Dallas Cowboys: Kevin Kolb

The Dallas Cowboys signed Tony Romo to a seven-year contract extension worth $119.5 million, giving the team security at the position for the next four to five years.

But does that mean the Cowboys won't draft a quarterback for the future? Or that the Cowboys won't draft a quarterback this year?

The Cowboys have drafted 28 quarterbacks in franchise history, producing two Hall of Famers -- Roger Staubach and Troy Aikman. They have drafted two in the first round -- Craig Morton and Aikman -- and three total since Aikman retired in 2000.

One of the quarterbacks drafted since Aikman's retirement, Isaiah Stanback, was moved to wide receiver.

The Cowboys don't have an immediate need for a quarterback, but Romo will be 33 in Week 1 and backup Kyle Orton (30) is signed only through 2014.

The quarterback class is considered weak this year, but there are some intriguing names projected to go in the second and third rounds. Ryan Nassib, EJ Manuel, Tyler Wilson, Mike Glennon, Landry Jones and Tyler Bray are all projected to go in the middle rounds.

The perception is the Cowboys don't need a quarterback because they locked up Romo and have other areas of need (offensive and defensive line, safety and running back). But there's nothing wrong with adding to the position with young talent. Stephen McGee was a fourth-round pick in 2009 who was groomed to be a No. 2, but he never developed.

You could blame McGee or the coaching staff for the lack of progress.

Since 2000, NFL teams have drafted 14 quarterbacks in the fourth round, with the most notable names being Orton and David Garrard.

However, notable second-round selections since 2000 are Andy Dalton, Colin Kaepernick, Kevin Kolb and Drew Brees. Brees has won a Super Bowl and Kaepernick played in one this year.

Quality quarterbacks can be found in the early portions of the draft and even the middle rounds -- Russell Wilson and Matt Schaub were third-round picks -- but making that commitment to the future is key for any NFL team.

While the Cowboys do have other needs, getting a quarterback this April could make just as strong a statement as giving Romo $55 million guaranteed.
Tony RomoAP Photo/Tony GutierrezTony Romo has 18 fourth-quarter comebacks and 19 game-winning drives, including five last season.
Last week ended with the news of a massive contract extension for Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo. Although this news had been expected for some time, it was accompanied by the predictable wailing and gnashing of teeth about how Romo has never won anything, always blows it in the big games and isn't worth that kind of money. Few players are as polarizing as Romo, and everybody from Dez Bryant to Donovan McNabb offered a reaction of one extreme or the other.

Fitzsimmons & Durrett discuss Tony Romo's contract extension and what it says about Jerry Jones.

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Then came the quarterback news from the early part of this week, and with it a heavy dose of perspective about just what Romo is and how thankful the Cowboys are to have him locked up long-term.

In case you missed it, the Oakland Raiders acquired Matt Flynn from Seattle in a trade, then traded Carson Palmer to Arizona. Kevin Kolb, formerly of Arizona, signed with the Buffalo Bills, who recently released Ryan Fitzpatrick. This week has been a big game of mediocre quarterback musical chairs, desperate teams settling for the least lousy options they can find on a market bereft of franchise quarterbacks.

Romo is not one of the elite quarterbacks of the NFL. That tier is reserved for record-breakers and champions. But he is a franchise quarterback -- someone around whose skills and ability a team can confidently build. Do the Cowboys wish he hadn't thrown three interceptions in the regular-season finale against the Redskins with the division on the line? Of course they do. But when they step back and see the big picture, they find ample reason to believe Romo is the quarterback for them.

ESPN Insider Ed Werder joins Fitzsimmons & Durrett to discuss Tony Romo's contract extension and what needs to happen for Romo to lead the Cowboys to a championship.

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He has delivered for them. Not on the level Cowboys fans demand, which is to say a playoff and championship level, but Romo's career is not simply a laundry list of choke jobs. He has 18 career fourth-quarter comebacks and 19 game-winning drives, including five this past season alone. The Cowboys were 3-5 at one point in 2012 but won five of their next six to get back into contention for the division. The wins in that stretch included Romo-led comebacks against the Browns, Eagles, Bengals and Steelers. During that stretch, he threw 11 touchdown passes and three interceptions.

None of this erases or excuses Romo's miserable flop in Week 17 in Washington, but it does serve to illustrate that he can play quarterback at a high level. He isn't completely clueless about how to win games that need to be won when things aren't going well. If a quarterback shows he can do that, you have reason to believe that someday he might come through in that really big game that always has seemed to vex him. Romo is certainly good enough to win playoff games and a championship for the Cowboys. The fact that he hasn't done it yet doesn't rule out the possibility that it could happen someday. The Cowboys have seen enough good from Romo to warrant hope that he won't always be bad when they need him the most.

If that sounds like damning with faint praise, just look around and tell me who is both available and better. The main reason the Cowboys locked up Romo long-term is because they like him and believe they can win with him. But the deal also helps them against this year's salary cap and, more important, gives them the peace of mind. They won't have to sift through dispiriting, insufficient options year after year at the most important position on the roster.

