Dallas Cowboys: Percy Harvin

Dez Bryant at top of Class of '15 WRs

June, 13, 2014
Jun 13
IRVING, Texas -- ESPN Insider Mike Sando has a piece up on the loaded 2015 class of potential free-agent wide receivers, and the Dallas Cowboys' Dez Bryant leads the list.

Sando had help from two NFL general managers, an offensive assistant and a defensive coordinator. If you want to read the full story, you have to be an Insider Insider, but Bryant ranked ahead of guys such as Demaryius Thomas, Michael Crabtree and Jordy Nelson.

There are six receivers in the NFL earning more than $11 million per season. Does Bryant join that list with Calvin Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald, Percy Harvin, Mike Wallace, Dwayne Bowe and Vincent Jackson? Do we need to point out the new deal DeSean Jackson signed with the Washington Redskins is with $8 million annually?

Here’s what Sando wrote about Bryant:
Bryant lined up on the perimeter for 89.1 percent of his routes last season, the highest percentage for any player on this list. Versatility is great and teams certainly feature players from the slot, but being labeled as a "slot guy" isn't the best thing for a player's value in evaluators' eyes. "It's such a difference when you have outside guys that can stretch the field," a veteran assistant coach said.

Bryant, who turns 26 in November, accounted for 29.2 percent of the Cowboys' receiving yards last season. That was the highest percentage for any player on the list. He also accounted for 39.4 percent of his team's receiving touchdowns, by far the highest for any player on this list and the third highest for any wide receiver, behind Fitzgerald (41.4 percent) and Megatron (39.4).

"You'd better pay Dez Bryant," one of the GMs said. "Jerry Jones had better pay him. The antics you see, that is raw emotion, his competitive flair coming out."

Another GM expressed some concern about paying Bryant top dollar based on Bryant's overall makeup, but both GMs ranked Bryant first on their list, as did the defensive coordinator. "Teams will bid on Bryant," a third GM said, "but not all the teams will be in on that, because of his personality."

Bryant is set to make $1.78 million on the final year of his rookie contract. He doesn’t want to leave. The Cowboys don’t want him to leave. How they reach an agreement will be interesting. Bryant did not dismiss the idea of a hometown discount in this story from Tim MacMahon last month. I’ve written that the structure will matter most.

There is always the possibility of the franchise tag.

But I will ask this question: When was the last time the Cowboys lost somebody they wanted to keep?
Done with Day 2 of free agency and on to Day 3. We have some observations.

Randy Galloway and Matt Mosley discuss the latest free-agency moves going on around the NFL.

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Dez Bryant looks at Mike Wallace's contract: Wide receiver Mike Wallace left the Pittsburgh Steelers and singed a five-year $60 million deal with $30 million guaranteed with the Miami Dolphins. Wallace is just 26 years old and becomes the third-highest paid wide receiver in the NFL. What does it all mean? Well, the Cowboys have an emerging young talent in Dez Bryant, who is 24, and coming off his first 1,000 yard season. Bryant is signed through 2014, and who knows what the market will look like then given the money Wallace got this week. Bryant needs to stay out of trouble, which he's done so far this offseason, and if he continues to produce, a big money contract awaits him. Should the Cowboys let Bryant get to the final year of his contract? Or do the Cowboys make sure after the 2013 season, he gets an extension?

Cowboys send three to Alabama: Coach Jason Garrett didn't attend Alabama's Pro Day on Wednesday, however, two scouts and Tom Ciskowski, the director of college and pro scouting, watched the talent. Former NFL scout Bryan Broaddus, who works for the Dallas Cowboys web site offers these thoughts on Alabama's Pro Day here. Jeff Reynolds of NFL Draft Scout send in this report of what went down. Mel Kiper Jr., ESPN's NFL Draft expert, has the Cowboys taking guard Chance Warmack with the No. 18th overall pick next month.

Remember when Danny Amendola was a Cowboy?: It seems like years ago, but it was just 2008 when wide receiver Danny Amendola was in Cowboys training camp trying to make the roster. Amendola was trying to make the 53-man roster that had Miles Austin, Patrick Crayton, Terry Glenn, Sam Hurd, Terrell Owens and Isaiah Stanback on the roster as well. Amendola didn't make the roster, he was cut that summer, but later added to the practice squad, but in 2009 he played in 14 games for the St. Louis Rams after being signed from the Eagles practice squad. Wednesday, Amendola signed a five-year deal worth $31 million with $10 million guaranteed with the New England Patriots. He's come a long way from trying to surpass Austin and Hurd, who were then at the bottom of the receiving depth chart. Amendola has been injury prone of late, but is an excellent receiver in the slot, and because he's younger than Wes Welker, it's probably one of the reasons he's with the Pats. ESPNBoston's Mike Reiss gives his take on the Patriots signing.

