Dallas Cowboys: Matthew Stafford

Scott Linehan, back where it began

May, 20, 2014
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IRVING, Texas -- When Scott Linehan walks out on to the practice fields at the Dallas Cowboys' Valley Ranch facility, he can still remember what it was like in 1987.

Part of what was then a state-of-the-art workout area remains today. The camera booths at either end of the field are still in place, too. There are more neighborhood houses in the background, but the feel remains.

[+] EnlargeScott Linehan
Tim Sharp/AP PhotoNew to the team himself, passing coordinator Scott Linehan assists the Cowboys' rookies during minicamp on Friday, May 16.
Linehan was an undrafted free agent out of Idaho in 1987. He was among the cast of thousands Tex Schramm and Gil Brandt brought in for a look. A shoulder injury, however, kept him from showing what he could do. The Cowboys flew him out to Thousand Oaks, California, for training camp and while he did put on a helmet he was cut before he could put on pads.

Twenty-seven years later, Linehan is now the Cowboys' passing game coordinator. He will not put on pads when the Cowboys go to California -- this time to Oxnard, not Thousand Oaks, but his importance to the success of the Cowboys in 2014 cannot be understated.

"Kind of nostalgic for me to be out here for this one," Linehan said after the first day of last week's rookie minicamp.

Unlike last year's playcaller, Bill Callahan, Linehan will have a free hand in running the offense. Callahan called plays for Jason Garrett's offense and the coach was involved in the playcalling process down the stretch last season, relaying the plays to the quarterback in the huddle.

Linehan will have no middle man. This is his offense. Most of the verbiage will remain the same, since he and Garrett ran similar systems, but there will be changes.

"It would be a disservice to not continue a lot of the great things that Jason and Bill and the guys have implemented here in the past few years," Linehan said. "Then as the timing fits for us ... we get through our OTAs to start to mesh some of the things that make sense."

Not surprisingly, Linehan did not agree with the assertion that the Cowboys have too many voices on offense with Garrett, Callahan and even quarterback Tony Romo, whose involvement in devising game plans will continue in 2014.

"That kind of expertise in one room?" Linehan said. "To have a staff with the qualifications I feel we have is truly a strength."

In 2005, Garrett's first coaching job came under Linehan with the Miami Dolphins. They remained tight over the years and their friendship played a big part in why Linehan came to the Cowboys.

Garrett said they share similar convictions in attacking defenses with the running game and passing game, getting the ball to their playmakers and playing to the players' strengths.

Linehan once directed one of the NFL's best running games with the Minnesota Vikings when Randy Moss was at the top of his game. Steven Jackson had a 1,500-yard season with the St. Louis Rams when Linehan was head coach.

But his most recent five-year run with the Detroit Lions has many convinced Linehan is a pass-happy coordinator, even moreso than Garrett. From 2011-13, Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford, threw for 14,655 yards and 90 touchdowns with 52 interceptions and Calvin Johnson caught 302 passes for 5,137 yards and 33 touchdowns.

Before 2013, the Lions did not have a running game rank better than 23rd. With the addition of Reggie Bush, Detroit had the 17th-ranked rushing offense.

"Between our first and second back we had almost 1,700 yards rushing," Linehan said. "That was as good as they have done in 10 years. You just lean to your personnel."

The Cowboys will still lean to the pass with Romo, Dez Bryant and Jason Witten. But DeMarco Murray is coming off a 1,100-yard season and Zack Martin became the third offensive linemen to be picked in the first round by the Cowboys in the last four years two weeks ago.

"You start with running it effectively," Linehan said. "You achieve balance in the NFL by playing good football throughout three quarters, gaining that lead and then you've got a lead going into the fourth quarter. The teams that run the ball the best, that run the ball balanced, generally are getting a lot of their damage done in that late third, early fourth quarter. You get behind the score then you say you want to do (run the ball). You don't want to abandon it, but you're going to lean toward throwing the ball a little more. So that's to me, I think, the thing with the offensive line, that's a no-brainer. This is a great young front. Added a great piece to it. It was already an offensive line that was really meshing and playing well. We don't have to have this certain look to run the ball. We feel like we can line up and say hey, if they're going to drop guys into the box, we still feel like we've got the guys that can get it done. And then that helps everything. That opens everything on the outside of the field."

