They go through the whole playbook. We’re definitely leaning more to the pass this week than in the past when RG3 was running all over people. This week there’s more emphasis on the pass, but we’ve also got to be aware of Alfred Morris because he’s a dog out there.”

Five Wonders: Run D to be tested more

October, 15, 2013
IRVING, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys head to Philadelphia this week with first place in the NFC East on the line, but I really wonder how good the Cowboys really are.

What’s funny is how people say the division is awful and the Cowboys should run away with it. I wonder why. It’s not as though the Cowboys’ roster is filled with so much more talent than the rest of the division.

If the Cowboys don’t win the NFC East, the storyline is set for those who want to believe they underachieved again; not that they might be just as poor as the division's other three teams.

Anyway, let’s get to wondering in this week’s Five Wonders:

• I wonder if I got a little carried away with the defensive redemption angle from Sunday’s win against the Washington Redskins. When measured against the performances against the San Diego Chargers and Denver Broncos, it was better. A lot better. But the defense still allowed 433 yards, gave up 216 rushing yards, including 77 on nine carries from Robert Griffin III. Their work on Alfred Morris was OK until the 45-yard touchdown run. But with Eagles running back LeSean McCoy coming up Sunday and games against Reggie Bush, Adrian Peterson and Matt Forte, as well as rematches with McCoy and the Morris-Griffin tandem, the run defense will have to improve. McCoy leads the NFL with 630 yards rushing and runs like he is part of a video game.

[+] EnlargeTerrance Williams
Denny Medley/USA TODAY SportsRookie wide receiver Terrance Williams has 18 receptions for 309 yards and two touchdowns through six games for the Dallas Cowboys.
• I wonder if those all wondering if the Cowboys should have picked Sharrif Floyd in the first round understand that it likely would have meant they would not have Terrance Williams on the roster. This isn’t to excuse the Cowboys for not looking to the defensive line in the draft, but two players like Travis Frederick and Williams is a lot better than one player like Floyd. That’s my gripe with the team on the first-round moves they made for Tyron Smith and Morris Claiborne in 2011 and ’12. Smith is playing much better this year and appears to have taken to the left tackle spot, but the Cowboys passed on a chance to pick up two picks from Jacksonville in a trade. They traded up to get Claiborne with the sixth pick in 2012, giving up their second rounder to do so. Frederick has played better than most thought he would and Williams has developed quickly. Since his fumble vs. San Diego he has turned it on and earned Tony Romo’s trust.

• It’s way too early to even think about the Pro Bowl, but while some of the normal names on the roster will get kicked around for the all-star game, like Jason Witten, DeMarcus Ware and Dez Bryant, I wonder if Dwayne Harris works his way into the mix. The Cowboys have not sent a non-kicking/punting special teamer to the Pro Bowl since Jim Schwantz in 1996. Harris is proving to be a dynamic punt returner. It’s more than just his 86-yarder for a touchdown against the Redskins. He gets positive yards almost every time and his decision-making has improved. Although fielding a punt at his 5 might be a little dubious, but it speaks to his confidence level. In his last 16 games, he has 10 punt returns of at least 20 yards. He is averaging a ridiculous 23.6 yards per punt return and 34.7 yards per kick return. The sample size is small, but Harris is making a name for himself.

• I wonder if people forget there is a salary cap in the NFL. When the Cowboys cut Will Allen last week I was inundated with those asking if the team is setting up a trade for Buffalo Bills safety Jairus Byrd, who is playing this year on the franchise tag. With roughly $2 million of cap space, the Cowboys are not in position to make a splash trade without a long-term commitment that they just can’t afford to make with other players inching toward free agency. They would have a hard time adding a substantial veteran free agent as well because of the cap. There are ways to move some money around, like re-working Doug Free’s deal, for instance, but they would be setting themselves up for a tighter cap in 2014 and possibly beyond. The best the Cowboys can hope for is internal improvement along the defensive line as they better understand what Rod Marinelli wants.

• I wonder how it is possible Dez Bryant has as many games averaging less than 10 yards per catch as he does averaging at least 13.5 yards per catch. Against the Redskins, Bryant caught five passes for 36 yards. In the opener against the Giants, he averaged 5.5 yards per catch. Against the St. Louis Rams he averaged 9.5 yards per catch. It’s proof that if teams want to take a receiver away, they can do it. It might also be proof the Cowboys are not always willing to take shots down the field, even to Bryant, who can outmuscle just about any defensive back in the game. The Cowboys have done a better job moving Bryant around this year, but they have to get the ball to him in space more.

