Dallas Cowboys: New Orleans Saints

Anthony Spencer returns from knee surgery

September, 29, 2014
Sep 29
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Anthony Spencer was never a forgotten man for the Dallas Cowboys, he was just somebody the team had patience for.

Spencer made his season debut on Sunday night and played 22 snaps, getting three tackles and one quarterback hurry in the 38-17 victory over the Saints.

Spencer's return to the field follows microfracture surgery on his knee. Few players return from such a surgery in the NFL, especially a pass-rusher such as Spencer.

"It feels good," he said. "It's what I've been waiting for, I've been working toward this for the last year or so. It's all the hard work paying off and now I got to start working hard on being a football player again."

Given the Cowboys' lack of pass rush from its defensive front, adding a player like Spencer can only help. He was a 2007 first-round pick, drafted to play outside linebacker in a 3-4 but when the Cowboys converted to a 4-3 two years ago, he was asked to move to defensive end.

But knee troubles slowed his progress in the last year and after playing in a Week 3 game at Kansas City, he was shut down.

Spencer didn't want the microfractue surgery because he was entering his free-agent year but he had no choice. The Cowboys gambled on him and signed him to a one-year deal with the hope he would add something to the defense.

He returned to the field on Sunday, played defensive end and took on right tackle Zach Strief on the first snap, one-on-one.

"Every game you have some kind of nerves but you still go out there and play," Spencer said. "I wasn't afraid, I knew my knee was going to hold up and I knew the things I've been doing have been working. I feel confident in how the surgery went and how it feels. I don't feel worried about that."

Sources: Cowboys' deal with Herring off

March, 14, 2014
Mar 14
IRVING, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys will not be signing linebacker Will Herring, according to sources.

Herring had agreed to a one-year deal Thursday, but both sides agreed to walk away, which keeps Herring as a free agent. Because Herring never signed the deal, the team never made an announcement. A source said it was not related to a failed physical.

UPDATE: Herring’s agent, George Mavrikes said he is angry with the Cowboys, saying they reneged on the deal.

“He passed the physical but they think he may be an injury risk,” Mavrikes said via e-mail. “He is healthier than 90% of the league. He hasn't missed a game or a practice the last two years and maybe missed five or so games in seven years, four because of a hamstring in his rookie year. They need solid players like him. Fairly priced, never an issue off the field, can play (outside linebacker), was special teams captain, plays great against the pass and most of all, doesn't get hurt, which is why they said they want out of the deal they agreed to. It's crazy and makes no sense.”

Herring was viewed as a special teams player and backup linebacker for the Cowboys. He spent the last three seasons with the New Orleans Saints, playing mostly special teams and backup linebacker, and was the special teams captain in 2013.

In his three years with the Saints he started three games and had 35 tackles, two interceptions and forced one fumble. He joined the Saints after a four-year run with the Seattle Seahawks. He had three tackles on defense and two on special teams in New Orleans' win against the Cowboys last season.

Sources: Cowboys reach deal with Herring

March, 13, 2014
Mar 13
IRVING, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys have reached an agreement with linebacker Will Herring on a one-year deal, according to sources.

Herring spent the last three seasons with the New Orleans Saints, playing mostly special teams and backup linebacker. He was the Saints' special teams captain in 2013.

In his three years with the Saints, Herring started three games and had 35 tackles, two interceptions and forced one fumble. He joined the Saints after a four-year run with the Seattle Seahawks. He had three tackles on defense and two on special teams in New Orleans' win against the Cowboys last season.

Herring is the third player the Cowboys have signed in free agency, joining Jeremy Mincey and Terrell McClain.

Running game to blame for Romo's record?

August, 23, 2013
Put in the historical context of Cowboys’ championship teams, Roger Staubach’s point about Tony Romo needing a better running game is right on.

Fact: The Cowboys have never won a Super Bowl without a top-five rushing offense.

Ed Werder joins Fitzsimmons and Durrett for his weekly visit to give his thoughts on the Sean Lee extension, discuss who Jerry Jones should sign to an extension next and take a look at the other three teams in the NFC East.

