Dallas Cowboys: Sam Bradford

Chat recap: When will Cowboys go after QB?

April, 18, 2014
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IRVING, Texas -- We had another solid chat on Wednesday with a lot of draft questions.

We talked about trading up (I don’t see it happening), selecting Anthony Barr or Kony Ealy if both are available at No. 16 (Barr), taking a chance on Dominique Easley, the extra time leading up to the draft (hate it) and my all-time favorite Cowboy.

If you want to read the whole chat, click here.

I was also asked about drafting a quarterback.

R Lank, Md.: With romo 1 bad hit, and he's finished along with the uncertainty of orton why not draft a decent qb. at romo's age along with his injuries would u say that a high risk paying him that kind of money. I mean like u and (Jacques) said why pay age?

Todd Archer: When it comes to quarterbacks and left tackles, paying age doesn't seem as problematic for a lot of teams. I understand what you're saying about drafting a quarterback, but I don't see them going after a guy in the first two rounds. Maybe the third but more likely fourth or fifth. When you're picking a guy there, it's a projection more than a known commodity. Honestly, I think when Romo is done, whenever that is, the Cowboys will draft his replacement the following year and go with the guy.

Let me go a little deeper. For the last three or four years this has been a common question either because fans want the Cowboys to move on from Tony Romo or start the process of finding his replacement before it’s too late.

I’ve been a fan of selecting a quarterback every year, similar to the way Ron Wolf worked the draft with the Green Bay Packers. Clearly the Cowboys don’t share that belief, and I’ve just now come to the realization that when Romo’s career is over, then they will go ahead and find their next starter.

They don’t believe it makes sense to draft a quarterback, give him time to develop and then hand him the keys, say, the way the Packers did with Aaron Rodgers when they decided to move on from Brett Favre. It’s a risky strategy, but it’s what the Cowboys did after Troy Aikman retired.

They drafted Quincy Carter in the second round, surprisingly, and he won the job. They cut Tony Banks in camp so as there was no doubt Carter would be the guy. It didn’t work, although Carter did help the Cowboys to the playoffs in 2003.

Finding the next franchise quarterback took time for the Cowboys, and they got lucky in Romo. They looked to baseball and got Carter, Chad Hutchinson and Drew Henson. They looked at vets like Vinny Testaverde and Drew Bledsoe.

If you look at quarterbacks now, teams draft them and play them. Andy Dalton was a Day 1 starter with the Cincinnati Bengals after he was picked in the second round. Russell Wilson won the starting job with the Seattle Seahawks as a third round pick. Cam Newton, Sam Bradford, Matthew Stafford and Andrew Luck were No. 1 picks and starters from the beginning.

Ryan Tannehill (Miami Dolphins), Robert Griffin III (Washington Redskins), E.J. Manuel (Buffalo Bills), Geno Smith (New York Jets) and Matt Ryan (Atlanta Falcons) have been walk-in starters.

So whenever Romo is done – two, three or four years from now – that’s when I think the Cowboys go all in for a quarterback in the draft. And if (remember it’s still an if) that is the case, then there is a strong argument to take another offensive lineman at No. 16 next month.

With Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick and Offensive Lineman X, the Cowboys would have three first-round picks to protect an early-round quarterback. That would be a good way to break in a young quarterback. He would not be under siege behind a bad line.

Will this happen? Who knows, but it’s what I think could be the case.

Double Coverage: Rams at Cowboys

September, 19, 2013
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Romo-BradfordUSA TODAY SportsLike Tony Romo in Dallas, QB Sam Bradford has become the clear leader in St. Louis.
The Dallas Cowboys and St. Louis Rams will meet for the second time in three seasons at AT&T Stadium. The Cowboys won convincingly, 34-7, in 2011, but this Rams team is different. ESPN Rams reporter Nick Wagoner and Cowboys reporter Todd Archer bring you their Double Coverage preview.

Archer: It's always about the quarterback here with the Cowboys and Tony Romo, but I'm curious about Sam Bradford. Where is he in his development and is there any doubt he is their answer at the game's most important spot?

Wagoner: The Rams have made every effort to turn this into Bradford's team, and, through two weeks, it's absolutely become that. Bradford has had two strong statistical weeks to start the season, led a comeback win against Arizona in the opener and nearly did it again last week in Atlanta. He's clearly more comfortable in his second season with the same offensive coordinator in Brian Schottenheimer and surrounded by better skill position players such as tight end Jared Cook and receiver Tavon Austin. Bradford is showing signs of having the breakthrough season many have long expected. For the Rams' part, there's no doubt he's the guy moving forward and the decision-makers have repeatedly and publicly said as much.

Speaking of quarterbacks and committing, the Cowboys made their move to lock up Romo already. How has he responded to that financial vote of confidence?

Archer: I think it goes beyond the financial commitment, although we’d all like to be guaranteed $55 million at some point in our lives. The bigger vote of confidence came from Jerry Jones wanting him in on the game planning with the coaches. Romo has more say now than he has ever had as the starting quarterback. It’s his offense in a lot of respects. The Cowboys are doing more no-huddle work than ever before, and that’s where Romo has complete control. Now there could be some drawbacks, too, because they’re not running the ball. The Cowboys talked about running the ball more and better in 2013 than they did in 2012, and they have 39 carries for 124 yards in two games. Romo has dropped back to pass nearly 100 times in two games. There is even more of a burden on him now, and he’s already had to do so many things here lately to win games.

One guy I can’t wait to see Sunday is Austin. Everybody had him pegged for greatness this summer, and he’s coming off his first two-touchdown game. How have the Rams tailored their offense for him?