Redemption for Cowboys' defense

October, 14, 2013
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Last Monday Jason Hatcher held his grade sheet from the 51-48 loss to the Denver Broncos and made a promise to assistant defensive line coach Leon Lett.

"I owe you one, man," Hatcher said, shaking the paper. "I didn't like this."

Hatcher spoke for himself, but he could have spoken for the entire Dallas Cowboys defense.

On Sunday, Hatcher repaid the coaches and so did the rest of the defense in the Cowboys' 31-16 win against the Washington Redskins.

"I felt like I owed my coaches," Hatcher said. "I owed it to Coach Marinelli and Leon. They put so much into it and I let them down. I couldn't let that happen again. I had to redeem myself."

[+] EnlargeDallas' Jason Hatcher
Wesley Hitt/Getty ImagesJason Hatcher strips the ball from Robert Griffin III. Hatcher finished with two sacks.
Hatcher had two sacks, giving him a career-high five on the season. He was credited with six tackles, a tackle for loss, two quarterback hurries and forced a fumble. He did most of it with running mate DeMarcus Ware on the sidelines because of a quadriceps injury.

There was redemption for the whole defense, too.

After giving up 81 points in the previous two games, the Cowboys gave up just one touchdown to the Redskins. After seeing San Diego's Philip Rivers pass for 401 yards and Denver's Peyton Manning pass for 414 yards in back-to-back weeks, the Cowboys gave up just 246 yards to Robert Griffin III. After combining for one sack on Rivers and Manning, they managed to get Griffin on the ground three times.

A defense that had five takeaways in the season opener had only four in the last five games, but came up with two Sunday with a Kyle Wilber sack/fumble that was turned into the game-clinching touchdown and an Orlando Scandrick interception.

"I don't think we lost any confidence," Scandrick said. "We've just got to keep playing. We've got to find a way to win games. I've been around here for a long time and it's whatever it takes."

It wasn't perfect.

The Redskins still put up 433 yards, which showed improvement from the 506 yards the Chargers put up and the 517 yards the Broncos put up, but still way too much.

Washington converted on 8 of 16 third-down attempts and held the ball for 34 minutes, 32 seconds. The tight ends continued to give them issues with Jordan Reed catching four passes for 58 yards.

Washington ran for 216 yards on 33 carries, the eighth most the Cowboys have allowed in a win in franchise history. Griffin ran nine times for 77 yards. Alfred Morris had a 45-yard touchdown run in the third quarter that Scandrick lamented.

"They should've only scored nine points," Scandrick said. "I can't miss that tackle."

There was more progress than just making the Redskins punt (something that Denver didn't do last week). The Cowboys defense rallied in the red zone. Washington did not score a touchdown in three red zone trips. The Broncos had six in seven trips.

"As a defense we challenged ourselves," said cornerback Brandon Carr, who shadowed Redskins wide receiver Pierre Garcon. "We weren't satisfied with the last few performances. We felt like we could've made plays and left some on the field and didn't play to the best of our abilities. There was no more excuses. No more talking about it. Just go out and get the job done and have fun.

"Hopefully it was a glimpse of some good things to come."

Double Coverage: Redskins at Cowboys

October, 11, 2013

IRVING, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys and Washington Redskins will meet for the 107th time in their historic rivalry, but neither team has gotten off to the kind of start to the season they envisioned.

At 2-3, the Cowboys are tied for the NFC East lead, and the Redskins are 1-3 coming off their bye weekend.

ESPN.com Redskins reporter John Keim and ESPN.com Cowboys reporter Todd Archer break down Sunday's matchup at AT&T Stadium with this week's Double Coverage.


How many yards will Tony Romo throw for against the Redskins?


Discuss (Total votes: 9,008)

Archer: The last time Robert Griffin III was at AT&T Stadium he threw four touchdown passes and was dynamic. Are we starting to see Griffin look like the Griffin from last season?

