Dallas Cowboys: Barry Church

The return meeting between the Dallas Cowboys and the Detroit Lions in Sunday's NFC wild-card game had a different outcome and coverage employed on Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson.

In last year's meeting, the visiting Cowboys lost, 31-30, and Johnson destroyed the secondary catching 14 passes for 329 yards with one touchdown. Amazingly enough, Johnson was short of the NFL record for yards in a game (336).

In Sunday's playoff game at AT&T Stadium, things were different.

Unlike what happened in Motown, when the Cowboys had cornerback Brandon Carr cover Johnson by himself for the majority of the game, help was on the way.

Carr was still on Johnson, but if the 6-5, 235 pound receiver got by him, safety Barry Church was right there preventing deep passes.

Sometimes Johnson lined up with a linebacker, Bruce Carter or Kyle Wilber in front of him as Carr settled several yards back.

The Cowboys made sure Johnson stayed in front of them. Johnson did catch five passes for 85 yards where he was targeted eight times with his longest reception, 28 yards, coming against a soft zone where the Cowboys gave him space.

"It was tough," Church said. "We knew going into this game the game plan was to either take him out the game or contain him and we pretty much did that. The players knew, Orlando Scandrick, Sterling Moore, [Tyler] Patmon, those guys knew they would have one-on-ones and they were able to stand up pretty well in this game. My hat goes off to them because those guys were on an island."

With Carr and Church on Johnson, it forced Scandrick, the other starting corner, to face Golden Tate in single coverage. Quarterback Matthew Stafford took advantage as Tate beat Church for the Lions' first touchdown of the game, 51-yard catch where Church fell down.

And basically that was it for the Lions, who scored two touchdowns total, Tate's and Reggie's Bush's 18-yard scamper for a score.

Johnson remained a threat to the Cowboys, but he never became someone who took over the game.

"That was a big part of our plan, we knew going in we couldn't allow him to get off, he's too good," Cowboys defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli said. "And I thought our players did an excellent job of executing."
After the Cowboys dramatic 31-28 victory over the New York Giants on Sunday night, we review it in our weekly Upon Further Review.

  1. The Cowboys’ defense performed badly in the first half the Giants. It allowed scores on the first three possessions of the game. Things changed in the second half, and that’s probably the difference in the Cowboys’ victory. Yes, the defense, overall, looked sloppy particularly in the secondary giving you concern about the Philadelphia Eagles’ offense on Thanksgiving Day. But the Cowboys defense kept the Giants in check in the final 30 minutes with two three-and-outs to start the third quarter, and the Giants didn’t even score again until 3:00 remained in the game. Of the six second-half possessions, the Giants scored once, turned the ball over, a Barry Church interception at the Cowboys’ 3 and turned the ball over on downs when middle linebacker Rolando McClain stopped Rashad Jennings short of the marker on fourth down to clinch the victory. The pass rush could have been better, secondary too, but when it counted, the defense made the necessary plays to win the game.

 2. Cole Beasley is one of those underutilized players for the Cowboys. Dez Bryant, DeMarco Murray and Jason Witten get the hype because, well let’s be honest, they’re playmakers for Tony Romo. So is Beasley in a small way. He had just two catches on the night and each was big. His 45-yard catch and run for a score in the third quarter cut the Giants' lead to 21-17. Beasley, a slot receiver who uses his small frame, 5-foot-8 to and speed to slice through defenses, also made a 21-yard catch in the fourth quarter. Beasley’s grab moved the Cowboys from their 43 into Giants territory on the game-clinching drive. Sometimes it’s not about the big plays made in a game, the small ones, such as Beasley’s two catches, that helps teams win games.

 3. When you review the offseason moves by the Cowboys, defensive end Jeremy Mincey and McClain appear to be the smartest decisions made by the front office. McClain had 11 tackles, 10 solo along with two tackles for loss, in the victory. Mincey had four tackles, two solo, one sack and two quarterback hits. McClain continues to be the glue for this defense with his hard hits and smart plays. Tyrone Crawford is probably the best young defensive linemen on the team and Henry Melton had a recent surge of solid play, but Mincey has played consistently well at a high level for the majority of the season.

Cowboys defense struggles

October, 28, 2014

ARLINGTON, Texas -- For the Cowboys defense, this isn't about the statistics.

