Dallas Cowboys: Brandon Marshall

Jimmy Graham deal Dez Bryant's baseline?

July, 15, 2014
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IRVING, Texas -- Jimmy Graham was unable to declare himself a wide receiver in an arbitration case, but the New Orleans Saints tight end did fairly well with his reported four-year, $40 million deal that includes $21 million guaranteed.

As the Dallas Cowboys and Dez Bryant look for ways to come to an agreement on a long-term deal so they can avoid any franchise-tag hassle next offseason, can Graham’s deal be something of a barometer for Bryant?

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Bryant
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Graham argued he was a receiver because he lined up mostly off the line. It was an argument that was eventually denied by an arbiter, but there is some truth to what he was saying. Graham is not a tight end in the way Jason Witten is a tight end. But that is his position. Bryant will never be asked to put his hand on the ground to block somebody the way Graham is asked to do at least part of the time for the Saints.

But I digress. Let’s just look at the statistical comparisons of Bryant and Graham. Both players were selected in the 2010 draft. Bryant was a first-round pick, so he has an extra year on his rookie deal. Graham was a third-round pick.

In the past three seasons their numbers are fairly similar.

Bryant: 248 catches, 3,543 yards, 34 touchdowns.
Graham: 270 catches, 3,507 yards, 36 touchdowns.

Any discussions between the Cowboys and Bryant’s agent, Eugene Parker, have been kept under wraps for the most part. Most of the figures thrown around have been by the media. There are seven wide receivers with an average annual value of at least $10 million: Brandon Marshall, Calvin Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald, Percy Harvin, Mike Wallace, Dwayne Bowe and Vincent Jackson.

Marshall, Johnson, Fitzgerald, Wallace, Bowe and Jackson have at least $20 million in guaranteed money in their deals, as does Andre Johnson, who is threatening a holdout from the Houston Texans' training camp.

Graham’s contract puts him in line with receivers if not with the top-paid guys like Johnson ($16.2 million), Fitzgerald ($16.1 million). Harvin ($12.9 million) and Wallace ($12 million) who cashed in during free agency. Bowe averages $11.2 million. The Washington Redskins signed DeSean Jackson to a three-year, $24 million deal that included $16 million guaranteed in the offseason.

So where does Bryant fit in? Should he get Graham’s $10 million average or play out the season and possibly get tagged (that was $12.3 million in 2014)?

There is some middle ground in which both sides can compromise, but Graham's deal could help define just where that ground is, even if he is a tight end (wink, wink).

Is Dez Bryant an elite wide receiver?

June, 19, 2014
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IRVING, Texas -- Dez Bryant earned his first Pro Bowl berth after a strong season with 93 catches for 1,233 yards and 13 touchdowns. It was puzzling that Pro Football Focus didn't rank Bryant among their list of the top 101 players in the league.

The website that grades every player in the league said Bryant struggled in the second half of the year.

Yet, Bryant is regarded among the best at his position.

"I don't think about it," Bryant said. "I'm a fan of a lot of these guys in the league. I'm just going to remain that way. I'm a huge fan of the NFL. I love the game. I love seeing other players make great plays, except against us. I'm just a huge fan of the NFL and all the players in the league."

Some of the best receivers in the league are Calvin Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald, Brandon Marshall, A.J. Green, Demaryius Thomas, DeSean Jackson and Andre Johnson.

"It felt good. It was an unbelievable experience," Bryant added about his experience with at the Pro Bowl. "I had a great time. It was good to talk about how they do it in their locker room and how we do it in our locker room. Talk about different drills and what makes you good at this and what makes you good at that. It was good conversation."

IRVING, Texas -- Dez Bryant is right. He does deserve to be paid by the Dallas Cowboys. He has earned it.

The question is how will he be paid?

He is dynamic with the ball in his hands. He deserves to be in the conversation with the best receivers in the NFL, such as Calvin Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald, Brandon Marshall, Andre Johnson and whoever else you want to add to the list. That doesn't mean he is at the top of the group just yet, but he deserves to be in the conversation.

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Should the Cowboys give Dez Bryant a long-term extension before the season starts?