Wagoner: Well, it's been a bit of a mixed bag for Austin so far. Yes, he had a couple of touchdowns last week, but he also had some issues with drops. The Rams have used him as a receiver, lined him up at running back and used him as the primary punt returner, and those will all be ways they'll continue to use him moving forward. Through two weeks, they haven't been able to get him out in space where he can operate at his best. That's why he has yet to hit any of the big plays many are expecting from him. On the flip side, he's been better in short areas moving the chains than expected. His first touchdown catch against Atlanta was particularly encouraging because he showed a knack for being able to make a tough grab in a congested area.

Not to keep piggybacking off your questions, but let's talk a little about Dallas' most exciting wideout, Dez Bryant. Clearly he's not too banged up given his performance last week, but what is his status? The Rams have really struggled against the pass the first two weeks and Bryant could have a monster game if he's up to full strength.

Archer: He should be fine, but this is something that has cropped up the past couple of seasons. He missed a handful of plays against the Chiefs because of back spasms, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as last year’s finale at Washington, where he could barely move. I think it’s a matter of keeping loose for him because they say it’s not a structural issue. He is just a nightmare matchup because he can overpower corners in man-to-man. The Chiefs' Brandon Flowers wasn’t in bad position on a couple of those plays, but Bryant just ripped the ball away from him. And the best pass Romo threw to Bryant all day was the one the receiver dropped on what would’ve been a big gain. Unfortunately for the Rams corners, I think he’ll be fine for this one.

The Cowboys haven’t been able to run the ball early in the season and the Rams look to be pretty good against the run (but maybe that’s because the pass defense has been shaky). How good is the front seven?

Wagoner: Yeah, it's hard to get a read on just how good the Rams' run defense is right now because they've played pretty anemic run teams in the first two weeks. I do think they'll be pretty good in that regard over the course of the season, but let's see how they do when they face the likes of San Francisco, Seattle and Houston. The front four is the strength of this team as a whole, and the linebackers are solid, too. The front four generates a pass rush on a consistent basis. Ends Chris Long and Robert Quinn have been as good as ever so far this season.

The Rams haven't given up a sack in the first two games and four in a row dating back to last season. How are the Cowboys adjusting to a new defensive scheme and what kind of challenges do they pose in regard to the pass rush? And how are they using DeMarcus Ware?

Archer: Last week against the Chiefs, the Cowboys used Ware on both sides in part so he could go against rookie tackle Eric Fisher. He had two sacks in the game and was a constant source of pressure on quarterback Alex Smith. I wonder if the Cowboys continue to do that this week with Rams tackle Rodger Saffold looking like he will miss the game with an injury. Ware has predominantly lined up against the left tackle for his career, but with George Selvie showing he can play both sides and Anthony Spencer rounding into shape after missing so much time with a knee injury, I think the smart thing is to move Ware around.

5 Wonders: Look at a possible trade

August, 27, 2013
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IRVING, Texas – The Cowboys have one more preseason game to go, Thursday against Houston, but since they’re not playing their starters, we’re not wondering much about what will happen.

This week’s Five Wonders touches on a potential trade decision, Jason Witten's blocking as well as Tony Romo’s accuracy.

On to the Wonders:

PODCAST
Stretch Smith joins Galloway and Company to discuss five positive and five negative things he took away from the Cowboys' fourth preseason game.

Listen Listen
** Let’s talk trade. Not a big trade, but just something I’m wondering about with the Cowboys as they start the process of trimming the roster and possibly looking at players from other teams. I wonder if the Cowboys could look to move defensive end Sean Lissemore. This isn’t to say they should trade him or that he has had a poor camp and won’t get a spot on the 53-man roster. Lissemore signed a four-year extension with the Cowboys that included $3.17 million in guaranteed money last season. I think he’s a good, solid role player. He just might not be the best fit for a 4-3 defense. The Cowboys need help on the offensive line, but to expect major moves at this time of the year is just not realistic. You’re talking about acquiring a player like Ryan Cook, who was picked up last year from Miami a week before the season for a seventh-round pick. Lissemore’s age, friendly contract and ability to play a couple of spots might be able to bring some value in return to the Cowboys where they need it most.

** Jason Witten set a record for catches by tight ends in a season with 110 last year. Even more remarkable is the fact that he had only eight catches after the first three games. But I wonder if the Cincinnati game is a sign that things might change in 2013. Of Tony Romo’s 18 passes against the Bengals, Witten stayed in pass protection eight times. That’s a high percentage. With his backups, James Hanna, Gavin Escobar and Dante Rosario, not known for their blocking perhaps Witten will find himself helping the line more than he has in the past. Over the last five seasons Witten has averaged 92 catches a year. In 2011 he caught 79 passes for 942 yards and five touchdowns. While still a very good season, those are not typical Witten numbers, but I wonder if that is the neighborhood he will be in this year.

** Tony Romo is something of a tech-junkie. The quarterback kind, anyway. He likes to tinker with his mechanics the way a golfer tinkers with his swing in an attempt to find a better release point, better footwork, better whatever. Romo has hinted at arm angle changes this summer that have been able to hold up in his work in the preseason. He completed 72 percent of his preseason passes (26 of 36 in three games). And it wasn’t like he was throwing a ton of short throws to Jason Witten or his running backs. So I’m wondering if Romo will set a career high in completion percentage this season. His previous best for a full season is 66.3% in 2011. He completed 69.5% in five-plus games in 2010 before a broken collarbone ended his season. Troy Aikman holds the Cowboys’ team record at 69.1% in 1993.

** I wonder if the Cowboys are putting too much faith in Ronald Leary. This has nothing to do with Leary’s ability to return rather quickly from a knee scope or not. This has to do with Leary having not played in a game yet and the fact that he was an undrafted free agent a year ago who spent most of the season on the practice squad. Leary was decent in his preseason work before needing the surgery but the Cowboys’ flirtations with Brandon Moore and Brian Waters were about Leary, at least to a degree. Leary might be the Cowboys’ best option but the bar should be higher than comparing him to Nate Livings.

