Dallas Cowboys: nick foles


IRVING, Texas -- Well isn’t all this Johnny Manziel stuff just so much fun?

ESPN Insider Todd McShay has Manziel coming Insider to the Dallas Cowboys with the 16th pick in the first round. So does Mike Mayock in his mock draft.

What kind of reaction would that have? Talk about a ratings bonanza. Talk about a ton of interest in a team that already has a ton of interest despite one playoff win in nearly two decades. Talk about an interesting quarterback room with Manziel and Tony Romo. Talk about how this would do nothing for a head coach needing to win in 2014 to make sure he’s coaching the team in 2015.

I’ll take you back to Jerry Jones’ comments after the Cowboys' 37-36 loss to the Green Bay Packers last December: Aren't you entertained?

If that's the reasoning people are using to connect Johnny Football to the Cowboys, then this franchise is doomed. If it's because Manziel is a future franchise quarterback, then fine.

In Tuesday’s pre-draft news conference Jones said, “I will go as far as to say it is not our primary goal in the first round to be looking at a quarterback. We've got a good one."

I guess we can parse the "primary goal" part. I guess we can just believe Jones was smokescreening us all. But why can’t we believe all this Manziel stuff now is just smokescreening? If Manziel does fall to No. 16, don't you think the Cowboys would love to drive up the price for a team that would be willing to trade up to that spot to get him?

Heck yeah.

On some levels it makes sense to draft Manziel, if the Cowboys are convinced he is a franchise quarterback. Romo is 34 and coming off his second back surgery. If you're going to find a replacement for Romo, then doing it in the early rounds makes the most sense. Since 2006, there have been 59 quarterbacks drafted in Rounds 3-7 and two have become starting quarterbacks: Russell Wilson and Nick Foles.

But let's look at the salary cap as a reason for why selecting Manziel wouldn't make sense.

If the Cowboys wanted to cut Romo after this season, it would cost them $9.635 million in cap space with his cap figure ballooning to $37.4 million. Romo is already guaranteed $7.5 million of his 2015 base salary. Another $7.5 million is guaranteed the third day of the 2015 league year.

With how fiscally responsible the Cowboys were this offseason when it came to free agency, would they wipe out a huge chunk of cap space? If they used a June 1, 2015 cut on Romo, then it would save $17 million against the cap, but then Romo would be on the books in 2016 for $21.635 million. Again not prudent.

If the Cowboys want to cut Romo after the 2015 season, then they would take a hit of $1.5 million, provided they let him play that season with a preposterously high $27.773 million cap figure. It is a virtual lock the Cowboys will restructure Romo's contract again in 2015, which would increase the proration amounts in 2016-19. Again not prudent.

So the most financially beneficial way to part ways with Romo is after the 2016 season. By that time Manziel would be going into the final year of his contract and the Cowboys would have to make a decision on whether to pick up his fifth-year option without having seen him play if Romo operates at a high level and does not get injured again.

Bottom line, I just don't see Manziel to the Cowboys happening. It would be great for a lot of people, including the media. It would make Valley Ranch -- or whatever we're going to call their new home in Frisco -- an even more interesting place.

Thankfully, the draft starts here soon.

It can't get here fast enough.
IRVING, Texas -- Because Tony Romo is 34 and because he is coming off his second back surgery in less than a year, just about everybody believes it is time for the Dallas Cowboys to find his replacement.

ESPN NFL draft Insider Todd McShay said it. Mike Mayock of the NFL Network said it. A lot of fans have said it. A lot of others have said it.

If the Cowboys draft a quarterback, then it must be early in the draft. At least, that’s the general philosophy of Chicago Bears general manager Phil Emery when it comes to taking quarterbacks.

"I just did a little study. It's very interesting," Emery said in this ESPNChicago story. "That developmental theory doesn't hold a whole lot of water. There's entire classes of quarterbacks, since '06, I went back and looked at from Jay [Cutler's] on -- when people say developmental quarterbacks, OK, so who has gotten developed? There isn't a single quarterback after the third round since 2006 that has been a long-term starter. So you're either developing thirds, and most of them have been wiped out of the league. So to get a quality quarterback, you've got to draft them high. That 2012 class is a blip on the radar that's unusual, highly unusual.

"Most of the starters in this league come from the first and second round. So that's where you need to take a quarterback. So when you talk about quarterback every year, they have to be somebody that you truly believe will beat out the second and third quarterback that you perceive on your roster. And if not, history shows that you shouldn't make that pick."

From 2006 to 2013, there were 59 quarterbacks drafted in Rounds 3-7. Only two are top-end starters: Russell Wilson (third round, 2012, Seattle Seahawks) and Nick Foles(third round, 2012, Philadelphia Eagles). And Foles might have more to prove, but he was Pro Bowl-worthy in 2013.

The best of the rest: Bruce Gradkowski (sixth round, 2006); Matt Flynn (seventh round, 2008); Curtis Painter (sixth round, 2009); Ryan Mallett (third round, 2011); Kirk Cousins (fourth round, 2012). Other considerations: Colt McCoy (third round, 2010); T.J. Yates (fifth round, 2011); Tyrod Taylor (sixth round, 2011).

The odds are stacked against a team looking to develop a quarterback. Teams are not a lock to carry a third quarterback on the 53-man roster these days. The Cowboys have not done it since 2011, when they had Stephen McGee (fourth round, 2009). There just aren’t enough snaps to go around in a season for a quarterback to develop. The pressure on coaches to win means they want guys who can help carry games if a starter goes down, part of the reason why the Cowboys have gone with Brad Johnson, Jon Kitna and Kyle Orton as Romo's backups.

Maybe the Cowboys will draft a quarterback in the middle to late rounds this week. The odds of him turning into Wilson, Foles or Tom Brady (sixth round, 2000) are remote. He’s more likely to be Andre Woodson (sixth round, 2008), Mike Teel (sixth round, 2009), Jonathan Crompton (fifth round, 2010) or Nate Enderle (fifth round, 2011).

All-NFC East: Dallas Cowboys

January, 2, 2014
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NFC Teams: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

 
IRVING, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys had eight players on the All-NFC East team with Tony Romo being the biggest snub.

Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Nick Foles won the vote of the four NFL Nation bloggers that cover the NFC East. Foles had a terrific season taking over for Michael Vick, finishing with 27 touchdown passes and just two interceptions. Romo also had a terrific season with 31 touchdown passes and 10 interceptions in 15 games before back surgery knocked him out of the finale.

