Dallas Cowboys: Justin Smith

Should Cowboys look at Luis Castillo?

March, 5, 2012
IRVING, Texas -- What was reported last week is now official: San Diego has released defensive end Luis Castillo.

Should the Cowboys take a look at the seven-year veteran?

If you play the “he’s better than” game, then absolutely. But it also means having to study Castillo’s health pretty intently. He missed all but one game last year for the Chargers with a broken left leg and has played 16 games in a year just twice. He entered the league with an elbow injury and a failed steroid test, but the Cowboys were high on him back in 2005.

At 6-foot-3, 290 pounds, Castillo has the size teams want in a 3-4 defensive end. He also brings a pass rush that the Cowboys lack in their ends. He has 19 sacks in seven years and seven came in his second year. Marcus Spears has nine. Kenyon Coleman has 13.5. Jason Hatcher has 12.

After talking to some folks at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis two weeks ago, this draft does not appear to have the talented 3-4 ends of a year ago, like a J.J. Watt, Cameron Jordan or Cameron Heyward. This draft seems to have more interior defensive linemen.

Too often around here we have been schooled in the 3-4 philosophy that these ends are just supposed to hold guys up and let the other guys make plays. Forget that. Watt, Justin Smith, Richard Seymour and Aaron Smith show you that you can get to the passer from that spot.

Castillo would offer the Cowboys something they don’t currently have and he’d likely come at a good price.

Maybe they can use Miles Austin as a recruiter. He was Castillo’s high school teammate in Garfield, N.J.

Final Word: Seattle Seahawks

November, 4, 2011
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Nuggets of knowledge about Week 9:

[+] EnlargeDeMarcus Ware
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty ImagesCowboys outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware will be facing a Seattle Seahawks offensive line that has allowed a league-high 28 sacks.
Huge weekend for sack opportunities: The Seattle Seahawks, having allowed a league-high 28 sacks, must contend with the Dallas Cowboys' DeMarcus Ware, who collected four of his 12 last week. The San Francisco 49ers' Aldon Smith and Justin Smith have a combined nine sacks over four games. They now face a Washington Redskins offense that took 10 sacks against Buffalo. The St. Louis Rams, coming off a six-sack game against New Orleans' Drew Brees, now face an Arizona Cardinals offense that allowed six against Baltimore last week.

Marshawn Lynch and the end zone: Getting the ground game going stands as a top priority for the Seahawks over the final nine games of the season. The team expects to have its projected offensive line starting for the second week in a row after not playing together since Week 1. Marshawn Lynch hasn't found much running room, but he does have a rushing touchdown in three consecutive games. He's looking to become the first Seattle runner since Shaun Alexander in 2005 to score one in four consecutive games. The Cowboys allowed 239 yards rushing to Philadelphia last week after entering the game allowing a league-low 69.7 yards per game.

Scout's Eye: Cowboys-Redskins review

September, 28, 2011

The week for Jason Garrett started with questions of which players might be available to play in a Monday night contest against the division rival Washington Redskins.

Scout's Eye
To Garrett’s credit, he was able to focus his squad despite several key players not being able to practice during the week in preparation for the game. In the media opportunities that we had with Garrett during the week, you knew that he was not going to allow the injuries to be an excuse for how his team was going to perform. Garrett was clear that he was going to take his best 46 players and go find a way to win a difficult football game on Monday night.

Here are some thoughts from that victory:


In our Countdown to Kickoff Show on 103.3 FM ESPN on Monday night, our group got into a discussion about whether the Cowboys could win this game without Tony Romo in the lineup. When it came my turn to answer that, there was no doubt in my mind that the Cowboys had to have Romo to win.

I respect Jon Kitna and what he was able to do when pressed into duty last season, but this was the type of game that Romo needed to play in. Even at 80 percent and with what he was able to do last week against the 49ers in the fourth quarter, I felt that just by stepping into the huddle it was going to be a huge boast for his team and they would find a way to make plays for him.

With all that was going on with this Cowboys offense, the injuries and the missed assignments, Romo had to find a way to win this football game.