Overtime: S Gerald Sensabaugh is getting interest from Arizona and Tennessee. He visited the Titans on Wednesday. ... No word yet on CB Mike Jenkins visits. ... The Cowboys saw Bennett twice last year with the Giants and they'll see him again when they visit Solider Field. The Cowboys, however, won't see Percy Harvin when they host Minnesota. Harvin is now with Seattle.

Cowboys weekend mailbag

February, 17, 2013
Before you watch the NBA All-Star Game tonight, we'll give you our three best questions in our Cowboys weekend mailbag.


Q: Calvin -- first off, I am not a fan of the Cowboys, I live in New York Giants country, but I am a football fan and have the following question: As of today, is it more important to Cowboys fans/management for the Cowboys (A) to win a Super Bowl, no matter who is playing QB, or (B) to win a Super Bowl with Tony Romo playing QB? If it is the latter, do you think this negatively affects decisions made by Cowboys management (i.e., Jerry Jones)? PJ (Sea Girt, N.J.)

A: Cowboys fans want to win a Super Bowl regardless of who the quarterback is. The Cowboys' front office feels the same way, but if they're going to accomplish this goal in the next three to five years, Tony Romo will be the quarterback. Now you could say the Cowboys need to draft a quarterback in the next two drafts and they should, regardless of how weak the 2013 quarterback class is. Romo is a good quarterback but he just makes too many mistakes late in games with the season on the line. At one point during the 2012 season, Romo led the NFL in turnovers. Elite quarterbacks don't do this and Romo isn't elite. But he's a solid quarterback who has pressure to produce. Until he pushes the Cowboys to a deep playoff run (it's something I've said for a while now), he will always be under the microscope.

Q: What's up Calvin? I was wondering what you think the chances of the Cowboys making a play at Henry Melton and maybe letting Jay Ratliff go? Do you think there is a better chance of them keeping and Ratliff and maybe re-signing Anthony Spencer? Mike Green (Audubon, N.J.)

A: I was told this week the Cowboys are not interested in Melton. Passing on Melton could be for financial reasons, because the amount of money needed to take care of Melton most likely would go toward Spencer. The Cowboys need Spencer to become a starting defensive end, and while I believe the money devoted to him should go elsewhere, like to a guard or center, he's a vital part of the defense. Ratliff's issues are complex. He played only six games last season and his production has declined each year. His run-in with Jerry Jones and his arrest for allegedly driving while intoxicated didn't endear him to the front office. His status remains uncertain, and I get the feeling this is a Jerry Jones call more than anything else. I expect Ratliff to remain with the Cowboys.

Q: Miles Austin for Percy Harvin? The Vikings need receivers and are trying to get rid of him. We need a slot guy. I think he would compliment (sic) Dez Bryant and Jason Witten better than Miles has. The only time Miles has shined was when he getting thrown to in high volumes. That's just not going to happen with Dez emerging as a star. Percy can make big plays with few touches plus he can return punts and kicks. Maybe throw in a late round pick too, it's not like the Cowboys have had much success late in the draft recently. John (Southlake, Texas)

A: John, the Vikings are not trading Harvin and the Cowboys are not trading Austin. It's interesting how down people are on Austin. The man almost had 1,000 receiving yards last season with two nagging hamstrings. Bryant's season was outstanding. He became a focal point of defenses each week and still produced and finally became a reliable target for Tony Romo. Austin is a talented player and shouldn't be forgotten. However, the Cowboys do need a good slot receiver and maybe Dwayne Harris can become the man in 2013. Harris also produced some in the return game. While I do believe Harvin is talented, the Cowboys don't need the added money it would take bring him to Valley Ranch and the wide receivers are talented enough to help the offense.

Final Word: Redskins-Cowboys

November, 22, 2012
Final Word: Texans-Lions | Redskins-Cowboys | Patriots-Jets

Three nuggets of knowledge about the Redskins-Cowboys Thanksgiving Day game:

The history: The Dallas Cowboys have won five of their past six Thanksgiving Day games, the only loss in that stretch coming against the New Orleans Saints in 2010. This will be the eighth time the Washington Redskins have played a Thanksgiving game, and the seventh time they've done so against the Cowboys. And while they did beat the Lions 20-0 on Thanksgiving in 1973, they are 0-6 all-time against the Cowboys in Thanksgiving games. The previous time they played one was 2002, when the Cowboys beat them 27-20.

