The return of cornerback Orlando Scandrick from a suspension would seem to put Tyler Patmon on the bench. The need for a fifth cornerback just isn't there, but maybe the Cowboys want to cover themselves in case they don't want to over-tax Scandrick in his first game.
With Lavar Edwards released earlier Saturday, that puts Jack Crawford in the lineup for the second straight week.
Now let's get to linebacker. Officially, McClain is doubtful with a groin injury. He did not practice the entire week but the Cowboys will wait to see how he warms up Sunday morning. The Cowboys called up Keith Smith from the practice squad so that should give you an idea McClain is not playing.
McClain is not like other veterans because he has not played much the past two seasons. He does not have a track record with the Cowboys of not practicing and playing. But he might be too valuable to keep off the field.
So the guess at the inactives is: Durant, Coleman, Spencer, Vaughan, Hawkins, Patmon and McClain.
The Cowboys need depth at linebacker with Rolando McClain expected to miss Sunday's game against the St. Louis Rams due to a groin injury. McClain, the Cowboys' leading tackler, is listed as doubtful and did not practice this week.
The Cowboys acquired Edwards on Aug. 30 by trading a conditional 2015 seventh-round pick to the Tennessee Titans.
Dallas owes Tennessee the pick if Edwards is on the Cowboys' 53-man roster for 10 games. The Cowboys are expected to re-sign Edwards.
- DeMarco Murray or the offensive line
- Rolando McClain, Comeback Player of the Year
- McClain, Sean Lee or both?
- Anthony Spencer update
- Sticking with 8-8
@toddarcher: I hate to go all Jason Garrett on you here, but I think it's a combination of the two. I'd lean more to the offensive line as the bigger factor, but I wouldn't give it that much of an edge. Murray has done a good job of turning nothing into something a few times so far. But the line has been better, as expected, with three first-round picks up front. I don't think that will factor into the negotiations. I think the Cowboys realize Murray is more valuable than just being able to plug a guy in there and receive the same production. But I don't see them going crazy on a deal for Murray or any running back. Remember, this position has been devalued across the league. Teams aren't signing them to big-time contracts, so forget any Marion Barber type deal, and they're not going crazy to draft them in the first round either. I've put Murray in the $4 million average neighborhood. Does that go up as he plays this year? Probably, but I think the Cowboys will draw a line at some point.
@toddarcher Is the success of the running game more due to DeMarco or the OL? If OL, does that factor in to Boys decision to extend Murray?— Thomas M. Grove (@ThomasMGrove) September 19, 2014
@toddarcher: Well, he's certainly off to a good start, but if this groin injury keeps him out for a few weeks then that would dampen his case. McClain has been a strong addition for a relatively low price. But I think Darren Sproles will get plenty of consideration for what he's done so far too. The Philadelphia Eagles got him for a song from the New Orleans Saints and are using him the right way. Sproles' production dipped each year in New Orleans. He was still dangerous but not the guy that has shown up the first two games with Chip Kelly. McClain might be coming back from more, considering he didn't play in 2013, but Sproles shouldn't be ignored.
@toddarcher: I think we still need to temper the McClain train some. It's been two games. Let's see if he has staying power before we wonder about how he would fit in 2015. And remember, he will be a free agent after this season. Let's say he continues on this path. Well, that would cost the Cowboys to keep him. He has said the Cowboys are the only team he would come off the couch for. Are they the only team he'd be willing to play for after taking a chance? I don't really know. I do believe there is a way for Lee and McClain to play together. Lee could play on the weak-side if necessary. He has the instincts for the position. There was chatter that he could move there this year to potentially save him from injury to a degree but the coaches never really put much into that. Lee has come back from a torn ACL before, but has to show he can do it again. There are questions about him. There are so many ifs in this answer, but if they all pan out, I think the Cowboys can find a way to get both on the field at the same time.
