Dallas Cowboys: Philadelphia Eagles

Jerry compares Dunbar to ex-Eagle Westbrook

August, 21, 2013
IRVING, Texas – Darren Sproles, the New Orleans Saints’ sparkplug, is the diminutive running back to whom Lance Dunbar is most often optimistically compared.

Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones aims a little higher, so to speak, when he mentions Dunbar in the same breath as former Pro Bowl running back Brian Westbrook.

“Well, this is probably a stretch, but I know what Westbrook did to us for 100 years up in Philadelphia,” Jones said Tuesday on KRLD-FM when asked if Dunbar reminds him of anyone. “I couldn’t figure it out … but boy, all he did was go out there, make plays anyway he could touch the ball. You pick players that you try to identify players with. Someone will say, ‘Well, he’s no Westbrook,’ and I would have to agree with you at this particular point, but he has the ability to give us an all-purpose (playmaker).”

It’s particularly interesting that Jones compared Dunbar to a former every-down back, not just a niche player. At his peak in 2007, the 5-foot-8, 200-pound Westbrook accounted for 2,104 yards from the line of scrimmage and 12 touchdowns, carrying the ball 278 times for 1,333 yards and catching 90 passes for 771 yards that season.

Dunbar, whose status for the season opener is uncertain due to a sprained foot, will be DeMarco Murray’s backup last season. But it isn’t just Jones who projects a potentially larger role for the 5-foot-8, 188-pound Dunbar in the future.

“When you watch Dunbar play, you immediately say, ‘He looks small and he only can do these certain sorts of things,’” head coach Jason Garrett said. “I think that he’s proven to us that he can do a lot more than that. He’s been a runner in regular-type personnel groups. He’s been a runner on third down. He’s been a protector and a receiver on third down.

“He’s one of those guys that keeps surprising you. He’s probably stronger and more explosive than people give him credit for, and he’s shown that he can do a lot of different things. So I don’t think we want to pigeonhole him into any one role.”

The general manager certainly isn’t pigeonholing the second-year back who was undrafted out of North Texas. Jones prefers to compare Dunbar to a former Pro Bowler.

OT Bell lost 22 pounds since camp started

August, 20, 2013
IRVING, Texas – The five-word description of offensive tackle Demetress Bell when he reported to training camp, courtesy of head coach Jason Garrett: “Overweight and out of shape.”

Just how out of shape was Bell? He said he arrived in Oxnard, Calif., weighing 350 pounds, which is 39 pounds heavier than the 6-foot-3 Bell’s listed weight, after spending the offseason “sitting at home on the couch” and “waiting on a team to call.” He said he has since slimmed down to 328 pounds.

The Cowboys finally called in July, inviting Bell to training camp. Dallas stuck with Bell, a former starter in Buffalo who infamously flamed out in Philadelphia after signing a five-year, $35 million deal last summer, despite him flunking the pre-camp conditioning test and needing three weeks to get in good enough shape to practice.

“I mean, they done stuck with me,” Bell said. “I can’t say nothing bad about the Cowboys. They brought me in. They brought me out to training camp, held me out three weeks and worked me out. You can’t say much more than that. It sounds like they love me. I’ve just got to do my job, do my part to stick.”

Bell, who declined to comment about his short stint with the Eagles, would like to play between 315 and 318 pounds.

“I’ve still got a long way to go,” said Bell, who followed the dietary plan provided by the team nutritionist, worked out under the supervision of the strength and conditioning staff twice a day and frequently filled free time by riding an exercise bike during camp.

Bell, 29, who is getting used to right tackle after playing on the left side his entire career, believes he can get back to being the quality player he was in Buffalo. He described his performance in Saturday’s preseason loss as “all over the place,” but he’s confident that he’ll play better as he gets more comfortable and his conditioning continues to improve.

“If I do what I have to do, it won’t be a problem,” Bell said. “I just have to work at it and don’t be sitting at home on the couch.”

It remains to be seen whether Bell will be on the Cowboys’ roster. The fact that they kept him around this long indicates they see a future for Bell, and he has two more preseason games to prove he was worth the Cowboys’ time and effort.
OXNARD, Calif. -- Cowboys defensive line coach Rod Marinelli said he has no doubt about whether the Tampa 2 defense will work with this team.

