Dallas Cowboys: Cam Newton

Chat recap: When will Cowboys go after QB?

April, 18, 2014
Apr 18
IRVING, Texas -- We had another solid chat on Wednesday with a lot of draft questions.

We talked about trading up (I don’t see it happening), selecting Anthony Barr or Kony Ealy if both are available at No. 16 (Barr), taking a chance on Dominique Easley, the extra time leading up to the draft (hate it) and my all-time favorite Cowboy.

If you want to read the whole chat, click here.

I was also asked about drafting a quarterback.

R Lank, Md.: With romo 1 bad hit, and he's finished along with the uncertainty of orton why not draft a decent qb. at romo's age along with his injuries would u say that a high risk paying him that kind of money. I mean like u and (Jacques) said why pay age?

Todd Archer: When it comes to quarterbacks and left tackles, paying age doesn't seem as problematic for a lot of teams. I understand what you're saying about drafting a quarterback, but I don't see them going after a guy in the first two rounds. Maybe the third but more likely fourth or fifth. When you're picking a guy there, it's a projection more than a known commodity. Honestly, I think when Romo is done, whenever that is, the Cowboys will draft his replacement the following year and go with the guy.

Let me go a little deeper. For the last three or four years this has been a common question either because fans want the Cowboys to move on from Tony Romo or start the process of finding his replacement before it’s too late.

I’ve been a fan of selecting a quarterback every year, similar to the way Ron Wolf worked the draft with the Green Bay Packers. Clearly the Cowboys don’t share that belief, and I’ve just now come to the realization that when Romo’s career is over, then they will go ahead and find their next starter.

They don’t believe it makes sense to draft a quarterback, give him time to develop and then hand him the keys, say, the way the Packers did with Aaron Rodgers when they decided to move on from Brett Favre. It’s a risky strategy, but it’s what the Cowboys did after Troy Aikman retired.

They drafted Quincy Carter in the second round, surprisingly, and he won the job. They cut Tony Banks in camp so as there was no doubt Carter would be the guy. It didn’t work, although Carter did help the Cowboys to the playoffs in 2003.

Finding the next franchise quarterback took time for the Cowboys, and they got lucky in Romo. They looked to baseball and got Carter, Chad Hutchinson and Drew Henson. They looked at vets like Vinny Testaverde and Drew Bledsoe.

If you look at quarterbacks now, teams draft them and play them. Andy Dalton was a Day 1 starter with the Cincinnati Bengals after he was picked in the second round. Russell Wilson won the starting job with the Seattle Seahawks as a third round pick. Cam Newton, Sam Bradford, Matthew Stafford and Andrew Luck were No. 1 picks and starters from the beginning.

Ryan Tannehill (Miami Dolphins), Robert Griffin III (Washington Redskins), E.J. Manuel (Buffalo Bills), Geno Smith (New York Jets) and Matt Ryan (Atlanta Falcons) have been walk-in starters.

So whenever Romo is done – two, three or four years from now – that’s when I think the Cowboys go all in for a quarterback in the draft. And if (remember it’s still an if) that is the case, then there is a strong argument to take another offensive lineman at No. 16 next month.

With Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick and Offensive Lineman X, the Cowboys would have three first-round picks to protect an early-round quarterback. That would be a good way to break in a young quarterback. He would not be under siege behind a bad line.

Will this happen? Who knows, but it’s what I think could be the case.

Is Tony Romo an average quarterback?

May, 26, 2013
Last week, Tony Romo said 8-8 is average. He said he's not an average quarterback.

Romo's new $108 million deal would indicate he's paid like an elite quarterback.

Todd Archer joins Fitzsimmons & Durrett to discuss Cowboys OTAs, Travis Frederick, Tony Romo, DeMarco Murray and more.

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Romo isn't an average quarterback, yet the last two seasons, Romo has finished 16-16. When you compare him to other quarterbacks in the NFL, Romo has thrown for 9,087 yards the last two seasons, fourth most in the NFL. Drew Brees leads NFL quarterbacks with 10,653 yards over the same time span. Romo's 59 touchdowns are the sixth-most in the league while Brees has thrown 89, tops in the league, and Aaron Rodgers has thrown 84 to come up second. When you get to interceptions, Romo was picked off 29 times the last two seasons, tied for the ninth-most in the NFL with Cam Newton and Andy Dalton.

Romo's 95.8 passer rating is the seventh-best in the league. Rodgers has a 114.9 to lead the league.

We give you these numbers to say Romo is near equal footing with his peers in terms of touchdowns, yards, etc. When it comes to wins and losses, Romo isn't there. He doesn't have the playoff success of Eli Manning, Tom Brady, Brees and now Joe Flacco. Yet, Romo should be considered more than an average quarterback.

He's a good quarterback.

What makes you an elite quarterback?

Super Bowls.

Is Flacco one because he won a Super Bowl?

Atlanta's Matt Ryan has thrown 61 touchdowns the last two seasons, tied for fourth-most in the NFL and picked up his first playoff win last year. Is Ryan elite? Is he better than Romo?

