Dallas Cowboys: Darrelle Revis

Words in Tampa sound familiar to Cowboys

January, 7, 2014
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IRVING, Texas -- When the Dallas Cowboys made the switch to the 4-3 scheme last year, they thought they had the pieces in place to make a smooth transition.

Nobody could have seen what happened to the defense in 2013, finishing last in the NFL.

Carr
Revis
But when Monte Kiffin was hired last January, we all tried to make the pieces fit, comparing the Cowboys players to what Kiffin had during his run with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers or what Rod Marinelli had with the Chicago Bears. DeMarcus Ware would be Simeon Rice. Jay Ratliff would be Warren Sapp. Bruce Carter would be Derrick Brooks. Sean Lee would be Brian Urlacher.

The secondary was an issue. The Cowboys had man-to-man corners in Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne, and they didn’t really have a John Lynch at safety, but they liked Barry Church.

Kiffin told his guys to study up on what the Seattle Seahawks did defensively as a sign that they would not be a traditional Tampa 2 team.

Now that Lovie Smith has taken over the Buccaneers, the same comparisons are being made. Gerald McCoy will be Sapp. Lavonte David will be Brooks.

So who’s Darrelle Revis?

“We're a 4-3 team,” Smith said in his introductory news conference. “There's a reason why we have Tampa-2 associated to one of our coverages, but I just want you to know, especially [in reference to cornerback] Darrelle Revis, we don't play Cover-2 every snap. We have a place for a great cover corner that's physical and can do all things.”

Now Revis is better than Carr and Claiborne. I’m not making the player-for-player comparison. If he’s not the NFL's best corner, he is at least in the conversation, and he was coming off a knee injury. I’m making the style of play comparison.

But there was a frustration from Carr and Claiborne about the lack of man coverage the Cowboys were playing, especially early in the season. Players want to do what they do best, and too often they felt like they had to play off and soft in zone coverage.

So Smith might be able to promise Revis that he will be able to man his own island, but the proof will be when the games count, because coaches want to do what they know best.

That was part of the Cowboys’ growing pains in 2013.

Eight in the Box: Offseason regret

July, 12, 2013
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NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

A look at the one move each team in the NFC East needed to make but didn't.

Dallas Cowboys: Upgrade at right tackle. The Cowboys believe they improved their offensive line with the first-round draft selection of center Travis Frederick, and they may be right. But the problem is the line needed more help than that. Instead of getting the disappointing Doug Free to take a pay cut and stay, the Cowboys could have explored other options, such as using another early-round pick on a tackle or signing one of the veterans (Tyson Clabo, Eric Winston) who were cut during free agency. Cap issues were one factor, but basically the Cowboys seemed content with the idea of a right tackle platoon or training camp competition between Free and Jermey Parnell. They claim the platoon of that pair worked well late last season, but it's likely the right tackle's play looked good only in comparison to Free's terrible first-half performance.

New York Giants: Anything of consequence at linebacker. Sure, they brought back Keith Rivers. Yawn. And they signed Dan Connor. Double yawn. And they took a chance on Aaron Curry, who was once one of the top prospects in the league but has already washed out with two teams. Interesting, but certainly not a confidence-boosting sign. Mathias Kiwanuka, who was one of their starting linebackers the past two years, will move back up to defensive end to help replace Osi Umenyiora, who left as a free agent. And there are some young guys the Giants brought in as rookies two years ago who may be good enough to play or start. The Giants feel they got stronger up front at defensive tackle and never mind spending on defensive backs, but the middle of the field remains a weakness for them against offenses that are willing to exploit it. Some guys are going to have to outperform expectations at linebacker in 2013.

Philadelphia Eagles: Spend some money on the secondary. The Eagles were the only NFC East team that had cap room to burn. Even though they needed to improve all four starting positions in the secondary, they chose to go the economic route, bringing in uninspiring cornerbacks Bradley Fletcher and Cary Williams and safety Patrick Chung. Former Giant Kenny Phillips is a premium talent at safety, but they got him inexpensively as well, and the reason is a chronic knee problem that could keep him from ever playing for them. New coach Chip Kelly was looking for physical cornerbacks with the ability to tackle, which is fine, and I can understand that the Eagles felt burned by the way the Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie moves of two years ago worked out. But the moves at defensive back feel like half-measures, and you get the feeling they'll be looking to upgrade the same spots next year. This was a team that should have at least looked into trading for Darrelle Revis, though it would have been hard to justify giving up the No. 4 overall pick in the draft for him.

Washington Redskins: Get Pierre Garcon's foot fixed. This one is on Garcon, of course. The team can't force a player to have surgery if he doesn't want to have surgery. Garcon did have a procedure to repair a shoulder problem, which is good, but it was the torn ligament in his foot that bothered him last season, cost him six games and is at risk of flaring up again if rest didn't cure it completely. Garcon was a hugely valuable part of the Redskins' offense as Robert Griffin III's No. 1 wide receiver. Everyone has heard that the Redskins were 9-1 in regular-season games in which Garcon played. The Redskins' cap problems prevented them from improving the secondary or the offensive line and from keeping special-teams captain Lorenzo Alexander. But when they look back on this offseason, their biggest regret may be that Garcon didn't get the foot surgery he needed.

A McShay mock to kick off the big week

April, 22, 2013
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Our man Todd McShay has re-worked his latest mock draft Insider to reflect Sunday's Darrelle Revis trade, and there are changes throughout. This is a first-round-only update, so sorry, Redskins fans. We'll catch up with you a little bit later in the day. As for the fans of the other three NFC East teams, here are Todd's latest picks and my thoughts. Which I know is why you're here, after all. Right? Right????