Romo can't hide his flaws. His term as starting quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys has coincided with a down period in franchise history. He bears some responsibility for this, as does everyone connected with the team. Although the criticism of Romo can be over the top at times, it is not always without merit. He has flopped too many times in critical spots.

But oh, could it be worse, Cowboys fans. Whatever else he is, Romo is a quarterback who gives you a chance to win every week. He's a quarterback you've seen come back in the fourth quarter, many times. You've seen him make brilliant throws on the run after the play breaks down. You've watched him succeed and thrive, for weeks at a time, behind poor offensive lines and in spite of incompetent performances by injury-ravaged (or simply incompetent) defenses. He is exciting, and regardless of how many times he has played poorly in big games, he offers you legitimate reason to believe you're never out of it.

And when it comes right down to it, this week's NFL quarterback news poses the question quite clearly: Would you rather be stuck with Romo for the next half-decade or be one of these teams that has to play in the Flynn/Palmer/Kolb/Fitzpatrick end of the quarterback pool every year? Put it that way, and Romo's contract extension makes a lot more sense. The Cowboys are, in fact, lucky to have him.

Eagles are a study in 'miscalculation'

November, 6, 2012
Amid all of the perfectly justified rip jobs and sky-is-falling coverage of the Philadelphia Eagles' latest loss, this short item by Jeff McLane caught my eye. He's got someone with the Eagles telling him Andy Reid's bye-week firing of defensive coordinator Juan Castillo was a "miscalculation." This comes as neither news nor a surprise to anyone who's been tracking the Eagles over the past two seasons, during which it appears "miscalculation" has been the hallmark of the front office's game plan.

Yeah, when you watch the Eagles play, it's easy to get caught up in the on-field, in-game issues. Why don't they run the ball more? Why can't Michael Vick make pre-snap reads? Have they quit on Andy Reid? Stuff like that. But I think if you look back over the past two years, it's easy to see that the flaws with this team are flaws of construction, and that the miscalculations are myriad and extensive. A partial list, in no particular order:

    [+] EnlargeMichael Vick
    AP Photo/Brian GarfinkelSigning QB Michael Vick to a $100 million contract appears to be a costly move for the Eagles.
  • Deciding on Vick as a $100 million franchise quarterback based on the spectacular aspect of the way he played in 2010, ignoring the likelihood that his issues reading the field, making audibles and adjusting on the fly were too ingrained to overcome in his 30s. And no, it's not that they should have kept Kevin Kolb or that they didn't get great value for him in the trade. It's just that tying so much of their 2011-12 success to Vick is going to set them back as they head into 2013 and beyond. And the bust potential that Vick came with at the time of the contract was high enough to make it a questionable decision at best.
  • Signing Nnamdi Asomugha on the presumption that he'd play like a top shutdown cornerback, then playing him in zone coverage for his first year because they didn't have the guts to move Asante Samuel. This resulted in their having to trade Samuel for nearly nothing a year later, and Asomugha has struggled at times this year in one-on-one coverage against speedy wideouts.
  • Drafting Danny Watkins in the first round after hiring Howard Mudd to run the offensive line. Mudd found Jason Kelce in the sixth round, identified him as the type of guy who could play his scheme and quickly molded him into a top NFL center. Surely, he could have found a guard in the fifth or seventh that fit his profile and done the same with him, and the Eagles could have used that first-rounder on something more immediately helpful. And no, the Eagles could not have imagined the extent to which injuries would ravage their offensive line this season, but it does seem as though they could have found backup players better suited to adapt quickly to Mudd's blocking schemes. Perhaps if they hadn't been so focused on bringing in high-profile, ultimately useless skill-position backups like Vince Young and Ronnie Brown last year, this could have been more of a point of emphasis.
  • Designing a defense predicated on the down linemen selling out for sacks, then failing in 2011 to support the defensive line with anything resembling adequate linebacker play.
  • In 2012, after bolstering the linebacker corps, failing to adjust anything about the defensive line scheme even though the whole league knew they'd be selling out for sacks on every play. The extent to which opposing offensive coordinators have appeared to be ahead of Castillo, Todd Bowles, Jim Washburn or whoever's been in charge of setting up the Eagles' defense on a given week this year is staggering.
  • Making Castillo the defensive coordinator in the first place, then of course firing him during the bye week just because they felt like they had to do something.

Look, I understand this is an exercise in second-guessing. I fell for it, as did a lot of the people who have been writing about this Eagles team for the past two years. Philadelphia's roster-construction efforts the past two springs and summers looked good as they were going on, and I for one failed to spot the number of flaws that have ultimately manifested themselves. The very good lesson, for those of us who write the NFL, is as usual about waiting for the games to be played before making broad conclusions about how they will go.

As we look back on it now, though, not much the Eagles have done in assembling their roster over the past couple of years has worked. There's the occasional DeMeco Ryans or Fletcher Cox, sure. The DeSean Jackson contract is a good one for them, and I don't think it was necessarily wrong for them to spend resources this past offseason locking up cornerstone pieces like Trent Cole, LeSean McCoy and Todd Herremans for the long-term. But in terms of building a Super Bowl contender in the short term, Reid and the rest of the people who run the Eagles have failed spectacularly. The product they've put on the field simply isn't as good as they believed it to be, and they are likely to pay for their run of miscalculations with their jobs.

