Dallas Cowboys: Sterling Moore

Dallas Cowboys' projected roster

July, 18, 2014
Jul 18
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IRVING, Texas -- Examining the Dallas Cowboys' roster:

QUARTERBACKS (2)

The Kyle Orton watch is over now that the Cowboys released the veteran backup. The timing of it is a surprise, and Jason Garrett spoke optimistically all offseason about Orton’s return. Now the Cowboys turn their attention to Weeden as Romo’s backup. Weeden had a productive spring, running the first-team offense as Romo recovered from back surgery. The Cowboys haven’t kept a third quarterback since 2011, and Caleb Hanie and Dustin Vaughan will have work to do to crack the 53-man roster

RUNNING BACKS (4)


The last two spots could be up in the air. Randle, a fifth-round choice, will be pushed by free-agent pickup Ryan Williams in the preseason. Williams, a former second-round pick, was not able to stay healthy in Arizona. The Cowboys have given him a chance to win a backup job. Clutts did a nice job as a late-season pickup in 2013. He is more versatile than undrafted rookie J.C. Copeland, but I don’t think having a fullback on the 53-man roster is set in stone.

WIDE RECEIVERS (5)


I debated whether to go with a sixth, but later on you will see why I stuck with five. It is possible the Cowboys will look for a veteran in the final cuts if they feel limited by their depth because of injury, but I think they like the overall group. They will work their No. 3 receiver role on a rotation basis, but Beasley could emerge as a bigger threat on third down. There will be a lot of eyes on Williams, who takes over the No. 2 role on a full-time basis. Bryant is set for another Pro Bowl-type season.

TIGHT ENDS (3)


Witten remains near the top of the game at his position. His total catches were down last year, but his touchdowns were up. Escobar’s role figures to expand, especially as a No. 3-type receiver. Hanna has the inside track on the third spot, but I have a feeling the Cowboys will be looking for more of a traditional blocker, especially if they want to get away from the fullback spot to open up a role elsewhere.

OFFENSIVE LINE (9)

The top six are set, with Bernadeau or Leary fighting it out for the left guard position and the loser becoming the top backup on the interior. Parnell is in the final year of his deal, and if Weems develops, I wonder if the Cowboys would look for a trading partner. They have invested a lot in Parnell in time and money for him to be a backup, so it would be a risk, but perhaps one worth taking. Weems had a decent offseason. Clarke gets the nod as the No. 9 guy right now, but veteran Uche Nwaneri could work his way into the mix.

DEFENSIVE LINE (10)

I think the Cowboys will go heavy here, especially considering what happened last year and the numbers they have thrown at the position this year. Four of them are rookies -- Lawrence, Gardner, Bishop and Coleman. I believe Anthony Spencer and possibly Amobi Okoye will start the year on the physically unable to perform list, so they don’t make this 53-man roster with the idea that they join the team after the sixth game of the season. Wilson garnered the last spot over a 2013 starter, Nick Hayden, but there will be a few players in the mix for the final few spots, including Ben Bass.

LINEBACKER (7)

Carrying seven linebackers might be a little heavy, but I have special teams in mind when it comes to Will Smith. He benefits from having only two quarterbacks on the 53-man roster. The Cowboys spent the offseason telling us games are won and lost up front, so carrying an extra offensive or defensive linemen could get in this mix as well. McClain gets a spot only because of his experience. Backups of Holloman, Hitchens and Smith would be tough considering their youth, and I can see the Cowboys looking for veteran backup help around the final cut dates.

CORNERBACK (5)


Carr and Claiborne have to play exceptionally well for this defense to have a chance, and they might have to do it without much help from a consistent pass rush. Scandrick is coming off his best season, and Claiborne will have to beat him out to reclaim the starting spot. Moore can play inside and out. Mitchell showed in his limited offseason work that he can make plays. Last year’s fourth-round pick, B.W. Webb, will have to fight for a spot. Based on his offseason work, he did not make the cut for this roster.

SAFETY (5)

Church is the only player without questions. The Cowboys are projecting the other four with their biggest bet on Wilcox. He enters camp as the starter, but he could be pushed by Heath and Hamilton. Dixon will be more of a special-teams threat if he is to make the roster. Hamilton showed some playmaking in the offseason. No Matt Johnson? Not right now, especially after he couldn’t practice -- again -- for most of the offseason.

SPECIALISTS (3)


Perhaps Cody Mandell can push Jones, but Jones is the more consistent punter and has a good rapport as a holder for Bailey. Ladouceur remains one of the best long-snappers in the game. This group won’t change during the summer unless there is an injury.