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Staubach and Troy Aikman had the luxury of working behind dominant offensive lines and sharing the backfield with fellow Hall of Famers in Tony Dorsett and Emmitt Smith. (The Cowboys didn’t have a Hall of Fame running back on their first title team, but Duane Thomas, Calvin Hill and Walt Garrison formed a heck of a committee.)

Here’s a quick look at the Dallas running game’s NFL rankings during the Cowboys’ championship seasons:

1971 – 3rd
1977 – 4th
1992 – 5th
1993 – 2nd
1995 – 2nd

By contrast, Romo has never quarterbacked a team with a top-five rushing offense. The only time the Cowboys ranked among the top 10 rushing offenses during his tenure as a starter just so happens to be the lone season in which the franchise won a playoff game over the last 16 seasons.

The Cowboys’ rushing ranks in the Romo era:

2006 – 13th
2007 – 17th
2008 – 21st
2009 – 7th
2010 – 16th
2011 – 18th
2012 – 31st

So Romo has only had a running game good enough to contend for the Super Bowl once, right? Not so fast. The Cowboys’ rushing offense has ranked higher than the Super Bowl champions’ four times during Romo’s tenure. The Giants won the Super Bowl two seasons ago despite ranking dead last in the league in rushing.

The Super Bowl winners’ rushing offense rank over the last seven seasons:

2006 Indianapolis Colts – 18th
2007 New York Giants – 4th
2008 Pittsburgh Steelers – 23rd
2009 New Orleans Saints – 6th
2010 Green Bay Packers – 24th
2011 New York Giants – 32nd
2012 Baltimore Ravens – 11th

The game has changed since the Cowboys’ glory years. It certainly helps to have a good running game, but it’s far from a prerequisite for winning a Super Bowl.

Now, more than ever, the NFL is a quarterback’s league. The lack of a quality running game might be a reason (or an excuse) for Romo’s lack of playoff success, but his peers have found a way to overcome the same problem in recent years.
IRVING, Texas -- Newly signed defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove missed the 2012 season because of his role in Bountygate.

While Hargrove's status with the NFL is settled, he still has a pending injury lawsuit against the NFL. According to Pro Football Talk, the lawsuit, filed in a New York federal court, says Hargrove suffered "from permanent injuries, including, but not limited to, severe headaches, memory loss, depression, isolation, mental anguish and diminished self-esteem" from playing football.

There were rumblings that Hargrove wouldn't get signed by a NFL team because of the lawsuit.

"Can't comment on that," he said. "It is what it is. I'm here to play ball and I'm going to try and do my best and not let anything outside of that hinder me getting on this field and playing."

Cowboys coach Jason Garrett didn't have a problem signing Hargrove, citing his ability to play all three defensive line spots.

Hargrove didn't work out during the first day of organized team activities Tuesday because the goal is to get him in condition first. But Hargrove is confident he'll make some plays for defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin once he returns to the field.

"I think very highly of him," Hargrove said. "They play a style of defense that I was born into in this National Football League, so I’m excited to be a part of it. He doesn’t want us to think too much, just play fast, and that works best for me."

Cowboys' schedule being released today

April, 18, 2013
Finally, after a delay and weeks of wondering, the NFL schedule will be released at 7 p.m. CT today.

Here's a primer for the Cowboys:

Who they play: The home games are against the New York Giants, Philadelphia Eagles, Washington Redskins, Green Bay Packers, Minnesota Vikings, St. Louis Rams, Denver Broncos and Oakland Raiders. The road games are against the NFC East and Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions, New Orleans Saints, Kansas City Chiefs and San Diego Chargers.

Reunion games: The Cowboys will face former defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, now in New Orleans. Defensive line coach Rod Marinelli takes on the Lions, whom he was the head coach for from 2006-08, at Ford Field and the Bears, where he was an assistant/defensive coordinator the last three seasons, at Soldier Field. Of course, Tony Romo faces his favorite team growing up, the Packers.

The strength of schedule: Cowboys' opponents had a .475 winning percentage last season. There are four teams on the schedule -- Washington, Green Bay, Minnesota and Denver -- who reached the postseason last year.