Tim MacMahon joins Richard Durrett and Landry Locker from Oxnard, Calif., to discuss the latest news from Cowboys training camp.

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"None. Zero. None. Zero. None. Done it too long," he said. "I believe in it. I guess, there are two things: One, when you believe in the system and believe in myself as a teacher, we’ve had great success with it; we know it works.

"It really fits really talented players too – from Julius Peppers to Henry Melton. Henry Melton came out as a running back out of Texas, he made the Pro Bowl as an under tackle last year. It’s all those things. It’s having the talent, but this system forces that talent level to rise with effort, getting to the ball. I have great confidence in it. I always have."

There are some concerns about whether the new defense can handle read-option offenses. The Cowboys will face Robert Griffin III and the Washington Redskins' read-option offense twice a year. First-year coach Chip Kelly will use the spread-option with the Eagles, likely with Michael Vick at quarterback. When Kelly coached at Oregon, his offenses beat up Dallas defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin's defenses when he was the D-coordinator at USC.

The Cowboys play the Redskins and Eagles in consecutive weeks twice during the 2013 regular season. Taking on speedy quarterbacks such as Vick and Griffin is a challenge. Vick said over the summer that he's still one of the fastest players in the NFL, and of course Griffin is one of the more talented players in the NFL.

"We play spread offenses every week in the NFL," Marinelli said. "When I played Oakland in the Super Bowl (with Tampa Bay) they were a spread offense; it just works, you just have to execute. The thing about this league, you also have to stop a tremendous passing game. They may run the read-option three or four times in a game -- you change your defense just for that. I mean, these guys can throw the football. They can throw the football; your system has to adjust to them."

A 4-3 defense has one less linebacker, so that might not be suited to handle the quarterbacks rushing off the edge. But Marinelli doesn't think about whether it's a 3-4 or a 4-3 defense. The type of personnel you have is the key to slowing spread and read option offenses.

"I think it's based on rules," he said. "Defenses are based on rules. You have rules and certain guys got the dive (player) and certain guys got the quarterback and certain guys got the pitch, so it's built in. You may go three weeks without seeing it, you know, so you constantly have to stay on it. It's like the Wildcat. You had to go back and have rules for all those things for it."

Does Tony Romo hold the ball too long?

May, 20, 2013
There was this interesting story regarding Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick recently.

Nate Newton joins Fitzsimmons & Durrett to discuss his comments on how Jason Garrett should handle being on the hot seat and not let Jerry Jones get in the way.

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Vick has taken exception from the notion that he doesn't read defenses well and that he holds the ball too long, which leads to sacks and poor decisions. Vick was sacked 28 times last year, 22 times in losses.

After reading this, it got me to thinking about Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo. He was sacked 36 times in 2012. It's easy to blame the offensive line on the sacks, but sometimes you wonder what Romo is doing with the football.

Yes, it's good to see Romo move from pressure to extend plays. When he does this the receivers have to find open spots on the field to receive a pass. Laurent Robinson was so good at this in 2011 that Romo found him 54 times for 858 yards and a team-leading 11 touchdowns. All of these throws weren't on the run, but Robinson was able to leave defenders to get free.

It's interesting to see if Romo missed Robinson last season when under duress. Maybe Romo could have curtailed on some of the sacks if he knew when moving out of the pocket there was a receiver who understood about getting to open spots on the field. Outside of Miles Austin and Dez Bryant, the Cowboys receiving corps was pretty inexperienced.

A quarterback is supposed to get rid of the ball in about two seconds. Is that a lot of time? Depends on what's happening. There were times when Romo held the ball for about four to five seconds as he scrambled out of the pocket. Sometimes he held the ball for two seconds and still got sacked. Is that Romo's fault? The offensive line's? Receivers? Running backs?

It's hard to say.

The bottom line is Romo has to protect the ball better in 2013 or the 36 sacks the team allowed in 2012 will go up in 2013.

NFC East draft preview: Eagles

April, 24, 2013
ESPN Dallas' Calvin Watkins and Jeff McLane of the Philadelphia Inquirer discuss what to expect from the Eagles in the NFL draft.

Click here to listen.

Schedule: Five key games for Cowboys

April, 18, 2013
The Dallas Cowboys will have four games in prime time, including a Dec. 9 contest on ESPN against the Chicago Bears.