[+] EnlargeRG3
Brad Mills/US PresswireWhen the Eagles didn't send extra pressure in Week 11, Robert Griffin III made them pay for it.
To blitz or not to blitz? The Cowboys must decide how they want to put pressure on Redskins rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III, and it won't be an easy decision. Through the first nine games, the book on Griffin was that he'd pick you apart if you sent extra pass-rushers, but that he struggled against standard pressure and the key was to contain him in the pocket and limit his options. However, in Sunday's victory against the Eagles, Griffin was 11-for-12 for 184 yards and three touchdowns against four or fewer pass-rushers. That's a 91.7 percent completion rate, and according to ESPN Stats & Information, a significant improvement from his 67 percent completion rate against standard pressure in his first nine games. In those, he averaged 7.4 yards per attempt and threw just three touchdowns and three interceptions against four or fewer. Sunday, his average was 15.3 yards per attempt, and he did not throw an interception.

Coverage improving: In their first seven games this season, the Redskins allowed eight opposing players to rack up 100 receiving yards in a game. That included staggering totals such as A.J. Green's 183 for the Bengals in Week 3; Danny Amendola's 160 for the Rams in Week 2; Percy Harvin's 133 for the Vikings in Week 6; and the Week 4 game in which two Tampa Bay receivers reached the century mark. However, in their past three games, no opposing player has more than 82 yards against the Redskins' defense. What does this mean for Dallas pass-catchers Miles Austin, Dez Bryant and Jason Witten, who have combined for seven 100-yard receiving games this season? History says at least one will have a big game, but it's also possible the Redskins' coverage schemes have improved enough to limit the damage.

Final Word: NFC East

October, 13, 2012
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 6:

Y'all ain't got no Honey Nut? History says things will be tough for the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday in Baltimore. The Ravens are 3-0 all time against the Cowboys and have outscored them 57-10 the past two times the teams met in Baltimore. The Ravens have won 13 straight and 21 of their past 22 at home. It's a tough place to win, and the Cowboys need a win to avoid dropping to 2-3. Only 20.6 percent of teams starting 2-3 have made the postseason under the current format. Working in the Cowboys' favor is that they are 16-7 after their bye weeks since 1990, which is the fourth-best such record in the league. Besides, they may as well be playing tough teams now. After all, how do you expect to run with the wolves at night when you spend all day sparring with puppies?

Something may not have to give. The Detroit Lions have forced only three turnovers in their first four games, which is tied for the lowest total in the NFL. The Philadelphia Eagles, as you may have heard, have turned over the ball 14 times, which is the second-highest total in the league. The Eagles were able to play an entire home game against the Giants two weeks ago without turning over the ball, and the Lions would appear to offer an opportunity to repeat that performance.

[+] EnlargeEli Manning
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty ImagesThe 49ers will certainly be looking to put more pressure on Giants QB Eli Manning on Sunday.
Eli must avoid the rush. The San Francisco 49ers will be coming for New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning on Sunday. San Francisco has one of the best defensive fronts in the league, and last year they sacked Manning seven times. Six of those sacks, ESPN Stats & Information informs me, came on plays on which the Niners sent five or more pass-rushers. However, when the Niners sent five or more and did not sack Manning, he was 16-for-21 for 185 yards and two touchdowns.

Moving up the list. With his next victory, Giants coach Tom Coughlin will pass Bill Parcells for second place on the all-time Giants coaching victories list with 78. (He'll still be way behind Steve Owen, who racked up 153 wins from 1930-53, but I see little reason to believe Coughlin won't want to hang around and try to pass Owen, too.). Coughlin is also tied with Rams (and former Titans) coach Jeff Fisher for 18th place on the all-time NFL coaching wins list with 145.

Big-play guys. Washington Redskins rookie running back Alfred Morris isn't known for his breakaway speed, but he's having success in the Redskins' zone-blocking scheme this year. He has 17 run plays on which he's gained at least 10 yards, the most such plays in the league according to ESPN Stats & Info. The Vikings obviously have a great running back in Adrian Peterson, but the Redskins will have to contend with an unusual threat in wide receiver Percy Harvin, whose 22 receptions at or behind the line of scrimmage this year are 12 more than the next-highest receiver. Harvin has gained a league-best 319 yards after the catch this year, and the Redskins' linebackers are going to have to be at their most disciplined if they hope to contain Harvin in the short passing game.

Dez Bryant for Percy Harvin?