Philip Rivers of the San Diego Chargers is a quarterback I like comparing to Romo. He is 3-4 in the postseason, yet some believe it's time to move on from Rivers.

Unlike Rivers, Romo's status is secure for the long-term. How Romo leads his team into the playoffs will be judged more than how many touchdowns, interceptions or the number of times he's been sacked will be.

Romo has to produce playoff victories.

Missing the playoffs a third consecutive season won't be and shouldn't be tolerated by fan base starving for a deep playoff run. Romo understands this and has said it in the past.

Now he just has to do it, if he can.

Monte Kiffin’s worst nightmare came true: He’ll have to face Chip Kelly’s offense twice per season now.

Kelly, who was hired Wednesday as the Philadelphia Eagles' head coach, schooled the 72-year-old Kiffin in the college game. Kelly’s Oregon offenses averaged 601 yards and 50 points against Kiffin’s USC defenses, with the Ducks winning two of those three games.

Kiffin simply never figured out how to stop Kelly’s zone-read-intensive spread offense. The most humiliating USC-Oregon matchup for Kiffin was the last time they met, when the Ducks rolled up 730 yards in a 62-51 Oregon win in November.

Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota had 400 total yards in that game, completing 20-of-23 passes for 304 yards and four touchdowns and rushing for 96 yards on 15 carries. Oregon running back Kenjon Barner rushed for 321 yards and five touchdowns on 38 carries.

Sure, the Cowboys have a heck of a lot better defensive personnel than USC did. But you don’t reckon that LeSean McCoy, DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin, among other Philadelphia offensive players, would look pretty good in those wild Oregon uniforms?

Oh, and Oregon isn’t the only zone-read spread team that lit up Kiffin’s defense last season. Unranked Arizona racked up 588 yards in a 39-36 upset over USC, when the Wildcats had a 350-yard passer, a 250-yard receiver and two 100-yard rushers. The Trojans weren’t at a talent disadvantage in that game.

It remains to be seen how much zone read the Eagles will run under Kelly. That will likely be determined in large part by whether he keeps Michael Vick – and whether Vick can stay healthy – or goes with Nick Foles as quarterback.

There’s little doubt, however, that the Eagles will feature a fast-paced offense. The Patriots, who picked Kelly’s brain and borrowed heavily from his system, had the NFL’s fastest average snap time at 24.9 seconds last season, according to ESPN Stats and Information. Oregon’s average snap time last season was 20.9 seconds.

Even if the Eagles don’t run much zone read, the Cowboys better get ready for it.

It’s a staple for the team they’re chasing in the NFC East, the Washington Redskins, although Robert Griffin III’s serious knee injury could certainly slow that down. Same with the Carolina Panthers and Cam Newton. The Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers, a couple of teams that look like contenders for years to come, also run some zone read with electrifying young quarterbacks Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick. And there are more of those dynamic dual-threat quarterbacks coming up through the college ranks.

The NFL game has changed since Kiffin’s legendary tenure with Tampa Bay. Unfortunately for him, it’s starting to look a lot like those Pac-12 teams that gave him so many problems.

Final Word: NFC East

December, 8, 2012
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 14:

Rookies making history. The Washington Redskins are the first team in NFL history to feature both a 2,000-yard rookie passer (Robert Griffin III) and a 1,000-yard rookie rusher (Alfred Morris). Griffin is poised to join Morris as a 1,000-yard rusher if he can average 71.5 rushing yards per game the rest of the way. Griffin already is just the fourth player in league history to pass for at least 2,500 yards and rush for at least 700 yards in a single season, joining Cam Newton (2011), Michael Vick (2002) and Randall Cunningham (1990). The Redskins are 6-6 and pushing for a playoff spot, and the success or failure of the rookie engines of their offense over the final four games could determine whether they can get in.

[+] EnlargeAlfred Morris
Kim Klement/US PresswireRookie running back Alfred Morris has rushed for 1,106 yards and six touchdowns this season.
Outside the numbers. Per ESPN Stats & Information, the top two wide receivers in the NFL this season on passes thrown outside the painted numbers are the Dallas Cowboys' Dez Bryant and the Cincinnati Bengals' A.J. Green, who will be on the same field Sunday in Cincinnati. Green leads the NFL with 49 receptions and eight touchdowns on such throws, and is averaging 13.8 yards per reception outside the numbers. Bryant has 42 catches and six touchdowns, and is averaging 14 yards per reception on throws outside the numbers. These two are going to be a nightmare for the opposing cornerbacks in this game if they're trying to cover them man-to-man.

Flipping the rookie script? Philadelphia Eagles rookie running back Bryce Brown has been more impressive since taking over for concussed starter LeSean McCoy than rookie quarterback Nick Foles has been filling in for concussed starter Vick. But that could change this week in Tampa Bay. The Buccaneers are allowing just 82.3 yards per game on the ground this season, the lowest figure in the NFL. They are allowing an NFL-high 309.4 yards per game through the air, which could turn out to be historically bad. No team in NFL history has allowed an average of 300 or more passing yards per game over a full season. So Foles has a chance for his best game yet, while Brown is likely to find the going tougher this week.

