Dallas Cowboys: Ndamukong Suh

Five plays that shaped first half

November, 8, 2011
ARLINGTON, Texas -- After every game, we seemingly always spend a couple of days talking about this play or that play and how it affected a Cowboys’ win or loss.

Well, the Cowboys are 4-4 at the midway point of the season and there have been more of a handful of plays that already have shaped their season.

The list only will get longer in the second half.

For now, though, the Cowboys are probably right where they deserve to be as we enter the second half of the season.

They should’ve beaten the New York Jets and Detroit, games they ultimately lost. And they should’ve lost to San Francisco and Washington, games they stole at the end.

ESPNDallas.com's Tim MacMahon joins Galloway & Company to hand out midseason grades for the Cowboys.

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That said, here’s a look at some of the plays that have played a role in the Cowboys’ season.

A couple were probably obvious to you, while a couple others may have surprised you.

They’re all important.

All you have to do is think how different the season would be, if these plays hadn’t occurred.

5. Rookie Leaves Mark

SCORE: 0-0, Tied
SITUATION: First-and-10 from the Dallas 9 with 9:47 left in the first quarter.
PLAY: DeMarco Murray finds a big hole in the middle of the line, makes a nifty move on the safety and sprints 91 yards down the left sideline for a touchdown. It’s the second-longest TD run in franchise history and propels him to a 253-yard day -- the most in franchise history.

4. Connection Burns Skins

OPPONENT: Washington
SCORE: 16-15, Washington
SITUATION: Third-and-21 from Dallas 30 with 2:20 left in the fourth quarter
PLAY: Tony Romo eludes pressure and finds Dez Bryant downfield for a 30-yard gain after a leaping catch and run by Bryant. The play gets an additional 15 yards because DeAngelo Hall grabs Bryant’s facemask as he tackles him, moving the ball to the Washington 25 and setting up Dan Bailey’s game-winning field goal.

3. Romo's Pick Tips Scales

SCORE: 30-27, Dallas
SITUATION: First-and-10 from Dallas 20 with 4:22 left in the fourth quarter
PLAY: Tony Romo, pressured by Ndamukong Suh, heaved a pass off his back foot to Jason Witten, who was 25 yard downfield. Stephen Tulloch tipped the underthrown pass in the air before intercepting it.

2. Bailey To The Rescue

OPPONENT: San Francisco
SCORE: 24-24, Tied
SITUATION: Fourth-and-four from San Francisco 30 with :04 left in the fourth quarter
PLAY: Bailey missed a 21-yard attempt earlier in the game. The Cowboys didn’t call on him again until the final play of regulation, when they needed him to convert 48-yard with Candlestick Park’s tricky winds to send the game into overtime. He delivered, then sunk the 49ers in overtime as the Cowboys avoided an 0-2 start.

1. Opening Stumble

OPPONENT: New York Jets
SCORE: 24-17, Dallas
SITUATION: Third-and-2 from NY Jets 2 with 9:12 left in the fourth quarter
PLAY: A touchdown probably clinches the game, and a field goal makes it difficult for the Jets to win. The only thing Romo can’t do is turn the ball over. After not finding a receiver, Romo scrambled and tried to dive into the end zone. Romo tried to cover the ball up, but it was poked free and the Jets recovered.

Scout's Eye: Cowboys-Patriots preview

October, 14, 2011

If you believe in fate and are a fan of the Dallas Cowboys, here is something that maybe you can hang your hat on. The last time defensive coordinator Rob Ryan had a week off to prepare for Tom Brady and the New England Patriots, his Cleveland Browns walked away with an impressive 34-14 victory in 2010.

Scout's Eye
Cowboys defense vs. Patriots offense

Ryan's defense has played outstanding through the first four weeks of the season, but the task ahead is different from any of those that you generally face during an NFL season. When you play an elite quarterback such as Tom Brady, the amount of pressure he puts on you is greater than when you face Mark Sanchez, Alex Smith or even Matthew Stafford.