Final Word: NFC East

September, 29, 2012
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 4:

Look out for an air show: The odds favor a lot of passing yards in Sunday's game between the Washington Redskins and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The teams rank as the two worst pass defenses in the league this season. Washington is giving up 9.1 yards per pass attempt, tied with the Saints for second-worst in the league, better than only the Giants (9.3 yards a pass). The Bucs are allowing 8.9 yards per attempt, fourth-worst. The Redskins rank 31st in the league in passing yards allowed per game, and the Buccaneers rank 32nd. So although Washington and Tampa Bay rank only 22nd and 30th, respectively, in passing offense so far this season, it wouldn't be a surprise to see both passing games get on track Sunday afternoon.

[+] EnlargeArizona Cardinals
Jennifer Stewart/US PresswireTo win Sunday, Michael Vick and the Eagles must avoid turnovers against the opportunistic Giants.
Here, you take it: The New York Giants have forced eight turnovers this season, third-most in the NFL through three weeks. On Sunday night, they play the Philadelphia Eagles, who have committed 12 turnovers. My friend and colleague Mike Sando emailed Thursday night to tell me the Eagles have turned the ball over more times this season than have the Falcons, Patriots, Redskins, Texans, Seahawks and Jaguars combined, and two more times than the 49ers did all of last season. That's completely ridiculous, and if the Giants can get any kind of pass rush against Michael Vick and force him to make the kinds of bad decisions that have characterized his season so far, it's not likely to get any better Sunday night.

Something's got to give: According to ESPN Stats & Information's "Next Level" numbers, the Eagles' pass defense has allowed only five completions on throws more than 10 yards downfield so far this season. Giants quarterback Eli Manning has averaged seven such completions per game. Manning's completion percentage when throwing the ball more than 10 yards downfield this season is 60.0. The Eagles' defense is allowing a completion percentage of just 18.5 on such throws. Manning is the toughest test yet for an Eagles pass defense that has made its bones against Brandon Weeden, Joe Flacco and Kevin Kolb. But on the flip side, Manning hasn't faced a tough pass defense since the Cowboys in Week 1. He's put up huge numbers the past two weeks against Tampa Bay and Carolina.

Romo on the run: According to our "Next Level" stats, the Chicago Bears lead the NFL with 14 sacks in spite of sending four or fewer rushers on 77.5 percent of opponents' dropbacks. Especially against the Dallas Cowboys' porous offensive line, the Bears are likely to generate considerable pressure on quarterback Tony Romo in the "Monday Night Football" matchup. If Romo can avoid sacks, however, this could be a good thing for Dallas. Since 2010, Romo has thrown 12 touchdown passes without an interception when throwing from outside the pocket. That's the highest total in the NFL over that time.

Defensive struggle: Unlike that Bucs-Redskins game on Sunday, Monday night's game looks as though it could be a low-scoring affair. The Cowboys are allowing an NFL-low 250 yards per game this season. The Bears' average is sixth-best in the league at 279 yards allowed per game. If someone can get on the scoreboard early, it could have a distinct advantage the rest of the way.
Will the Eagles hit their average of six plays of 20 yards or more Saturday against the Cowboys?

After what you've seen the past several weeks, you couldn't possibly think the Cowboys can stop Philadelphia's offense.

Not when Dallas has made average quarterbacks such as Washington's Rex Grossman, Miami's Matt Moore and Arizona's Kevin Kolb resemble the game's best quarterbacks. Do you really think this pass defense that Eli Manning torched for 400 yards passing can hold up against Philadelphia's big-play attack?

It can't. And it won't.

Philadelphia is tied for third in the NFL in plays of 20 yards or more with 73. The Eagles rank second in plays of 10 yards or more with 226.

The Cowboys have allowed 33 plays of 20 yards or more in their last eight games. See, this is a bad matchup for the Cowboys. When the Eagles go to their formation with three receivers, a tight end and a running back, Dallas is going to have all sorts of matchup problems.

In his last two starts against the Cowboys, Mike Vick has led the Eagles to an average of 32 points and more than 7.0 yards per play.

None of this means the Cowboys can't win. It just means Dallas' only shot is to win a shootout because the Eagles will hit their average of six plays of 20 points or more and score at least 31 points.

Would Nnamdi Asomugha have made difference?

December, 14, 2011
IRVING, Texas -- The Cowboys did not hide their interest in adding cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha as a free agent in the early part of the 2011 training camp.

Asomugha ended up signing a five-year, $60 million deal, with $25 million guaranteed, the Philadelphia Eagles after the Cowboys were unwilling to go that high.

“It was an opportunity to improve ourselves if it worked out,” executive vice president Stephen Jones said. “But it didn’t work out.”

The Cowboys have allowed a 100-yard receiver in four straight games and have been burned by less-than-stellar quarterbacks such as Washington’s Rex Grossman, Miami’s Matt Moore and Arizona’s Kevin Kolb in important moments before a start-to-finish whipping by the New York Giants’ Eli Manning on Sunday.

While he is not having the Pro Bowl type of season he had in Oakland, would Asomugha have upgraded a secondary that has struggled lately?

