Dallas Cowboys: New York Giants

After the Cowboys dramatic 31-28 victory over the New York Giants on Sunday night, we review it in our weekly Upon Further Review.

  1. The Cowboys’ defense performed badly in the first half the Giants. It allowed scores on the first three possessions of the game. Things changed in the second half, and that’s probably the difference in the Cowboys’ victory. Yes, the defense, overall, looked sloppy particularly in the secondary giving you concern about the Philadelphia Eagles’ offense on Thanksgiving Day. But the Cowboys defense kept the Giants in check in the final 30 minutes with two three-and-outs to start the third quarter, and the Giants didn’t even score again until 3:00 remained in the game. Of the six second-half possessions, the Giants scored once, turned the ball over, a Barry Church interception at the Cowboys’ 3 and turned the ball over on downs when middle linebacker Rolando McClain stopped Rashad Jennings short of the marker on fourth down to clinch the victory. The pass rush could have been better, secondary too, but when it counted, the defense made the necessary plays to win the game.

 2. Cole Beasley is one of those underutilized players for the Cowboys. Dez Bryant, DeMarco Murray and Jason Witten get the hype because, well let’s be honest, they’re playmakers for Tony Romo. So is Beasley in a small way. He had just two catches on the night and each was big. His 45-yard catch and run for a score in the third quarter cut the Giants' lead to 21-17. Beasley, a slot receiver who uses his small frame, 5-foot-8 to and speed to slice through defenses, also made a 21-yard catch in the fourth quarter. Beasley’s grab moved the Cowboys from their 43 into Giants territory on the game-clinching drive. Sometimes it’s not about the big plays made in a game, the small ones, such as Beasley’s two catches, that helps teams win games.

 3. When you review the offseason moves by the Cowboys, defensive end Jeremy Mincey and McClain appear to be the smartest decisions made by the front office. McClain had 11 tackles, 10 solo along with two tackles for loss, in the victory. Mincey had four tackles, two solo, one sack and two quarterback hits. McClain continues to be the glue for this defense with his hard hits and smart plays. Tyrone Crawford is probably the best young defensive linemen on the team and Henry Melton had a recent surge of solid play, but Mincey has played consistently well at a high level for the majority of the season.
IRVING, Texas -- Speaking on his weekly radio show, Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones said the expiring contact of coach Jason Garrett isn't an issue, or to use his words, the status of his coach is a "nonevent for me."

Garrett has gone 8-8 in three consecutive seasons as the head coach, with his overall record at 31-27 in four seasons.

The Cowboys have yet to reach the postseason with Garrett as the coach, but the team is in first place in the NFC East at 7-3 heading into Sunday night's game against the New York Giants.

Garrett's contract ends after the 2014 season and neither his agent, David Dunn nor Jones have given any indications the sides are talking about a new deal.

Jones has said positive things about Garrett since he's been the head coach despite some issues with time management and the changes in the playcaller and defensive coordinator.

"It's a non-event for me to be concerned about it or not," Jones said on 105.3 The Fan Dallas/Fort Worth Friday. "I don't mean to sound that way; it hasn't been a concern of mine and [it's] not. We haven't made it a concern for the club this year. These talks about these contracts, no matter who it is, that's got an ending contract or one that is coming up, that's all for things to talk about that has no impact on my day."

Cowboys remember when Jason Garrett took over

November, 21, 2014
IRVING, Texas -- When Jason Garrett replaced Wade Phillips as head coach in the middle of the 2010 season, the Dallas Cowboys were a mess.

A 45-7 loss at Green Bay the previous week forced owner Jerry Jones to do something he never wanted to do: fire a coach during the season.

So in came Garrett, then the offensive coordinator, who was faced with taking on the New York Giants on the road in his first game.

The interim head coach wanted to change the culture around Valley Ranch, everything from dress codes to the approach. And the result, at least that day in East Rutherford. New Jersey worked.

[+] EnlargeJason Garrett
Tim Heitman/USA TODAY SportsJason Garrett has changed the culture of the Cowboys since taking over as their coach.
 The Cowboys beat the Giants, 33-20, for Garrett's first victory.

"I remember we had a really good team, and we weren't winning," defensive end Anthony Spencer said of the time. "We needed a win. I loved Wade and the year before we went to the playoffs. But things just didn't work out for us the next year."