Monday night, against a third-string quarterback, at home, the Cowboys defense failed in critical moments of the game.

Washington was able to beat Dallas 20-17 in overtime and continue a wacky trend in the NFC that had three quality teams -- Philadelphia, Green Bay and Dallas -- all losing this week.

"I had a simple message for us before the game. [It] was to get it done," cornerback Orlando Scandrick said. "We didn't get it done today. We made too many mistakes, and it don't matter what a team's record is, there's too much talent around this league. We made too many mistakes, and we just didn't get it done."

The Cowboys defense failed to respond when quarterback Tony Romo went down with a back contusion in the third quarter. When it was time for the Cowboys defense to make quality plays, it instead allowed the Redskins to score the go-ahead touchdown.

[+] EnlargeWashington's Jordan Reed
Tom Pennington/Getty ImagesThe Redskins completed this 16-yard pass to Jordan Reed in overtime to set up the winning field goal.
In overtime, the defense couldn't make a key stop, get a sack or force an interception. It allowed a 23-yard completion and an 8-yard run before tight end Jordan Reed converted on third-and-3 by catching a 5-yard pass against safety Barry Church.

There was Colt McCoy, the third-stringer who got the start with Kirk Cousins sitting and Robert Griffin not ready to return due to injury, directing traffic during a scramble.

Faced with a first-and-10 from the Dallas 45, McCoy was flushed out of the pocket and then pointed to Reed to move downfield. McCoy lofted a pass over linebacker Bruce Carter and turned it into a 16-yard completion to Reed.

Four plays later, Kai Forbath nailed a 40-yard field goal to give Washington the lead. Dallas had it's own chances to tie or win the game but couldn't even get to midfield.

"Situational football again came to bite us in the butt," cornerback Brandon Carr said. "Across the board, we hang our hat on winning our one-on-one matchups on defense, and too many times today, we didn't win those."

Overall, the Cowboys' defense did pressure the quarterback and record a season-high three sacks and six quarterback hurries. McCoy threw passes underneath for the majority of the game and completed a stunning 25-of-30 for 299 yards. He didn't throw any touchdowns, but he threw just one interception, on a deep pass into the end zone that was picked off by safety J.J. Wilcox.

The Redskins run game was strong and gained 4 yards a carry. Speedy, big-play threat DeSean Jackson caught six passes for 136 yards.

McCoy was efficient and worked within the confines of the offense to make things happen.

"I wish we could have done more, man," said defensive end Jeremy Mincey, who did have a sack. "We didn't make the plays we should have made. That's what cost us the game."

One of the leaders from this defense, linebacker Justin Durant, is done for the season with a torn biceps. He finished with a team-leading 10 tackles and added two tackles for loss.

Henry Melton, the defensive tackle who was missing for a bit, had his first multi-sack game as well as three tackles for loss.

Rolando McClain (seven tackles and one pass breakup) and Church (six tackles) -- two of the more reliable players -- missed tackles. The Dallas defense made the basic plays, but there were several missed tackles -- two from Church and one from McClain.

"Very disappointed," Church said. "I feel like this has been my worst game since I became a Dallas Cowboy. I played really [badly] overall. It wasn't a great performance in any of the phases."

It's something the Cowboys need to clean up.
IRVING, Texas -- Safety Barry Church is making plays these days, and it’s among the reasons the Cowboys’ defense has yet to allow more than 21 points in its past four games.

 Church had eight tackles and a forced fumble against the New York Giants, and he had five tackles and broke up a pass at the goal line with a big hit against Seattle.

He’s provided stability on the back end of the defense, and he hasn’t missed many tackles, a key for any safety.

Church leads the defense with 41 tackles and helped limit New York’s running backs to 80 yards on 24 carries. Andre Williams did have a 22-yard run, which means Dallas limited the Giants to 68 yards on their other 23 carries, which is beyond acceptable.

“He had a really good game against the Giants and was very active," coach Jason Garrett said. "He was around the ball and was active making tackles in the running game -- and they were good tackles because they were down around the line of scrimmage.

“That’s always something he’s done well and that was one of the more consistent games he’s played this season.”

5 Plays that shaped the game

October, 20, 2014
IRVING, Texas - There were 119 plays in the Cowboys’ 31-21 win over the New York Giants. They weren’t all created equal. It’s never that way. Touchdowns and turnovers get most of the attention, but who wins or loses is often determined by plays that get lost in shadows of those that command the most attention.

