Dallas Cowboys' Twitter mailbag, Part 2

October, 25, 2014
Oct 25
IRVING, Texas -- Part 2 of the Dallas Cowboys' Twitter mailbag is ready. In it we discuss: If you want to see Part 1, click here. Away we go:

@toddarcher: He should be at the top of the discussion. I think he should be the guy so far. The Cowboys had no expectations. Even the most ardent supporter, Jerry Jones, wasn't willing to go out on a limb and predict much at the start of the season. He acknowledged things will be a challenge this year. So Garrett deserves a ton of credit for the team's start, the team's approach and the team's ability to overcome. They are all things he has stressed since taking over. But I don't think he would be the only candidate. Arizona Cardinals coach Bruce Arians and Detroit Lions coach Jim Caldwell deserve some talk too. I don't know that those guys have done a better job than Garrett, but they would deserve attention too. But again, the Cowboys had the lowest expectations of those three teams, to me, at the start of the season, so Garrett would get my vote. And I don't have a vote.

@toddarcher: I don't want to knock what DeMarco Murray has done. No other running back in the history of the game has come up with seven straight 100-yard games to open a season, so he deserves everything he is getting. I wouldn't think you could plug in any back in there and do something like that. But I do think the Cowboys would have a good but not great running game without him. I wondered this a few weeks ago: Would Joseph Randle get 1,200 yards behind this line? Perhaps. Mike Shanahan used to be able to plug in backs every year and get 1,000-yard seasons out of them, but he didn't have a special team without Terrell Davis. He had a good run with Clinton Portis until he traded him. He had a good runner in Washington too with Alfred Morris. There is something to be said for having system backs, but I think Murray is more than just a system back.

@toddarcher: Why shouldn't he get praised? You can't kill him only when things go poorly and say he has no clue as to what he is doing and then ignore the good. That would be hypocritical. He deserves credit. Maybe not all the credit, just as he shouldn't shoulder all the blame either. I've said this before, but he is not a general manager the way, say, Ron Wolf, was a general manager. Jerry takes the consensus and makes decisions. He designates people to bring him the information, listens to them and makes a decision. Sometimes he will go off on his own, but there are a lot of times he doesn't. The Zack Martin decision stands out as an example. He is a product mostly of the information he gets from the personnel department. When they hit on players, Jerry hits on players. Criticize the structure the Cowboys have in place, but with the success of the team's current run, Jones deserves credit too.

@toddarcher: They won't get any compensatory pick for DeMarcus Ware. They cut him. They could get a compensatory pick for losing Jason Hatcher as an unrestricted free agent. The Cowboys' signing of Henry Melton could mitigate just how high of a pick it is, but they should get something for Hatcher. That is always something lost when we talk about teams not re-signing free agents. There is a convoluted formula the league uses to figure out compensatory picks based on players lost, players signed and how those players fared, but teams can earn extra picks if they work the free-agent market wisely. Even if it's just a sixth-round pick, the Cowboys would be able to make up a pick they will likely lose to the Tennessee Titans for the Lavar Edwards trade.

@toddarcher: It's kind of the great unknown. He has not played in a football game since December 2012. He has only been around the Cowboys for about a month. Despite all the working out he did on his own, it wasn't going to be as productive as it would be under the team's watch. I think we need to be careful, however, in expecting too much from Brent. He was solid. He was good. But that was a long time ago in terms of football time and it came in a different scheme. He will have about four weeks of practice before the Cowboys make up their mind. He can start practicing next week and up through the team's game in London. Then the Cowboys can seek another two-week roster exemption. They should use all the time necessary to make sure Brent is not only in good shape but in decent football shape before getting him in a game. As far as pass rush, don't expect much. He is not that type of player. If he can help shore up the run defense, then that should be considered a bonus. 

DeMarco Murray's 3-4 success in focus

October, 25, 2014
Oct 25
IRVING, Texas -- Monday's game against the Washington Redskins will be the fifth time the Dallas Cowboys have seen a 3-4 defense.

While DeMarco Murray has run well regardless of the defensive front he has seen this season, he has had incredible success against 3-4 schemes.