Many players didn't really know Garrett.

To deep snapper L.P. Ladouceur, Garrett was simply known for the color of his hair.

"Just knew him as Red and he was the quarterbacks coach, calling plays and then he goes by Coach Garrett," Ladouceur said. "Different freaking business now. I think he was overwhelmed, too I think every coach is thrown into it. It's like any job, you got to be a rookie at some point and you got to learn and learn on the fly, which as a NFL head coach, is even harder because you're scrutinized like crazy. But where we've been and where we're going and the way he's been handling [things] I think he's been doing a good job."

Of course, Garrett became the head coach permanently, and the Cowboys have finished the past three seasons at 8-8, missing a postseason berth with a loss in the regular-season finale.

Sunday night, Garrett takes his Cowboys, tied for first in the NFC East into MetLife Stadium again, to take on the Giants nearly four years since he became the coach.

A victory would give Garrett eight wins for the fourth consecutive season, and it would be the first time he's led a team to it's eight before December in his career. In the past three seasons, the Cowboys didn't earn it's eight victory until mid or late December.

Reaching eight victories now could fuel discussions the Cowboys might finally end their four-year playoff drought.

The players have brought into Garrett's one-game-at-a-time mantra. There are awards for scout team players, sayings posted on the walls of the practice facility about doing your job/not giving up and remaining focus on the task at hand.

Garrett has changed things from the hard nosed old-school approach of Bill Parcells and grandfatherly ways of Phillips, to how the Cowboys' did things in the 90s, when they won three Super Bowls.

Popular players such as outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware were released to make way for younger players.

“Well, we knew we had to make some hard decisions from the outset, and we had to make some decisions to move on from some players who had been cornerstone players for us and then get new players in here and along the way you have to compete. So that’s what we tried to do," Garrett said.

Along the way, they found a dominant running attack, which they have with DeMarco Murray who leads the league in rushing, and a young, hungry offensive line. The Cowboys invested three first round picks on linemen and changed the defense from a 3-4 to the 4-3, led by defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli who demands his players hustle.

It's all changed for the better.

"My honest opinion, I’m just speaking on our personnel relationship, I didn’t too much understand his mindset because he went to Princeton, I’m from this small, country town [Lufkin, Texas], I didn’t understand his whole type of structure," wide receiver Dez Bryant said. "I used to always think, coach, he’s always on me, he’s always on me. I guess as I grew, he didn’t treat me no different as he treated the rest of the players. He seen a lot of potential in me, and I took that as he believed in me, so it was my job to show him what he want me to be or better, and I think he does an outstanding job with us. He don’t BS around with us. He lets us know the truth."

The truth is the Cowboys have a chance to do something for themselves in the next few weeks with a win on Sunday night. But it all started that windy day at MetLife when Garrett took over the Cowboys.

Cowboys prepare for Eli Manning

November, 20, 2014
IRVING, Texas -- Anthony Spencer had to make sure he was hearing it correctly: Eli Manning threw five interceptions last week in a loss to the San Francisco 49ers.

It was the second time Manning had thrown five interceptions, yet Spencer and several other Dallas Cowboys said the New York Giants quarterback remains a dangerous man.

“He had five interceptions?” said Spencer. “We’re not worried about what they do, we’re just worried about what we do and we have to affect him any way we can.”

In his career, Manning is 10-10 against his NFC East rival and has thrown more touchdowns (41) and interceptions (22) against the Cowboys than any other team.

Manning threw three touchdowns in the first meeting between the teams this season, a 31-21 Cowboys victory at AT&T Stadium.

He didn’t have receiver Victor Cruz in that game because he was nursing an injury and he won’t have him again this week since Cruz is out for the season after undergoing knee surgery.

He does have rookie receiver Odell Beckham Jr., who cornerback Orlando Scandrick said is getting better each week.

With the Giants' season withering away less than two months from the close of the season, the Cowboys expect a proud Manning to rebound from his difficult game the previous week.

“Eli, he won two Super Bowls, the guy can play,” Scandrick said. “Last week was unfortunate, he had a tipped ball, missed a couple of throws, but Eli can play.”