Keim: Todd, we are starting to see more of the old Griffin, though the offense was rolling a lot better at that time last season than it is now. But in the last game before the bye at Oakland, Griffin used his legs more -- mostly to escape trouble -- and big plays resulted. That's his game; even if the zone-read option isn't a huge factor, his legs still can be. But the difference was this time there were a couple plays on which, last season, he would have taken off running. Instead, he kept his eyes downfield and threw for a solid completion. I think it'll help him to have a more balanced attack; his play-action passes were lethal last season, as the Cowboys discovered. Because of how the games have unfolded, they haven't been as balanced as they'd like.

I'll stick with quarterbacks: Tony Romo's stats are fantastic. Is this his best start? If so, why?

Archer: It's definitely his best start. I know people won't get the interception at the end of the Denver game out of their heads, but his decision-making has been great. He's seeing the field. I think with his involvement in the offense, he's taken it upon himself to be more careful, but against the Broncos he was smartly aggressive with his throws down the field. He is more accurate than he has ever been as well, completing better than 70 percent of his passes. I think the Denver game could be the start of something for this offense in terms of how they attack defenses. Romo loves the empty package because he can get the ball out of his hands quickly and he's got some quarterback friendly targets.

The last time the Redskins saw Romo, they hurt him with pressure. Safe to say that with 15 sacks they're still pressure happy?

Keim: Yeah, they want to pressure, but they had to send extra guys last season against him because, without Brian Orakpo, their four-man rushes applied little pressure. Six of their seven sacks against Oakland earlier this season came with four-man rushes, allowing them to focus on coverage. That would be their ideal. However, those rushes take a little time to develop and Romo is much better than Matt Flynn was for the Raiders. So I would definitely expect some blitzes; they can't let Romo get comfortable in the pocket. They had success with blitzes through the A-gaps and sending linebackers off the edge. They also sent several slot-corner blitzes. I think they'll still do some of that Sunday, but if they don't get there, big plays will follow.

While we're on the topic of blitzes, aside from one play last season, Romo did not handle the extra rushers well. However, last week against Denver he did. Has he improved in this area?

Archer: He has done better in that area. So far, he has four touchdowns and no interceptions against the blitz this season and has been sacked only three times. The offensive line is playing as well as it has played in three or four seasons, and I think, as Romo's confidence in it has grown, the ability to attack the blitz has grown. Part of it is experience. Part of it is getting rid of it quicker. Part of it his better protection. Having offensive line coach Bill Callahan as the playcaller might mean he's more willing to give his guys some help with extra blockers, but it's not like the Cowboys go into a shell when they see a blitz.

From afar, Alfred Morris is off to a good start. He hurt the Cowboys last December, too. How's his health?

Keim: His health is fine. The ribs are a little bit sore, but he's practiced fully Monday and Wednesday, and, barring a setback, he'll play Sunday. Morris' total rushing yards are down, but he's averaging 5.3 per carry and 2.30 yards after contact, both better than in 2012. Morris is taking better angles and does an excellent job setting up blockers because he's so patient. Teams have keyed on him in the zone-read but he's still effective in the outside zone game. There have been some blocking issues from all over, but the Redskins want to run the ball more, so look for that Sunday.

We hear a lot about the Dallas passing game, but DeMarco Murray is off to a strong start. How good has he been, and what sort of problems could he cause the Redskins?

Archer: I don't feel as good about Murray as you do about Morris, even though the numbers tell a different story. He has been OK, but he has left yards on the table. I guess every running back does, but his just seem more noticeable. He's not been able to run it much, with just two 20-carry games, which -- oh, by the way -- have come in the Cowboys' two wins. I hate the stat, but the Cowboys are 10-0 when he gets 20 carries. Why not just hand it to him 20 straight times to open the game? I kid. Anyway, I think the Cowboys have found out they run best when they are in a three-wide set, which spreads the field and gives Murray some options. The Cowboys will need him Sunday, especially if the Redskins decide to play coverage, but the coaches need to call on him when the running game isn't doing that well. He's also a decent receiver out of the backfield, and the third-down back, Lance Dunbar is battling a hamstring injury.

I want to go back to the Redskins' defense. I've thought a few times DeAngelo Hall was done in recent seasons, but he was great versus Dez Bryant in last season's finale. Do you think the Redskins will have him follow Bryant on Sunday?