To the victor of the NFC East go the spoils, so Foles got the nod.

Wide receiver Dez Bryant, tight end Jason Witten, left tackle Tyron Smith and left guard Ronald Leary were named to the team. Bryant was dynamic. Witten was Witten but his opportunities were down. Smith might have had the best season of any left tackle in football. Leary’s inclusion might speak to the dearth of good offensive line play in the division. Mackenzy Bernadeau played better.

Normally a case could be made for DeMarco Murray, but not so much in a division with LeSean McCoy and Alfred Morris.

The Cowboys had the worst ranked defense in the NFL and had two players on the division’s defensive squad. Jason Hatcher was one of the two defensive tackles after he finished with a career high 11 sacks. Sean Lee missed five games with hamstring and neck injuries but still showed he was the best middle linebacker in the division. If he can stay healthy he might be able to show he is among the best in the league.

If there is a snub on defense it would be cornerback Orlando Scandrick. He did well versus Victor Cruz and DeSean Jackson this year and came up with the biggest play in the win at Washington when he took on Pierre Garcon for a third-down deflection. But he had only two interceptions and missed a few others.

Dan Bailey missed only two field goal attempts on the season and was named the division’s best kicker. There should have been little doubt here. Dwayne Harris averaged 30.6 yards per kick return with a long of 90 yards and 12.8 yards per punt return with an 86-yard TD against the Redskins. He has a great feel for the return game.

After takeaway, Cowboys missed big chance

December, 30, 2013
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ARLINGTON, Texas – In playoff games and games that are most like the playoffs, including the Dallas Cowboys’ 24-22 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday night, possessions have to be maximized.

Midway through the third quarter the Cowboys let a chance to take a lead slip through their fingers after Jason Hatcher forced a Nick Foles fumble that DeMarcus Ware recovered at the Philadelphia 20-yard line.

A first-down pass from Kyle Orton to Jason Witten gained a yard. On second down, Orton and DeMarco Murray had a mixup on a handoff, and Murray did all he could to get back to the line of scrimmage. On third down, Orton’s check-down pass to Murray picked up a yard.

An offense that excelled in the red zone for most of the season stalled when it mattered.

“We turn the ball over and they were able to cash those in,” coach Jason Garrett said, referring to the Eagles’ 10 points off of Cowboys giveaways. “We got a great takeaway there and we weren’t able to go down and knock it in. We had to settle for the field goal. Obviously when you get in that situation you want to drive it and go score a touchdown.”

Rapid Reaction: Dallas Cowboys

December, 29, 2013
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ARLINGTON, Texas -- A few thoughts on the Dallas Cowboys' 24-22 loss against the Philadelphia Eagles.

What it means: For the third straight year the Cowboys failed in their Week 17 bid to win the NFC East and claim a playoff spot. As a result, they finished 8-8 for the third straight year under Jason Garrett and will spend the offseason lamenting close losses against the Denver Broncos, Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers, but should not neglect close wins that could have been losses to the Minnesota Vikings and Washington Redskins.

The effort was fine. The Cowboys simply lost. The Eagles made more plays when it mattered most, with Brandon Boykin sealing the game for Philadelphia with a pick of Kyle Orton with 1:43 remaining. It was a horrible ending for Orton, who finished with 358 yards passing and had the Cowboys in position to do what few thought was possible. The Cowboys had a chance for the game-winning drive, but like last year at Washington with Tony Romo as quarterback, their fate was sealed by an interception.

Stock watch: Jason Witten, rising. He did what he could to keep the Cowboys in the game. He finished with a season-high 12 catches for 135 yards. He was a difficult matchup all night for the Philadelphia defense, but it wasn’t enough.

Poor situational football: Garrett preaches the importance of situational football, but it has been something that has plagued this team for years under his tutelage.

Third-down offense was an issue for the entire season and it was an issue Sunday. The Cowboys converted on just three of 11 tries.

They also had to settle for field goals on their first two drives of the second half with the defense rising up. The second Dan Bailey kick was the killer because the drive started at the Philadelphia 20 after DeMarcus Ware recovered a Nick Foles fumble. The Cowboys gained only two yards before they called on Bailey. Two first-half turnovers were also costly with the Eagles turning them into 10 points.

On fourth-and-1 in the fourth quarter, Orton’s pass to DeMarco Murray was knocked down by Connor Barwin. The Eagles responded with an 11-play drive that ended with Bryce Brown' 6-yard touchdown run and a 24-17 lead with 6:09 to play.

A failed two-point conversion kept the Eagles in front, and after Orton’s second pick the Cowboys were done.

The return of Hatcher: Maybe he felt like he was snubbed in the Pro Bowl voting, but defensive tackle Jason Hatcher had his best game in nearly two months. Hatcher had two sacks and forced a fumble. He was a nuisance all night for the Eagles' offensive line. He had not had a sack since Nov. 24 against the New York Giants. He had not had a two-sack game since that tilt as well. He finished the season with a career-high 11 sacks in what might be his final season with Dallas. He is an unrestricted free agent in March.

What’s next: The Cowboys can begin focusing on the draft and figuring out their salary-cap situation. They have plenty of decisions to make on players like Ware, Miles Austin and possibly even Brandon Carr. As far as the draft goes, the Cowboys need to find the defense help in all areas, but especially the defensive line.

Welcome to AT&T Stadium

December, 29, 2013
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ARLINGTON, Texas -- Welcome to AT&T Stadium where the Cowboys can clinch a playoff berth for the first time since 2009 with a win against the Philadelphia Eagles or finish 8-8 for the third straight year with a loss.

It is the third straight season the Cowboys are playing for the NFC East title in Week 17. The bad news: They lost the first two against the New York Giants and Washington Redskins. The good news: Neither has been at home.

In Orton they trust: With Tony Romo out because of back surgery, the Cowboys will turn to Kyle Orton, who will be making his first start since the 2011 season finale with the Kansas City Chiefs. Orton has thrown 15 passes in two seasons with the Cowboys, directing two scoring drives in blowout losses to the Chicago Bears.

Orton has experience (69 career starts), and most importantly knows what he isn’t. He will not be able to extend plays the way Romo does and will rely more on Dez Bryant, Jason Witten and DeMarco Murray to make plays for him.

In 1990, the Cowboys needed backup Babe Laufenberg to deliver a win in the final week while subbing for an injured Troy Aikman. The Cowboys lost to the Atlanta Falcons and finished 7-9.