Added Jason Garrett: "Well, he’s just a really good player and has been for a long time. When you play that position in this league, you’re going to have some games where it doesn’t go your way and he’s proven throughout his career that he always comes back.”

Anthony Spencer visiting the Giants

March, 16, 2014
Cowboys free agent defensive end Anthony Spencer is visiting the New York Giants today.

Spencer has visited two NFC East teams in the last week, with a trip to the Washington Redskins facility on Thursday.

Spencer played in only one game for the Cowboys last season after dealing with knee problems that allowed him to practice just once during training camp. He underwent microfracture surgery and while he's still rehabbing from the procedure there's a goal he should be ready for the start of training camp in late July.

The Cowboys have expressed an interest in returning Spencer to the team but it has to make financial sense and it must be determined if he can physically hold up for a 17 week season.

In the first 72 hours of free agency, the Cowboys released defensive end DeMarcus Ware, the franchise's all-time sack leader, who eventually signed a three-year deal with Denver.

Defensive tackle Jason Hatcher, coming off a career-high 11 sack season, signed a four-year deal with Washington. And now another projected starter to the 2013 defensive line, Spencer, could be leaving the team.

The team has signed two backup defensive linemen, Jeremy Mincey and Terrell McClain in the first week of free agency.

Double Coverage: Giants at Cowboys

September, 5, 2013
For the third time since 2007, the Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants will meet in a regular-season opener. The Giants have never lost at AT&T Stadium (4-0) but the Cowboys are 6-0 all time against the Giants in season openers, including last year's game at MetLife Stadium. ESPN Giants reporter Dan Graziano and Cowboys reporter Todd Archer bring you their Double Coverage preview:

Archer: The Cowboys are looking to get off this 8-8 train they have been on the past two years. I'm curious as to where the Giants are entering 2013, two years after winning a Super Bowl.

Graziano: Well, Todd, Cowboys fans may not want to hear it, but the Giants are trying to get off this 9-7 train. Because the team got raging hot at the end of the 2011 season and won the Super Bowl, people forget that the Giants finished that regular season 9-7, the same record as the 2012 season. The difference is, 9-7 wasn't good enough last season to win the NFC East and get into the playoffs. So the Giants want to stop leaving this thing to the whims of fate. When they beat teams like the Packers and 49ers, as they did last season, that makes them feel as if they can beat anyone. And because they feel that way, they believe they should be better than 9-7 every year. So their goal, they would tell you, is to play more consistently week-in and week-out so that they get up into that 11-win, 12-win range that pretty much guarantees you a playoff spot without having to sweat out the final weeks of December hoping other teams lose.

Can they do it? I'm not so sure. The pass rush really tailed off last year. They had 33 sacks after posting 48 in 2011. The Giants' defense is based on the ability of its front four to pressure quarterbacks, and when it's not doing that, it's a pretty ordinary team. So they're hoping Justin Tuck has a bounce-back year and Jason Pierre-Paul recovers soon from back surgery. I don't think Pierre-Paul is going to be ready to play Sunday night, but he could. Which reminds me: What's the state of that Cowboys' front four as the start of the season looms?

Archer: The Cowboys are seeing if they can get Randy White and Ed "Too Tall" Jones out of retirement to help out, which tells you about the state of the defensive line. It’s not good right now, and it looks like even if Anthony Spencer can play, he will be severely limited by his July 25 knee surgery. The earliest we’ll see Jay Ratliff is October. So there’s DeMarcus Ware, who looks great in this move to defensive end, and Jason Hatcher, a favorite of yours, I know. Other than that, you’re talking about Nick Hayden, who wasn’t in football last season, and George Selvie, JPP’s running mate at South Florida.

The backups look even shakier with Landon Cohen, Kyle Wilber, Ben Bass, Edgar Jones (picked up Aug. 31 in a trade with Kansas City) and Caesar Rayford (picked up in a trade with Indianapolis on Tuesday). Not exactly the Purple People Eaters there, huh? But they must believe defensive line coach Rod Marinelli is a genius. They didn’t go after a lineman in the draft and they haven’t gone after anybody of note in free agency. I’ve referred to Marinelli as a pass-rush whisperer. If he can make this group work, then that 0-16 mark in Detroit could be erased. So if the Cowboys can’t get to Eli Manning, then what can we expect from the Giants' receivers, Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz?

