Dallas Cowboys: Eli Manning

What QB tier is Tony Romo on?

July, 2, 2014
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IRVING, Texas -- When it comes to ranking quarterbacks, the debates can be endless and sometimes pointless, but Mike Sando took the question to people inside the NFL with his latest ESPN Insider piece. Insider

Romo
It might surprise some of you that Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo finished tied for eighth in the tier-rankings of 26 general managers, former GMs, pro personnel people, coordinators, head coaches, position coaches and an executive.

Four players tied for the top spot in Sando’s rankings, using a 1 for the best at the position and a 5 for the worst. Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees shared the top spot. Andrew Luck was fifth.

Romo checked in after Philip Rivers and Ben Roethlisberger and tied with Russell Wilson and Eli Manning in the second tier.

Here’s what Sando wrote and the insiders had to say about Romo:
T-8. Tony Romo, Dallas Cowboys (2.23 average rating)

A few evaluators questioned whether Romo had the mind-set to play at the highest level consistently. It's a familiar refrain in league circles, a feeling that Romo is an undisciplined QB playing for an undisciplined organization with a poorly constructed roster.

"People want to knock him," one GM responded, "but the guy has talent and is one of the top 10 starters in the league."

Romo is 34 years old and coming off back surgery, but he still could be in line for a "monster" season, one evaluator said. "But I absolutely believe they will not win big with him. As soon as he decides it's a clutch moment, his brain goes elsewhere. He loses focus and tries to create something."




What’s funny is that the GM and evaluator have the same thoughts of those who love Romo or loathe Romo who are not on the inside. Pete Prisco of CBS Sports went so far as to call Romo “underrated” in his yearly rankings, which drew the ire of some.

The “clutch” talk has been a big thing around Romo since the bobbled snap in 2006 against the Seattle Seahawks in the playoffs. That talk is always followed up with Romo having the best fourth-quarter passer rating in NFL history (102.4) and his 20 come-from-behind wins.

Those numbers aren’t hollow, although with one playoff win to his credit that’s what his detractors will say.

That’s why this debate is a good one. Both sides can declare victory with their points. If Romo were to ever win a Super Bowl -- or perhaps just get to one -- then the perception would change entirely.

Tony Romo meets with David Cutcliffe

March, 10, 2014
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Over the weekend, Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, along with coach Jason Garrett, met with Duke football coach David Cutcliffe.

The details of the meeting weren’t revealed and Cutcliffe wasn’t available for comment, according to Duke officials, because he’s on vacation.

The chat between the trio can be perceived in different ways:
  • Romo might have been trying to gain some tips, and considering Cutcliffe mentors Peyton and Eli Manning, that’s not a bad man to hook up with.
  • Romo might want to bring some of his receivers to Duke for a future workout, something both Mannings have done.
  • Romo and Garrett were just saying hi as they were passing through to visit the basketball office.

Cutcliffe is considered a quarterback guru. If Romo was trying to pick his brain, this is the best time to do it.

He’s got a lot to prove in terms of coming back from back surgery. Then again, regardless of his back surgery, Romo has plenty to achieve.

The man has just one playoff win on his résumé and more failures in big games than he should given the amount of money he’s paid by the Cowboys.

Romo produced a strong season in 2013 with a 96.7 quarterback rating, a 63.9 completion percentage. 31 touchdowns and only 10 interceptions.

Romo also had six games with a quarterback rating of over 100.

Yet, he was far from perfect. It’s great to throw for more than 500 yards, which he did against Denver. It's terrible to lose the game on an interception.

Romo went 3-2 in games he attempted more than 40 passes, including losses to Green Bay and Kansas City. The Cowboys blew a 23-point halftime lead against the Packers and failed to score a touchdown in the second half against the Chiefs.

Is Romo an elite quarterback? It depends on what your definition is of one.

Does a QB need to win a Super Bowl to move to elite status? Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisberger have each won two Super Bowls. Aaron Rodgers has one title.

Are they elite?

Every offseason, Romo says he works on something different with his game. It can be footwork, hand placement when under pressure, arm angles or just improving his decision-making.

Romo is entering his ninth season as a NFL starter with his head coach, Garrett, entering the final year of his deal.

This could be Romo’s last year with Garrett, and if the Cowboys fail to make the postseason that partnership, which started in 2007, will most likely end.

We hope Romo was picking Cutcliffe’s mind about improving his game instead of just passing through the football offices on the way to shoot hoops. If so, it was a smart stop before things get geared up for a crucial 2014 season.

NFLN Survey/Super Bowl QB: Cowboys

January, 29, 2014
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The answers came quickly and were the same two quarterbacks the 10 Dallas Cowboys anonymously quizzed and answered for ESPN’s NFL Nation survey regarding which quarterback they would want with the Super Bowl on the line.

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady got seven votes. Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning received three. In the overall vote, Brady, with his three Super Bowl titles, was the winner (128 votes) and Manning, with one title and the chance for a second Sunday, was second (86 votes).