Who plays on Thanksgiving? The Cowboys have alternated NFC-AFC opponents on Thanksgiving Day, with the Redskins (NFC team) visiting Cowboys Stadium last season. Possible opponents this season could be Denver and Oakland. The Cowboys faced the Raiders on Thanksgiving in 2009, so the Broncos appear the favorite for 2013.

Late season schedule: The Cowboys posted a 3-2 mark in December last season and it still wasn't good enough to reach the postseason. The Cowboys were a combined 5-7 from 2009-11 in December. A late-season road game in New Orleans or Chicago could have playoff implications, if that's what the schedule reads.

Victor Butler drawing interest

March, 21, 2013
Former NFL wide receiver Tim Brown joins Fitzsimmons & Durrett to talk about the elimination of the tuck rule and his thoughts on the Cowboys.

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Cowboys free agent linebacker Victor Butler is drawing interest from several teams.

There are reports that he is visiting the New Orleans Saints on Thursday. Butler has also visited the Pittsburgh Steelers and has the New York Jets interested in his services.

Butler was a backup for the Cowboys, but former defensive coordinator Rob Ryan loved the impact he made on the field. The problem with Butler was consistency, or lack thereof.

A look at the Cowboys' coaches stats from the 2012 season reveals Butler did make plays. He was fourth on the team in sacks (three), had seven quarterback pressures, three pass breakups and one forced fumble.

Butler is one of those players who could excel with a new team in the 3-4 scheme, which is what the Saints are moving toward with Ryan as their defensive coordinator.
In an interview on dallascowboys.com, Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett talked about possible changes, "tweaks" to the offense.

A recent survey reveals that the Rangers are more popular than the Cowboys. Coop & Nate discuss.

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Garrett said in the last six seasons, the Cowboys have the fourth best passing offense (370.7 yards per game) in the NFL. New Orleans is No. 1 with 404.4 yards per game. Garrett also mentioned scoring (seventh at 24.1), passing (fourth in yards 25,153 yards) and running (22nd at 108.6 yards per game) as statistics worth looking at over the last six seasons.

"A lot of this stuff is pretty good," Garrett said.

However, changes are expected in 2013 with offensive line coach Bill Callahan taking over the playcalling duties, though Jerry Jones said no decision is final. The Cowboys will have three new offensive coaches in 2013.

With the personnel, the Cowboys will need to replace backup running back Felix Jones (free agency) and quite possibly some offensive linemen given the struggles of the unit.

"This is an opportunity to add some people and add some influence to our offense," Garrett said. "And hopefully it's a tweak for us that can help us get a little bit better and help us break through as a football team. So that's really the approach right now we want to stay on the same track but also we want to add coaches to our staff that can really help us break through."

You can read into what Garrett says when he talks about "add some influence" to the offensive unit by saying Callahan will take over the playcalling or at least have more of a hand in what goes on with the game plan.

The 2013 season is a big year for Garrett, regardless of whoever takes over the playcalling duties.

Better fit for Rob Ryan: Saints or Cowboys?

February, 6, 2013

Are the New Orleans Saints a much better fit for Rob Ryan than the Dallas Cowboys were? First Take debates ...
MOBILE, Ala. -- In the middle of the season, a report surfaced on ESPN about a clause in Sean Payton's contract that prevented him from signing an extension with the New Orleans Saints. Rumors began flying that Payton could become the Dallas Cowboys' next head coach.

ESPNDallas.com's Todd Archer says that it's not too late for Jason Garrett's legs to grow back after having them cut off by Jerry Jones.

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At the time of the rumors/report, the Cowboys were coming off a 19-13 loss to the Atlanta Falcons that dropped them to 3-5.

It seemed that if Jason Garrett couldn't fix things, he could be let go and Payton would take over.

Payton's contract with the Saints did eventually get resolved, and Wednesday he made it clear he had no intention of leaving New Orleans.

"There was no way I was going to another team," Payton said in his first public statements since getting reinstated after the bounty scandal. "The issue was a minor technicality. There was a minor clause, (the media) had it right, there was a minor clause in there that wasn't approved. What became more challenging really, was being out of the building and then trying to work through the specifics to get the contract done."