June, 20, 2012

Would you swap Dez Bryant for Percy Harvin?


Discuss (Total votes: 11,698)

Vikings star receiver Percy Harvin wants out of Minnesota.

One day after expressing frustration over several unspecified issues with the Vikings, Harvin has requested a trade, sources confirmed to ESPN.com's John Clayton.

So, this brings up the question: Would you swap Dez Bryant for Harvin?

Harvin was the Vikings' first-round draft pick in 2009 and posted career highs last season in receptions (87), yards (967) and total touchdowns with nine.

Bryant had similar numbers in 2011 with 63 receptions for 928 yards and nine touchdowns.

Does Harvin intrigue you or is Bryant's potential too much to trade away?

Beat Writers Recap: Cowboys-Vikings

October, 19, 2010
The Cowboys are coming off a 24-21 loss to the Vikings on Sunday and there were several key mistakes in this game that cost the visitors a victory.

We look at some of the issues from it in our weekly Beat Writers Recap.

*Keith Brooking was credited with zero tackles in the loss to the Tennessee Titans last week, but he picked up three solo tackles from the press box stat keepers vs. the Vikings. Brooking had one quarterback hurry but he doesn't look as fresh as he did earlier in the season. He's blitzing but not getting to the quarterback like he did in Weeks 1 and 2. The Cowboys need to get Sean Lee on the field more, especially in the base package to give Brooking a break early in the game.

*The Percy Harvin 95-yard kickoff return that tied the game at 14-14 to start the second half had two players, Barry Church and Gerald Sensabaugh, fail to make the tackle. Sensabaugh took the blame for the miss tackle and it seemed as if he was blocked out of position as Harvin hit the first of two holes. The second hole became available when Church also took a bad angle on the play. After Harvin surpassed Church it was off to the races.

*Sensabaugh had a busy day. He finished with seven solo tackles (one in the fourth quarter) and you could say this was his best game of the year. Sensabaugh recorded a sack on a third and five as the Cowboys sent eight after Brett Favre. It should be noted that Sensabaugh as the strong safety didn't make a open field tackle on a third-and-four late in the third quarter. Faced one-on-on vs. tight end Jimmy Kleinsasser, Sesnabaugh whiffed on the play. He's got to make that tackle.

*Everyone would love for Felix Jones to become the full-time starter. But after watching Sunday's game vs. Minnesota, we see why the Cowboys want Marion Barber to remain No. 1 on the depth chart. Barber converted all five of his third-and-fourth and one plays. On the day, Barber gained five first down runs, though they were all short. Jones' longest runs were two six yarders. He also became a force in the short passing game. In the loss, Jones needed a IV and was puking at halftime. Jones wasn't sick, but was being used so much he was wearing down some. That has to be a concern for the Cowboys. A major concern if they expect him to get more carries. We wonder if he will get 20 plus touches on Monday night vs. the Giants.

*Notes: The Cowboys had four fourth quarter possessions and this is how they ended: Touchdown, interception, punt and end of game. ... Dez Bryant said he was told to field a punt inside the 5 late in the game because the coaches wanted him to make a play. Normally Bryant would not field a punt like this. ... Why didn't the Cowboys take more shots down the field with Miles Austin and Roy E. Williams? The Vikings employed a Cover 2 on Austin, but it seemed as if the Cowboys should have put Austin in motion more often to give him a chance to make plays. ... The Cowboys don't miss Deon Anderson on offense. They miss him on special teams. ... Wade Phillips praised Jesse Holley's efforts in his first NFL game. Holley didn't get any reps on offense, but on special teams picked up two tackles. ... Here's one stat from the game that caused us pause: Outside linebacker Anthony Spencer with zero quarterback hurries.

Gerald Sensabaugh takes the blame

October, 18, 2010
There were plenty of mistakes in the Cowboys' 24-21 loss to the Vikings on Sunday at the Metrodome.

Percy Harvin's 95-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to start the second half was just a momentum boost for the home team. The score tied the game, but more importantly it seemed the Cowboys had two chances to tackle Harvin.
ESPN NFL analyst Cris Carter says the Cowboys need to fire coach Wade Phillips.

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First safety Gerald Sensabaugh missed him first then Barry Church also came up empty. The Vikings did a good job of blocking the return.

"They kind of ran a counter to the other side," Sensabaugh said. "I was just attacking, knowing I have to keep him inside and he cut up inside on me. I feel I should have made that play."