“I don’t know,” Jones said. “It’s not over yet. We’ve got to play the Buccaneers. We control our own destiny if we win the rest of our games and we will see. A fair question.”

Beat Writers recap: Cowboys vs. Cardinals

December, 6, 2011
Here's our review of the Cowboys-Cardinals game in our weekly Beat Writers Recap.


*For the discussion regarding the Cowboys blowing so much time off the clock prior to Dan Bailey's 49-yard field goal attempt near the end of the game, there was some other time lost on the same possession. The game clock read 1:01 when the Cowboys faced with a second-and-20 at their own 45. Tony Romo completed a pass to Dez Bryant for nine yards. The next time the Cowboys snapped the ball, 31 seconds remained on the clock. Some two-minute offense huh? Cowboys should have been a little quicker with the plays at the line of scrimmage and maybe Jason Garrett does call for a run play near the end of the game.

*Garrett said he didn't like the number of negative run plays he saw in the first half against the Cardinals. In the first half, the Cowboys ran 13 times for 48 yards. In the second half, Garrett called just six run plays. The Cowboys had four second half possessions, including a 13-play drive in the third quarter, where he called three run plays. Garrett gave up on the run too fast on Sunday. Yes, Arizona sneaked a safety into the box to offset the run, that's fine, but don't give up on the run.

*For the game, the Cowboys did a nice job on third down against the Cardinals offense holding them to a 31 percent conversion rate. In the fourth quarter, Arizona converted two of four third-down plays. The first conversion was on a short pass that pushed Arizona to the Cowboys' 4 and the other was a 14-yard completion to Larry Fitzgerald.

*The game-winning score by the Cardinals was a result of two players blitzing at the same time. Anthony Spencer and Sean Lee charged the line of scrimmage and Spencer almost sacks quarterback Kevin Kolb. Lee realized he needed to cover the running back out of the backfield on the screen so he turned around and went to the flat. Seeing this, Kolb has a free man and gets rid of the pass with Lee trailing the play. The Cowboys were blocked well on the backside preventing a tackle from that side of the field on LaRod Stephens-Howling. The closest players were Bradie James, Terence Newman, Abram Elam and Lee. It was too late.

*Bryant continues to get better and seems to thrive when pressed at the line of scrimmage. On two key plays in the fourth quarter, he beat press coverage from rookie cornerback Patrick Peterson. Maybe Bryant doesn't do this with a veteran corner, but Peterson had one of his best games of the season on Sunday. On a nine-yard reception, Bryant got inside position at the start of the route for the catch. On the big 15-yard reception that setup the field goal, Bryant beat Peterson inside again against press coverage. Romo made a terrific pass over the linebackers to Bryant.

*With Josh Brent out with a sprained knee, it was nice to see Sean Lissemore produce with significant snaps. When his day was done, Lissemore had two tackles, one sack, one tackle for loss and a quarterback hurry. In 2010, Lissemore was struggling in training camp with his health and play. But he picked things up toward the back end of that camp and the preseason to earn a roster spot. Lissemore gives the Cowboys flexibility to play end or nose tackle. If the Cowboys move on from veterans Marcus Spears and Kenyon Coleman next season, Lissemore should be in the mix for a starting job.

Scout's Eye: Cowboys-Cardinals review

December, 6, 2011

Scout's Eye
During the Cowboys’ four-game winning streak, I learned that no matter the opponent's record, there will always be a reason for caution and concern.

The only time this season I've felt the Cowboys would clearly handle an opponent was against the Rams. In breaking down the Cardinals, I didn’t let their record affect me. There is talent on their squad. The more I studied, the more I believed that the Cowboys couldn’t just roll their helmets out on the field and feel like they would get a favorable result.

Where it all started to go wrong for Cowboys

Defensively for the Cowboys, this game really hinged on two areas: Could this secondary hold up against one of the league’s top five playmakers in Larry Fitzgerald and could they control Beanie Wells? For three quarters, Rob Ryan’s defense was up to the task, not allowing Fitzgerald or Wells many opportunities. All that changed on a play to start the fourth quarter to wide receiver Andre Roberts.

With the Cowboys holding a 10-6 lead, Roberts lines up in the slot with Terence Newman in coverage on the defensive right side. Fitzgerald is lined up outside Roberts with Mike Jenkins in coverage on Fitzgerald. At the snap of the ball, Fitzgerald runs a vertical route inside of Jenkins and past him but right on the toes of Gerald Sensabaugh, who is playing single high safety in the middle of the field. The other safety, Abe Elam, is on the left side of the defense near the line and in coverage on tight end Rob Housler, who is lined up as a wing right.

Roberts runs a route like he is going to curl, squaring his shoulders to quarterback Kevin Kolb. Newman, reading the route and feeling that Kolb is going in the direction of Roberts, drives forward to get into position to handle the ball. As Newman gets to Roberts’ back, he spins away from Newman and heads up the field and toward the sideline. There is no safety help in the middle of the field because Sensabaugh is running with Fitzgerald through the middle of the field. Newman is left trailing Roberts who now has separation on Newman.