Fourteen quarterbacks received votes in the survey, but Tony Romo was not one of them.

Until Romo delivers the Cowboys deep into the playoffs or maybe even to a Super Bowl, he will have to live with the perception that he can’t get it done when it matters most, even if the fourth-quarter numbers say otherwise.

Once that happens, then Romo would receive votes the way Super Bowl winners Aaron Rodgers (32), Drew Brees (21), Ben Roethlisberger (20), Eli Manning (nine) and Joe Flacco (one) did.
Romo remains the NFL’s highest rated quarterback in the fourth quarter (102.4) with 66 touchdown passes and 26 interceptions. He has 20 come-from-behind victories in the fourth quarter or overtime in his career. He had five in 2012 and two last season.

With a herniated disk causing pain down his leg, Romo beat the Washington Redskins with a last-minute touchdown pass to DeMarco Murray as the Cowboys overcame a nine-point fourth-quarter deficit to win.

He would have surgery less than a week later and miss the season finale against the Philadelphia Eagles.

Plays that shaped the season: No. 4

January, 14, 2014
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Editor's note: In this series, Jean-Jacques Taylor counts down 10 plays that shaped the Cowboys' season.
DeMarcus Ware AP Photo/James D. SmithThe season started on a positive with DeMarcus Ware intercepting Eli Manning's first pass.

Play No. 4: DeMarcus Ware's interception

Situation: First-and-10 from New York 20
Score: 0-0
Time: 15:00 left in first quarter

Taylor's Take: DeMarcus Ware had an outstanding training camp, dominating left tackle Tyron Smith daily in practice, and new defensive coaches Monte Kiffin and Rod Marinelli had been preaching the importance of turnovers all offseason. When Ware intercepted Eli Manning’s first pass of the season, a screen pass, it seemed like a harbinger for a great season. When the offense managed only a field goal, despite getting the ball at the New York 15, that was a bigger indication of how the season was going to turn out.

Season Impact: Ware's interception was the first of six turnovers the Cowboys forced. More importantly, they beat their division rival and ended the Giants' three-game winning streak at AT&T Stadium. The Cowboys were good at forcing turnovers all season, which was the only good thing their defense did well. Ware set the tone on the season's first play, but turnovers alone weren't enough to hide all of the unit's flaws.

Quote: "Most guys would have run upfield, but he read the screen. Unbelievable. But you know, you expect stuff like that from D-Ware. He's just a freak. You know what kind of guy he is. He's a future Hall of Famer." -- Jason Hatcher

Upon Further Review: Cowboys Week 15

December, 16, 2013
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ARLINGTON, Texas -- A review of four hot issues from the Dallas Cowboys' 37-36 loss to the Green Bay Packers.

[+] EnlargeBoyd_Murray
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesDeMarco Murray and the Cowboys are focusing on winning out and attempting to make the playoffs.
Recuperative powers: If the Cowboys win their final two games, they will make the playoffs. If there is a message Jason Garrett is looking to sell as the team looks to rebound, that's it. The Cowboys' final two games are against the Washington Redskins and Philadelphia Eagles, teams they outscored 48-19 in meetings earlier this season. It's not the message a lot of fans want to hear, but it is what matters most as the Cowboys look to make the playoffs for the first time since 2009.

"I feel good that we have a chance to beat the Redskins, and if we do that, we'll get a chance to play Philadelphia with an opportunity to get in the playoffs," owner and general manager Jerry Jones said. "I know when I see us lose a game after having a lead like we had at halftime, anything can happen one way or the other."

Pathetic work: On a day in which the offense gained 466 yards and 27 first downs, you would think everything worked well. It didn't. The third-down offense continued its season-long struggles as the Cowboys converting on just 2 of 9 chances. It was the third time this season the Cowboys converted on less than 30 percent of their third-down tries in a game. They are 56-of-159 on the season. Tony Romo said he has to be better on third downs, the receivers have to win in man-to-man situations and the blocking has to be better.

"We haven't done that well," Romo said of the third-down woes. "We have to do a better job."

No chance on D: At one point, the Cowboys fielded a defense that had three players who were not with the team when training camp started (George Selvie, Everette Brown, Corvey Irvin), two undrafted free agents (Jeff Heath, Cameron Lawrence), a sixth-round pick (DeVonte Holloman) and a cornerback (Sterling Moore) who was out of football until Nov. 25. Matt Flynn became the fifth quarterback to throw four touchdown passes against Monte Kiffin's defense, joining Eli Manning, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and Josh McCown. Flynn and McCown are backup quarterbacks, and the Cowboys will see another backup next week at Washington with Kirk Cousins quarterbacking the Redskins.

Still producing: Jason Witten caught 110 passes last year, an NFL record for tight ends in a season, but he had only three touchdowns. He has 59 catches this year and eight touchdowns. Witten needs one TD in the final two games to equal his career high. His eight from Romo this season are the most the duo has combined for in a season together. With 59 catches for 703 yards, Witten is averaging 11.9 yards per reception, which equals his career best so far. He might not have the starry numbers of the past, but at 31, Witten is not slowing down yet, either.

