Dallas Cowboys: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Almost every time Jerry Jones speaks about the Cowboys’ roster, it sounds like spin control at this point.

That certainly was the case when he discussed his confidence in the safeties on the Cowboys’ roster during last week’s conference call with season-ticket holders.

Glenn "Stretch" Smith, Randy Galloway and Matt Mosley discuss the latest on Doug Free's role with the Cowboys and the Cowboys' first-round draft pick Travis Frederick.

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“I think we’re in good shape at safety,” Jones said.

Yes, Jones is well aware that the projected starting safeties have a combined four NFL starts. Those are all by Barry Church, who was thought highly enough of at Valley Ranch to receive a four-year, $9 million deal (plus $3.4 million in incentives) after suffering a torn Achilles tendon early last season.

Jones also seems just about ready to put Matt Johnson, who missed all of his rookie season due to hamstring problems and other injuries, in the Ring of Honor.

“I don’t know when I’ve ever seen a player impress our staff without having played in a ballgame any more than Matt Johnson,” Jones gushed.

The Cowboys’ other alternatives at safety: third-round pick J.J. Wilcox, who played offense until his senior year at Georgia Southern; nine-year veteran Will Allen, who didn’t start for the Buccaneers in Monte Kiffin’s last two seasons with Tampa Bay; and three-year vet Danny McCray, who was forced to play enough safety last season to confirm that he’s best suited to stick to special teams.

ESPN NFL expert John Clayton joins Fitzsimmons & Durrett to talk about Jerry Jones' conference call, the Cowboys' draft picks and much more.

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“I think we’ve really given ourselves a lot of potential,” Jones said. “The coaches told me (with) the scheme, ‘Don’t worry as much about range.’ I said, ‘What? Don’t worry as much about range?’

“(Kiffin) said, ‘No, our scheme gives them the angles. It gives them the angles. Get us somebody that is young. Don’t worry as much about experience as you have in the past. Get us some young players with instincts and let us go from there with them.’”

Believe it or not, that actually passes the smell test, given Kiffin’s Tampa Bay track record.

When Kiffin arrived in Tampa in 1996, the Bucs had precious little experience at safety. Their strong safety had six starts in the previous three seasons of his NFL career. Their free safety started three games as a rookie the previous year.

John Lynch, a third-round pick in 1993, ended up establishing himself as one of the elite strong safeties in NFL history, playing in nine Pro Bowls. The Bucs filled free safety with a handful of mid-round picks and low-priced free agents during Lynch’s Tampa Bay tenure, finishing top 10 in both major defensive categories every year but Lynch’s first full season as a starter, when they were 11th in yards allowed.

Kiffin’s history of making the most out of medium-level investments at safety offers no guarantees, of course. It does, however, provide legitimate proof for those inside Valley Ranch who insist that there’s no need to panic about the Cowboys’ safety situation.

Kevin Ogletree signs with Buccaneers

March, 15, 2013
Former Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Kevin Ogletree has signed a two-year deal with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Ogletree had 32 catches for 436 yards and four touchdowns last season but was inconsistent toward the end of the season and shared playing time as the No. 3 receiver with Dwayne Harris.

Ogletree's departure means Harris will most likely become the full-time No. 3 receiver going into training camp.

IRVING, Texas – For a 5-11 football team, the 2004 Tampa Bay Buccaneers must have had one heck of a training camp.

Former fourth-string quarterback Jason Garrett talked about that camp for much of his 27-minute soliloquy that opened his Wednesday press conference at Valley Ranch. Garrett regaled reporters with anecdotes about defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin’s attention to detail, defensive line coach Rod Marinelli’s “gimpy swagger” and special teams coordinator Rich Bisacia’s something or another.

Immediately after the Jason Garrett news conference ends, Randy Galloway and Matt Mosley are joined by Glen "Stretch" Smith and Chuck Cooperstein to analyze each and every question/answer.

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Frankly, by the time Garrett got around to discussing Bisaccia, he might as well have been Charlie Brown’s teacher. At that point, my focus was on wondering how a man could talk that long without taking a sip of water or saying anything interesting.

Oh, and there was still the eager anticipation of Garrett announcing the offensive play-caller next season … which he eventually promised would happen at some point before the preseason opener. It apparently takes eight days to decide to change defensive schemes but eight months to figure out who should call offensive plays.