Against the San Francisco 49ers, Tennessee Titans, New Orleans Saints and Houston Texans, Murray has 106 carries for 570 yards.

"There are some similarities but the players are different, the scheme is always different," Murray said. "We've had a lot of 3-4 teams this year so we're used to it. A lot of our previous games we've had some success against but it's definitely hard to go against. They have some great players on the other side. We'll have our hands full and we're excited about the challenge."

Not all 3-4 defenses are created equal. Coach Jason Garrett said the key is to trace the roots of Jim Haslett's defense. Like a lot of 3-4 schemes, it goes back to Pittsburgh Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau. So too does the 3-4 San Francisco used as well as the 3-4 the Titans used, but the Redskins defense is more like the Titans in how defenders move around.

"The way they play their techniques up front are similar to what we've seen at different points this year and certainly similar to what we've seen from them in the past," Garrett said. "They're not all the same. I think you have to understand what the nuances are and attack it with that knowledge."

Past success can often predict future success, but center Travis Frederick does not look at it that way.

"It gives us something to look back at and get better and improve upon, but you're starting from zero every game," Frederick said. "Every game is different and every team is different."

Todd Archer and Jean-Jacques Taylor discuss why the Dallas Cowboys have been a big offensive threat this season.
IRVING, Texas – Dallas Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray deflects questions about the amount of work he has received this season like defenders.

He doesn’t much care that he is 31 carries away from the most he has had in a season and that Monday’s game against the Washington Redskins is just the eighth game of the season. He says his body feels good.

Part of it has to do with what he did in the offseason. Starting in March, before the official beginning of the Cowboys’ offseason program, Murray became Jason Witten’s workout partner. For the next two months they were together at Valley Ranch for hours, running, lifting and sweating.

“It helped a lot, obviously with the stamina aspect just building a good armor for your body so you can take some hits and take the pounding of a long season,” Murray said. “He's done it for a long time and he's someone who has had a lot of success in this league and he knows what to do to take care of your body in season and out of season, so it helped extremely a lot and I have to thank him and we're still working together.”

Witten has missed one game in his career. Witten has played in 178 straight games, the longest active streak for a position player.

“I just asked him one day,” Witten said. “Don’t remember exactly how it went down, but we’re going to work out together.”

In every way, Witten is the conscience of the Cowboys. He is their leader. Murray called him “the big dog.”

“I couldn’t say no,” Murray said.

No player has caught more passes as a Cowboy than Witten. He has played in nine Pro Bowls. Not only does he not miss games, he does not miss practices, either.

Murray has missed 11 games in his first three seasons with ankle, foot and knee injuries. He missed a day of practice last week because he was ill. He sprained an ankle in the second quarter of last week’s victory against the New York Giants but finished the game with 128 yards on 28 carries.

Witten turned 32 in May, in the middle of the offseason. Murray is 26.

“I knew it was good for me to be with a young guy that can push you,” Witten said. “Obviously he’s physically talented. I kind of known that was the way our team was going and what we were trying to mold ourselves into. Even since he’s been a rookie, he’s always kind of latched on to certain people and asked questions, eager to learn. The thing I like about him since an early age was you could always see that he wanted to be really, really good. He had a great offseason. There were many days where I was really sore and we’d come in and say, ‘Are you sore?’ And he’d tell me, ‘Nah, not really. What about you?’ ‘Nah, I feel all right.’ He’s everything you want in a teammate from that standpoint. It was good to work out with him that way because I kept telling him, November and December this will pay off for us, the work that we put in. You can see it in the way he’s playing.”

Witten is not taking credit for Murray’s season by any stretch, but Murray believes the workouts have made a difference.

Said Murray, “Whenever you talk to a guy like that that's had the success like that and played so long in this league and done some of the things he’s done, you definitely try to take as much information as you possibly can from him.”
IRVING, Texas -- DeMarco Murray insists that he does not care about setting records and hitting milestones.

But his Dallas Cowboys teammates definitely care about Murray making history.