Graziano: If Manning has time to find his receivers, he is of course dangerous. But the questions with those receivers is health. Nicks was banged up all last year with leg injuries and has been taking it very slowly all offseason, as he's determined to try his best to stay healthy throughout the final year of his contract. Based on the way he's looked in preseason, he's either not fully healthy or he's keeping something in reserve because he didn't want to overtax himself and risk injury in meaningless games. I have a hunch it's the latter, and that he'll be great -- at least until his next leg injury. Cruz is another matter. He bruised his heel 2 1/2 weeks ago in a preseason game against the Colts and didn't return to practice until Monday. He's feeling good, though he remains concerned about keeping the swelling down in that heel as the week goes along. We'll know after a couple of practice days whether he'll play, but at this point I expect that he will. The question is whether he'll have that explosive speed, if he's not sure he can make those hard cuts on a still-sore heel.

Receivers make for an interesting topic in this game. When people ask me which team in the NFC East has the best wide receiver corps, I never know what to say. These days, though, if Miles Austin is healthy, I'm inclined to say the Cowboys, because I'm a big fan of Dez Bryant. How's he been looking these days?

Archer: Who is this Bryant guy? Never heard of him. Oh, wait, yeah, now I remember. He’s been pretty good this summer. Actually, better than that. Actually, really, really good. He has picked up where he left off last year when he was, to me, the second-best receiver in the NFL, behind Calvin Johnson, in the second half of the season. Bryant’s confidence has never been higher. Tony Romo's confidence in Bryant has never been higher.

That’s not to say there won’t be issues, but Bryant looks as if he’s ready for a monster season. I’m curious as to how the Giants will defend him. For all of his physical abilities, he still needs to work on beating press coverage. Can the Giants be physical with him? Maybe that’s how they go. But the key, in a way, will be Austin. He’s healthy, and I say that without the “for now” added to it. If the Giants want to take away Bryant, then that’s leaving Austin alone because you know they have to pay attention to Jason Witten, too. The Cowboys would appear to have it set up pretty well in that regard, but ... the offensive line. It’s a mess, and the addition of Brian Waters is probably too late for this week.

What’s the state of the Giants’ line?

Graziano: The Giants' line is not in great shape. They lost starting right tackle David Diehl and starting center David Baas to injury two weeks ago and have had to do a lot of reshuffling. This year's first-round pick, Justin Pugh, is now the starting right tackle. Left guard Kevin Boothe moved inside to play center, and James Brewer, a fourth-round pick from 2011, is starting at left guard. Brewer had never played left guard in a game until last week's preseason game in New England. He was drafted as a tackle and worked some at right guard in the spring. It's an issue worth watching, because they lost a lot of blocking help when they cut running back Ahmad Bradshaw and let Martellus Bennett leave as a free agent, and they're also without fullback Henry Hynoski, who has a knee injury.

Manning, to me, looked uncomfortable at times in the preseason with his protection. He's fine shuffling receivers in and out all of the time. He can make that work. But if he doesn't trust the folks in front of him to keep him from getting hit, it's another matter. Even the backups in Dallas should be able to find a way through that line early, and if they can, they could potentially get in Eli's head and find him in a generous mood. I heard they were working on forcing turnovers out there this year, which is nice, the way they're embracing such new, cutting-edge concepts. Are you seeing a difference in the way the defense goes after the ball?

Archer: Absolutely. It started at the rookie minicamp when defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin and Marinelli had the players pick up every loose ball, even after an incomplete pass. They wanted to establish a mindset. It’s worked. The Cowboys showed they could take the ball away. I remain a little skeptical because the core of these defenders has been around for some time, and only DeMarcus Ware and Sean Lee have shown they have a nose for the ball. Maybe throw in Brandon Carr, too. But until the whole unit does it, I can’t believe these guys will all of a sudden turn into the Bears from last season. They need to have more than last season's 16 takeaways. More possessions equal more points. The offense rarely has been handed short fields to work with after turnovers, or even returns in the kicking game. Too often, the Cowboys have had to drive 80 yards, and we know that’s a hard thing to do in this league. Defenses basically wait for the offense to have an unforced error and punt the ball. But the preseason was a good sign that they can take the ball from the defense.