But let’s get back to that glorious Bucs camp, which Garrett called his “football grad school.” Garrett, who was cut at the end of the preseason and returned to the roster for less than a month in midseason, clearly wanted to emphasize his ties to the most accomplished additions to the Cowboys’ coaching staff this offseason.

In other words, Garrett tried as hard as possible to convince people there are no puppet strings attached to him, never mind the appearance that he’s been twisting in them for the last six weeks.

Garrett took a much more subtle approach than screaming that these weren’t just Jerry hires that potentially set the stage for Tampa-exes Jon Gruden or Lovie Smith to replace him. Garrett called the coaching changes “collective decisions.”

“One of the great things about this organization since I’ve been here is the communication between me as the head coach and the ownership and the decision-makers is really strong, and it’s always been strong,” Garrett said. “We’ve had great back-and-forth about a lot of the decisions we’ve made. We made a lot of personnel decisions through the years. We’ve made a number of staff decisions through the years and these were no different.”

His older brother, John, the former tight ends coach and passing game coordinator, being forced out seemed a bit different. But Garrett explained that “we felt like the best opportunity for him to grow was not to be here.” He didn’t mention that it was also the only opportunity for John, who landed in Tampa Bay as the receivers coach, to remain employed.

To be fair, Garrett dug in enough to prevent Jerry from hiring a playcaller from outside the organization. However, his stubborn hesitance to officially hand over the play-calling responsibilities to Bill Callahan smacks of a head coach desperate to hold on to what little real authority he has left.

The one really firm answer Garrett gave was a “yes” when asked whether picking a playcaller would ultimately be his decision. That didn’t necessarily make it believable.

The perception remains that Jerry stripped Garrett of his authority during this uncomfortable offseason. The in-house videos Jerry shot last week, claiming all the offseason decisions were Garrett’s, didn’t change that. Nor did Garrett’s nearly hour-long meeting with the media, when he repeatedly danced around the one important issue expected to be resolved Wednesday.

“Well, Jerry Jones is the owner and GM of the team,” Garrett said. “As far I can tell, there’s an owner and GM in 31 other cities. I know since I’ve been here as the head coach, he and I have had a really good relationship. We talk about a lot of different issues regarding personnel, scheme, what we’re doing, why we’re doing it, what we’ve been doing and what we’re doing now and where we wanna go. We’ve had very candid conversations, and this offseason has been no different.

“And I have great respect for him as a football person and the owner and GM of this football team and our relationship. The lines of communication are open and we make collective decisions here and decisions we feel are in the best interest of the Cowboys.”

There’s an owner and a GM for every NFL team. Preferably, they’re two different people. But there’s only one Jerry.

Garrett knew that when he turned down better jobs to stay here as Wade Phillips’ successor, benefiting from the Jerry-bred dysfunction. He’s dealing with the downside after a pair of mediocre seasons that have made him as expendable as a fourth-string quarterback in training camp.

DeMarcus Ware, Sean Lee are keys in 4-3

January, 14, 2013
When switching to a new defense, which is what the Cowboys are doing now, several players will be the key to making it successful.

Former Cowboys scouting director Larry Lacewell joins Ben and Skin to talk about the hiring of Monte Kiffin -- which he calls Jerry's best hire since Jimmy Johnson -- and why Jerry is allegedly making changes for Jason Garrett.

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Sean Lee and DeMarcus Ware become the biggest keys for Monte Kiffin, if you ask Derrick Brooks, who played in the Tampa 2 scheme for 14 years with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers under the Cowboys' new defensive coordinator.

Lee becomes the middle linebacker and the signal caller in a 4-3. Brooks was a weakside linebacker with the Bucs but made the adjustments.

Brooks thinks moving Lee into a 4-3 will help him healthwise because he doesn't have to take on as many blockers in that scheme in comparison to a 3-4.

"That's one of the key things I'm interested in hearing Monte speak about, see exactly where he sees this kid playing if he plays the middle linebacker," Brooks said. "That's different from what I did. I'm the one playing the chess match with the quarterback that was our dynamic in Tampa. Sean Lee may be that for Dallas and be responsible (for calling the signals)."

In regard to Ware, he moves from outside linebacker to defensive end. Brooks sees Ware like Simeon Rice, who in six seasons with the Bucs picked up 69 sacks.