Harvin tied a Vikings record for the most combined kick return touchdowns in his careeer with three. Harvin returned two kicks for scores last year, an 88 yarder vs. Pittsburgh and a 101 yarder vs. San Francisco.

The last time an opponent returned a kickoff for a score against the Cowboys was Arizona's J.J. Arrington in 2008 for 93 yards.

Said Wade Phillips on Harvin's return: "...he runs it all the way back and that put them back in the game."

Harvin's score tied the game, 14-14.

Rapid Reaction: Vikings 24, Cowboys 21

October, 17, 2010
MINNEAPOLIS -- Some quick thoughts on the Dallas Cowboys' 24-21 loss to the Minnesota Vikings.

What it means: I buried the Cowboys after last Sunday's loss to the Titans, but they made it official Sunday in the Metrodome. And it seemed appropriate that it was a couple of special-teams breakdowns that led to this loss. We witnessed two very mediocre teams in action, but as usual, it was the Cowboys who made the most mistakes. At 1-4, the Cowboys have put themselves in the ultimate hole. And they have no one else to blame but themselves.

"Special-teams" unit? The Cowboys had a 14-7 lead at halftime, but the coverage unit gave up a 95-yard touchdown return by Percy Harvin on the opening kickoff of the second half. This is the same unit that gave up a 73-yard return against the Titans last week. Special teams coach Joe DeCamillis vowed it wouldn't happen again, but ... it happened. The Cowboys also had a nice punt return by Dez Bryant wiped out because of a holding penalty on Alan Ball. You won't find a more undisciplined team in the NFL than the Cowboys.

The interception: The score was tied at 21 in the fourth quarter when Tony Romo dropped back to pass and looked for tight end Jason Witten. Vikings linebacker E.J. Henderson showed blitz but then dropped back in coverage at the last second. Romo didn't account for him and threw a lazy pass toward Witten that was intercepted. The Vikings kicked a field goal to make it 24-21 after that play. It was Henderson's second interception of the game. The other one came off a tipped ball. At least six of Romo's interceptions this season have been tipped, according to my numbers.

Where was Miles? Miles Austin had a 68-yard touchdown called back because he was flagged for pass interference. But for some reason, the Cowboys didn't go back to him. He's their best offensive player, and they effectively froze him out of the game in the second half.

What's next: I supposed some folks will make the argument that a win at home next Monday night against the New York Giants would keep the Cowboys' season alive. You won't hear that argument from me. This season's likely over and it's time to try to figure out who will eventually take over for coach Wade Phillips. I certainly don't think that person is on the current staff.

Grudge Match: Cowboys-Vikings

October, 16, 2010

Here are key matchups for the Cowboys' game Sunday in Minnesota:

Cowboys’ offensive line vs. Vikings’ front four: This is where the game will be won or lost for the Cowboys. If they show an inability to handle the noise and do not control the Vikings along the defensive front, the Cowboys are in for a long day.

Along with Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City or Qwest Field in Seattle, the Metrodome is one of the most difficult places for an opponent to navigate. At the Metrodome, the crowd is in full throat and the noise slams from the roof back to the field. There are fireworks, motorcycled mascots and a “Viking horn” that is sounded when the home team makes a big play. If you hear that horn during a game, there is usually something bad happening to your team.

Tony Romo
Bruce Kluckhohn/US PresswireThe Vikings sacked Tony Romo six times the last time the Cowboys visited the Metrodome.
Last time these two teams met, the Vikings took advantage of the situation and sacked Tony Romo six times. The sacks were shared by the linebackers and the defensive line, with defensive end Ray Edwards getting three.

The Cowboys need to stay ahead of the chains here. They need to run the ball with purpose and effectiveness. The Vikings have two tackles in Pat Williams and Kevin Williams that are difficult to move. Where the Cowboys had some success in the last meeting was running the ball on the edges at Jared Allen and Edwards. Jason Witten, Martellus Bennett and Scott Chandler need to secure theses edges and allow Marc Colombo and Doug Free to get on support.

If the Cowboys have to throw the ball on every play, they are going to run into problems. I will say this: The Vikings have struggled with their sack numbers this season with only six coming into this game. The Cowboys need to do everything in their power not to have a repeat performance from last season.

Cowboys nickelback Orlando Scandrick vs. Vikings wide receiver Percy Harvin: Harvin is an explosive player for the Vikings and when he comes out of the slot, he creates even more problems.

Scandrick didn’t play one of his better games last week, but to his credit, he plays one of the most difficult positions on defense and that is as the nickel corner on the slot. Why is slot the most difficult position to handle? The receiver has the ability to take you all over the field. In football terms, a two-way go.