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He is only 25. He has had more than 90 catches in each of the past two seasons. He has posted 1,382 and 1,233 yards the past two seasons, and he has caught 25 touchdown passes in that span. Those are elite numbers. And he went to his first Pro Bowl last season.

Bryant has improved each year on and off the field, and the Cowboys deserve praise for how they have helped guide him in certain manners. But Bryant deserves the most credit. He has developed close relationships with Jason Witten and Tony Romo. He has changed how he has operated.

He has become one of Jason Garrett’s guys. This year he will be asked to take more of a leadership role in the wide receivers’ meeting room with Miles Austin gone. He likes the responsibility and is not afraid of being “the guy.”

What will make or break a long-term deal for Bryant will be the structure of the contract. The Cowboys will want some insurance.

Most of the bigger deals for receivers revolve around large signing bonuses and lower base salaries in the first few years to help with the salary cap. But do the Cowboys follow that path? They want to keep Bryant hungry and happy. They have seen their past two big-time contracts for wide receivers (Roy Williams and Miles Austin) go up in smoke.

If something were to go awry with Bryant, the Cowboys don’t want to be in a position where they are hamstrung by the salary cap. With higher base salaries, the thinking is Bryant will have to remain motivated to make sure he cashes in every year. It also gives the team an out without killing them against the cap.

Believe it or not, the Cowboys can look at Terrell Owens’ deal in 2006 as a blueprint.

They structured Owens’ first contract with the Cowboys that way. In 2006, Owens received a $5 million signing bonus and $5 million salary in a three-year, $25 million deal. His base salaries in Years 2 and 3 were $7 million and $8 million. Owens had been upset at the structure of his deal when he signed with Philadelphia, which ultimately led him to the Cowboys after a hellacious year with the Eagles.

The Cowboys would want to avoid something similar with Bryant. His agent, Eugene Parker, has a good working relationship with the team, so there could be some common ground to find where Bryant is happy and the team is happy.

Jerry Jones is too fickle

December, 10, 2013
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IRVING, Texas -- It's good that Dallas Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones believes in Monte Kiffin.

On his radio show on 105.3 The Fan in Dallas Tuesday morning, Jones said, "First of all, he knows what's happening to us better than anyone. And if there are adjustments to be made, he's the right man for the job right now."

[+] EnlargeJerry Jones
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsJerry Jones says "there'll be a little different cast of players out there up against Green Bay," after the Cowboys owner and GM witnessed a MNF loss at Chicago.
Yet after the 45-28 loss to the Chicago Bears on ESPN's "Monday Night Football," Jones was saying the Cowboys must change what they do defensively.

He saw Josh McCown throw for four touchdowns against Kiffin's defense. He saw Kiffin's defense give up 33 first downs and 490 yards. He saw Kiffin's defense allow the Bears to convert on eight of 11 third-down opportunities. If you're scoring at home, that's the sixth time teams have converted on at least half of their third downs in a game against Kiffin's defense.

Brandon Marshall had 100 receiving yards against Kiffin's defense. Matt Forte had 102 rushing yards against Kiffin's defense.

How does Jones have confidence in what Kiffin is doing?

"Well, I think that you realize you don't have a choice," Jones said immediately after the game. "We can do some things different out there. It's not as safe, but it could be more effective. Maybe get us a turnover when it could have made a difference and change the tide out there. But I'll assure you that we'll be doing some different things up against Green Bay. There'll be a little different cast of players out there up against Green Bay. But they used their assets very effectively, those big receivers, and to the quarterback's credit, he put it on them and we just couldn't defend it."

I'm not a certified decipherer of Jones-ese, but it sounds lile he wants Kiffin to gamble more, to be unsound if necessary. It sounds like he wants Kiffin to be (gulp) more like Rob Ryan. Jones lived in fear of all the exotic packages Ryan rolled out in 2011 and had the coordinator scale it back in 2012. He thought the players had to think too much and thus reacted slowly. Ryan was fired after last season.

Jones is like Goldilocks looking for the defense that's "just right." That's the problem. His convictions change too conveniently. If Ryan is too blitz happy, he wants to change. If Kiffin is too conservative, he wants to change.

The owner and general manager cannot be that fickle.

