Dallas Cowboys: Mark Ingram
“Great football player,” Dallas coach Jason Garrett said. “Just a fantastic football player. They hand it to him. They throw it to him. He’s a guy who makes people miss. Very good instincts for the game. He can catch the ball. He’s good in space. He’s good inside.”
In two games against the Cowboys, Forte has rushed for 81 yards and caught six passes for 34 yards and a touchdown.
The Cowboys are allowing 126.7 yards per game on the ground, which is 27th in the NFL. They have allowed three teams to rush for more than 200 yards and in three of their past four games they have allowed a 100-yard rusher (Adrian Peterson, Mark Ingram and Andre Brown).
Forte is one of three backs with 900 yards rushing and 400 yards receiving, joining Jamaal Charles and LeSean McCoy. The Cowboys played against both already and limited Charles and McCoy to 55 yards rushing apiece.
“He is an extreme challenge,” linebacker Sean Lee said. “He is one of the best all-around backs in the NFL. There is not one area of the game he is not good at. He is a great pass protector, great runner, great out of the backfield catching passes, so it’s going to be a challenge for us to try to stop him.”
Carter was fined $15,570 for a horse-collar tackle of New Orleans Saints running back Darren Sproles, and Sims was fined $7,875 for grabbing the face mask of Saints running back Mark Ingram. Both penalties came on New Orleans’ third-quarter drive that ended on Ingram’s 4-yard touchdown run. The Saints did not throw a pass on the eight-play drive.
Cornerback Orlando Scandrick was not fined for a second-quarter face mask penalty.
Carter and Sims are the fourth and fifth Cowboys to be fined this season. Dez Bryant was fined $7,875 for a throat-slash gesture versus the St. Louis Rams. Safety Barry Church was fined $5,250 for throwing a football into the stands after his touchdown versus the New York Giants. Linebacker Cameron Lawrence was fined $21,000 for a blindside block against the Washington Redskins.
Going nowhere: Only three times in their first 10 games have the Cowboys converted on at least 40 percent of their third-down opportunities. They were 0-for-9 against the Saints. Tony Romo missed on all six of his third-down passes, continuing a poor season-long trend for the quarterback. Romo was the 30th-ranked quarterback in third-down passer rating before Sunday, ranking ahead of only Matt Schaub and Brandon Weeden. Winning on third down is a must, and the Cowboys don't win nearly enough.
"Typically you have to get yourself in favorable third-down situations," coach Jason Garrett said. "I believe you have to make first downs on first down and drive the football and stay out of some of those third-down situations. But when the time comes you've got to convert and you've got to make some plays, and we've just got to do a better job. We'll evaluate what we're doing and see if we can put our players in better positions to do that."
"It's not good when they can just line up and run it right at you," defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin said.
Slowing down: Terrance Williams was able to catch a 21-yard touchdown pass from Romo, but it was his only catch of the game on five targets.
In the last three games, Williams has caught just five of the last 22 passes thrown his way. Not all targets are created equal and viewing them purely in a batting average fashion can be dangerous, but Williams has to be more efficient. If teams are going to do whatever they can to take away Dez Bryant, then Williams has to win more. If he wins, then Bryant cannot be doubled as easily as he has been doubled. A healthy return of Miles Austin would also help the offense and Williams.
What's the deal? Maybe the Cowboys don't lead the league in hamstring injuries, but they must be close. Lee was forced from Sunday's game in the first half. Justin Durant was forced out in the second half. Claiborne did not play against the Saints because of a hamstring injury. Austin missed his fifth game in the last seven weeks because of a hamstring injury.
Garrett is confounded by the issue that has cropped up and has said the Cowboys examine all of their stretching issues before and after practices as well as before games.
"I think they're fairly common around the league," Garrett said, "but we've certainly had our share of them."
What it means for the Cowboys: By the time the Cowboys play again on Nov. 24 against the New York Giants they could be out of first place in the NFC East.
They are currently tied with the Philadelphia Eagles at 5-5 and are technically in first place because of their 17-3 win at Lincoln Financial Field on Oct. 20. The Giants and Washington Redskins are only one game back in the loss column.
This was the worst loss of the Jason Garrett era. The previous one was a 34-7 loss at Philadelphia in 2011.
Stock watch: Jerry Jones, falling. On a night in which nothing went right it's too easy to point out a player or a coach. The owner and general manager is in the crosshairs tonight. He put together this lot and believes there is a chance to compete for a championship. The defense was awful. The offense was stone cold. Other than that Jones had a fine time in New Orleans.
