Dallas Cowboys: Damaris Johnson
How do the Cowboys look at wide receiver and what still needs to be done?
Dallas Cowboys: Dez Bryant broke out in a huge way in the second half of his third NFL season and finished the year with 92 catches for 1,382 yards and 12 touchdowns. If he can keep himself in one piece, he's one of the top wideouts in the league. Miles Austin is the perfect complement on the other side -- good enough that defenses have to pay attention to him but not the kind of guy who's going to complain if Bryant gets more catches. Austin has to keep his hamstrings healthy, and if he does the Cowboys have a top one-two wide receiver combo. Dwayne Harris came on strong last year as a No. 3 wide receiver, and guys such as Cole Beasley and Danny Coale could provide intriguing depth. Dallas could look to add a veteran wide receiver to its mix heading into training camp in case the young guys don't produce, but it's not a high-priority issue.
To see what the other NFC East teams look like at WR, click here.
Did you know, for instance, that Tony Romo leads this division in passing yards this year, and by quite a lot -- 490 more than Eli Manning and 1,000 more than All-Division Team QB Robert Griffin III? Romo has a higher passer rating than Manning and more touchdowns. He also leads the division with 15 interceptions, but he's only thrown two in his last five games.
That's not enough to give Romo the spot ahead of Griffin, who makes up yardage and touchdown differentials with his rushing numbers and who's only thrown four interceptions all year. But it was enough to make me stop and think about it, which I do each week at each of these positions. Just because there are few, if any, changes in a given week doesn't mean I'm copy/pasting this thing from the week before. There's a lot of jockeying for position underneath the starter line.
Anyway, the disclaimer that no one will read: This is an All-Division Team based on overall season performance to date. It is not -- repeat, NOT -- simply a list of the players who performed the best in this past week. That's why Pierre Garcon isn't on it.
This week's team includes only one change from last week, and it's at the very exciting position of defensive tackle. But I have some thoughts on a few of the positions that I'll share with you after you look at the team.
Quarterback: Robert Griffin III, Washington Redskins (Last week: Griffin)
Running back: Alfred Morris, Redskins (Morris)
Wide receiver: Victor Cruz, New York Giants; Dez Bryant, Dallas Cowboys (Cruz, Bryant)
Tight end: Jason Witten, Cowboys (Witten)
Fullback: Henry Hynoski, Giants (Hynoski)
Tackle: Trent Williams, Redskins; Will Beatty, Giants (Williams, Beatty)
Guard: Evan Mathis, Philadelphia Eagles; Chris Snee, Giants (Mathis, Snee)
Center: Will Montgomery, Redskins (Montgomery)
Defensive end: Jason Pierre-Paul, Giants; Jason Hatcher, Cowboys (Pierre-Paul, Hatcher)
Defensive tackle: Barry Cofield, Redskins; Fletcher Cox, Eagles (Cofield, Linval Joseph)
Outside linebacker: DeMarcus Ware, Anthony Spencer, Cowboys (Ware, Spencer)
Inside linebacker: DeMeco Ryans, Eagles; Perry Riley, Redskins (Ryans, Riley)
Cornerback: Prince Amukamara, Giants; Morris Claiborne, Cowboys (Amukamara, Claiborne)
Safety: Antrel Rolle, Kenny Phillips, Giants (Rolle, Phillips)
Kicker: Lawrence Tynes, Giants (Tynes)
Punter: Brian Moorman, Cowboys (Moorman)
Kick returner: David Wilson, Giants (Wilson)
Punt returner: Dwayne Harris, Cowboys (Harris)
- After a year and three quarters of doing the team with a left and right tackle and a left and right guard, I have decided to just pick the best two tackles and guards in the division regardless of where they line up. For the past few weeks, we'd been putting Beatty at right tackle on this team even though he plays left for the Giants, since there weren't any good choices at right tackle and Beatty's been excellent. This new way makes it a lot easier. Beatty and Williams are the two best tackles in the division, so they get the spots.
- One of the reasons I decided to do this was Cowboys left guard Nate Livings, who is playing very well while the Cowboys' line struggles through a rough season. For a while, I considered using Mathis and Livings as my guards this week, but in the end Snee kept his spot, though it's close between the two of them.
- Redskins cornerback Josh Wilson, who's occupied that Claiborne spot for much of this season, played very well Monday night against the Giants and nearly go this spot back. But Claiborne also played well, and scored a touchdown, and you know how I struggle at cornerback. I'm like a coach here. Gonna leave Claiborne in there, be patient with him and see how he handles it.
- The change at defensive tackle was the return of Cox to a starting spot ahead of Joseph, who's had one all year but has been slipping in recent weeks. That position's a tough one, at which almost everyone wears down. And Cox is banged up and didn't play as much Sunday as he normally does. But I think his overall body of work this year edges out Joseph's at this point. First half of the season, Joseph was the No. 1 at this position in the division. At this point, I think that honor goes to Cofield.