Filling out Cowboys' roster: Cornerbacks

July, 16, 2014
Jul 16
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Constructing a 53-man roster is a difficult process, piecing together 10 positions groups and matching up present needs with future production of older and younger players. This week we take a look at constructing the Dallas Cowboys' roster.

Cornerbacks

On the roster: Brandon Carr, Orlando Scandrick, Morris Claiborne, Sterling Moore, B.W. Webb, Terrance Mitchell, Tyler Patmon, Dashaun Phillips

Locks: Carr, Scandrick, Claiborne

Inside track: Moore, Mitchell

Need help: Webb, Patmon, Phillips

How many fit? Remember when the Cowboys kept only three cornerbacks a few years ago? And the fourth was Alan Ball, who was a starting safety? They can’t go that light again, but the Cowboys rarely used a dime package (six defensive backs) last season and Rod Marinelli did not use it much when he was with the Chicago Bears.

While some teams will carry six cornerbacks, taking five is the most likely option.

Carr, Scandrick and Claiborne are starters (yes, the third corner is like a starter). The remaining two spots are up for grabs, but Moore’s ability to play inside and outside should give him a leg up provided he plays as well in the summer as he did in the spring. He should have had the job last season, but the Cowboys kept Webb instead and he never really developed as a rookie. Webb’s struggles continued for most of the spring, but he was a little better in the minicamp. His draft status last season was a big part of why he made the roster, but he might not be so fortunate this summer.

Mitchell missed most of the offseason because Oregon did not graduate until late, but he made a favorable impression at the minicamp. The coaches like his swagger and he also possesses good size. The Cowboys feel lucky that they were able to grab him in the seventh round. Phillips was given the largest signing bonus of any undrafted free agent ($7,500) and Patmon earned a spot on the 90-man roster by making the most of an invite to the rookie minicamp. Of the two, Patmon was noticed more in the spring, but Phillips showed ability to go get the ball at Tarleton State.

The series:

Quarterbacks
Specialists
Running backs
Safeties
Wide receivers

More reps for youngsters as minicamp ends

June, 19, 2014
Jun 19
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IRVING, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys' offseason comes to an end after Thursday's final minicamp practice, but the club has already been saving some of the veterans for training camp.

Coach Jason Garrett has rested some of the regulars over the last two weeks of work. Jason Witten, DeMarco Murray, Brandon Carr and Barry Church did not take part in the two-minute drill in Wednesday's workout. Dez Bryant did not take part in every snap. Doug Free was replaced by Jermey Parnell for a spell.

"It's really just to see those young guys and see some of the other guys that we're counting on," Garrett said, "and give them an opportunity to show what they can do; work with the ones, be in some of the situations we've been working on and see how they respond."

Second-year tight end Gavin Escobar had a fourth-down catch in a two-minute drill that ended in a Bryant touchdown. Cornerback Sterling Moore shut down a throw to Terrance Williams in the end zone. Tyrone Crawford forced an incomplete pass with a pressure.

"We'll continue to do that and see how they respond to the work," Garrett said.

Thursday's practice will be the Cowboys' first at AT&T Stadium. It will be followed by a family cookout.

Players can continue to work out at Valley Ranch until 10 days before training camp starts. Injured players will continue to rehab. The rookies will continue their full-scale workouts for another week, but the on-field work with the coaches will end until the team reconvenes in Oxnard, California, on July 22.

Cowboys' Twitter mailbag, Part 1

June, 13, 2014
Jun 13
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IRVING, Texas -- Part 1 of the Dallas Cowboys' Twitter mailbag is ready.

In it we discuss:
  • The state of the Cowboys defense.
  • Adding a new name to the veteran linebacker mix.
  • The future of B.W. Webb.
  • Tony Romo's two back surgeries.
  • Bruce Carter's performance in organized team activities.