Mistakes in assignments are magnified when you play against Brady because of his ability to read defensive schemes and take advantage of the situation by adjusting his protection and moving his personnel to attack the void. In the NFL, it's all about the matchups, how you create them and then take advantage of the ones in your favor.

The Patriots take advantage of match-ups better than any other team in the league. When you study the Patriots, it's about "scheme fits." It's not only about a player like Wes Welker. You also have to be wary of tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, and running backs BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead as well.

The Patriots create match-up problems for a defense because there is so much flexibility where their skill players can line up in the formation. Rarely do you see the Patriots use the same formation early in the game, because this exposes your game plan defensively. Once Brady has an idea of how you are going to defend the offense, then he goes to work.

Patriots WR Wes Welker vs. Cowboys secondary

It's interesting to watch the Patriots on offense because they no longer have a straight vertical threat like Randy Moss. Instead they use Welker, Gronkowski and Hernandez all over the field. Welker is a crafty route-runner, but maybe his greatest strength is his ability to read coverages and react to what the defense is doing to him. When Welker's on the move, you can see his eyes looking at the secondary and plotting where he will take his route.

Brady has a tremendous understanding of where Welker is going to be in his route to deal with the coverage. With the Patriots, you will see several routes down the field that are crossing routes. The Patriots like to take routes through zone coverage, running to open spaces -- which is effective against teams that like to play Cover 2.

Last week, the Jets were able to match Darrelle Revis against Welker, who really struggled to generate any type of separation or space. Revis was physical off the line but, more importantly, he was able to carry Welker all over the field. The Cowboys will get an important piece of their secondary back this week when cornerback Orlando Scandrick returns from a high ankle sprain.

I have always viewed Scandrick as one of the Cowboys' best cover men. To play slot corner, you have to play with a great deal of quickness but, more importantly, you have to have the understanding of what types of routes that the man you are covering might run. Scandrick will have to be prepared to play a ton of snaps, so his conditioning will be tested. In what we have been allowed to see during practices, he looked explosive and confident that the ankle sprain is behind him.

Patriots tight ends are more like WRs

Earlier I mentioned that you have to be wary of Patriots tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, and there was a reason for this. Neither one of these guys plays like a true tight end. Rather, they're more like 255-pound wide receivers that can get down the field. Both Gronkowski and Hernandez are vertical players that run well, but their most impressive trait is their ability to catch the ball.

The Cowboys have done a nice job against some outstanding tight ends this season, but Gronkowski and Hernandez present a different challenge because you see them down the field in combination routes with the receivers. Brady might look to Welker first, but I've seen him throw to Gronkowski and Hernandez in coverage and still they managed to come up with the ball.

Achilles' heel of Patriots offense: RT Nate Solder

If you are looking for a weakness on the Patriots offense, it is rookie right tackle Nate Solder, who has had to start because Sebastian Vollmar has been dealing with a back injury. Solder looks very similar to what I had seen on college tape before the draft. He's not very strong and, for someone that is a good foot athlete, he struggles with rushers off the edge.

Two weeks ago, the Cowboys didn’t take advantage of the Detroit Lions' poor pass blockers. The Patriots' O-line is much better on both run and pass, but it will struggle at times when teams run games on them with movement in the passing game. If Rob Ryan is going to get pressure on Brady, this will most likely be the route that he tries to go.

Cowboys offense vs. Patriots defense

When you study the Patriots on defense, the one area that jumps out at you is how much space their secondary gives up in routes. I didn't see the tightness in the coverage that I have seen with other defenses that the Cowboys have faced so far this season.

Earlier in the season, the Patriots played a great deal of man coverage but with little success. Now you see them playing much more zone. Another area where the Patriots have struggled is their inability to rush the passer. New England doesn't have that dynamic pressure player coming off the edge. Defensive ends Andre Carter and Shaun Ellis are veterans, but they don’t rush the passer like a Brian Orakpo or Kyle Vanden Bosch.