@toddarcher: Spencer returned to practice this week and will need time on the field to build up his endurance before he comes back. I do think he'll be back before Week 6 at the Seattle Seahawks. What role? I think you'll see the Cowboys use him as a situational pass rusher early on, playing in the nickel package. I don't think they want to run him out there 45-50 snaps a game. That wouldn't be wise on his knee and it wouldn't follow what Rod Marinelli wants to do with his defensive line rotation. As for Ryan Williams, why does he need to be activated? He wouldn't play. He's not going to take snaps away from DeMarco Murray, Lance Dunbar or Joseph Randle. The better move is to keep him on the practice squad and if something happens to their top three backs, then add him to the roster. Until that happens, there is no need to add a fourth tailback to the 53-man roster.
#cowboysmail what's status of Anthony Spencer? Ryan Williams going to be activated?— Will (@melbeverly) September 19, 2014
@toddarcher: Why change? They have done what they have always done -- win one, lose one. I'd remind you of one of Bill Parcells' favorite quotes: Don't eat the cheese. Yes, the defense has been better than many thought, including me. The running game has been great. I'd say the running game has a better chance to continue this way than the defense. I want to see this defense against a passing offense that can truly threaten you. The San Francisco 49ers don't have one or they just shut it down in the second half. The Tennessee Titans certainly don't have one. And I don't think the St. Louis Rams have one. Next up is the Saints. They have one. But I wouldn't get carried away with a 1-1 start. This is what they do. If they can string games together early, then I'll think about changing my prediction, but not now.
With how the defense has looked and the running game do you still stick with your 8 and 8 prediction? #cowboysmail— Casey Nelson (@CaseyNelson60) September 18, 2014
- It’s not often Tony Romo has been considered a game-manager as the Cowboys’ quarterback. He did that last week and wouldn’t mind doing it some more.
- But in order to manage the game, Romo will have to manage his back. He did not practice on Wednesday.
- Orlando Scandrick’s suspension was cut short with the adoption of the NFL’s new drug policy, and the Cowboys are glad he is back.
- DeMarco Murray has lit up the Rams in his first two games against them, and he’s off to a monstrous start.
- How much stock does Murray put in those games entering Sunday?
- Now that Scandrick is back, what happens to Morris Claiborne?
- Calvin Watkins and Jean-Jacques Taylor bring you this week’s segment of The Boys.
- Nick Wagoner and I bring you this week’s game preview.
Bryant hurt his right shoulder in the first quarter of last week's game against the Tennessee Titans, but he was able to return and finished with 10 catches for 103 yards and a touchdown. He did not practice Wednesday and was limited in workouts Thursday and Friday.
He has played in 42 straight games after missing five of the first 18 games of his career.
On Thursday, Bryant said the shoulder was "a little bit sore, but nothing that's going to keep me out. I'm going to be ready to roll on Sunday."
Linebacker Rolando McClain is doubtful but did not practice this week with a groin injury. If he can't play, then the Cowboys will move rookie Anthony Hitchens to the middle with Bruce Carter (weak side) and Kyle Wilber (strong side) handling the outside linebacker spots.
"It's not my decision," McClain said. "It's coach's decision. I'll just do whatever he'll ask me to do and we'll go from there."
Quarterback Tony Romo (back) went through his second straight full practice after sitting out of Wednesday's practice with tightness in his back. He is listed as probable.
For all of the matchups discussed this week across the NFL, for the football purists, Smith vs. Quinn might be the best of Week 3.
“[Quinn] is just a great player, for a lot of different reasons,” coach Jason Garrett said. “He’s quick. He’s fast. He’s explosive. He can bend, accelerate to the quarterback. He’s just a disruptive guy, disruptive every week and every game and certainly a guy that opposing offenses will give a lot of attention to. Tyron has played against him before. He understands what the challenge is over there. The other part about him is that he plays with a great motor. He’s not one of these guys who (says) ‘Hey, I have a lot of ability and can go get the quarterback when I want to.’ He comes every snap. He challenges you both as a pass-rush guy and a run defender. Tyron and everyone else is going to be responsible for blocking him -- they understand how good a player he is and have a healthy respect for him.”
Rams coach Jeff Fisher was as effusive in his praise of Smith.