4. Philadelphia Eagles: Lane Johnson, OT, Oklahoma.

In this mock, the top two tackles (Luke Joeckel and Eric Fisher) go to Kansas City and Jacksonville with the first two picks and the Raiders take defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd at No. 4. So Todd gives the Eagles Johnson, who seems to be a fast riser and has been identified by draft analysts as a good fit with Chip Kelly's offense due to his athleticism. (Never gets old, right?) And while I have no issue with the Eagles going offensive tackle at No. 4, this feels high for Johnson with defensive guys like Dion Jordan and Star Lotulelei still on the board. If Fisher or Joeckel is there, I think they'll bite. But if those guys are gone, I'm thinking defense for the Eagles at No. 4.

18. Dallas Cowboys: Sheldon Richardson, DT, Missouri.

Look. Basically, I've decided I'm not going to believe in this historic first-round run on offensive linemen until I see it. Todd has six offensive linemen being taken in the top 15, which has not happened since 1966. And while I acknowledge that this is a somewhat unique draft devoid of Andrew Luck/Robert Griffin III/Trent Richardson-type skill position talent at the top, I still feel like somebody's going to draft a quarterback or two earlier than we think they should. Three days before the 2011 NFL draft, you couldn't find a mock that had Jake Locker, Blaine Gabbert and Christian Ponder all going in the top 12, and yet there they all went.

Some of the teams drafting in the first half of the first round are doing so every year, and you don't become one of those teams by making good decisions on draft day. The Cowboys need an offensive lineman badly in the first round, and while I respect the heck out of Todd's work and Mel Kiper's work, I'm leaning on history for my belief that one of the top six offensive linemen will be there for Dallas to take at 18. If not, absolutely a three-technique defensive lineman is a great pick here as long as they're going to grab a guard in Round 2. I just don't think it comes to that.

19. New York Giants: D.J. Hayden, CB, Houston.

Well, here's a new name for the Giants. I like what Todd's doing here, applying a big pile of history that tells us the Giants don't like to take linebackers and offensive linemen in the first round and identifying a position they do, historically, consider worthy of a first-round pick. In this mock, Hayden is the third defensive back off the board, following Alabama corner Dee Milliner (to Tennessee at 10) and Texas safety Kenny Vaccaro (to St. Louis at 16). I don't know how the Giants have him rated vis-a-vis guys like Desmond Trufant and Xavier Rhodes, but in no way should anyone be surprised if they take a cornerback here.

DeMarcus Ware is No. 6 on NFL's Top 100

June, 28, 2012
6/28/12
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Cowboys outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware is the sixth-best NFL player according to a ranking of the Top 100 as chosen by the league's players.

Ware, coming off a 19.5-sack season, is the highest-ranked pass rusher and the second-highest defender on the list. New York Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis is ranked fifth.

The Top 100 list includes two other Cowboys: tight end Jason Witten is No. 75, and quarterback Tony Romo is No. 91.

Ware was 12th in last year's poll and now that he's moved up, he's looking to become even better in 2012.

"You're never satisfied until you're No. 1," Ware told NFL Network. "So I'm still holding a grudge."

Ware was joking, yet he's definitely one of the best defensive players in the game. He has the ability to change a game with his pass rush, making tackles when the play is running away from him, and he can also cover running backs and tight ends out of the backfield.

Of note within the NFC East, there were seven Philadelphia Eagles ranked in the Top 100 and five New York Giants. The Washington Redskins had just one player, London Fletcher.

For next year's poll, expect Sean Lee and maybe Tyron Smith to crack the Top 100.

DeMarcus Ware in top 10, but how high?

June, 26, 2012
6/26/12
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IRVING, Texas – The Cowboys will be represented in the top 10 of the NFL Network’s top 100 players of 2011 feature thanks to DeMarcus Ware.

Incredibly, Ware was not in the top 10 a year ago, finishing 12th. Now the question is whether he will be the highest-ranked defensive player in the poll. The show will air Wednesday at 7 p.m.

New York Jet cornerback Darrelle Revis would seem to be Ware’s biggest competition.

Ware was second in the league in sacks last year with 19.5 He has had at least 11 sacks in a season from 2006-11, including 20 in 2008. Since sacks became an official stat, only Reggie White (105) had more sacks in his first 100 games than Ware (85). White (five) is the only player with more 15-sack seasons in a career than Ware (three).

By the way the only other Cowboys in the top 100 list, as chosen by 448 players from across the league, are Jason Witten (No. 75) and Tony Romo (No. 91).

So what’s the best guess as to Ware’s rank?

You have to think quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady and Drew Brees will be higher. After that it’s a flip of the coin between Ware and Revis but maybe wide receiver Calvin Johnson because of how ridiculous a season he had in 2011.

I’ll guess Ware will be No. 6, behind Revis.

Go ahead and make your predictions in the comments.

Cowboys draft: History of the picks

April, 4, 2012
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Continuing our team-by-team series on the history of the specific draft picks each NFC East team has this year, we take a look today at the Dallas Cowboys, who have eight picks in this year's draft.

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Turning up some interesting trivia in these. For instance, the Cowboys have the 186th pick, which produced Deacon Jones, and the 152nd pick, with which the Houston Texans last year took a quarterback who a few months later started their first two playoff games in franchise history.

PICK 14 (14th pick, first round)

Last five players taken

2011 -- Robert Quinn, DE, Rams

2010 -- Earl Thomas, S, Seahawks

2009 -- Malcolm Jenkins, DB, Saints

2008 -- Chris Williams, T, Bears

2007 -- Darrelle Revis, CB, Jets

Cowboys' history of No. 14 picks

The Cowboys have never had the No. 14 pick.

