Nationwide made a donation of $10,000 to Murray’s foundation.
“It’s a privilege to be a nominee for this great award,” Murray said before Thursday’s practice. “I definitely don’t take it lightly. Helping the needy, it definitely touches my heart. Do whatever I can to touch the youth outside of football and I’ve been blessed and fortunate to do what I love to do. It’s all I can do to help in any way, shape or form and that’s why I created my foundation.”
Each team has a nominee for the award. Three finalists will be named next month and the winner will be announced the day before Super Bowl XLIX in Glendale, Arizona. Cowboys tight end Jason Witten won the Payton Award in 2012.
The lack of production has not gone unnoticed by the coaching staff. Melton’s playing time has decreased in each of the past three games from 31 plays to 25 plays to 21 plays.
“We need more from everybody; that's what we try to do as coaches every day -- and that’s get the most out of our players,” Jason Garrett said. “Henry has done some good things. He knocked a ball down against Chicago and almost intercepted a screen pass coming out of the end zone.
“He’s done some good things, but we’re always trying to grind our players to get the most out of them in practice so they can carry that to the games.”
The Cowboys signed Melton, hoping he could find the form that made him one of the game’s dominant defensive linemen a couple of years ago. He missed the past 13 games of last season with a torn ACL.
Perhaps, Melton, who's also been hampered by a groin injury this season, is still recovering from the knee injury.
Whatever the reason, there have been few times this season when Melton was a difference-maker. There’s no bigger indication than when Tyrone Crawford moved from defensive end to the three-technique defensive tackle, which is one of the key spots on this defense.
That player is supposed to be a disruptive play-maker. Crawford has solidified himself as the starter.
In his past four games, he has nine tackles, three tackles for loss, three sacks, a forced fumble and four quarterback hits in 191 snaps.
The Cowboys figured that’s the kind of production Melton would provide.
Aside from a brief burst about six weeks ago, when he had a total of 3.5 sacks in losses to Washington and Arizona, Melton has been a non-factor. The lack of production is going to cost him quite a bit of money.
If Melton is on the roster the first day of the 2015 league year, he gets a three-year $24M extension with $9 million in guaranteed money.
No way, based on what we’ve seen thus far, will the Cowboys pick up that option.
"That issue is what?" Garrett said either sarcastically, jokingly or with complete seriousness. It was difficult to get a read.
The issue is this: The Cowboys are 3-4 at AT&T Stadium this season and 7-0 on the road. They are the NFL's only undefeated road team. Every other team has lost at least two road games this season.
In case you haven't heard, the Cowboys host the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday and need a win just as badly Sunday as they needed last week at the Philadelphia Eagles.
Garrett said the issue did not come up at Wednesday's team meeting, but when asked if he is looking at possibly changing the Cowboys' weekend routine for home games, he said, "I think we look at all those things and we try to make the best decision. Still in the process of doing that, and seeing if it's worthwhile. You don't want to just make change for change's sake. But if it's something that we think can positively impact our team, we'll look at it."
Like they do on the road, the Cowboys stay at a hotel the night before home games, calling the Gaylord Texan in Grapevine, Texas, their home. Unlike road games, players do not have to board a bus to AT&T Stadium. They get there on their own.
Throughout the locker room, players had few answers as to why they struggle at home. Early in the season the number of visiting fans was problematic. Fans of the San Francisco 49ers, Houston Texans and New Orleans Saints packed the joint. That hasn't been the case for the last three games against the New York Giants, Washington Redskins and Arizona Cardinals.
Jeremy Mincey mentioned a possible lack of focus. Tony Romo mentioned a lack of execution.
"We've just got to play better," Romo said. "Ultimately it's about execution, just blocking, tackling, throwing, catching. We just have to do it better, narrow the focus and go out there and do your job."
Some of it might have to do with the quality of opponent. The Cowboys' home opponents sport a 48-50 record. Their road opponents are 39-59.
Garrett likes to say the team needs to be at its best regardless of circumstance and whether the game is played at home, on the road, in a parking lot or on the moon.
Since the game Sunday is at home, maybe they could move it to the parking lot if the moon is out of the question.
The Cowboys have not won a home game since Oct. 19 when they beat the Giants. If they lose to the Colts Sunday they will finish under .500 at home for just the third time since 1990 but for the second time since AT&T Stadium opened in 2009. They were 2-6 at home in 2010.
"The time is now," Mincey said. "I mean the time was then too. But it's a new approach, new focus. When you know how close you are to something you work a little harder to get to it. I think they, my teammates, truly understand that we're right there on the brink of being great and we just got to keep doing what we been doing and do it even better."