Chat recap: When will Cowboys go after QB?

April, 18, 2014
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IRVING, Texas -- We had another solid chat on Wednesday with a lot of draft questions.

We talked about trading up (I don’t see it happening), selecting Anthony Barr or Kony Ealy if both are available at No. 16 (Barr), taking a chance on Dominique Easley, the extra time leading up to the draft (hate it) and my all-time favorite Cowboy.

If you want to read the whole chat, click here.

I was also asked about drafting a quarterback.

R Lank, Md.: With romo 1 bad hit, and he's finished along with the uncertainty of orton why not draft a decent qb. at romo's age along with his injuries would u say that a high risk paying him that kind of money. I mean like u and (Jacques) said why pay age?

Todd Archer: When it comes to quarterbacks and left tackles, paying age doesn't seem as problematic for a lot of teams. I understand what you're saying about drafting a quarterback, but I don't see them going after a guy in the first two rounds. Maybe the third but more likely fourth or fifth. When you're picking a guy there, it's a projection more than a known commodity. Honestly, I think when Romo is done, whenever that is, the Cowboys will draft his replacement the following year and go with the guy.

Let me go a little deeper. For the last three or four years this has been a common question either because fans want the Cowboys to move on from Tony Romo or start the process of finding his replacement before it’s too late.

I’ve been a fan of selecting a quarterback every year, similar to the way Ron Wolf worked the draft with the Green Bay Packers. Clearly the Cowboys don’t share that belief, and I’ve just now come to the realization that when Romo’s career is over, then they will go ahead and find their next starter.

They don’t believe it makes sense to draft a quarterback, give him time to develop and then hand him the keys, say, the way the Packers did with Aaron Rodgers when they decided to move on from Brett Favre. It’s a risky strategy, but it’s what the Cowboys did after Troy Aikman retired.

They drafted Quincy Carter in the second round, surprisingly, and he won the job. They cut Tony Banks in camp so as there was no doubt Carter would be the guy. It didn’t work, although Carter did help the Cowboys to the playoffs in 2003.

Finding the next franchise quarterback took time for the Cowboys, and they got lucky in Romo. They looked to baseball and got Carter, Chad Hutchinson and Drew Henson. They looked at vets like Vinny Testaverde and Drew Bledsoe.

If you look at quarterbacks now, teams draft them and play them. Andy Dalton was a Day 1 starter with the Cincinnati Bengals after he was picked in the second round. Russell Wilson won the starting job with the Seattle Seahawks as a third round pick. Cam Newton, Sam Bradford, Matthew Stafford and Andrew Luck were No. 1 picks and starters from the beginning.

Ryan Tannehill (Miami Dolphins), Robert Griffin III (Washington Redskins), E.J. Manuel (Buffalo Bills), Geno Smith (New York Jets) and Matt Ryan (Atlanta Falcons) have been walk-in starters.

So whenever Romo is done – two, three or four years from now – that’s when I think the Cowboys go all in for a quarterback in the draft. And if (remember it’s still an if) that is the case, then there is a strong argument to take another offensive lineman at No. 16 next month.

With Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick and Offensive Lineman X, the Cowboys would have three first-round picks to protect an early-round quarterback. That would be a good way to break in a young quarterback. He would not be under siege behind a bad line.

Will this happen? Who knows, but it’s what I think could be the case.

Five Wonders: Can Dallas go deep in '14?

February, 4, 2014
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IRVING, Texas -- Not necessarily by popular demand, but Five Wonders is back and we'll look at a number of issues the Dallas Cowboys face in the offseason.