Hall of Famers picked No. 14

Jim Kelly (1983), Gino Marchetti (1952), Len Ford (1948, AAFC)

Other notables

Jeremy Shockey (2002), Eddie George (1996), Dick Stanfel (1951)

PICK 45 (13th pick, round 2)

Last five players taken

2011 -- Rahim Moore, DB, Broncos

2010 -- Zane Beadles, G, Broncos

2009 -- Clint Sintim, LB, Giants

2008 -- Jordon Dizon, LB, Lions

2007 -- Dwayne Jarrett, WR, Panthers

Cowboys' history of No. 45 picks

1968 -- Dave McDaniels

Hall of Famers picked No. 45

Dave Casper (1974)

PICK 81 (19th pick, third round)

Last five players taken

2011 --DeMarcus Van Dyke, DB, Raiders

2010 -- Earl Mitchell, DT, Texans

2009 -- Roy Miller, DT, Buccaneers

2008 -- Early Doucet, WR, Cardinals

2007 -- Jay Alford, DT, Giants

Cowboys' history of No. 81 picks

1984 -- Fred Cornwell

1982 -- Jim Eliopulos

1981 -- Glenn Titensor

1977 -- Val Belcher

Hall of Famers picked No. 81

None, though Art Shell was the 80th pick in 1968 and Joe Montana was the 82nd in 1979.

PICK 113 (18th pick, round four)

Last five players picked

2011 -- Chimdi Chekwa, DB, Raiders

2010 -- Aaron Hernandez, TE, Patriots

2009 -- Vaughn Martin, DT, Chargers

2008 -- Dwight Lowery, CB, Jets

2007 -- Brian Smith, DE, Jaguars

Cowboys' history of No. 113 picks

1989 -- Keith Jennings

1984 -- Steve Pelluer

1975 -- Kyle Davis

Hall of Famers picked No. 113

None. But Steve Largent was picked 117th in 1976 and George Blanda was picked 119th in 1949.

PICK 135 (40th pick, fourth round)

Last five players picked

2011 --Ricky Stanzi, QB, Chiefs

2010 -- Dominique Franks, DB, Falcons

2009 -- Troy Kropog, T, Titans

2008 -- Josh Sitton, G, Packers

2007 -- Joe Cohen, DT, 49ers

Cowboys' history of No. 135 picks

1983 -- Chuck McSwain

Hall of Famers picked No. 135

None. Closest were Jackie Smith and Roger Staubach, who were picked No. 129 in 1963 and 1964, respectively.

PICK 152 (17th pick, round 5)

Last five players picked

2011 -- T.J. Yates, QB, Texans

2010 -- Otis Hudson, G, Bengals

2009 -- James Casey, TE, Texans

2008 -- Letroy Guion, DT, Vikings

2007 -- Antonio Johnson, DT, Titans

Cowboys' history of No. 152 picks

1984 -- Eugene Lockhart

1969 -- Rick Shaw

Hall of Famers taken No. 152

None. Closest I found was Arnie Weinmeister, No. 166 in 1945.

PICK 186 (16th pick, round 6)

Last five players taken

2011 -- D.J. Smith, LB, Packers

2010 -- Clifton Geathers, DE, Browns

2009 -- Robert Henson, LB, Redskins

2008 -- Colt Brennan, QB, Redskins

2007 -- Thomas Clayton, RB, 49ers

Cowboys' history of No. 186 pick

2003 -- Zuriel Smith

1976 -- Greg Schaum

Hall of Famers picked No. 186

Deacon Jones (1961)

PICK 222 (15th pick, round 7)

Last five players taken

2011 -- Anthony Gaitor, DB, Buccaneers

2010 -- Marc Mariani, WR, Titans

2009 -- Pat McAfee, P, Colts

2008 -- Chester Adams, G, Bears

2007 -- Derek Schouman, FB, Bills

Cowboys' history of No. 222 picks

1984 -- Mike Revell

1978 -- Homer Butler

Hall of Famers picked No. 222

None. Closest was Andy Robustelli, picked 228th in 1951

Unlucky 13: Crazy losses for Cowboys

December, 12, 2011
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IRVING, Texas -- If you regularly come back to the thought that, 'Man, the Cowboys sure come up with some inventive ways to lose games,' you're right.

Since 2005, I have come up with 13 head-scratching losses that seem to define this franchise. And that does not include the humiliating 44-6 defeat at Philadelphia to close the 2008 season, which knocked the Cowboys out of a playoff spot.

Three of those losses have come this year. Three came last year. Two each in ’09, ’08 and ’06, and the one that kicked it off came on Sept. 19, 2005 (against Washington), when the Triplets – Michael Irvin, Troy Aikman and Emmitt Smith - were inducted into the Ring of Honor.

It has been quite a roller-coaster ride, but without the fun part.

Sept. 19, 2005 – Washington, 14-13.

The Cowboys lead, 13-0, with 6:01 to play, and the 65,207 in attendance, the largest crowd at Texas Stadium at the time following the 1985 renovations, was enjoying the moment. The Triplets were inducted into the Ring of Honor. The defense was dominating.

Then Santana Moss happened.

Moss caught touchdown passes of 39 and 70 yards in the final 3:46, bringing to light Roy Williams’ deficiencies in coverage. The second touchdown came with 2:35 to play. Oh, by the way, the Cowboys missed the playoffs by a game that year.

Nov. 5, 2006 – Washington, 22-19

Tony Romo’s second start was about to end with a fourth-quarter drive for a game-winning field goal, but Troy Vincent blocked Mike Vanderjagt’s 35-yard try. Sean Taylor scooped up the loose ball and returned it 30 yards. Another 15 yards was added because of a Kyle Kosier facemask penalty.

With no time on the clock, Nick Novak kicked a 47-yarder to beat the Cowboys.

Jan. 6, 2007 – Seattle, 21-20

Tony Romo
AP Photo/John FroschauerTony Romo bobbled the snap for the game-winning field goal versus the Seahawks, preventing Martin Gramatica from making the 19-yard attempt.
This one was the most heartbreaking because it was in the wild-card round of the playoffs. It was also Bill Parcells’ final game as a head coach. The Cowboys maintain to this day that had they won that game, they could have gone to the Super Bowl.

Instead L.P. LaDouceur’s snap for a 19-yard field goal try slipped through Romo’s hands. Conspiracy theorists point to the slippery "K-ball" that was put in play before the snap. Others point to a Jason Witten first down that was overturned by the replay official, which negated the possibility to run the clock out or score a touchdown.