The question is whether Romo & Co. can stop turning it over to the opponents.

I’m interested in the Giants' running backs. Brandon Jacobs has been gone for a season. Now Bradshaw is gone. So this is David Wilson’s club now?

Graziano: They are expecting big things from Wilson, yes. The initial plan was for him to get the early-down work and Andre Brown (eight touchdowns in 10 games last season) to get the goal-line work and the passing-downs work because they trusted him more in pass protection. That's what they'll miss most with Bradshaw -- he's as good a blitz-pickup back as there is in the league. Anyway, Brown broke his leg in the final preseason game last week in New England, and he's going to go on short-term IR. So Wilson likely gets those goal-line touches back, and they'll hope he's mastered the protection schemes enough to handle third downs as well. They have Da'Rel Scott and rookie Michael Cox to spell him, and they worked out Beanie Wells and some other vets this week, but as of now it does look as though the run game is in Wilson's hands.

He's a heck of a runner, Todd. Can break a big one at any time, and was really effective between the tackles last year, too. Explosive, high-end speed and runs with more power than people realize. He's got to show he's not a liability in pass protection, and if he does show that, he has a chance to be special. His biggest problem right now may be the absence of Hynoski, the great blocking fullback who's still out with a knee injury. The Giants are a passing offense built around Eli, but they wouldn't mind a more representative run game than they've had in recent years.

Jones: Ratliff staying on PUP a possibility

August, 27, 2013
IRVING, Texas -- Dallas Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones gave an update on several injured players during his weekly radio appearance Tuesday on KRLD-FM.

After the third preseason game, Jones said defensive tackle Jay Ratliff (groin and hamstring) would start the regular season on time. Now he's backing off a potential return and indicating Ratliff might remain on the physically unable to perform list when the regular season starts. If that occurs, Ratliff will have to miss the first six games of the 2013 season.

"I wouldn’t say it today," Jones said of Ratliff and the PUP, (but) "it's certainly more of a possibility than I would have ever thought two or three weeks ago. We got to look at the next two steps and carefully look at it in the next two weeks."

Jones was more confident in injured starters defensive end Anthony Spencer (knee) and cornerback Morris Claiborne (knee) returning for the season opener against the New York Giants. Claiborne returned to practice Tuesday morning after missing nearly two weeks.

"He's doing some work this week and I think he’s going to be playing as well against the Giants unless he gets a setback," Jones said.

Spencer hasn't returned to practice but is progressing in his rehab work.

"If it keeps going the way it's going, it should be good," Spencer said of playing against the Giants. "See how it is and go from there."
IRVING, Texas -- Cowboys strong side linebacker Ernie Sims returned to practice Monday after missing last week with a groin injury. Sims most likely will be out for Thursday's game against the Houston Texans, but the big picture for him is to be ready for the regular season opener at the New York Giants.

Sims did individual drills but expects to get worked into the team drills as practice moves on.

"I care more about the Giants," Sims said. "It's whatever the coaches decide. I'm going to do my due diligence and get condition after practice and get ready for Week 1. If they play me or not it don’t matter."

Before his injury, Sims was getting first-team snaps with Justin Durant at linebacker but his injury delayed his progress to a potential starting gig. The Cowboys value Sims' ability to play in this 4-3 scheme and special teams work.

Durant is still getting first-team snaps in practice but it's uncertain if Sims will share those duties in preparation for the Giants game.
The Cowboys are in a delusional state as they enter the final week of their preseason.

After four preseason games, the Cowboys are hoping several key starters and reserves return to the field from injuries for the regular-season opener against the New York Giants.

Starting defensive tackle Jay Ratliff is no closer to playing than Bob Lilly is to coming out of retirement.

After the Arizona game, Jerry Jones said the expectation was for Ratliff to return from hamstring and groin injuries for the season opener. The owner didn't sound as confident in that assessment after Saturday night's preseason game against Cincinnati.

Then there's defensive end Anthony Spencer, who is recovering from minor knee surgery. He's not going to practice this week either, but he's farther along than Ratliff in his recovery.