Keim: I do expect them to do that a decent amount Sunday. He did the same thing against Calvin Johnson a couple weeks ago. They used Josh Wilson against Bryant a lot in the first game, but Wilson is playing more in the slot in the three-corner set. And rookie David Amerson is not ready to cover Bryant more than a little bit, though he does have the size. So that leaves Hall, at least when they're in man coverage. If they play him like they did last season, then they will mix in a lot of zone coverage in an effort to give Romo pause. I'm with you: Every time I think Hall has slipped a bit, he'll have a big game. Hall will get beat and often gives up too much cushion, but he's a smart player who competes hard. It serves him well.

This is a pretty basic question, but how has the transition been to the 4-3?

Archer: To be kind, I'll just say not as well as the Cowboys had hoped. They have been lit up the past two games by Philip Rivers and Peyton Manning. I guess there's no shame in having either of them do that, but it's been historically bad around here. The problem is they cannot generate pressure with four rushers. They miss Anthony Spencer, who's out for the season. They miss Jay Ratliff, who is on the physically unable to perform list. They miss Tyrone Crawford, who tore his Achilles the first day of camp. As well as George Selvie and Nick Hayden have played, you like them more as rotation guys and not starters. DeMarcus Ware has been banged up for three straight games, and Jason Hatcher has been put in check the past two games. They don't blitz often, but I'm not sure they have faith in their coverage to try to do it more.

One area that has killed the Cowboys in this 4-3 is passes to runners and tight ends, but those doesn't look to be featured parts of the Washington offense. Could that change Sunday?

Keim: I think it could change, at least to a degree. They do like to get the ball to the receivers, but one reason running back Roy Helu hasn't been a bigger factor in the pass game is because of their inability to convert third downs, which prevent more plays. But Helu has shown the past two games just how dangerous he can be in the open field. I saw some of the issues Dallas had covering backs; Helu would hurt them. At tight end, their top two pass-catchers, Fred Davis and rookie Jordan Reed, are both healthy. Reed is an up-and-comer, an athletic kid who makes tough catches. He's a threat after the catch, so there's a chance the Cowboys' troubles here will continue.

The Cowboys allow only 3.8 yards per rush. Is that a function of them stopping it well or teams not testing them more on the ground?

Archer: The easy answer is a little of both. They did a nice job on Kansas City's Jamaal Charles, but late in the game, he converted a crucial third down. San Diego and Denver were able to grind them a little. Knowshon Moreno had 93 yards on 19 carries and a lot of his work was done between the tackles. I'm not sure if they're better suited to handle Washington's running game this season compared to last season. They were just guessing on some zone-read stuff at FedEx Field and were mostly wrong. And it's not like Monte Kiffin slowed it down when he was at USC. They've done OK when teams have tried to pound it on them, but San Diego and Denver were able to run out of a stretch look.


Will third time be charm vs. read-option?

October, 11, 2013
IRVING, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys had no answer for the read-option last year when they played the Washington Redskins.

DeMarcus Ware was left guessing and Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III always seemed to have the right answer in keeping the ball or giving it to Alfred Morris, who had 313 yards and four touchdowns in Washington’s series sweep of the Cowboys in 2012.

“Just having the opportunity to see it two times last year, this is our third time, you get used to what they’re doing,” Ware said. “That’s not to say that you’re going to stop them cold turkey, but you’re going to slow it down to a point where you’re effective, where you try to pull them out of that situation and put them into a more conventional offense.”

It’s not like defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin had monumental success against the read-option at Southern Cal, but Ware said the Cowboys will have a different approach against it this year.

“I couldn't tell you the answer, then you’ll know what we’re doing,” Ware joked.

Griffin has not run as much through the first four games as he continues to recover from his offseason knee surgery, but the Cowboys still see a threat to run. And Morris has 296 yards on 56 carries this season.

"Like most teams in the NFL we worked on it because teams are using this and it was an effective tool for a few of the offenses, and you’ve just got to make sure you have good answers for it," coach Jason Garrett said. "Teams do it a lot of different ways and you have to make sure you address that with your team and you’re gap sound and you have a plan for what they’re doing. One of the real challenges that teams like the Redskins and some of the others that are using it is they were doing it all the time, if they were only a read-option team, you could really hunker down and play it. One of the real strengths of what they do is they do that, but they also do a lot of other things you have to get yourself ready for. So that’s a challenge to your defense and that’s one of the reasons they’ve been pretty effective on offense."