"I'm pretty sure it's not [his goal], because he never talks about it," receiver Dez Bryant said. "Never talks about it at all. But the other guys around him, we all notice it and think about it. That's why we practice hard, so we can give him that opportunity to reach that. That's a big deal."

Murray has already broken Hall of Fame running back Jim Brown's record for 100-yard games to start a season with seven. He's halfway to Barry Sanders' record of 14 consecutive 100-yard games.

Emmitt Smith's franchise record for rushing yards in a season (1,773 yards) is well within the sights of Murray, who has gained 913 yards through seven games. He's on pace for 2,087 yards, so he could challenge Eric Dickerson's NFL record of 2,105 yards.

Only seven backs in NFL history have broken the 2,000-yard barrier.

"I think he can do it," Bryant said of Murray. "I honestly think he can do it."

Jakar Hamilton returns to practice

October, 24, 2014
Oct 24
IRVING, Texas -- Dallas Cowboys safety Jakar Hamilton returned to practice Friday after attending the funeral of his cousin.

"Pushing through it one day at a time," Hamilton said after practice.

Hamilton hasn't played in a game after serving his four-game suspension for violating the substance abuse policy.

Defensive end Anthony Spencer was a limited participant in Friday's practice with a sprained foot. Tackle Doug Free (foot) and defensive end Jack Crawford (calf) didn't practice and won't play in Monday's game against the Washington Redskins.

Quarterback Tony Romo (back), tackle Jeremy Parnell (chest), wide receiver Dez Bryant (shoulder) and linebacker Bruce Carter (thigh) were full participants.

ESPNDallas.com's Jean-Jacques Taylor and Calvin Watkins break down the latest Cowboys news entering Week 8.
IRVING, Texas – At some point over the next few days, Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett and some players will have production meetings with ESPN, leading into the "Monday Night Football" matchup against the Washington Redskins.

Asking those questions and observing practice will be analyst Jon Gruden, who just so happens to be the older brother of the Washington Redskins’ coach, Jay Gruden.

Could that lead to a little awkwardness?

“As you know, we’re probably a little bit guarded with all media people,” Garrett said. “That’s a dynamic that really happens every week. You have to be careful with what you’re sharing with people. You want to certainly help the media do their job as well as they can do it by giving them information, but it’s always short of compromising yourself and creating a competitive disadvantage, so I don’t think it’s different. I know Coach Gruden fairly well. A lot of guys on our staff know him fairly well. He’s a pro. He’s always been a pro, so we don’t think that will be a real issue.”

Jon Gruden coached Garrett for part of the 2004 season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and has the same Super Bowl XXXVII ring as defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli, special-teams coordinator Rich Bisaccia and assistant head coach/defense Monte Kiffin.
IRVING, Texas -- Dallas Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones said it will be difficult for the franchise to bid on a Super Bowl because of a new rule that says NFL teams that are awarded the championship game will lose a regular-season home game.

"That will put a difficult caveat to our bid," Jones said on 105.3 The Fan on Friday. "We probably will make a bid. They tell you what they want in a bid, but you can make a bid without what they want in a bid. So when you say, 'They're not going to give it to you,' the owners still get to vote. That's pretty much limiting, and our home games are so important to us. At this time, I'm not sure how we'll handle a bid; we'll make a bid for a Super Bowl in the future. But that's a head-scratcher: if I would do it at a cost of a home game."

The Cowboys hosted Super Bowl XL in 2010 between the Green Bay Packers and the Pittsburgh Steelers. Despite a massive ice storm leading up to the game and a seating fiasco that prompted a lawsuit against the league and the Cowboys, the NFL owners did make money.

This year's Super Bowl is in Glendale, Arizona, home of the Arizona Cardinals, and the next available game for a bid is Super Bowl LIII in 2019.

Under these new rules, if an NFL team wins the bid, it will have to play a game in London.

"We're playing Jacksonville in London and we would not have played in that game if it cost us a home game, and we just wouldn't do it, and haven't done it," Jones said, alluding to the Nov. 9 game. "That's not being mean in any way or [not] being a team player. We made too big of a commitment to our fans and to our organization to play our 10 games here."
IRVING, Texas – The Dallas Cowboys’ health keeps improving.