“Anytime you get down to Week 17, everybody in this locker room is excited,” Orton said. “It’s a good excitement to have. It’s a good stress to have. Win and you’re in. I’m sure those guys in Philadelphia are feeling the same way. Handle your emotions. Don’t be too high for the game and go out and play great.”

Take off the pressure: Jason Garrett often says the running game can be a quarterback’s best friend, but he has often treated the running game as a distant cousin.

Murray is the first Cowboys rusher to have more than 1,000 yards in a season since Julius Jones in 2006. He has had at least 86 yards rushing in five of the last six games. He should have had three straight 100-yard games but took a 9-yard loss on his final carry against the Redskins last week to finish with 96 yards. He made up for it with the game-winning touchdown catch.

“If they do, then great,” Murray said when asked if he would get more carries. “If they don’t, then so be it. I’m preparing like I do any other week. I’m working hard, making sure I know my assignments and knowing my keys and things of that nature, so I’ll be ready.”

Get a stop: The Cowboys' defense has been bad for most of the year but had its shining moment against the Eagles in October.

Dallas held Philadelphia to three points, LeSean McCoy to 55 yards rushing and Nick Foles to 80 yards passing.

That defense had Sean Lee. The middle linebacker will not play Sunday night because of a neck injury. DeMarcus Ware did not play in the first meeting either, but he has hardly been the Ware who terrorized quarterbacks for years. On top of the nagging injuries that have bugged him most of the year, Ware hurt his elbow in Thursday’s practice and is listed as questionable.

He said he will play, but how effective will he be?

Double Coverage: Eagles-Cowboys

December, 27, 2013
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Kyle Orton and Nick FolesAP Photo, Getty ImagesDallas QB Kyle Orton, left, and the Eagles' Nick Foles didn't open the season as starters, but are expected to be leading their teams Sunday night with the NFC East title and a playoff berth at stake.
IRVING, Texas -- The NFC East title is at stake Sunday at AT&T Stadium when the Dallas Cowboys play the Philadelphia Eagles.

The Cowboys have been in this spot for the past three seasons, but for the first time the are likely to be without quarterback Tony Romo, who sources tell ESPN’s Adam Schefter and Chris Mortensen is not expected to play. The Eagles were not expected to be in this situation in Chip Kelly’s first season.

ESPN.com NFL reporters Todd Archer and Phil Sheridan dissect the matchup in this week’s Double Coverage.

Archer: Nick Foles was awful when these teams met earlier in the season. Where has that guy gone?

Phil Sheridan: This is the great mystery of the Eagles’ season. Theories abound. Foles had been on the Eagles’ injury report the week before that with a groin injury. Was it the groin? He left the game with a concussion. Had he suffered it earlier and been affected by that? He didn’t play well in a bowl game at Arizona. Did he shrivel up in big games? Did Jerry Jones have his family tied up in a dungeon?

It was just such an outlier of a performance from anything else he’s done this season, it seemed like there had to be some explanation. Best guess: He had a bad day. A really bad day. And he moved on from it and hasn’t let it happen again. In his next game, he threw seven touchdown passes in Oakland. He’s been outstanding since.

We’ve heard a lot about how involved Romo has been in running the offense. How much would that change with Kyle Orton in there? And is there any way he’s ready to play at all?

Archer: Honestly, I don’t believe it changes all that much. The scheme will be the same. What they will miss is Romo’s ability to make things up as things break down. That is not Orton’s game. The offensive line has played much better down the stretch, especially running the ball. The pass protection has been good enough, but needs to be better because Orton simply doesn’t move like Romo. But Orton has the arm strength to push the ball down the field, and his receivers like him even if they have not had much work with him. I’ll go back to 2010 when the Cowboys lost Romo to a collarbone injury and Jon Kitna took over. In the six games Kitna started and finished with Garrett as interim head coach, the Cowboys averaged more than 30 points a game. They need to have Orton trust the system the way Kitna trusted the system.

How much credit does Chip Kelly deserve for getting the Eagles to this point? Certainly things didn't look stable when the Cowboys visited in October.

Sheridan: Kelly deserves tons of credit. The Eagles were a smoking husk by the end of the Andy Reid era, as evidenced by their 4-12 record last season. Change was necessary, and Kelly is about as big a change as you can get. The players bought into it immediately, and they really seem to enjoy playing for him. He got a great effort from them Sunday night against the Bears, just hours after the Cowboys won and the Eagles knew they couldn’t clinch the division.

I think two things happened to account for the rough patch the Eagles hit in October. The Giants had found some ways to disrupt the Eagles’ run-blocking scheme, and the Cowboys deployed a similar approach. Also, the quarterbacks were both terrible and injured, in that order, in back-to-back losses to the Cowboys and Giants. Kelly adjusted the run blocking, Foles came back, and the Eagles are 6-1 since.

Let me ask the flip side of the Foles question: The Cowboys didn't have DeMarcus Ware in that first game. They dominated Foles and held LeSean McCoy to 55 rushing yards. What happened to those guys?

Archer: Injuries have happened. The Cowboys have lost Sean Lee to hamstring and neck injuries, and he’s not likely to play Sunday because of the neck. Morris Claiborne has missed six of the past seven games with a hamstring injury. He might play Sunday, but he’s not been effective when he has played. Ware has not been anywhere close to form because of a variety of injuries and just poor play. Jason Hatcher has slumped after a solid start. Brandon Carr has slumped, too. Bruce Carter has not played well. Are you sensing a trend? To me there is a huge crisis of confidence with this defense from a player and coach standpoint. I don’t know if the players trust the coaches, and I don’t know if the coaches can dial up changes to stop anybody. But they can hang their hat on that first game as they enter this one, so we won’t have to bring up Kelly’s collegiate success vs. Monte Kiffin as much.

LeSean McCoy for MVP? It sure seems like he's perfect for what Kelly wants to do.

Sheridan: Bears coach Marc Trestman nailed it after McCoy went for 133 rushing yards Sunday night: “I don’t think it would matter what offensive system he plays in. Chip has done a tremendous job putting his offense in, no doubt about it, but he is just a great back.”

One of the perennial gripes about Andy Reid was that he called running plays about as often as he turned down a second helping. That was true when he had Duce Staley, Brian Westbrook and McCoy. But McCoy was effective in Reid’s offense. It’s just that Kelly loves to run the ball, and his play designs reliably get McCoy into the secondary with one man to beat. And McCoy can beat almost anybody one-on-one.

MVP? Guessing the Sportsman of the Year Peyton Manning already has his name engraved on the trophy, but McCoy certainly belongs in the conversation.