DeMarcus Ware versus the read-option

July, 2, 2013
I'm so glad Matt Bowen writes for us now. I've been a fan of his work elsewhere for a long time. Former NFL player who can write and who understands (a) what fans want to read about (b) the way in which his former-player perspective can help illuminate it for them and (c) how to deliver it. Not that we didn't already have people here at ESPN who fit that description, mind you. It's just that I always thought Matt was something of a lesser-known gem, and I'm glad he's on the team.

Matt's latest Insider piece Insider takes up the vexing topic of how to stop Dallas Cowboys edge rusher DeMarcus Ware. As Matt points out, the 111 sacks Ware has piled up in his first eight NFL seasons indicate that this is not an answer anyone actually has. But Matt's analysis offers ways in which Ware can be dealt with, including six-man and seven-man protections, run-game traps and empty backfield sets that historically have prompted Monte Kiffin defenses to audible to a Cover 2 shell that offers a quarterback opportunities to unload the ball before Ware gets to him.

Drew Pearson joins Fitzsimmons and Durrett to take a look ahead to Cowboys training camp. Dez Bryant, Aaron Hernandez and gun trouble in the NFL are also discussed.

Listen Listen
Most interesting, though -- in light of Robert Griffin III and whatever Chip Kelly's cooking up in Philadelphia -- is Matt's section on Ware vs. the read-option:
Ware (and the Cowboys' defense) struggled against RG III and the Redskins last season in the Week 17 loss because of the read-option. Playing as an outside linebacker in the 3-4, Ware was hesitant on the edge, didn't attack the dive and opened up clear running lanes for Alfred Morris.

As Ware transitions to the 4-3, he will still be the primary read for option quarterbacks (read: edge man on the line of scrimmage) as they ride the running back through the mesh point. And, although I believe NFL defenses will be much more prepared to play (and produce) versus the various option schemes out of the gun and pistol alignments this season, running it is still another way to slow down Ware's first step.

This gets to the heart of why the read-option is so effective. Ware is a tremendous player -- a peerless pass-rusher who's also strong against the run. And yet he still struggles against the read-option because of the very nature of it. Attack the quarterback and he hands it off. Sit back, and RG III is sprinting past you before you can make your move. It's entirely possible defensive coaches will find some way to slow down the read-option offenses this year, but it's no sure thing that even the best defensive players won't get caught flat-footed against it. At bottom, it still forces the edge rusher to make a choice, and offers the opposing quarterback the chance to wait to see which choice he makes. They don't come any better than Ware, but even he has a tough task ahead of him in trying to figure out how to succeed against this new wrinkle.

Eight in the Box: RB status check

May, 24, 2013
NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

How does each NFC East team look at running back, and what still needs to be done?

Dallas Cowboys

After a season in which they ranked third in the league in passing yards and 31st in rushing yards, the Cowboys seek greater balance in their offense. Any balance, actually. The starting running back remains DeMarco Murray, whose toughness and physical style give the Cowboys an extra dimension when he's on the field. Murray's problem is staying on the field, as he's had to miss nine games over his first two NFL seasons due to injury. The team let Felix Jones leave as a free agent and drafted Oklahoma State's Joseph Randle in the fifth round. It's no coincidence that Randle is a back who didn't miss a single game in his college career. The Cowboys needed someone durable and reliable to back up Murray, who's already struggling with hamstring problems this offseason, and neither Lance Dunbar nor Phillip Tanner showed enough in limited work last year to prove he was the backup they needed. What the Cowboys need at running back is to get and keep Murray as healthy as possible and to get Randle up to speed so he's ready to step in when he's inevitably needed as the fill-in starter.

New York Giants

The Giants let starting running back Ahmad Bradshaw depart via free agency, a difficult choice necessitated by salary and health concerns. That likely leaves the running game in the hands of 2012 first-round draft pick David Wilson, who opened eyes as a big-play threat and a kick returner in his rookie season, and Andre Brown, who functioned as a reliable goal-line back before an injury ended his season. Either should be able to handle full-time starter duties, and it's likely the team will split carries somewhat between them anyway. What the Giants need to do is establish whether Wilson and/or Brown can handle the pass-blocking duties at which Bradshaw excelled for so long. If one of them demonstrates superior performance in blitz pickup, that's likely to give him the edge for playing time over the other. With fullback Henry Hynoski out now with a knee injury, and with excellent run-blocking tight end Martellus Bennett now a Chicago Bear, the Giants remain on the lookout for reliable blocking backs. The recent injury to Tim Hightower shows that, and it remains to be seen whether Ryan Torain, Da'Rel Scott or seventh-round draft pick Michael Cox can be part of the solution.