The Cowboys knocked off the Colts, 21-14, that day with Romo completing 19 of 23 passes for 226 yards. He was intercepted once.
A broken collarbone kept him from playing in the 2010 meeting in Indianapolis, but the Cowboys won 38-35 with Jon Kitna directing the offense.
The Colts are the only team Romo has not thrown a touchdown pass against, excluding the Cowboys, of course.
Yet even with a lack of familiarity with the opponent, Romo has not found himself necessarily doing more. While the cut-ups the players receive include the prior three games leading into the Cowboys' meeting, Romo studies every game the Colts have played this season.
"I don't know that there's you can you do more," Romo said. "You just have to go through your whole checklist of things that you normally would do to prepare for any game. There's always an exhaustive number of things that you have to go through, a checklist almost after you've played the game for a while to kind of feel ready. You go through that and you exhaust everything and you figure out the nuances and you try to attack them in that capacity."
Romo has been around long enough to know the nuances involved in how different 3-4 schemes operate. Last week's foe, the Philadelphia Eagles, does different things in their 3-4 defense than the Colts do with their 3-4 defense. Defensive coordinator Greg Manusky worked under former Cowboys head coach Wade Phillips, so he has some of what Phillips liked to do. Head coach Chuck Pagano came to the Colts from the Baltimore Ravens, so there are elements of that 3-4 scheme.
"They can challenge you with some of their uniqueness a little bit, but if you can grasp the subtleness of the defense and what they're trying to teach, what their basic concepts are … I like to go back to treat it as if you're in training camp with them, what would they be teaching their guys?" Romo said. "And, once you watch enough tape, you really get a deeper understanding of it then you can go attack where you feel they're vulnerable."
Romo has had a good feeling for just about every defense he has seen this season.
According to ESPN Stats & Information, Romo is on pace to set career highs this season in Total QBR (80.2), touchdown-to-interception ratio (3.5), TD percentage (7.3 percent) and first down percentage (42.5 percent). Romo has posted a QBR of at least 80 in 8 of his 13 games this season.
After big hits or sacks, Luck will tell his opponent, "Great hit."
"He kind of got to me by saying, 'Man, that was an excellent hit,'" Mincey said. "I'm like, 'Dude, don't talk to me. Please.' But I respect him so much. He's such a mature, well-rounded quarterback ... Some quarterbacks do that, they try to be nice so you won't be angry, but I'm not. I'm going to be angry regardless."
Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo admits to saying, 'Good hit,' on occasion.
"You don't want them to do it again," Romo said.
Defensive tackle Tyrone Crawford was watching film on Luck against the Houston Texans when he figured the quarterback said something to J.J. Watt after a hit.
"J.J. gave him a little pat on the back," Crawford said.
Crawford hopes to get close enough Sunday when the Cowboys take on the Colts at AT&T Stadium. He has yet to hear a quarterback kill him with kindness after a hit. In fact, he heard something else from Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler two weeks ago when he was flagged for roughing the passer.
Crawford was fined $16,537 for the hit.
"I had a soft little hit and it was funny when [Cutler] said, 'Hey, at least I got the flag,'" Crawford said. "That's about all that I've had like that."
With the 25th pick in the first round, McShay had the Cowboys taking Wake Forest cornerback Kevin Johnson. You have to be an Insider to read the full mock, but here is McShay's breakdown:
The Dallas defense held up better this season with the help of a dominant running game and ball-control offense, but corner is still a position of need for the Cowboys. Former first-round pick Morris Claiborne was benched this season prior to his season-ending injury, and the Cowboys could use an infusion of youth and talent at the position. Johnson doesn't have elite physical traits, but he's fast and fluid enough as an athlete to keep up with most receivers and is physical and aggressive as a press corner despite his lean frame and shorter arms. His instincts and awareness are excellent.
When McShay says “doesn’t have elite physical traits,” it makes me want to turn the page a little bit. I’m not going to pretend I know a thing about Johnson at this time. I have a hard enough time keeping up with the players currently on the Cowboys’ roster, let alone players who might never put on the star, in the middle of December.
If Carr refuses, then they’ll likely let him go, which adds more to the need of getting a cornerback or three in the offseason.
I wondered earlier in the week whether the Cowboys’ 2015 draft would solely be about the defense. The Cowboys have obvious defensive line needs. George Selvie, Anthony Spencer and Nick Hayden are set to be free agents. As of now, the Cowboys will decline the option on Henry Melton’s contract that would guarantee him another $9 million.