In the backfield, Kolb is using a play-action fake to Wells and begins to roll to his left after the fake. The protection for the Cardinals is outstanding, allowing Kolb to make a perfect pass down the field to Roberts on the Dallas 49 with Newman still in chase. Newman manages to finally catch up with Roberts, getting him out of bounds on the Cowboys’ 33.

Four plays later, the Cardinals scored to take the lead. If the Cardinals don’t make this play to gain some momentum, I don’t believe that they would have won this game.

Costly series of mistakes by Terence Newman

In overtime, the Cardinals win the toss and go on offense first. Newman’s problems continued when he allows Roberts to run a slant on the first play, which looked like a sight adjust by Kolb, who takes the snap and the throws the ball to Roberts, taking advantage of a 12-yard cushion.

A couple of plays later, Newman commits a costly penalty. Newman is playing press coverage on Roberts and is in good shape on the jam, but he gets overextended and is out of balance on the route. Newman has to grab Roberts and ends up holding him. That turns a second-and-20 into an automatic first down.

Later in the drive, after a false start penalty against offensive tackle Levi Brown that makes it first-and-15, the Cardinals come with the perfect call against the Cowboys defense. Fitzgerald is lined up in the slot to the right, Roberts is outside right. Kolb is in the shotgun with LaRod Stephens-Howling to his right and fullback Anthony Sherman to his left.

At the snap, Anthony Spencer blitzes off the offensive right side, Stephens-Howling slides underneath from left to right, as the line slides to the right as well to form the blocking for the screen. Kolb manages to get the ball to Stephens-Howling in the flat and he heads up field.

The first line of support is Newman, who is blocked to the outside by Roberts and has no chance on the tackle. Sean Lee tries to chase from the inside along with Bradie James, who gives an outstanding effort but isn’t fast enough to make the tackle.

With Fitzgerald in front blocking on Gerald Sensabaugh, Stephens-Howling cuts back to the inside and then quickly back out. Elam tries to get into position to make the tackle but overruns the play when Stephens-Howling makes his second cut. Sensabaugh has fought off Fitzgerald’s block, but he has a hard time adjusting to make the tackle and misses. Orlando Scandrick tries to get in position to make a play from across the field but is too late arriving. The touchdown on the screen gives the Cardinals victory in overtime.

Missed opportunities for Cowboys offense

Offensively for the Cowboys, when you only score 13 points in a game, there is a pretty good chance that you will lose. This was the case for the Cowboys.

It really was a game of missed opportunities. There were several plays where the normally reliable Dez Bryant dropped balls that he would never put on the ground. Bryant has improved greatly this season as a route runner. This is important because with Bryant finding ways to get open, it’s giving Tony Romo more opportunities to get him the ball.

Throughout this season, I have been critical of Jason Garrett’s play-calling, but in this case I have to give him credit for a nice design of a play. When I worked for the Packers, Mike Holmgren used to have this play he called “swing arrow.” The design of the play is to get the ball to a running back down the sideline after you ran the receiver hard inside to pick off his man in coverage. It is one of those calls that works when you feel like the defense is in man coverage.

On this play, the Cardinals were in man coverage and Garrett tried to take advantage of that. At the snap, Bryant took off hard inside, trying to pick off Felix Jones’ man. Jones appears to start his route too far inside instead of trying to arch wide. If Jones takes his route wider, there is a better chance of gaining separation and getting the ball up the field.

When Jones finally works outside, he is unable to find the football in the air. In the backfield, Romo has to deliver the ball a little early because he is feeling a blitz from safety Adrian Wilson, who is unblocked coming from his right side. Romo has to throw the ball more to the sideline than to the middle of the field where Jones is running. The play was well designed and had a chance to be successful, but the blitz by Wilson made Romo have to hurry his throw.

Jones has to do a better job of running the route and finding the ball in the air. Garrett got the defense and coverage that he wanted and the execution from Bryant, but the result was a missed opportunity.

There are always plays in the game plan that when called have a great chance to be successful. This was one of those times.

Play-by-play: Cowboys' final drive in regulation

On the final drive, the Cowboys get the ball with 2:54 left on the clock. The drive starts with a nice completion to Jesse Holley on a curl when Romo buys time by moving to his right away from the pressure inside.

On the next play, Garrett sends three wide receivers in the game left and Romo wants to throw that way. Holley is on the back side and works to the middle of the field between the corner and safety. Romo again heads to his right with Holley still open in the middle of the field. Now Romo heads back to his left to throw the ball to Jason Witten in the flat for a loss of a yard. Romo never sees Holley in the middle of the field.

On second-and-11, the Cardinals go with single high safety as Romo moves Jones from the right to the left to help with protection. Kevin Ogletree runs the inside slant from the slot, and cornerback Michael Adams can’t stay with Ogletree. Nice throw and catch. Gain of 10.

On third-and-1, Romo gets the team to the line for the quarterback sneak. First down.

Garrett sends three wide receivers, one tight end and one back in the game, but Montrae Holland moves at left guard for a false start that costs the Cowboys five yards. With the Cardinals in a two-deep look, Laurent Robinson gets doubled on the outside. Late pressure from linebacker Paris Lenon causes problems because Holland doesn’t adjust. Incompletion.