On to the Wonders:
  • I wonder how different the Cowboys' offense will look in 2014 with the addition of Scott Linehan. He will call the plays, but they will be Jason Garrett's plays in the pass game and Bill Callahan's plays in the run game. If there is a change, I wonder if it will be in the deep passing game. He was unafraid to take shots down the field. That's easy to do when you have a receiver like Calvin Johnson and a quarterback with an arm like Matthew Stafford. The Cowboys did not force the issue down the field with the 51-48 loss to the Denver Broncos as the only real exception. Tony Romo averaged a career low 7.2 yards per attempt in 2013. As an offensive line coach, was Callahan protecting his guys from having to hold the fort a little longer by not calling the deep ball as much? Was Romo protecting himself in some ways because he has taken a beating in recent years with an offensive line that had too many holes? Maybe it's partly both. Linehan will have to boost the confidence in the deep passing game to make a real difference.
  • I wonder if the Cowboys look at extending Doug Free's contract. He is set to make $3.5 million in 2014 and the final two years of his deal voids after the season. Free, who had a bounce back season in 2013, will count $6.520 million against the cap and if the Cowboys choose to extend Free, they would gain cap space as well as have one of their tackles in place for 2015 and beyond. The Cowboys will have to make it worth Free's while after they cut his pay in half the last two seasons. He will be under no obligation to get do something “team friendly,” but he is not in a hurry to leave. He just turned 30 last month and is entering his eighth season. His backup, Jermey Parnell, is about to enter the final year of his deal. He was supposed to press Free in training camp last summer, but he never did in part because Free never really allowed it.
  • As you look at what the Cowboys might do in the May draft, I wonder if just how much you should keep an eye on wide receiver. I would almost guarantee Miles Austin will not be back with a $5.5 million base salary in 2014. With Dez Bryant and Terrance Williams the Cowboys would have to feel good about their top two receivers. I wonder if they would look at a receiver in the third round, like they did last year in taking Williams. Or I wonder if they will look for a veteran that is not looking to break the bank. Somebody like New Orleans' Robert Meachem comes to mind. If the Cowboys lost Bryant or Williams to injury, then they would need to have receiver ready to be a No. 2 receiver, like how Laurent Robinson filled in a few years ago.
  • Last year was the year of the hamstring injury for the Cowboys. Austin, Justin Durant, Sean Lee, Bruce Carter, Morris Claiborne, Gavin Escobar, Dwayne Harris, Danny McCray, Ernie Sims, J.J. Wilcox and Williams were among those troubled by varying hamstring injuries last year. Jason Garrett said the Cowboys continually looked at the reasons why. They studied how much they stretched, what they ate, what they drank. The Cowboys had players wearing GPS-like monitors in practice to gain different measurements. I wonder if the Cowboys practiced too long as the year went on. Garrett liked to say you don't want to leave it all on the practice field during the week, but could they have been in a position where they practiced so much in the week they were gassed for the game?
  • Sometimes patience is required when it comes to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. I wonder if that will serve Charles Haley well. Haley was once again left off the final ballots of the voters, but that doesn't mean he will not get in. Not to go all Garrett on you, but it is a process. In the last two years we've seen the receiver logjam break with Cris Carter and Andre Reed getting selected. That could be good news for Tim Brown in 2015. Haley has seen defensive linemen Warren Sapp and Michael Strahan get selected the last two years. Maybe next year is his turn and if it is, then nobody will remember all the years it took him to make it to Canton, Ohio, and his gold jacket will be the same as every other Hall of Famer. The voters have a difficult job. I'm not of the belief Haley's conduct toward the media has played a role in his lack of support so far. Sapp was hardly the friendliest player and he got in. It will happen for Haley, one day.

What Scott Linehan will bring to Cowboys

January, 31, 2014
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IRVING, Texas – From 2009-13, Scott Linehan was the offensive coordinator for the Detroit Lions and helped quarterback Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson put up some staggering numbers.

Linehan was hired this week as the Dallas Cowboys’ passing game coordinator and will call the plays in 2014. With the Cowboys, he will get to work with Tony Romo, Jason Witten, Dez Bryant and DeMarco Murray.