On the outside you can use the sideline as an extra defender. In the slot, you are really on an island.

Harvin is one of those guys that Brad Childress likes to move around all over the formation, much like what the Cowboys do with Miles Austin. Harvin motions into the backfield, lines up in the slot, or even outside. The Cowboys like to play a great deal of man coverage in nickel, so one-on-one coverage is what the defensive backs deal with the majority of the time.

Harvin is a fearless player and will take his routes inside when needed. He leads the Vikings with three touchdowns receiving. With the addition of Randy Moss to the lineup and his ability to get down the field, watch Harvin on the underneath to intermediate passes. Favre likes to try and get him the ball on the move and let his football skills take over.

Scandrick was a standup guy last week after the Titans game but knows he will need to be much better with his technique against a player with the skills of Harvin.

Cowboys run defense against Vikings running back Adrian Peterson: From my experience of being with Favre in Green Bay, the more he hurt, the better he played. But this is a much older Favre and now he has tendonitis in his throwing elbow and has missed some time at practice this week and hopes that rest will help.

The best tonic this week for Favre’s sore elbow will be the legs of Adrian Peterson.

For the second week in a row, the Cowboys will face an elite running back. Last week, it was the speed and quickness of Chris Johnson. This week, it’s the speed, quickness and power of Peterson that they must deal with.

The amazing thing when you study the Vikings is that the offense line really isn’t all that good or mobile, and despite this Peterson is able to continually gain yards. He is one of those rare players that can make you look so bad on defense. Peterson is a downhill runner and does not shy away from contact. Peterson can take the ball inside with power or work it quickly around the corner.

The Vikings like to use him in the red zone on screens and swings in the passing game. If the Cowboys can be stout in the running game then it puts pressure on a less than healthy Favre to carry this offense.

There is no doubt in my mind that Brad Childress will test this Cowboys defense to try and see if he can protect his quarterback’s elbow and potential hits. Peterson is averaging over 120 yards a game in 2010, if the Cowboys don’t play physically up front on Sunday, he will have that and more.

Scout's Eye: Cowboys-Vikings preview

October, 15, 2010

The Minnesota defense dominated the last time the Cowboys and Vikings met.

Scout's Eye
The Vikings sacked Tony Romo six times while cruising to a 34-3 rout in the NFC divisional playoffs, the seventh postseason meeting between the teams. It was also a Vikings’ record for the fewest points allowed in their playoff history.

As the teams prepare for their Week 6 matchup in the Metrodome, there are plenty of questions that both teams will need to address in order not to fall to 1-4.

Against the Titans last week, the Cowboys had a 400-yard passer, a 100-yard receiver and a 100-yard rusher but managed to lose the game by committing 12 penalties, three turnovers, missing a field goal and allowing a kickoff return of 73 yards.

For the Vikings, wide receiver Randy Moss returned to the club that originally drafted him in 1998 and with three days of practice, tried to be a factor in a Monday night contest against the New York Jets. Moss did manage to catch Brett Favre’s 500th career touchdown pass but did not do much else.

When studying Moss in that game, you could still see the ability to get vertical in route. That is something the Cowboys corner back Mike Jenkins and safety Alan Ball really had problems carrying not only in the Titans game but the Bears game as well.

In my preparation for this week’s game, I went back and studied the playoff game from that January day. There were two areas that really stood out for me on defense for the Cowboys. One was their ability to get decent hits on Favre in the passing game and two, their inability to play the ball down the field. On the big plays that the Vikings were able to get in the passing game, wide receiver Sidney Rice was a major factor, but Rice is recovering from hip surgery and will not play until December at the earliest.

With Rice out of the lineup, the thought was to try and go with Bernard Berrian, Percy Harvin, Greg Lewis and Javon Walker until Rice was ready. As the preseason wore on, it was evident that this group would not be good enough and a trade was made for the productive Greg Camarillo from the Dolphins, who played like Favre’s best option in the season opener against the Saints.

With Moss now back in Minnesota, Favre now has a vertical threat down the field which will open up more options for Harvin from the slot and the athletic tight end Visanthe Shiancoe. Harvin is a threat from anywhere on the field. He will line up in the backfield, in the slot and out wide. He is a true weapon with the ball in his hands and Brad Childress creates opportunities for him to play a role in the offense.

For the second time this season, the Cowboys defense will face an elite running back. Adrian Peterson really needs no description. He is explosive, powerful and difficult to bring down one-on-one in the open field. Peterson can run the ball inside but is at his very best when he gets the ball on the edge.