Sean Payton speculation can end

December, 29, 2012

John Clayton talks about Sean Payton's deal with the Saints and what that means for Jason Garrett and the Cowboys. You can read about the Payton deal here.

Dallas Cowboys: Week 17 player rankings

December, 26, 2012
IRVING, Texas -- The Cowboys are getting plenty of strong performances from their best players, but they’re struggling on defense because too many role players are getting extensive playing time.

To beat Washington and earn a playoff berth, the Cowboys' best players must perform at an even higher level to compensate for the team’s flaws. The way to beat Washington is for the Cowboys to dominate the game offensively because that’s their best unit.

Each week, during the season, I rank my top 10 players on the roster based on their performances.

1. Anthony Spencer: Spencer turned in yet another strong performance with seven tackles, a tackle for loss and a couple of pressures, but he had two costly penalties that led directly to points.
Last Week: 1

2. Tony Romo: In the last eight games, Romo has 17 touchdowns and three interceptions. He passed for 416 yards and four touchdowns against New Orleans. He’s 3-5 when he throws 40+ passes this season.
Last Week: 2

3. Dez Bryant: Bryant has been sensational over the last seven games with 10 touchdown receptions and 13 grabs of 20+ yards. He had a career nine catches for 224 yards and two touchdowns against the Saints.
Last Week: 3

4. DeMarcus Ware: He’s essentially been playing with one arm for a while and it’s starting to affect his production, though he still commands quite a bit of attention. Ware has two sacks in the last seven games.
Last Week: 4

5. Jason Witten: The veteran set an NFL season record with 103 receptions after catching six for 60 against New Orleans..
Last Week: 5

6. Brandon Carr: After watching him make game-changing plays against Cincinnati and Pittsburgh in consecutive games, New Orleans left him alone for the most part.
Last Week: 7

7. DeMarco Murray: Murray has key fumbles each of the last two games, which is out of character. That needs to stop. With just 15 touches, he still totaled 91 yards.
Last Week: 5

8. Jason Hatcher: He played a season-high 72 snaps -- 11 more than any other game -- and was the only defensive lineman putting consistent pressure on Drew Brees.
Last Week: 8

9. Dan Bailey: He nailed his only attempt, a 47-yarder, and has made 28 of 30 field goal attempts.
Last Week: 9

10. Gerald Sensabaugh: He delivered a key big hit in the third quarter, but his missed tackle on Darren Sproles 44-yard catch-and-run in the second quarter was a huge play.
Last Week: 10
Play: Darren Sproles 44-yard reception
Situation: First-and-10 from New Orleans 30
Score: Tied, 14-14
Time: :47 left in second quarter
Taylor's Take: After the Cowboys burned just 15 seconds on their last possession of the first half, it gave New Orleans a chance to take the lead. Sproles circled out of the backfield and beat cornerback Sterling Moore inside, catching the ball at the 40. Gerald Sensabaugh missed a tackle at the Dallas 45 and Sproles gained another 19 yards, setting up a field goal as time expired in first half.

Play: Drew Brees incompletion
Situation: Third-and-8
Score: Tied, 17-17
Time: 8:13 left in third quarter
Taylor's Take: It would’ve required a great play, but the Cowboys missed an opportunity to get a game-changing turnover. Sterling Moore, blitzing on the play, couldn’t get past the line of scrimmage but deflected Drew Brees‘ pass. Mike Jenkins changed directions and made a diving attempt to intercept the pass, but could only get one hand on it.

Play: James Hanna fumble recovery
Situation: Second-half kickoff
Score: New Orleans, 17-14
Time: 15:00 left in third quarter
Taylor's Take: Dwayne Harris muffed the opening kickoff and it ricocheted off his knee and into a pile of players. Somehow James Hanna fell on the ball, otherwise the Saints would’ve been in prime position to extend their lead to 10 points. Instead, the Cowboys drove for game-tying field goal.

Play: DeMarco Murray fumble
Situation: First-and-10 from Dallas 3
Score: Tied, 17-17
Time: 4:25 left in third quarter
Taylor's Take: The Cowboys were trying to move the ball off the goal line, when Murray’s body was twisted at the end of short run and the Saints ripped the ball out. It’s only the second fumble Murray has lost with the Cowboys, but each has occurred in the past two games. New Orleans turned the turnover into the go-ahead touchdown.