“Tyron’s playing really well,” Fisher said. “He has two solid games against good rushers. He’s very, very strong. He’s got good feet. He’s got hands. He does a nice job with his hands. So I think it’ll be a great matchup. As we’ve played many games with Rob, you get the sense that people are not going to hold the football, the seven-step drops don’t take place. It’s a quick game. It’s play-action protection, those kind of thinks, chip with a back. You know we’ll just wait and see. I think it’ll be a great matchup. They’re two outstanding players.”
When these teams met last year, Smith matched up against Quinn on 20 pass plays. He received help on one, a chip from DeMarco Murray. Quinn did not have a sack or a pressure. He did have a tackle for loss and a forced fumble in the run game.
“Just knowing that what type of player he is, it’s not going to be easy,” Smith said.
Quinn, who was second in the NFL last season with 19 sacks, is looking for his first sack this season.
“He’s a young, athletic tackle,” Quinn said. “I happen to be the same draft class. It’s definitely going to be a nice little athleticism matchup.”
In two games against the Rams, Murray has 428 yards and two touchdowns on 51 carries. The Cowboys won those games by a combined score of 65-14. Both of those games were at AT&T Stadium, so now Murray has to see if he can take it on the road to the Edward Jones Dome. He is coming off a 29-carry, 167-yard effort at the Tennessee Titans. The Cowboys’ running game has not been this efficient since the Emmitt Smith days.
The Rams counter with the 30th-ranked rush defense, giving up 171 yards a game on the ground through two weeks.
Add it up and the Cowboys will win road games on back-to-back weeks for the first time since 2009, although this one will be closer than the laughers they have had against the Rams at home.
Prediction: Cowboys 31, Rams 27
Rookie Anthony Hitchens would start at middle linebacker if McClain is out, with Kyle Wilber moving to strongside linebacker and Bruce Carter on the weak side. Justin Durant will miss his second straight game with a groin injury, but coach Jason Garrett said Durant has improved.
Running back Joseph Randle returned to practice for the first time this week after suffering a concussion last week against the Tennessee Titans.
Defensive end Anthony Spencer is not practicing after going through limited workouts on Wednesday and Thursday. Those were Spencer’s first practices since last season as he comes back from microfracture surgery on his left knee.
"He’s feeling good," Garrett said. "We just want to make sure we do the right amount of work with him as he’s coming back."
Defensive tackle Davon Coleman (calf) missed his third straight day of practice.
In those two games, the Dallas Cowboys’ running back has picked up 428 yards on 51 carries. On Oct. 23, 2011, he ran for a franchise-record 253 yards on 25 carries in a 34-7 win against the Rams, and he didn’t even start that game. Last year he picked up 175 yards on 26 carries in a 31-7 win.
Murray gets his third chance against the Rams on Sunday. How much will the previous games factor into this one?
The Rams have a new coordinator in Gregg Williams with a new scheme. They have new players but also will be missing one of their best players, defensive end Chris Long.
“I think you’ve got to be really careful of going back and saying, ‘Boy, he plays great against these guys,’” coach Jason Garrett said. “Well, these guys aren’t necessarily the same guys he’s played against in the past. But, he’s certainly playing well right now. We’ve run the ball well the first couple weeks, and he’s been a big part of it.”
St. Louis hasn’t exactly stopped the run, either. The Rams have the 30th-ranked run defense through two games, giving up 171 yards per game on the ground. Minnesota wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson had 102 yards on three carries in Week 1. Tampa Bay’s Bobby Rainey had 144 yards on 22 carries in Week 2.
“I didn’t watch any film of the last two years that we played them at all,” Murray said. “I’ve watched them preseason and the first two games to get a feel for what they do and it’s totally different.”
St. Louis defensive end Robert Quinn played in both contests, though he was not one of the NFL’s best defenders in 2011. Stopping the big run is at the top of Quinn’s to-do list this week. In the 2011 meeting, Murray had 172 of his 253 yards on four carries, including a 91-yarder. In 2013, 118 of his 175 yards came on five carries.
“We want to keep him within the box so our big guys and our ‘backers and sometimes safeties can get downhill and just keep him to as minimal yardage as possible,” Quinn said.
With as well as the Cowboys have started the season on the ground, play-caller Scott Linehan knows he will have to devise different ways to get Murray loose as defenses key on tendencies. But he doesn’t want to get away from what the Cowboys and Murray do best.