Cowboys not even sure who QB is who torched them

December, 10, 2013
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CHICAGO -- It's one thing to get torched by quarterbacks who are household names, such as Eli Manning, Philip Rivers, Peyton Manning, Matthew Stafford and Drew Brees.

McCown
But what about the sixth quarterback to pass for at least 300 yards against the Dallas Cowboys this season?

“Is that Luke McCown or Cade McCown?” Cowboys cornerback Orlando Scandrick asked after Monday night's 45-28 blowout loss to the Chicago Bears.

Um, actually it was Josh McCown, who is Luke's brother and not related to former Bears first-round bust Cade McNown.

Scandrick meant no disrespect -- “He's been playing great this year,” he added -- but his slip of the mind makes the point. The Dallas defense got dominated by a 34-year-old journeyman backup.

McCown has consistently performed well while filling in for an injured Jay Cutler, but this was a career night for a guy who couldn't keep a starting job at SMU. He completed 27 of 36 passes for 348 yards and a career-high four touchdowns, plus he ran for another score.

To be brutally honest, the numbers would have been much more impressive if the Bears weren't in clock-killing mode for most of the fourth quarter. Chicago never punted or committed a turnover.

All due respect to McCown, but he's not a guy who should account for five touchdowns against an NFL defense. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, he's the first Bears quarterback with a five-touchdown game since Johnny Lujack in 1949.

“If you were back there at quarterback and we played the way we played, you'd probably have five touchdowns,” defensive end DeMarcus Ware said in response to a question from a 40-something television reporter. “I mean, that's the way I feel. If you don't play a fundamentally sound game, a guy that can just get out there and play, he'll hurt you and that's what he did.”

In doing so, McCown added his name to a long list featuring a bunch of big-name quarterbacks.

Welcome to MetLife Stadium

November, 24, 2013
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Welcome to MetLife Stadium where the Dallas Cowboys take on the New York Giants, and with a win would move back into first place in the NFC East. A loss would not end their season but it would be crippling.

Change in roles: Jason Garrett said Bill Callahan will continue to call the plays, but the Cowboys' head coach is now at least in the relaying of plays from Callahan to quarterback Tony Romo.

Quarterbacks coach Wade Wilson will join Callahan in the coaches’ booth and tight ends coach Wes Phillips will move from the booth to the field. In the first 10 games, Romo and Wilson would look at the pictures between series and communicate with Callahan upstairs. Will Garrett take his eyes off the defense to talk between series with Romo?

There has been a dysfunction to the process since Callahan was named the playcaller. This is not his offense, and Garrett is in must-win territory, despite what Jerry Jones said last week.

Only with the Cowboys.

A healthy return: Defensive tackle Jason Hatcher is back in the lineup after an aggravated stinger knocked him out of the New Orleans game. Cornerback Morris Claiborne is back after a two-game absence with a hamstring injury. Safety J.J. Wilcox is back after missing three games with a knee injury. Defensive end DeMarcus Ware was back against the Saints but could not finish the game after his quadriceps tightened up.

Ware said he feels better heading into today’s game than he did entering the game against the Saints.

The Cowboys will need Ware to be more than just effective, just as they will need Hatcher, Claiborne and Wilcox to be better, especially with linebacker Sean Lee out with a hamstring injury.

When these teams faced off in September, Eli Manning threw for 450 yards and Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz and Rueben Randle had more than 100 yards each.

In the elements: Weather can be a great equalizer. The cold and wind at MetLife Stadium could be a huge factor. The wind chill is expected to be about 17 degrees. The wind will be whipping.

These two teams like to throw the ball. The Cowboys have not run the ball effectively for most of the season. The Giants have run the ball more in their four-game winning streak but not exactly well, averaging 2.9 yards per carry.

The kicking game will also be important and the coin toss could mean more than normal. The Cowboys like to defer if they win the toss on the road in order to get the first possession of the second half with the crowd still at the concession stand. Maybe they change that up today.

Cowboys hope for another takeaway feast

November, 20, 2013
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IRVING, Texas -- Only three teams have more takeaways than the Dallas Cowboys this season. The Seattle Seahawks have 26, the Kansas City Chiefs have 24 and the Carolina Panthers have 23.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Carr, Eli Manning
AP Photo/James D. SmithBrandon Carr was responsible for the game-clinching interception in the Cowboys' opener against the Giants, who turned the ball over six times.
In the midst of a horrible statistical season defensively, the Cowboys have forced 22 turnovers in their first 10 games.

The Cowboys got it all started the right way in their season opener against the New York Giants with six.

The Cowboys had three takeaways on the Giants’ first 10 snaps. DeMarcus Ware had an interception of Eli Manning on the first play. Barry Church forced a fumble on the sixth play and Will Allen intercepted Manning on the 10th.