** Through four preseason games the Cowboys have nine takeaways: five interceptions and four fumbles. Last year the Cowboys forced only 16 turnovers on the season. They had nine in their first nine games. I wonder how many games it will take the Cowboys this season to force nine turnovers. The ability to turn the emphasis of taking the ball away into actually taking the ball away is impressive. The Cowboys did similar drills with Rob Ryan, Paul Pasqualoni, Wade Phillips, Brian Stewart and Mike Zimmer at defensive coordinator but they were hardly ever able to see the fruits of that work during games. The quarterbacks the Cowboys face in the first four games of the season – Eli Manning, Alex Smith, Sam Bradford and Philip Rivers - threw 48 interceptions last season. Smith has thrown just 10 picks in his last 25 starts and is playing for a new coach in Kansas City.

Advanced scouting: Landry Jones

April, 11, 2013
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Landry JonesMatthew Emmons/US PresswireLandry Jones looks like a prototypical quarterback and has the arm to make all the NFL throws.
To help preview who might be on the Dallas Cowboys’ board for the NFL draft, ESPNDallas.com has identified five players at five key positions that we’d like to learn more about. Along those lines, we’ve asked former Cowboys assistant coach Glenn “Stretch” Smith – the official scout of Galloway & Company – to study tape of each player and give his thoughts.

No. 2 quarterback: Landry Jones


Height/weight: 6-foot-4 1/8, 225 pounds

School: Oklahoma

Why he’s on the radar: Jones looks like a prototypical quarterback and started 50 games at Oklahoma, being put in the unenviable position of replacing Heisman winner Sam Bradford. Jones wasn’t as productive for the Sooners as his tools suggested he could have been, but he has a strong arm and excellent intangibles. Can his tendency to have tunnel vision be coached out of Jones?

Projection: Third or fourth round

Stretch Truths: Big, physical quarterback has the arm to make all the NFL throws. … My concern is that he gets bothered by the rush and gets happy feet. … Always in the gun, which presents a challenge for him. … Makes poor throws on the move. … I question this kid's "want to."

Morris Claiborne passes test, denies Rams

August, 26, 2012
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ARLINGTON, Texas – Rookie cornerback Morris Claiborne really got tested for the first time as a pro Saturday night.

He gave up a few catches, but Claiborne passed the tests with flying colors, especially in the red zone.

Rams quarterback Sam Bradford targeted Claiborne twice in the end zone on St. Louis’ final series of the first half. Claiborne had good coverage on both occasions. He crowded Austin Pettis on an incomplete back-shoulder fade in the front corner of the end zone and swatted away a ball intended for Steve Smith while running across the back of the end zone.

“He seems comfortable out there,” coach Jason Garrett said. “He seems like he feels more and more confident.”

This was probably the last playing time Claiborne will get this preseason, as is the case for all of the Cowboys’ starters. After missing all of offseason (wrist surgery) and a week of training camp plus the preseason opener (knee), he had acknowledged that he was still in the mode of thinking too much on the field.

Claiborne said he played looser Saturday night and felt like he made progress.

“I feel pretty good,” Claiborne said. “I’m going to keep working. These 10 days (before the season opener) I’m going to use to my advantage and try to get better and better.”

Second quarter: Cowboys 20, Rams 6

August, 25, 2012
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ARLINGTON, Texas -- The Cowboys produced their best performance of the preseason in the first half against the Rams, taking a commanding 20-6 lead.

Second-quarter thoughts:

* Kyle Orton came in with 14:18 to play in the half but had the first-team offensive line with him and Felix Jones as the running back. Tony Romo and DeMarco Murray were out.

* On a fumble by Orton, it was hard to blame Jones for the missed block. It was a play-action pass, and weakside linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar flew in and made the hit, causing the fumble. Dunbar got through the hole before Jones could get there. Sometimes you have to credit the other team for making a play.

* Alex Albright is playing inside and outside linebacker for the Cowboys. He picked up a quarterback pressure when he beat tackle Rodger Saffold off the edge and hit Sam Bradford on a pass attempt. The Cowboys like what Albright can do at both positions, and his hit on Bradford is an example of that.

* Sometimes you don't notice the fullback, but Lawrence Vickers made a play here. He caused Danny Amendola to fumble a punt.

* Morris Claiborne picked up his first pass breakup of the preseason on a pass in the end zone. Faced with a fourth and goal, Rams quarterback Sam Bradford fired a pass into the back of the end zone. Claiborne tipped it away for the incompletion. And while the Cowboys won the battle, they lost the war in some ways. Safety Danny McCray was injured colliding with Gerald Sensabaugh as each player tried to make a play on the live ball.

* The first-team offensive and defensive lines got significant playing time in the first half. Orton played with the first-team offensive line. Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan mixed his lines. Starter Kenyon Coleman got late first-half snaps along with Marcus Spears at defensive end.

* It was interesting to see linebacker Barakas Atkins get first-half snaps. He picked up a quarterback pressure on Bradford in the first half. He's one of those players the coaches want to see make some plays when given playing time against first-team offenses.

* Jones gained 12 yards on a run and later caught a nice pass underneath for a 9-yard reception. Coach Jason Garrett said Jones is still getting into the flow of things after missing the offseason program as he recovered from shoulder surgery. Jones has looked slow at times but is still a dangerous player when in open space.

* With 31 seconds left in the half, Phillip Tanner missed a block of Robert Quinn, leading to a sack of Orton. The Cowboys called timeout and Tanner got an ear full from the sidelines.

* It was a strong first half by the Cowboys' receivers. Dwayne Harris was 3-118, Kevin Ogletree 5-75 and Cole Beasley 3-40.