With the Cowboys facing a third-and-21 from their own 30-yard line, Romo was joined in the backfield by John Phillips and Tashard Choice, who came in after Felix Jones re-injured his shoulder trying to dive for another early snap from Phil Costa. Romo had Dez Bryant wide to his right, Jason Witten in the slot to the left with Kevin Ogletree outside of him.

The Redskins showed the same blitz that they used at the 10:00 mark in the third quarter, rushing eight and playing man coverage across the board behind the blitz. The Cowboys had seven men to pick up the blitz and the line turned the farthest rusher loose for Romo to handle.

At the snap of the ball, Bryant read the all-out blitz and ran the “smoke” route, turning his body to Romo and looking for the ball quickly. Romo pumped the ball in Bryant’s direction, but feeling the pressure, decided to pull it down and flush to his right. As Romo was working farther right, Bryant saw Romo point up the field. Bryant took off at Redskins cornerback DeAngelo Hall, who was playing loose in coverage and got turned around.

One of the key points of the blitz pickup was that Tashard Choice came across the pocket from right to left to pick up Ryan Kerrigan on the edge, which bought Romo enough time to get the ball down the field. Bryant had separation on Hall and easily caught the ball and started up the field. Hall was forced to try to bring Bryant down any way he could and grabbed his facemask on the tackle, adding another 15 yards to an already big play and putting the Cowboys into field-goal range.


Last week, the offensive line wasn’t at their best until the fourth quarter. When studying this Redskins defense, it presented a whole different set of problems for this line.

Outside linebackers Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan put a great deal of pressure on teams' offensive lines, not only with the way they rush the passer, but also with the way they play the run.

Last week, Doug Free had one of the worst games he's had since he was named as a starter before the 2010 season. Free was off-balance with his footwork, his punch and his ability to control San Francisco’s Justin Smith in the running game, as well.

Free drew a tough assignment with Orakpo. Early in the game, it appeared that he was on that same path of struggles that he had in San Francisco. Orakpo is an explosive, pressure player. He is a relentless rusher and if he gets the corner, he can make you look terrible.

On one series, Free missed Orakpo with his punch and allowed him to grab that corner, quickly giving up a pressure. Free also gave up a sack to Rob Jackson because he was unable to get his hands on him to carry him wide around Romo. Free’s footwork on the play was terrible. He was slow and overextended. Free also gave up a holding call to Stephen Bowen on a reach block when all he could do his grab his jersey.

As the game wore on, Free was able to catch himself, find his technique and do a much better job in his sets and punch. One of Free’s greatest strengths is his ability to use his feet to stay in front of his man. There are times where he will struggle with power, but again as the game wore on, he was much better dealing with that, too.


Tony Romo didn’t make many mistakes in the game, but the one he did make was the interception by nickel back Kevin Barnes.

For Romo, this was a tough one to deal with because quarterbacks are taught when it's man coverage and there is no safety help in the middle of the field, throw the ball there and have your receiver make the play.

It was third-and-18 from the Cowboys 45 with 10:00 left in the third quarter. Garrett put the offense in an empty formation and the Redskins went to a nickel to match. Ogletree was in the slot to the right and Bryant was outside him. The snap from Costa was once again low and to Romo’s right. Ogletree started his route inside, getting Barnes to turn his shoulders, but he felt Barnes hanging inside, not allowing him to the middle of the field. Ogletree adjusted his route to the outside, but Romo was facing a blitz and unloaded the ball for the middle of the field.

Barnes was in much better position to play the ball than Ogletree, who continued to work wide on the play, resulting in an easy interception. On that route, Ogletree has to get to the middle of the field to meet the ball, but he didn't read it the right way.


To be honest, I really didn’t know much of the work of fullback Tony Fiammetta before he came to the Cowboys.

In the locker room, he didn’t appear to physically be the type of fullback that I thought that Garrett would have on the roster. But watching him play against the Redskins, I was impressed with his work as a point-of-attack blocker. A trait you look for in a fullback is his ability to do is dig linebackers out of the hole. Fiammetta was able to hit his man, keep his feet going and work them out of the hole.