Patriots' defensive force: Vince Wilfork

The strength of this Patriots defense is up the middle with defensive tackle Vince Wilfork, who is one of the more dominate players in this league. For a man his size, Wilfork moves very well. He is not one of those tackles that sits in a spot and just anchors down. He is very active -- not only in his pass rush, but also his ability to play the run right at him or working down the line. Kyle Kosier, Phil Costa and Bill Nagy had to deal with the inside power and the push that the Lions' Ndamukong Suh and Corey Williams were able to get. To the credit of the Cowboys' inside three, however, they were able to hold up the majority of the time. Wilfork has power, but he has pass rush technique.

Breaking down the Patriots' defense

On the other side, Albert Haynesworth will see action. But also be aware of second-year player Kyle Love, who is a much lighter and more mobile player. When the Patriots' defensive line tries to get pressure, it’s usually by using twist stunts. They will also use blitzes from the secondary -- twice using a slot blitz vs. the Jets and a straight corner blitz against the Raiders.

Linebackers Jarod Mayo and Brandon Spikes are very active. Both really try to play downhill and attack the ball. They like to give you a tight look with one of the linebackers at the line, drop him, then fire the one from the other side. Where this group had some trouble was when the Jets went with an empty formation and it caused some confusion.

Also watch passing plays on the outside against this defense. The Buffalo Bills were able to work their screen packages but were also able to make plays in the flat with their running backs catching the ball against these linebackers.

Another potential target spot: Patriots safety

Another potential weakness for the Patriots is at safety. Starter Josh Barrett has been banged up, as has Patrick Chung. The Patriots have been trying to make do with Sergio Brown, who tends to misplay the ball in flight and is a poor tackler. James Ihedigbo is a better player when he can react to the ball in front of him. It will be interesting to see if the Cowboys can take advantage of this defense.

NFC East Stock Watch

October, 4, 2011
NFC Stock Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South


1. The Philadelphia Eagles' playoff chances. Three straight weeks, three straight blown fourth-quarter leads, and none worse than Sunday's giveaway to the 49ers that dropped the Eagles to 1-3. Now come the major injuries, specifically to Trent Cole and Jason Peters. Playing without their best defensive lineman and their best offensive lineman for the next couple of weeks could be the thing that does in the Eagles for good. I don't see how their run defense can hope to stop Buffalo's Fred Jackson this week, and without Cole, defenses can key on Jason Babin and keep the pressure off Ryan Fitzpatrick. The Eagles will have to hope to win a shootout in Buffalo, and the following week in Washington, I don't see how they keep Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan off of Michael Vick. Philadelphia is looking at the very strong possibility of being 1-5 at the bye, and that would mean its season is over.

2. Tony Romo, again. He's apparently got to be on one half of this list or the other every week, and after he threw three second-half interceptions to cost the Dallas Cowboys their game against the Lions, he's back on the fans' bad side. People have asked me if the Cowboys should get a new quarterback, and I say, "Yeah. They should get the guy who played for them in Weeks 2 and 3." The "Romo Coaster" hit a dip this week, but it's sure to be back up (and back down) again several times before the end of this season.

3. Rex Grossman. As the Washington Redskins embark on their bye week, there is understandable concern about their quarterback situation. Grossman seems determined to throw interceptions that keep games closer than they should be -- even when he's given very limited opportunity to do so. The Redskins are a run-first team that looks as though it would be a run-only team if it could be. Grossman is likely to cost them a game at some point, and when he does, don't be surprised to see John Beck get some time at the position.