Scout's Eye: Cowboys-Cardinals preview

December, 2, 2011
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It’s never easy when the Cowboys travel to the desert to face the Cardinals, and this season will be no different.

Scout's Eye
The Cardinals have skill at several positions, but they have weaknesses that Jason Garrett’s club can take advantage of. It’s this mix of good and bad that could either lead to an upset or to the Cowboys winning their fifth straight game on their march to the NFC East title.

Offensively, the Cardinals present two reasons for concern: Larry Fitzgerald and Beanie Wells.

Cardinals' Fitzgerald could exploit Cowboys' weakness


You do not have to be a professional scout to know that Fitzgerald is one of the best wide receivers in the game. The Cowboys have struggled with receivers making plays down the field the past two games. I was concerned about what Brandon Marshall was going to do against this secondary, but I am even more concerned of the challenge that lies ahead with Fitzgerald.

When you study his game, you see a tremendous route runner -- not in the sense of an explosive player, but much like Miles Austin in that he runs his routes at the same speed throughout the route. Fitzgerald doesn’t give the corner any type of hint when he is going to break in his route. Most receivers in the NFL have to chop their steps or slow down to make cuts, but not Fitzgerald.

In my view, the most impressive trait he possesses is his hands. Other than Kurt Warner, Fitzgerald has played with some bad quarterbacks throughout his career in Arizona. Never have I seen a receiver that adjusts to more bad balls than this guy, but he is always coming up with the play.

The Cowboys have to be careful with Fitzgerald when he runs the inside routes, getting the ball on the move and exploding through the middle of the secondary. Remember what he did to the Steelers in the Super Bowl several years ago? He has done that this year as well.

The one personnel switch for the Cowboys will be that Mike Jenkins will be in the lineup. That takes Alan Ball off the field in the nickel, and it also allows Orlando Scandrick to go back to his role as the nickel corner.

RB Wells has very similar style to Cowboys' Murray


The Cowboys’ run defense has had stretches where it has been outstanding, then two games where the Eagles and Seahawks were able to gash the defense for some nice gains. Beanie Wells is more of a physical runner than a home-run back. His offensive line doesn’t give him much room, so he has to create opportunities on his own, but he doesn’t have the quickness of LeSean McCoy or Marshawn Lynch.

Wells can hurt you with the ability to use his vision to see a crease then make a cut, much like what we have seen with DeMarco Murray. Wells is not afraid to take the ball to the hole then allow the defenders to commit and bend it backside. The Cowboys’ run defense can be aggressive flowing to the ball, so what happens on the backside with these defensive ends and linebackers will be key if they are going to keep Wells in check.

The Cardinals will attempt to run Wells to keep the rush off Kevin Kolb, who is making his return to the starting lineup after dealing with a toe issue.

Matchup to exploit: Cardinals' offensive line


The biggest weakness of this Cardinals offense is their line. There is nothing pretty about the way they play or the effectiveness in which they operate.

Usually when I study an opponent each week, there are one or two players that I will like on their offensive line. There is no one on the Cardnals’ offensive line I would want if I were building a team.

Tackles Levi Brown and Jeremy Bridges struggle with speed off the edge, and it would be no surprise to me if Rob Ryan starts there to attack this offense. At the guard spot, things aren’t much better with former Packer Daryn Colledge and ex-Brown Rex Hadnot, who really struggle with movement of the defensive line and don’t do a good enough job of handling the twist stunts or games in the middle of the line. Colledge really struggled because he would become engaged with his block, then a linebacker would run through on the blitz and he was unable to adjust off that to secure the blitzer.

The biggest fear for the Cardinals is if they are stuffed on the run with Wells and it turns into a game where the Cowboys can tee off on Kolb. The fear for the Cowboys is that they allow this poor Cardinals line to block them like the Redskins did two weeks ago.

There are questions about Kolb’s health and mobility. The Cowboys need to take advantage of the situation when given the opportunity.

DT Dockett will be handful for Cowboys' line


Defensively for the Cardinals, tackle Darnell Dockett will be a handful for Kyle Kosier and Montrae Holland. I worry more about Holland because he tends to struggle with those players that can get on his outside shoulder and quickly get up the field. That is what we see in Docket’s game.

Dockett is an explosive player that loves to attack on the outside. Holland hates this type of player because he doesn’t always adjust quickly enough out of his stance.

The Cowboys have to be careful when they go to their outside game that Dockett isn’t allowed to get up the field and into the backfield to throw off pullers or John Phillips trying to get to the edge to secure the corner. Any type of penetration throws off timing and the execution of the blockers.

The Cowboys will have an advantage when the Cardinals have to rush the passer. Other than Dockett, this front really struggles with pressure. It is only when they are able to bring linebacker help that they are able to generate a pass rush.

The Cowboys have struggled some this season when teams have brought pressure from the linebackers in the middle of the defense. Center Phil Costa was better last week, but continue to watch how he and Holland handle these games.

Cards' young linebackers making some noise


The Cardinals have two young linebackers that I really like. Former TCU star Daryl Washington and Texas-ex Sam Acho really show up on tape. Both of these players are always around the football. Impressed with the way that they are able to fight blocks and finish plays.

Washington showed the ability to work through the trash, keep his balance and make the tackle in the hole. I would not call Washington a thumper like a younger Bradie James, but at the point of attack, he has done a nice job.

Acho is a nice player off the edge. In the Rams contest, he showed the quickness to come around the corner, beat the tackle and get a sack of Sam Bradford to cause a fumble. He and Dockett are the two best pressure players the Cardinals have in the front seven.

Don't overlook Peterson as defender, either


Rookie Patrick Peterson has created quite a buzz with his ability to return punts for touchdowns. Peterson is a talented cornerback, but I have heard the whispers that early in the season he wasn’t playing as well and was struggling in coverage.