What is the sense you get of the Cowboys' mindset? Do they see the blowout in Chicago, the collapse against Green Bay and the struggle at Washington as three bad games in a row? Or does pulling out the win Sunday give them a feeling they're back on the right track? And are they right?

Archer: If you asked me this after the Redskins game, I would say they are riding high. It was the kind of win that can carry a team emotionally. But with the Romo news, I think that deflates them some. This team has shown a resiliency. They bounced back after tough losses to Denver, Detroit and Green Bay. I’ll give Garrett credit for that. He has a mentally tough team. He just doesn’t have a terribly talented team. Romo creates so much for this offense that they will need others to raise their games. It’s possible. They still have Dez Bryant, DeMarco Murray, Jason Witten and Miles Austin on offense. That’s not a shabby group by any stretch. And Orton is smart enough to know what he isn’t. I think with the Romo news coming early in the week, it will allow them to prepare knowing he probably can’t play.

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How did Dallas D dominate Eagles?

December, 26, 2013
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IRVING, Texas -- It’s one of the biggest mysteries of the NFL season.

How did this Dallas defense dominate that Philadelphia Eagles' offense? How did Monte Kiffin’s vulnerable bunch shut down Chip Kelly’s explosive group?

The Cowboys rank last in defense, allowing an average of 418.6 yards per game. The Eagles average 420.7 yards of offense, ranking second in the league. Kelly’s Oregon offenses put up an average of 601 yards and 50 points in three Pac-12 matchups against Kiffin’s USC defenses.

[+] EnlargeLeSean McCoy
Elsa/Getty ImagesThe Cowboys were able to contain LeSean McCoy in their first meeting with the Eagles this season.
But the Cowboys limited the Eagles to 278 yards and a field goal Oct. 20 in Philadelphia, keying a 17-3 Dallas win that was critical to making Sunday night’s rematch a win-or-go-home affair.

“We hustled and just really played well that day,” Kiffin said. “We have to do it again. They’re better now.”

The Cowboys defense, to put it kindly, is not better now. Middle linebacker Sean Lee, whose outstanding performance against the Eagles earned him NFC defensive player of the week honors, is sidelined with a strained neck. Defensive tackle Jason Hatcher hasn’t recently resembled the dominant force who wreaked havoc that afternoon at Lincoln Financial Field. Cornerback Brandon Carr, who frustrated Eagles receiver DeSean Jackson (three catches, 21 yards), has been struggling.

The Eagles offense, on the other hand, is better than ever, coming off a 54-point explosion in last week’s win over the Chicago Bears.

It appeared on Oct. 20 that Philadelphia quarterback Nick Foles, who was still considered Michael Vick’s backup at the time, was exposed. However, his poor performance (11-of-29 for 80 yards) turned out to be the exception.

Foles has the NFL’s highest passer rating (118.8) and has thrown 25 touchdowns and only two interceptions, putting him in position to set the league record for touchdown-to-interception ratio. He has averaged a league-high 10.0 yards per attempt since looking so bad against the Cowboys, leading to some speculation about when he actually suffered the concussion that caused him to leave that game in the third quarter.

“I felt like he just missed a couple of throws that game,” said Cowboys cornerback Orlando Scandrick, who repeatedly referred to the Eagles offense as an “extreme challenge.”

To the credit of the Cowboys’ front four, it affected Foles frequently that afternoon despite DeMarcus Ware missing the first game of his NFL career. But the Cowboys haven’t been able to generate a consistent pass rush often, ranking 31st in the league in sacks (29) and last in sack percentage (4.5).

Defensive end George Selvie had two sacks in that Week 7 win. He’s had two sacks since.

Hatcher had seven tackles, a sack and four pressures in that game. He has a total of seven tackles, zero sacks and five pressures in the Cowboys’ past four games.

The consensus opinion among the Cowboys is that containing LeSean McCoy, the league’s leading rusher, was the key to their defensive dominance in Philadelphia. McCoy gained only 55 yards on 18 carries, about half his average in the rest of the Eagles’ games this season.

“We just ran and hit and got to the football,” Hatcher said. “There’s nothing different. We’re just going to go and get after the football, contain 25 and affect the quarterback.”

The Dallas defense did that miraculously well in Philadelphia. We’ll find out Sunday night whether that was a fluke.

Five Wonders: Trying to be Romo-free

December, 24, 2013
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IRVING, Texas -- It's time for Five Wonders, and we’ll keep them Tony Romo-free because it’s just too easy to wonder about what will happen to the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles without their quarterback.

There is no wonder that the Cowboys’ season comes down to another winner-take-all finale.

It now seems preordained, doesn't it?