Here’s a look at five plays that shaped the Cowboys’ win:

Play: DeMarco Murray run
Situation: Third-and-1 from Dallas 29
Score: Dallas leads, 28-21
Time: 4:04 left in fourth quarter

Taylor's Take: The Cowboys knew they needed a couple of first downs or there was a good chance the Giants would drive for the game-tying touchdown. The Cowboys lined up in a three-tight end formation and ran right behind them, Jason Witten, James Hanna and Gavin Escobar each won their individual battles and Murray ran over Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie for the first down. The Cowboys took 4:59 off the clock before kicking a field goal that clinched the win.

Play: Jason Pierre-Paul sack
Situation: Second-and-5 from Dallas 25
Score: Tied, 0-0
Time: 14:28 left in third quarter

Taylor's Take: Few things are worse -- it has been reinforced this season -- than a first quarter turnover that gives an opponent early momentum. Romo was trying to throw a checkdown pass to Murray, when he saw a Giants’ player in that area. When he pulled the ball back, Romo lost control of it. He juggled it several times and finally corralled it just as Jason Pierre-Paul sacked him. Lose a fumble right then and the Giants almost certainly would have taken an early lead.

Play: Terrell McClain tackle
Situation: First-and-10 from Dallas 35
Score: Tied, 14-14
Time: 11:44 left in third quarter

Taylor's Take: On their first possession of the third quarter, the Giants were driving to take the lead. They converted two third downs and had moved to the Dallas 35, when Terrell McClain made his biggest play of the season. McClain sliced through the line of scrimmage and drilled running back Andre Williams for a three-yard loss. He stripped the ball in the process, but Williams was ruled down because his forward progress had been stopped. That hit energized the Cowboys’ defense, and the Giants punted after failing to convert a third-and-18.

Play: J.J. Wilcox pass interference penalty
Situation: Fourth-and-1 from Dallas 38
Score: Dallas leads, 7-0
Time: 12:50 left in second quarter

Taylor's Take: New York coach Tom Coughlin was already feeling desperate, which is why he went for it this early in the game. The Giants called a play-action pass and Dallas covered it perfectly. Barry Church was behind tight end Daniel Fells and J.J. Wilcox was perfectly positioned in front of him. But Wilcox didn’t trust his coverage, so he put his hands on Fells drawing a penalty and giving the Giants a first down. Four plays later, the Giants tied the score.

Play: Rueben Randle penalty
Situation: First-and-10 from Dallas 40
Score: Dallas leads, 21-14
Time: 3:10 left in third quarter

Taylor's Take: The Cowboys had just taken the lead, and the Giants were driving once again to tie the score. The Giants wanted a bubble screen to Preston Parker, but Orlando Scandrick recognized it so quickly that Randle had no choice but to hold him because he was going to blow the play up. The penalty made first-and-20, thwarting the Giants' drive.

Sound tackling key for Cowboys

October, 9, 2014
IRVING, Texas -- It's simple, but sound tackling is the key to bringing down Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson and running back Marshawn Lynch.

It's harder than it sounds, and the Cowboys will have to deal with that on Sunday when they visit the defending Super Bowl champs.

This season, Lynch has broken five tackles, tied for the fifth-most in the NFL. Of 69 plays, 7.2 percent have included from a broken tackle. Lynch has 306 rushing yards, but Wilson is also adept and breaking tackles and getting up field with his 209 yards.

Wilson is good at faking handoffs and taking off after the fake fools the linebackers. The defensive ends come charging in on the handoff, and by the time they realize it's a fake, Wilson is down the field.

It leaves the secondary with opportunities to make open-field tackles, but if they miss, good luck.

"You got to hit hard, especially Marshawn Lynch," safety Barry Church said. "You got to wrap him in, you just can’t go in there with a shoulder and think you're going to blow up the guy. He's too strong, way too strong. With Russell Wilson you got to treat him like a running back as well, if you try to pepper down, he’s going to slide or he’s going to stiff-arm you in the face and keep going. So we have to treat all those guys like running backs."

Lynch is a physical back who doesn't shy away from contact, but when he gets into the open field he's difficult to stop because it puts linebackers in a one-on-one situation.

