Defensive tackle Amobi Okoye, currently on the reserve/non-football injury list, practiced for the first time this season. Okoye has recovered from anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis, a brain condition that causes memory loss and seizures. Okoye was in a coma for three months last year.
Safety Jakar Hamilton (personal reasons), quarterback Tony Romo (back), defensive end Jack Crawford (calf) and Doug Free (foot) missed practice.
Romo, however, did participate in the walk-through session.
When the free-agent market opened, the Cowboys did not make a real effort to keep Hatcher, but they weren't sure how Crawford would come back. It took three games for the Cowboys to move Crawford to the spot Hatcher played last year.
In the four games Crawford has posted 15 tackles, eight quarterback pressures and a tackle for loss.
The influence of Hatcher, who plays against the Cowboys Monday with the Washington Redskins, on Crawford remains strong. Crawford has a 150-play cut up of Hatcher highlights that he inspects a lot.
"Big enough I call him big brother," Crawford said. "Just the way he played, the way he came out to practice, everything he told me inside and outside about the NFL, he just helped me out a lot. The way he treated us young guys, he didn't come in and wasn't like cocky at all. He was just great to us."
It might be fitting his first sack comes this week with Hatcher on the other sideline.
"I mean at this point it's really like I need to get a sack anyways," Hatcher said.
They even fought with the Oakland Raiders and among themselves at times during training camp.
These Cowboys, it seems, have no intention of being bullied, which is interesting because they haven’t really been known as a physical team since Bill Parcells left. Sure, the Cowboys played hard, but they didn't physically dominate either side of the ball.
Then again, this is the first year that Jason Garrett has passed out limited edition navy blue T-shirts that read, “Fight.” on the front.
“Fight is a really important word. There’s a lot of levels of fight, but ultimately, it’s about fighting to be your best,” Garrett said. “That’s what the whole thing is about, and we have to do that every day.
“It’s a big theme for us. It’s a big mantra for us -- fight to be your best regardless of the circumstances.”
Despite the 6-1 record, the Cowboys have had to fight in virtually every game.
They fought back from embarrassment after falling behind 28-3 to San Francisco. They fought off Tennessee in the second half after the Titans pulled within a touchdown after falling behind 16-0.
They fought back from 21-0 against the Rams, 10-0 to Seattle and 14-7 to the New York Giants.
“Certainly our game leads itself to fight -- fight with the opponents, battle hard and all that stuff,” said Garrett, “we want to do that individually and as a team.
“You have to earn it every single day. Just because you did it yesterday doesn’t really mean anything. Now it’s today and you have to go do it again.”
What the fast start means: The Cowboys are off to their first 6-1 start since 2007, with all six wins coming immediately after a Week 1 loss. This is the first time the Cowboys have pulled off this unique win streak in a non-strike season in team history. In 1982, the Cowboys also reeled off 6 straight wins following a loss in their season opener, but that season was cut down to nine games. The Cowboys finished that year 6-3 and lost to the Redskins in the NFC Championship Game.
In the years where the Cowboys made the playoffs since 1992, there were four other instances when they started 6-1 and twice it ended with a Super Bowl titles.
6-1 Starts by Cowboys Playoff Teams – Since 1992
2007: Lost Divisional Playoff vs. Giants
1995: Won Super Bowl XXX vs. Steelers
1994: Lost NFC Championship Game at 49ers
1992: Won Super Bowl XXVII vs. Bills
Less is filling: Tony Romo can look to Troy Aikman and see that the Hall of Famer’s success was based on a run-first offense. In the four seasons where the Cowboys dominated the NFL between 1992-1995 they either had the same or fewer amount of pass attempts per game than rush attempts per game.
On to the next one: DeMarco Murray has broken the record for the most consecutive 100-yard rushing games to begin a season with seven straight, passing Jim Brown’s mark of six to begin the 1958 season. He has half of the record for the longest overall streak in NFL history, which is 14 set by Barry Sanders during the 1997 season. Murray has reached the mark carrying the ball at least 20 times in each of those games, which is an impressive streak no matter when it happened during a season
Most Consecutive Games with 20 Rush & 100 Rush Yards - Since 1970 Merger
9 - Larry Johnson, 2005
9 - Fred Taylor, 2000
9 - Marcus Allen, 1985-86
7 - DeMarco Murray, 2014
7 - Terrell Davis, 1998
7 - O.J. Simpson, 1972-73
Better with time: Tony Romo’s work for the season has been top-notch, but his work after halftime has been the best in the league. He leads the NFL in Total QBR (95.7) and yards per attempt (10.1) in the third and fourth quarters, plus overtime.
On the season, the Cowboys have six sacks, tied for 30th in the NFL. There are eight players with more sacks and four teams with more third down sacks (10) than the Cowboys.
"He's never just calm but he gets his point across," defensive end Anthony Spencer said of Marinelli's talk. "He exerts himself in a way that he means we need to get it done."
The Cowboys are getting pressures (75) on the quarterback, but the key thing is to bring the player down, particularly on third-down plays. On the season, the Cowboys have just two third-down sacks with three coming on second down.