[+] EnlargeVictor Cruz
AP Photo/Paul ConnorsVictor Cruz followed up his breakout performance against the Eagles with six catches for 98 yards against the Cardinals.
1. Victor Cruz. He was an official's rule interpretation away from serious goat status Sunday in Arizona, but the call went his way. And while his two-touchdown effort the week before in Philadelphia was his coming-out party, Sunday may have been even more significant. Eli Manning looked his way more, and he caught six passes for 98 yards. Manning has been looking for a receiver he can trust other than Hakeem Nicks, and he seems to like what he sees in Cruz. If that continues, and Cruz develops as a reliable threat, the New York Giants may have found their answer to Manning's preseason concern about the changes to the receiving corps.

2. Ryan Torain. Kept stuck to the bench for the season's first three weeks while Tim Hightower and Roy Helu carried the ball for the Redskins, Torain broke out for 135 rush yards on 19 carries in relief of an injured Hightower on Sunday. Torain's injury history and Mike Shanahan's well-known preference for shuffling running backs keeps you from projecting Torain as a breakout star the rest of the way. But after the way he ran Sunday, it's going to be hard to send him back to the bench.

3. Tyron Smith. Usually the risers come from winning teams, and Smith did up the sack to Willie Young that killed the Cowboys' final drive. But he'd played a brilliant game to that point, and the way the Cowboys' rookie right tackle has played so far this year deserves a mention. A question mark coming into the season, Smith has handled every one of his assignments with a veteran's skill. He kept the Redskins' pass rush in check in Week 3, and until the very end, he performed admirably Sunday against Ndamukong Suh and the Lions' fearsome defensive line. Don't be surprised if Smith and left tackle Doug Free end up trading places on that line before long. Smith clearly has all the ability he needs to be a top tackle in the league.

Cowboys' running game was effective

October, 3, 2011
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Lost amid the dreadful second-half collapse Sunday against Detroit was an effective job by the Cowboys’ offensive line in pass protection as well as in the running game.

Tony Romo was sacked only once by the Lions, and the Cowboys ran for 113 yards on 27 carries. Felix Jones had 57 yards on 16 carries. Tashard Choice added a season-high 39 yards on six carries.

While the fourth-and-goal blocking on the second series of the game was disappointing, the overall work was decent, especially when considering the praise that was lavished on Detroit’s defensive line, led by Ndamukong Suh, prior to the game. The Cowboys had particular success in their three-tight end package with Jason Witten, Martellus Bennett and John Phillips, who lined up most of the time at fullback.

It was the second straight game with more than 100 yards rushing after rushing for 109 combined in the first two contests. The Cowboys closed 2010 with eight straight 100-yard rushing games as a team last year.

“I thought we ran the ball pretty well in the second half, or we tried to run it,” Garrett said. “We did have the first drive coming out [in the second half] where I thought we had a pretty good mix. Then as we went forward I thought we ran the ball OK from some of those three-tight end sets we were using. The biggest thing is that we didn’t convert on third downs as much.”

Opposing voice: Jim Schwartz

October, 1, 2011
IRVING, Texas -- Jim Schwartz inherited a winless team when he took over Detroit in 2009 and has slowly turned the Lions into one of the NFL’s best stories in this young season.

The Lions are 3-0 for the first time since 1980 and have explosive players on both sides of the ball (Matthew Stafford, Calvin Johnson, Ndamukong Suh). The Lions are fourth in scoring (101) and third in points allowed (46).

But with this start comes expectations.

“I don’t think we need to reel anybody in,” Schwartz said. “We haven’t played our best football. I think everybody on our team knows that. We are happy to get off to a good start but we still have a lot of improvements to make as a team, and there is nobody that’s satisfied where we are right now.”

But the start has rekindled a city’s love for football.

“It’s important to the city,” Schwartz said. “This is a great sports town. Right now the Tigers are doing very, very well. We’ve gotten off to a good start. This is not just a great sports town, it’s a great football town. And they’ve been lying dormant for a little while because we haven’t given them a whole lot to cheer about and get behind. But they’re behind us. They were behind us last year. We’d gone a long time not drawing big crowds. We sold out seven of eight games last year. Even though we weren’t winning people were, I think, liking what they saw with the team and knew what direction we were headed in. The way we finished last year we won our last four probably had a little bit to do with some of the fans’ momentum.