"I think they’re equally the same," linebacker Justin Durant said. "When you got a guy like Marshawn who is one of the toughest guys to bring down in the league, he’s always going to be a No. 1 option. So you can’t really say that either one is more important. Russell is definitely a tough guy and Marshawn is tough as well."

Dallas Cowboys' pass rush is lacking

October, 7, 2014
IRVING, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys' defense has been good at times this season but it needs improvement.

Overall, it ranks eighth in scoring defense (20.6) and is tied for 10th with 10 turnovers.

However, the Cowboys' pass rush, something that was a concern going into the season, is lacking.


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The Cowboys have just five sacks, tied for 26th in the NFL and their blitz frequency on pass plays is among the lowest in the NFL. On third-down plays, the Cowboys have blitzed just four times, employing more defenders to drop back into coverage than rush the passer.

Dallas has blitzed more times on second down, 22 times, than any other down, this season.

The offseason additions of defensive tackle Henry Melton and Terrell McClain, who has been hampered by nagging injuries, and the absence of end Anthony Spencer, has hampered the pass rush somewhat.

The solid play of the linebackers, Rolando McClain and Justin Durant, have been considered a positive sign, likewise the secondary led by the safeties Barry Church and J.J. Wilcox.

Yet, pressuring the pocket is the key to any defense's success.

"Obviously we haven't had huge sack numbers, but I do think we've affected the quarterback," coach Jason Garrett said. "I think that was the case a little bit (Sunday vs. Houston) as well. We didn't have the big dramatic losses, but we were around them, trying to make him feel uncomfortable. We use the word effect a lot, you got to effect the quarterback. You effect with individual pass rush, we effect with dogs and blitzes that you would bring. I think at different times we were able to do that, force (Houston quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick) to hurry a throw, maybe throw from an uncomfortable position. I think we were able to do that throughout the game even though we didn't have the sacks."

Dallas Cowboys' defensive snaps

October, 6, 2014
IRVING, Texas -- Justin Durant is showing Rod Marinelli that he can be an every down linebacker in the Dallas Cowboys' 4-3 scheme.

For the second consecutive game, Durant played every snap and he was at his best in overtime. He was the only member of the front seven to be on the field for every play.

Durant did a nice job covering Arian Foster on the Houston Texans' final offensive play, giving Jerome Mincey time to pressure quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick into throwing an incomplete pass.

Marinelli continues to manage his eight-man defensive line rotation as Henry Melton (groin, hamstring) and Anthony Spencer (knee) round into shape.

Marinelli has said he wants to keep Melton between 38-40 snaps per game. He played 20 Sunday against Houston, and 24 the previous week.

Tyrone Crawford, who seems to have found a spot at defensive tackle, led all defensive linemen with 45 snaps.

J.J. Wilcox -- 59
Brandon Carr -- 59
Orlando Scandrick -- 59
Barry Church -- 59
Justin Durant -- 59
Rolando McClain -- 47
Tyrone Crawford -- 45
Jeremy Mincey -- 41
Sterling Moore -- 37
George Selvie -- 34
Nick Hayden -- 34
Anthony Hitchens -- 33
Anthony Spencer -- 23
Jack Crawford -- 21
Henry Melton -- 20
Terrell McClain -- 18
Kyle Wilber -- 1

Cowboys defensive playing time

September, 15, 2014
Here's a look at the snap counts for each of the Cowboys' defensive players on Sunday:

Rolando McClain erased any doubts that he’s just a two-down linebacker with his performance Sunday against Tennessee. With Justin Durant (groin) out for a few weeks, McClain was on the field for 48 of 49 plays. It’s impressive because the Titans used a lot of formations with three receivers, which is why Sterling Moore played 44 snaps. Defensive lineman Jack Crawford saw his first action with the Cowboys, playing 12 plays. Kyle Wilber has lost his starting strongside linebacker job to Bruce Carter, but he’s getting playing time as a pass-rushing defensive end. He played 12 plays against the Titans.

Bruce Carter: 49
Brandon Carr: 48
Rolando McClain: 48
Barry Church: 45
Morris Claiborne: 45
Sterling Moore: 44
Jeremy Mincey: 43
J.J. Wilcox: 41
Tyrone Crawford: 30
Henry Melton: 26
Nick Hayden: 25
George Selvie: 22
Davon Coleman 19 Terrell McClain 18 Jack Crawford 12 Kyle Wilber: 11
Jeff Heath: 10
Anthony Hitchens: 9

Upon Further Review: Defense shines

September, 15, 2014
The Dallas Cowboys moved to 1-1 with a commanding 26-10 victory over the Tennessee Titans on Sunday afternoon.