Defense shredded again: The Saints scored on eight of 11 possessions and one ended on a missed field goal. The Saints showed mercy on their final possession and took a knee.
They had 40 first downs, setting an NFL record. The Cowboys gave up 625 yards. They allowed Mark Ingram to rush for 145 yards. They saw Marques Colston get 107 receiving yards.
The good news: Drew Brees did not throw for 400 yards. He finished with 392 yards and threw four touchdowns.
Blame the absences of Jason Hatcher, J.J. Wilcox and Morris Claiborne at the start of the game and the in-game absences of Sean Lee (hamstring) and Justin Durant (hamstring). Know that DeMarcus Ware was in and out in his return to the lineup after a three-game absence with a quadriceps strain.
It wouldn't have mattered. Maybe it would've made the outcome a little closer, but the Saints rolled all over Monte Kiffin's defense the way the Denver Broncos and Detroit Lions did.
Missed opportunity: On a night when the Cowboys knew it would be a struggle for the defense, they needed to take advantage of every chance they got.
Darren Sproles' fumble gave the Cowboys a chance at the Saints' 22 in the first quarter, but the Cowboys had to settle for a Dan Bailey field goal. A third-and-1 play was turned into third-and-6 after a James Hanna false start. Tony Romo's third-down pass was incomplete and would have been wiped out anyway by a Ronald Leary hold.
In the past five games the Cowboys have had 11 takeaways and scored just two touchdowns after those turnovers, and both of those drives started inside the opponents' 5.
What's next: The Cowboys are off until Nov. 24, when they visit the New York Giants. Players will practice on Tuesday and Wednesday before getting their first prolonged break since their first training camp practice on July 21 in Oxnard, Calif.
The Cowboys didn't run the ball often despite facing a Saints defense ranked 31st against the rush. They didn't run the ball particularly well, either. DeMarco Murray gained only 40 yards on 11 carries, an average of 3.6 per pop, with a long of 9. None of the Cowboys' other backs carried the ball at all. Murray's lost fumble -- his second of his career and second in two weeks -- was by far the most impactful play from the Cowboys' running game. The Saints recovered at the Dallas 5 and scored a touchdown a few plays later.
Tony Romo threw for 416 yards and four touchdowns with no picks on 26-of-43 passing. Dez Bryant caught nine passes for a career-high 224 yards with a pair of 58-yard touchdowns. It's pretty tough to pin this loss on the Cowboys' passing game, but it did sputter at two critical points of the game. The three-and-out before halftime allowed the Saints to get the ball with enough time to drive for a field goal. The three-and-out in overtime allowed the Saints to drive for the game-winning field goal. Miles Austin had an up-and-down day, dropping two balls but grabbing the touchdown that sent the game into overtime.
The Saints tried to pound away at the Dallas defense, handing it to their tailback trio a total of 37 times. The Saints rushed for only 117 yards (3.2 per carry), including a 9-yard touchdown by Mark Ingram on the game's first possession. Scatback Darren Sproles (nine carries, 48 yards) gave the Cowboys some problems on the perimeter with his quickness, but the Dallas defense held its ground up the middle despite missing its top two nose tackles, three of its top four inside linebackers and a starting defensive end.
It was easy pickings for Drew Brees, who completed 37-of-53 passes for 446 yards and three touchdowns with no turnovers. The Cowboys didn't have anything resembling a respectable pass rush, hurrying Brees only twice and sacking him once. DeMarcus Ware watched much of the second half after re-injuring his right shoulder, but it's still inexcusable for the pass rush to be that poor. The Cowboys couldn't cover receiver Marques Colston (10 catches, 153 yards), running back Darren Sproles (seven catches, 104 yards) or tight end Jimmy Graham (seven catches, 88 yards).
This definitely wasn't Dwayne Harris' best day. He muffed a kickoff -- and was fortunate that Dallas' James Hanna recovered -- and let a punt bounce at the Cowboys' 14 and roll to the 3. Other than that, it was a good day for the Cowboys' special teams units. They contained dangerous Darren Sproles, who had two punt returns for 10 yards and one kickoff return for 15 yards. Harris had a 28-yard punt return. Brian Moorman had a net average of 46.2 yards per punt, twice pinning the Saints inside the 10. And Dan Bailey drilled a 47-yard field goal, his lone attempt.