This is not the most athletic line and they really try and lean and push on you more than run with you and cut you off. Peterson’s running style and ability makes his own opportunities.

The Cowboys are going to have to deal with Peterson in the passing game. The closer they get to the red zone, the more they like to get the ball in his hands on the screen or swinging out of the backfield.

If there is an advantage for the Cowboys, it will be against this group of tackles. Bryant McKinnie and Phil Loadholt do not have the best feet and really struggle with rushers with quickness. If the Cowboys are going to have some success against this Vikings offense, it’s going to have to be off the edges.

*This will be the best defensive front seven that the Cowboys have faced so far this season. As productive as the Titans line was, this defensive line and linebacker corps are much more talented.

It really starts inside with tackles Pat Williams and Kevin Williams. Both will be a handful inside, but I should also include Jimmy Kennedy, who played well in the playoff game the last time these two clubs met.

Last week, the Cowboys played against an undersized front inside, but this group is powerful and difficult to move. The Cowboys had more success running the ball on the edges and again, that is where they are going to have to try and go.

Ray Edwards and Jared Allen are very good pass rushers. Edwards plays the run better than Allen, but where Allen gets you is rushing the passer. Since 2004, he has 73 sacks. The Cowboys need to be efficient staying ahead of the chains. The Vikings feed off offenses that struggle to keep up with down and distances.

Playing in the Metrodome is a huge advantage for the Vikings. When you studied the game last season, you could see Marc Colombo struggling to hear the snap count in passing situations, which gave Edwards a jump on the snap count.

The linebackers for the Vikings are a solid group. Chad Greenway, Ben Leber and E.J. Henderson are always around the football. Greenway has led the team in tackles in the last two seasons. Leber has accounted for 11 turnovers in his career and Henderson has 12.5 sacks for a career, which ranks fourth all-time among Vikings linebackers.

In the secondary, the Cowboys need to stay away from Antoine Winfield. He is an aggressive, ball-hawking corner that is a dependable tackler and a leader of the group. Winfield is a smart player that understands how to read routes. He will make a quarterback feel his receiver is open, then drive on the football when thrown. He doesn’t have good height but he can go vertical to play the ball in the air. When the Vikings go to the nickel, he will play the slot.

After studying the game tape, I believe the Cowboys will attack second-year pro Asher Allen. Allen had to come into the game against the Jets last week when Cedric Griffin was lost to a knee injury. Allen is not as physical of a player as Griffin and he will struggle with receivers that are physical. Don’t be one bit surprised if Jason Garrett finds a way to match up Miles Austin with Allen as much as he can. There are plays to be made there.

Veteran Lito Shepherd will also see action when the Vikings go to their nickel package.

This will be a huge test for the Cowboys on both sides of the ball. Moss gives the Vikings a whole new dynamic. But how healthy is Favre’s elbow? Can the Cowboys put behind them what happened in the playoffs in 2009?

If not, a 1-4 start is staring them in the face.

Guaranteed money is key for Dez Bryant

July, 21, 2010
The Cowboys are talking with first-round pick Dez Bryant and hope to get him to training camp on time. People inside and outside the organization think it's going to be a while to get this done.

We're not talking about a two-week deal ... Bryant will maybe be about three-to-four days late to training camp. That's not a big deal.

The holdup on Bryant's contract likely is about guaranteed money.

Here's what a few other wide receivers drafted the last two seasons received in guaranteed money: Michael Crabtree, who didn't sign a contract with San Francisco until October, is getting $17 million; Oakland's Darrius Heyward-Bey will receive $23.5 million; and Minnesota's Percy Harvin will get $8.5 million. Off-the-field issues forced Harvin to drop in the draft, so there's no telling what he would have gotten if he was selected a little higher.

It's doubtful that Bryant will get close to what Crabtree and Heyward-Bey received in guaranteed money. I'm guessing close to $10 million, given what Harvin got last year with inflation factored in. That sounds about right.

If the Cowboys and agent Eugene Parker can finalize this, expect the rookie from Oklahoma State to be in San Antonio soon.
Kevin Ogletree’s learning curve ought to serve as a cautionary tale for folks getting carried away about Dez Bryant’s potential impact as a rookie.

Ogletree acknowledges that he needed to have specific personnel packages created for him with simplified routes to allow him to display his skills as a rookie. It took him a full year before he felt comfortable with his knowledge of the complete scheme.

There is, of course, a big difference with Bryant’s situation. He stepped in as the Cowboys’ No. 3 receiver, whereas Ogletree fought for a roster spot until the final cuts.