That's two starters whom the Cowboys need to work in this 4-3 scheme of Monte Kiffin's and who will be replaced by free agents off the street if they're not ready. George Selvie will start against the Giants if Spencer isn't ready. Selvie has played in 36 games over his career; 90 for Spencer. Nick Hayden (28 career games) would replace Ratliff (104).

"We will get Spencer, (Morris) Claiborne, Ratliff and we will be even better," defensive tackle Jason Hatcher said. "I'm not making predictions right now, but like I said, we have to keep working and playing like we have been playing and we'll be OK."

Claiborne is expected to practice in some fashion Monday after missing nearly two weeks with a sore knee. He just started running last Thursday and it's no big deal if he doesn't play in final preseason game against Houston. What matters is the opener.

The issues on offense are so severe -- the team lost both first- and second-team left guards Nate Livings and Ronald Leary. Each have undergone surgeries, and Jones said Livings' knee is degenerative. Livings seemed to dispute that Saturday night by saying "those are Jerry's words."

Jones talks as if Livings has retired. The general manager has glowing praise of the potential return of Leary, who has a chronic knee problem himself, but not in the knee that just got surgically repaired.

"We're trying to make it work," Jones said. "We've tried two or three things and some of it has worked and some of it has not. Leary looks like it's going to work for us. We have done a few things that haven't. That can happen to you when you're dealing with a part of your roster that takes 10 players."

To solve some of the problems, the Cowboys moved Doug Free to right guard, Mackenzy Bernadeau to left guard and Jeremy Parnell to right tackle for the Bengals game.

The Cowboys have talked about offensive line continuity throughout the offseason.

So much for that.

Injuries and ineffective play have pushed the Cowboys into desperation mode. The team offered contracts to Brandon Moore and Brian Waters, who haven't played for NFL teams for more than a year.

Moore has retired; Waters is just waiting.

Backup running back Lance Dunbar has been outstanding in the preseason, but he's out with a sprained foot. The last guy to have a sprained foot around here was DeMarco Murray, who missed six games last season. If Dunbar isn't ready for the opener, Phillip Tanner and rookie Joseph Randle move up.

Injuries happen every year to NFL teams -- it's part of life. The Cowboys are putting a lot of hope in the return of some injured players so they can feel good about their chances against the Giants.

That's pretty scary. And its delusional.

Jones hints Livings has serious knee issue

August, 23, 2013
Over the last week, Cowboys officials have publicly discussed Ronald Leary being the starting left guard when the regular season starts against the New York Giants.

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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So what has happened to Nate Livings, who started 16 games at that position last season?

Now we know: Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones hinted during a radio interview on KRLD-FM that Livings, who has undergone two knee surgeries since February, could have a degenerative condition in his knee.

"You'd ask yourself, 'Is there a degeneration in the knee, as opposed to a fix of an injury that comes back as good as new?' I think he’s having some of that, a degeneration," Jones said Friday. "But that's not uncommon at all at this point in his career, so a combination of those things puts a little guesswork into when he might be back."

The Cowboys could release Livings, but he'd still count $2.4 million against the salary cap in 2013 whether he's on the roster or not. With the offensive line in a fluid situation, the Cowboys might place Livings on the injured reserve-returnable list where he'd miss eight weeks of the season. A NFL team can only use this designation once during the season.

Livings was a productive player last season but his health started to betray him toward the end of the season. Cowboys officials have played Leary at left guard with the first team in Livings' absence. When Leary went down with a knee injury, that required minor surgery, David Arkin moved into that spot.

Leary is expected to return for the season opener against the New York Giants, but the Cowboys continue to experiment. Starting right guard Mackenzy Bernadeau is getting snaps at left guard while right tackle Doug Free moved to right guard. Jermey Parnell moved from the second team to the first team at right tackle.

You should expect to see that combination during Saturday's fourth preseason game against the Cincinnati Bengals at AT&T Stadium.

"Starting from the interior, I'd like to think that Leary, when he returns, (would start)," Jones said. "We do expect him to return back before the Giants. (Travis) Frederick has had a top preseason. He's everything that we had hoped he would be. He's arguably in the top two of our offensive linemen. And then Bernadeau has come back, has had a lot of reps, played well against Arizona (and is) having a good week of practice. So the interior guys, those three come to my mind."