"It has to start with the best player and that’s DeMarcus Ware," Brooks said. "Can he put his hand in the ground and play right end? I think he can. Simeon Rice is very similar size-wise and they both made an impact on rushing the quarterback. Simeon is one of the best pass rushers I played with in the league. I think Ware can do it athletically."

Monte Kiffin moves on from college

January, 13, 2013
The Dallas Cowboys' new defensive coordinator, Monte Kiffin, is the Godfather of the Tampa 2 defensive scheme.

In college he wasn't considered that.

Kiffin's last three seasons at USC didn't go so well, especially his final one. USC finished 7-6 overall and lost five of its last six games. But Kiffin's defense allowed 39 points to Arizona and 62 to Oregon.

Overall, the unit finished 40th in the nation in scoring defense, allowing 24.3 points per game. One more thing: The unit finished 60th in total defense at 394.0 yards per game.

Did the game pass Kiffin by?

"I just think the wear and tear of college," said former Tampa Bay linebacker Derrick Brooks, who played for Kiffin at Tampa. "He's a football junkie. You spend 20 hours a week on football. (The downward spiral) started to show on the defensive performance in USC. It takes a level of time in this defense to get good. It's simple but a lot of reps."

What they're saying about Monte Kiffin

January, 11, 2013
The Cowboys made it official when they announced Friday that Monte Kiffin would become their new defensive coordinator. Here's what people are saying about the hire.

  • Former Tampa Bay linebacker Derrick Brooks to ESPNDallas: "If he didn't feel he could get it done with Dallas, and some of the personnel, he wouldn't have taken the job. However, I do know with their current roster, just looking at the size of players and the style of play that we played in, there's going to have to be some changes in terms of who they bring in to do what and a different mindset. Monte in the past, he's not been what I would call an aggressive coordinator in terms of his play-calling. He believes in discipline football, simplifying it, everybody knowing what you've been doing. Very similar to what Chicago is doing now."

  • Kiffin in a statement released through the team: "I came away from the interview process with Jason (Garrett) with a feeling that Dallas is the right place to be. He has this team headed in the right direction. They’re close, and I am confident that there are quality pieces in place for us to be able to get the job done."

  • Garrett in a statement released through the team: "I know Monte from spending time together with him with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and had a chance to see him coach up close on a day-to-day basis. His ability to teach everything -- from the smallest fundamental details to the big picture of the overall defensive scheme -- was always very impressive to me."
  • Does Monte Kiffin make sense for Cowboys?

    January, 10, 2013
    PM ET

    Monte Kiffin is the leading candidate to become the Cowboys’ next defensive coordinator, ESPN’s Ed Werder reports.

    Ed Werder discusses the Cowboys coaching changes with Ben and Skin. Werder says that Monte Kiffin is the best choice to replace Rob Ryan, next season's offensive playcaller is up in the air and Jason Garrett has been destabilized.

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    Would that be a wise move?

    The 72-year-old Kiffin, credited as the inventor of the famed “Tampa Two” 4-3 scheme, earned a reputation as one of the legendary defensive coordinators in NFL history during his 13-year tenure with the Buccaneers. Tampa Bay ranked among the NFL’s top 10 in scoring defense 11 times and total defense 12 times under Kiffin. The Bucs were top five in both categories six times, including a double No. 1 overall rank during their Super Bowl championship season.

    You won’t find many NFL defensive coordinators with more impressive resumes. However, the Tampa Two zone would be a curious scheme fit for a franchise that made two major investments in press-man corners last offseason, giving Brandon Carr a five-year, $50.1 million deal and trading up to draft Morris Claiborne with the sixth overall pick.

    And Kiffin didn't enjoy nearly as much success during his foray into college football to coach on his son Lane’s staffs at Tennessee and USC. In fact, Kiffin’s last season at USC was awful.

    The Trojans became the first team in 48 seasons to go from being No. 1 in the preseason polls to unranked at the end of the season. USC finished the season 7-6, losing five of its final six games, a skid that started when Kiffin’s defense allowed 39 points to Arizona and 62 points to Oregon. USC ranked 40th in the nation in scoring defense (24.3 points per game) and 60th in total defense (394.0).

    Oregon’s dominance of Kiffin’s defense is especially alarming. The Ducks racked up 730 total yards in their win at Los Angeles Coliseum, with running back Kenjon Barner rushing for 321 yards and five touchdowns.

