After four weeks the Cowboys are 2-2 and still in first place in the NFC East. As we do every week, we review, preview, comment and tell you about the Cowboys in our weekly Beat Writers Report.
Bruce Carter stood on the sidelines for 18 consecutive defensive snaps in the second half before returning to the field with 2:42 to play in the fourth quarter. Carter's absence was explained in different ways on Sunday: Poor play, heat related issues and a coach's decision. Coach Jason Garrett added to the drama Monday when he said Carter sat because of a sore foot. Asked about the heat (it was 80 degrees at kickoff with a humidity of 27 percent with a slight wind) Garrett said that wasn't an issue. Defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin said it was after the game. We're not sure why the Cowboys can't get their stories straight regarding Carter's absence but one thing is clear: he didn't have a good game. Carter had good coverage on a touchdown pass to Danny Woodhead, but quarterback Philip Rivers made a perfect throw over Carter's outstretched arm for the touchdown. On Woodhead's 13-yard touchdown reception, a wheel route, Carter just lunged at him and then took off. It was poor technique by the linebacker who can play better. One other play of note, regarding Carter, was a run where he stopped Ryan Mathews at the line of scrimmage, but couldn't hold him, allowing a seven-yard gain. Garrett wouldn't commit to Carter's status on the nickle defense, Ernie Sims is there, so there appears to be more changes coming.
Left tackle Tyron Smith lost his left shoe in the middle stages of the fourth quarter. Smith came out for two plays and this is where Jermey Parnell took over. His first snap was OK, as Tony Romo completed a nine-yard reception to Terrance Williams. But the second snap, Parnell is flagged for holding. Smith got his shoe on and returned and Parnell watched the rest of the afternoon. Garrett talks plenty about players taking advantage of opportunities when presented and here Parnell got one only to struggle. The Cowboys are still high on him, but with security in Smith at left tackle and Doug Free at right tackle, there has to be some scratching of heads about the future of Parnell. He played well late last season in a platoon with Free, but struggled with his health in training camp and once he became healthy has just been OK.
Two of the smallest and fastest players on the team, Lance Dunbar and Cole Beasley, played a combined 34 snaps Sunday. Beasley caught all three passes thrown his way for 16 yards and Dunbar gained seven yards on a pitch play with his only touch. Beasley is a good slot receiver who finds opens spots in the defense and uses his speed as an excellent yards-after-catch player. Dunbar can do the same, as evident by his work in training camp and in games. The negatives for Dunbar are ball protection, he fumbled once and his size, 5-8, makes it hard to trust him on pass protection, yet it's all about how he sets his feet. I think the Cowboys should get the ball more to these two players given how defenses are trying to take Jason Witten and Dez Bryant out with double-teams. DeMarco Murray is a solid running back but Dunbar should get more opportunities to make plays in the short passing game because he makes defenders miss. Beasley does the same thing because he gets into his routes quick and that's a positive for Romo who wants to get rid of the ball in less than two seconds.
Bryant had six catches for 81 yards and two touchdowns in the loss. In the second half, the Cowboys got away from him. Tight coverage and shading a safety near him were part of the reasons. Bryant is such a powerful player in tight quarters that by the time he gets open, Romo has moved on with his reads. In the first quarter of games, Bryant has seven receptions for 109 yards and two touchdowns. Romo targeted him a team-leading 10 times in the opening quarter. In the fourth quarter, Bryant has been targeted nine times and has five catches for 43 yards with no touchdowns. Witten (13) and Murray (7) have been targeted more in the final quarter than Bryant. The Cowboys best offensive player is Bryant and the team has to find ways to get him open in the fourth quarter especially if they're trailing in games which was the case in losses to Kansas City and San Diego.
Notes: Jerry Jones said Tuesday on KRLD-FM he wanted to see Gavin Escobar on the field more against the Chargers but understood why. Escobar, who got two offensive snaps, isn't a very good blocker and the Cowboys need him to improve in this area. ... Chargers targeted cornerback Brandon Carr twice on Sunday and completed one pass for 19 yards. ... Remember when everybody wanted Murray benched for Phillip Tanner or Joseph Randle or even Dunbar? Guess who's the third-leading rusher in the NFL? Murray has 356 yards. ... In case you forgot, Denver's Peyton Manning, whom the Cowboys meet this week, is 2-0 against Monte Kiffin and 1-0 against Rod Marinelli. In two of the victories, Manning needed a fourth quarter comeback to win.