With the 2013 schedule now released, we look at five key games for the Cowboys:

Sept. 8 vs. New York Giants: The Giants have never lost at Cowboys Stadium. Never. Ever. Never. Ever. Could that change in the season opener? It's the Cowboys' first Week 1 game at home since 2007. In that contest, the Cowboys beat the New York Giants, 45-35. For New York, beating the Cowboys in Week 1 would be revenge after losing in Week 1 in 2012 to the Cowboys, the night the Giants received their Super Bowl rings. Getting off to a strong start is important for the Cowboys, given their struggles at the end of the season.

Oct. 6 vs. Denver: The Cowboys have beaten Peyton Manning the last two times they've faced him, but that was when he played for the Colts. This time, Manning brings the Denver Broncos to town with a new weapon in wide receiver Wes Welker. With a rather easy September schedule gone, facing the Broncos will be a good early-season test for the Cowboys' secondary and pass rush. Manning is one of the best at getting rid of the ball quickly, so defensive ends DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer will need to pressure the pocket.

Ian Fitzsimmons and Richard Durrett examine the recently-released NFL schedule and agree that the Cowboys don't have any reason to complain.

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Oct. 13 vs. Washington: It doesn't matter when these NFC East rivals meet, it's a special contest. Add Robert Griffin III to the equation and you might have an early-season letdown by the Cowboys. It's these games early on that have hurt the Cowboys in the past, whether it's Jason Garrett messing up clock management or Tony Romo committing major turnovers. The Cowboys have to win games like this. It's uncertain how Griffin will play given the type of knee injury he sustained, but the Cowboys have to contain him to win.

Nov. 10 at New Orleans: The Saints are angry. They lost their head coach and one of their best defensive players to Bountygate. Sean Payton has returned and, while he's been humbled by the year-long suspension, believe he wants to beat the Cowboys. The Saints knocked off the Cowboys last year when the game didn't mean anything to them. Guess what happens this year? Romo is an excellent quarterback in November, posting a 21-4 mark, and if the Cowboys start their annual playoff run, it starts here in the Superdome.

Dec. 29 vs. Philadelphia: The regular-season finale has been dreadful for the Cowboys the last two seasons. Losses in the last two finales have cost the Cowboys playoff berths. Will this game mean the same thing? Will it get flexed to a Sunday night game? If the Cowboys want to reach the postseason, beating Chip Kelly's Eagles at this stage of the year could mean everything. Yes, again.

Cowboys' schedule being released today

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

Here's a primer for the Cowboys:

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

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

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

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

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

ESPN Insider Ed Werder joins Fitzsimmons & Durrett to discuss Jerry Jones' comments at the owners meetings, who should call plays for the Cowboys, Tony Romo's possible contract extension and Anthony Spencer's future.

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Miles Austin and his health: Cowboys wide receiver Miles Austin just missed getting 1,000 yards in 2012, finishing with 943 yards and six touchdowns. Austin had 13 pass plays of 20 yards or more but didn't have a catch in both games against the Washington Redskins. More importantly, he battled hamstring injuries the entire season. Coach Jason Garrett said 2013 is critical because Austin needs to stay healthy for an entire season. "We've tried to look at that a lot of different ways," Garrett said. Austin's ability to make plays from the slot and stretch defenses downfield with his speed was missed in 2012.

Flavor of the month? Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin compared the read option, run by Washington and San Francisco, as the "flavor of the month." So how does Garrett feel about it, considering he sees the Redskins twice a season in the NFC East? "I know it was very effective for them and some other teams," Garrett said. "I do know this about the National Football League: People study what other teams are doing and they work very hard. Defensive coaches work very hard to stop some of those new trends. I think we saw that with the Wildcat. That was really a very popular, effective offensive tool a few years ago. You don’t see teams doing it quite as much."

Play-calling issues: Garrett hasn't said who will call the offensive plays for the Cowboys this upcoming season ... and they're not the only team with that issue. New Philadelphia Eagles coach Chip Kelly, the offensive guru out of the University of Oregon, hasn't decided if he'll do it or if it'll be offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur.

"We’re so far away from that," Kelly said. "We’re still just putting our offense together, and how we’re calling it, what we think we want to do, we’ll kind of finalize that. And I think a lot of that is overblown, too, because offensive football is all situational. When you script our third down during the week, when you get to third-and-3 at the 6, these are the four plays that we’re running. As long as you can read off a sheet, anybody can call a play."