    Chip Kelly stayed at Oregon instead of taking the Eagles’ job, but the Cowboys will still have to face a team that runs a lot of zone read out of the spread twice per season, assuming Robert Griffin III recovers from his serious knee injury. The Redskins just so happen to be the team that ended the Cowboys' season and could dominate the division for the next decade.

    How can the Cowboys be confident that Kiffin can help them catch up with the Redskins?

    Random thoughts: No Jason Witten worries

    September, 25, 2012
    PM ET

    After three weeks, the Cowboys are 2-1 but don't feel like they're headed in the right direction. Here are our weekly random thoughts on the Cowboys.

    1. The Cowboys credited tight end Jason Witten with just one drop Sunday at Tampa Bay because one pass was tipped at the line of scrimmage and he couldn't hold on and another pass was too high. You could say an-All Pro such as Witten has to make these catches, but it's hard to make contested catches. A contested catch is when the defender is making a play on the ball or a pass was tipped during flight. In Week 2 at Seattle, Witten was credited by the coaches with three drops. Nobody from the front office to the coaching staff believes Witten is on a decline or worried about the drops. It happens. Miles Austin endured the same problems a few years ago.

    2. It's easy to blame the offensive line for the pressures on quarterback Tony Romo, but a closer look says No. 9 needs to get rid of the ball. There were times Sunday where Romo missed some open targets, especially underneath and at times appeared to have 'happy feet' when in the pocket. Romo needs to get rid of the ball in 2.5 seconds or he puts himself at risk of getting sacked or hurrying a throw. On Romo's interception, you can't blame the line because they protected him well. The pass intended for Austin was picked off by Aqib Talib, who left Dez Bryant near the sidelines to pick off the ball.

    3. DeMarcus Ware, Jason Hatcher, Anthony Spencer, Sean Lee and Brandon Carr have been the Cowboys' best defensive players. Add inside linebacker Bruce Carter to the list. He's played well in the early stages of the season. He's moving well laterally and pounding ball carriers on runs. On the Buccaneers' lone touchdown, a Josh Freeman pass to tight end Luke Stocker, Carter bumped Stocker at the line of scrimmage. But then Carter ran toward the back of the end zone as did Lee. Either Carter was supposed to cover Stocker or stay with him.

    4. We understand the Cowboys are trying to give Felix Jones chances to make plays on special teams. He returned one kick for 18 yards but on the play, he ran into blockers instead of trying to make a move. Jones doesn't have the same burst or good lateral movement he had as a rookie. He runs chunky, like he's carrying something on his back. If he's healthy and we believe that's the case, then maybe his physical decline is starting at such a young age, 25.

    5. Does anybody miss center Phil Costa? Nothing against Ryan Cook, but it's one thing to have botched snaps -- something the Cowboys dealt with in training camp -- but false starts, some caused by Cook's inability to deal with the cadence, is an issue that needs to be solved. Having Costa at center is the answer to these problems, however, the team can't rush him back.

    Notes: A first quarter false start penalty on Witten should have gone to John Phillips. Lined next to each other, Phillips flinches slightly, causing Witten to move. ... Phillips didn't have one of his better days. There was supposed to be a screen pass directed toward him, and Romo instead threw to DeMarco Murray on the other side. ... It's sad when the Cowboys' players have to ask the crowd, of at least 80,000 to get loud when they're on defense. After watching the Ravens-Patriots game Sunday night, the fans in Baltimore knew what to do without getting prompted too much.
    IRVING, Texas -- A look at the snaps played by Cowboys’ defenders in the team’s 16-10 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, while analyzing what it means:

    Sean Lee: 60 of 60
    Brandon Carr: 57 of 60
    Morris Claiborne: 56 of 60
    DeMarcus Ware: 55 of 60
    Anthony Spencer: 54 of 60
    Bruce Carter: 53 of 60
    Jason Hatcher: 47 of 60
    Danny McCray: 46 of 60
    Barry Church: 37 of 60
    Sean Lissemore: 36 of 60
    Orlando Scandrick: 32 of 60
    Mike Jenkins: 31 of 60
    Josh Brent-Price: 26 of 60
    Marcus Spears: 22 of 60
    Tyrone Crawford: 17 of 60
    Victor Butler: 13 of 60
    Mana Silva: 12 of 60
    Dan Connor: 3 of 60
    LaQuan Lewis: 1 of 60