The coaching staff is placing an emphasis of speeding up Bryant’s learning curve, but the odds are that they’ll still have to simplify his role, at least early in the season.

That’s not a knock on Bryant’s football IQ. It’s just the routine with rookie receivers, which is why it’s so rare to see one with a 1,000-yard season. The incorrect routes Bryant has occasionally run during OTAs are a reminder that, for all his awe-inspiring ability, he has a long way to go to become a polished NFL receiver.

The Cowboys don’t need Bryant to be a go-to guy right away. They’ve got Pro Bowlers at receiver and tight end. They can be patient with Bryant, finding ways to put him in position to make plays without overwhelming him. Bryant’s abilities to make tacklers miss and fight for jump balls present a lot of possibilities even in a simplified role.

Minnesota’s Percy Harvin became last year’s offensive rookie of the year as the No. 3 receiver in a loaded offense. He caught 60 passes for 790 yards and six touchdowns and made a major impact as a return man.

Those numbers, not Randy Moss' ridiculous rookie production, are reasonable expectations for Bryant as he learns the NFL ropes.

Cowboys-Vikings key matchups

January, 16, 2010
A matchup from both sides of the ball that should play a major role in which team advances to the NFC championship game:

Cowboys LT Flozell Adams vs. Vikings DE Jared Allen: If Tony Romo has time, there should be plays to be made against a so-so Minnesota secondary.

That’s a big if with Allen aiming for Romo’s blind side.

To call Allen one of the best pass rushers in the league is faint praise. He joins Hall of Famer Reggie White as the only two players in NFL history to record at least 14 sacks in three consecutive seasons. He’s a remarkable athlete with a relentless motor.

Adams would have a heck of a challenge, regardless of the venue. The triple-digit decibel level routinely reached in the Metrodome when the Vikings’ defense is on the field just makes Adams’ job more difficult, especially considering that the 12-year veteran tackle is partially deaf in one ear.

The Cowboys point to their victory over previously undefeated New Orleans in the Superdome as proof they can handle crowd noise, but Adams struggled in that game. Saints right defensive end Will Smith had two sacks and hit Romo five other times.

Offensive coordinator Jason Garrett would do Adams a favor by running right at the 6-6, 270-pound Allen early and often, giving Adams (6-7, 338) a chance to wear down his athletically superior opponent. The numbers, as provided by ESPN Stats & Information, also indicate it would be a wise strategy.

The Minnesota run defense is dominant up the middle, where Kevin and Pat Williams make their presence felt. The Vikings allow only 3.0 yards per carry between the tackles.

But Minnesota allows 5.6 yards per carry to the left side (26th in NFL). The Cowboys rank third in the league running left (6.4 yards per carry).

Allen’s pass-rushing ability isn’t such a huge concern for the Cowboys if they can avoid third-and-long situations. The key to that could be attacking him on the ground on first and second downs.

Vikings WR Percy Harvin vs. Cowboys nickel CB Orlando Scandrick: He played much better in the second half of the season, but if you’re going to pick on a Cowboys cornerback, it should be Scandrick.

Opponents completed 61.3 percent of their passes thrown at Scandrick, by far the highest rate against any of the Cowboys’ cornerbacks. As the slot corner in the nickel and dime packages, he plays primarily man coverage and will have a tough matchup against Minnesota’s rookie sensation.

Harvin, who will go to the Pro Bowl as a return specialist, is extremely dangerous when he gets the ball in his hands. More than half of his 790 receiving yards came after the catch. He’s a threat to score every time he touches the ball.

Wade Phillips said Scandrick can’t afford to play conservatively against Harvin because of the big-play threat. The best way to keep Harvin from breaking for long gains is to prevent him from catching the ball, which is why Phillips wants Scandrick to be aggressive.

Special teams worries for Cowboys

January, 14, 2010
IRVING -- The Cowboys were worried about Eagles returner DeSean Jackson last week in the wild card game, now they have to worry about two for the Vikings game in the divisional round.

Percy Harvin, who led the NFL with two kick returns for touchdowns, averaged 27.5 this season, fourth in the league.

"I'd say he's pretty productive," special teams cooridnator Joe DeCamillis said. "He's an explosive player, he's a downhill runner, he’s very explosive. They do a nice job of spreading the field for him and getting him creases. He will be a real big challenge for us this week."

Darius Reynaud finished ninth in the NFL with a 103 average on punt returns.

"He's a different type of player than Jackson," DeCamillis said. "He's a stronger running back type guy. His body looks like a running back and he breaks tackles."