On the second play of the second half, Church returned a fumble 27 yards for a touchdown. Later the Cowboys scooped up a muffed punt, and in the fourth quarter Brandon Carr iced the win with a 49-yard interception return for a score.

It was the 24th time the Cowboys forced six or more turnovers in a game in team history and the first time they had as many as six since Dec. 14, 2003, against the Washington Redskins.

Manning threw 15 interceptions in New York’s first six games -- all losses -- and he has been intercepted just twice since. He has only three touchdown passes in the Giants’ four-game winning streak.

The Cowboys get to see Manning again Sunday at MetLife Stadium for the rematch. Is it fair to expect a similar turnover game? Probably not.

"You always feel confident," coach Jason Garrett said. "That’s always a point of emphasis for us, to take the ball away. Just because we did it before that doesn’t give us an advantage of doing it now. You have to go out there and do the things necessary to get the takeaways. Typically it has a lot to do with executing and beating your guy and making plays on the football."

Some of the Giants look at the season-opening loss to the Cowboys as one they let slip away, despite the six turnovers. The Cowboys felt the same in the first regular-season game at AT&T Stadium in 2009. Tony Romo was intercepted three times and Felix Jones had a fumble, but with 3:46 to play they had a 31-30 lead and the defense could not make a stop.

Lawrence Tynes kicked a 37-yard field goal on the final play to beat the Cowboys, 33-31.

Double Coverage: Vikings at Cowboys

October, 31, 2013
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Jared Allen and Tony RomoAP PhotoJared Allen's Vikings and Tony Romo's Cowboys match up on Sunday in a game where neither team looks like much of a playoff threat.

IRVING, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys kick off the second half of their season at AT&T Stadium on Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings, who are still looking for their first win in the United States this season.

A playoff team a year ago, the Vikings have been one of the biggest disappointments in the NFL. At 4-4, the Cowboys are looking at their third straight 8-8 season under Jason Garrett.

ESPN.com Vikings reporter Ben Goessling and ESPN.com Cowboys reporter Todd Archer debate the game in this week’s Double Coverage.

Archer: I think a lot of people assumed the Vikings would be a serious playoff threat, but obviously that’s not the case. How is it sitting with the veterans on the team like Adrian Peterson, Jared Allen, Chad Greenway and guys who have experienced success?

Goessling: A lot of those players have been disappointed, but they all seem to be sticking behind coach Leslie Frazier, at least for now. There have been a few hints of discontent from players with the defensive scheme, but nobody seems to be quitting on the season. A lot of the problems are out of the Vikings’ control, at least in the sense that they can do only so much with the roster they have. It’s hard to win and have an open competition at quarterback at the same time. And the Vikings’ moves in the secondary have backfired terribly. This hasn’t been the same team without Antoine Winfield, and now that Harrison Smith is hurt, the Vikings have few playmakers on the back end of their defense.

Speaking of quarterbacks, it looks like Tony Romo is playing some of his best football this year. I suppose with him, we never really know what to think until the playoffs, but does it seem to you like he’s turned any type of a corner?

Archer: I think he’s played at a higher level than most people want to say for the past few years, but he’s been stuck with this tag that he can’t shake until (if) the Cowboys make the playoffs and win a couple of games. This year, he has more say in the offense in terms of the game plan, so I think that has him feeling more weight to make the correct play and not be so much of a gunslinger. He’s struggled the past three games with his accuracy, but he’s made big plays and mostly stayed away from the bad ones. He remains creative when things break down, but he’s also willing to take a sack or throw the ball away.

Peterson is coming home, so to speak. How have things been different for him this season after 2,000 yards last season?

Goessling: He has been dealing with a minor hamstring injury for the past few weeks, but I think the biggest problem for Peterson has been the play of his offensive line. The group hasn’t been anywhere near as good as it was last season at opening holes for Peterson, and fullback Jerome Felton has struggled to get into a rhythm after missing the first three games because of a suspension. At times, Peterson has looked impatient, wanting to make that one extra cut for a 60-yard run and winding up with a 2- or 3-yarder when the hole closes. He’s also seeing more eight-man fronts than any other back in the league, and without a line that’s able to handle the extra attention, Peterson isn’t going to beat those defenses all the time. Even he isn’t that good.

But maybe this is the week the Vikings can resurrect their passing game, playing against the worst pass defense in the league. Are the Cowboys so bad that they’ll have trouble even with the Vikings’ ensemble cast at quarterback?

Archer: Unless Christian Ponder, Josh Freeman or Matt Cassel morph into Peyton or Eli Manning, Philip Rivers or Matthew Stafford, I can’t see it happening, even as bad as the pass defense has been. When it has played against middling quarterbacks -- Alex Smith (yes, I know he’s 8-0, but he’s not a great passer), Sam Bradford, a returning-to-health Robert Griffin III and Nick Foles -- the defense has looked good. When it has faced top passers, it has allowed the most 400-yard games in NFL history for a season -- in just eight games. Monte Kiffin’s scheme is very basic and designed to not give up big plays, yet the Cowboys have given up a ton of big plays. They have missed DeMarcus Ware the past two games and will have a banged-up secondary Sunday. If Ware returns, that should help, but I think the biggest aid for the defense will be whomever Frazier picks to play quarterback.