Play: Tony Romo incompletion
Situation: Third-and-5
Score: Tied, 31-31
Time: 13:47 left in overtime
Taylor's Take: The way the Cowboys’ defense was playing, they needed to score a touchdown on the first possession of overtime to win. Instead, they managed just one first down before punting. Romo went to Dez Bryant on a slant, but he ran a poor route and the play never had a chance.

Jason Garrett's status shouldn't be an issue

December, 25, 2012
IRVING, Texas -- It's hard to dissect what Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones is saying about coach Jason Garrett these days.

There have been reports since the Atlanta game that Jones would consider dumping Garrett for Sean Payton if he becomes free of his contract with the New Orleans Saints.

In some ways, Payton remains in limbo for the 2013 season.

Jones has never said anything regarding the possibility of Garrett's job being on the line. While Payton is an excellent coach with a Super Bowl ring -- one who was missed this season by the Saints because of his one-year suspension -- Garrett is the best man for the job right now.

We're not sure how Payton would have handled the death of Jerry Brown or even Dez Bryant's offseason arrest. We do know Payton would have managed some of the Cowboys' games this season better than Garrett.

Maybe it's experience or maybe Payton is just better.

We believe Payton is better, but that doesn't mean Garrett has to go.

It seems unfair that Garrett's job status is being talked about considering his team was 3-5 at one point, having lost four of five games in the most difficult part of their schedule.

Garrett has the Cowboys on the verge of a playoff berth if they win Sunday night on the road in Washington. The Cowboys have won three of their past five games; they were 3-0 in December before losing to New Orleans 34-31 in overtime on Sunday. The last time the Cowboys started December 3-0 was 1993.

The Cowboys have bought into what Garrett is preaching. Firing him won't be the answer to the franchise's problems, regardless of Sunday's outcome.

The team needs to draft better and fix its salary-cap problems (roughly $20 million over). There are two veteran players, Jay Ratliff and Doug Free, who struggled with their health and play this season. The Cowboys need to decide if they're worth keeping in 2013. The offensive line, like most in the NFL, was inconsistent.

Finding backup running backs and seeing if there's another solid pass-rusher in free agency or the draft are among the priorities in 2013.

Payton can't fix all this. Garrett can't either. But Garrett's plan is the right one for the Cowboys. The players have bought into his one-game-at-a time mantra. He holds players accountable, not so much in the media but in other ways. Just look at Free's status. He's now in a rotation with Jermey Parnell. We've seen reduced playing time for Felix Jones and Kevin Ogletree. Dez Bryant's punt-return duties were taken away after too many mistakes.

Garrett churns the bottom of the roster, looking for ways to improve it.

Would Payton have done this? Probably.

But he isn't here. Garrett is, and his team is a victory away from an NFC East title and a home playoff game.

Felix Jones' snaps dwindling

December, 25, 2012
IRVING, Texas – With the return of DeMarco Murray from a sprained left foot, Felix Jones has been marginalized in the Cowboys’ offense.

Jones has played 31 snaps in the last four games and has not reached double digits in terms of snaps in the last three games. He saw action in seven plays in Sunday’s loss to New Orleans.

In the first four games of the season in which Murray and Jones were active, Jones saw 50 snaps. In Murray’s absence, Jones played as many as 62 snaps in a game and as few as 33.

“DeMarco’s been playing a lot more for us, obviously on first and second down, and even in the third down situations,” coach Jason Garrett said. “Felix has been dealing with a lot of different injuries over the course of the year, and he’s gotten healthier and healthier as the season has worn on. But just the combination has been right to get DeMarco those chances, and we didn’t have that many plays in the ballgame. They had a lot of plays on offense. I think we had 18 plays at half and however many we had, I think we had maybe in the mid-30s in the second half, so fewer opportunities than normal, and DeMarco just has been in those situations and we feel good about that. But we also feel good about what Felix has done for us, so it’s not a knock on what Felix Jones has or hasn’t done, just went that way (Sunday).”