After every game we take a look back in Upon Further Review.

1. After training camp there were plenty of concerns about the defense from its pass rush to secondary play. Losing Sean Lee at middle linebacker was also a major blow to a defense that ranked last in 2013. Two weeks into the season, the defense is doing just fine. In the victory over the Titans, safety Barry Church had a pick, linebacker Rolando McClain also had one, Morris Claiborne almost picked one off and corners, Sterling Moore and Brandon Carr had strong performances. Moore knocked down several passes and Carr did a solid job in one-on-one coverage. The pass rush also got to Jake Locker numerous times and the Cowboys defense was on point. The unit was more physical this week and the increased snaps for defensive tackle Henry Melton helped. There was even a Kyle Wilber sighting as he obtained half a sack on a bull rush move.

2. Melton didn’t start against the San Francisco 49ers in Week 1, but in Week 2 he became a starter and showed the Cowboys’ coaches why he was worth signing in free agency. Melton’s tipped pass led to a McClain interception and he picked up a half-sack when he flushed Locker out of the pocket. Melton, using the three-technique along the defensive line, was able to push the pocket and he didn’t face a lot of double-teams. That might change this week when the Cowboys take on the St. Louis Rams.

3. DeMarco Murray was fantastic on Sunday. He rushed for 167 yards on 29 carries with one touchdown. Murray broke 11 tackles and despite a fumble for the second consecutive week, was able to brush it aside and run with a fury downfield. Murray has adopted the one-cut technique from position coach Gary Brown. In years past, Brown noticed the Cowboys’ running backs were doing too much dancing when they got to the hole, so Brown told the backs to get what they can. If the hole dictated one or two yards, so be it. Murray isn’t afraid to get just one or two yards, however, the offensive line is getting a good push into the second level of the defense, allowing him to make that one-cut and get up field.

4. Last week, left tackle Tyron Smith played a solid game though he allowed one sack and was penalized twice. Right tackle Doug Free gave up two sacks in the first half and looked over matched. As the game progressed, the veteran took over and handled outside linebacker Derrick Morgan and defensive end Ropati Pitoitua one-on-one with little trouble. There were times he had tight end Jason Witten lined up with him, but Free was able to produce a strong effort overall.

5. One of the biggest plays of the game came from Witten. With Dallas leading 16-10 late in the third quarter, Tony Romo floated a pass into the flat over a leaping defensive tackle Jurrell Casey. The pass was too high for Witten to haul in and safety Bernard Pollard caught the ball. Witten had the presence of mind to strip Pollard and force an incompletion. If Pollard maintains control of the ball he probably gets a pick-six and the Titans take the lead.

Dallas Cowboys defensive playing time

September, 9, 2014
Defensive tackle Henry Melton, the Cowboys' prized offseason acquisition, was hobbled with knee and groin issues in the preseason.

He missed the entire preseason, which is why he played only 26 snaps against San Francisco in Week 1. The Cowboys want to work him in slowly to ensure he doesn't aggravate the groin injury. Jeremy Mincey led the defensive line with 43 snaps. Rolando McClain played 44 snaps and did a good job of providing a physical presence. Kyle Wilber, a projected starter at linebacker much of training camp, had only four snaps.

Here's a look at the snap counts for each of the Cowboys' defensive players on Sunday:

J.J. Wilcox: 58
Brandon Carr: 57
Barry Church: 51
Bruce Carter: 48
Morris Claiborne: 47
Justin Durant: 47
Rolando McClain: 44
Jeremy Mincey: 43
Sterling Moore: 39
Tyrone Crawford: 33
Nick Hayden: 33
George Selvie: 27
Henry Melton: 26
Ken Bishop: 21
Lavar Edwards: 15
Jeff Heath: 7
Anthony Hitchens: 5
Kyle Wilber: 4

Cowboys start work before flight to Calif.

July, 22, 2014
OXNARD, Calif. -- The Dallas Cowboys arrived at Naval Base Ventura County at Point Mugu on Tuesday afternoon under clear blues and temperatures in the mid 70s.