Marinelli is using a rotation of players for the defensive line that would think he has fresher players to push the pocket. But it's not working on a consistent basis.
In the win over the New York Giants last week, Marinelli didn't blitz as much as in previous games. Marinelli chose to let the four linemen provide the pressure and let the secondary handle the passing game more than normal.
Last season after seven weeks, the Cowboys had 20 sacks, 15 coming from three players, Jason Hatcher (6), George Selvie (5) and DeMarcus Ware (4).
"In places we are (getting pressure) but we still got to work on it," Spencer said. "It's something we want to improve. Just probably winning the one-on-one rushes, we talked about it (Wednesday). We're working on it."
Through seven games, he is completing 69.2 percent of his passes, which is the best in the NFL and would be the best percentage of his career over a full season. He completed 69.5 percent of his passes in 2010 but played only six games because of a broken collarbone.
Romo has long touted technical advances made in the offseason and always hints at things he finds while doing a lot of throwing, he did not do much or any throwing over the spring as he rehabbed from back surgery.
There may be tiny changes Romo has made to his release, arm angle or hand placement -- though he will never directly reveal those -- that have helped, the Cowboys’ pass protection might be a big reason for Romo’s increased accuracy.
“Certainly the better environment that you’re in the more accurate you’re going to be,” coach Jason Garrett said. “Tony’s been a very accurate passer throughout his career and I think if you look back he’s probably been more accurate when he’s been protected well and guys are open and maybe less accurate when he’s not quite as comfortable in the pocket because of the pressure he’s getting or guys aren’t getting away from their guys downfield.”
Last year, Romo completed just 63.9 percent of his passes, the lowest of his career since 2009 when he completed 63.1 percent. That year, however, his average per attempt was 8.2 yards, so having a lower completion percentage with more attempts down the field made some sense. Last year he averaged just 7.2 yards per attempt, a career low.
So far this season, not only is he completing 69.2 percent of his passes, his average per attempt is 8.4 yards.
The computers -- valued at $1,300 each and equipped with 21.5-inch monitors -- awaited Doug Free, Zack Martin, Travis Frederick, Ronald Leary and Tyron Smith in front of their lockers when they arrived Wednesday at the Valley Ranch practice facility.
"Yeah, pretty nice," rookie right guard Martin said. "We just walked in and he gave it to us. It's pretty cool."
Murray leads the NFL with 913 rushing yards, the best mark in franchise history through seven games and sixth-best in league history. After gaining 128 yards Sunday against the New York Giants, he became the first player in NFL history to reach 100 yards in each of the first seven games of a season.
"It's really a collective team effort which is the coolest thing," Martin said. "DeMarco is the guy with the numbers and all that and doing a lot of the work. Up front, tight end, receivers, quarterbacking us in the right looks, it’s really a full team effort."
IRVING, Texas -- Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said Michael Sam got caught up in a numbers' game along the defensive line, which led to his release from the practice squad on Tuesday.
Second-round pick DeMarcus Lawrence will be eligible to play Nov. 2 after his run on short-term injured reserve comes to an end because of a broken foot suffered in training camp. Defensive end Amobi Okoye is expected to practice Thursday for the first time as he returns from anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis.
The Cowboys also wanted to re-sign Ken Bishop, who cleared waivers on Monday after his release over the week, to the practice squad. He played in three of the first six games and was one of their seventh-round picks.
The Cowboys have 10 defensive linemen on the active roster and two on the practice squad in Bishop and Kenneth Boatright.
"You've got to be careful on the practice roster of having too many of one position because you have to function in practice," Garrett said. "We have a lot of defensive linemen and we have more coming."
Garrett and defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli praised Sam's work ethic in practice, but the Cowboys never seriously considered calling him up to the active roster despite just recording seven sacks in the first seven games.
The Cowboys are banking on Lawrence to provide a spark to the pass rush, as well as Anthony Spencer, who has played in the last four games as he works his way back from microfracture surgery on his left knee.
Then again, their offense is so good this defense doesn't have to be great.
It just needs to be solid -- and it is.
We know it's a flawed unit -- it has been that way since Day 1 of training camp -- so it's important to understand what defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli is trying to accomplish.
Ask any defensive player and he'll tell you the first tenet of the Cowboys' defense is to play as hard as humanely possible until the officials blow their whistle. That's why several times this season, a Cowboys' defensive linemen has rushed the passer than helped make the tackle 20 yards downfield.
Effort can indeed hide a lot of flaws.
The Cowboys were the worst in the league in allowing 79 plays of more than 20 yards last year. Understand, that virtually every scoring drive involves a big play because it's so hard for offenses to consistently drive the ball the length of the field.
This season, Dallas has allowed 22 plays of 20 yards or more. Only seven teams have allowed fewer.
The lack of big plays the Cowboys have allowed corresponds with the Cowboys ranking in scoring efficiency. The Cowboys have yielded just 15 touchdowns in 75 possessions.
Detroit, San Diego, Indianapolis, Baltimore and Philadelphia are the only teams better, and they have combined win-loss record of 25-9.