Kiffin's scheme has never been built on tricking people. It was built on great players making plays. He had great players playing for him in Tampa Bay. There's a chance three more of them could one day join Warren Sapp in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

The defense is built on getting pressure with four players. It is built mostly on zone concepts. The Cowboys can't get pressure with four players right now and their corners play best in man-to-man, although Monday it did not matter what coverage they played.

The owner has paid a lot of money for pieces that do not fit or have not performed, and the general manager does not have enough pieces for Kiffin's scheme -- or Ryan's scheme -- to work well enough to just be presentable.

Dallas Cowboys Graphic

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.

Kiffin: Cowboys facing basketball players

December, 5, 2013
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IRVING, Texas -- Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin says his defense will face a couple of basketball players in Monday night's game against the Chicago Bears.

Carr
The Bears' starting receivers are Brandon Marshall, 6-4 and 230 pounds, and Alshon Jeffery, 6-3, 216 pounds. Of course, when you add tight end Martellus Bennett, at 6-6, 265 pounds, you got a couple of power forwards.

"They're something else," Kiffin said. "It's like a NBA team getting off the bus, good gosh, all power forwards. You know they can run and jump, and I'm sure they’ve all played basketball somewhere down the line. They're really good athletes and they really do get it to them, and the quarterbacks do a great job, it doesn’t matter who's in there. They put the ball up without a doubt, a heck of a group of receivers."

Jeffery is fourth in the NFL in receiving yards (1,109), and Marshall is ninth (990). Last week, Jeffery set a franchise single-game record with 245 receiving yards in a loss to the Minnesota Vikings.

The Cowboys' tallest defensive back is safety Barry Church at 6-2. But the starting cornerbacks, Orlando Scandrick (5-10) and Brandon Carr (6-0), could have some problems.

"You just got to play the ball," Scandrick said. "When receivers are tall you can't get caught up playing the man, because most of the time when you're going to try to rip through the ball, he's going to get it at its highest point. Were going to have to stay on top of routes."
There were 31 wide receivers taken in the 2010 NFL draft, with the Cowboys moving up to select Dez Bryant out of Oklahoma State with the 24th pick. Looking at the receivers taken in that class and how they've produced, Bryant is emerging as the best of the bunch.

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In three seasons, Bryant leads all the receivers in his class in yards (2,871), catches (200) and touchdowns (27). Denver's Demaryius Thomas is closest to him in yards with 2,268 and Tampa Bay's Mike Williams is closest in touchdowns with 23.

The Steelers' Antonio Brown (2,062 yards and seven touchdowns) has also shown himself to be a dynamic receiverk, and of course you can see the talent in Seattle's Golden Tate (1,297 yards and 10 touchdowns). But Bryant's big-play ability, given his increasing understanding of the offense, is making him the cream of the crop.

In terms of becoming one of the best receivers in the game, he's still needs more seasoning before he's mentioned with Calvin Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald and Brandon Marshall.

However, defenses are trying to take him out of game and forcing Tony Romo to find other targets. Bryant didn't get as many balls thrown his way as he could have because he was often double-teamed with a safety and a cornerback. Against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Bryant had a linebacker drop underneath him in coverage.

Former wide receivers coach Ray Sherman called Bryant a freak in terms of his abilities. Bryant has the best hands on the team and is the most physical receiver of the group. Miles Austin is probably more polished because he's played longer, but when it comes time to make big plays, or important plays, Bryant has emerged as a favorite of Romo.

Bryant finished the 2012 season in a three-way tie among receivers for the league lead with five fourth-quarter touchdowns. Minnesota's Kyle Rudolph and Marshall also had five fourth-quarter touchdowns.

If the Cowboys can depend on Bryant long term they have an outstanding talent that can become the focal point of the offense.

DeMarcus Ware, Jason Witten named to Pro Bowl

December, 26, 2012
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IRVING, Texas -- For the second straight year the Cowboys had only two players selected to the Pro Bowl, their fewest in back-to-back years since 2001-02.

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Outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware has been selected for the seventh straight year, and after a one-year hiatus tight end Jason Witten was picked for the eighth time.

Ware was selected as a starter with San Francisco’s Aldon Smith, and Witten was voted as a backup to Atlanta’s Tony Gonzalez.