You can complain about Jason Garrett's clock management before the half, when the Cowboys went three-and-out and left 47 seconds on the clock, plenty of time for Drew Brees to drive the Saints for a field goal. You can complain about Garrett not feeding a beasting Dez Bryant in the third quarter, or defensive coordinator Rob Ryan not bringing heat on Brees. Once again, however, Garrett has to get some credit for the mental toughness this team has to make a comeback that ultimately wasn't enough to win.
IRVING, Texas – The Saints are averaging 27.8 points per game, which is good for fourth in the NFL.
|How far away from elite quarterback status is Tony Romo? Tim MacMahon, Jean-Jacques Taylor and Landry Locker discuss on the Ben & Skin Show.
That should tell you defensive coordinator Rob Ryan has a tough task ahead of him.
But it also means something to Jason Garrett, as well, as the offensive play-caller.
“The best way to help the defense is to execute ball plays and drive the ball and score points,” Garrett said. “A lot of people say, ‘Do you want to play a slow down game and keep those guys on the sidelines?’ You just want to be able to execute, make first downs, move the ball and score points. However you can do that is a good thing. Every week we try to do that. We game plan accordingly. We’ll try to attack their defense.”
More important than winning time of possession is scoring touchdowns inside the red zone because of the Saints' offense.
During the Cowboys' three-game winning streak they have scored touchdowns on five of their last nine possessions inside the opponents’ 20. In their last six games they have scored touchdowns on 10 of their last 20 red zone drives.
“You must take advantage of the opportunities you do get in a game,” Garrett said. “You don’t get that many drives in a game. We’ve got to make sure we cash in on them.”
“The approach is the same,” Murray said. “At the end of the day I’m still the fifth or sixth running back taken last year, third-round pick, looked over by many and I’m still working to get better. I’m not a veteran. I haven’t been here for many years, so I’m trying to work hard every day and prove to myself that I belong here.”
Murray was the sixth running back taken in 2011 behind New Orleans' Mark Ingram (No. 28), Arizona’s Ryan Williams (38), New England’s Shane Vereen (56), Detroit’s Mikel Leshoure (57) and Miami’s Daniel Thomas (62).
Murray, who missed the final three games last season with an ankle injury, was the 71st pick but the leading rookie rusher. He did it all without the benefit of an offseason program and missed almost all of training camp with a hamstring injury.
“This is huge for me,” Murray said of this offseason. “I don’t have a chance to get the OTA sessions last year, learning the plays, getting comfortable knowing the offense and my teammates. This is a huge, huge blessing for me. I’ve been learning every day constantly. It’s been great.”
But that doesn’t mean Jones has turned over a new leaf when it comes to draft strategy and will sit tight during this April’s three-day draft.
“There’s an old adage I have that your phone is ringing to ask you for the trade, then that’s when you ought to trade,” Jones said Sunday from the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis. “If you do the calling, then you’re in trouble. We just didn’t get the opportunities like we had in the past.”
There was one opportunity and it came in the first round when Jacksonville wanted the No. 9 overall pick to select quarterback Blaine Gabbert and offered the 16th and 49th picks. The Cowboys passed and Washington made the same trade a spot later.
The Cowboys took Tyron Smith instead. They attempted to trade back into the first round and eyed a number of players, like Mark Ingram, Danny Watkins and Cameron Heyward, without success.
“We certainly wouldn’t try to revisit that and do something different than taking Tyron,” Jones said.
Each Thursday leading up to the NFL draft (April 28-30), the ESPN.com blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today's topic: Dream scenario/Plan B.
Dream scenario: If the Cowboys play things the conventional way and sit tight at No. 9, they’ll probably be looking at either defensive end J.J. Watt or offensive tackle Tyron Smith. Either one would provide good value or fill a big need, and the Cowboys would improve. But Dallas owner Jerry Jones doesn’t always do things the conventional way. Although trading up to the top five might be difficult, Jones’ imagination could heat up if LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson makes it past the first five picks. The entire Dallas secondary had a horrible year last season, and Peterson would provide an instant upgrade. Jones might not be able to sit still if he’s within striking distance of Peterson.
Plan B: If there’s no chance at Peterson and the Cowboys aren’t excited enough about Watt or Smith, they could reach slightly and take Nebraska cornerback Prince Amukamara. He’s the second-best cornerback in this draft, and most mocks have him going somewhere in the teens. If the Cowboys like the player enough, it wouldn’t be much of a reach to just take him. If another team is looking to move up for another player, the Cowboys could drop down a few spots and still have a shot at Amukamara.