I studied four games -- Eagles, 49ers, Rams and Ravens -- and did not see the struggles that scouts were speaking of. There was one play against the 49ers where he slipped on a stutter-go to Michael Crabtree and it ended up as a nice gain, but overall, I only observed a corner that could read the route, drive on the ball and defend the play. Didn’t see a corner that played with wasted steps or was not quick enough to keep position in the route.

In the Ravens game, Peterson did a nice job in press coverage, turning and running with his man, then finding the ball. In my view, Peterson did not look like a player that was struggling to do his job. We’ll see if Jason Garrett’s game plan will be to try to attack Peterson, but there are other areas that he can go to for better results.

Cowboys run game: Watch safety Wilson


When the Cowboys run the ball, they must be aware of safety Adrian Wilson, who likes to work around the line of scrimmage. Wilson is a physical player who is not afraid to mix it up against the run or pass.

When the Cardinals need a big play in the secondary, it will usually come from Wilson. Wilson can hurt you as a blitzer. He has a nice feel for how to time his blitz and be that disruptive player.

Final Word: Seattle Seahawks

November, 4, 2011
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NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Nuggets of knowledge about Week 9:

[+] EnlargeDeMarcus Ware
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty ImagesCowboys outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware will be facing a Seattle Seahawks offensive line that has allowed a league-high 28 sacks.
Huge weekend for sack opportunities: The Seattle Seahawks, having allowed a league-high 28 sacks, must contend with the Dallas Cowboys' DeMarcus Ware, who collected four of his 12 last week. The San Francisco 49ers' Aldon Smith and Justin Smith have a combined nine sacks over four games. They now face a Washington Redskins offense that took 10 sacks against Buffalo. The St. Louis Rams, coming off a six-sack game against New Orleans' Drew Brees, now face an Arizona Cardinals offense that allowed six against Baltimore last week.

Marshawn Lynch and the end zone: Getting the ground game going stands as a top priority for the Seahawks over the final nine games of the season. The team expects to have its projected offensive line starting for the second week in a row after not playing together since Week 1. Marshawn Lynch hasn't found much running room, but he does have a rushing touchdown in three consecutive games. He's looking to become the first Seattle runner since Shaun Alexander in 2005 to score one in four consecutive games. The Cowboys allowed 239 yards rushing to Philadelphia last week after entering the game allowing a league-low 69.7 yards per game.

Sam Bradford won't play against Cowboys

October, 22, 2011
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The Rams ruled quarterback Sam Bradford out for Sunday's game against the Cowboys.

A.J. Feeley will start instead of Bradford, who is hobbled by a high ankle sprain.

For more on the move, read the news story here and NFC West blogger Mike Sando's take here.

Opposing voice: Sam Bradford

October, 22, 2011
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IRVING, Texas -- After a surprising 7-9 finish to the 2010 season, many people picked St. Louis to be one of the up-and-coming teams in 2011, led by quarterback Sam Bradford.

The Rams are 0-5 entering Sunday’s game against the Cowboys.

“It’s miserable,” Bradford said. “I’m not going to lie. It’s not enjoyable. It’s not fun. There’s nothing I like about it. It’s definitely not the position we thought we’d be in at this point in the season. I think I’m doing everything I can to make sure we change that. I think everyone in this building is doing the same thing. I don’t think there is anyone here who likes this.”

In a new offense run by coordinator Josh McDaniels, Bradford, the former Heisman Trophy winner from Oklahoma, has completed 104 of 196 passes for 1,177 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions in five games. He has been sacked 21 times and has a 72.2 passer rating. As a rookie Bradford threw for 3,512 yards with 18 touchdowns and 15 picks and was sacked 34 times.

Bradford, however, has been ruled out of Sunday's game with a high ankle sprain.

“Obviously, I’m still learning a lot of things about how this game is played in this league, but I think I’ve gotten much better each week this year,” Bradford said. “I’ve gotten more comfortable in our offense. That’s something I’m going to continue to try to do week to week, and I think you can always become a better football player.”

Losing Mark Clayton and Danny Amendola to injuries last year and this year has not helped Bradford’s development. But the Rams this week traded for veteran Brandon Lloyd, who excelled under McDaniels in Denver.

“I feel like I’m much more comfortable in the pocket,” Bradford said. “I feel like just running the offense I’m more comfortable. I’ve been asked to do a lot more this year. There’s been a lot more put on my plate. I feel fine with that because I am more comfortable seeing things during a game. I feel more comfortable pretty much in every aspect of the game. Even though my numbers might not be as good as they were last year, I still feel like I’m a better player. As long as I continue to work hard, we’re going to get this offense going.”

Scout's Eye: Rams-Cowboys preview

October, 21, 2011
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After two difficult losses against the Lions and the Patriots, the Cowboys face the St. Louis Rams in a contest where both teams need a win in the worst way.

The Rams were picked by many as preseason NFC West favorites with Sam Bradford at quarterback. Instead they are 0-5 and really not doing anything well on offense or defense.

Scout's Eye
RAMS OFFENSE

The Rams are hurting the most on the offensive line, which is surprising because they have invested high draft picks in tackles Rodger Saffold and Jason Smith. Safford is the starter at left tackle and is the best of the Rams’ offensive linemen. Smith was drafted with the third overall selection of the 2009 NFL Draft and really hasn’t lived up to the billing.

At 6-foot-4 and 318 pounds, Saffold looks a lot longer on tape. Tends to come off the ball high at times and without much bend in the knees. Saffold is a catch blocker more than a puncher. He will place his hands on the rusher then try to steer them away from the ball or up the field. He will do a nice job of running his man up the field.