How many Cowboys actually play in the Jan. 27, 2013, game in Honolulu is up for debate because Ware could need surgery on his right shoulder after the season and a couple of players could be added as injury replacements.

The Cowboys do not comment on what players are named as possible alternates.

Last year, Ware and nose tackle Jay Ratliff were named to the Pro Bowl.

Ware leads the Cowboys with 11.5 sacks and is closing on the team’s unofficial sack record of 114 held by Harvey Martin. The franchise’s official all-time sack leader is tied with Randy White with 111 sacks on the unofficial list.

“What an honor and privilege it is to be voted to the Pro Bowl by the fans, coaches and players around the league,” Ware said in a statement released by the team. “I know how difficult it is to make it to the game, and I appreciate the support from everyone. I look forward to not only representing the NFC, but also the entire Dallas Cowboys organization.”

Witten set an NFL record for catches by a tight end in a season with 103 and needs 17 yards for his fourth 1,000-yard season. He needs 12 catches Sunday at Washington to set the franchise’s season record for catches, currently held by Michael Irvin, who had 111 catches in 1995. Witten became the Cowboys’ all-time leading pass catcher Nov. 4 in Atlanta.

The only players in team history with more Pro Bowl selections for the Cowboys are Bob Lilly (11), Larry Allen (10), Mel Renfro (10) and White (nine). Emmitt Smith was also picked to play in eight.

“It is always an honor to get voted, especially when a portion of the vote comes from your peers around the league,” Witten said. “Ihave a lot of respect for this league and the players that make up this league. I know how many great players there are around the NFL, and to be selected is very humbling.”

Dez Bryant missed out on making his first Pro Bowl appearance despite a breakout season. Detroit’s Calvin Johnson, Chicago’s Brandon Marshall, Victor Cruz of the New York Giants and Atlanta’s Julio Jones were named as the four receivers.

Bryant has 88 catches for 1,311 yards and 12 touchdowns on the season and has caught at least one TD pass in his last seven games. He has more catches and yards than Cruz and Jones and more touchdowns than Johnson and Marshall.

Even if he is added to the roster it is unlikely that Bryant would play in the all-star game because he needs surgery on his left index finger when the season ends.

Outside linebacker Anthony Spencer also missed out on a bid, despite a career-high 10 sacks and a team-leading 99 tackles. Ware was joined at the outside linebacker position by Smith and Green Bay’s Clay Matthews.

Dez Bryant making case for Pro Bowl

December, 19, 2012
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IRVING, Texas – Fan voting for the Pro Bowl ended Monday and players, coaches and executives will vote this week.

The folks on NFL Live said the other day that Dez Bryant deserves to be on the NFC roster and it’s difficult to argue otherwise. Bryant has career highs in catches (79), yards (1,087) and touchdowns (10) this season and has been among the best receivers in the league – never mind the conference – in the second half of the season.

Bryant’s selection won’t be a lock. Only four receivers are picked for the team.

Detroit’s Calvin Johnson and Chicago’s Brandon Marshall have more catches and yards. Atlanta’s Roddy White has the same catches as Bryant, but more yards. Arizona’s Larry Fitzgerald has been hurt by the Cardinals’ quarterback play but he has the respect of every defender. Green Bay’s James Jones has only 51 catches for 622 yards, but he has 12 touchdowns. How do you factor in Tampa Bay’s Vincent Jackson, who has 1,226 yards and eight touchdowns?

Bryant would be the third Cowboys receiver to make the Pro Bowl since 2000, joining Terrell Owens (2007) and Miles Austin (2009, ’10) if he is selected.

Even if Bryant is selected, he likely wouldn’t play in the game because he will need finger surgery whenever the Cowboys’ season ends.

Can Dez Bryant make the Pro Bowl roster?

November, 29, 2012
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IRVING, Texas -- Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant is just 120 yards away from his first 1,000-yard receiving season. He's produced four games with over 100 receiving yards, including 290 yards over the last two weeks.

Has Bryant done enough to get into the Pro Bowl conversation?

Currently, Bryant is 11th in the NFL in receiving yards, and you would have to think Detroit's Calvin Johnson, Chicago's Brandon Marshall and most likely either Atlanta's Roddy White or Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald will make the roster.