Away we go:
@toddarcher: The odds say the defense can't be worse than it was last year, but I was saying the same thing about the 2013 defense compared to the previous year. Look where that got me. The Cowboys don't have a pass-rusher better than DeMarcus Ware on the current roster. They believe Henry Melton can be a younger (and better fit) version of Hatcher, but he's coming back from knee surgery. They will not have Sean Lee. It's hard to say the defense will be better. There are questions at every level and with almost every player. The safest picks are Barry Church and Orlando Scandrick. You know what you will get from those guys. Do you know what you'll get from anybody else? I'm not so sure. I'm playing the odds and say they will be better, but I don't see them cracking the top half of the league. If they can get in the low 20s, then they'll have a chance to make the playoffs. @toddarcher: Well, James Harrison doesn't play a position of need here in this scheme. If they were in a 3-4, I'd say yes. He was marginal last year in Cincinnati in a 4-3. Too many times we get caught up in names when it comes to the Cowboys. That's why everybody mentioned Brian Urlacher. Harrison was a great player, on par with Ware. He made a ton of disruptive plays. But he's not that guy anymore. And he doesn't fit a need. The strong-side linebacker in this scheme is going to play 40 percent of the snaps. It will be either Kyle Wilber or DeVonte Holloman, and Wilber will get my vote. Harrison had his time. He's not a guy the Cowboys need to go after. @toddarcher: If I was putting together a 53-man roster right now, Webb would not be on it. Sterling Moore has been better. Tyler Patmon, who was at the rookie minicamp on a tryout basis and earned a job, has been better. We haven't seen seventh rounder Terrance Mitchell since the rookie camp because of league rules, but I'd put him ahead of Webb right now. You're just not seeing progress either outside or in the slot. I hate to give up on a guy in his second year, but sometimes it's just obvious. He has the athletic ability but it's just not translating. He was getting virtual one-on-one coaching last year when he was forced to play and he struggled. Right now he would be my fifth or sixth corner at best. He has to have a really good training camp and preseason to make the club. @toddarcher: It's still a surgery. They still had to knock him out. It still kept him out for an entire offseason. Jerry Jones likened it to a toothache, but it was enough to keep him out of everything. Was it as serious as the one he had last December? No, but it's still something. It's still accurate. @toddarcher: I wish I could say he's been different than in the past, but he's been about the same. I'm not meaning to sound down on him, but it's difficult to cover Jason Witten. I haven't noticed him on backs as much and he struggled there last year. But he's been in position a few times and not made a play. He's made some plays. It's been OK. He needs to be better than OK. That doesn't mean he has to turn into Derrick Brooks, but he has to take a step forward. Sometimes he will do something and you'll say, Wow. Other times you're left wondering what he was watching.

Cowboys position breakdown: DBs

January, 30, 2014
Jan 30
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Cowboys reporters Calvin Watkins and Todd Archer breakdown the Cowboys, position by position, analyzing what the players did in 2013, what they can do in the future and what the team can do to improve the position in 2014.

Under contract: B.W. Webb, Jakar Hamilton, Morris Claiborne, Sterling Moore, J.J. Wilcox, Orlando Scandrick, Jeff Heath, Brandon Carr, and Barry Church.

A look back: This unit was an overall disappointment. Scandrick (tied for team lead with 13 pass breakups) and Church (team-leading 135 tackles) were the best of the bunch. Claiborne battled through injuries and inconsistent play and has raised questions about whether he was worth being the sixth overall pick in the 2012 draft. Carr started the season strong but slumped badly the last two months of the year. Carr was the main defender during Calvin Johnson's 14-catch, 329-yard performance in an Oct. 27 victory by Detroit. The Cowboys struggled to find a free safety to make plays on the ball from Heath to Wilcox. Depth is a concern so much that Webb, a fourth-round draft pick last spring, was replaced by Moore, a veteran, who was released in training camp. The Cowboys struggled against passers who challenged the secondary deep and that's been a recurring theme the last few seasons.

A look ahead: Scandrick and Carr are the starters with Claiborne the nickle corner. But the Cowboys need Claiborne to either regain the starting role from Scandrick or make more plays on the ball as the No. 3 corner if he can't become a starter again. Carr said he played with confidence during the season, and while that might be true, his play on the field didn't show. Carr has to produce more plays on the ball and even though some teams didn't target him early in the season, that changed in the last few months of the 2013 season. It will be interesting to see if Wilcox can overtake Heath as the starting free safety. Church was solid as a strong safety especially in the open field. Yet, depth was a problem for the Cowboys and Webb needs to prove he can be a NFL corner.

A look out: The Cowboys need to draft a cornerback who has good awareness and ball skills. Creating competition is the best way to get this disappointing unit to improve. Free agency isn't something the Cowboys will look at because of the lack of money to spend in salary cap, so the draft is the best way to go.

Position breakdown:

Quarterbacks
Running backs
Tight ends
Wide receivers
Defensive line
Offensive line

Cowboys snap counts: defense

January, 6, 2014
Jan 6
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IRVING, Texas -- No team in the NFL needed more players on defense than the Dallas Cowboys in 2013.

They had 41 defenders with cornerback Brandon Carr playing the most (1,116 snaps) and Dez Bryant playing the least (three). The Indianapolis Colts and New Orleans Saints had the second most with 32 players on defense.