With quarterback Tony Romo returning to practice after sitting Thursday’s workout, only right tackle Doug Free and defensive end Jack Crawford were missing from practice.

Free is expected to miss two more games with a small fracture in his right foot. Crawford has been battling a strained calf for the last two weeks. Safety Jakar Hamilton returned to practice Friday after missing Thursday’s session to tend to a personal matter.

Linebacker Bruce Carter is practicing for the second straight day, as is defensive end Anthony Spencer, who is looking to practice all three days leading up to a game for the first time this season.

Defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence is eligible to return Nov. 2 against the Arizona Cardinals and has looked good in practice since he returned last week from a broken foot. Defensive tackle Amobi Okoye, who started the year on the non-football injury list, is practicing for the second straight day. The Cowboys have until the Nov. 16 bye week to activate him to the 53-man roster, keep him on the non-football injury list or release him.

The Cowboys are keeping a close eye on Okoye, who is attempting a comeback from anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis, a brain disease that left him in a coma in 2013.

“We’ve certainly got our arms around where he came from and we’ve been very judicious in bringing him back,” Garrett said. “He’s worked very hard to get back. He was a good player when he was playing before and we want to get him back to that level, but it was a good start for him, good to see him in a uniform, moving around as a football player. He’s worked very hard on the side to get himself there and we’ll monitor his progress and see how he’s doing.”

Prediction: Cowboys keep it rolling

October, 24, 2014
Oct 24
IRVING, Texas -- This game will be more difficult than people believe. But the Dallas Cowboys are built for “dirty” games. Not dirty in the sense of temperament, but dirty in terms of how they will need to gain yards. DeMarco Murray has been able to handle the dirty work the last two games against the Seattle Seahawks and New York Giants while also putting up eight runs of 10 yards or more. Of note: Murray does not have a 100-yard game against the Redskins in five tries.

This will be the Cowboys’ fifth game against a base 3-4 defense. In the first four games, Murray has averaged 26.5 carries and 142.5 yards per game. The Redskins have allowed two 100-yard rushers and were dominated on the ground by the Giants and Seahawks. In the last two games, however, they have held their opponents to 150 yards total on the ground.

But they haven’t faced a running game as committed and as coordinated as the Cowboys’.

The Cowboys have more wins (64) against the Redskins than they have against any other team in the NFL. They’ll make it 65 on Monday.

My prediction: Cowboys 27, Redskins 17

Tony Romo shining in second halves

October, 24, 2014
Oct 24
IRVING, Texas -- When Tony Romo's second-half numbers were mentioned to Jason Garrett on Thursday, the Dallas Cowboys coach pointed out that Romo’s four-quarter numbers are pretty good, too.

Garrett is correct. Romo leads the league in completion percentage. He is fourth in quarterback rating and yards per attempt. He has the fifth-most touchdowns. Aside from the three interceptions in the first half of the season-opening loss to the San Francisco 49ers, Romo has been pretty good for all four quarters.

It's just that he has been exceptional in the second halves of games.

Romo has the NFL’s best Total QBR at 95.7 in the third and fourth quarters, plus overtime. His 10.1 yards per attempt is first. He has completed 71 percent of his passes, which is second. His eight touchdowns passes are tied for second.

In the second half last week against the New York Giants, Romo completed all nine of his passes for 56 yards and a touchdown.

“I think in the second half, playing teams, you start to get an understanding how they want to attack you,” Romo said. In those possessions, it matters more so with the outcome of the game so you just want to make sure you do things exactly right and go out and execute.”

Dallas Cowboys' Twitter mailbag, Part 1

October, 24, 2014
Oct 24
IRVING, Texas -- Part 1 of the Dallas Cowboys' Twitter mailbag is ready.