And only four teams have more the 12 turnovers the Cowboys have forced, impressive considering their lack of a consistent pass rush.
This defense, as currently built, is going to give up yardage, but if the Cowboys keep the big plays to a minimum and keep forcing turnovers, then it'll be good enough to win games with this offense.
Two of the three have occurred this season -- and it’s going to occur considerably more often as long as Scott Linehan calls the plays.
That’s because Linehan believes in getting the ball to his best players.
Bryant (79 targets) and Murray (187 carries and 26 targets) have been the designed recipient of the ball on a ridiculous 63.3 percent of the Cowboys' 461 plays this season. Pittsburgh is the only other team whose top running back and receiver have accounted for even 50 percent of a team’s plays.
Le'Veon Bell (117 carries and 43 targets) and Antonio Brown (74 targets) have had the ball directed their way on 50 percent of the Steelers' 468 plays.
Murray seems to have really found a rhythm with the zone-blocking scheme the Cowboys often employ. He has at least three runs of 10 yards or more in each of the Cowboys’ seven games.
As Murray will tell you, it’s not just about him and the offensive line. The tight ends have done a consistently good job of sealing the edge so he can get to the perimeter, and the receivers have done a good job holding their blocks.
“DeMarco is doing a fantastic job for us,” Garrett said. “He’s seeing softness in the defense, he’s feeling things, he’s getting north and south and he’s finishing runs.
“Sometimes when it’s 2 and 1 and 2 and 1 and 3[-yard-runs], a back can get frustrated. But he’s still believing in the runs and making sure he’s giving every one of them a chance, and as the games go on, you see him have more and more success.”
Bryant had only two catches for 15 yards in the first half, but he didn’t frustrated. Instead, he remained patient and waited until the Giants went to a coverage he could successfully attack.
“He has a real mature approach, a real calm approach, and he’s a really fiery guy. He’s a great competitor and for him to balance those things throughout the game and wait for his opportunities is really impressive.”
He has yet to catch a pass.
Actually, Tony Romo has directed only one pass Hanna’s way -- and that was three games ago against New Orleans - but Jason Garrett says the tight end plays a valuable role for the Dallas Cowboys.
“I think he’s a good player in the run game and a good player in the pass game," Jason Garrett said. "I think he’s underappreciated athletically, and I think he’s getting better technically as blocker.
“He’s a young player who continues to grow. He wants to be a good player and there’s a reason he’s playing. He’s worthy of having opportunities. We ask him to do a lot of things and some of it’s not fancy stuff that’s glamorous -- it’s some of the dirty work -- but he embraces it and gets better at it.”
One of the things you notice about the complementary players on this offense is they don't grumble about their roles. Sure, players such as receiver Dwayne Harris and running backs Lance Dunbar and Joseph Randle want to play more and Gavin Escobar, Cole Beasley and Terrance Williams would like more passes directed their way.
But Garrett constantly preaches the importance of the team and these players have bought in, which hasn’t always been the case for the Cowboys.
“We have guys who understand the importance of doing their job,” Garrett said. “A lot of times their job isn’t the glamorous thing to do, but they understand that helps us have success on that particular play and, ultimately, that helps us have success as a football team.
“Guys understand that. We have a lot of good players and a lot of good people on our team.”
Wade Phillips was fired at the midway point of that season, replaced by Jason Garrett, and the Cowboys finished 6-10.
Seven games into Church’s fifth season, the Cowboys are 6-1 and hold the best record in the NFL. Before this stretch, the best Church experienced was 7-4 in 2011.
The Cowboys are enjoying this ride even if they are not smelling the roses, as owner and general manager Jerry Jones said last week. They are enjoying it but not reveling in it. Garrett’s “process” has won out. Bu the players also know how quickly things can change.
Last year, Terrell McClain was with the Houston Texans. They started out 2-0 and lost their final 14 games. They changed coaches, firing Gary Kubiak and hiring Phillips as the interim.
“In Houston what happened with us was we started blaming the wrong people,” McClain said. “We wasn’t staying together trying to overcome things. What I see with this team is there’s something magical. We get down but we come in at halftime, go over the corrections, put it behind us and move on and go to the next snap and find a way to come back. Everybody’s got the fight in them. It’s passionate. Everybody is passionate about winning and we’ve got a good thing going right now.”
The Cowboys are not looking at their recent play as a six-game winning streak. It’s more like six separate wins. They'll go for a seventh on Monday against the Washington Redskins.
“We have some guys who’ve been here when Dallas has been winning and I’ve been on winning teams,” defensive end Jeremy Mincey said, “and you go to understand you can’t get too far ahead of yourself. You can’t look too far. We’ve got to focus on doing our job, always staying the same. It’s hard to stay the same in this league, but you’ve got to stay the same, got to be mentally tough and be ready for games and have no letdown.”
As much as Church is enjoying 6-1, he remembers what 1-6 felt like.
“We’re going to put our hearts into the game,” Church said, “and hopefully our fans will trust that and come out and support us each and every week.”