In training camp, the Cowboys’ projected defensive line was Anthony Spencer, Jason Hatcher, Jeremiah Ratliff and DeMarcus Ware. Hatcher played the most snaps (747) but that was only 66 percent of the snaps. Ware missed three games and played 628 snaps (55 percent). Spencer played 34 snaps in one game before his season ended. Ratliff, of course, played none before his release.

Nick Hayden played the most snaps on the defensive line (821). George Selvie did not join the team until training camp began and played 744 snaps.

With Hatcher and Spencer set to be free agents and Ware coming off a career-low six sacks, the Cowboys need to refurbish their defensive line in a way where Hayden and Selvie are not playing as much.

The Cowboys used 20 defensive linemen during the season, although Kyle Wilber moved to linebacker late in the season and played 501 snaps.

It might not have seemed this way, but Jeff Heath played only 79 more snaps than J.J. Wilcox.

Defensive snaps:

1,116 – Brandon Carr
1,088 – Orlando Scandrick
1,015 – Barry Church
874 – Bruce Carter
821 - Nick Hayden
747 – Jason Hatcher
744 – George Selvie
702 – Sean Lee
628 - DeMarcus Ware
594 - Jeff Heath
515 - J.J. Wilcox
506 – Morris Claiborne
501 – Kyle Wilber
380 – Ernie Sims
275 – Jarius Wynn
254 - Drake Nevis
207 – DeVonte Holloman
197 – Justin Durant
178 – B.W. Webb
163 – Will Allen
153 – Everette Brown
144 – Caesar Rayford
117 – Corvey Irvin
81 – Sterling Moore
72 - Edgar Jones
63 – Cameron Lawrence
49 – David Carter
46 – Jason Vega
45 – Jerome Long
38 – Landon Cohen
34 – Anthony Spencer
34 – Frank Kearse
24 – Kyle Bosworth
22 – Micah Pellerin
20 – Everett Dawkins
20 – Martez Wilson
16 – Jakar Hamilton
15 – Marvin Austin
8 – Danny McCray
6 – Orie Lemon
3 – Dez Bryant

Officially, Tony Romo is inactive tonight

December, 29, 2013
12/29/13
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ARLINGTON, Texas -- Since he remains on the active roster, Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo is officially listed as inactive for tonight’s game against the Philadelphia Eagles.

Romo had back surgery on Friday but the team did not make the formal move of placing him on injured reserve. If the Cowboys win tonight, then they will place Romo on IR and add a player to the active roster for the playoffs. If they had made the move already and gone with just 52 players on the active roster, they would have lost some practice squad players.

Joining Romo on the inactive list are: B.W. Webb, Jakar Hamilton, Sean Lee, Ernie Sims and Darrion Weems.

This is the first game Webb has been inactive all season, but he lost his playing time to Sterling Moore and the return of Morris Claiborne means the Cowboys do not need to carry five cornerbacks.

Pondering the 46: Down to the corners

December, 28, 2013
12/28/13
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IRVING, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys have yet to place Tony Romo on injured reserve. They really don't have the need to make the formal move just yet, so as we Ponder the 46, Romo will be one of the inactives.

Sean Lee is out with a neck strain. Ernie Sims is doubtful but he has not practiced the last two weeks because of a groin injury. Darrion Weems and Jakar Hamilton will also be inactive. Martez Wilson has been inactive the last two games, so he is likely to be down for his third straight game.

That leaves one spot and with Morris Claiborne coming back from a hamstring injury, rookie cornerback B.W. Webb is in the crosshairs.

Webb has been active for every game, but he lost his playing time to Sterling Moore the last few games. Maybe the Cowboys cover themselves by bringing a fifth cornerback to the game in case Claiborne aggravates his hamstring again, but they have had only four active for the season.

Perhaps they could go lighter on the defensive line, but with LeSean McCoy running and DeMarcus Ware, Jason Hatcher, Jarius Wynn and George Selvie all nicked to some degree, that doesn't seem to be the wise choice.

So the inactives will be: Romo, Lee, Sims, Weems, Hamilton, Wilson and Webb.

Monte Kiffin believes in his defense

December, 19, 2013
12/19/13
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IRVING, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys' defense is historically bad, and there doesn't appear to be any hope.

Monte Kiffin, the Cowboys' defensive coordinator, said he's never had a defense this bad. He can remember only two occasions in his long career when his defense blew a big lead. The first person to beat him in such fashion was Peyton Manning when he played for Indianapolis and Kiffin was in Tampa Bay. The other time was last weekend, when Matt Flynn and Green Bay rallied from a 26-3 deficit to beat Dallas.