    Mike Jenkins debuted last week with a handful of plays, but he was outstanding when he was on the field against Tampa Bay, which will make it easier for the Cowboys to use Brandon Carr at safety, if they must, to compensate for the loss of Barry Church for the rest of the season. ... For the second time in three games, linebacker Sean Lee participated in every play. He leads the team in tackles and is a bonafide playmaker, which is why defensive coordinator Rob Ryan never wants to take him off the field. ... Victor Butler played sparingly, but he made a couple of good plays against the run. If he continues, then he’ll see his playing time increase. Ryan’s top priority is stopping the run. ... Dan Connor has 18 snaps on defense this season, which should be viewed more as a positive about Bruce Carter than a negative about Connor. ... Rookie Tyrone Crawford’s playing time increased for the third consecutive week. He had one pressure and was solid against the run.
    A look at the snaps played by Cowboys’ offense in the team’s 16-10 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, while analyzing and discussing what it means:

    RT Doug Free: 68 of 68
    RG Mackenzy Bernadeau: 68 of 68
    LT Tyron Smith: 68 of 68
    C Ryan Cook: 68 of 68
    QB Tony Romo: 68 of 68
    TE Jason Witten: 68 of 68
    LG Nate Livings: 64 of 68
    WR Dez Bryant: 62 of 68
    RB DeMarco Murray: 56 of 68
    WR Miles Austin: 49 of 68
    WR Kevin Ogletree: 40 of 68
    TE John Phillips: 26 of 68
    FB Lawrence Vickers: 19 of 68
    RB Felix Jones: 11 of 68
    WR Dwayne Harris: 7 of 68
    RG Derrick Dockery: 4 of 68
    TE James Hanna: 2 of 68

    When Jason Witten tells you he’s completely healthy and his spleen has no impact on his poor performance through the first three games, then you have to believe him based on his playing time. Witten was the only skill position player not named Tony Romo to participate in every snap against the Bucs. ... Felix Jones continues to see his playing time dwindle, although he did manage two catches for 28 yards. ... Kevin Ogletree’s playing time increased for the third consecutive week, which should surprise no one since he’s tied for the team lead with 14 receptions. ... Nate Livings missed four plays with a finger injury that required him to wear a splint Monday.

    A look back: Bad all around for Cowboys O

    September, 25, 2012
    AM ET

    IRVING, Texas -- Sometimes when reviewing a game, you see things that are not as bad as you thought. In this week’s "A Look Back," that was not the case for the Cowboys offense against Tampa Bay. It was just bad.

    The run blocking: There’s a reason why the Cowboys had only 38 yards on the ground. There were no holes for DeMarco Murray to run. Heck, there were no places where he could make it up as he went. The Tampa Bay defensive line just dominated up front, and it wasn’t a case of one guy breaking down here and another guy breaking down on the next play. All five linemen had a hand in the poor running. Fullback Lawrence Vickers added little help as well.

    On a delay run that looked promising, Murray had some room but Mackenzy Bernadeau got stuffed at the line and could not get to the second level. If Bernadeau gets there, it’s a big run. Center Ryan Cook had a hard time getting off the line and to the linebackers because of all the slanting done by the Bucs up front.

    Throwing more effectively could have loosened things up, but the pass protection wasn’t much better.

    Tampa Bay brought five or more rushers 16 times, but none of the four sacks of Tony Romo came off Bucs’ pressure. Three came on four-man rushes and one came on a three-man rush when Michael Bennett bulled Jason Witten and Doug Free was looking to his left. I don’t know what the line call was, but the Bucs had three guys on the line. Bennett is lined up outside of Witten at the snap. At some point common sense should kick in and Free should know he needs to help Witten. He didn’t and Romo was sacked.

    Romo was hit 11 times out of 39 pass attempts. He was sacked four times and scrambled once.

    Let’s talk about the one running play that did work: Murray’s 11-yard touchdown run. This was blocked perfectly. Tyron Smith smothered Adrian Clayborn at the line. Witten dominated Brandon McDonald. Miles Austin got just enough of a rushing Ronde Barber to push him by Murray. Kevin Ogletree locked up Eric Wright.

    The only player to touch Murray on the play was Austin.