Wade Wilson: Tony Romo tries to do too much

February, 15, 2013
IRVING, Texas -- Tony Romo finished third in the NFL last season with 4,903 yards and was sixth with 28 touchdowns, but he was tied for the league lead with 19 interceptions.

[+] EnlargeTony Romo
Matthew Visinsky/Icon SMITony Romo threw for almost 5,000 yards last season but also had a league-high 19 interceptions.
Overall, Romo committed 22 turnovers, four fewer than Mark Sanchez (26) and one fewer than Andrew Luck (23). In the first five weeks of the season, Romo had seven touchdown passes and nine interceptions.

In the last five games of the season, Romo had 12 touchdowns and just four interceptions -- three in the regular-season finale at Washington.

Quarterbacks coach Wade Wilson speaks with Romo regularly during the season and admits that, while the turnovers aren't acceptable, sometimes Romo is trying to do too much.

"I think that happened a lot this year," Wilson said. "He tried to make up for mistakes and trying to convert third-and-longs. It leads to bad plays."

Romo had a 74.0 passer rating on third-down plays in 2012. Those included several third-and-long situations, but elite quarterbacks find ways to convert those plays.

"We talk about (game management) all the time," Wilson said. "Certainly you want to take care of the football. We’ve got to do a better job with that. Always talking about game management and things."

Todd Archer joins Galloway & Company to discuss Tony Romo's contract situation and Anthony Spencer's role in the Cowboys' new defensive scheme.

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Romo has a 1-6 record in win-or-go home games, with the only victory coming in the 2009 playoffs against the Philadelphia Eagles. He's suffered bad NFC East losses to the New York Giants, Washington Redskins and the Eagles in big moments.

"The way we look at it, or the way I look at it, is the Cowboys are 1-6 in win-or-go-home kind of games," he said. "Now, he’s been the quarterback and whatnot and there’s certainly that responsibility, but he’s just got to play. We talk about mental toughness, playing every play the same, regardless of circumstance. So that’s what we talk about it."
MOBILE, Ala. -- Late Tuesday night, Monte Kiffin and Chip Kelly shared a beer and some conversation.

Before Kiffin, the Dallas Cowboys' newly-hired defensive coordinator, left for the night, he hugged Kelly, the new coach of the Philadelphia Eagles.

Kiffin said he has a tremendous amount of respect for Kelly. But when the men were coaching in college, it was Kelly's Oregon's Ducks that rolled up 730 offensive yards in a 62-51 victory in November over Kiffin, then the defensive coordinator for USC.

With the Cowboys, Kiffin will now have to face Kelly's Eagles twice in the regular season. But that isn't his only challenge in the NFC East.

Kiffin has to deal with Eli Manning and the New York Giants, and how could we forget about Robert Griffin III and the Washington Redskins?

Were the moves the Cowboys made this offseason -- switching from a 3-4 scheme to a 4-3 -- specifically designed to stop division foes?

"Well, when you’ve been coaching as long as he has, he has experience in every area, without being trite," Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones said. "Really, we all know what he has spent years coaching against option-type football, and it’s just the nature of things when he coached at Nebraska, Arkansas and throughout. And I know obviously he’s dealt first-hand competitively when he was at Southern Cal with where Chip Kelly is."

Monte Kiffin’s worst nightmare came true: He’ll have to face Chip Kelly’s offense twice per season now.

Kelly, who was hired Wednesday as the Philadelphia Eagles' head coach, schooled the 72-year-old Kiffin in the college game. Kelly’s Oregon offenses averaged 601 yards and 50 points against Kiffin’s USC defenses, with the Ducks winning two of those three games.

Kiffin simply never figured out how to stop Kelly’s zone-read-intensive spread offense. The most humiliating USC-Oregon matchup for Kiffin was the last time they met, when the Ducks rolled up 730 yards in a 62-51 Oregon win in November.

Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota had 400 total yards in that game, completing 20-of-23 passes for 304 yards and four touchdowns and rushing for 96 yards on 15 carries. Oregon running back Kenjon Barner rushed for 321 yards and five touchdowns on 38 carries.