Fiammetta also showed the ability to adjust on the move when the Cowboys worked to get the ball on the edge. Fiammetta adjusted to take a defender when one of the offensive linemen missed their blocks to help out. When he was in the game, there were positive plays.


It was the first game back for cornerback Terence Newman after missing the entire preseason and the first two games of the regular season while recovering from a groin injury. Newman moved well in coverage and didn’t look like he was laboring or struggling to turn and break.

There were plays where he had Santana Moss one-on-one in coverage where Moss drove hard at him, but Newman was able to pedal smooth, turn and adjust in the route. Newman was able to also come forward in the running game and force the ball back inside.

He did have a play where he was trying to help Alan Ball with a tackle but was unable to wrap up the receiver.

Newman left the game with a slight concussion, but he was able to return to finish the game. He didn’t move like he was having any problems with the injured groin at all.


For the third week in a row, linebacker Sean Lee's overall play was outstanding. The thing that makes Lee such a strong player is his ability to quickly read blocking schemes and get to the ball. If Lee sees the play, he is gone.

One of the problems that Lee had earlier in his career was that he would read too quickly and take himself out of the play. You don’t see Lee overrunning plays now.

In pass coverage, his drops have been correct and in the right areas. He had an interception when Rex Grossman tried to look away to his right and come back to Fred Davis to his left. Lee was in perfect position on the play to make the interception.

If he did have a mistake, it appeared that on the Redskins’ touchdown on the goal line that he adjusted inside instead of to the flat, and Tim Hightower was able to sneak out of the backfield and catch an easy touchdown from Grossman. On the snap, you see Lee get sucked inside with no one in the flat. It was the only real mistake that he made during the game.

I would not be one bit surprised if you see Lee and Keith Brooking as the two starting inside linebackers soon. Lee and Brooking get to the football better than Bradie James.

When you watch these linebackers play, you see that James is playing a step slow. When James needs to be filling on the edge, he is getting hooked or engaged, where Lee and Brooking are past the blockers and filling the hole.


If you want a negative to the night on defense for the Cowboys, it is the injury to defensive end Jason Hatcher. Hatcher had been playing outstanding against the run as a disruptive player and as a pass rusher, as well. Hatcher was the one end that was able to get consistent pressure on the ball.

Marcus Spears didn’t play badly in his place, but he doesn’t give you the pressure of Hatcher.

It’s a calf injury for Hatcher, so he should miss the Detroit game and we will see what happens after the bye week getting ready for New England. The Cowboys’ defense doesn’t need this injury to linger long because Hatcher was finding his grove as a pass rusher and run defender.

Scout's Eye: Cowboys-49ers preview

September, 16, 2011

Something I learned a long time ago when I was starting out as a young scout with the Packers was that when you lost a game in the NFL, there is no one in the league that felt sorry for you. You study the tape, make the corrections, and you move on to the next week.

Scout's Eye
As hard as that loss against the Jets was to take, this team must move on. What awaits the Cowboys in Week 2 is a trip to San Francisco against a 49ers team that smothered the Seahawks on defense and then made them pay for their inability to cover on the punt and kickoff return with reserve wide receiver Ted Ginn returning one of each for a touchdown to put the game away.

The 49ers have some nice talent in some key spots, but I would not say that quarterback is one of those spots. Alex Smith was selected with the first overall pick in the 2005 draft, the same draft with Aaron Rodgers who went some 22 picks later. Rodgers has thrown for over 8,000 yards his first two years as a starter and has a Super Bowl MVP to his credit, while Smith is working with his third head coach in the last seven years.

Breaking down Smith, he stands tall in the pocket, keeping his feet active. When he feels pressure, he will slide to safety. If receivers are covered down the field, he will check the ball down to the backs underneath.

Smith did a nice job in the Seattle game of keeping his eyes down the field but running with the ball to convert third downs or put his offense in a positive position. The Cowboys have to be careful with Smith if Rob Ryan plays man coverage chasing receivers all over the field and Smith takes off running to try to make a play.

The ball comes off his hand with some velocity with an overhand throwing motion. Smith will try to look off receivers then come back the other way with the ball.