It was far different atmosphere from the high-90s temperatures that greeted the players at Valley Ranch on Monday for the players who ran a conditioning test.

[+] EnlargeJason Witten
Tony Gutierrez/AP PhotoTight end Jason Witten was one of several Cowboys veterans who wanted to run a conditioning test before heading to training camp.
Barry Church and Travis Frederick said Jason Garrett canceled the conditioning test -- a series of sprints ranging from 40, 50 and 60 yards that need to be completed at different times depending on the player’s position -- but older players such as Jason Witten called for the test to be run anyway.

League rules prevented any coaches from being on hand because the facilities are closed down 10 days prior to the start of training camp.

“When coach said we weren’t going to have a conditioning test this year a couple of the older guys wanted to make sure that we had everybody in the right shape,” Frederick said. “Sometimes if you don’t do it, you’re not in the right shape and you’re not ready to practice. When you come out and practice as hard as we do and you do it as much as you do during training camp, that’s when it leads to guys getting hurt. A couple of the older guys wanted to make sure guys were in shape, so we did get together yesterday and do some stuff like that. Nobody was around, just the players running it, but I think it was a really good step for our team.”

The players kept the times and had to have been on the honor system. What’s unclear, however, is if those who didn’t run the test Monday will run it Wednesday in Oxnard before practices begin Thursday. Could peer pressure play a part in those who did not attend the Valley Ranch workout lead to them running it?

Safety Barry Church said it was a “camaraderie thing.”

“I feel like it’s showing the players are trying to make this team our own and go out there and have our own type of identity as a team and combine together to see what we can get accomplished here this upcoming season,” Church said.

In the past, the Cowboys have used the test as a barometer for a player’s readiness for practice. If a player was unable to complete the test, he started the year on the physically unable to perform or non-football injury list. Garrett has attempted to alter some of the training exercises to potentially combat the number of injuries the team has suffered the last two years.

“When the players get together and do something like that I think that it shows there’s a level of maturity,” Frederick said. “There’s a level of work and a level of expectations by the older guys, the guys that held it. When you go out and do something like that, that is really showing the team is ready to step forward and is a mature team. Coach says 'There’s no conditioning test,' we could easily just not do it. Everybody is like, ‘Oh yeah, it’s great. We don’t have to do it.’ But are you going to be ready? Are you ready to work? Are you ready to come out and practice as hard as we need to practice to make ourselves into the caliber of team we want to be?”

Garrett enters his biggest season -- again

July, 21, 2014
Jason GarrettAP Photo/Aaron M. SprecherJason Garrett enters his fourth full season as Dallas' coach searching for his first playoff appearance.
IRVING, Texas -- This is the biggest year of Jason Garrett's coaching career with the Dallas Cowboys.

That's after 2013 was the biggest. And 2012. And probably 2011, even if it was his first full year as a head coach and the offseason was shortened because of a lockout. This is Dallas, after all, where winning is a birthright, even if those fans born after Jan. 28, 1996, have never seen their team make a conference title game.

But now we mean it. This year -- 2014 -- is the biggest in Garrett’s coaching career.

Basically we mean it because there are no more options for Garrett. He is not under contract for 2015 with the Cowboys. He is in a contract year the way Dez Bryant, Bruce Carter and DeMarco Murray are.

The good news for Garrett is that the outside expectations have never been lower in his run as the Cowboys’ head coach. The offseason predictions, which are often ludicrous anyway, have the Cowboys tumbling from 8-8 to 5-11 or worse.

The bad news is that he has a defense that has a ton of questions at every level. Pick a defensive lineman and there is a question. Pick a linebacker and there is a question. Pick a defensive back not named Barry Church or Orlando Scandrick and there is a question.

On offense things look much better, provided quarterback Tony Romo is able to come back from back surgery to play at a high level. To some that might be a huge "if" considering Romo’s age (34), but the general feeling is that everything will be fine with the quarterback, who had 31 touchdowns and 10 interceptions in 15 starts in 2013. Add Bryant, Jason Witten, Murray and an offensive line that should be this franchise’s best since 2007 and you can see the offense putting up yards and points this season.

That is where Garrett has to hang his hat if he wants to be the Cowboys’ head coach or another team’s head coach in 2015. And he can’t really hang his hat in the room, because he won’t be in the room as much as he has been.