Dream scenario: The Redskins, who need a quarterback perhaps more than any other team on the planet, would love nothing more than for something bizarre to suddenly cause Cam Newton or Blaine Gabbert to start falling. It’s not out of the realm of possibility. Carolina’s leaning toward Newton but hasn’t made a final decision. Even if the Panthers go with Newton, Buffalo could go with linebacker Von Miller at No. 3, and the word out of Arizona is the Cardinals probably are looking more for a pass-rusher than a quarterback. That would put the Redskins within striking distance on Gabbert, and general manager Bruce Allen and owner Daniel Snyder could try to move up to grab him. Or they could just take a chance that he’ll be available at No. 10.
Plan B: If Newton and Gabbert are gone, there’s no quarterback worthy of the No. 10 pick. Defensive tackle also is a major need, but the Redskins could fill that in free agency. Snyder enjoys making a splash, and if he can’t do it with a quarterback, he might do the next-best thing and take a guy who would catch passes from whoever ends up throwing them. With Santana Moss as a free agent and not much else in the receiving corps, Alabama’s Julio Jones could be a very nice consolation prize.
New York Giants
Dream scenario: The desperate need is at outside linebacker, but the only player who is really a sure thing is Miller, and he almost certainly will be a top-five pick. So the dream ends there and reality sets in, and the other reality is the Giants have big needs on the offensive line, where everyone but guard Chris Snee is starting to get old. Florida center/guard Mike Pouncey could really solidify the interior of the line, where the need is greatest. Tackles Gabe Carimi and Anthony Castonzo also could be possibilities as the Giants could consider moving tackle David Diehl to guard.
Plan B: This may sound a bit off the wall because the Giants have decent running backs in Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs. But what if Alabama’s Mark Ingram happens to be available? The Giants might have to consider him. He might be better than Bradshaw and Jacobs. Also, along the same lines, don’t rule out the possibility of a defensive tackle like Temple’s Muhammad Wilkerson if he’s available. The Giants appear to be in good shape in the middle of the defensive line, but general manager Jerry Reese places a high value on having lots of depth, especially in the middle of the defensive line.
Dream scenario: In a perfect world, the Eagles would package their first pick (No. 23 overall) with quarterback Kevin Kolb and trade their way into the top five, where they would aim for cornerback Peterson. The Eagles have a desperate need for a cornerback to play opposite Asante Samuel, and Peterson is the only sure thing in this draft. But this is not a perfect world. Unless the lockout somehow ends between now and the start of the draft, they’re not allowed to trade Kolb. If they stay put, the Eagles have to hope Amukamara somehow falls to them, or they might have to take a chance on Colorado’s Jimmy Smith, who comes with some background questions.
Plan B: The right side of the offensive line needs to be upgraded. Most teams stay clear of guards in the first round. But tackles Castonzo, Nate Solder and Carimi all could be available when the Eagles pick. Any one of them could step right into the lineup and start.
Top draft prospects: Mark Ingram, Alabama; Ryan Williams, Virginia Tech; Mikel Leshoure, Illinois; Daniel Thomas, Kansas State; Demarco Murray, Oklahoma
2010 review: Felix Jones failed to wow after becoming the lead horse in September. He finished the season with a respectable 1,250 total yards (800 rushing and 450 receiving), but he wasn’t the gamebreaker he had been in a lesser role. He averaged 4.3 yards per carry – down from 5.9 as a change-of-pace back the previous season – and scored only two touchdowns. Marion Barber had the worst year of his career while cashing $7.8 million of Jerry Jones’ checks. He had career lows in every major rushing and receiving category. His average of 3.3 yards per carry ranked 45th of 47 backs who had enough carries to qualify. Tashard Choice didn’t make much of an impact other than his terrific performance in the road win over the Colts, when he rushed for 100 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries. Lonyae Miller did a solid job on special teams when promoted from the practice squad late in the season.
Offseason preview: It’s time to bid farewell to Barber. His production hasn’t come close to justifying his seven-year, $45 million contract and continues to trend down. He has butted heads with head coach Jason Garrett, most notably by his defiant refusal to adhere to the travel dress code before Garrett’s interim coaching debut. And there’s no more guaranteed money left on his deal. It would make no sense to pay him his $4.25 million salary next season. Even with Barber’s departure, running back isn’t a pressing need. Jones and Choice should be able to form a respectable tandem, especially if the Cowboys can address the issues on the offensive line. Maybe the Cowboys use a mid- to late-round pick on a back to challenge Miller for the No. 3 role, but it’d be surprising if they invested heavily in this position this offseason.
Need meter (1-5): 2