Philadelphia Eagles

Every prediction about Chip Kelly's offense claims certainty that the Eagles will use the run game and the screen game more this year than they did in the past. LeSean McCoy remains the starter, and one of the best running backs in the league when healthy. Bryce Brown showed when McCoy got injured last year that he could handle starter's responsibilities brilliantly, but his fumble problems obviously must be overcome if he's to be trusted with significant carries. The Eagles signed Cowboys castoff Felix Jones for depth, and they still have Chris Polk, so the candidates for carries are plentiful this offseason. What remains for the Eagles is to establish the manner in which they'll distribute those carries (and catches) among their backs in an offense that will try to run as many plays as possible every game.

Washington Redskins

Sixth-round pick Alfred Morris came from the back of the depth chart last offseason to overtake Hightower, Roy Helu and Evan Royster to claim the starting running back job, and he quite literally ran with it. A perfect fit in Mike Shanahan's one-cut zone-blocking run schemes, Morris finished second in the NFL with 1,613 rushing yards as a rookie and delivered a 200-yard, three-touchdown masterpiece in the regular-season finale/division-title game against the Cowboys. Shanahan does love to play the volume game at running back, and he still has Helu and Royster as well as late-round 2013 draft picks Chris Thompson and Jawan Jamison. What remains for the Redskins is to figure out the pecking order behind Morris and work to find ways to use the talent they have at running back to ease some of the physical pressure on quarterback Robert Griffin III. It's also important to note that Washington was able to re-sign fullback Darrel Young, a key figure in a run game that led the league with 169.3 yards per game in 2012.

Helping DeMarco Murray avoid contact

May, 11, 2013
IRVING, Texas -- In the Dallas Cowboys quest to keep starting running back DeMarco Murray healthy helping him avoid tackles is key.

It's almost impossible because most, if not all runners, will get touched on a run at some point during the game. But what the Cowboys are attempting to do with Murray is making sure he takes fewer hits during a game.

Last season, Murray tied for eighth in the NFL with eight broken tackles, Washington's Alfred Morris led the NFL with 22. Murray finished with 356 yards after contact, 25th in the league. Adrian Peterson led the NFL in YAC with 1,047.

Murray likes to run toward contact so he can push his way for more yards.

"I noticed that," running backs coach Gary Brown said. "I've seen that. We've talked about it. We are going to have a plan to try to get better than that. He's explosive enough that he can freeze people's feet and get away from them and do the things he needs to do to gain more yards. With he and I working together to get him better, it should be a great thing."

Kiper: Late-round steal for Cowboys

May, 2, 2013
As he continues his review of last week's NFL draft, Mel Kiper Jr. has a list Insider of players taken in rounds 4 through 7 who he thinks could make an impact this season. One Dallas Cowboys pick was mentioned.

Dallas Cowboys

-Joseph Randle, RB, fifth round: Mel calls him the second-most talented running back on the Cowboys' roster after injury-prone starter DeMarco Murray. If that's not a recipe for touches ...

NFC East running back scenarios

March, 8, 2013
After reading this from Calvin about whether the Cowboys would pursue Michael Turner, and then this Monday from Mike Jones about the Redskins' running back depth chart, I thought to myself, "That's a good idea. Let's do a post on the NFC East running back situations." So, let's.

Dallas Cowboys

Assuming they move on from Felix Jones, the Cowboys will be in the market for a running back who can spell starter DeMarco Murray and, if need be, replace him when he gets injured. Unlike Calvin, I actually think someone like Turner or former Giants running back Ahmad Bradshaw would work here. They need someone who's used to carrying the load, since it doesn't appear as though they can count on Murray lasting a whole season. And even if he did, they'd need someone who can replace him for long stretches during the game in order to help keep him healthy. I understand the temptation for a speed back as a change of pace, but Jones was supposed to be that and it didn't work. Why not a veteran grinder who runs with power and is used to playing in a passing offense? Someone like Phillip Tanner or Lance Dunbar could develop into what they need behind Murray, but it's not a bad idea to bring in someone with experience just in case they don't.