"I’m not a big believer that you’re team momentum carries over from one year to the next, but it certainly meant a lot to our fans. We played a preseason game, sold out, national TV, against the Patriots and the fans were there. It felt like a regular season game. Our first game against Kansas City at home, it was a noticeable buzz in the air as you were driving to the stadium. We need our fans. This is a great football town. We just need to keep giving them something to cheer about, a team that they can get behind.”

Scout's Eye: Lions-Cowboys key matchup

October, 1, 2011
Cowboys OG Kyle Kosier vs. Lions DT Ndamukong Suh: I have this listed as a matchup of Kosier against Suh, but it really could become a matchup of Suh against Kosier and center Phil Costa.

Suh can be a dominant player inside. The traits that make him so impressive are his ability to get pressure and push inside with sheer power and strength. When you study Suh, you always see him attacking the blocker with a wide variety of moves. He is relentless in his effort and pursuit. He plays with quickness with his hands and feet. There is explosiveness to his game.

The Cowboys have to be careful if the scheme or the situation requires that Costa has to help Kosier with Suh, and that leaves left guard Bill Nagy one-on-one with Corey Williams or Sammie Hill. When Nagy struggles, it is with bigger players. Both Williams and Hill go 320-plus pounds and can get inside push.

In the running game, look for the Cowboys to try to down- or angle-block Suh, working to his outside. The Vikings had success some success against Suh when they didn’t try to block him straight up in the running game and allowed him to run up the field.

The plan for the Lions will be simple: use their four man line, get push in the middle with Suh and close the edges with Kyle Vanden Bosch and Cliff Avril, giving Tony Romo no room to operate. The Cowboys could counter by doubling Suh when they can to control, while but making sure Nagy doesn’t have to fight Williams and Hill one-on-one for many snaps.

Cowboys CBs Terence Newman and Mike Jenkins vs. Lions WR Calvin Johnson: This matchup appears better for the Cowboys with Newman in the lineup than it would have two weeks ago with Alan Ball potentially making a start. Newman and Jenkins will have an all-day fight on their hands with one of the most physical and dynamic receivers in the game.

What makes Johnson so difficult is his outstanding hands and his ability to use his body to go get the football. He has legitimate speed down the field and can eat up a corner’s cushion quickly. He is the type of player that is on you right now. You feel him when he runs his routes. He attacks the ball whether it’s in the open field or in the red zone.

He has a quarterback in Matthew Stafford that is not afraid to throw it to him on any point in the drive. Johnson is most dangerous when he is able to get separation because he can cover some serious ground when he catches the ball on the move.

Both Jenkins and Newman have the speed to run with Johnson, and I like Jenkins’ more physical style to match up better than Newman when fighting for the ball in the air. Stafford is an accurate quarterback, but Newman and Jenkins need to make those throwing windows as tight as possible and not allow Johnson to take this game over.

Cowboys OLB DeMarcus Ware vs. Lions OTs Jeff Backus and Gosder Cherilus: Rob Ryan has done an outstanding job of taking his pressure players and putting them in a situation where they can take advantage of weaker opponents. This week, the Cowboys face an offensive line that has issues.

At tackle, Backus and Cherilus aren’t good enough to block Ware -- or Anthony Spencer, for that matter. I don’t see the Lions being able to run the ball against the Cowboys, but they can make plays in the passing game. The key will be how much pressure Ware and Spencer can get on Stafford.

Look for Ryan to really try to attack the pocket and force this Lions’ offensive line to have to pick up blitzes. Ryan will have to try to get rushers home before the ball gets out of Stafford’s hand. Ware can cause problems over Backus, who can’t bend and adjust, much-like the broken-down version of Marc Colombo we watched all last season. Ware is just too athletic for Backus, and if the Lions do not try and help him, the left tackle could be in for a long day.