Head coach Jim Harbaugh is the play caller, so he really tries to run the offense to give Smith the best opportunity to make an easy throw in the passing game. Harbaugh will move the pocket with waggles or boots giving Smith high/low reads with receivers.

In the Seattle game, Harbaugh mixed his formations throughout, lining up in one look then shifting pre-snap to try to create confusion. Harbaugh went unbalanced several plays, then ran the ball weak side with Frank Gore, which was a different wrinkle.

Along with tight end Vernon Davis, Gore is the 49ers’ best offensive player. Gore doesn’t have explosive speed, but what he does have is the ability to keep coming at you. He is a physical back.

There were times where Harbaugh was able to start Gore one way then bring him back with misdirection with a pulling tackle and a backside tight end. Gore has the vision to see the creases and holes. Again, he just isn’t a burner.

The Seahawks had some success against Gore making him stop and have to restart. Gore is one of those backs that builds up speed as he runs. The Seahawks were able to get some defenders into the backfield, causing him problems getting going again.

This will be the second week that the Cowboys defense will have to face an athletic tight end. Last week, it was the Jets’ Dustin Keller. This week, it’s Davis, who has freakish speed down the field. If I am Ryan, I do not allow him free access in the route.

Davis is similar to Jason Witten in that he is too athletic for a linebacker to cover and too big for a defensive back to deal with. Unlike Witten, Davis wants nothing to do with the run blocking side of the game. Harbaugh will line Davis up all over the formation and Smith looks for him in route first.

Last week against the Jets, Ryan took DeMarcus Ware and moved him to the left side to rush against right tackle Wayne Hunter. This week, look for Ryan to potentially have the same plan moving Ware over 49ers right tackle Anthony Davis.

Was not impressed at all with Davis’ work. He is heavier than Hunter and his feet are slower. Ware and the other rushers should be able to attack Davis to the outside then work some underneath moves as well. Look for Harbaugh to try to use that misdirection I mentioned earlier to slow Ware down in his rush.

Last week, the Cowboys did a nice job in their front seven of coordinating their linemen with linebackers and creating pressure on Mark Sanchez. Smith will likely face the same pressure from Ryan with multiple looks and pressure. Again, Harbaugh will try and give Smith easy throws and he will also try and move the pocket to keep the pressure off his quarterback as well.

On the defensive side of the ball, the 49ers have a nice front seven. It’s a group of players that are high effort and motor types. Ends Justin Smith and Ray McDonald are relentless rushers and active against the run.

The Seahawks had trouble blocking this front because they were unable to sustain blocks. If you don’t keep a hat on Smith, McDonald, Ahmad Brooks and Isaac Sopoaga, you are going to struggle to move the ball.

The inside linebackers on the 49ers are outstanding. Patrick Willis and Navorro Bowman are always around the football.

When the Cowboys tried to run the ball last week, they had to deal with the Jets and their run-through inside linebackers. Run-through linebackers read the play quickly, see the gaps and beat the blockers to the spot. When you face run-through linebackers, it throws off your running game because they get into the backfield and it messes with the timing of the play.

These 49ers linebackers are more active than what the Cowboys faced last week, so the zone blocking scheme of the Cowboys will be tested.

When the 49ers blitz, they like to use their inside linebackers in games with the defensive line. In the nickel, Smith and McDonald will move inside and Brooks moves from outside linebacker to rush end. In this look is where you see those blitzes.

The Cowboys will also need to be aware that the 49ers can get good pressure with just a four-man rush.

In the secondary, Tarell Brown and Carlos Rogers are the corners and Dashon Goldson and Donte Whitner are the safeties. I really liked the play of Brown more than that of Rogers. Brown is quick footed and also did a nice job of fighting for the ball in the air. Brown is a bit of a gambler and is not afraid to jump routes.

Rogers has faced the Cowboys many times in his career as a former member of the Redskins. Rogers will play in the slot when the 49ers go to the nickel. If the Cowboys can hold up against the front seven pressure of the 49ers, then they will have a chance to make some plays against this secondary that is good but not great.