Smith tends to play without power but can run, which is his way of getting out of trouble. Cowboys rookie right tackle Tyron Smith already plays like a better player than Jason Smith, who is going into his third season with the Rams. Of the two St. Louis tackles, Smith is the one that gets the most help from tight ends and backs that stay in the game to block.

The weakest position on the offensive line for the Rams is at right guard. Harvey Dahl was signed as a free agent by the Rams from the Falcons on July 31, and the more you study him, the more you feel like that is was money poorly spent.

I am going to be real honest, there is nothing about Dahl’s game to like. If you think that the Cowboys have had problems at left guard, the Rams have had it worse with the way that Dahl has played. Dahl will pull and miss. He is not athletic enough to execute the cut-off block or keep his man from overpowering him in the passing game.

I have talked about for weeks how Rob Ryan has done a nice job of identifying the offensive line’s weakest link that needs to be attacked to create the best matchups to win. Ryan should take advantage of Dahl several times this game.

The two best players on the Rams offense are Bradford and running back Steven Jackson. I have always been a big Bradford supporter. Watching him play down after down, there is no reason to change that thought.

Bradford, who might not play Sunday due to a high ankle sprain, had better offensive talent around him college at Oklahoma. Despite all that, he is able to make all the throws. He is accurate and mobile, but this ankle injury that might limit him from making some plays with his legs.

Bradford has a nice feel in the pocket and is able to slide and move to buy a second chance. The Rams like to run waggles, dragging the tight ends from the opposite side, so it will be interesting with this injury if offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels will still make this part of the game plan.

The Rams are last in the NFL in rushing offense, but if you use the Jason Garrett theory, the Rams run the ball poorly because they are always behind in games and need to pass to try to get back into games. The problems I see again fall more on the offensive line than they do on Jackson.

While I am on the subject of Jackson, our scouting department had a first-round grade on him, but there some medical concerns at the time with a back injury. When it came our time to pick, the Buffalo Bills called and wanted to offer us the next year’s first-round selection for our pick at that time. The discussion in the draft room at the time were that Julius Jones, who we had in the second round, was just as good of a back. Jerry Jones and Bill Parcells agreed and we made the deal with the Bills. For that selection the following year, we drafted Marcus Spears.

In looking back in that draft, we made a mistake on Jackson. I believe that we had the right grade on the board, but we had the wrong vision for the player and what he would become in his career.

Jackson is not an explosive player, but he is consistent in the way he attacks. Will try to bounce more balls to the outside than he will take inside. The Rams have some success with him when they get in the gun, then hand the ball to him on the inside.

McDaniels also likes to try and throw him the ball on screens. He will sneak out of the back field, then mesh with the line.

If Jackson does struggle, it is as a pass protector. As much as Ryan likes to bring pressure from all angles, this will be a difficult task for him. As the game develops, watch how many screens that the Rams run and if they use Jackson in pass blocking.

On the outside, the Rams made a deal at the trade deadline for some help. Brandon Lloyd joins the squad after a stint with the Broncos. There are a couple of ways to look at this for the Rams. The most important way is that it’s another weapon for Bradford on a team that has failed to address the wide receiver position the last two years.

Sure, the Rams have drafted receivers but none that could be a difference maker. Lloyd has that chance and should be ready to hit the ground running in this offense because he was with McDaniels at the Broncos.

The one thing that the Cowboys on defense might not be able to count on is turnovers from the quarterback. Bradford is one of the best in the league at not throwing interceptions.

RAMS DEFENSE

When you study the Rams, it’s a defense that appears to be very talent poor. There are two players that really stood out: middle linebacker James Laurinaitis and defensive end Chris Long.

The Rams drafted defensive end Robert Quinn in the first round in 2011, but like tackle Jason Smith, he hasn’t made the impact that they had hoped for. When you are playing with 14-year veteran Al Harris at corner, your defense is going to have some issues.

Laurinaitis is a very similar to what Sean Lee is for the Cowboys. He can run, he reads the play quickly, he reacts and he tackles well. Laurinaitis has a real nose for the ball. He is a sideline to sideline player. He does a nice job in coverage. Did not see an effective blitzer in the early games I studied against the Giants and Ravens.

As a pass rusher, defensive end Chris Long is a relentless player but doesn’t play with the rush skill of what the Cowboys offensive tackles have seen the early part of this year. Tyron Smith needs to have a bounce-back game after not being at his best last week. Long will not be able to use power against Smith, which is the one area that gives him the most trouble.

The Cowboys should be able to move the ball on the ground against the Rams’ down linemen, who struggle getting off blocks. Again, the key here will be the inside players for the Cowboys, mainly Montrae Holland working with Phil Costa and Kyle Kosier to not allow Laurinaitis to make all the tackles.

I also look for the Cowboys offensively to have some success throwing the ball. The Rams’ secondary have struggled with coverage at the corner with Harris and Justin King. Against the Ravens, King was beaten badly on several deep, vertical routes that went for touchdowns.

Look for Garrett to test this secondary to try and make some deep throws down the field to try and stretch this Rams defense that has limited range with safeties Quintin Mikell and Craig Dahl.

DeMarcus Ware: Cowboys are not desperate

October, 20, 2011
10/20/11
12:05
PM ET


IRVING -- The Cowboys have lost their last two games and now take on a 0-5 St. Louis Rams team who might not have their quarterback Sam Bradford (ankle) and will need to rely on A.J. Feeley on Sunday afternoon.

Cowboys outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware said despite this losing skid for the Rams, they’re a dangerous team.

“Those teams are probably the most hungriest teams that you play,” Ware said. “They feel like they don’t have anything to lose but have everything to prove to themselves and their organization.”

The Cowboys were in a similar situation against the Rams in the 2008 season. The Cowboys faced a Rams team without their starting quarterback Tony Romo, but these comments from former cornerback Pacman Jones might have summed up the feeling in the locker room when he said if he’s concerned about that upcoming game, “it’s the Rams, dude.”