Kiffin is trying to forge ahead with a defense that won't have middle linebacker Sean Lee, nickel corner Morris Claiborne or strongside linebacker Justin Durant. The injuries to the unit, coupled with the ineffective play, have been unnerving to those inside Valley Ranch.

But Kiffin believes his defense can rebound in the final two games of the regular season.

"I walk in that room, whatever time we meet, 8:30 in the morning. It starts with coach Garrett," Kiffin said. "You go into your defensive room and you split up and away you go. You walk in, 'Get your heads up, let’s go.' That’s the way it works. We ain’t going to pout around. We’ll be ready to play."

Kiffin is still settling on his starting linebackers. Ernie Sims, battling groin and hip problems, is the middle linebacker. Bruce Carter is the weakside backer and Kyle Wilber is on the strong side. DeVonte Holloman are the nickel backers. The backups are Orie Lemon and Cameron Lawrence.

If Sims can't play, Holloman moves in as middle linebacker. Lemon said he can work on both outside linebacker spots if need be. Wilber remains the strongside linebacker regardless.

Got it?

The Cowboys are going to need healthy linebackers because the Washington Redskins come in with the third-best rushing offense in the NFL.

"A good offensive line," Kiffin said. "They run and throw it. We know we’ve got a little extra tutorship going on and things like that. We’ve just got to do the best we can. We’re going to show up and we’re going to play hard and whoever is out there is going to do a heck of a job."

One of the main themes of Kiffin's 4-3 scheme is turnovers, and fittingly the Cowboys are tied for third in turnover differential at plus-11. In the first six weeks of the season, the Cowboys forced 12 turnovers. On Sunday, newly signed cornerback Sterling Moore picked off a Flynn pass for the Cowboys' third interception in the last six games.

"You just have to keep doing it," Kiffin said. "Like I say sometimes, turnovers are like sacks. They come in bunches. Hopefully they’ll work the other way the next week."

Upon Further Review: Cowboys Week 15

December, 16, 2013
12/16/13
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ARLINGTON, Texas -- A review of four hot issues from the Dallas Cowboys' 37-36 loss to the Green Bay Packers.

[+] EnlargeBoyd_Murray
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesDeMarco Murray and the Cowboys are focusing on winning out and attempting to make the playoffs.
Recuperative powers: If the Cowboys win their final two games, they will make the playoffs. If there is a message Jason Garrett is looking to sell as the team looks to rebound, that's it. The Cowboys' final two games are against the Washington Redskins and Philadelphia Eagles, teams they outscored 48-19 in meetings earlier this season. It's not the message a lot of fans want to hear, but it is what matters most as the Cowboys look to make the playoffs for the first time since 2009.

"I feel good that we have a chance to beat the Redskins, and if we do that, we'll get a chance to play Philadelphia with an opportunity to get in the playoffs," owner and general manager Jerry Jones said. "I know when I see us lose a game after having a lead like we had at halftime, anything can happen one way or the other."

Pathetic work: On a day in which the offense gained 466 yards and 27 first downs, you would think everything worked well. It didn't. The third-down offense continued its season-long struggles as the Cowboys converting on just 2 of 9 chances. It was the third time this season the Cowboys converted on less than 30 percent of their third-down tries in a game. They are 56-of-159 on the season. Tony Romo said he has to be better on third downs, the receivers have to win in man-to-man situations and the blocking has to be better.

"We haven't done that well," Romo said of the third-down woes. "We have to do a better job."

No chance on D: At one point, the Cowboys fielded a defense that had three players who were not with the team when training camp started (George Selvie, Everette Brown, Corvey Irvin), two undrafted free agents (Jeff Heath, Cameron Lawrence), a sixth-round pick (DeVonte Holloman) and a cornerback (Sterling Moore) who was out of football until Nov. 25. Matt Flynn became the fifth quarterback to throw four touchdown passes against Monte Kiffin's defense, joining Eli Manning, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and Josh McCown. Flynn and McCown are backup quarterbacks, and the Cowboys will see another backup next week at Washington with Kirk Cousins quarterbacking the Redskins.

Still producing: Jason Witten caught 110 passes last year, an NFL record for tight ends in a season, but he had only three touchdowns. He has 59 catches this year and eight touchdowns. Witten needs one TD in the final two games to equal his career high. His eight from Romo this season are the most the duo has combined for in a season together. With 59 catches for 703 yards, Witten is averaging 11.9 yards per reception, which equals his career best so far. He might not have the starry numbers of the past, but at 31, Witten is not slowing down yet, either.