Oct. 12, 2008 – Arizona, 30-24 (OT)

The Cowboys somehow tied this game at the end of regulation on a 52-yard field goal by Nick Folk, but on the opening series of overtime, they lost Tony Romo to a broken pinky finger and punter Mat McBriar to a broken foot. On the play in which McBriar broke his foot, Sean Morey blocked his punt and Monty Beisel fell on the ball for a touchdown. The game started with a special teams touchdown (a 93-yard kick return) for the Cardinals, and ended with one.

Dec. 20, 2008 – Baltimore, 33-24

In what was a struggle for the offense for most of the game, twice the Cowboys pulled to within two points of the Ravens. Terrell Owens made the score 19-17 by scoring with 3:50 to play. Baltimore answered with a 77-yard touchdown run by Willis McGahee. Jason Witten cut the gap again with a TD grab with 1:36 to play. Le'Ron McClain answered with an 80-yard touchdown run.

It was not the way Jerry Jones wanted to see Texas Stadium close.

Sept. 20, 2009 – NY Giants, 33-31

Steve Smith, Mario Manningham
Tim Heitman/US PresswireMario Manningham, left, and Steve Smith, right, combined for 20 catches and 284 yards in the Cowboys Stadium opener.
If Jones didn’t want to see Texas Stadium close that way, he didn’t want to see Cowboys Stadium open this way. Felix Jones gave the Cowboys a 31-30 lead with a touchdown run with 3:40 to play.

Then Eli Manning happened.

Manning completed 7-of-9 passes for 64 yards, helping the Giants overcome a 1st-and-20 situation from their 15 and leading to a 37-yard game-winning field goal by Lawrence Tynes with no time left.

Oct. 4, 2009 – Denver, 17-10

The Cowboys blew a 10-0 lead when Broncos wide receiver caught a 51-yard touchdown pass from Kyle Orton with 1:46 to play. However, Romo had the Cowboys in position to tie the game after a 53-yard completion to Sam Hurd.

At the Denver 2-yard line with nine seconds to play, Romo went to Hurd (unsuccessfully) on back-to-back plays while the wideout was defended by Pro Bowler Champ Bailey.

Cowboys Pro Bowler Jason Witten did not even run a route.

Sept. 12, 2010 – Washington, 13-7

The Cowboys dominated defensively, but were done in by Jason Garrett’s decision to call a play with four seconds left in the first half and a mile away from the Redskins’ end zone. Romo flipped the ball to Tashard Choice, who fumbled while fighting for extra yards. Cornerback DeAngelo Hall scooped up the loose ball and ran it back for a 32-yard touchdown. It was the Redskins' only touchdown of the game.

In position to win the game, Alex Barron happened.

With three seconds left, Romo hit Roy Williams for an apparent game-tying touchdown with the point-after attempt being the difference in a win. Not so fast. Barron, starting in place of an injured Marc Colombo, was called for holding Brian Orakpo on the touchdown pass, wiping out the comeback.

Nov. 25, 2010 – New Orleans, 30-27

The Cowboys were not in the playoff chase, but they were fighting under Garrett, who took over for Wade Phillips as the interim coach. They led 27-23 and were in position to salt the game away as Roy Williams raced down the field toward the Saints end zone. As he switched the ball to his left hand away from a New Orleans defender, he allowed Michael Jenkins to strip it away for the turnover.

Five plays and 89 yards later, Drew Brees hit Lance Moore with the game-winning touchdown pass.

Dec. 25, 2010 – Arizona, 27-26

Stephen McGee was shaping up as the hero, filling in for an injured Jon Kitna. He hit Miles Austin with a 37-yard touchdown pass with 1:41 to play to give the Cowboys the lead. Unfortunately David Buehler missed the PAT, giving Arizona hope.

John Skelton converted a 4th-and-15 with a 26-yard pass to Larry Fitzgerald, and Jay Feely won the game with a 48-yard field goal.

Sept. 11, 2011 – NY Jets, 27-24

Mark Brunell, Nick Folk
Ed Mulholland/US PresswireNick Folk kicked the go-ahead 50-yard field goal with 27 seconds left in the 2011 opener.
The Cowboys led, 24-10, two plays into the fourth quarter following a Felix Jones touchdown. They were in position to answer a Jets touchdown with at least a field goal when Romo fumbled while diving to the New York goal line for his first of two fourth-quarter turnovers.

On the Cowboys’ next series, Joe McKnight blocked McBriar’s punt and Isaiah Trufant returned it 18 yards for the tying touchdown.

Late in regulation, Romo was intercepted by Darrelle Revis on a poor throw to Dez Bryant. That was turned into a game-winning field goal by former Cowboy Nick Folk.

Dec. 4, 2011 – Arizona, 19-13 (OT)

Sensing a trend with Arizona here?

Tied at 13-13, Romo put the Cowboys in position to win the game with another Dan Bailey field goal. His 15-yard completion to Bryant had the Cowboys at the Cardinals' 31-yard line. Yet with two timeouts and roughly 25 seconds to go, the Cowboys did not stop the clock until Romo spiked the ball with seven seconds to play.

As Bailey lined up for the game-winner, Garrett called a timeout because the play clock was running out. Bailey’s second attempt fell short, and in overtime the Cowboys would never get the ball.

LaRod Stephens-Howling raced 52 yards on a short flip from Kevin Kolb for the game-winner.

Dec. 11, 2011 – NY Giants, 37-34

Bryant’s 50-yard touchdown pass gave the Cowboys a 34-22 lead with 5:41 to play. All seemed well with the world.

Then Eli Manning happened. Again.

He shredded the Dallas defense on an eight-play, 80-yard drive that ended in a Jake Ballard touchdown catch and then directed New York on a six-play, 56-yard drive that ended in a Brandon Jacobs touchdown. The subsequent two-point conversion gave the Giants a three-point cushion.