On second-and-15 from the 50, Garrett and the offense get a delay of game penalty. This was strange because it comes after an incompletion with the same personnel on the field for the Cowboys as the previous play. Don’t understand why there would have been a delay of game there.

On second-and-20, there are two missed blocks on the play by Holland and Jones that cause Romo to have to throw off his back foot. He manages to get the ball to the outside to Bryant, who does a wonderful job of working the sideline and coming back to the ball for the reception for a gain of nine.

On third-and-11 from the Cardinals’ 46, Bryant is lined up wide left, Ogletree slot right and Robinson outside right. Witten is on the line to the right. Jones is next to Romo to his left in the gun. At the snap, Witten heads up the field, then out, Ogletree drives hard inside and sets up over the ball, Bryant runs his best route, which is the “In” 10 yards behind where Ogletree is set up. Romo throws the ball over the top of a jumping Ogletree, and Bryant adjusts low to make the catch with Peterson on his back. Great throw and even better catch.

On first-and-10 from Cardinals’ 31, Romo -- with direction from Garrett -- spikes the ball to set up the attempted game-winning field goal.

Dan Bailey has been money all year for the Cowboys. With the game on the line from 49 yards, there was no reason to believe that he would not be able to get this ball home for the win.

With every successful kick comes a good snap and hold. The snap to Mat McBriar was slightly above his eyes. As Bailey moves forward with his eyes down, he sees the laces are facing him. Two steps from the ball, McBriar does the best he could to get the laces forward before Bailey gets to the impact point.

Just before Bailey gets there, McBriar gets the laces away from Bailey, but the ball looks to be moving at impact. That split second of operation can affect the kick. In this case, it did.

Cowboys talk about the GW touchdown

December, 4, 2011
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The Arizona Cardinals' game-winning touchdown was a result of the Cowboys making a few critical mistakes.

The Cowboys scouted that when running back LaRod Stephens-Howling comes into the game, the possibility of a screen pass is in play.

Faced with a first-and-15 from the Arizona 48, Cowboys outside linebacker Anthony Spencer and inside linebacker Sean Lee blitzed quarterback Kevin Kolb.

At the last minute, Lee backed out of the blitz realzing Stephens-Howling was running to the flat. Kolb floated a pass to Stephens-Howling with Lee trailing, and after dodging three defenders scored on a 52-yard catch-and-run for the game-winning touchdown.

"Being on the field, he’s a screen guy," Lee said of Stephens-Howling. "I probably should have done a better job recognizing it was going to be a screen. I came through the line, I saw it, and I was a little late to see it though. Looking back on it, on a blitz, I was coming to get the quarterback I probably should have tried to grab him somehow or do something. But at the same point anytime you get pressure, a screen is a great call, you never expect it to go all the way. You got to give credit to LaRod for making some great moves and the play call also."

Cornerback Terence Newman was blocked by a wide receiver on the play and then tried to make a tackle as Stephens-Howling ran down field.

"It was one of those instances, first of all we kinda of miscued as far as our coverage," Newman said. "We had guys playing one thing and guys playing another thing so of course we didn’t execute on that play. When [Stephens-Howling] comes into the game, it's usually something out of the backfield. We didn’t get lined up right and next thing you know he's in the end zone."
IRVING, Texas – If the trend holds up, don’t expect the Cowboys to rack up a bunch of sacks against the Cardinals.

Considering the Cardinals have given up 36 sacks this season, that doesn’t sound like it makes much sense. But just look at the only two teams that have allowed more quarterback abuse than Arizona.

The Rams and Seahawks have each allowed 39 sacks. Yet the Cowboys managed only one sack against St. Louis and one against Seattle, although defensive coordinator Rob Ryan offered a simple explanation for those numbers.

“Their protections change,” Ryan said. “A lot of people will go max protect. They’ll change looks. DeMarcus Ware, it’s not just Ware anymore. It’s everybody. It’s Jay Ratliff; it’s (Anthony) Spencer; and (Jason) Hatcher. They’ve got to block these guys. So they keep a lot more people in against us.

“Then, if we get the same game plan that Minnesota got, then we’ll kill their quarterback. Just doesn’t work that way. Our guys, as good as they are, they demand a lot of attention.”

If the Cardinals leave left tackle Levi Brown alone on NFL sacks leader DeMarcus Ware, quarterback Kevin Kolb better look out. Brown has allowed 10.5 sacks this season, the second most in the league, according to Stats Inc.

Scout's Eye: Cowboys-Cardinals preview

December, 2, 2011

It’s never easy when the Cowboys travel to the desert to face the Cardinals, and this season will be no different.

Scout's Eye
The Cardinals have skill at several positions, but they have weaknesses that Jason Garrett’s club can take advantage of. It’s this mix of good and bad that could either lead to an upset or to the Cowboys winning their fifth straight game on their march to the NFC East title.

Offensively, the Cardinals present two reasons for concern: Larry Fitzgerald and Beanie Wells.

Cardinals' Fitzgerald could exploit Cowboys' weakness

You do not have to be a professional scout to know that Fitzgerald is one of the best wide receivers in the game. The Cowboys have struggled with receivers making plays down the field the past two games. I was concerned about what Brandon Marshall was going to do against this secondary, but I am even more concerned of the challenge that lies ahead with Fitzgerald.