Sure, the Cowboys have a heck of a lot better defensive personnel than USC did. But you don’t reckon that LeSean McCoy, DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin, among other Philadelphia offensive players, would look pretty good in those wild Oregon uniforms?

Oh, and Oregon isn’t the only zone-read spread team that lit up Kiffin’s defense last season. Unranked Arizona racked up 588 yards in a 39-36 upset over USC, when the Wildcats had a 350-yard passer, a 250-yard receiver and two 100-yard rushers. The Trojans weren’t at a talent disadvantage in that game.

It remains to be seen how much zone read the Eagles will run under Kelly. That will likely be determined in large part by whether he keeps Michael Vick – and whether Vick can stay healthy – or goes with Nick Foles as quarterback.

There’s little doubt, however, that the Eagles will feature a fast-paced offense. The Patriots, who picked Kelly’s brain and borrowed heavily from his system, had the NFL’s fastest average snap time at 24.9 seconds last season, according to ESPN Stats and Information. Oregon’s average snap time last season was 20.9 seconds.

Even if the Eagles don’t run much zone read, the Cowboys better get ready for it.

It’s a staple for the team they’re chasing in the NFC East, the Washington Redskins, although Robert Griffin III’s serious knee injury could certainly slow that down. Same with the Carolina Panthers and Cam Newton. The Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers, a couple of teams that look like contenders for years to come, also run some zone read with electrifying young quarterbacks Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick. And there are more of those dynamic dual-threat quarterbacks coming up through the college ranks.

The NFL game has changed since Kiffin’s legendary tenure with Tampa Bay. Unfortunately for him, it’s starting to look a lot like those Pac-12 teams that gave him so many problems.

The hiring of Monte Kiffin as the Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator makes him tied as the second-oldest assistant coach in the NFL at 72

Kiffin turns 73 on February 29.

Kiffin is tied for the second oldest in the NFL with Philadelphia Eagles defensive line coach Tommy Brasher, who came out of retirement in the last few weeks of the 2012 season.

The oldest assistant coach in the NFL is Pittsburgh Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, who is 75.

Incidentally, Eagles offensive line coach Howard Mudd is 70.

Brasher and Mudd could retire again, leaving LeBeau and Kiffin as the oldest assistants in the league.
At some point this offseason, Jason Garrett will lean back in his favorite chair, close his eyes and ponder what might have been.

There were 2,035 plays in the Cowboys’ 2012 season, but some are considerably more memorable than others - and it doesn’t matter whether they went for Cowboys or against them.

What if Dez Bryant's pinkie hadn’t come down out of bounds against the New York Giants in the final minute? Or what if a Washington safety hadn’t knocked the ball out of Bryant’s arms, breaking up an apparent touchdown, in the fourth quarter on Thanksgiving Day?

What if Eric Frampton had recovered New Orleans receiver Marques Colston's fumble instead of tight end Jimmy Graham?

If, if, if. That’s the story of the NFL every year.

A play here or there and the Cowboys would’ve made the playoffs. It’s the reason Garrett is forever saying every play in every game matters.

“It allows you to argue your point to your players that it’s really really close each and every week in this league,” Garrett said. "All these things that happened to us this year where plays went against us.

"If that play had been different we would’ve won that game. Or, similarly, plays that went for us that helped us win ballgames. There were a number of those too. It’s the nature of the NFL.”

Without further ado, let's continue the countdown:

No. 8: Morris Claiborne's fumble return

[+] EnlargeMorris Claiborne
AP Photo/LM OteroMorris Claiborne's game-clinching 50-yard fumble return for a touchdown was one of the few bright spots in Week 13 for the Cowboys defense, which allowed the Eagles a season high in points scored.
Situation: Second-and-7 from Philadelphia 44
Score: Dallas, 31-27
Time: 4:03 left in fourth quarter

Taylor's Take: Bryce Brown had ripped through the Cowboys’ defense for more than 150 yards, so their four-point lead felt tenuous. But as Brown burst through yet another hole, nose tackle Josh Brent dragged him down and poked the ball loose. Morris Claiborne scooped it up and sprinted untouched into the end zone for the game-clinching touchdown.