ESPN Cowboys reporter Todd Archer asked ESPN Lions reporter Michael Rothstein for a little insight on Linehan.

Todd Archer: What type of playcaller are the Cowboys getting in Linehan?

Michael Rothstein: Linehan has some creativity to what he is able to do. He was really able to get both Reggie Bush and Joique Bell in open spaces using a variety of screens and dumpoffs throughout the season. Evidence of this is a middle screen the Lions scored on multiple times last season. He was criticized most often for either going empty or throwing in third-and-short situations despite having Reggie Bush and Joique Bell at his disposal. Sometimes the routes he devised with some of his playcalls led to receivers being too bunched up at points. But he has the ability to really draw up some good plays and he has experience with a quarterback-receiver combination like Tony Romo and Dez Bryant in Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson.

Archer: Cowboys fans have screamed at Garrett for not running the ball enough and now he has a guy who ran it less in Linehan. Did he not run the ball much because of who he had before Reggie Bush showed up?

Rothstein: I wasn't around before Bush, either, but he often said having Bush legitimized and gave credibility to their running game. There is truth to that, because Bush had a 1,000-yard season -- the first for a Detroit running back since 2004. If I had to guess, you'll still see an offense predicated on passing since the Romo-to-Bryant combination is a strong one, but as long as Linehan believes he has the line and running backs to be successful, he'll run it. But he'll definitely be a passing guy first.

Archer: How would you describe his relationship with Matthew Stafford? Obviously Tony Romo will have a lot of say here and I’m curious how he and Stafford worked.

Rothstein: Stafford really liked him and appeared to be disappointed in Linehan's firing when it happened last month. One of the bigger criticisms of the Jim Schwartz and Linehan tenure was that they were not critical enough with Stafford and didn't push him enough. Of course, he was a younger quarterback where Romo is a veteran, so he might not need that. I'd say Romo will be in a position where he will definitely have a lot of say and there will be an absolute comfort level needed there. My guess is the relationship will be similar for Linehan and Romo in Dallas.

What will run game look like with Linehan?

January, 28, 2014
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IRVING, Texas -- With sources saying Scott Linehan will take over as the Dallas Cowboys' playcaller, his track record suggests the offense will be Tony Romo friendly.

[+] EnlargeScott Linehan
Leon Halip/Getty ImagesScott Linehan has been the Lions' offensive coordinator for the past five years, but can he get the Dallas run game going?
For the past five years Linehan was the Detroit Lions offensive coordinator. In the last three seasons, Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford has thrown for 14,655 yards and 90 touchdowns with 52 interceptions.

From 2011-13, Calvin Johnson caught 302 passes for 5,137 yards and 33 touchdowns. So that would appear to be good news for Dez Bryant.

But what about the running game?

Linehan has been an offensive coordinator/head coach from 2002-2013, except for the final 12 games of the 2008 season when he was fired as head coach of the St. Louis Rams.

Using the 11 seasons as a backdrop, Linehan has had a top-10 ranked rush offense just twice and those were in his first two years with the Minnesota Vikings in 2002 and 2003. A Linehan-led running game has not finished better than 12th in the NFL since. With the Lions he had running games ranked Nos. 24, 23, 29, 23 and 17.

The Cowboys have been at their best offensively when DeMarco Murray has been involved.

Linehan is not averse to the run.

In 2002, Michael Bennett ran for 1,296 yards for the Vikings. A year later Minnesota had four different players with at least 400 yards rushing. In 2005 with the Miami Dolphins, where he worked with Jason Garrett for the first time, Ronnie Brown ran for 907 yards and Ricky Williams had 743 yards.

In his first year with the Rams, Steven Jackson, the runner so many Cowboys fans wanted them to take in 2004, ran for 1,528 yards. He had 1,002 yards in 2007.

With the Lions, he had to make due with Kevin Smith, Jahvid Best, whose career was cut short by injuries and Mikel Leshoure. Last season, Reggie Bush ran for 1,006 yards. Joique Bell ran for 650 yards.