When you study his game, you see a tremendous route runner -- not in the sense of an explosive player, but much like Miles Austin in that he runs his routes at the same speed throughout the route. Fitzgerald doesn’t give the corner any type of hint when he is going to break in his route. Most receivers in the NFL have to chop their steps or slow down to make cuts, but not Fitzgerald.

In my view, the most impressive trait he possesses is his hands. Other than Kurt Warner, Fitzgerald has played with some bad quarterbacks throughout his career in Arizona. Never have I seen a receiver that adjusts to more bad balls than this guy, but he is always coming up with the play.

The Cowboys have to be careful with Fitzgerald when he runs the inside routes, getting the ball on the move and exploding through the middle of the secondary. Remember what he did to the Steelers in the Super Bowl several years ago? He has done that this year as well.

The one personnel switch for the Cowboys will be that Mike Jenkins will be in the lineup. That takes Alan Ball off the field in the nickel, and it also allows Orlando Scandrick to go back to his role as the nickel corner.

RB Wells has very similar style to Cowboys' Murray

The Cowboys’ run defense has had stretches where it has been outstanding, then two games where the Eagles and Seahawks were able to gash the defense for some nice gains. Beanie Wells is more of a physical runner than a home-run back. His offensive line doesn’t give him much room, so he has to create opportunities on his own, but he doesn’t have the quickness of LeSean McCoy or Marshawn Lynch.

Wells can hurt you with the ability to use his vision to see a crease then make a cut, much like what we have seen with DeMarco Murray. Wells is not afraid to take the ball to the hole then allow the defenders to commit and bend it backside. The Cowboys’ run defense can be aggressive flowing to the ball, so what happens on the backside with these defensive ends and linebackers will be key if they are going to keep Wells in check.

The Cardinals will attempt to run Wells to keep the rush off Kevin Kolb, who is making his return to the starting lineup after dealing with a toe issue.

Matchup to exploit: Cardinals' offensive line

The biggest weakness of this Cardinals offense is their line. There is nothing pretty about the way they play or the effectiveness in which they operate.

Usually when I study an opponent each week, there are one or two players that I will like on their offensive line. There is no one on the Cardnals’ offensive line I would want if I were building a team.

Tackles Levi Brown and Jeremy Bridges struggle with speed off the edge, and it would be no surprise to me if Rob Ryan starts there to attack this offense. At the guard spot, things aren’t much better with former Packer Daryn Colledge and ex-Brown Rex Hadnot, who really struggle with movement of the defensive line and don’t do a good enough job of handling the twist stunts or games in the middle of the line. Colledge really struggled because he would become engaged with his block, then a linebacker would run through on the blitz and he was unable to adjust off that to secure the blitzer.

The biggest fear for the Cardinals is if they are stuffed on the run with Wells and it turns into a game where the Cowboys can tee off on Kolb. The fear for the Cowboys is that they allow this poor Cardinals line to block them like the Redskins did two weeks ago.

There are questions about Kolb’s health and mobility. The Cowboys need to take advantage of the situation when given the opportunity.

DT Dockett will be handful for Cowboys' line

Defensively for the Cardinals, tackle Darnell Dockett will be a handful for Kyle Kosier and Montrae Holland. I worry more about Holland because he tends to struggle with those players that can get on his outside shoulder and quickly get up the field. That is what we see in Docket’s game.

Dockett is an explosive player that loves to attack on the outside. Holland hates this type of player because he doesn’t always adjust quickly enough out of his stance.

The Cowboys have to be careful when they go to their outside game that Dockett isn’t allowed to get up the field and into the backfield to throw off pullers or John Phillips trying to get to the edge to secure the corner. Any type of penetration throws off timing and the execution of the blockers.

The Cowboys will have an advantage when the Cardinals have to rush the passer. Other than Dockett, this front really struggles with pressure. It is only when they are able to bring linebacker help that they are able to generate a pass rush.

The Cowboys have struggled some this season when teams have brought pressure from the linebackers in the middle of the defense. Center Phil Costa was better last week, but continue to watch how he and Holland handle these games.

Cards' young linebackers making some noise

The Cardinals have two young linebackers that I really like. Former TCU star Daryl Washington and Texas-ex Sam Acho really show up on tape. Both of these players are always around the football. Impressed with the way that they are able to fight blocks and finish plays.

Washington showed the ability to work through the trash, keep his balance and make the tackle in the hole. I would not call Washington a thumper like a younger Bradie James, but at the point of attack, he has done a nice job.

Acho is a nice player off the edge. In the Rams contest, he showed the quickness to come around the corner, beat the tackle and get a sack of Sam Bradford to cause a fumble. He and Dockett are the two best pressure players the Cardinals have in the front seven.

Don't overlook Peterson as defender, either

Rookie Patrick Peterson has created quite a buzz with his ability to return punts for touchdowns. Peterson is a talented cornerback, but I have heard the whispers that early in the season he wasn’t playing as well and was struggling in coverage.