Away we go:
  • You will have to take my word for it that this was a wonder before the Romo news broke. I wonder if Jerry Jones gives Jason Garrett a contract extension if the Cowboys win Sunday. Jones keeps the length of the head coach's contract under lock and key but said in training camp that there are “years” left on Garrett’s deal. If Jones wants to show just how much he believes in Garrett, he should give him a contract extension. There’s a feeling that if the Cowboys don’t win Jones will make changes. Does Romo’s injury buy Garrett another year since the Cowboys will not be able to go down firing with their franchise quarterback? Perhaps. But if Garrett can pull this off and get this team to the playoffs, he would deserve a ton of credit. This team has been hit hard by injuries the last two seasons, and yet Garrett has had this team playing for a division title in Week 17 in all three years he has been the full-time coach.
  • This is sort of Romo-free. It’s about Kyle Orton. I remember there was some mumbling when the Cowboys signed Orton last year and gave him a $5 million signing bonus. How could they sink that kind of money into a player they hoped would never throw a pass? It was a lot of money, especially with the money they were paying Romo, but it’s how Garrett has operated. He had Brad Johnson as Romo’s first backup when he got here in 2007 and then he had Jon Kitna as Romo’s backup. He believes in veteran backup quarterbacks. I wonder now if people see why the Cowboys sunk their money into Orton, who could have competed for a starting job elsewhere in 2012 but chose to come to Dallas. Did it cost the Cowboys depth in other spots? Not really. And now with the season on the line they are not stuck with an unproven player. Imagine if something like this happened in New England and Ryan Mallett had to replace Tom Brady in Week 17. Who would you rather have for a right-here-right-now kind of game? Orton has started 69 games. He knows the game. He can avoid mistakes. Will he? Who knows. But the Cowboys at least feel better than some other teams would with their backup having to play.
  • I wonder how many yards Eagles running back LeSean McCoy picks up. He had only 55 on 18 carries when these teams first met. It was a dynamite effort from the Cowboys in October at Lincoln Financial Field. McCoy leads the NFL with 1,476 yards rushing, and he gained 133 yards in Sunday’s win against the Chicago Bears. The Cowboys have the league’s 27th-ranked rush defense, giving up 127.9 yards per game on the ground. Sean Lee is unlikely to play because of a neck injury. The only time the Cowboys have really stopped the run since playing the Eagles came on Thanksgiving, when they held the Oakland Raiders to 50 yards on 25 carries. The Cowboys made Alfred Morris work for his 88 yards last week, but Eddie Lacy, Matt Forte, Andre Brown, Mark Ingram, Adrian Peterson all went for more than 100 yards on Dallas and Reggie Bush got 92 yards. Considering how porous the pass defense has been, I can see the Cowboys being more worried about Nick Foles, in dying a quick death than dying a slow death with McCoy running.
  • I wonder how involved Jason Witten will be Sunday. He needs to be heavily involved, but things have been quiet lately. He has not had more than four catches in a game since Nov. 3 against Minnesota (eight catches, 102 yards). But this is why Witten needs to have a big game Sunday: He has manhandled the Eagles in the past. Philadelphia rolled through linebackers unable to stop Witten over the years. He had only four catches for 48 yards in their October meeting, but in 20 career games against the Eagles he has 113 receptions for 1,281 yards and seven touchdowns. He has had four 100-yard games against Philadelphia and 12 games with more than four catches. The last time the Cowboys needed a backup quarterback, Kitna learned quickly to lean on Witten. Orton should do the same.
  • I wonder if the Foles of the first meeting shows up. That Foles was something awful. The wind was tricky -- even Romo made reference to it -- but Foles completed just 11 of 29 passes for 80 yards before leaving with a concussion. Was he concussed before leaving the game? The Foles since that game has been nothing short of amazing. He tied an NFL record for touchdown passes in a game with seven, and has had three other games with three touchdown passes. Overall, he has 25 touchdown passes and only two interceptions. The Cowboys played mostly man coverage against the Eagles' receivers and he could not fit the throws. He was a backup quarterback then, filling in for Michael Vick. He’s no longer a backup, and that might be a good thing for the Cowboys. We know how Matt Flynn and Josh McCown fared against Dallas earlier in the month.

Rapid Reaction: Dallas Cowboys

December, 22, 2013
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LANDOVER, Md. -- A few thoughts on the Dallas Cowboys' 24-23 victory over the Washington Redskins:

What it means for the Cowboys: They’re alive. For the third straight year, the Cowboys will play a Week 17 game for the right to win the NFC East and make the playoffs. Somehow.

Trailing 23-14, the Cowboys rallied on Tony Romo's 10-yard touchdown throw to DeMarco Murray on a fourth-and-goal play with 1:08 to go. The defense was able to come up with a stop, and now the Cowboys welcome the Philadelphia Eagles to AT&T Stadium next week to try to make the playoffs for the first time since 2009. The Cowboys are 5-0 in the NFC East for the first time since 1998 and snapped a two-game losing streak.

It was not pretty, but it will do. It also continued to show the team’s ability to bounce back from tough losses. The Cowboys did it earlier in the season against the Redskins after their 51-48 loss to the Denver Broncos, and they did it after their 31-30 loss to the Detroit Lions when they beat the Minnesota Vikings.

Stock watch: Terrance Williams, rising. On the winning drive, Williams caught two passes for 66 yards, including a 51-yarder that set up Murray’s touchdown catch. Williams finished the day with four catches for 84 yards, which is his second-most in a game this season.

Murray hits mark: It should have happened last week against the Green Bay Packers, but DeMarco Murray went over 1,000 yards on the season with a 43-yard run in the second quarter.

Murray finished with 96 yards on 22 carries and enters the final game of the season with 1,073 yards, which is even more impressive considering he missed two games earlier in the season with a knee injury. He is the first Cowboys running back with 1,000 yards in a season since Julius Jones had 1,084 in 2006. Murray also had his ninth rushing touchdown of the season when he bulled his way in from the 3 on the Cowboys’ first drive. It’s the most rushing touchdowns by a Dallas back since Marion Barber had 10 in 2007.

Oh, by the way, he scored the winning touchdown.

Defense comes up with stops: The offense did the defense no favors by starting out the second half with turnovers on consecutive possessions that led to Washington touchdowns and a 20-14 lead.

The Cowboys were able to overcome a bad penalty by J.J. Wilcox on a third-down play to hold Washington to a field goal, then came up with the only punt of the second half when Orlando Scandrick broke up a Kirk Cousins pass to Pierre Garcon. They also flustered Cousins into poor throws on the final drive.

What’s next: The Cowboys close the regular season at AT&T Stadium against the Eagles. The Cowboys beat Philadelphia 17-3 on Oct. 20 at Lincoln Financial Field with what was their best defensive effort of the season. They kept LeSean McCoy in check (55 yards), limited Nick Foles to 80 yards passing before knocking him out of the game and intercepted Matt Barkley three times in the fourth quarter.

Upon Further Review: Cowboys Week 13

November, 29, 2013
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ARLINGTON, Texas -- A review of four hot issues from the Dallas Cowboys' 31-24 win against the Oakland Raiders at AT&T Stadium.

Where's the pressure?: For just the second time this season, the Cowboys did not record a quarterback sack. The only other time it happened came against Denver Broncos signal-caller Peyton Manning. Matt McGloin isn't Manning, but he was getting rid of the ball quickly, and that made it difficult for DeMarcus Ware or Jason Hatcher to get to him. With Jay Cutler (possibly), Aaron Rodgers (possibly), Robert Griffin III and Nick Foles left on the schedule, the Cowboys have to hope this is not the start of a trend.

Harris
Missing Dwayne Harris: Things started poorly when Terrance Williams fumbled the opening kickoff and Oakland returned it for a touchdown. The punt return game was only OK with Cole Beasley handling the job. Harris, who did not play because of a hamstring strain, is among the best returners in the NFL and has had a knack for big returns at big times. Beasley has the quickness necessary, but he does not possess Harris' strength to break through tackles. Williams has the speed, but he did not show Harris' vision on kick returns. The Cowboys also missed Harris' coverage skills as a gunner.