Cowboys' finds running out of gas

December, 13, 2013
12/13/13
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IRVING, Texas -- Dallas Cowboys defensive end George Selvie will make his 13th start of the season Sunday against the Green Bay Packers. He played more than nine games in a season just once in his career before 2013.

Defensive tackle Nick Hayden will also start his 13th game Sunday. He started 13 games for his career before this year.

Selvie has one sack in his last six games. Hayden has not been credited with more than two tackles in a game in a month. He had just two of those games in the first nine games.

When the Cowboys signed Hayden in February, they hoped he would be part of a defensive line rotation. When Selvie signed in July the hope was initially he helps the Cowboys get through practice, nevermind make the roster.

Neither was expected to be a core defender. Are they starting to wear down?

“We feel like those guys are our starters and have been all year long,” coach Jason Garrett said. “You’re always trying to rotate the defensive linemen like we’ve talked about, particularly in this scheme, so you’re always trying to find what that balance is.”

Selvie is tied with DeMarcus Ware for second on the defense with six sacks.

“I think he’s a good consistent football player and has been all year long for us,” Garrett said. “He was around the quarterback a little bit the other night in the ballgame. He comes to work every day. He’s not a dynamic, dynamic, dynamic pass-rusher, but to me every game he shows up and somehow positively impacts the game.”

Linebacker Ernie Sims will play starter snaps for the sixth time this season. Starter Jeff Heath will make his fifth start after making the team as an undrafted free agent. Sterling Moore wasn’t with the team two weeks ago but he will be the team’s third corner Sunday.
The Cowboys found out last year that for as well as players off the street can play for a short time, over a longer time they can be exposed.

“I think the biggest challenge for guys is acclimating themselves initially,” Garrett said. “I think our guys have done a good job of that, to step in here and play on a moment’s notice. It’s always better when you have your starting players in there -- we recognize that -- and having our starting players healthy and ready to go. Having said that, every team in the league is dealing with injuries, so that’s not something we talk about a lot. We just have to get these guys ready to play as best they can play; a tough challenge as a coaching staff.”

Five Wonders: Changes on defense?

December, 11, 2013
12/11/13
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IRVING, Texas -- Those of you wondering where Five Wonders went on Tuesday, fear not. It's here on Wednesday.

We just pushed it back a day with the Dallas Cowboys playing on ESPN's “Monday Night Football.” And boy wasn't that an exciting contest?

Anyway, off we go ...

1. Jerry Jones said there will be changes on the defensive side of the ball after the debacle against the Chicago Bears. I wonder what they would be. And how big of a difference could they actually make? The scheme is the scheme. They can't become some blitz-happy team overnight. The personnel is the personnel. So does it make a difference if J.J. Wilcox starts over Jeff Heath at safety? Minimally. I'd look for Sterling Moore to be the nickel back if Morris Claiborne cannot return this week from a hamstring injury. Huge difference? Perhaps considering how lost B.W. Webb looks. Injuries could force a shakeup at linebacker. Does DeVonte Holloman get some time? He's not a weak-side linebacker by trade, but maybe it's time he plays instead of Ernie Sims or Cam Lawrence if Bruce Carter can't go. The defensive line does not have many options, but maybe Drake Nevis moves in for Nick Hayden. Again, we're not talking major changes.

[+] EnlargeDallas' Rod Marinelli
Casey Sapio/USA TODAY SportsWould Rod Marinelli be interested in rejoining Lovie Smith if Smith were to become a head coach again?
2. This isn't so much an “I wonder,” but it is for those wondering if Rod Marinelli will join Lovie Smith should Smith return to the NFL as a head coach somewhere. From what I'm told, Marinelli signed a three-year deal with the Cowboys when he joined the team in the offseason. Technically Jones could allow Marinelli to join Smith if he wanted, but he does not have to. The promotion rule was dropped a long time ago. Since Jones would not let Joe DeCamillis leave for the Oakland Raiders two years ago to be with Dennis Allen or Tony Sparano to leave for the New Orleans Saints when Sean Payton took over in 2006, I can't see Jones letting Marinelli walk. The defensive line has been a drive-through of sorts because of injuries and Marinelli has made it work. It's not been perfect by any stretch but it's been fine.