If the Lions do help Backus, look for Ryan to continue to move Ware around until he finds the matchup he likes. If not over Backus, then Cherilus is an option, too.

Scout's Eye: Lions-Cowboys preview

September, 30, 2011

After gutting out a difficult victory over the Redskins, the Cowboys face a new challenge of a short week to prepare to play one of the league’s most talented teams in the Detroit Lions.

Scout's Eye
The Lions will present problems on both sides of the ball. If you follow the NFL, we all know the names of Calvin Johnson, Ndamukong Suh and Matthew Stafford, who have helped this team to get off to a fast start. But there is more to it than just those three players.

Detroit defense

The Lions play a true 4-3 front, which will be the first time this season that the Cowboys faced this kind of look. Suh will mainly line up over right guard Kyle Kosier and will work across from Tyron Smith when the Lions go to a three-man line.

There will be times where Suh will move to the right side, but usually that spot is manned by Corey Williams or Sammie Hill. The problem for the Cowboys in that look is that Bill Nagy, who struggles with power players now, has to deal with two players that go 320-plus pounds. Nagy’s primary weakness is his technique against the down linemen that have size and power.

Kosier will have another set of problems in dealing with Suh, who plays with power and quickness. Suh has outstanding technique as a pass rusher with a wide variety of moves. Kosier has had to deal with power players before in his career, but the way that Suh uses swims, slaps and rips makes him hard to handle because he is playing with this technique as he is working his way to the quarterback.

Most teams like to sub their two down players inside, but the Lions keep their big bodies in the game and will push the front of the pocket then squeeze from the outside with Kyle Vanden Bosch and Cliff Avril.

The last two weeks Doug Free hasn’t played some of his better football. I have talked before that I felt that it was more technique problems than any other area. When Free gets in trouble, it’s when he is playing over the top of his left foot and he gets overextended. When Free gets overextended, his feet stop and rushers are able to get pressure.

In the Redskins game, it looked like Free was worried about Brian Orakpo taking him on the inside rush. This week, Free will line up over Vanden Bosch, who plays in a wide 9 technique and doesn’t quit on a play. He is relentless, run or pass.

Free will need to beware of not finishing his blocks against Vanden Bosch, because there will be times where Vanden Bosch looks like he is out of the play but will fight his way back into the picture. Vanden Bosch likes to fight wide and slap the tackles hands down, then work for the corner. Vanden Bosch, like Suh, is able to do this without slowing down or stopping his rush.

Tony Romo spoke of his receivers having to find a way to win on routes. Guys like Miles Austin and Jason Witten can win, but it is a little tougher is guys like Dez Bryant and Kevin Ogletree. They will match up against corners Chris Houston and Aaron Berry, who like to play press man and be physical at the line of scrimmage.

The Lions played more man coverage against the Bucs than they did against the Vikings. I believe that they will line up and force these Cowboys receivers to beat them off the line. If Romo has to hold the ball against this Lions defense, it will be a struggle for his line. This group can get four-man pressure and it’s more intense than what they faced against the 49ers and Redskins.

Where the Vikings and Bucs had some success was running receivers down the field on vertical routes when the Lions did play zone. There also were two nice opportunities for tight ends to make plays against Cover 2 working between the safeties down the field.

The game plan for Garrett against the Lions running the football will be similar to what he had against Washington. He will need to take advantage of how aggressive this front seven will be.

The Vikings had success running the ball against the Lions by getting the ball on the edge but using down or angle blocks to handle the power and quickness of the Lions. Look for the Cowboys to try to shield the Lions from the ball more than trying go toe to toe with them. The Vikings were able to make plays on the edge with Adrian Peterson by taking advantage of the way that the Lions chase the ball.