One of Garrett's themes of 2013 was that he was entering what was the biggest year of his coaching career and unable to do what he does best -- run the offense -- because Jerry Jones gave those duties to Bill Callahan. Garrett won’t be running the offense in 2014 either, but neither will Callahan. Garrett at least has his guy, Scott Linehan, running it this season. So that is a slight bonus for Garrett.

The better news for Garrett is that if he makes the playoffs, he can control his future.

Looking objectively at what he has done since taking over as the full-time coach, there have been positive signs and mistakes that have cost the Cowboys games. The general direction of the team is better than it was when he took over. Troy Aikman said this offseason that if Garrett is not back in 2015, then the next coach will benefit from the foundation Garrett put down.

There aren’t many people outside of Valley Ranch giving the Cowboys a chance to compete in the NFC East in 2014. The Cowboys went 5-1 in the division last season and had the worst defense in the league. If they are a tick better on defense this season, can’t they contend? When did the Philadelphia Eagles, New York Giants and Washington Redskins become such juggernauts?

If the Cowboys made the playoffs, would Garrett become a hot commodity again? Would teams look at the big picture of the mess he inherited, how he kept the team competitive in a retooling if not rebuilding mode and how he worked with owner and general manager Jerry Jones, and view Garrett differently than he is viewed now?

Perhaps, and that would put him in a position of leverage.

Garrett will not address his future no matter how many times he is asked. He gives the same answer about keeping his focus on being the best coach he can be each and every day. Jones has been patient with Garrett and he doesn’t mind that the coach is in a lame-duck status. Jones wants to see the Cowboys reap the rewards of working through some of Garrett’s missteps made because of inexperience in his first three seasons.

This week Jones will be sitting next to Garrett and will be asked about the coach’s long-term status. He will profess faith in Garrett, extoll what he has done in his first three seasons and talk about the potential payoff coming in 2014.

If it doesn’t come this season, then all bets are off.

That is why this year -- 2014 -- is the biggest year of Garrett’s coaching career.

Dallas Cowboys' projected roster

July, 18, 2014
IRVING, Texas -- Examining the Dallas Cowboys' roster:


The Kyle Orton watch is over now that the Cowboys released the veteran backup. The timing of it is a surprise, and Jason Garrett spoke optimistically all offseason about Orton’s return. Now the Cowboys turn their attention to Weeden as Romo’s backup. Weeden had a productive spring, running the first-team offense as Romo recovered from back surgery. The Cowboys haven’t kept a third quarterback since 2011, and Caleb Hanie and Dustin Vaughan will have work to do to crack the 53-man roster


The last two spots could be up in the air. Randle, a fifth-round choice, will be pushed by free-agent pickup Ryan Williams in the preseason. Williams, a former second-round pick, was not able to stay healthy in Arizona. The Cowboys have given him a chance to win a backup job. Clutts did a nice job as a late-season pickup in 2013. He is more versatile than undrafted rookie J.C. Copeland, but I don’t think having a fullback on the 53-man roster is set in stone.


I debated whether to go with a sixth, but later on you will see why I stuck with five. It is possible the Cowboys will look for a veteran in the final cuts if they feel limited by their depth because of injury, but I think they like the overall group. They will work their No. 3 receiver role on a rotation basis, but Beasley could emerge as a bigger threat on third down. There will be a lot of eyes on Williams, who takes over the No. 2 role on a full-time basis. Bryant is set for another Pro Bowl-type season.


Witten remains near the top of the game at his position. His total catches were down last year, but his touchdowns were up. Escobar’s role figures to expand, especially as a No. 3-type receiver. Hanna has the inside track on the third spot, but I have a feeling the Cowboys will be looking for more of a traditional blocker, especially if they want to get away from the fullback spot to open up a role elsewhere.


The top six are set, with Bernadeau or Leary fighting it out for the left guard position and the loser becoming the top backup on the interior. Parnell is in the final year of his deal, and if Weems develops, I wonder if the Cowboys would look for a trading partner. They have invested a lot in Parnell in time and money for him to be a backup, so it would be a risk, but perhaps one worth taking. Weems had a decent offseason. Clarke gets the nod as the No. 9 guy right now, but veteran Uche Nwaneri could work his way into the mix.