Good coaching: DeMarco Murray is the Cowboys' lead runner. That should not be in doubt, but offensive coordinator Bill Callahan should be credited for sticking with Lance Dunbar in the third quarter. The Cowboys found something that was working and kept hitting it. With the field spread with the Cowboys using three wide receivers, Dunbar's quickness kept the Raiders off guard. Dunbar's longest run -- a 45-yarder -- came out of 11 personnel. If Dunbar can stay healthy, he will give the Cowboys a good change-of-pace back down the stretch to complement Murray.

Protect the ball: Dez Bryant could not blame his second-quarter fumble on cold weather like he did his fumble last week against the New York Giants. The Cowboys have had conversations with Bryant about being more willing to go down instead of fighting for extra yards, because he has not always secured the ball. That wasn't the case Thursday, but Bryant has to be careful, and the Cowboys have to be careful it doesn't take some of his aggression away. Facing second-and-15 in the fourth quarter, Bryant fought off three tacklers and gained 14 yards to make a third-down conversion much easier.

Five Wonders: A wild-card possibility?

November, 26, 2013
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IRVING, Texas -- It's a short week for the Dallas Cowboys with the Oakland Raiders visiting on Thanksgiving, but we're not shortening Five Wonders.

It's still five and we're still wondering.

On to the Wonders:
  • The easiest way for the Cowboys to make the playoffs is to win the NFC East. With their 4-0 division record, the Cowboys appear to be in control there. But I wonder if they could sneak into a wild-card spot depending on how things play out. The Carolina Panthers (8-3) and San Francisco 49ers (7-4) hold the wild-card spots right now. The Panthers have two games left with the New Orleans Saints, whom they trail by a game in the NFC South race. San Francisco has an easier schedule the rest of the way and maybe Monday's win is a sign of things to come, but it is scuffling more than people expected. The Arizona Cardinals (7-4) play two teams with losing records the rest of the way and still have the Seattle Seahawks and 49ers. The Cowboys have head-to-head matchups against the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers in December that could aid their wild-card possibilities should the Philadelphia Eagles remain hot. Of course, it all could come down to Dec. 29 at AT&T Stadium against the Eagles for a third straight win-or-go-home game.
  • Because the Cowboys did not employ a dime defense at the start of the season, they felt they were safe in carrying only four cornerbacks -- Brandon Carr, Morris Claiborne, Orlando Scandrick and B.W. Webb -- on the 53-man roster. They kept Micah Pellerin on the practice squad as insurance and needed Pellerin for a game. Now I wonder if keeping only four is catching up to them. Pellerin was cut last week and claimed by the Tennessee Titans, which forced the Cowboys to sign Sterling Moore on Monday now that Claiborne is out with a hamstring injury. Webb is OK in small doses, but it sure seems as if quarterbacks know when he is in the game, doesn't it? The Cowboys viewed Moore mostly as a slot player and did not believe he was worth keeping over Webb, a fourth-round pick. Until Claiborne got hurt, they were right, but the Cowboys now find themselves hoping Moore is in good shape and can pick up the defense quickly after nearly three months out of the game. Claiborne could be looking at a two-game absence again, if not three depending on the severity of his new hamstring injury.
  • I wonder if we'll see more Gavin Escobar and Lance Dunbar down the stretch. Jerry Jones made it a point of emphasis during the bye week that he wanted to see Dunbar get some snap. Dunbar had eight against the Giants and had 20 yards on three carries. His 18-yard run was the longest by a Dallas runner this season not named DeMarco Murray. He offers up a change of pace for this offense. He also caught two passes for 26 yards. So of the eight snaps, he delivered 46 yards, which is not a bad ratio. Escobar played in 12 snaps as the Cowboys used their “13 personnel” more and also had him split some of the No. 2 tight end work with James Hanna. Escobar also had his first catch since Oct. 6. He needs time to develop but he can be a decent outlet in the passing game because of his ability to make plays on the ball.
  • Sean Lee has plenty of incentive to get back on the field. First and foremost in his mind is to help the Cowboys win games. Lee is the best defender the Cowboys have, but he has missed all but one snap in the last seven quarters with a hamstring injury. He would like to play Thursday against the Oakland Raiders, but given the short week of preparation and the need for him to be healthy for the rest of the season, the Cowboys will most likely play it conservative. There is also a financial incentive. I wonder if Lee hits on the 80 percent play-time escalator in his contract that would boost his 2015 base salary from $2.5 million to $4 million. If Lee plays in 80 percent of the snaps this season or next, he would get the extra $1.5 million. Before getting hurt, Lee played in at least 97 percent of the snaps in eight of the Cowboys' first nine games. He played in 78 percent of the snaps in the blowout win against the St. Louis Rams and just 15 snaps against New Orleans before getting hurt. He has missed 127 snaps in the past two games. If he doesn't play against the Raiders, that could be another 60 snaps. The Cowboys are on pace for 1,123 defensive snaps this season and Lee would have to play in 898 snaps to reach 80 percent. I believe he gets it but he can't have any setbacks.
  • I wonder if Tony Romo makes the Pro Bowl. The voting rules have changed. It is no longer the top three quarterbacks per conference. It is six for the league. It's safe to think Peyton Manning and Drew Brees will get in. Tom Brady might not be having the typical Tom Brady season but he's still Tom Brady, so he should get voted in as well. Aaron Rodgers will miss his fourth straight game on Thursday with a broken collarbone, so he's not a lock. Seattle's Russell Wilson has the NFL's best record and good numbers. So where does Romo start to fit in? He's fourth in touchdown passes with 23. He is seventh in passer rating. He has cut back on his interceptions. He has directed two final-minute drives to lead the Cowboys to their last two wins. Who else could be in the mix? San Diego's Philip Rivers will be in there. Philadelphia's Nick Foles has 16 touchdowns and no interceptions. He could be there too. Remember, the two quarterbacks from the Super Bowl teams won't play in the game, so that adds to the pool. If Romo does not make it, you'd have to wonder if there is a Cowboys' bias. I kid. I kid.

Double Coverage: Vikings at Cowboys

October, 31, 2013
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Jared Allen and Tony RomoAP PhotoJared Allen's Vikings and Tony Romo's Cowboys match up on Sunday in a game where neither team looks like much of a playoff threat.

IRVING, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys kick off the second half of their season at AT&T Stadium on Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings, who are still looking for their first win in the United States this season.

A playoff team a year ago, the Vikings have been one of the biggest disappointments in the NFL. At 4-4, the Cowboys are looking at their third straight 8-8 season under Jason Garrett.