In Murray, Linehan will inherit a back coming off the best year of his career and an offensive line that finished the year on a high note.

It's up to him to use the running game.

Plays that shaped the season: No. 5

January, 13, 2014
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Editor's note: In this series, Jean-Jacques Taylor counts down 10 plays that shaped the Cowboys' season.

Matthew StaffordRodger Mallison/Getty ImagesMatthew Stafford acted as if he were going to spike the ball but instead rushed for the winning TD.

Play No. 6: Matthew Stafford touchdown run

Situation: First-and-goal from the Dallas 1
Score: Dallas leads 30-24
Time: 14 seconds left in fourth quarter

Taylor's Take: The Cowboys proved they had one of the worst defenses in franchise history when they let Detroit gain a franchise-record 623 yards. Somehow, the Cowboys still had a chance to win, but Matthew Stafford drove the Lions 80 yards in less than a minute for the winning score. After a 23-yard completion to the Dallas 1, Stafford sprinted to the line of scrimmage, motioning the entire way as if he were going to spike the ball to stop the clock. When Stafford saw the Cowboys' defensive linemen expecting the spike, he took the snap and leaped into the end zone. It was a wretched ending to an abject defensive performance.

Season Impact: Losing this game is one of the reasons the Cowboys missed the playoffs for the third straight season. The defense created four turnovers, but the Cowboys kicked too many field goals, keeping Detroit close, and Lions receiver Calvin Johnson had 329 yards receiving. This game demonstrated defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin's inability to consistently make adjustments, and this is one of the classic games where the Cowboys found a way to lose instead of win.

Quote: "I mean, shoot, I'm just trying to make a play. We didn't play our best football, but we battled and sometimes in this league that's good enough to get you a win. It's crazy." -- Matthew Stafford

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.

Time for Cowboys offense to be creative

November, 18, 2013
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IRVING, Texas -- When discussing the offensive woes the Dallas Cowboys have shown in the past five games, Jason Garrett keeps mentioning execution as an issue.

Could part of the problem be the plans and not just the players' execution?

“When we talk about execution, it's not about a coach sitting high saying, ‘You need to do it better,'” Garrett said. “It's always starting with ourselves.”

The Cowboys' coaches have to do more to help Tony Romo, Jason Witten, Dez Bryant, DeMarco Murray, Miles Austin, Terrance Williams and the offensive line.

They have to be more creative with how they use their pieces.

“When I hear creative, are you creating new plays, new schemes, at this time of year?” offensive coordinator Bill Callahan said. “I think everybody's scheme is intact. I think you've got to tweak some things but don't think you make massive, wholesale changes right now in Week 11 as you're going down the stretch. You may add a few new wrinkles but nothing significant of the magnitude to where you're changing your entire philosophy or your offense.”

Being creative isn't throwing out the old playbook and bringing in a new playbook. Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford immediately knew when Jakar Hamilton was in the game three weeks ago and attacked the rookie safety. The New Orleans Saints created matchups the Cowboys could not overcome defensively.

The Cowboys' answer to double-teams of Bryant and Witten are to throw it to somebody else. That's a win for the defense. Who would they rather see have the ball, Bryant or Witten, or Williams? If Williams is not winning on one-on-one coverage, then Romo is forced to create on his own.

The Cowboys answers to double-teams have to be about making it harder for teams to double Witten and Bryant. Putting them together on the same side of the formation helps. Putting Bryant in motion more would help.

So much of the bye week talk has been about who's calling the plays, Callahan or Garrett. That is always something of a red herring. It's easy to say but it doesn't really mean much. The plan is more important than the plan.

With a defense that is struggling, the Cowboys will have to rely on their offense.

It's up to the coaches to do their parts.