For years, the strength of the Vikings D, to me anyway, has been the pass rush. Statistically, it’s not very good, but is that a product of the secondary issues you talked about?

Goessling: I’d say it’s the other way around. The Vikings were certainly better in the secondary last year than they are this year, but they were helped out by the fact the front four was getting to the quarterback enough to keep teams from exploiting them in the passing game. This year, the Vikings have been done in by teams that can get the ball out quickly (the Lions and Packers, especially), and they just haven’t gotten much push up the middle. Allen and Brian Robison are hustling, but they can do only so much when they’re getting the bulk of opposing teams’ attention. The Vikings still aren’t a blitz-heavy team, but they have had to bring extra guys a little more often than usual this year and Aaron Rodgers burned them on a blitz Sunday. If Romo gets the ball out quickly, he should have plenty of openings. The good news for the Cowboys is A) the Vikings could have three defensive backs out with injury, and B) Josh Robinson will be on the field.

The week after the Vikings lost in the final seconds against the Bears, they got beat by the Browns at home. Do you expect any kind of shell shock from the Cowboys after that Matthew Stafford touchdown last week?

Archer: I really don’t. The Cowboys have had so many of these types of losses that they know how to bounce back. The bad thing is they have had to do this too often. We came up with 21 losses since 2005 that can be described as “crazy” with late-game shenanigans. The Lions loss was just another one to add to the list. The Cowboys lost a game in 2010 because they missed an extra point. They lost a game in 2008 in overtime on a blocked punt returned for a touchdown. And those both came at Arizona.

So the Cowboys somehow do a good job of compartmentalizing things and putting a bad week behind them. Garrett deserves some credit for that, I guess.

 

Top QBs shredding Cowboys' D

October, 28, 2013
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DETROIT -- Another top-flight quarterback, another shredding of the Dallas Cowboys' defense.

Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford did to the Cowboys what Eli Manning, Philip Rivers and Peyton Manning did to the Cowboys, completing 33 of 48 passes for 488 yards. He only had one touchdown and was intercepted twice, but 329 of those yards went to Calvin Johnson.

The Cowboys are the first team to allow four 400-yard passers in a season and eight games remain. And they still have to say hello New Orleans’ Drew Brees, Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers and Chicago’s Jay Cutler, who should be healthy by the Dec. 9 meeting. There’s also the rematch with the New York Giants and Eli Manning. And Robert Griffin III should be in better form for the Washington Redskins than he was in the first meeting of the season.

Stafford, the Manning brothers and Rivers have thrown for 1,753 yards against the Cowboys, completed 73.5 percent of their passes and averaged 438.3 yards per game.

The good news for the Cowboys is that they will see Christian Ponder, Josh Freeman or maybe even Matt Cassel Sunday at AT&T Stadium when the Minnesota Vikings visit.

Five Wonders: D with plenty left to prove

October, 22, 2013
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IRVING, Texas -- For the first time this season Five Wonders comes with the Dallas Cowboys on a winning streak.

I wonder if they can make it three in a row Sunday against the Detroit Lions. They have not won three in a row since Weeks 13-15 last season.

On to the Wonders:

[+] EnlargeBarry Church and Morris Claiborne
Howard Smith/USA TODAY SportsThe Cowboys had three picks off of backup quarterback Matt Barkley.
• The Cowboys defense deserves a ton of credit for limiting Philadelphia to just 278 yards, but I wonder how much Nick Foles and Matt Barkley played into the result. When the Cowboys have faced upper echelon throwers, they have struggled. Philip Rivers lit them up. So did Peyton Manning. And Eli Manning threw for 450 yards against them in the opener. Sam Bradford was bad. Alex Smith was economical but hardly impressive. Robert Griffin III was erratic. And this week the Cowboys get Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford. He can spin it as well as any quarterback in the NFL and has some guy named Calvin Johnson to throw it to. The change in the Dallas defense the last two games -- at least against the pass -- has been more man coverage. It’s time for the Cowboys defense to show they can handle a top-flight passer and not just the average quarterbacks. There are more top-flight quarterbacks on the schedule the rest of the way in Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers and Jay Cutler (provided he’s healthy). And there are also the rematches with Eli Manning and Griffin. The defense has performed better, but it’s not like it has arrived yet either.

• Right guard Brian Waters has helped cement the interior of the offensive line this season. It has not always been perfect, but it’s been solid and that’s not always been the case for the Cowboys the last few seasons. Waters is 36. I wonder if he wants to play again as a 37 year old. The Cowboys signed Waters to a one-year deal before the season started and allowed him to work in slowly before taking over the starting spot. If Waters wants to play again -- and it’s a question I’ll try to ask him this week -- I would bet the Cowboys would want him. There will have to be some assurances that he will take part in the offseason or training camp for sure. The proximity to his home should make a difference if he wants to play. I don’t know how big that “if” is, but the younger players have learned a lot from Waters and so have the more veteran guys. He helps with the shotgun snap by tapping rookie Travis Frederick. He has the strength to hold up at the point of attack. He doesn’t move as well as he once did, but he’s not just a phone booth guy either.