Well, the Rams, then 1-4, beat the Cowboys at home, 34-14.

Ware’s team is well aware of that game and while there are some different players on the roster now, the Cowboys have endured their share of losing streaks. In the last five seasons, the longest losing streak the Cowboys have endured was five games last season. There have been five two-game losing streaks and this one doesn’t appear to have placed the Cowboys in a desperate mode.

“Desperate for what,” Ware asks. “You’re motivated to get some wins. You can’t be desperate with a 16-game season. We lost these three games within [11] points. What is it to be desperate about when you have a great team and you have everything in place? But you’re just not closing and you just have to figure out how to close it to get that bad taste out of your mouth.”
St. Louis Post-Dispatch St. Louis Rams beat writer Jim Thomas is a good man. He gave us his take on the 0-5 St. Louis Rams in this week's version of The Other Side.

Q: What's happened to the Rams? Are they taking steps backward in their development as a team?

A:
The early-season schedule has been brutal. The Rams first five opponents are a combined 19-9 so far. Nonetheless, it looks like the team has regressed. The run defense has been a major disappointment, and the offense can't get into the end zone. Lots of penalties and dropped passes, too.

Q: Sam Bradford. Is he going to be good?

A:
Yes. He's fighting it some with the new offensive scheme of first-year Rams coordinator Josh McDaniels. The system is a lot different than Pat Shurmur's West Coast scheme of last year. Many more downfield throws and lots more responsibility at the line of scrimmage. But I think Bradford is the real deal, and eventually it will show.

Q: What should we expect from Mark Clayton and Brandon Lloyd on Sunday?

A:
Lloyd will play and I'd be surprised if he doesn't start. He's a guy who can get downfield and make the tough catch in traffic. He knows the offense very well since he played for McDaniels in Denver in 2010 and '09. For Lloyd, it's simply a matter of getting in sync with the QB, which could be A.J. Feeley Sunday because of Bradford's high ankle sprain. As for Clayton, he's coming off the PUP list following last season's knee surgery and until now hadn't practiced since early October of 2010. So he's less certain to play Sunday; got some rust to knock off.

Q: The Rams have yet to play within the division, has this hurt them?

A:
It sure has. The don't play a division game until November. It would've been good for the team's confidence and won-lost record to get a Seattle or Arizona at home in the early going.

Q: Is Steve Spagnuolo on the hot seat or is he OK?

A:
Everyone knew these first seven games would be tough _ with Dallas and New Orleans following the first five. So nobody expected a sparkling early-season record. But nobody expected this either. So yes, unless Spagnuolo and the Rams start posting some wins, he is on the hot seat.

Rams' Sam Bradford has high ankle sprain

October, 17, 2011
10/17/11
3:04
PM ET
IRVING, Texas – The NFC’s worst team might not have one of its best players Sunday at Cowboys Stadium.

PODCAST
Former Cowboys great Drew Pearson joins Ben and Skin to break down the Cowboys' loss against the Patriots.

Listen Listen
The St. Louis Rams announced that quarterback Sam Bradford suffered a high left ankle sprain in the loss to the Green Bay Packers. The team said Bradford would be day to day but “certainly limited” in practice this week.

The Rams (0-5) are the NFC’s lone winless team. They are ranked last in the NFL in scoring, averaging only 9.8 points per game.

Bradford, the No. 1 overall pick out of Oklahoma, hasn’t been able to build on an encouraging rookie campaign. He is completing only 52.8 percent of his passes – down from 60.0 percent last season – and ranks 32nd in the league with three touchdown passes.

The Rams acquired some help for Bradford by trading a conditional sixth-round pick to Denver for receiver Brandon Lloyd on Monday. But Bradford won’t be able to get much, if any, work with Lloyd before the Rams play the Cowboys.

Power Rankings: Top 10 NFL quarterbacks

April, 26, 2011
4/26/11
4:10
PM ET
QB Power Rankings IllustrationESPN.com IllustrationNew England's Tom Brady received six of the eight first-place votes to edge out Peyton Manning.
ESPN.com’s NFL writers rank the top 10 quarterbacks in the league today.
Next week: Top 10 safeties.


Take eight football writers scattered from Seattle to Tampa and ask them to come up with a list of the top 10 quarterbacks in the National Football League.

Sounds easy enough, in theory. You take the golden gunslingers, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, and let everyone else fall naturally into order after that. Well, it didn’t quite work out that simply in ESPN.com’s Power Rankings for quarterbacks.

Heck, we couldn’t even come up with a top 10. We’re going with a top 11 because Baltimore’s Joe Flacco and Dallas’ Tony Romo tied for No. 10 with five points each in our voting system.

Even at the top, there was more disagreement than you might expect. Brady emerged as No. 1, but it wasn’t unanimous and, although Manning finished a strong second, two ballots had a man some consider the best quarterback ever at No. 3.

But let’s start analyzing the rankings by focusing on just Brady and Manning. Six voters put Brady at No. 1, but Paul Kuharsky and Mike Sando put Manning in the top spot. Let’s hear them out.

“Brady's fantastic, let's start with that,’’ said Kuharsky, who covers the AFC South, also known as “The Division Manning Built and Owns." “But no one is asked to do more or does more as a quarterback than Peyton Manning. He almost plays a different position. And while Brady's got three rings to Manning's one and is the reigning MVP, look at their touchdown and interception numbers in their last four playoff games. Manning's are better.’’

Sando has no horse in this race, because voters unanimously agreed the NFC West is the division that forgot quarterbacks, at least until Sam Bradford gets another season under his belt.