During the second drive, Garrett let crucial seconds go off the clock again by failing to call a timeout until 1:00 remained.

Despite all that, two Romo-to-Miles Austin completions had the Cowboys at the New York 29-yard line with six seconds to play.

Before Bailey went in for the game-tying 47-yard try, Giants coach Tom Coughlin called a timeout, negating what turned out to be a good kick. Bailey’s second attempt wasn't close to going through the uprights.

Defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul pushed between LaDouceur and Montrae Holland and deflected Bailey’s kick.

Scout's Eye: Cowboys-Patriots preview

October, 14, 2011
10/14/11
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If you believe in fate and are a fan of the Dallas Cowboys, here is something that maybe you can hang your hat on. The last time defensive coordinator Rob Ryan had a week off to prepare for Tom Brady and the New England Patriots, his Cleveland Browns walked away with an impressive 34-14 victory in 2010.

Scout's Eye
Cowboys defense vs. Patriots offense

Ryan's defense has played outstanding through the first four weeks of the season, but the task ahead is different from any of those that you generally face during an NFL season. When you play an elite quarterback such as Tom Brady, the amount of pressure he puts on you is greater than when you face Mark Sanchez, Alex Smith or even Matthew Stafford.

Mistakes in assignments are magnified when you play against Brady because of his ability to read defensive schemes and take advantage of the situation by adjusting his protection and moving his personnel to attack the void. In the NFL, it's all about the matchups, how you create them and then take advantage of the ones in your favor.

The Patriots take advantage of match-ups better than any other team in the league. When you study the Patriots, it's about "scheme fits." It's not only about a player like Wes Welker. You also have to be wary of tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, and running backs BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead as well.

The Patriots create match-up problems for a defense because there is so much flexibility where their skill players can line up in the formation. Rarely do you see the Patriots use the same formation early in the game, because this exposes your game plan defensively. Once Brady has an idea of how you are going to defend the offense, then he goes to work.

Patriots WR Wes Welker vs. Cowboys secondary

It's interesting to watch the Patriots on offense because they no longer have a straight vertical threat like Randy Moss. Instead they use Welker, Gronkowski and Hernandez all over the field. Welker is a crafty route-runner, but maybe his greatest strength is his ability to read coverages and react to what the defense is doing to him. When Welker's on the move, you can see his eyes looking at the secondary and plotting where he will take his route.

Brady has a tremendous understanding of where Welker is going to be in his route to deal with the coverage. With the Patriots, you will see several routes down the field that are crossing routes. The Patriots like to take routes through zone coverage, running to open spaces -- which is effective against teams that like to play Cover 2.

Last week, the Jets were able to match Darrelle Revis against Welker, who really struggled to generate any type of separation or space. Revis was physical off the line but, more importantly, he was able to carry Welker all over the field. The Cowboys will get an important piece of their secondary back this week when cornerback Orlando Scandrick returns from a high ankle sprain.

I have always viewed Scandrick as one of the Cowboys' best cover men. To play slot corner, you have to play with a great deal of quickness but, more importantly, you have to have the understanding of what types of routes that the man you are covering might run. Scandrick will have to be prepared to play a ton of snaps, so his conditioning will be tested. In what we have been allowed to see during practices, he looked explosive and confident that the ankle sprain is behind him.

Patriots tight ends are more like WRs

Earlier I mentioned that you have to be wary of Patriots tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, and there was a reason for this. Neither one of these guys plays like a true tight end. Rather, they're more like 255-pound wide receivers that can get down the field. Both Gronkowski and Hernandez are vertical players that run well, but their most impressive trait is their ability to catch the ball.

The Cowboys have done a nice job against some outstanding tight ends this season, but Gronkowski and Hernandez present a different challenge because you see them down the field in combination routes with the receivers. Brady might look to Welker first, but I've seen him throw to Gronkowski and Hernandez in coverage and still they managed to come up with the ball.

Achilles' heel of Patriots offense: RT Nate Solder

If you are looking for a weakness on the Patriots offense, it is rookie right tackle Nate Solder, who has had to start because Sebastian Vollmar has been dealing with a back injury. Solder looks very similar to what I had seen on college tape before the draft. He's not very strong and, for someone that is a good foot athlete, he struggles with rushers off the edge.

Two weeks ago, the Cowboys didn’t take advantage of the Detroit Lions' poor pass blockers. The Patriots' O-line is much better on both run and pass, but it will struggle at times when teams run games on them with movement in the passing game. If Rob Ryan is going to get pressure on Brady, this will most likely be the route that he tries to go.

Cowboys offense vs. Patriots defense

When you study the Patriots on defense, the one area that jumps out at you is how much space their secondary gives up in routes. I didn't see the tightness in the coverage that I have seen with other defenses that the Cowboys have faced so far this season.

Earlier in the season, the Patriots played a great deal of man coverage but with little success. Now you see them playing much more zone. Another area where the Patriots have struggled is their inability to rush the passer. New England doesn't have that dynamic pressure player coming off the edge. Defensive ends Andre Carter and Shaun Ellis are veterans, but they don’t rush the passer like a Brian Orakpo or Kyle Vanden Bosch.

Patriots' defensive force: Vince Wilfork

The strength of this Patriots defense is up the middle with defensive tackle Vince Wilfork, who is one of the more dominate players in this league. For a man his size, Wilfork moves very well. He is not one of those tackles that sits in a spot and just anchors down. He is very active -- not only in his pass rush, but also his ability to play the run right at him or working down the line. Kyle Kosier, Phil Costa and Bill Nagy had to deal with the inside power and the push that the Lions' Ndamukong Suh and Corey Williams were able to get. To the credit of the Cowboys' inside three, however, they were able to hold up the majority of the time. Wilfork has power, but he has pass rush technique.