• Entering the game against the Philadelphia Eagles, DeMarco Murray had the highest percentage of rushing yards of a team in the league with 428 of the Cowboys’ 509 rushing yards. That percentage went down since he missed the Eagles’ game, and I wonder if the Cowboys will continue to use Joseph Randle in a role once Murray comes back from the knee injury. Murray has had a good 2013 season, but if Randle can lessen the burden, then the fresher Murray will be. We don’t know how Murray will handle a large amount of carries. He has never had more than 164 in a season because of injuries. Randle showed some decent vision against the Eagles and he was secure with the ball. He has more make-you-miss than Murray as well. Murray will still be the Cowboys’ bell cow in the running game, but if Randle can offer more than just a change of pace it makes sense to keep him involved in the game plan.

• I wonder if Dwayne Harris' punt return opportunities will be limited for the rest of the season. It would be the ultimate sign of respect from the opposition. Philadelphia’s Donnie Jones made sure Harris would not be a factor. His punts were high and outside the numbers, limiting where Harris could go if he chose to return a punt. As a result Harris averaged just 4.6 yards per punt return and had to use a fair catch signal twice. If this continues -- and if teams are smart it will -- then Harris will have to remain patient. Jason Garrett loves Harris’ decision making, but he knows there could come a time where Harris might try to make something out of nothing. That can only lead to trouble. Harris is a major weapon and the Eagles made sure he would not beat them the way he beat the Washington Redskins the previous week.

• I wonder if Edgar Jones knows just how much people will be paying attention to his recovery from sports hernia surgery. The Cowboys put him on the short-term injured reserve list, meaning he is out for eight weeks and can return Dec. 15 against the Green Bay Packers. Last December, the Cowboys chose not to place Jay Ratliff on injured reserve after he had sports hernia surgery because they hoped he would be able to return for a possible playoff run. Ratliff’s agent contended the surgery was more severe than the typical sports hernia, but I contend that if the Cowboys believed it would be a 12-month recovery they would have put him on injured reserve immediately last year. All surgeries are different. All rehab times are different. Terence Newman was back in five weeks from a sports hernia surgery a few years ago. Jones’ surgery was performed by the same doctor as Ratliff as well. If you’re wondering why the Cowboys used the one-time IR designation on Jones, then remember that the team was running out of time to use it and hope a player can be back in the regular season.

Cowboys finally beat Giants in JerryWorld

September, 9, 2013
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ARLINGTON, Texas – Jerry Jones, who just might be the best marketing man in NFL history, proudly points out that New York Giants have never won a game in AT&T Stadium.

“It got so desperate I just changed the name so we could go on a clean sheet of paper with AT&T,” Jones joked after the Dallas Cowboys36-31 victory in the season opener, well aware that the Giants were 4-0 in the $1.2 billion football palace previously known as Cowboys Stadium before Sunday night.

It’s fitting that the Cowboys had to sweat until recovering an onside kick with seconds remaining. After all, the Giants’ four wins in the building best known as JerryWorld had all been wild affairs.

Call it the Curse of the Tuna, the price Jerry had to pay for hiring Giants legend Bill Parcells, a necessity to secure the $325 million of public financing to build the place. The hex apparently lasted four years, matching Parcells’ tenure with the Cowboys.

How else to explain the insanity of the Giants’ four-game winning streak here?

A quick review of the Giants' JerryWorld reign:

2009: Romo, the miracle quarterback groomed by Parcells, has one of his worst games in JerryWorld's grand opening. All three of his interceptions lead directly to Giants touchdowns. The Cowboys, who rush for more than 250 yards, still manage to rally to take a late lead … only to watch Eli Manning march the Giants on a drive that ends with the game-winning field goal as time expires. And then Eli unintentionally adds insult to injury by signing the wall in the vistor's locker room after New York’s 33-31 win.

2010: The Cowboys jump out to a 20-7 lead but ultimately roll over after Romo breaks his collarbone. (Way to go, Chris Gronkowski, whose brother just happened to become a star for the Patriots, the other team Parcells took to the Super Bowl.) Dallas rallies late to make a blowout look respectable, but this 41-35 loss pretty much seals the fate of poor Wade Phillips, the anti-Bill.

2011: Romo plays a near-perfect game, but it still isn’t good enough because Jersey guy Miles Austin loses the ball in the lights on a deep ball that would have put the Giants away. The Cowboys choke up a 12-point lead in the final four minutes, when Manning engineers two touchdown drives to pull off the 37-34 shocker. And coach Jason Garrett contributed to the collapse with a clock-management malfunction that had Jerry and the rest of the Jones family screaming for a timeout from their luxury suite.