Detroit offense

The challenge for Rob Ryan and his defensive staff in this game will be trying to dial up pressure against Matthew Stafford when he gets in the shotgun. The Lions have had their share of blocking problems, but the answer for those issues has been Stafford’s ability to get rid of the football quickly.

Stafford has major weapons with Calvin Johnson and Brandon Pettigrew, and the Lions also have a nice screen package with running back Jahvid Best, who catches the ball well out of the backfield.

Stafford is an impressive quarterback to study because he never looks like he doesn’t know where to go with the ball. He is mobile to a point and can buy time with his ability to move. The trait that is the most impressive about Stafford is his ability to be an accurate passer. Rarely do you see his receivers have to work for the ball. Has touch with the ability to lead his receivers down the field.

Stafford has a real understanding of the strengths of his skill players. Can make all the throws and puts the ball in position that they can go get it.

If there is a knock on Stafford, it has been his ability to stay healthy. When he does not play, the Lions are a very ordinary team on offense even with all the talented players.

If the Cowboys are going to win this game, it won’t be about stopping the run but more how they will be able to limit the number of big plays that the Lions can make. Johnson will make his share of plays because he always does no matter how outstanding the coverage is. Stafford knows that he can throw the ball down the field and Johnson will find a way to go get it. If Johnson gets separation, he is going to make the play.

Last week, Terence Newman and Mike Jenkins played well against the Redskins. They will need a similar effort against Johnson and Nate Burleson.

Safeties Gerald Sensabaugh and Abram Elam will also be a factor in this game, not only because of their responsibilities of helping carry Johnson deep in coverage, but also having to deal with tight end Pettigrew. This is the fourth game where this defense has had to deal with an athletic tight end that can get down the field. Fred Davis and Chris Cooley did not kill the Cowboys last week.

The Cowboys have to be careful is putting so much attention to Johnson and allowing Pettigrew or even Burleson to make plays.

If the Lions have a real weakness, it is with this offensive line. Despite their 3-0 record, the Lions have issues at offensive tackle. Longtime veteran left tackle Jeff Backus is on his last legs as a pass protector and a run blocker. There is nothing that he really does well anymore. It’s not as bad as watching Marc Colombo playing last season, but there are some similar traits that you are now seeing.

At right tackle, Gosder Cherilus was replaced in the Minnesota game by Corey Hilliard because he couldn’t even get out of his stance to handle the edge. Cherlius once again will be in the starting lineup and it is a road game for the Lions, so keep an eye on him to see if he struggles again.

Through the first three weeks of the season, Ryan has done a nice job with his scheme, in finding those offensive players that will struggle against his pressure players. Look for Ryan to continue to move DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer around to attempt to make Stafford uncomfortable in the pocket.

Suh a big challenge for the Cowboys

September, 29, 2011
IRVING --Shotgun snaps aside, the Cowboys have a major challenge Sunday afternoon in taking on the Detroit Lions.

The Lions front four is probably the best unit the Cowboys have faced this season. It's led by defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh and aided by defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch.

Suh, the second overall pick of the 2010 NFL draft, led all rookies last year with 10 sacks and 66 tackles.

"He finishes his plays that's a big reason why he's so successful," guard Bill Nagy said. "When you turn on the tape, athletic powerful all that stuff a good challenge for our offensive line for sure."

The Cowboys are used to double-teaming defensive tackles and nose guards, because it's what you do in the NFL. But the Lions have been very good up front. The Lions have allowed just one rushing touchdown this season and held Minnesota's Adrian Peterson to just eight rushing yards in the second half of last week's overtime victory.

"I'm sure they're certain things were going to do," Nagy said of how the Cowboys might defend Suh. "How many guys are on him? He's a good player."

Derrick Dockery not returning soon

September, 28, 2011
IRVING, Texas -- The Cowboys' signing of Derrick Dockery six days before the season opener was designed for games like Sunday’s against Detroit.