“He runs angry,” Linehan said. “It’s a great compliment to do that because a lot of guys are running to daylight. DeMarco has that ability but he plays the game like one of those big backs that run with that fierce, tenacious kind of style. You don’t realize it, but he’s not the biggest back in the league. I don’t know where you put him as far as where that is, but he plays that way. The physical nature, he brings a lot of identity to our team the way he plays because our guys are doing the same thing up front. The tight end, the receivers are playing with that same kind of physical nature. To be good at the run game, your back has to have that style to be the guy that’s packing it most of the time.”
Rewind to 2012, the breakout season for the Dallas Cowboys' No. 1 receiver. Tony Romo targeted Bryant 28 times on deep balls, as defined by passes that travel at least 20 yards in the air. Bryant caught 13 of those passes for 526 yards and five touchdowns, tying for the league lead for touchdowns on such plays, ranking third in yards and fourth in catches.
It’s not as if Bryant has become any less athletic over the past year and a half. He is as physically gifted and acrobatic as ever, capable of running by defensive backs or jumping over them to make the big play.
And the Pro Bowl receiver is confident he will do plenty of downfield damage this season.
"Of course, man," Bryant said. "I know I am. Believe me. I’ve got to keep waiting patiently, just like everybody else."
Despite his denials, Romo doesn’t throw the deep ball as well as he used to, but receiver Terrance Williams (nine) and tight end (Jason Witten) are among the 46 players in the league who have caught more long passes than Bryant since the start of the 2013 season.
The attention devoted to Bryant by defenses is part of the reason for his decline as a deep threat, and it’s the responsibility of the Cowboys' offensive minds (including Romo) to figure out how to free up their premier playmaker. The more dominant the Dallas running game, the easier that job should get.
Bryant started Sunday’s win against the Tennessee Titans with two defenders staring him in the face, double-teaming him at the line of scrimmage like a punt gunner. But as DeMarco Murray racked up rushing yards, Bryant saw much more man coverage than usual over the course of the game.
"Oh man, it was lovely," Bryant said with a big smile.
Bryant took advantage of it to the tune of 10 catches for 103 yards and a touchdown, consistently keeping the chains moving. But Dallas went deep to Bryant only once -- the same as against the San Francisco 49ers, when Romo’s poor-decision throw into double coverage was picked off.
On the downfield shot in Tennessee, Titans cornerback Coty Sensabaugh knocked Bryant off his feet in the end zone, but no flag was thrown for what was a pretty obvious pass interference.
"The referee was watching the ball just like us!" Bryant said, laughing. "He looked up and when he looked down, he said incomplete. I thought that was funny as well. I think he just missed it. That’s all. He just missed it. That’s part of the game."
The deep ball used to be a big part of Bryant’s game. He believes it will be again soon.
In it, we discuss:
- Tony Romo’s health
- Terrance Williams ’ production
- Rod Marinelli’s future
- Sterling Moore’s position
- Jeff Heath’s roster spot
Away we go:
DeMarco Murray runs it, the better chance Romo will have to hold up all season. It's just a numbers thing. The fewer times he has to pass, the less likely he is to take a hit. If there is something concerning, however, it is that he has been sacked seven times in 73 dropbacks and hit another nine times. The line has to do a better job there. It's also concerning that he needed a day off after two games. It is hard to build up strength during a season. Usually it is about maintaining what is already built and fighting through soreness. You make a good point about the "crucial moments." Last week at Tennessee with the score 16-10 in the third quarter, Romo responded, completing 6 of 9 passes on a 12-play, 80-yard touchdown drive. That's what the Cowboys will need if they continue to run the ball like they have.
Tennessee Titans. They ran it 43 times in 76 snaps. When you have that dominant of a running game, there will be only so many targets to go around in the passing game. And when you're playing opposite Dez Bryant, that will also be a factor in the limited targets. In two games, Williams has been targeted eight times, with four catches. I wouldn't panic about his long-term production. It will be there, but I don't know if you'll see him with huge numbers as long as the Cowboys are running the ball as well as they are. I had him pegged in for about a 60-65 catch season. There's plenty of time to hit that number.