I think the Cowboys will go heavy here, especially considering what happened last year and the numbers they have thrown at the position this year. Four of them are rookies -- Lawrence, Gardner, Bishop and Coleman. I believe Anthony Spencer and possibly Amobi Okoye will start the year on the physically unable to perform list, so they don’t make this 53-man roster with the idea that they join the team after the sixth game of the season. Wilson garnered the last spot over a 2013 starter, Nick Hayden, but there will be a few players in the mix for the final few spots, including Ben Bass.


Carrying seven linebackers might be a little heavy, but I have special teams in mind when it comes to Will Smith. He benefits from having only two quarterbacks on the 53-man roster. The Cowboys spent the offseason telling us games are won and lost up front, so carrying an extra offensive or defensive linemen could get in this mix as well. McClain gets a spot only because of his experience. Backups of Holloman, Hitchens and Smith would be tough considering their youth, and I can see the Cowboys looking for veteran backup help around the final cut dates.


Carr and Claiborne have to play exceptionally well for this defense to have a chance, and they might have to do it without much help from a consistent pass rush. Scandrick is coming off his best season, and Claiborne will have to beat him out to reclaim the starting spot. Moore can play inside and out. Mitchell showed in his limited offseason work that he can make plays. Last year’s fourth-round pick, B.W. Webb, will have to fight for a spot. Based on his offseason work, he did not make the cut for this roster.


Church is the only player without questions. The Cowboys are projecting the other four with their biggest bet on Wilcox. He enters camp as the starter, but he could be pushed by Heath and Hamilton. Dixon will be more of a special-teams threat if he is to make the roster. Hamilton showed some playmaking in the offseason. No Matt Johnson? Not right now, especially after he couldn’t practice -- again -- for most of the offseason.


Perhaps Cody Mandell can push Jones, but Jones is the more consistent punter and has a good rapport as a holder for Bailey. Ladouceur remains one of the best long-snappers in the game. This group won’t change during the summer unless there is an injury.

Church chimes in on D's question marks

July, 17, 2014
Safety Barry Church is as close as it comes to a sure thing on a Dallas Cowboys’ defense that has a whole bunch of question marks.

What does Church expect from some of the most prominent question marks around him? He provided his answers during a Tuesday appearance on ESPN Dallas 103.3 FM.

 On J.J. Wilcox: “Just an explosive playmaker. Those are the words that come to my mind when I think of him. This whole offseason, he was all over the place -- getting interceptions, locking up tight ends -- so I feel like he’s going to be a big playmaker for us on the back end. I’m excited to see what he can bring to the table this season.”

On Bruce Carter: “Definitely with the loss of Sean Lee, it’s time for him to step up and be that focal point of the defense, and I feel like he’ll be able to do that. He’s making a lot of the checks out there. He’s the head of the huddle for the defense, so I feel like this offseason really generated a lot of confidence for him, and I feel like going into the season that’s going to work for him. He’s going to get better and better as the season progresses.”

On Morris Claiborne: “To me, he’s had the best offseason out of anybody in our secondary and anybody on our defense. He’s turned his body around. He’s completely focused. Before, I would have to give him the check for the defense a couple of times. Now, I’m just like, ‘Boom, here’s the call,’ and he’s ready to roll. ... Now you’re starting to see some of the productivity he can bring to our defense.”

On Brandon Carr: “I expect him to live up to that contract, and I know he will. He’s been putting in a lot of work this offseason. Me and him especially have working on our footwork drills, man-to-man drills and lifting together and running together. I feel like he’s got just a whole new focus going into this season. He wants to, like he said earlier in one of his interviews, take over the league. I feel like he can be one of those top-3 corners in the NFL. I feel like he’ll show everybody this year. I definitely have the faith in him to live up to that contract, and I know he will.”

On DeMarcus Lawrence: “Definitely, it’ll take some time. DeMarcus Ware, he’s a one-of-a-kind guy. It’s definitely going to take more than one year to replace a guy like that, but DeMarcus Lawrence has got the talent. He’s been out there working against one of the best offensive tackles in the game in Tyron Smith every day in practice. He’s taken a couple of lumps from him, but he’s definitely won some of those battles, too. That definitely shows me that he has the talent, and he has the will to do it. We’ve just got to see what he can do when the pads come on, but I definitely see a productive guy in DeMarcus Lawrence.”