“When you have a little extra time during the bye week you can evaluate yourself maybe more fully and make more comprehensive reports and evaluations because you can sit back a little bit more than you can week to week,” Garrett said. “So you're always trying to put your team in better situations in all three phases. Most of it is about evaluating ourselves. Not so much about evaluating other people and looking for ideas. It's just evaluating what we're doing, what we're doing well and how we can do it better.”

Cowboys see another Texas QB in Brees

November, 10, 2013
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NEW ORLEANS -- The Dallas Cowboys are about to end a run against Texas high school quarterbacks when they see the New Orleans Saints' Drew Brees Sunday night.

Brees
On Oct. 13 they saw Copperas Cove’s Robert Griffin III with the Washington Redskins. Then saw Austin Westlake’s Nick Foles in Philadelphia. Highland Park’s Matthew Stafford lit them up with the Detroit Lions. Last week they beat Colleyville Heritage’s Christian Ponder and the Minnesota Vikings.

Brees played at Austin Westlake.

“Obviously Texas has a very strong football tradition with a number of players going on to play college football and certainly the NFL,” Brees said. “Obviously there’s a ton of quarterbacks, which is pretty unbelievable when you look at it. A lot of them went on and played all over the place, it’s just not guys that stayed in the state of Texas.

“In most cases, guys went and played in other places across the country and different conferences, different division levels and that kind of thing. I think it’s something we take a lot of pride in. I think it makes you proud considering we have that Texas state pride, having played in the state, and knowing the level of competition within the state when it comes to football, so it’s pretty cool that we’re able to have that many guys playing quarterback in the league.”

The Cowboys are 3-1 against Texas quarterbacks so far.

Depending on the health of Jay Cutler, they could see Josh McCown (Jacksonville, Texas) on Dec. 9 against the Chicago Bears. If Matt Flynn (Tyler) ends up signing with the Packers, they could see him Dec. 15 against the Green Bay Packers.

They’ll also have rematches against Foles and Griffin.

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.

 

Last look back at Cowboys vs. Megatron

October, 30, 2013
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IRVING, Texas -- Brandon Carr has been hit with a lot of criticism for the afternoon Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson had mostly against the Dallas Cowboys cornerback.

Some of it comes with the territory, considering what the Cowboys paid him ($50.1 million) as a free agent last year.

But what about the plan the Cowboys used in the game? Where’s the criticism of that?

Jason Garrett was asked if the Cowboys asked too much of Carr against Johnson.

[+] EnlargeCalvin Johnson and Brandon Carr
Mike Carter/USA TODAY SportsThe Cowboys didn't give Brandon Carr much help defending Calvin Johnson, and the team paid for it.
“I don’t think so,” Garrett said. “We played a lot of different defense in the game yesterday. We tried to defend their whole offense. Certainly, Calvin Johnson is a big part of that offense. There were times Brandon Carr was covering him man to man. There were other times when we played zone defense where we rolled to him and tried to double him in some kind of fashion and that’s just what you try to do against a player like that. I thought he did a really good job of making plays when they were contested catches. Matthew (Stafford) threw the ball up a few times, and he went up and got it and made those plays down the field and they were big plays in the ball game. He’s an outstanding player and anybody who’s followed football for the last four or five years understands how good a player he is. We certainly understood that. But they have some other weapons on their team too and you have to try to defend their whole offense and we didn’t do a good enough job of that.”

Carr followed Johnson for most of the wide receiver’s 75 snaps. There were times Johnson lined up in the slot and the Cowboys did not move Carr there.

But after looking at the coaches’ film, the Cowboys did nothing special to slow down Johnson. They rolled a safety his way less than 10 times in the game, unless you want to count traditional over-the-top help as extra attention on Johnson. They played a lot of single-high safety to help slow Reggie Bush and that didn't help much. They played more zone than they did in the previous two games.Carr played more press coverage against Johnson than off, but the split was close to 50-50 in the second half. And even when he was lined up in press coverage, he played more bail technique than jamming him at the line of scrimmage.