The Cowboys wanted to add bulk and height on the interior, which is why they cut Montrae Holland. Dockery weighs 325 pounds and is 6-6.

But a knee injury will keep Dockery out for at least another three weeks, according to a source. He suffered a tibial plateau fracture in his first start at San Francisco. With Dockery out, rookie Bill Nagy (6-3, 303) will start his third game and have to prepare for Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, perhaps the most powerful defensive tackle in the NFL.

And it won’t get easier for the interior linemen after the Oct. 9 bye either with a trip to New England and Vince Wilfork and (possibly) Albert Haynesworth at defensive tackle.

5 Wonders: Garrett's future, Dockery's size

September, 6, 2011
IRVING, Texas -- With the regular season set to open this week, here are five things that have me wondering:

**Much was made of Sean Payton’s move to Westlake as a sign that he will one day be the Cowboys’ head coach. Payton and Jerry Jones have a close relationship, but Payton re-upped with the Saints through 2015 and that should put any of those rumors to bed … for now. Honestly, I think Jones wants Jason Garrett to be his Tom Landry. Not that Garrett will have a 30-year run as the coach, but certainly longer than the 3.6 years Jones’ previous six coaches have had as an average tenure.

** Could the decision to add Derrick Dockery have something to do with his size and who the Cowboys will be playing this year? Dockery is 6-6, 325 pounds and has 111 career starts. Bill Nagy is a seventh-round pick and weighs 299 pounds. In Week 4 the Cowboys will see Detroit’s Ndamukong Suh. In Week 6 they will see Albert Haynesworth and Vince Wilfork. Philadelphia added Cullen Jenkins to its interior. Buffalo has Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams.

** Leon Lett is sticking around the Cowboys for the season. He originally joined the club as part of the team’s minority internship program, but the ex-Cowboy has decided he will not return Louisiana-Monroe as an assistant. Lett does not have an official title but he will continue to work with Brian Baker and the defensive line.

** There are interesting stickers on some players’ lockers inside the Cowboys’ Valley Ranch facility. Players with Pro Bowl experience have logos from the corresponding years near their nameplates, while players who earned game balls last year have football cutouts stuck to their locker. Having made the last seven Pro Bowls they are running out of room on Jason Witten’s locker.

** The Cowboys cut Nick Folk in 2009 after the kicker lost his confidence and form that year in part because of hip surgery. He missed 10 field goals before he was cut but the Cowboys should have put him on injured reserve. Maybe it would have needed some creativity to do so, but Folk put together two of the best seasons a Cowboy kicker has had in 2007-08. They could have given him time to get right for 2010 and competed with David Buehler. He did not set the world on fire with the Jets last year and was not a lock to last the year but it would be a kick in the gut if he were to make a game-tying or winning field goal on Sunday.

Marion Barber's hair is free flowing

November, 23, 2010
IRVING --Early in the fourth quarter of the Cowboys-Lions game on Sunday, running back Marion Barber's long dreadlocks that stretch beyond the helmet, were yanked by defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh.

NFL rules state a player can pull another player's hair in the process of tackling such player. When Suh grabbed Barber's hair, the officials called a horse collar penalty on the play.

Barber said it was the first time in his career that a player pulled his dreadlocks.

In the last two days of practice, Barber covered up his dreadlocks. On Tuesday, he tied them up into a pony tail and had it tucked into his jersey.

Barber said he won't cover them up for Thursday's game vs. the New Orleans Saints.

Interim coach Jason Garrett sees no problem with his starting running back's hair.

"I'm fine with that," Garrett said of the hair. "I'm fine with his hair being out. It seems to be a trend in the league."

Several players, including Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu, have long hair that comes out of the bottom of the helmet whether the hair style is long braids, dreadlocks or it's just long like the way Green Bay Packers linebacker Clay Matthews wears his.

Former Cowboys linebacker Bobby Carpenter, who is now with the Detroit Lions, had long hair that came out of the helmet.