When talking about the tackles, Jones said, "I look at it as certainly (Tyron) Smith at left tackle and Free at right tackle. We got some good depth here. Parnell will get some playing for the first time this weekend and probably get quite a bit this coming Thursday (in the final preseason game against the Texans) as well. I'd call that our top five."

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.
OXNARD, Calif. -- The Dallas Cowboys are using GPS devices on 30 players to help monitor their movements, with the goal of evaluating how much energy is used during practice.

ESPN NFL Insider Ed Werder joins Fitzsimmons and Durrett for his weekly segment to discuss the latest on Tom Brady's injury and Cowboys training camp in Oxnard.

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The New York Giants use a similar device for their entire team.

The device is placed in the back of the shoulder pads, and after every practice Brett Bech, the Cowboys' assistant strength and conditioning coach, downloads the data from the device.

Dallas has encountered numerous hamstring injuries -- including several to Miles Austin -- over the years, so the team decided to look at ways to combat the health issue. Several players also undergo extra stretching with Mike Woicik, the head of strength and conditioning, and Bech.

The Cowboys' wide receivers run a lot, it seems, between the individual, team and special-teams drills, so Bech monitors how much energy is exerted during practices. Depending on how a player reacts, extra stretching or scaling back their work in practice can be prescribed.

The Giants' GPS device checks hydration levels to show how much energy players have at certain points of practice.

Cowboys practice report: Day 1

July, 21, 2013
OXNARD, Calif. -- Here's our daily practice report.


• The Dallas Cowboys most likely lost backup defensive end Tyrone Crawford for the season with a torn left Achilles tendon. Crawford suffered the injury while going through the tackling dummies. He was carted off the field. When the swelling goes down, he will undergo surgery.

Dallas also lost starting defensive end Anthony Spencer, who tweaked his knee. Spencer said he hurt the knee during Saturday's conditioning test but tried to practice on Sunday. Spencer suffered a hyperextended left knee during offseason workouts, and it's still bothering him. Crawford and Spencer weren't alone in missing practice. Ryan Cook (conditioning test), Nate Livings (foot), Mackenzy Bernadeau (hamstring), Demetress Bell (conditioning test), L.P. Ladouceur (calf), Lavasier Tuinei (conditioning test) and Jay Ratliff (hamstring) didn't practice as well.

• Before Crawford was injured, he was the second-team defensive end along with Kyle Wilber. Ben Bass and Nick Hayden were the defensive tackles. With Crawford out, Monte Taylor took over for Crawford and did a nice job on a few plays. Taylor flushed quarterback Kyle Orton out of the pocket on the pass rush. Taylor also got a good push on tackle Jermey Parnell to make a tackle on a run play.

Tony Romo made his debut of sorts on Sunday. It was the first time Romo has thrown a pass since the end of the regular season. Romo missed offseason practices due to his recovery from surgery to remove a cyst. Romo's weight has been a subject of debate the past 48 hours, but he moved pretty well in the pocket when the pressure got to him. Yet, on his first 11-on-11 session in the afternoon practice, Romo went 1-3 to start. Terrance Williams hurt him with a drop. On Romo's second series, Romo went 2-6 with an interception. A tipped pass was picked off by inside linebacker Sean Lee. But it wasn't all bad for Romo. He did a fine job with the play fakes, holding the ball close to the running back until the last possible second, then either pulling it back or handing off. Romo made a good throw to Dez Bryant on a comeback route near the sidelines. Romo threw with a good zip on the ball for most of the day.

• Running backs coach Gary Brown said rookie running back Joseph Randle will be brought along slowly because he missed the entire offseason recovering from thumb surgery. The running back rotation is as follows: DeMarco Murray, Lance Dunbar, Phillip Tanner and Randle. Randle runs hard and finds his running lanes quickly, but you can tell he's a little rusty. He dropped a screen pass from quarterback Alex Tanney because he was in such a hurry to make a play.

• Sometimes, we forget about slot cornerback Orlando Scandrick. He's got a difficult job of covering speedy receivers such as the New York Giants' Victor Cruz in tight man coverage. Matched up one-on-one against Bryant, Scandrick knocked down a deep pass from Romo. While Bryant might have had a step on Scandrick, it didn't matter because he stayed close enough to reach his hand out to knock the pass away.