I studied four games -- Eagles, 49ers, Rams and Ravens -- and did not see the struggles that scouts were speaking of. There was one play against the 49ers where he slipped on a stutter-go to Michael Crabtree and it ended up as a nice gain, but overall, I only observed a corner that could read the route, drive on the ball and defend the play. Didn’t see a corner that played with wasted steps or was not quick enough to keep position in the route.

In the Ravens game, Peterson did a nice job in press coverage, turning and running with his man, then finding the ball. In my view, Peterson did not look like a player that was struggling to do his job. We’ll see if Jason Garrett’s game plan will be to try to attack Peterson, but there are other areas that he can go to for better results.

Cowboys run game: Watch safety Wilson

When the Cowboys run the ball, they must be aware of safety Adrian Wilson, who likes to work around the line of scrimmage. Wilson is a physical player who is not afraid to mix it up against the run or pass.

When the Cardinals need a big play in the secondary, it will usually come from Wilson. Wilson can hurt you as a blitzer. He has a nice feel for how to time his blitz and be that disruptive player.

Cardinals QB Kevin Kolb expected to play

November, 30, 2011
IRVING, Texas – It appears likely that Arizona starting quarterback Kevin Kolb play Sunday against the Cowboys.

Kolb missed the last four games due to foot and toe injuries, but he fully participated in the Cardinals’ Wednesday practice. He told reporters after the practice that he expects to start against the Cowboys.

The Cardinals acquired Kolb, a Stephenville, Texas, native, in a trade with the Eagles this summer and signed him to a six-year, $65 million contract extension. His performance so far has been an extreme disappointment. The Cardinals are 1-7 with Kolb as a starter. He has completed only 56.8 percent of his passes and thrown as many interceptions (eight) as touchdowns.

Six Cowboys did not practice Wednesday: receiver Miles Austin (hamstring), nose tackle Josh Brent (knee), fullback Tony Fiammetta (illness), quarterback Jon Kitna (back), right guard Kyle Kosier (foot) and running back Phillip Tanner (hamstring). Fiammetta and Kitna have already been ruled out for Sunday’s game.

Cornerback Mike Jenkins (hamstring), safety Gerald Sensabaugh (foot) and linebacker Bruce Carter (knee) were listed as having limited participation in the practice. Carter has soreness in the knee that he had surgically repaired last year, but it is not considered serious.

The Other Side: Kent Somers, Arizona Republic

November, 30, 2011
We're back for another shot at The Other Side. This week, we speak with Arizona Cardinals beat writer Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic. Check out Kent's blog here.

Q: The Cowboys are worried to death about Patrick Peterson. Just how much of a threat is he?

A: He's a huge threat. He's returned four punts for touchdowns this season, tying an NFL record. He is so smooth in catching the ball that he can steal a couple of glances to see how close the gunners are. If they are blocked, he's going to try it. You have to pin him against the sideline. Punting to him in the middle of the field, as the Rams did last week, is a colossal mistake.

Q: Will Kevin Kolb come back this season?

A: I think he does, possibly this week. He practiced some last week and they considered using him as the backup in St. Louis but decided against it. There was concern that he wouldn't be able to get warm if he had to go in the game suddenly. The Cardinals are 3-1 in John Skelton's starts, but he has struggled the last two weeks. There's no quarterback controversy.

Q: Looks like Beanie Wells has really emerged as a quality running back in this league. How big has he been to the offense?

A: He's been the most consistent threat. Receiver Larry Fitzgerald is as good as ever, but they have trouble getting him the ball.

Wells has played through a knee a injury for about six weeks now, answering questions about his toughness. He's big and physical and defensive backs don't want to hit him. They have had trouble creating room for him to run in some games, however.

Q: Is Ken Whisenhunt in trouble in Arizona, or is the front office still behind him?

A: I don't think he's in trouble. He's under contract through 2013 at more than $5 million a year. Plus he has a little equity left from playoff appearances in 2008 and 09. But 2012 will be a critical one for him.

Q: Your thoughts on Sam Acho, the rookie outside linebacker.

A:He's one of the bright young players on this team. He's started the last five games, replacing Joey Porter, who is out with a knee injury. Acho should have been the starter throughout the season. He has five sacks, all in the last six games. Porter had five sacks in 22 games. Acho's always in the right place, and it appears the Cardinals finally hit on an outside linebacker in the draft.
IRVING, Texas – The Cowboys will take precautions to prevent Tashard Choice from providing intelligence to the Redskins defense.

They definitely don’t want to hear Choice boasting on the local radio airwaves next week about how he relayed all the Cowboys’ line-of-scrimmage calls to the Washington defense. A similar scenario unfolded in Philadelphia this week, as injured quarterback Kevin Kolb deemed it “funny” how he was able to help the Cardinals’ defense shut down the team that traded him.

The Cowboys are well aware that Choice, who was claimed by the Redskins after the Cowboys cut him last month, has intimate knowledge of Dallas’ offense. They are confident that can keep Choice from using that knowledge against them.

“You always have to be mindful of that whenever you have a player going from your team to the other team,” head coach Jason Garrett said. “Tashard is certainly a smart guy, and we like to think that we do a good job disguising some of our calls.

“I don’t think we undo our offense just because of that transaction. I think we have to deal with it. It certainly has to be something we look at throughout the ballgame.”

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.