As Johnson kept racking up catches and yards, there was no adjustment to take the receiver out of the game. They simply played their same coverages hoping it would work. Coaches across the league will tell you a defense can take away a receiver or tight end if they really want to. It’s more than just rolling a safety over that way. Look at what the Lions did to Jason Witten. He was bracketed and doubled and was held to two catches.

Sometimes you just tip your cap to a player like Johnson when he makes a catch like the 54-yarder and the Cowboys have the safety, Jeff Heath, in position to make a play and Johnson just takes it away. You can live with those, but the Cowboys did not make it overly difficult for Johnson to have the game he had.

It’s Wednesday and the Cowboys have moved on to Sunday’s foe, the Minnesota Vikings, but the coaches might owe Carr an apology.

Cowboys flunk situational football late

October, 29, 2013
10/29/13
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IRVING, Texas -- Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett has preaches the importance of situational football every day. The Cowboys did not do well in situations in the 31-30 loss to the Detroit Lions.

The Phillip Tanner run was chronicled on Monday evening. Garrett said Tanner should not have bounced the third-down run to the left, which forced a holding penalty on left tackle Tyron Smith.

But there were two other late-game situations where the Cowboys did not perform well.

On Matthew Stafford's game-winning leap, several defensive players did not come off the ball, believing Stafford was set for the spike. As a result, Stafford was able to reach the ball over the goal line.

“We have to handle that situation better and that goes to coaching, that goes to playing, everyone has to understand the possibility in that situation,” Garrett said. “Certainly I think there was an anticipation in some way, shape or form that they were going to spike the ball in that deal, but it’s not for us to decide that they’re going to do that. We have to decide to play football, get in stances, defend them if they want to run the ball. The quarterback sneak was one logical thing they could do there if they didn’t want to spike it. That’s just a great lesson for everybody and there’s a level of readiness you have to have. In some ways you think you’re ready for that kind of situation but you have to be down, you have to be ready and we weren’t and we have to do a better job of that in that situation.”

On the ensuing kickoff, linebacker Kyle Bosworth fielded the ball at the Cowboys 33 and ran out of bounds, running a handful of seconds off the clock.

“There are two things we should’ve done in that situation: simply run north and south and get down or simply get down immediately,” Garrett said. “What you don’t want to do is you don’t want to bounce and go to the sidelines and chew up that time. It probably would’ve been two or three seconds difference. Maybe that gives us another play. That’s how we could’ve handled that situation and we addressed that.”

Five Wonders: Cowboys just good, bad enough

October, 29, 2013
10/29/13
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IRVING, Texas – The World Series has had games end on an obstruction call and a pick off. The Dallas Cowboys have lost games in which they have scored 48 points and won the turnover battle, 4-0.

I wonder what else weird could happen.