Breaking down the Patriots' defense

On the other side, Albert Haynesworth will see action. But also be aware of second-year player Kyle Love, who is a much lighter and more mobile player. When the Patriots' defensive line tries to get pressure, it’s usually by using twist stunts. They will also use blitzes from the secondary -- twice using a slot blitz vs. the Jets and a straight corner blitz against the Raiders.

Linebackers Jarod Mayo and Brandon Spikes are very active. Both really try to play downhill and attack the ball. They like to give you a tight look with one of the linebackers at the line, drop him, then fire the one from the other side. Where this group had some trouble was when the Jets went with an empty formation and it caused some confusion.

Also watch passing plays on the outside against this defense. The Buffalo Bills were able to work their screen packages but were also able to make plays in the flat with their running backs catching the ball against these linebackers.

Another potential target spot: Patriots safety

Another potential weakness for the Patriots is at safety. Starter Josh Barrett has been banged up, as has Patrick Chung. The Patriots have been trying to make do with Sergio Brown, who tends to misplay the ball in flight and is a poor tackler. James Ihedigbo is a better player when he can react to the ball in front of him. It will be interesting to see if the Cowboys can take advantage of this defense.

Offense's tackling troubles have hurt Cowboys

October, 7, 2011
10/07/11
2:00
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IRVING, Texas – Based on the first quarter of the season, the Cowboys have a poor tackling offense.

You’d hope that wouldn’t be a problem, but it’s played a significant role in the Cowboys’ two losses.

The most egregious example of poor tackling came on Bobby Carpenter’s pick-six, when Tony Romo’s old pal made five Cowboys miss while weaving all the way across the field on the 34-yard interception return. The Keystone Cowboys didn’t get more than a finger on Carpenter until left tackle Doug Free got him at the goal line. The biggest hit on the play was center Phil Costa laying out Dez Bryant as the receiver was about to make the tackle at the 18-yard line.

That wasn’t the most costly display of woeful tackling by the Dallas offense this season, though. That occurred on Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis’ 20-yard interception return in the season opener, when Revis gained most of the yardage after running through an arm tackle attempt by Bryant. Every yard mattered, because Nick Folk hit the game-winning 50-yard field goal four downs later.

It’s been a point of emphasis from the coaching staff, although they haven’t – and won’t – go to the extreme of having offensive players do tackling drills.

"One of things we do with that is talk about how the defense handles the ball after they’ve created a turnover, how they carry the ball, and how they block for each other," coach Jason Garrett said. "The same thing we emphasize is: If there’s ever a turnover in practice, we want our offensive line and our receivers and our tight ends and our backs and our quarterback to go get the guy.

“Now do we give them specific tackling drills and are they over on dummies hitting them? We haven’t done that. But we’ve certainly emphasized playing it real life if that does happen in practice. It’s a really important part of it.”

Unfortunately for the Cowboys, they’ve learned the hard way just how important it can be.

Five-star answer: 49ers don't have a Revis

September, 15, 2011
9/15/11
9:25
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This week's question: Is this the week Miles Austin gets 100 receiving yards?

After struggling throughout the preseason with a hamstring injury, Miles Austin was outstanding last weekend against the Jets. In my book, Garrett and the staff made a mistake by not putting the football in his hands down the stretch.

Garrett and the Cowboys had the matchup they needed but didn’t take advantage of it. Dez Bryant, who was banged up both mentally and physically, was put in situation where he was asked to make plays but couldn't deliver against the Jets' best defensive player. In his condition, Bryant wasn't going to beat Revis. The more you watched him play in the second half, the more you understood this.

The bottom line was that Antonio Cromartie simply could not cover Austin. I do not see Garrett making that same mistake this week vs. the 49ers. The most difficult situation for the Cowboys is when Bryant doesn’t practice and he doesn’t get the reps. Bryant needs these reps to have a chance to be successful, because he's not at that point in his development where he can miss practice and jump right into the game plan. He needs to be drilled and he needs to be coached. Bryant should play against the 49ers, but Austin will have the offensive success.

I look for the Cowboys' offensive line to be able to protect Romo, giving him the necessary time to deliver the ball downfield. The 49ers' most talented position is at linebacker, not corner. The 49ers line up at corner with Carlos Rogers, Tarell Brown and Tramaine Brock at the nickel. Brown played the best last week against the Seahawks, and Rogers has gone against the Cowboys before while with the Redskins. It goes without saying, but there is no Darrelle Revis in this group and I can see Garrett taking advantage of that this week After last week's final interception, look for Romo to be even more committed to getting Austin the ball and the 49ers looking for ways to stop him.

Austin gets his 100 yards.

Detailing Dez Bryant: Week 1

September, 14, 2011
9/14/11
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Dez Bryant’s development will be one of the more interesting, important storylines for the Cowboys this season, so we will track it on a throw-by-throw basis the Wednesday after each game.

42-YARD GAIN: On second-and-6 from the Dallas 41, Bryant lined up as the second of three receivers split to the right of the formation and got mismatched with inside linebacker David Harris. He got wide open on a slant, catching the ball near the sticks and turning a short throw into a big play. Bryant ran away from strong safety Eric Smith and juked free safety Jim Leonhard in the middle of the field as he sprinted to the left side. He spun off a downfield tackle attempt by cornerback Antonio Cromartie before Smith finally tackled him in the red zone.

3-YARD TOUCHDOWN: On third-and-goal from the New York 3, Bryant lined up wide left and ran a fade route. He made a spectacular, acrobatic catch over Cromartie on a ball that Tony Romo intentionally threw high and behind Bryant. It was a textbook back-shoulder fade for a touchdown, a perfect way to take advantage of Bryant’s strength and leaping ability.

26-YARD GAIN: On third-and-8 from the Dallas 48, he lined up wide right against Darrelle Revis and ran a streak route up the sideline after beating the jam. Romo recognized safety help coming over the top and threw to Bryant’s back shoulder. Bryant made a leaping catch near the sideline, the only play he made against the All-Pro cornerback.