Bryant has put up big numbers in nationally televised games and has a chance to do it again Sunday night when the Cowboys host the Philadelphia Eagles.

His biggest challenge could be New York's Victor Cruz and Atlanta's Julio Jones. If anything, Bryant has a chance to become one of the Pro Bowl alternates, meaning if one of the selected players opts out, the first alternate gets a call up.

Bryant has been wonderful this season, but more established players such as Johnson, Marshall and White could prevent him from getting the coaches and player votes, which each account for one-third of the vote. The fans get the other third of the vote, so maybe he gets some opportunities there.

Brandon Carr takes blame for Brandon Marshall

October, 2, 2012
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ARLINGTON, Texas – For the first time as a Cowboy, Brandon Carr didn’t look like 50 million bucks Monday night.

The Cowboys signed Carr this offseason to give them a shutdown cornerback capable of taking No. 1 receivers out of the game. Carr called himself out after Chicago’s Brandon Marshall torched the Cowboys for 138 yards and a touchdown on seven catches.

Not all of Marshall’s receptions came against Carr. He made some big plays when the Bears managed to get him matched up on safeties in the middle of the field.

But Carr couldn’t stop Marshall, who caught every pass intended for him except for one. One play particularly stuck in Carr’s craw: Marshall’s leaping catch over Carr for a 30-yard gain to set up a field goal that stretched Chicago’s lead to 17 early in the fourth quarter.

“I knew it was going to be a 60-minute battle,” said Carr, who was familiar with Marshall from their AFC West days with the Chiefs and Broncos. “I knew his capabilities. He got some plays on me. He’s a good receiver. Hat off to him, but you know … ah, I don’t know what to say.”

At this point, Carr paused, tilted his head back and let out a frustrated shout.

“I am frustrated, I’m sorry,” Carr said. “It’s just tough. I have to find a way to get those balls out, especially that deep ball.”

Carr embraces the standards that come along with his $50 million contract. He didn’t live up to them Monday night.

Stock Report: Sean Lee up; Tony Romo down

October, 2, 2012
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ARLINGTON, Texas -- The Cowboys have a bye week after their 34-18 loss to the Chicago Bears pushed them to 2-2 on the season.

We review the loss in our weekly Stock Report.

Streaking
STOCK UP

Jason Witten. The return of the talented and elite tight end was welcomed as he caught 13 passes for 112 yards and one meaningless touchdown. You can say, why is Witten getting praised? No. 1, no drops. He leads the NFL with five. No. 2, he was targeted 14 times in the Bears game, meaning quarterback Tony Romo still has confidence in his favorite target.

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Sean Lee. He can be here every week. Lee had a season-high 10 solo tackles. He also had a tackle for loss, and if you're thinking about one of the NFC's Pro Bowl linebackers, look toward Lee. He also had a combined total of 14 tackles and played with a fury the entire night.

Danny McCray. Playing for the injured Barry Church, McCray finished second on the team with six total tackles, four solo, but some of those were in the open field, where if you don't perform well, a short gain can turn into a big one. McCray also tipped a pass in the end zone that negated a pass interference call on Brandon Carr.

Slumping
STOCK DOWN

Tony Romo. Not all of the five interceptions he threw Monday night were his fault, but at least two were and there were some overthrows. Romo does a nice job of escaping the pocket, but his numbers were just bad. He completed 31 of 43 passes for 307 yards, but those picks put a damper on his night.

Dez Bryant. He had a career-high 105 yards, marking the second 100 yard game of his career, but he had two drops and it appeared he ran the wrong route, resulting in an interception. Bryant didn't score Monday night, and his mental mistakes overshadow his 100-yard receiving game.

Pass defense. Morris Claiborne got beat for a touchdown, the first of his career, thanks to the stop-and-go route by Devin Hester. Carr got beat up, too. Overall, Brandon Marshall had seven catches for 138 yards, Hester had a 34-yard score, rookie Alshon Jeffery made three catches for 32 yards and tight end Kellen Davis averaged 20.7 yards per catch on three receptions.