• Jason Garrett said there will be competition for the No. 2 tight end spot, and, for now, James Hanna has the lead. He was paired with Jason Witten in the first 12 personnel groupings. Hanna made a nice catch with a man draped over him during 11-on-11 and became a reliable target for Romo on Sunday.

• Please don't say Garrett is rooting for the offense to just make plays. After Romo threw a pass away due to tight coverage, Garrett said, "nice job, D." Garrett spent his first day as the walk-around head coach still involved in the offense by barking out orders and monitoring things while Bill Callahan conversed with Romo. Garrett also talked with defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin. When Dwayne Harris ran a bad route, Garrett got on the receiver, too.

• The morning walkthrough practice had these combinations/replacements: Sean Lissemore replaced Ratliff at defensive tackle with the first team, Will Allen and Barry Church were the first-team safeties, Caleb McSurdy received time with the second team at linebacker. On offense, David Arkin and Kevin Kowalski were the first-team guards.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's popularity rating was probably already low with Giants fans for picking the Jets against the Giants in 2011.

But while talking to students at Samsel Upper Elementary School in Parlin, N.J., Christie revealed he's a Dallas Cowboys fan.

Christie was asked what teams he roots for and he mentioned the Knicks, Mets and Rangers.

"Now the last answer is one of the things that gets all of my political advisers nervous," Christie said. "My favorite football team is not the New York Giants."

That caused a loud stir in the assembly.

"It is not the New York Jets ... and it is not the Philadelphia Eagles," Christie continued. "Get ready now. My favorite football team are the Dallas Cowboys ... which by the way is not the smartest thing for the Governor of New Jersey to want to be is a fan of the Dallas Cowboys."

The answer drew loud boos as the candid Christie could only shake his head in amusement.

This is not the first time Christie has sided with a rival of the Giants. Before the Giants and Jets played each other in 2011 in a pivotal Christmas Eve game, Christie predicted the Jets would win. The Giants went on to a 29-14 victory on their way to a Super Bowl run.

Christie explained that his father was a Giants fan but he grew up a fan of the Cowboys and Roger Staubach.

"The Giants and the Jets pretty much stunk when I was a kid," Christie said. "And my father was a Giants fan and I used to remember watching him when I was eight, nine-years-old. Every Sunday, he would watch the Giants and yell at the TV set. I used to think to myself, why would I want to root for a team that makes you angry? So I decided not to and the Cowboys were really good back then."

Tony Romo doesn't feel pressure

June, 17, 2013

The Cowboys have failed to make the postseason the past three seasons.

Ed Werder joins Fitzsimmons & Durrett for his weekly visit and you won't believe who he says is the Cowboys' best player.

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The quarterback, Tony Romo, has endured criticism from the fans and some media members regarding his new six-year contract extension worth $108 million.

Pressure to produce because of the new contract this season?

Romo said he doesn't feel it.

"Pressure and fear are all just in your own brain," he said. "To me, it's nothing more than you going out and your competing you're butt off every day and trying to win everyday. So I don't allow what outside influences affect my psyche or what my mental makeup is. It's about this room, this team and how I'm going to get myself and my teammates ready to play. Outside influences don’t directly affect how your emotional state is."

When you think about the 2012 season for Romo, you smile about the final eight games of the season during which he went 5-3 with 18 touchdown passes and six interceptions. But there's the loss in the regular season finale at Washington that stings. You also look at consecutive losses to the New York Giants and Atlanta Falcons in which he threw just two touchdown passes and four interceptions. There was the four-interception game against the Giants in which Romo threw for 437 yards on 62 pass attempts.

Of course, when the season ended, Romo ranked in the top ten in quarterback rating (10th), yards (third), touchdowns (sixth), completion percentage (fifth) and attempts (third). But the other Romo had him finished tied for the league lead in interceptions at 19, and he's now 1-6 in win-or-go-home games.

Pressure is mounting on Romo to push his team on a deep playoff run, yet with his new contract, which guarantees him $55 million, it gives him the comfort he'll be around awhile.

"I guess, to me that’s an easy way to say it's not real, pressure is," Romo said. "If you're telling yourself or saying you should be scared or that you're saying this is a lot of pressure, then you're losing already. That’s not the right frame of mind or thought."