2012: It was another pickfest by Romo, who threw four interceptions. The Cowboys still almost pulled off a crazy comeback, fueled by Jason Witten catching an NFL-tight end-record 18 passes, but Dez Bryant’s fingers land out of bounds on the woulda-been winning TD, seemingly because the football gods like screwing with Jerry so much.

On Sunday night, Manning had a chance to rip out the Cowboys’ hearts again. The Giants, who were down 17 points in the third quarter, trailed by only six when they got the ball at their 17-yard line with 2:41 remaining.

But the ball didn’t bounce the Giants’ way this time, as cornerback Brandon Carr came up with Dallas’ sixth turnover of the game, picking off a pass that bounced off the intended receiver and sprinting 49 yards for the touchdown to give the Cowboys some breathing room.

For the first time, the Giants had nothing to celebrate as they left Arlington.

“That’s been a monkey on our back for a long time,” said Witten, who caught a couple of touchdown passes in the win.

The monkey is gone. The curse is over.

The Cowboys are 1-0.

NFC East Top 20: No. 7 Tony Romo

August, 30, 2013
8/30/13
11:00
AM ET
In the final 20 days before the start of the regular season, we are counting down the top 20 players in the NFC East. For a full explanation, see this post. And if you want to read any of the other posts that have run since we started this series, you can find them all here, in this link.

No. 7 -- Tony Romo, Dallas Cowboys QB

Romo
(Last year: No. 7)

No player in the NFC East stirs more emotion than Romo. Many will consider this ranking too high, shouting things like, "One playoff win!" and "I'm surprised his ranking didn't get intercepted!" etc. Others will consider this ranking too low, citing Romo's excellent and consistent regular-season numbers and a justifiable belief that the negatives too strongly outweigh the positives in too many people's minds. Me, I left him right here where he was last year, at No. 7 on the list of best players in the NFC East. I guess you can sit here and say he should be better. And throwing three interceptions in the division title game against Washington in Week 17 last year certainly didn't help his case. But more than two-thirds of the teams in the league would take Romo over their current quarterback situation, and in the end I think he's a bit of an underappreciated player.

He's gone over 4,000 yards passing in three of the past four seasons, the only exception being the 2010 season in which he missed 10 games due to injury. He has a career completion percentage of 64.7 and hasn't been under 63 in a season since 2008. He has a 95.6 career passer rating, which is higher than those of Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger and Eli Manning, to name a few. And for all of the talk about interceptions, last year's 19 was an anomaly, tying a career high. He's only thrown more than 14 in a season twice in his career.

The issue, of course, is the winning, or lack thereof. The three quarterbacks named in the previous paragraph have a combined five Super Bowl titles. Romo has none, as everyone knows. If that were not the case, I believe he'd be more freely talked about among the great quarterbacks of his era, since the numbers put him there on their own. Romo's own role in the Cowboys' lack of Super Bowl success during his time as their starting quarterback is often exaggerated, but he has surely played one. Until he and they overcome that problem, he has to rank a notch below that elite level.

The rest of the rankings:

8. Alfred Morris, RB, Washington Redskins
9. Victor Cruz, WR, New York Giants
10. Jason Witten, TE, Cowboys
11. Jason Peters, OT, Philadelphia Eagles
12. Sean Lee, LB, Cowboys
13. Trent Williams, OT, Redskins
14. Evan Mathis, OG, Eagles
15. Hakeem Nicks, WR, Giants
16. DeSean Jackson, WR, Eagles
17. Anthony Spencer, DE, Cowboys
18. London Fletcher, LB, Redskins
19. Brian Orakpo, LB, Redskins
20. Jason Hatcher, DL, Cowboys

5 Wonders: Look at a possible trade

August, 27, 2013
8/27/13
9:00
AM ET
IRVING, Texas – The Cowboys have one more preseason game to go, Thursday against Houston, but since they’re not playing their starters, we’re not wondering much about what will happen.

This week’s Five Wonders touches on a potential trade decision, Jason Witten's blocking as well as Tony Romo’s accuracy.

On to the Wonders:

PODCAST
Stretch Smith joins Galloway and Company to discuss five positive and five negative things he took away from the Cowboys' fourth preseason game.

Listen Listen
** Let’s talk trade. Not a big trade, but just something I’m wondering about with the Cowboys as they start the process of trimming the roster and possibly looking at players from other teams. I wonder if the Cowboys could look to move defensive end Sean Lissemore. This isn’t to say they should trade him or that he has had a poor camp and won’t get a spot on the 53-man roster. Lissemore signed a four-year extension with the Cowboys that included $3.17 million in guaranteed money last season. I think he’s a good, solid role player. He just might not be the best fit for a 4-3 defense. The Cowboys need help on the offensive line, but to expect major moves at this time of the year is just not realistic. You’re talking about acquiring a player like Ryan Cook, who was picked up last year from Miami a week before the season for a seventh-round pick. Lissemore’s age, friendly contract and ability to play a couple of spots might be able to bring some value in return to the Cowboys where they need it most.