Cowboys need to control damage better

October, 2, 2012
10/02/12
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Tony RomoRonald Martinez/Getty ImagesMonday night's loss to the Bears was one to forget for Tony Romo and the Cowboys.
As everyone shouts and scrambles this morning to figure out who's to blame for what happened to the Dallas Cowboys on Monday night, I'd like to suggest that we at least consider the Bears as one possible answer. Chicago has a good, tough team with an opportunistic defense that's built on forcing turnovers. They are well coached and understand where to press their advantages. I'm sure, for example, that forcing Brandon Marshall inside on short routes to limit the damage he might do on the outside seemed like a good idea to the Cowboys in their defensive meetings last week. The Bears saw it as a chance to get him matched up on linebackers, whom he could dominate with his size. They were right. Sometimes you get outplayed and outcoached. It's a tough league, and the other team's getting paid, too.

For me, the most disturbing thing about Monday night for the Cowboys was the way they fell apart once the game appeared lost -- the sloppy, unfocused and downcast way they played the fourth quarter when all they still had to play for was pride. For a team that's trying, as Jason Garrett has said, to "build a football program for the future," that part of the performance stands out as something that needs to be addressed.

There was a point in the game at which Tony Romo had thrown only three interceptions, and you could have reasonably said two were not his fault. Dez Bryant made a mistake that led to the first one (though I still think blame is shared there, as it appears Charles Tillman may have jumped the route and picked the ball anyway), and Kevin Ogletree's stone hands act caused the second. The third was a result of a poor, over-aggressive decision by Romo to try to make something happen. The fourth and fifth were just plain sloppy, and their effect was the eradication of Romo's benefit of the doubt. By running his interception total into the realm of the incomprehensible, he invited those who would blame him for every loss to blame him for the loss.

Once the Bears were up two touchdowns in the fourth quarter, the Cowboys were in the worst possible situation -- one in which Romo was trying to do too much and making bad decisions as a result. Adversity can be a very bad thing for Romo, and last night was an example of a guy flooring the gas pedal after blowing out a tire. When keeping it together would have showed his team a lot, even if a comeback wasn't possible, Romo fell totally apart.

Same thing happened on defense, where at the end of their first bad game of this season the Cowboys' defensive backs appeared to have left early to beat the traffic. It's no picnic trying to cover Marshall, but you are expected to try, and to do so for all 60 minutes. Marshall's 31-yard touchdown catch in the fourth quarter that put Chicago up 34-10 should have come in a gift bag with a note thanking him for visiting Cowboys Stadium. Contesting plays like that in the game's final minutes would have shown you something about this revamped Dallas defense, and it might have been something even more impressive and valuable than the high quality of its play in the first three games of the season.

And yeah, I know the defense was missing three starters, and I know Bryant dropped too many passes, and I know it's disheartening when you realize a game has slipped away from you, at home, with a billion people watching in prime time, etc. But that doesn't mean you just fold up like an umbrella and let the visiting team continue to embarrass you.

The Cowboys players were accountable after the game. They stood there and took responsibility for the loss and their many failures in it. And that does show you something about a team and give you reason to feel as though it has the kinds of solid citizens and dedicated professionals it needs to succeed. But they could have offered even more reason to feel that way if they'd appeared, in Monday night's fourth quarter, to be angry or upset about what was happening to them, or showed more determination to keep it from getting worse.

Monday's wasn't a game the Cowboys should have won. The Bears were in the NFC Championship Game two years ago. It's fair to say they're a little further along in their program than the Cowboys are in theirs. It would be far less of a surprise to see Chicago in this year's playoffs than it would to see Dallas there. That was true before the season started, and it's obvious this morning. The Cowboys are building something, and they have a ways to go.

But where they failed Monday was at the end, when they had a chance to use a tough loss to a tough team as a character-building experience. To show grit and determination in the face of insurmountable difficulty. When the going got tough Monday, the Cowboys collapsed utterly. And if I were a Cowboys fan or coach or player, that would bother me a lot more than the turnovers, the dropped passes or the loss itself.

Rapid Reaction: Bears 34, Cowboys 18

October, 1, 2012
10/01/12
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video

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Jay Cutler is not one to smile during a game. It's not in his nature.

Monday night, he did.

After Brandon Marshall caught a 31-yard touchdown pass to give the Chicago Bears a commanding 24-point lead against the Dallas Cowboys, Cutler slapped fives with linebacker Brian Urlacher and had one of those "I just won the lottery" smiles.