ESPN.com Vikings reporter Ben Goessling and ESPN.com Cowboys reporter Todd Archer debate the game in this week’s Double Coverage.

Archer: I think a lot of people assumed the Vikings would be a serious playoff threat, but obviously that’s not the case. How is it sitting with the veterans on the team like Adrian Peterson, Jared Allen, Chad Greenway and guys who have experienced success?

Goessling: A lot of those players have been disappointed, but they all seem to be sticking behind coach Leslie Frazier, at least for now. There have been a few hints of discontent from players with the defensive scheme, but nobody seems to be quitting on the season. A lot of the problems are out of the Vikings’ control, at least in the sense that they can do only so much with the roster they have. It’s hard to win and have an open competition at quarterback at the same time. And the Vikings’ moves in the secondary have backfired terribly. This hasn’t been the same team without Antoine Winfield, and now that Harrison Smith is hurt, the Vikings have few playmakers on the back end of their defense.

Speaking of quarterbacks, it looks like Tony Romo is playing some of his best football this year. I suppose with him, we never really know what to think until the playoffs, but does it seem to you like he’s turned any type of a corner?

Archer: I think he’s played at a higher level than most people want to say for the past few years, but he’s been stuck with this tag that he can’t shake until (if) the Cowboys make the playoffs and win a couple of games. This year, he has more say in the offense in terms of the game plan, so I think that has him feeling more weight to make the correct play and not be so much of a gunslinger. He’s struggled the past three games with his accuracy, but he’s made big plays and mostly stayed away from the bad ones. He remains creative when things break down, but he’s also willing to take a sack or throw the ball away.

Peterson is coming home, so to speak. How have things been different for him this season after 2,000 yards last season?

Goessling: He has been dealing with a minor hamstring injury for the past few weeks, but I think the biggest problem for Peterson has been the play of his offensive line. The group hasn’t been anywhere near as good as it was last season at opening holes for Peterson, and fullback Jerome Felton has struggled to get into a rhythm after missing the first three games because of a suspension. At times, Peterson has looked impatient, wanting to make that one extra cut for a 60-yard run and winding up with a 2- or 3-yarder when the hole closes. He’s also seeing more eight-man fronts than any other back in the league, and without a line that’s able to handle the extra attention, Peterson isn’t going to beat those defenses all the time. Even he isn’t that good.

But maybe this is the week the Vikings can resurrect their passing game, playing against the worst pass defense in the league. Are the Cowboys so bad that they’ll have trouble even with the Vikings’ ensemble cast at quarterback?

Archer: Unless Christian Ponder, Josh Freeman or Matt Cassel morph into Peyton or Eli Manning, Philip Rivers or Matthew Stafford, I can’t see it happening, even as bad as the pass defense has been. When it has played against middling quarterbacks -- Alex Smith (yes, I know he’s 8-0, but he’s not a great passer), Sam Bradford, a returning-to-health Robert Griffin III and Nick Foles -- the defense has looked good. When it has faced top passers, it has allowed the most 400-yard games in NFL history for a season -- in just eight games. Monte Kiffin’s scheme is very basic and designed to not give up big plays, yet the Cowboys have given up a ton of big plays. They have missed DeMarcus Ware the past two games and will have a banged-up secondary Sunday. If Ware returns, that should help, but I think the biggest aid for the defense will be whomever Frazier picks to play quarterback.

For years, the strength of the Vikings D, to me anyway, has been the pass rush. Statistically, it’s not very good, but is that a product of the secondary issues you talked about?

Goessling: I’d say it’s the other way around. The Vikings were certainly better in the secondary last year than they are this year, but they were helped out by the fact the front four was getting to the quarterback enough to keep teams from exploiting them in the passing game. This year, the Vikings have been done in by teams that can get the ball out quickly (the Lions and Packers, especially), and they just haven’t gotten much push up the middle. Allen and Brian Robison are hustling, but they can do only so much when they’re getting the bulk of opposing teams’ attention. The Vikings still aren’t a blitz-heavy team, but they have had to bring extra guys a little more often than usual this year and Aaron Rodgers burned them on a blitz Sunday. If Romo gets the ball out quickly, he should have plenty of openings. The good news for the Cowboys is A) the Vikings could have three defensive backs out with injury, and B) Josh Robinson will be on the field.

The week after the Vikings lost in the final seconds against the Bears, they got beat by the Browns at home. Do you expect any kind of shell shock from the Cowboys after that Matthew Stafford touchdown last week?

Archer: I really don’t. The Cowboys have had so many of these types of losses that they know how to bounce back. The bad thing is they have had to do this too often. We came up with 21 losses since 2005 that can be described as “crazy” with late-game shenanigans. The Lions loss was just another one to add to the list. The Cowboys lost a game in 2010 because they missed an extra point. They lost a game in 2008 in overtime on a blocked punt returned for a touchdown. And those both came at Arizona.

So the Cowboys somehow do a good job of compartmentalizing things and putting a bad week behind them. Garrett deserves some credit for that, I guess.

 

Five Wonders: D with plenty left to prove

October, 22, 2013
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IRVING, Texas -- For the first time this season Five Wonders comes with the Dallas Cowboys on a winning streak.

I wonder if they can make it three in a row Sunday against the Detroit Lions. They have not won three in a row since Weeks 13-15 last season.

On to the Wonders:

[+] EnlargeBarry Church and Morris Claiborne
Howard Smith/USA TODAY SportsThe Cowboys had three picks off of backup quarterback Matt Barkley.
• The Cowboys defense deserves a ton of credit for limiting Philadelphia to just 278 yards, but I wonder how much Nick Foles and Matt Barkley played into the result. When the Cowboys have faced upper echelon throwers, they have struggled. Philip Rivers lit them up. So did Peyton Manning. And Eli Manning threw for 450 yards against them in the opener. Sam Bradford was bad. Alex Smith was economical but hardly impressive. Robert Griffin III was erratic. And this week the Cowboys get Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford. He can spin it as well as any quarterback in the NFL and has some guy named Calvin Johnson to throw it to. The change in the Dallas defense the last two games -- at least against the pass -- has been more man coverage. It’s time for the Cowboys defense to show they can handle a top-flight passer and not just the average quarterbacks. There are more top-flight quarterbacks on the schedule the rest of the way in Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers and Jay Cutler (provided he’s healthy). And there are also the rematches with Eli Manning and Griffin. The defense has performed better, but it’s not like it has arrived yet either.