In it we discuss:
Away we go:

@toddarcher: The longest I can say right now is Monday against the Washington Redskins. I'm not going all Jason Garrett on you or anything, it's just that I want to look at the Arizona Cardinals more before I make the bold prediction of eight or nine in a row. The Cardinals have an aggressive, attacking defense. Former Cowboys defensive backs coach Todd Bowles is doing great things there and should be a head coach at some point. If they can get by Arizona, then I say they'll stretch it to nine games with a win against the Jacksonville Jaguars in London. Following the bye they play at the New York Giants and they'll be rested. I'd go as far as 10. Then it gets tricky because that Giants' game is at night and the Cowboys have a short week to get ready for the Philadelphia Eagles. It's almost unfair what the NFL has done to the Cowboys here with a night game on a Sunday, early morning return on Monday and a game on Thursday. But if they can get past the Cardinals, I'd be willing to say 10 in a row. Good night, who would've thought that back in August?

@toddarcher: Clearly, the Cowboys didn't think Michael Sam was good enough. This is a defense with seven sacks. They're not going to be so cavalier about not giving anybody and everybody a chance to rush the passer when they haven't been able to rush the passer. Now, did the Cowboys do the right thing by releasing Sam and not giving him a chance? Time will tell. If the Cowboys were going to call up a defensive end from their practice squad it was going to be Ken Boatright. Rookie DeMarcus Lawrence will be back next week, so the Cowboys' hope is that he can provide a spark. Not counting Lawrence and Amobi Okoye, the Cowboys have 10 defensive linemen on the active roster. With Boatright and Ken Bishop, who was re-signed Tuesday, they had two on the practice roster. Garrett is right to say you can't have too many of one position on the practice squad because you can't function in practice. Sam got caught in a numbers game. Simple as that.

@toddarcher: I'd go with their first-round pick, Travis Frederick. He has the makings of a decade-long starter and a top-level one, too. He is smart. He is more athletic than people think. He is a good leader. He is a good communicator. The others are doing well as well. Gavin Escobar has found a role but I don't know if he's a 60-play, hand-on-the-ground tight end whenever the Jason Witten era ends. Terrance Williams is a solid player as well. He has a knack for big plays. J.J. Wilcox has grown but still has to grow. Joseph Randle is doing some good things on the field if not off the field. Before his neck injury it looked like DeVonte Holloman would be a player, too. This is a good start for the draft class. The Cowboys haven't had enough classes go this deep in recent years.

@toddarcher: I'd be very surprised if the Cowboys did anything like that before the trade deadline next week. They don't want to give up draft picks to land one worth landing. This is still a team that needs to build. I'm sure there is a temptation to go get a guy considering this start and the seemingly wide open nature of the NFC, but there needs to be a big picture view as well. The Cowboys have enough cap space to fit a player in, but I just don't know if it's easy to plug in a guy and say, 'Be DeMarcus Ware.' I've said this before, but I think you need to look at Lawrence as a trade pick up in a way. He hasn't played all year. He's fresh coming off the injury. The Cowboys know more about him than they would a player they traded for in terms of makeup and how he would fit the defense. With Jerry Jones you can never rule anything out but it would surprise me to see a trade, especially a significant one.

@toddarcher: Hopefully you don't want to kill all of the carries for DeMarco Murray, but this has been a common question the last few weeks. I think you've seen the Cowboys come up with an answer with how they have worked in Randle and Lance Dunbar in the first halves of the last two games. They are backing off Murray in the first half in hopes of keeping him fresher in the second half. It seems to have worked. He had his killer runs late against Seattle and had a big run late against the Giants, too. Maybe we're all getting too caught up in the carries. Scott Linehan said it's more important to monitor snaps. So I think you'll see them continue to give Murray some rest in the first half and then pick it up as the game wears on.

Cowboys have a good problem at LB

October, 24, 2014
Oct 24
IRVING, Texas -- For the first time in a long time the Dallas Cowboys have the kind of dilemma coaches like to have.

With the return of Bruce Carter, who missed the last three games with a quadriceps strain, the Cowboys will have their full complement of linebackers for the first time since Week 4, which creates something of an issue in the nickel defense.

When Carter, Justin Durant and Rolando McClain have been healthy, Carter and Durant have been the nickel linebackers. Now the Cowboys might have a choice as to which two to keep on the field. The decision might not start with Monday’s game with the Washington Redskins.