Tony Romo didn't have one of those smiles. He had frustration on his face and used a profanity after throwing a crowd-clearing interception with 5:51 to play in a distasteful, 34-18 loss to the Bears.

What it means: At 2-2, the Cowboys' odds of making the postseason stand at 35.3 percent. Under the current playoff format, 71 of 201 teams in their position have made the postseason. The Cowboys are heading into a bye week that will only raise questions about just how good or bad they are. This is the second consecutive season they have started 2-2 going into a bye. The last time the Cowboys had a record above .500 into a week off was 2009, and they were 3-2.

Turnovers hurt: Romo tied a career high with five interceptions. Some of the picks weren't his fault. Dez Bryant ran the wrong route that led to one pick; Kevin Ogletree failed to hold on to a pass for another. But the other three could be blamed on Romo. For the night, Romo completed 31 of 43 passes for 307 yards with one touchdown to go with the five picks. Kyle Orton replaced Romo late in the fourth quarter. It was a poor performance by Romo, who watched Jay Cutler outplay him. Cutler completed 18 passes on 24 attempts for 275 yards and two touchdowns.

Carr struggles: Brandon Carr did a nice job covering Vincent Jackson in the win over Tampa Bay last week, but not so much against Brandon Marshall. Marshall caught seven passes for 138 yards, and his only touchdown reception caught Carr in a pick play in which he failed to get past Kellen Davis.

Pass rush isn't there: Cutler was sacked just once Monday night, but he didn't get hit often by the Cowboys' pass rush. There were times when outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware couldn't reach Cutler, who got rid of the ball quickly. Without Anthony Spencer (pectoral muscle strain) and for a few snaps inside linebacker Bruce Carter (hip), the Cowboys were lacking in the pass rush. It was a long night for it as Cutler picked apart the Cowboys' secondary.

No drops for Witten: The NFL leader in drops, tight end Jason Witten had none. He finished with 13 catches for 112 yards and a late touchdown, coming with 34 seconds to play. Witten was just two catches shy of his career high. Witten has five drops through four games.

What's next? A bye week, and thank goodness, at least for the Cowboys. The Cowboys will have one practice this week, on Wednesday, before taking four days off. When they return, nose tackle Jay Ratliff (ankle), who has missed the first four games of the season, could make his season debut. Center Phil Costa, who played just three snaps in the season opener, could also make a return to the starting lineup.

Bears-Cowboys: Devin Hester's role

October, 1, 2012
10/01/12
4:46
PM ET
OK. We've reviewed the Sunday performances for three-fourths of the NFC North. Now it's time to turn our attention to the Monday night matchup between the Chicago Bears and Dallas Cowboys. Kickoff is set for 8:30 p.m. ET, but the game will be hard-pressed to reach the drama level of last Monday's affair.

PODCAST
Coop and Nate discuss the Monday Night Football matchup between the Cowboys and Bears.

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We've discussed a few aspects of this game, from the apparent mismatch the Bears' defensive line should have over the Cowboys offensive line, to quarterback Jay Cutler's dismal record in prime-time games on the road, to the Bears' aggressive but unsuccessful attempts to get the ball down the field through three games.

In the last few hours before kickoff, I'd like to focus on the Cowboys' top-ranked defense, and how a potential antidote has to this point not been a part of the Bears offense.

The Cowboys are limiting opponents to an NFL-low 250 yards and 15.7 first downs per game and boast one of the league's top pass-rushers in DeMarcus Ware. An easy and high-percentage offensive alternative to the Bears' downfield throws could include an emphasis on receiver Devin Hester near the line of scrimmage, but to this point Hester has been almost invisible in the Bears' new offense.

Hester has been targeted on five passes, catching two for 27 yards, and has played on 30 percent of the Bears' snaps, according to Pro Football Focus. Late last week, he expressed frustration to ESPNChicago.com, saying: "It's hard being one of the top electrifying players in the league and you're not able to get your hands on the ball as much as you want."

Based on what we discussed over the weekend, I'm not sure Cutler wants to redirect his efforts away from receivers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery. But you wonder if Hester won't emerge as a bigger factor Monday night -- or whether he should. Just a thought.

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