New York Giants

After cutting Bradshaw, the Giants appear set to go with second-year man David Wilson as the lead back and, assuming they re-sign him, Andre Brown as the goal-line guy. Maybe Brown's duties increase over what they were last year behind Bradshaw. And maybe Wilson isn't (a) ready or (b) the right kind of back to handle the running and pass-protection responsibilities in the Giants' offense. They ended the season with guys like Ryan Torain and Kregg Lumpkin on the roster for depth, and they could go back to one or both of them. I imagine they'll give Wilson the shot at the lead-back role, but they'll want to be protected in case he can't handle it. So don't be surprised if they bring a few backs to camp that you've heard of.

Philadelphia Eagles

The Eagles look pretty well set with LeSean McCoy and Bryce Brown as electric playmakers in the backfield. They also still have Dion Lewis and Chris Polk kicking around for depth. I don't see this as a need area for the Eagles this offseason.

Washington Redskins

As Mike points out in that link up there, it appears the Redskins would like to find someone who can fill in for workhorse starter Alfred Morris on third downs. That could certainly be Roy Helu if he could manage to stay healthy, but to this point he has not done that, and Mike Shanahan will surely want to bring four or more backs to camp for depth and competition purposes. As great as Morris' rookie season was -- and it was fantastic -- this is a position at which Shanahan has a well-known history of trying to stay ahead of the curve. If the Redskins' running game hierarchy is altered in 2013 from what it was in its very successful 2012, it would not be a surprise.

Jason Hatcher not fined for QB hit

January, 4, 2013
IRVING, Texas – DE Jason Hatcher’s roughing the passer penalty in the fourth quarter of Dallas' loss at Washington on Sunday was costly on the field, but the NFL chose not to impose a fine.

Ben and Skin pay respect to one of the best leaders in NFL history -- Ray Lewis.

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After the game, defensive coordinator Rob Ryan said the penalty was questionable, but replays showed Hatcher hitting Redskins QB Robert Griffin III in the helmet with 2:35 to play. The penalty negated a third-down stop by Dallas' defense and allowed Washington to score a game-ending touchdown on RB Alfred Morris' run with 1:09 to play.

If there hadn't been a penalty, the Cowboys would have forced the Redskins to kick a field goal for a six-point lead with more than two minutes to play. Hatcher did not speak after the game or on Monday.

Dallas LB Kyle Wilber was fined $21,000 for a blindside block on a punt return by Dwayne Harris, but Wilber was not called for a penalty in the game. With a $390,000 base salary, Wilber made roughly $22,941 per week.

LANDOVER, Md. -- With a playoff stake on the line, Robert Griffin III wasn't even close to being the biggest problem for the Cowboys' defense. They couldn't stop the Redskins' other rookie star, as running back Alfred Morris rushed for 200 yards and three touchdowns on 33 carries.

A gimpy RG III was just all right as the Redskins claimed their first NFC East crown since 1999, completing nine of 18 passes for 100 yards and rushing six times for 63 yards and a score, with all of his running yards basically a direct result of the attention Dallas' D paid Morris.

That's what made this such a missed opportunity for the Cowboys. RG III will be spectacular on a regular basis for the next decade. The Cowboys weren't good enough to beat him when he was average.

Good luck when RG III is rolling. The Redskins are only going to get better as they surround RG III and Morris with more playmakers.

"They're going to be doing this for years to come," safety Gerald Sensabaugh said. "We have to figure out what we need to do to get these guys under wraps."

As painful as it was to watch the Redskins run the ball down the Cowboys' throat, Dallas' defense did about as well as could be expected. Did anyone really think the injury-riddled Cowboys could hold the Redskins to fewer than 30 points after seeing RG III carve them up like turkeys on Thanksgiving?

Jason Garrett and Tony Romo's offense failed the Cowboys. Once again, Romo failed to rise to the moment in a win-or-the-end game.

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Report Card: Redskins run over Cowboys

December, 31, 2012


Rushing Offense

The Cowboys had arguably the worst rushing attack in franchise history, but the ground game was adequate in the season finale. Dallas ran the ball 22 times for 100 yards, which was much more effective than the norm this season. DeMarco Murray carried 17 times for 76 yards, highlighted by a 21-yard run that featured a fantastic cutback. Felix Jones, the former first-round pick who probably played his last game in a Cowboys uniform, showed surprising quickness while gaining 24 yards on five carries.