To me, I think defensive line is more of a need. By a smidge. You can have the best cornerbacks in the world, but if the quarterback is not affected, then it won’t much matter. Pressure makes a secondary. A secondary doesn’t make pressure.
While there is optimism Murray will be able to play Sunday against the Indianapolis Colts, coach Jason Garrett wants to see him carry the ball in practice.
"I think you've all seen how special DeMarco is as a player. He's had a great season," quarterback Tony Romo said. "I think he's going to do everything he can to play. We're just going to do what we do and go from there."
Romo also did not practice on Wednesday, following the same script he has used since the second game of the season to rest and build up strength in his back.
He was one of four offensive starters not to practice. Right tackle Doug Free (ankle) and right guard Zack Martin (ankle) also sat out of Wednesday's practice. Martin said his ankle was feeling better but he was not sure if he would be able to practice on Thursday.
Linebacker Rolando McClain missed practice with a sore knee, and defensive tackle Josh Brent was absent because of a calf injury and personal reasons. Linebacker Dekoda Watson (hamstring) did not practice either.
Safety Jeff Heath (thumb), cornerback Tyler Patmon (knee/ankle) and defensive end George Selvie (thumb) were full participants.
He played much better in the rematch, and it’s among the reasons the Dallas Cowboys are in first place in the NFC East.
Last Sunday night, he played under control. The results were superb.
His sensational juggling interception off a deflection on the final play of the third quarter set up the touchdown that pushed the Cowboys’ lead to 35-24.
“It was time for somebody to make a play,” Wilcox said. “A lot of people said we didn’t have a safety when the season started and I used that as a chip on my shoulder. I thank Jerry Jones and this organization for giving me a chance.”
Wilcox's forced fumble in the fourth quarter set up a field goal that gave the Cowboys a two-possession lead, while burning three minutes off the clock.
Not bad for a dude who didn’t starting playing safety until his senior year at Georgia Southern. Each game remains a learning experience for him.
“I thought he tackled really well and was very active,” coach Jason Garrett said. “He’s one of those guys that’s getting better and better every game he plays. It’s important to him. He really cares about it.
“I think he watches guys on our football team to see how they conduct themselves. He’s continuing to mature as a player and I think we’ve seen evidence of that during the season.”
Today’s practice marked the first time the Cowboys have not worn pads during a Wednesday workout. Their last padded practice came last week.
According to league rules, teams are allotted 14 padded practices during the season. Of those, 11 must be held in the first 11 weeks of the regular season. Over the final six weeks of the season, teams can have three more padded practices.
The rules change for the playoffs.
Wednesday practices are generally focused on the running game, which is why Jason Garrett has had his team in pads those days. He offered a reminder to the players, particularly the linemen, before Wednesday’s session as to the tempo he wanted.
"We always make an emphasis on Thursday and Friday [when they aren’t in pads] about being low and really coming off the ball on both sides and not just standing up and making practice into an assignment check, which is: 'Hey, I got the Mike,' and you kind of stand up and do this with each other," Garrett said. "You've really got to come out of your stance. I think we’ve done a good job as a coaching staff emphasizing that to all the different personnel groups and we have to do that. It’s really, really important that we understand that because by nature you start to raise up when you don’t have pads on. So we've really got to make sure that everybody's on the screws with that and players buy into that, and I think they understand the importance of it."
Linebacker Bruce Carter has every physical trait you’d want in a linebacker, but too many times during his career the production hasn’t come close to matching the potential.
Understand, Carter is in the final year of his contract. This is when you get the best a player has to offer because he knows free agency looms.
Carter has played fewer than 30 snaps in three of the last five games. He’s been benched at various times this season, leaving Carter and the coaching staff frustrated.
Still, he has provided some of the Cowboys’ biggest game-changing plays this season. There’s a good chance Dallas is not 10-4 and in complete control of its playoff fate without Carter.
Carter’s interception return for a touchdown against St. Louis in Week 3 gave the Cowboys a 34-24 lead after trailing 21-0. He made a diving deflection leading to an interception in the first half against New Orleans in Week 4, leading to a touchdown and a 17-0 second-quarter lead in a blowout win over New Orleans.
In a scoreless tie against Chicago in Week 14, he partially blocked a punt to set up the Cowboys' first touchdown in a 41-28 victory. And he made a leaping interception with 1:57 left to end any hope of a Philadelphia comeback on Sunday.