• Right guard Brian Waters has helped cement the interior of the offensive line this season. It has not always been perfect, but it’s been solid and that’s not always been the case for the Cowboys the last few seasons. Waters is 36. I wonder if he wants to play again as a 37 year old. The Cowboys signed Waters to a one-year deal before the season started and allowed him to work in slowly before taking over the starting spot. If Waters wants to play again -- and it’s a question I’ll try to ask him this week -- I would bet the Cowboys would want him. There will have to be some assurances that he will take part in the offseason or training camp for sure. The proximity to his home should make a difference if he wants to play. I don’t know how big that “if” is, but the younger players have learned a lot from Waters and so have the more veteran guys. He helps with the shotgun snap by tapping rookie Travis Frederick. He has the strength to hold up at the point of attack. He doesn’t move as well as he once did, but he’s not just a phone booth guy either.

• Entering the game against the Philadelphia Eagles, DeMarco Murray had the highest percentage of rushing yards of a team in the league with 428 of the Cowboys’ 509 rushing yards. That percentage went down since he missed the Eagles’ game, and I wonder if the Cowboys will continue to use Joseph Randle in a role once Murray comes back from the knee injury. Murray has had a good 2013 season, but if Randle can lessen the burden, then the fresher Murray will be. We don’t know how Murray will handle a large amount of carries. He has never had more than 164 in a season because of injuries. Randle showed some decent vision against the Eagles and he was secure with the ball. He has more make-you-miss than Murray as well. Murray will still be the Cowboys’ bell cow in the running game, but if Randle can offer more than just a change of pace it makes sense to keep him involved in the game plan.

• I wonder if Dwayne Harris' punt return opportunities will be limited for the rest of the season. It would be the ultimate sign of respect from the opposition. Philadelphia’s Donnie Jones made sure Harris would not be a factor. His punts were high and outside the numbers, limiting where Harris could go if he chose to return a punt. As a result Harris averaged just 4.6 yards per punt return and had to use a fair catch signal twice. If this continues -- and if teams are smart it will -- then Harris will have to remain patient. Jason Garrett loves Harris’ decision making, but he knows there could come a time where Harris might try to make something out of nothing. That can only lead to trouble. Harris is a major weapon and the Eagles made sure he would not beat them the way he beat the Washington Redskins the previous week.

• I wonder if Edgar Jones knows just how much people will be paying attention to his recovery from sports hernia surgery. The Cowboys put him on the short-term injured reserve list, meaning he is out for eight weeks and can return Dec. 15 against the Green Bay Packers. Last December, the Cowboys chose not to place Jay Ratliff on injured reserve after he had sports hernia surgery because they hoped he would be able to return for a possible playoff run. Ratliff’s agent contended the surgery was more severe than the typical sports hernia, but I contend that if the Cowboys believed it would be a 12-month recovery they would have put him on injured reserve immediately last year. All surgeries are different. All rehab times are different. Terence Newman was back in five weeks from a sports hernia surgery a few years ago. Jones’ surgery was performed by the same doctor as Ratliff as well. If you’re wondering why the Cowboys used the one-time IR designation on Jones, then remember that the team was running out of time to use it and hope a player can be back in the regular season.

Monte Kiffin gets better of Chip Kelly

October, 20, 2013
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Kiffin-Kelly AP Photo/Matt RourkeCowboys defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, right, succeeded in slowing down Chip Kelly's offense.
PHILADELPHIA -- Leading up to Dallas' game against the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday, maybe you heard that Cowboys defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin had some tough times against Chip Kelly in the Pac-12.

Kiffin heard it.

“It seems like I remember that,” Kiffin smiled.

The numbers from the three meetings were staggering.

When Kelly was the coach at Oregon, the Ducks averaged 50 points and 601 yards in three games against USC when Kiffin was the Trojans' defensive coordinator. Oregon scored 62 points and had 730 yards last year against USC.

So, of course, when Kiffin and Kelly had their first NFL meeting on Sunday, Kiffin’s defense gave up only a field goal in the Cowboys' 17-3 victory against the Eagles.

It makes perfect sense, right?

Dallas' defense had allowed 1,456 yards in its three previous games. This was a defense that did not force a punt two weeks ago against the Denver Broncos and allowed 216 rushing yards last week to the Washington Redskins. Plus, the defense was without DE DeMarcus Ware, who missed the first game of his career with a quadriceps strain.

Dallas' defense was going against an offense that became only the second offense in NFL history to put up at least 1,500 yards passing and 1,050 yards rushing in six games. This defense was going against an offense that had the NFL’s leading rusher, LeSean McCoy, and that put up at least 400 yards in each of its first six games, only the fourth team in league history to do that.

And on Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field, Kiffin’s defense gave up only 278 yards, sacked quarterback Nick Foles three times, and intercepted backup QB Matt Barkley three times (all in the fourth quarter).

“Sometimes you get them,” Kiffin said. "[Sometimes] they get you. He got us pretty good at Southern Cal. We did get him one year when we were up at Oregon, but even that was a 38-35 game so it still was a shootout. But, no, he’s a great coach. It’s one of those days. You’re going to have days like that.”

The Cowboys' defense had days like that against QB Philip Rivers and then Peyton Manning and the Redskins’ running game, so much so that some questioned whether Kiffin still had it at 73 years old. Kelly’s offense seemed to be coming at the wrong time.

“If it was personal, he did a good job of hiding it,” safety Barry Church said. “He didn’t say anything about this own past with Chip Kelly, but he had a great game plan this week and we were able to execute.”

The plan was simple: contain McCoy and harass WR DeSean Jackson.

“When you become a good defense, you play fast and you know what you are doing,” Kiffin said. “Like I say, you see a little, you see a lot. You see a lot, you see nothing. Well, we were seeing a lot earlier in the year. We were seeing a lot, but we weren’t seeing anything. Just see a little bit, read your keys, and you have a chance to see better.”

McCoy carried 18 times for 55 yards and did not have a run longer than 10 yards. Jackson, who was shadowed most of the game by CB Brandon Carr, caught three passes for 16 yards. Philadelphia converted on only four of 22 third-down tries.

It helped that Foles was off target and his receivers were unable to make some catches they would normally make. It helped that that the Cowboys held the ball for 36 minutes, 13 seconds to keep the Eagles from getting any sort of rhythm.

“I heard stories about him at USC struggling with that particular offense, but when you sprint to the football, I mean, it makes things a lot easier,” defensive tackle Jason Hatcher said. “We got 11 guys sprinting to the football and that’s what we did.”

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