    Who says we can’t be positive?

    Defensively, it’s hard not to be positive with that kind of game. Maybe Josh Freeman had something to do with it, but the Cowboys were aggressive. Just maybe not as aggressive as you would think

    I had the Cowboys for nine rushes of five or more in the game. They had seven five-man pressures in each of the first two games. So Rob Ryan called two more blitzes. Both of DeMarcus Ware’s sacks came on five-man or more rushes.

    How aggressive were the Cowboys outside? They lined up in press coverage 38 times out of 53 snaps. The jams provided by Mike Jenkins, Morris Claiborne, Brandon Carr and Orlando Scandrick just threw the Bucs wide receivers off. They could not beat the jam. Even Vincent Jackson’s only catch -- a 29 yarder -- came on a contested play by Scandrick.

    Bruce Carter is a quick learner. On Tampa Bay’s only touchdown he never put his eyes on tight end Luke Stocker and was sucked in by the play-action fake, giving Josh Freeman an easy throw for a score in the first quarter. In the second quarter he perfectly read a Freeman throw to fullback Erik Lorig, who was sliding through the line, and made the stop for no yards on a big third and 3.
    IRVING, Texas – Penalties have played a big part in the Dallas Cowboys' lack of success on offense so far this season, and coach Jason Garrett said a solution might be to make things easier at the line of scrimmage.

    Cowboys owner Jerry Jones discusses the positives and negatives after Sunday's win against the Bucs, Mike Jenkins' return and more.

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    “I think you try in some ways you simplify some of the conversations that are happening or clean up some of the conversations that are happening, that’s one thing,” Garrett said. “The other thing is you play more together. We’ll address those in practice. There’s a lot of specific ways we’ll get into to it to try to address it, but the big thing is it’s got to carry from the practice field to the game field. We’re working hard on it. We feel that if we address that we’ll move the ball more effectively and become the offense we think we’re capable of becoming.”

    The Cowboys’ offense was penalized six times for false starts (three by Doug Free, two by Jason Witten, one by Tyron Smith) and had three holding penalties (Free, Nate Livings, Lawrence Vickers) Sunday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Overall, the Cowboys had 13 penalties for 105 yards.

    Some of the blame can be placed on new players on the offensive line. Some of it can be the quarterback’s cadence. Some of it is lack of concentration.

    “It starts with the coach, me, the obviously all 11 guys on offense, we just have to do a better job with it,” Garrett said.

    In the past in practices, if a player jumps early he has been replaced for a snap. Doing that in a game is not likely feasible, but Garrett knows the miscues must be cut down.

    “We’ve tied to address it as coaches,” Garrett said. “We’re going to address it to the team this week and just make sure we get it right because it’s too hard to overcome those things to become a good offense. You don’t get many opportunities to drive the football in a game. When you’re behind the chains it’s much more difficult.”

    Cowboys handled Bucs' victory formation push

    September, 24, 2012
    PM ET
    IRVING, Texas – Whatever surprise Tampa Bay coach Greg Schiano was hoping for with the Buccaneers’ defense exploding off the ball when the opposing team was in a victory formation was lost after their Week 2 game against the New York Giants.

    The Cowboys kneeled down three times in the final moments of Sunday’s 16-10 win against Tampa Bay and were prepared for the Bucs' shenanigans.

    “We told our team during the week that we’re hopeful we end up in that situation and they’re going to handle it in this particular way; we have to be ready for it,” coach Jason Garrett said. “First and foremost, you’ve got to take care of the snap and the linemen have to be a little firmer than they would be in a typical kneel-down situation. It’s a difficult play and Tony (Romo) got knocked back, Ryan (Cook) got knocked back. I thought we did a good job of handling it. We had to do it three times and we got out of it, so it worked out well for us.”

    The Bucs were called for offsides on the final play but in reality could have been flagged for it on all three snaps.

    Sean Lee's nose for ball continues

    September, 24, 2012
    AM ET
    ARLINGTON, Texas -- Once again, Sean Lee is in the team lead for interceptions.

    That might not last another 13 games, but Lee tied Terence Newman last year for the lead with four.

    Lee’s first-quarter interception came after a Josh Freeman pass knocked off the pads of running back D.J. Ware. The Cowboys converted the turnover into their only touchdown of the game when DeMarco Murray sprinted in from 11 yards with 1:22 left in the first quarter.