3. With all of the talk about how well Tyron Smith has played this season, I wonder if the Cowboys will be more patient than normal in talking about an extension for Smith. Under the terms of the new collective bargaining agreement, the Cowboys have a fifth-year option on Smith in which they would pay him roughly the amount of the transition tag in 2015. They have to make their decision to use the option year in the spring and the money becomes guaranteed after the 2014 season. Maybe the Cowboys will wait because they will have to do something with Dez Bryant, who will be a free agent after next season. They could franchise Bryant and use the option year on Smith, but with salary-cap limitations I can see them being more willing to get a deal done with Bryant first. Because the option year is a new tool teams will have a difficult time navigating those negotiations on long-term deals. Bryant will be a more pressing deal to get done and the Cowboys will be able to keep Smith in their back pocket, so to speak.

4. I wonder how strongly the Cowboys attack the defensive line in the April draft. Marinelli played a big part in the team choosing to pass on Sharrif Floyd last April because they did not want to use a first-round pick on what they viewed was a two-down defensive lineman. A few years ago the Cowboys saw their offensive line grow old with Marc Colombo, Leonard Davis, Andre Gurode and Kyle Kosier. They cut Colombo, Davis and Gurode and bit the bullet. Jason Hatcher turns 32 next season and will be a free agent. Anthony Spencer turns 30 in December, is coming off microfracture surgery to his knee and is also a free agent. DeMarcus Ware turns 32 next July and has been slowed by nagging injuries this year. Their one building-block defensive lineman is Tyrone Crawford and he is coming off a torn Achilles. For as well as George Selvie has played this year, he is not a building-block player. He is solid, but you would feel better about him being a backup than a full-timer. The rest of the guys still have things to prove. If the last few years has been about rebuilding the offensive line, I wonder if it's time to start rebuilding the defensive line.

5. I wonder if assistant director of player personnel Will McClay becomes a sought after front-office personnel person. The NFL has tweaked its Rooney Rule and now teams will have to interview at least one minority candidate for their head coaching or general manager vacancy. Last year there were eight head coaching vacancies and seven general manager jobs and none went to a minority. McClay, who is African-American, was elevated to his current role in the offseason and has the run of the personnel department. He has yet to set up a draft board, but he has been responsible for a lot of the pro personnel work in recent years and has found players that have come off the street and contributed to the Cowboys' success. He was a former head coach with the Dallas Desperados and has also helped the coaches on game day. He has received interest from teams in the past, but the Cowboys have not let him leave. This time they may not have a choice.

Upon Further Review: Cowboys Week 14

December, 10, 2013
12/10/13
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CHICAGO -- A review of four hot issues from the Dallas Cowboys' 45-28 loss to the Chicago Bears on Monday.

Garrett
Garrett
Go for it: With 10:37 left in the third quarter and the Cowboys trailing 27-14, Jason Garrett passed on a chance to give his team a jolt. Facing fourth-and-4 from the Chicago 41, Garrett elected to punt even though his defense had done nothing to slow down the Bears. Chicago answered with a 14-play, 90-yard drive that ended with a 4-yard touchdown catch by Matt Forte to seal the win.

"We thought about going," Garrett said. "We were still right in the middle of the field and still a long way to go on that … You start getting into those discussions when you're putting it all together: how much time is on the clock, the score and what they're doing offensively. We thought the right move there was to play a little bit of field position and obviously it didn't work out very well for us."

Time for a rebound: One week after allowing 51 points to the Denver Broncos, the Cowboys allowed only 16 points to the Washington Redskins. One week after allowing 623 yards and 24 fourth-quarter points in a loss to the Detroit Lions, they were able to limit the Minnesota Vikings. After giving up 625 yards and 40 first downs to the New Orleans Saints, they used the bye week to get things right against the New York Giants. And now after Monday's loss they have to rebound again on a short week with the Green Bay Packers coming to Arlington.

"They'll be a lot of things we look at in terms of what we're playing," Garrett said. "We'll look at who's involved and we have to step back and watch the tape before we make any of those assessments right now. We've done that on a couple of occasions this year and we simply have to do it again."

No breaks: In a 17-point defeat that did not seem that close there are not one or two plays that could have changed momentum, but the Cowboys saw any chance get wiped out because of a holding penalty on Brandon Carr. The flag wiped out a Sterling Moore interception. Garrett said he did not have a good view of the play. The penalty might have been the right call, but the flag came after Moore started to return the turnover upfield. That came two plays after Bruce Carter dropped an interception down the seam.

Where's the pass rush? Monte Kiffin's 4-3 scheme is predicated on getting pressure on the quarterback with just four pass-rushers. In the past two games the Cowboys have one sack and it was a fourth-quarter sack Monday by DeMarcus Ware when the game was out of hand. If the Cowboys can't rush the passer, they can't play zone coverage. Quarterbacks have just ripped them apart. The Cowboys paid Carr $50 million. They rewarded Orlando Scandrick with a solid extension as their nickel corner. They traded up to the sixth pick to take Morris Claiborne in the 2012 draft. But all of those moves are proof that a pass rush makes a secondary, not the other way around.