@toddarcher: To me, it's dependent on whoever the head coach is. If it's Jason Garrett, then I don't see Marinelli leaving. He's in a contract year, just like Murray and Bryant. If he can get this defense to that level, then he could be in demand with other teams and Jerry Jones could have to pay a premium to keep him. Marinelli has a long-standing relationship with Lovie Smith and maybe he could look to reunite in Tampa Bay if things fall apart down there. But the reason why I bring up the head coach question is because of how this team has operated in the past. Garrett was hired before Wade Phillips in 2007. If Garrett is not the coach of this team, then I don't think the new head coach, whoever it is, should be forced to accept any assistant coach, even one as good as Marinelli. If the new coach wants to keep Marinelli and run this scheme, then by all means keep him, especially if the aforementioned ranking holds true.
#cowboysmail Assuming Rod Marinelli turns this defense into a top 20 or even top 15 unit, what is his future, in Dallas or elsewhere?— One Cool Customer (@OCC44) September 18, 2014
Orlando Scandrick as well. Sterling Moore has position flexibility to play inside and outside at cornerback, but playing safety is a completely different animal. Can he play it for a few snaps and get the Cowboys through a game? I'd guess so. Can he be an every-down safety? I don't see it. And I don't see the Cowboys adopting a nickel safety role for him and removing J.J. Wilcox. I just don't think it's that easy for the coaches to come up with something like that or that easy for the player to learn on the fly. I don't mean this in a bad way, but this is not an imaginative scheme. It's pretty basic, so that could help Moore, but it would also require the coaches to alter what they like to do.
“Our focus is trying to create that identity of a running football team,” Witten said.
At some point, the 32-year-old Witten will slow down, but it’d be silly to point to his lack of personal production in the first two games as the sign of a steep decline. He had only eight catches in the first three weeks of the 2012 season -- and some uncharacteristic drops after missing a month of practice after a big hit by then-Oakland Raiders linebacker Rolando McClain lacerated his spleen in the preseason opener. He ended up setting the NFL record for receptions by a tight end with 110 that season.
Witten, whose 885 career receptions are the second most by a tight end in NFL history, is willing to sacrifice catches as part of the Cowboys’ newfound commitment to the run. He also recognizes defenses will pay less attention to the nine-time Pro Bowl tight end if DeMarco Murray continues to rack up rushing yards, and play-action, in particular, should lead to some big-play opportunities.
“I think for all of us our numbers will come and opportunities will come,” Witten said. “You have less opportunities because of the way you run the football. I think all of us are committed to that and understand it and do whatever we have to do to help out.”
Linehan, now the Dallas Cowboys' passing game coordinator, on Sunday will make his first appearance at the Edward Jones Dome since his dismissal.
"That’s two jobs ago," said Linehan, who had a five-year run as the Detroit Lions' offensive coordinator in between. "In this business it seems like I’ve had about six homes in the last 15 years. But I had a great three years there. It didn’t work out, but we developed some very good friendships there and we loved living there. We enjoyed our time, but both myself and my wife and my boys are here in Dallas and we love it here. We’re just going in there to be the enemy, and that’s our goal, to hopefully come out on the better half. But we had some great experiences there. There were very good people there."
Linehan took over a team that was hanging on to the Super Bowl past with aging players like Isaac Bruce, Tory Holt and Orlando Pace while attempting to transition to younger players like running back Steven Jackson.
Linehan’s final record was 11-25 and ended with eight straight losses spanning his last two seasons.
"There’s no easy jobs in the NFL," Linehan said. "There’s no real excuse why it didn’t work out. Things just didn’t. That’s kind of the way the ball bounces in this business. You’ve just got to dust yourself off and go to the next job and go about your business there. The great thing was some of the things we went through there were good learning experiences for getting things turned around in Detroit. We got right there at Detroit, but there were some things we were able to use the valuable experiences I had in St. Louis that carried over to our ability to bring some youth and things like that into our offense, which really helped over time ... It was a great experience. I learned a lot. I probably learned more in those three years I was there."