“Brady has the better stats over the last couple seasons, but the Colts would undoubtedly be far worse off than the Patriots if both teams had backups under center,’’ Sando said. “Once that was established, Brady's recent postseason struggles became a deciding factor. These quarterbacks have, to an extent, switched roles recently. Manning has won a championship more recently than Brady has won one. Brady has seven touchdowns, seven picks and one victory in his last four playoff games. Manning has seven touchdowns, two picks and two victories in his last four.’’

For rebuttal, let’s head up to the AFC East, to the man who covers Brady and the New England Patriots.

“I'm not sure why everybody needs to consider career achievements when filling out a Power Rankings ballot,’’ Tim Graham said. “Power Rankings are a snapshot of the moment and are expected to change regularly, not encompass years of work. But if the reason for selecting Manning ahead of Brady is recent playoff performances that go back a few years, then Ben Roethlisberger should be ahead of Manning with that logic. Roethlisberger has been to a pair of Super Bowls and won his second title more recently than Manning's only championship.’’

We’ll come to Roethlisberger in just a moment, but nobody put him ahead of Manning on his ballot. Kevin Seifert and I each put a quarterback ahead of Manning.

Seifert put Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers at No. 2.

“Mostly, I didn't think I could face NFC North blog readers if I voted any other way,’’ Seifert said. “Seriously, I think the big advantage Manning and Drew Brees have over Rodgers is time. They've been playing longer and therefore have mostly better career numbers and a bigger frame of reference for knowing how they will perform in the long term. But when you take out longevity, Rodgers is right there with them. All three have one Super Bowl victory. Rodgers has a higher career passer rating than any quarterback in the history of the NFL with qualified attempts, better than Manning and Brees and Brady for that matter. So to break the tie, I think you can look at what they did most recently. I think Rodgers had a better 2010 season than Manning or Brees, and that's how I would justify this order.’’

I put Brees at No. 2 and don’t really want to write a story in which I quote myself, so I’ll just say Brees and Manning each have one Super Bowl ring and Brees’ numbers over the last four years are just as good or better in most categories. Plus, Brees hasn’t spent most of his career surrounded by the likes of Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne, Dallas Clark and Edgerrin James.

In the final analysis, Brees finished third and Rodgers fourth. Roethlisberger, who has two Super Bowl rings, came in at No. 5. San Diego’s Philip Rivers, who has zero Super Bowl rings and some gaudy statistics, is No. 6. Relatively speaking, the order from Brees to Rivers, the guy who took his place with the Chargers, was pretty clear-cut.

After that, we had some close calls, strong differences of opinion and one very big coincidence. At No. 7, we’ve got a tie between Philadelphia’s Michael Vick and Atlanta’s Matt Ryan, who each finished with 26 points. For those who don’t see the irony in that, Vick was the face of Atlanta’s franchise for a long time and Ryan now holds that role.

Eli Manning of the New York Giants came in at No. 9, and Flacco and Romo tied for the final spot. Only three other quarterbacks received votes. They were Tampa Bay’s Josh Freeman, who I think could be near the top of this list in another year or two, Houston’s Matt Schaub and Kansas City’s Matt Cassel.

On to some other notes about the Power Rankings.

Michael Vick
Michael DeHoog/Sports Imagery/Getty ImagesOne recent year of success wasn't enough to put Eagles quarterback Michael Vick on John Clayton's ballot.
The Vick factor. Despite a hugely productive season last year, Vick was left off one very important ballot. John Clayton, the dean of all of us, didn’t have the Philadelphia quarterback on his ballot and was the only one of us who didn't.

“The only reason Michael Vick didn’t make my top 10 is because I, after an offseason of thinking, have Michael Vick as my No. 11 quarterback,’’ Clayton said. “That still makes him elite. I have 12 elite quarterbacks. Vick moved into the elite category with his performance last year, but it’s just one year. He can clearly move up the list this season, but he’s in the mix and knocking on the door of the top 10. A year ago, he wasn’t a consideration.’’

Fighting the Eli fight. Speaking of Clayton, let’s continue to ride that train as we discuss Eli Manning. Seifert, Sando, Graham and I didn’t even include Manning in our top 10, but he still made the list.

“I will continue to fight the argument Eli Manning is an elite quarterback,’’ Clayton said. “I moved him to No. 8 above Tony Romo, but if Romo had a full season last year, he might have been ahead of Eli. Remember that Carson Palmer, Brett Favre and Donovan McNabb dropped from my elite quarterback categories, which moved guys like Eli up in the mix. Eli has a Super Bowl ring. He’s a 4,000-yard quarterback. He wins.’’

No tiebreaking here. Speaking of Romo: Clayton and Sando each had him at No. 9. AFC North blogger James Walker had Romo at No. 10. That was good enough to get Romo five points and a tie with Flacco. One interesting note here: Flacco wasn’t on Walker’s ballot. I respect James for not doing the easy thing and being a "homer," although I’m sure some Baltimore fans might have different opinions.

"Joe Flacco is a good quarterback, but I don’t consider him an elite, top-10 quarterback just yet,’’ Walker said. “I need to see more consistency, especially in the playoffs and other big games against the Steelers. Flacco has a lot of natural ability, and I believe he’s ready to break through. But, in my book, Flacco needs to first prove it on the field in the biggest games to be elite.”

The final analysis. If you look at this list from a distance, you could say the Atlanta Falcons, San Diego Chargers and New England Patriots are the big winners. The Patriots, of course, have Brady, but they also drafted Cassel, whom they later traded to Kansas City. If you want to get really technical, the Chargers drafted Brees and Eli Manning and worked a draft-day trade with the Giants to end up with Rivers. If you count the few minutes Manning and Rivers were crossing paths, you could say the Chargers, at one time or another, had three guys on this list. You also could say the Falcons drafted Vick, Ryan and Schaub, who finished in a tie with Freeman for No. 12.

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