“They’re just trying to work me in right now, special teams, whatever it is,” said Carter, who was limited in his return in Thursday’s practice. “I’m just trying to get my legs back underneath me and we’ll see how it plays out for the game.”

Keeping their top three linebackers healthy has been an issue the last couple of seasons and didn’t start out well in May when Sean Lee was lost for the season because of a knee injury.

Durant injured a groin in the season opener and missed the next two games. McClain injured a groin in Week 2 and missed the following game. Carter was hurt in the Week 4 win against the New Orleans Saints.

When all three have been active for games, Durant and Carter were the nickel linebackers with McClain playing only in the base defense.

“No question we want guys to be healthy,” coach Jason Garrett said. “We want that competition to be healthy as well. The biggest thing is to see where Bruce is.”

Durant leads the Cowboys with 51 tackles, according to the coaches’ breakdown. McClain is second and leads the Cowboys with two interceptions. Despite missing three games, Carter is fourth in tackles with 29.

The coaches said his performance against the Saints might have been the best game he has played. He had six tackles and two pass breakups, one leading to a Durant interception.

He said it is a good thing he does not need to play every snap immediately in his return, “but my competitive nature is I want to be out there fighting with my teammates,” Carter said. “It’s a great thing to do in this position, but it’s nothing I want to rely on. I definitely want to be out there and playing.”

Redskins vs. Cowboys preview

October, 24, 2014
Oct 24
For the 16th time on “Monday Night Football,” the Dallas Cowboys will meet the Washington Redskins.

Only the Oakland Raiders and Denver Broncos (17) have met on "Monday Night Football" more. The Cowboys come in with a six-game winning streak, their longest since 2007, and the Redskins halted a four-game losing streak last week.

Just looking at the records -- Cowboys 6-1 and Redskins 2-5 -- this should be an easy win for Dallas. But that is not the case in this series. Only two of the past 12 meetings have been decided by more than a touchdown.

NFL Nation reporters John Keim and Todd Archer bring you this week’s game preview:

Todd Archer: It looks like Colt McCoy will start against the Cowboys, so at least one Texas kid will make the start for Washington -- if not the one everybody expected at the start of the season in Robert Griffin III. But I want to talk RG III. When he comes back, it’s his job, but if he continues to look only so-so in his return, when do the Redskins start to wonder if he is the long-term guy?

John Keim: I think there’s already some wonder. There’s no doubt about his talent but he has to get a better grasp of the offense and what the coaches need from him. There was some frustration over the pace of his development this summer, especially compared to Kirk Cousins’ growth. People don’t like hearing that, but it’s the truth. However, they also have a commitment to developing Griffin, who still has a massive amount of talent -- and, as we saw two years ago, a guy who can be a major playmaker when used properly. I think he can still make plays while learning and so do they. The final half of the season will be all about his development. You can’t turn him into some robotic quarterback but he has to show some strong development if he wants them to give him a fifth-year extension in the spring. Otherwise, he’ll be playing for a new contract next season.

DeMarco Murray showed in the past that he could be a good runner, but what he’s doing now is extraordinary. I know they have an excellent offensive line, but has something changed with him as a runner? Or is he a by-product of the talent around him?

Archer: I can’t guarantee this, but I think something changed for him last Thanksgiving against the Raiders. Lance Dunbar carried 12 times for 82 yards before suffering a knee injury in the fourth quarter of the game. Murray had 17 carries for 63 yards in that game and really had left a lot of yards on the field not only in that game but in a lot of games. He wasn’t seeing things well at all. But I think seeing Dunbar perform so well he knew he needed to pick his play up. Since then he has had nine 100-yard efforts in his 11 games. Maybe it’s just a coincidence, but I think that could be something. Plus, he and running backs coach Gary Brown spent a lot of time looking at defensive fronts and how to find the softness in those fronts with the designs of the run. Runners have to feel natural. They can’t become robots. Murray has found a good blend of being natural while also understanding what the fronts will do to not only stop him but potentially help him.