For now, Kyle Wilber, who played seven snaps against Philadelphia, starts at strongside linebacker in the base defense, which the Cowboys don’t use all that much. Carter rotates in the nickel defense with Rolando McClain and Anthony Hitchens.
Against Philadelphia, Carter finished with a team-high six tackles, impressive considering his limited playing time.
“We’re constantly trying to put them in an environment to coach them and teach them to be more consistent players, but he’s made a lot of big plays," Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. "I think he’s improving as a player. I think he’s becoming a more consistent player.”
But do you know about the impact of A. Salam Qureishi?
FiveThirtyEight and ESPN Films’ digital shorts series Signals has put together a fascinating look at Qureishi and how the Cowboys employed his computer expertise to help map their draft strategies.
Qureishi knew nothing about football. The Cowboys knew little to nothing about computer analysis. Schramm put the two together and the Cowboys eventually made it to five Super Bowls and had 20 straight winning seasons.
The Cowboys were far ahead of their time in using computer programming in scouting players and Brandt remembers many times in which teams would mock their use of it. When the Cowboys held up the 1964 draft while waiting for medical reports on Mel Renfro, Brandt once said a team joked them, “What, is your computer broken?”
Click here to view the digital short and be prepared to be amazed at how much work went into the process.
IRVING, Texas -- Less than 48 hours after undergoing surgery to repair a broken left hand, Dallas Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray was on the practice field Wednesday, taking part in individual drills.
Coach Jason Garrett said before the session that he did not expect Murray to do a lot during practice. During on-air team drills, Joseph Randle took the first-team snaps at running back.
The Cowboys have not ruled Murray out for Sunday's game against the Indianapolis Colts, but Garrett said they would have to see him work in practice to make sure he can carry the ball under duress. Murray was fitted with a hard plastic shell sewn into the top of the glove on his left hand and was wearing it during the portion of practice that was open to the media. He took several handoffs from backup quarterback Brandon Weeden.
On the official injury report, Murray was listed as did not participate because he did not take any snaps in team drills.
"I think we need to see something where there's a comfort level we all have and certainly a comfort level that he has," Garrett said. "Carrying the football is an important responsibility. You have to be able to do it. I think we all want to see it. I know he wants to see it, so we'll take it day by day and see how it progresses."
The Cowboys have tinkered with different ways to protect Murray's hand in case he does play. Emmitt Smith and Terrell Owens had similar surgeries while with the Cowboys and needed a week to recover before playing. Owens did not miss a game in 2006 because the Cowboys had a bye week.
"You start with a plan and a vision for what you need to have there, and then you just go through feedback, with DeMarco and the training staff, you try to get it to the point where it's functional and comfortable for him to go play," Garrett said of the added protection. "It's an evolution. They'll talk back and forth as the week goes on, hopefully get something he's comfortable with."
The Cowboys were without three offensive starters at practice with quarterback Tony Romo
According to Aikman, it could have happened in 2002. Aikman had last played in the NFL during the 2000 season, logging 11 games for the Cowboys.
Then, Eagles coach Andy Reid called up Aikman to see if he would be interested in playing again after Donovan McNabb broke an ankle. Aikman was actually at halftime of a game he was calling at Qualcomm Stadium for Fox when a producer told him to make a phone call.
He said, 'Hey, did you hear what happened?' I said, 'Yeah, we did a game break.' He said, 'Well I want to talk to you about coming to Philadelphia,'" Aikman told The Afternoon Show with Tim Cowlishaw and Matt Mosley on ESPN Radio 103.3 FM in Dallas on Monday. "I said, 'Andy, we're in the middle of a broadcast. It's halftime right now.' He said, 'I know, I'm watching the game.' So I said, 'OK, I'll call you after the game.'"
After the game Aikman talked to his Fox producer and made a phone call to Norv Turner, his former offensive coordinator with the Dallas Cowboys and confidante. It didn't help Reid's cause that Aikman was at the home he had in Santa Barbara, California, as he pondered a return to the game.
"This was around November or whenever it was, and I woke up and I'm thinking, I can either enjoy the next couple of days in Santa Barbara, California, it's about 65, 70 degrees, or I'm going to be on a plane flying to Philadelphia and probably going to be playing on Monday night against the 49ers,'" Aikman said. "I called Andy and I said, 'Hey, I'm honored that you've called me, but I'm going to stay put.'"
For the Eagles, it worked out OK. A.J. Feeley went 4-1 as McNabb's replacement. McNabb was able to return for the playoffs and Philadelphia made it to the NFC Championship Game that year.