Ponder the 46: Can Clutts get on the field?

December, 8, 2013
12/08/13
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IRVING, Texas -- Now that fullback Tyler Clutts is here to save the Dallas Cowboys running game, can he get on the game-day roster?

Let's take a look as we Ponder the 46 for Monday's game against the Chicago Bears.

First, let's go with the knowns: Darrion Weems and Jakar Hamilton will be inactive. A hamstring injury will keep Morris Claiborne out. The returns of Sean Lee and Justin Durant will give the Cowboys extra linebackers, so Orie Lemon and DeVonte Holloman are the top picks to be inactive.

Dwayne Harris is officially questionable and was limited in Saturday's practice. If he plays, the Cowboys might have no choice but to make Clutts inactive. The Cowboys have been conservative with hamstring injuries all year, so maybe they give Harris another week to feel better.

That brings us down to the defensive line. The Cowboys have nine of them. Can they dress them all? Sure, but then you have to find another spot to go lighter. Perhaps they go lighter at defensive back, which would put Sterling Moore in the conversation, but with Claiborne out, they need another cornerback.

The Cowboys are heavy with ends. Martez Wilson is the newcomer but he played against the Raiders with little practice. The Cowboys like his pass rush. Jarius Wynn and Everette Brown have been quiet the last few games, but know the system better.

So with that, here's the guess at the inactives: Weems, Hamilton, Claiborne, Harris, Lemon, Holloman and Wynn.

Why a fullback doesn't make sense for Cowboys

December, 4, 2013
12/04/13
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IRVING, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys seemed to make a lot of fans happy on Tuesday when they signed a fullback. It wasn’t Lawrence Vickers, which still had some upset, but at least Tyler Clutts actually has played fullback in an NFL game.

To me, however, the signing does not make a lot of sense.

The Cowboys’ pro personnel department deserves a lot of credit for finding guys. George Selvie, Nick Hayden and Jarius Wynn have all helped this year. You can go back to last year for guys like Ernie Sims, Sterling Moore and Eric Frampton. And who can forget the Laurent Robinson signing?

This is not a knock on Clutts, who was described by a personnel chief as a “workmanlike lead blocker.” He might be another solid find. I just don’t see how he fits in what the Cowboys do well in their running game.

The weather will be cold in Chicago on Monday. It could be cold when the Cowboys play the Washington Redskins. And Jason Garrett keeps saying you want to be a physical team in December. I get all of that, but what the Cowboys do best when they run the ball is spread the field with three wide receivers.

Maybe it’s the curse of Tony Fiammetta, another pro department find who helped DeMarco Murray bust out in 2011. The fullback is a revered spot around here, going back to Walt Garrison and leading us to Daryl Johnston.

But it is also a dying position with offenses designed to pass the ball more or run out of “11 personnel,” like the Cowboys.

The Cowboys offensive line is not the ‘90s version of the Cowboys’ line. They do not overpower people. The scheme is not really a power scheme. They look to create creases, not gaping holes. Nate Newton and Larry Allen are not walking through that door to do that.

Murray is averaging 5.5 yards per carry for his career when he runs out of three-wide receiver looks. This year the Cowboys have gained 531 yards on 114 carries and scored five touchdowns out of 11 personnel. Against the Raiders they had 92 yards on 11 carries in 11 personnel. Lance Dunbar’s 45-yard run came out of 11 personnel. Even without that run the Cowboys averaged 4.7 yards a pop when they ran out of three-wides.

So this brings me to Clutts. Will he play five snaps a game? Is it worth it? Was using a tight end or linebacker Kyle Bosworth at fullback that bad? Not really.

The Cowboys could have gone a number of different ways in replacing Dunbar, who was placed on injured reserve Tuesday with a knee injury. They worked out Clutts and a handful of other runners that have barely made their mark in the NFL. Would any of those guys helped? If you’re going to look for a runner, find a tested runner -- even one that has not played this year -- who might have six weeks left in him.

The better move would have been to poach from a practice squad. They did it late last year with tackle Darrion Weems. Maybe he develops into a backup. Maybe he never develops. But they at least had the chance to develop a player. They could look at any position really. In my Five Wonders post, I wondered why they don’t add a No. 3 quarterback for the stretch run. He’d be inactive for the final four games anyway, so at least get a guy in here to learn how they do things as they head into the offseason.

Maybe Clutts will help the running game, but statistics suggest otherwise.

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