At the midway point of the Cowboys’ season, it’s time for Five Wonders.
  • I wonder if this is just who the Cowboys are. They are good enough to beat the bad teams and just not good enough to beat the good teams. Since 2011, the Cowboys are 16-1 against teams that are below .500. Against teams .500 or above, they are 4-19. This year they are 4-0 against team below .500 (New York Giants, Washington Redskins, St. Louis Rams and Philadelphia Eagles) and 0-4 against the teams .500 or better (Denver Broncos, Detroit Lions, San Diego Chargers, Kansas City Chiefs). With rematches against their division foes and games against the Minnesota Vikings (1-6) on Sunday and Oakland Raiders (3-4), maybe, just maybe the Cowboys can get to nine wins and break this 8-8 train they have been on. They play three teams that are currently above .500 in the New Orleans Saints, Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears.
  • One of the signature plays from Sunday’s game against the Lions was Matthew Stafford throwing it up down the middle of the field to Calvin Johnson with the Cowboys in the perfectly drawn up defense with safety Jeff Heath in the middle of the field to take away the post throw. But Johnson was able to take the ball away from Heath and cornerback Brandon Carr for a 54-yard gain. I wonder why Tony Romo doesn’t take more chances with Dez Bryant. There’s risk involved and for all of the great things Stafford does, some of it isn’t sound. There is a time and place for everything. Bryant has shown the ability to take the ball away from defenders. It will be his ball or nobody else’s. Miles Austin has struggled with that type of play the last few years, so I can understand not taking those chances with him. But Bryant will play defensive back if he has to.
  • I wonder how much attention Sharrif Floyd will receive on Sunday. If you can rewind the clocks to last April, Floyd was the apple of many draftnik’s eyes and could not believe the Cowboys’ good fortune to see him there at No. 18 in the first round. The Cowboys had Floyd ranked on their draft board in the top five but when push came to shove Rod Marinelli just didn’t see enough pass rush to make Floyd worth it. If that was their reasoning, fine, but Floyd should not have been so high on the draft board. The Cowboys elected to trade down with San Francisco and eventually took Travis Frederick with the 31st overall pick. They also picked up an extra third-round pick in the deal and were able to select Terrance Williams. The process might have been flawed, but the results have been favorable so far. Frederick has been terrific and Williams has a touchdown catch in four straight games. Floyd has five tackles and 1.5 sacks for the Vikings.
  • I wonder where the screen game was against the Lions. The Cowboys used it effectively once with running back Joseph Randle picking up 13 yards. When you face a front four like the Lions, the easiest way to slow down the pass rush is to run the ball. The Cowboys didn’t run the ball well. The second way to slow it down is with some screens. They didn’t look to it enough against the Lions. They have not been a big screen team in years. Maybe it has something to do with their linemen in space. Frederick is more of a plodder. Brian Waters does not move as well as he did earlier in his career. Mackenzy Bernadeau replaced Waters and he is not great in space. Same with Ronald Leary. But when things are going poorly, the screen game could have bought Romo some precious half-ticks later in the game when he was looking to get the ball down the field.
  • I wonder if the Cowboys will make a practice-squad call up for the fourth straight week with cornerback Micah Pellerin. According to a source, Morris Claiborne could miss the next two games with a hamstring injury suffered against the Lions. The Cowboys only have three other corners on the 53-man roster in Brandon Carr, Orlando Scandrick and B.W. Webb. They can’t go into a game with only three, can they? Minnesota might be a run-first team, but it is not a run-only team. Pellerin has been on the practice squad since the season started. For those wondering why Sterling Moore would not get the call, the Cowboys view him as a slot player and not somebody who can fill in outside. Plus, he’s not been in football for two months. If they make the move, Pellerin gets the call.

Church: 'Helpless' feeling watching Lions

October, 28, 2013
10/28/13
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DETROIT -- All Barry Church could do was watch as the Cowboys blew a 10-point lead in the final six minutes.

Church
A strained right hamstring sidelined Church down the stretch of Sunday’s 31-30 loss to the Detroit Lions, leaving the Cowboys a couple of undrafted rookies as their safeties. The Lions ripped off a pair of 80-yard touchdown drives to steal the win and send the Cowboys home with a 4-4 record.

“It was one of the worst experiences,” said Church, who forced a fumble in the first half. “I was just feeling helpless as they drove down the field twice. It was a helpless feeling. I’ve got to get back there next week.”

Jeff Heath was already starting in place of third-round pick J.J. Wilcox, who suffered a sprained knee during Thursday’s practice. Jakar Hamilton, who was called up from the practice squad Saturday, had to step in when Church got hurt.

Hamilton was part of the coverage on the Lions’ two biggest plays on their last drive. He was a little late on Kris Durham’s 40-yard catch down the left sideline. Hamilton delivered a big hit on Calvin Johnson just after the ball arrived on a seam route, but Johnson held on for a 22-yard gain to set up Matthew Stafford’s game-winning quarterback sneak.

Could Church have made a difference? Maybe, but “Megatron” did a lot of damage with him in the game, too, including an 87-yard gain on a slant in which Church missed the tackle because he underestimated Johnson’s speed and took a bad angle.

“He’s a freak of nature,” Church said, “but we’ve got to play better.”

Top QBs shredding Cowboys' D

October, 28, 2013
10/28/13
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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.

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