Passing Offense

This looked like the Tony Romo from the first half of the season. It's hard to beat a quality opponent when you throw three interceptions. Romo didn't make nearly enough plays to overcome his critical mistakes, finishing with 218 yards and two touchdowns on 20-of-37 passing. It didn't help that Miles Austin (no catches) missed most of the game due to a high ankle sprain or that Dez Bryant (four catches, 71 yards) was sidelined in the fourth quarter by back spasms. The Redskins only sacked Romo twice, but they blitzed him effectively throughout the game.


Rushing Defense

This was a disaster. The Cowboys simply couldn't stop rookie running back Alfred Morris, who broke Clinton Portis' franchise record for rushing yards in a season. Morris gashed the Cowboys for 200 yards and three touchdowns on 33 carries. His dominance allowed a gimpy Griffin to gain 63 yards and score once on six carries when the defense got sucked in by the zone-read fake. A healthy Griffin would have probably run for well over 100 yards.


Passing Defense

After the Thanksgiving Day debacle, the Cowboys were determined not to let Robert Griffin III beat them with his arm again. He didn't, completing only 9-of-18 passes for 100 yards. However, the Cowboys' pass defense didn't make any game-changing plays. Dallas didn't create any turnovers. They didn't have any real pass rush with DeMarcus Ware a one-armed shell of himself. Anthony Spencer had the Cowboys' lone sack.


Special Teams

Dwayne Harris was a difference-maker again on punt returns. He averaged 26.0 yards on three returns, including a 39-yarder that set up the Cowboys' last touchdown. Dan Bailey drilled a 48-yard field goal on his lone attempt. But punter Brian Moorman had a net average of only 32.0 yards on four punts. The Cowboys allowed Niles Paul to average 30.7 yards on three kickoff returns, including a 48-yarder that featured a few missed tackles.



Jason Garrett's staff got outcoached by Mike Shanahan's staff. That's not a surprise, considering Shanahan has won two Super Bowls as a head coach and Garrett has never been to the playoffs. Garrett's inability to counter the Redskins' blitz packages was particularly problematic. His decision to punt instead of attempting a 52-yard field goal in the final minute of the first half was also questionable.

Halftime Adjustments: Cowboys 7, Redskins 7

December, 30, 2012
LANDOVER, Md. -- The Cowboys and Redskins are tied, 7-7 in the de facto NFC East championship game. We have our final regular-season halftime adjustments.


* Create turnovers. The Washington Redskins have intercepted Tony Romo twice, but the Cowboys have none against their opponent. In a close game like this, a turnover might be the key. The Cowboys are struggling to stop the run; the Redskins rushed for 124 yards in the first half. Alfred Morris, who has 92 yards on 13 carries and one touchdown, is punishing the Cowboys' front. However, it seems Robert Griffin III is struggling to pass the ball. He just doesn't look comfortable in the pocket and doesn't have his normal burst. He's wearing a brace over his knee that looks like a small cast. With Griffin off in the passing game, the Cowboys need to pick him off. They aren't going to pressure the quarterback because defensive coordinator Rob Ryan is only sending four or five defenders. So it's up to the secondary to make plays.

* Take advantage of Dez Bryant. The talented wide receiver is seeing double coverage. Bryant was doubled on the last pass play of the first half and Romo still attempted a throw in his direction. However, the Cowboys must use Bryant on slants, where he gets one-on-one coverage. Bryant breaks tackles because he's so physical after he catches the ball. At this stage of the season, Bryant is the most dangerous player on the field for the Cowboys. He's got at least one touchdown in each of the last seven weeks, and it's probably time to feed him.

* Pick up the blitz. It resulted in a 1-yard completion, but if the Cowboys are expected to win, protecting Romo is key. Romo was knocked down at least three times in the first half, one on a safety blitz. Romo was sacked just once in the first half, which is good, but he's feeling the pressure. Over the course of the game, he might get rattled if it keeps up. We've seen Jason Witten and DeMarco Murray stay in the backfield to help with max protection. The Cowboys can't keep that up all game, so Romo has to get rid of the ball quicker.