Jason Hatcher had 11 sacks as a 4-3 defensive tackle last year with the Cowboys. He signed a good deal with Washington to return to 3-4 defensive end. How is he playing and do you think he will have some extra motivation entering this game?

Keim: Yes, I do. It’s always natural, as you know, for a player to play at a different emotional level against his former team. And he made it clear that he doesn’t regret signing here despite Dallas’ success. But he is playing pretty well here. He’s clearly their best defensive lineman and one of their best players overall defensively. Jay Gruden has wanted some players to take control and rattle things a little bit and there have been times Hatcher has tried to be that guy. He has three sacks, but he’s done a nice job taking on double teams and occupying blockers. He plays with some fire and they need that. My worry for him is that he’ll wear down -- he’s had a couple of nagging things -- and if that happens they’re in big trouble up front.

At what point did you say, "This team might be for real." Did you see hints of this sort of season being a possibility back in training camp?

Archer: I didn’t have that feeling at all. I still have some questions, honestly. I went into training camp thinking they would be 8-8. After camp I thought about dropping them down to 6-10 but decided to stick with 8-8. I figured the offense would be fine. There’s too much talent on that side of the ball not to be above average. I believed Scott Linehan would bring it all together after it was something of a disjointed mess in 2013 with Jason Garrett still kind of involved, Bill Callahan calling plays for a passing game he didn’t really know and Tony Romo having a large say. But what kept me from thinking anything better than 8-8 was the defense. There were many times in practice the offense just embarrassed them. There was one practice where Murray and Dunbar wouldn’t get touched until 10 yards down the field. There were few interceptions. It was beyond bad. And I didn’t think it made sense to rely a ton on Rolando McClain given his history. I’ve remained somewhat skeptical but after taking care of New Orleans, they've really opened my eyes. I think this team is just rolling with a ton of confidence right now.

People will look at the records of these teams and think it will be an easy Dallas win. I think I know better. What is it about the Cowboys, even when things are not going so well for Washington, that makes the Redskins raise their level of play?

Keim: Yeah, this one sometimes defies rational thinking. I’m guessing this rivalry from a fan’s perspective is more one-sided to the Washington, D.C., area. Players say they hear a lot about the need to beat Dallas after they sign here or when they meet fans in the offseason. I mean, it’s a constant topic they hear about when out in public. So the importance of beating them is ingrained. However, I also think it’s about how teams match up. And as inconsistent as the Redskins’ defense has been of late, it's always matched up well against that offense. The Redskins might lose, but they always play better than anticipated (it seems). Dallas’ line had enough holes that the Redskins' front could expose, whether one-on-one or with stunts (which worked well in 2012). That line is, um, slightly better now it appears. Still, the combination of that matchup and the ability to make a few plays on offense -- remember Santana Moss? -- allowed them to compete more than anticipated in some games.

Are you sold on the Cowboys’ defense? If so, why? What concerns do you have about the team overall as we near the second half of the season?

Archer: I’m not renting on the defense, but I’m not sure I’m buying, either. They don’t rush the passer well. They can have spotty moments. I just don’t know if they can handle the burden when the offense has a down game and the offense will have a down game or two. It happens to every team. But they have far surpassed the expectations I had in camp (see previous answer). Rod Marinelli is doing a great job of using the players’ strengths. It’s not that he is really flexible with what he does. He’s just really basic with what he does and that allows the players to play fast. McClain has been a revelation but so has Justin Durant. He has more tackles in five games than he had in 10 games last year. Orlando Scandrick has played at a high level. Tyrone Crawford has fit in nicely as the 3-technique, which has made Henry Melton a situational player. They haven’t missed Morris Claiborne at all. But the biggest concern is the pass rush. They have seven sacks in seven games. DeMarcus Ware has seven in Denver. They can’t get to the quarterback and they’re not a big blitz team, although Marinelli has done it more than he has in the past. They’re counting on rookie DeMarcus Lawrence to make a huge impact when he comes back from short-term injured reserve Nov. 2. It’s a lot to put on a second-rounder but they really don’t have any choice at this time.