** Jason Witten set a record for catches by tight ends in a season with 110 last year. Even more remarkable is the fact that he had only eight catches after the first three games. But I wonder if the Cincinnati game is a sign that things might change in 2013. Of Tony Romo’s 18 passes against the Bengals, Witten stayed in pass protection eight times. That’s a high percentage. With his backups, James Hanna, Gavin Escobar and Dante Rosario, not known for their blocking perhaps Witten will find himself helping the line more than he has in the past. Over the last five seasons Witten has averaged 92 catches a year. In 2011 he caught 79 passes for 942 yards and five touchdowns. While still a very good season, those are not typical Witten numbers, but I wonder if that is the neighborhood he will be in this year.

** Tony Romo is something of a tech-junkie. The quarterback kind, anyway. He likes to tinker with his mechanics the way a golfer tinkers with his swing in an attempt to find a better release point, better footwork, better whatever. Romo has hinted at arm angle changes this summer that have been able to hold up in his work in the preseason. He completed 72 percent of his preseason passes (26 of 36 in three games). And it wasn’t like he was throwing a ton of short throws to Jason Witten or his running backs. So I’m wondering if Romo will set a career high in completion percentage this season. His previous best for a full season is 66.3% in 2011. He completed 69.5% in five-plus games in 2010 before a broken collarbone ended his season. Troy Aikman holds the Cowboys’ team record at 69.1% in 1993.

** I wonder if the Cowboys are putting too much faith in Ronald Leary. This has nothing to do with Leary’s ability to return rather quickly from a knee scope or not. This has to do with Leary having not played in a game yet and the fact that he was an undrafted free agent a year ago who spent most of the season on the practice squad. Leary was decent in his preseason work before needing the surgery but the Cowboys’ flirtations with Brandon Moore and Brian Waters were about Leary, at least to a degree. Leary might be the Cowboys’ best option but the bar should be higher than comparing him to Nate Livings.

** Through four preseason games the Cowboys have nine takeaways: five interceptions and four fumbles. Last year the Cowboys forced only 16 turnovers on the season. They had nine in their first nine games. I wonder how many games it will take the Cowboys this season to force nine turnovers. The ability to turn the emphasis of taking the ball away into actually taking the ball away is impressive. The Cowboys did similar drills with Rob Ryan, Paul Pasqualoni, Wade Phillips, Brian Stewart and Mike Zimmer at defensive coordinator but they were hardly ever able to see the fruits of that work during games. The quarterbacks the Cowboys face in the first four games of the season – Eli Manning, Alex Smith, Sam Bradford and Philip Rivers - threw 48 interceptions last season. Smith has thrown just 10 picks in his last 25 starts and is playing for a new coach in Kansas City.

John Clayton picks Giants to win NFC East

July, 27, 2013
7/27/13
12:15
PM ET

Our man John Clayton offers a quickie breakdown in the video above of what he sees as a very competitive NFC East, and he thinks the New York Giants "probably have the best chance to win the division." He acknowledges their question marks on defense but cites Eli Manning, young running back David Wilson and their other offensive weapons as the reasons to favor the Giants to claim their second division title in three years.

John's is obviously an opinion I respect quite a bit, but that doesn't mean we always see things the same way. And, although I'm not ready to make my own prediction for the NFC East yet, I'm not overly enthralled with the Giants as a favorite right now. I find it hard to see where they got better, especially on defense. Assuming full-year health for Hakeem Nicks is risky, and I think the offense lost a lot of valuable blocking help with the departures of Ahmad Bradshaw and Martellus Bennett and the loss of Henry Hynoski to a knee injury for at least a little while. I also don't think we know yet how the running game will work out or whether Wilson is up to the task of a full-season starter's workload as a ball carrier and a pass-protector.

That said, you never can rule out the Giants, and they're likely the safest pick. Their ceiling doesn't feel overly high, but you do feel as though you know where the floor is. They're unlikely to be a bad team, and they always contend until the final weeks. Manning and Tom Coughlin are the cornerstones at the key positions of quarterback and coach who make sure of that every year.

I think the Redskins, if Robert Griffin III is healthy all year (a big "if," by the way), and the Cowboys, if they can keep their defense healthy, have more potential to have a great season than the Giants have. But there are also more things that can go wrong in those places. The Redskins still have major question marks in the secondary, the Cowboys on the lines. Picking one of those teams this year, I believe, carries more risk than picking the Giants does.

And no, I haven't forgotten about the Eagles. And no, I don't think it's impossible that they could win this division that hasn't had an 11-win team since 2009. But I do think they have the shakiest quarterback situation in the division by far and that they're all being forced to learn a lot of new things all at once on both sides of the ball under a new coaching staff. And I think they have the toughest road to contention of the four teams. I think the Eagles have the best chance of any of these four to have a poor season in 2013.

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