- Redskins fans get mad about fullback, and trust me, I think Darrel Young is a great player. But while Hynoski doesn't touch the ball the couple or three times a game that Young does, he's a road-grader of a blocker in the run game, and Young only plays 3/4 as many snaps as Hynoski does. It's close, and they're both great, but overall I think Hynoski's been the better player in 2012. I like both players a lot. Wish one of them played cornerback or safety, so I could put them both on the team.
- No one returned a kick or a punt for a touchdown in this division in 2011, but after Damaris Johnson took a punt back for Philly on Sunday, two players have done so this year. I said forever that the first player to run one back would get the spot, and Harris was the first. After Johnson scored, though, I had to think about it. Overall, Harris' stats on punt returns allow him to keep the job.
- And I almost put Alex Henery in at kicker, but Tynes still has him 32-22 in field goals and I can't forget that I saw Henery miss an extra point.
As always, I welcome your thoughts.
|Cowboys rookie cornerback Morris Claiborne talks about his first NFL touchdown.
The previous long punt return allowed by the Cowboys this year was 21 yards.
So what happened?
“We were going to directionally kick in that situation and Line One in that situation is don’t get the thing blocked,” coach Jason Garrett said. “So the protection is first and foremost and the punter needs to catch the thing and punt it and get it out of there as quickly as he can. We wanted to punt that thing out of bounds. Unfortunately, we didn’t. It was long and high and deep right down the middle, the classic ‘outkick your coverage.’ The punt wasn’t good enough. It was not where we wanted the punt to be, and Brian (Moorman) knows that. We talked to him about that. And the other part about that is even though the coverage was outkicked, we didn’t tackle very well on the play. Guys had opportunities to make tackles and we didn’t make them and that was an important play in the ballgame. It gave them a chance with under a minute to go to get back in the game. We did a good job of handling the hands’ team. (Jason Witten) did a good job, the protection in front of him was good so we were able to ice the game at that point. That punt return should not have happened, and there were a lot of different reasons for it.”
For the first time since the last time they faced Philadelphia, the Cowboys had a competent rushing attack. The return of DeMarco Murray after a six-week absence certainly helped. He finished with 83 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries, but Murray was more effective than the numbers indicated, considering he lost 11 yards on his last carry. Murray still appeared tentative at times, but his presence allowed Jason Garrett to call a balanced game for a change. Felix Jones (seven carries, 26 yards) was a nonfactor in a change-of-pace role.
Once he got some protection, Tony Romo was perfect. He completed all 10 of his passes in the second half for 169 yards and three touchdowns, finishing the game with 303 yards on 22-of-27 passing. Dez Bryant dominated again despite not getting a ball thrown to him for the first 27 minutes, catching six passes for 98 yards and two tackle-breaking touchdowns. Jason Witten caught six passes for 108 yards, making a couple of plays downfield instead of just moving the chains. Miles Austin only caught two balls, but they were both important: a 19-yard gain on a scoring drive and a 27-yard touchdown.
The Cowboys couldn't stop rookie seventh-round pick Bryce Brown for most of the game. He rushed for 169 yards and two touchdowns on 24 carries. Dion Lewis also averaged seven yards a pop on his two carries. Just imagine how ugly it would have been if Pro Bowl tailback LeSean McCoy had been healthy. The Cowboys' two leading tacklers, inside linebackers Sean Lee and Bruce Carter, are out for the season, but there are no excuses for looking that bad against an Eagles offense with even more injury issues. Morris Claiborne's fumble return for a touchdown was big, but it doesn't save the defense from a failing grade.
Nick Foles arrived at Cowboys Stadium as a struggling rookie backup quarterback. You wouldn't have been able to tell by watching this game. The Cowboys let the third-round pick get comfortable in the pocket and he picked them apart for 251 yards and a touchdown without committing a turnover. Cornerback Brandon Carr, the $50 million man, never saw the ball on a 15-yard touchdown pass to Riley Cooper. Victor Butler recorded the Cowboys' lone sack, marking the second straight week that Pro Bowl pass rusher DeMarcus Ware was shut out.
It was an uneventful night for Joe DeCamillis' units until they gave the Eagles a chance to pull off an amazing comeback. How the heck can the Cowboys let Damaris Johnson return a punt 98 yards for a touchdown in the final minute? Brian Moorman outkicked his coverage, and it was a pretty pathetic display of terrible tacking after that point. At least Jason Witten recovered the ensuing onside kick. Kicker Dan Bailey made his only field goal attempt, a 39-yarder. Dwayne Harris' only opportunity in the return game was a 22-yard gain on a kickoff.
Once again, the Cowboys dug themselves a double-digit deficit in the first half. That has happened in five consecutive home games, which is a pretty clear indication that Jason Garrett and Rob Ryan struggle as game-planners or motivators or both. Garrett's decision to call a timeout with 45 seconds remaining in the first half and the Cowboys at the Eagles' 1-yard line backfired, leaving Philadelphia enough time to drive for a field goal. And why didn't Dez Bryant get a ball thrown to him for the first 27-plus minutes of the game? This win was far from a coaching masterpiece.