    Lee's seven interceptions since 2010 are the most by a linebacker in the NFL. He forced the Cowboys' only other turnover of the season when he caused a fumble against the New York Giants.

    “He’s just an outstanding football player,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. “We’re lucky to have him as a leader of our defense, in the middle of our defense. He’s passionate about the game. He cares a great deal. He’s very instinctive and has a nose for the football. You see it in the number of tackles he makes, but you also see his ability to play the ball. He’s done that throughout his career with some of the signature plays. His ability to track the ball and make the play in traffic is a credit to his athletic ability. He shows up throughout the ballgame.”

    The turnover gave the offense a short field in which to work, which has not been commonplace in recent years.

    When the offense has started drives in the opponents’ territory it has mostly delivered. Over the last 19 games, the Cowboys have had 27 possessions start in plus-territory and have scored 12 touchdowns, kicked eight field goals and killed the game three times, including Sunday.

    Report card: Defense, special teams carry day

    September, 23, 2012
    PM ET

    Rushing Offense

    The Cowboys got their first rushing touchdown of the season, but that's about the only thing that went right for the running game. DeMarco Murray finished with only 38 yards on 18 carries. He lost yardage seven times. Felix Jones lost a yard on his only carry. Other than Murray's 11-yard touchdown run, in which Tyron Smith made a dominant block, this was a really poor performance by the offensive line. It's one thing for the interior offensive line, which was whipped by McCoy, to be shaky. Doug Free, the Cowboys' most expensive, experienced O-lineman, has been the weakest link. He got dominated by Bennett, who matched McCoy with two tackles for losses.


    Passing Offense

    The Cowboys' passing game committed three turnovers and produced zero points. That's awful, especially against a Tampa Bay defense that allowed 510 yards against the New York Giants the previous week. Tony Romo threw for 283 yards on 25-of-39 passing -- 107 yards coming on five catches by Miles Austin -- but the QB took a beating from a defensive line that barely touched Eli Manning last week. The Buccaneers sacked Romo four times, forcing two fumbles. The Cowboys couldn't figure out how to keep defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and defensive end Michael Bennett away from Romo.


    Rushing Defense

    A week after Marshawn Lynch marched all over them in the second half, the Cowboys made it tough on the Tampa Bay running backs. The Bucs averaged only 3.0 yards on their 25 carries. Outside linebacker Anthony Spencer was a force again, leading the Cowboys with seven tackles, including one for a loss. Speedy inside linebackers Sean Lee and Bruce Carter each had a tackle for a loss, too. The run defense got stronger as the game went on, a stark contrast to last week in Seattle. Tampa Bay gained on 28 yards on 13 carries after halftime.


    Passing Defense

    Give defensive coordinator Rob Ryan a ton of credit. He came up with a genius game plan to mask the absence of strong safety Gerald Sensabaugh, one of three starters who weren't available, and rattle Tampa Bay quarterback Josh Freeman (10-of-28 for 110 yards with a TD and INT). In nickel situations, Brandon Carr played safety for the first time in his career, with Mike Jenkins coming in at cornerback. Those two combined to shut out $55 million receiver Vincent Jackson until the Bucs' final possession. A week after being shut out, DeMarcus Ware had another two-sack outing, forcing fumbles both times he got to Freeman.


    Special Teams

    The Cowboys avoided disaster, although they came close on a punt that the Bucs should have blocked, and they made big plays. Orie Lemon made his mark in his NFL debut by recovering a muffed punt, the key play on a scoring drive. Dez Bryant set up the field goal that essentially sealed the win with a 44-yard punt return, the first time this season he has resembled the elite punt returner he was during his rookie season. Dan Bailey was 3-for-3 on field goals. And, hey, Felix Jones didn't fumble.



    This grade reflects solely on the head coach. Rob Ryan's performance would lift the overall grade to a passing mark, but we've got to flunk Jason Garrett after such a ridiculously sloppy outing by his offense. The Cowboys committed 13 penalties, including six false starts. (Strange but true: They are 2-0 when committing 13 penalties this season.) The offense was out of sync all day, and Garrett never adjusted to keep Tampa Bay's defensive line from teeing off on his quarterback. That's two straight weeks Garrett's offense scored only one touchdown. The offensive coordinator looks overwhelmed.