INCOMPLETION: On third-and-10 from the New York 16, Bryant lined up wide right with Cromartie giving him an 8-yard cushion. With the blitz coming, Bryant took a couple of steps and cut inside. Romo’s quick throw sailed high with Cromartie closing on Bryant.

INCOMPLETION: On third-and-7 from the Dallas 47, Bryant lined up wide right against Revis, who blitzed. Bryant responded by running what was probably the sloppiest route run in the NFL all week. He turned toward Romo after two yards and started backpedaling diagonally and toward the first-down marker. Romo’s throw was behind Bryant, but he got his hands on the ball and failed to make the catch with cornerback Donald Strickland closing. Romo gave Bryant instructions immediately after the play.

INCOMPLETION: On third-and-22 from the Dallas 41, he lined up wide left against Revis and limped through a slant/corner route. Bryant, who was bothered by cramps and a bruised quad, never got any separation. Romo tried to force the downfield throw anyway. Bryant batted it down to prevent the pick.

INTERCEPTION: On first-and-10 from the Dallas 41, he lined up wide right and jogged upfield with Revis in trail position and a safety over the top. Bryant said he ran this route as instructed – and Romo backed the statement – but Bryant never made a cut or any play on the ball. It was an ill-advised pass that was easily intercepted by Revis to set up the game-winning field goal.

INCOMPLETION: On first-and-10 from the Dallas 34, Romo threw the ball out of bounds after recovering a shotgun snap that surprised him and bounced off his chest. It was officially recorded as a target for Bryant because he was the closest receiver.

Tony Romo takes the blame

September, 12, 2011
9/12/11
12:28
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Tony Romo took the blame for the critical interception by Darrelle Revis that set up the game-winning field goal by Nick Folk with 27 seconds left to play.

Romo was looking for Dez Bryant along the sideline but his pass was underthrown, giving Revis the turnover.

Bryant “was right with what he did,” Romo said. “He kept going on it. It was a dumb decision, too reactionary. I should’ve made sure. That was my fault. It’s just disappointing and frustrating right now because we win the football game if I don’t do what I did. It’s hard to swallow just knowing we lost this game because of me tonight.”

Romo finished with 342 yards on 23-of-36 passing, but the Cowboys have lost the last three games in which Romo has eclipsed 300 yards. The Cowboys lost to Chicago (374 yards) and Tennessee (406) last year at Cowboys Stadium.

Scout's Eye: Cowboys-Jets preview

September, 9, 2011
9/09/11
3:00
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It’s never easy to open on the road in the NFL, and the league did the Cowboys no favors by sending them to New York to face a squad that has played in the AFC Championship game the last two seasons.

There is no doubt that the Jets are a talented team on both sides of the ball. Here are some things to watch this weekend:

Scout's Eye
*A big pressure point for the Cowboys offense this week against the Jets will be how guards Bill Nagy and Kyle Kosier along with center Phil Costa handle nose man Sione Pouha and tackle Mike DeVito. I know that Pouha and Devito are not household names, but when you study the games of both of these defensive linemen, you come away with a respect for what they mean to this defense.

Pouha is an active load in the middle at 325 pounds. He is a big man that plays very light on his feet. Pouha has tremendous upper body strength and can be difficult to move at the point of attack. It is surprising to watch a man of that size move down the line controlling offensive linemen, shedding blocks and making tackles.

DeVito lines up as a three technique on the outside shoulder of the guards and he can be disruptive in the way that he attacks his gap. Pouha is more about holding the point; Devito tries to create problems in the offense’s blocking scheme through penetration.

If Pouha and Devito have a weakness, it is that they don’t show outstanding technique as pass rushers. But the Cowboys have to be careful handling the push in the front of the pocket that the Jets’ interior duo can get.

Of the inside players for the Cowboys, Costa is more of a leverage player than Nagy, who will at times struggle with players that try to walk him straight back. With Kosier, there is less strength, but more smarts and technique than pure power.

In the running game, it will be the responsibility of Costa, Nagy and Kosier to secure the down guys first, then work up to the second level to handle linebackers David Harris and Bart Scott.

If there was a positive area about the Cowboys in the preseason, it was the club’s ability to run the football with Felix Jones in this scheme. The Cowboys should have a chance to run the ball in this game if they do not allow Pouha, DeVito and first-round pick Muhammad Wilkerson to control the front because linebackers Calvin Pace and Bryan Thomas on the edge will get tied up on blocks and don’t always hold up strength wise like they need to.

If the Cowboys can manage to control the middle of this Jets defense, the offensive game plan has a better chance to succeed both run and pass.

*Going into to this game against the Jets, Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan and his staff will need to find a game plan that will limit the Jets in their ability to run the football.

During the preseason, the Cowboys did a poor job of handling the run and the way that the Jets are set up, offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer likes to run the ball to set up other opportunities for easy throws in the passing game on boots and waggles. If the Cowboys can find a way to play ahead of the chains and force the Jets into passing the ball, it will play right into Ryan’s hands, allowing him to focus on bringing pressure.

If the Jets have to pass often, I look for Ryan to try and put a great deal of pressure on quarterback Mark Sanchez to see if he can force him into some mistakes or more importantly create some turnovers in this game. When watching Sanchez play, the first thing you notice is that he will throw the ball into coverage regardless of whether the receiver is open. Sanchez is going to make that throw because he has the faith that his receivers will come down with the ball.

Something I also noticed about Sanchez’s game is that he isn’t always accurate with his passes. I was surprised by the number of times his receivers were open but he made them work for the ball. These receivers do a great job of adjusting to the ball and bailing him out when the pass is not perfect or off target.

In studying Sanchez, I am sure that Ryan was preaching to his front seven to get their hands up when rushing because Sanchez has a tendency to get his passes knocked down at the line of scrimmage. It was shocking to see the number of passes that were knocked down or tipped at the line.