Season Impact: Having lost the week before to Washington, dropping their record to 6-6, the Cowboys were essentially in a must-win situation. Philadelphia, playing without Michael Vick and DeSean Jackson, made Brown the focal point of the offense -- and he nearly delivered a win. The Cowboys’ inability to stop the run proved to be a harbinger.
At some point this offseason, Jason Garrett will lean back in his favorite chair, close his eyes and ponder what might have been.

There were 2,035 plays in the Cowboys’ 2012 season, but some are considerably more memorable than others -- and it doesn’t matter whether they went for Cowboys or against them.

What if Dez Bryant's pinkie hadn’t come down out of bounds against the New York Giants in the final minute? Or what if a Washington safety hadn’t knocked the ball out of Bryant’s arms, breaking up an apparent touchdown, in the fourth quarter on Thanksgiving Day?

What if Eric Frampton had recovered New Orleans receiver Marques Colston's fumble instead of tight end Jimmy Graham?

If, if, if. That’s the story of the NFL every year.

A play here or there and the Cowboys would’ve made the playoffs. It’s the reason Garrett is forever saying every play in every game matters.

“It allows you to argue your point to your players that it’s really really close each and every week in this league,” Garrett said. "All these things that happened to us this year where plays went against us.

"If that play had been different we would’ve won that game. Or, similarly, plays that went for us that helped us win ballgames. There were a number of those too. It’s the nature of the NFL.”

No. 10: Dwayne Harris 78-yard punt return

Dwayne Harris
Dale Zanine/US PresswireDwayne Harris' 78-yard punt return against the Philadelphia Eagles provided the impetus for the Cowboys' biggest fourth quarter of the season.
Situation: Fourth-and-8 from Philadelphia 29
Score: Tied, 17-17
Time: 13:52 left in fourth quarter

Taylor's Take: The Cowboys blocked this return perfectly. Orlando Scandrick, Lance Dunbar, Eric Frampton, James Hanna and Danny McCray each delivered clearing blocks as Harris sprinted untouched down the left sideline. It was Harrison’s first career punt return for a touchdown. He finished the season tied for the NFL lead with seven returns of 20 yards or more.

Season Impact:At 3-5, the Cowboys couldn’t start the second half of the season with a loss. Michael Vick left with an injury midway through the second quarter and the Cowboys still couldn’t separate. Harris’ punt return provided the impetus for the Cowboys’ biggest fourth quarter of the season.

Does Rob Ryan trust his defense?

December, 8, 2012
IRVING, Texas -- Friday afternoon we heard Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan talk about how bad his defense has played of late.

It's still a talented defense, despite the loss of numerous players.

But when you have outside linebackers DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer left as your top pass-rushers and three talented cornerbacks, including first-round picks Morris Claiborne and Mike Jenkins and $50.1 million free agent acquisition Brandon Carr, the Cowboys defense should be playing better.

You have to wonder if Ryan trusts his defense.

He's blitzing just four, and sometimes five, defenders on a consistent basis.

"You want to be smart about it and you want to be in these games at the end," Ryan said.

Ware said the Cowboys should still get to the quarterback, despite rushing only four players. However, the Cowboys' pass rush is going up against six blockers, and that makes it hard to reach the quarterback.

Ryan is without standout inside linebackers Bruce Carter and Sean Lee, so he drops Ware or Spencer back in coverage at times to help the replacements, Ernie Sims and Dan Connor.

Ryan doesn't have slot corner Orlando Scandrick, who was placed on IR with a broken hand, so he's using Jenkins and at times Vince Agnew to play in the slot.

Sterling Moore was signed last week to help the short-handed secondary.

Ryan isn't pressuring as much because he wants to eliminate the big plays, so he keeps more defenders back in coverage and mixes zone and man coverages, which explains why the Cowboys wanted Moore to play so quickly after signing him the Friday before the Philadelphia Eagles.

"The pass rush hasn't looked like it should," Ryan said. "We need to get after the quarterback."

Ryan did say his defense is still a man-to-man defense, a "down in your face" type of style, as he called it. But he's still mixing the zone coverages.

Ryan is boastful when it comes to his defense, but the way he's playing is conservative. The Cowboys have allowed 860 yards of offense the last two weeks and seven pass plays of 20 or more yards.

If the Cowboys want to reach their goals, those numbers have to get lower. Ryan wants to avoid the big play, but it hasn't worked.

Is it a trust issue? Or is it something else?