Sanchez also doesn’t throw the ball down the field much. There are quarterbacks in this league that you study that are always trying to work the ball down the field. Sanchez isn’t one of those guys. I went back to check his numbers from last season and his yards per attempt were at 6.5, which was low for a team that made the playffs.

An area that I was impressed with of Sanchez as a quarterback was his ability to move in the pocket and avoid the rush. There were times where tackles D’Brickashaw Ferguson or Wayne Hunter would get beat to the edge and he would find a way to duck or dodge the rush and get rid of the ball.

If the Cowboys are going to have success defensively against the Jets, it’s going to have to be controlling the Jets running the football. If they are able to do that, it will set up opportunities for pressure in the passing game and force Sanchez into situations where he has had his struggles.

*One of the adjustments for the way in which the Jets play their defensive scheme is to take cornerback Darrelle Revis and put him on the opponent’s best receiver. The question in Cowboys staff meetings was who will Revis take in coverage, Miles Austin or Dez Bryant?

It will take the Cowboys a series or two to figure out what direction the Jets might go with Revis. The Jets love to play press man coverage, so look for the Cowboys to try and get them out of that coverage as quickly as possible.

One way to do this is to get into a bunch formation with three wide receivers and scatter at the snap, getting into their routes as quickly as possible. If the Jets try to play man coverage out of this look, it will cause them to potentially get confused or lose their men in coverage, creating an opportunity for a successful play.

The Cowboys know they can’t line up in regular formations and feel like they can throw the ball against this secondary. The Jets have three corners that can cover in man, so look for Jason Garrett to try and dictate when and how often they play it.

Revis Island doesn't scare Dez Bryant

September, 7, 2011
9/07/11
3:20
PM ET


IRVING, Texas -- Dez Bryant wanted to make something clear before chatting with the media: He doesn't talk about his opponents.

It didn't take much to get Bryant to bend his policy a bit. How can you not discuss the Jets' Darrelle Revis, who is widely recognized as the NFL's best cornerback?

"To tell the truth, I’m not the type of guy to single anybody out – no DB, nothing like that," Bryant said. "But it’s hard not to, because he’s great."

That isn't an indication that Bryant is intimidated by a trip to Revis Island. Bryant pointed out that "some guys made plays on him, some nice plays."

Bryant respects Revis and Antonio Cromartie, a former Pro Bowler who both makes and gives up a lot of big plays, but Bryant relishes the challenge of facing a pair of premier corners.

"I’ll tell you that they are great," Bryant said. "They’re some great DBs, probably the best. I mean, [they] are the best. But we’re all up for this matchup between our wideouts and their DBs. It’s going to be great."

Revis' ability to be physical with receivers is what most impresses Bryant.

"That’s how he plays the game, being physical all day," Bryant said. "Much respect for him. When you go against him, you’ve got to be on top of your game and know what you’re doing, because if you make a mistake, hey, there’s no telling. He might jump in front of it and pick it off."

Bryant happens to pride himself in being able to overpower most corners. That's one of many reasons the Bryant/Revis battles might be the most intriguing matchup in the NFL this week.

"Call it what you want," Bryant said, smiling. "Call it what you want."

The Other Side: ESPN NY's Rich Cimini

September, 7, 2011
9/07/11
9:05
AM ET
IRVING, Texas -- As part of a weekly feature to serve as a primer on the Cowboys’ upcoming opponent we will speak with a writer from that town. This week we ask five questions to Rich Cimini of ESPNNewYork.

Archer - For the Cowboys the last few years it's been Super Bowl-or-bust entering the season. Is that the feeling around the Jets after making the AFC title game the last two years?

Cimini - It's definitely Super Bowl or bust. Just the other day, Darrelle Revis said, "The Super Bowl runs 24/7 in our locker room, in our organization, in our building." After coming so close two years in a row, the fan base will not accept anything less than a trip to Indy.

Archer - Where is Mark Sanchez in his development? Is he a game manager or a game changer?

Cimini - I'd say Sanchez still is more of a game manager than a game changer. The coaching staff still doesn't ask him to do a whole lot, although this year they're going to air it out a little more than in the past. That's according to Rex Ryan; we'll see if that actually happens. Sanchez gets a lot of pub because of his four playoff wins in two years, but they relied on his arm in only one of those wins. His decision making is getting better, but his accuracy (55 percent last year) remains suspect. The formula goes like this: Rely on the defense and running game, hang around for 3 quarters and let Sanchez make a play or two in the end to win it.

Archer - Help the local folks out: What does LaDainian Tomlinson have left?

Cimini - I'm very curious to see Tomlinson. Frankly, he didn't look good in the preseason, but I'm going to cut him some slack because of who he is. Maybe he's saving it for the regular season, For the Jets' sake, they'd better hope so because he didn't resemble the runner who looked as if he had discovered the Fountain of Youth last fall. He has a new role: Third-down back. He's a very good catcher and pass blocker, so I suspect he'll be fine in that role.

Archer - Cowboys fans don't get much of a chance to see Darrelle Revis. Just how good is he?

Cimini - Revis is incredible. When a receiver catches a ball on him, it's almost like an upset. He had a terrific camp, probably the best of his career. He's not like Deion because he doesn't have dynamic ball skills and the ability to take it to the house, but his coverage is flawless. He has it all -- smooth hip turn, closing speed, instincts, not afraid to come up and tackle, etc. He's a game changer.

Archer - What kind of atmosphere do you expect around the game with it being the opener and the 10th anniversary of 9/11?

Cimini - The atmosphere around the game will be incredible. You're talking about two marquee franchises, a two-year-old stadium (not as nice as your place, by the way), big-name players, the Ryan Bowl ... against the backdrop of 9/11. The stadium is only a few miles from where the WTC used to stand. On a clear day, you could see the towers from the old Giants Stadium. The anniversary always is emotional in NY, and this will be no different. It's going to be a little surreal because of all the conflicting emotions.

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