Not going to be a Brees. New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees is 4-0 with 11 touchdown passes and no interceptions in his four career games against the New York Giants, who host the Saints on Sunday in New Jersey. ESPN Stats & Info tells me the 11 touchdowns are tied for the most any player has had against a team that has not intercepted him. Drew Bledsoe had 11 touchdown passes and no interceptions in his career against the Cardinals. Of course, the Giants could be catching Brees at the right time. He threw five interceptions and no touchdowns in Week 13 against the Falcons in Atlanta. It broke a league-record streak of 54 consecutive games in which Brees had thrown at least one touchdown pass.

On the ground. Neither the Saints nor the Giants have been very good at stopping opposing runners in the backfield. New Orleans is allowing an average of 3.4 yards per rush before initial contact, which is the second-highest figure in the league, while New York's 3.2 yards allowed per rush before initial contact is third worst in the league. So Ahmad Bradshaw and whichever Saints running backs are active this week could have an easier time than usual making it to at least the line of scrimmage.

Tony Romo could have a big game Sunday

November, 28, 2012
In spite of throwing four touchdown passes in his nationally televised victory over the Dallas Cowboys on Thanksgiving, Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III did not win the NFC Offensive Player of the Week award for the second week in a row. That honor went instead to Carolina quarterback Cam Newton, who threw two touchdown passes and ran for two more touchdowns against the Philadelphia Eagles on Monday night.

Ben and Skin talk about the five guys you can trust the most and the least in Dallas-Fort Worth sports.

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Redskins fans are annoyed and think their guy should have won, but the fact is it was close and both performances were award-worthy, and in the end it doesn't really matter all that much. But I wanted to address it because of the critical thing Newton's Week 12 performance had in common with Griffin's award-winning Week 11 performance -- namely, that each came in a game against the Eagles. I think this is a strong omen in favor of Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, who gets to face the Eagles on Sunday night this week.

In "The Wedding Singer," Billy Idol tells an airplane full of people that, "We let our first-class passengers do pretty much anything they want." This is the policy the Eagles have been applying to opposing quarterbacks in recent weeks. In the five games since the Eagles fired defensive coordinator Juan Castillo and replaced him with secondary coach Todd Bowles, the Eagles' defense has been a candy store shopping spree for quarterbacks. Reuben Frank offers these frightening numbers in a column suggesting that the entire Philadelphia secondary be benched:
Five weeks in a row now, a quarterback has done this against the Eagles: Complete at least 64 percent of his passes, throw two or more touchdowns, throw zero interceptions and pass for 200 yards.

Five weeks in a row now, a quarterback has had a passer rating of 120 or higher against the Eagles.

Only one other NFL team in history – the 1984 Vikings – can claim those nightmarish accomplishments.

For context, the '84 Vikings were also 3-8 after 11 games. They lost their final five games to finish 3-13 in a season in which they allowed a staggering 484 points (the Eagles are on pace to give up "only" 410) and then selected defensive end Chris Doleman with the No. 4 pick in the 1985 draft. But again, I digress.

Point is, if you have Romo on your fantasy team and you're debating between him and some other quarterback this week, it might not be a bad idea to start him. At this point, the bar has been set. Anything less than an NFC Offensive Player of the Week-level performance against the Eagles almost has to qualify as a disappointment.

Look back: Time for more hurry-up from Cowboys?

November, 6, 2012

IRVING, Texas – Following Sunday’s game at Atlanta, I wrote that it is time for Jason Garrett to cede some control of the offense to Tony Romo, especially given how well the Cowboys operated on their lone touchdown drive of the game.

On Monday, Garrett was asked if the Cowboys will incorporate more hurry-up in the future.

“That’s an interesting question,” Garrett said. “I think there are some game situations that have come into play in the last couple of weeks. We’ve been down. In the case of (Sunday) night’s game, we were down two scores with seven minutes to go. So we have to plan a little more of a hurry-up mode, whether we’re in the huddle, huddling quickly or getting to the line of scrimmage and just throwing the football more than we had throughout the rest of the ball game. We’ve been able to throw the ball fairly well around here, and when we get in that mode and we throw it a lot we’ve been able to move it. We do have to factor in the fact that the defenses are playing a little bit differently based on what the score is and what the game situation is. To say we’re going to start the game like that, it’s unrealistic to think the defense would play the same way.”

The Cowboys went to their hurry-up offense on their eighth drive of the game and Romo completed six straight passes for 78 yards and a touchdown. The Falcons brought four-man pressure on every snap. That was the predominant pass rush used by the Falcons throughout the game. They used four-man pressures on 19 pass plays. They brought five guys six times, six guys twice and seven defenders once.

They didn’t play wildly softer with a two-score lead than they had earlier in the game. Only once in the second half did coordinator Mike Nolan bring five guys. On the final drive Nolan used a three-man rush on every play, staying back in coverage to prevent any chances of a long throw.

Quite simply, the Cowboys are at their best when they use 11 personnel and spread the field.

** Remember that press coverage that worked so well against Eli Manning and the New York Giants two weeks ago? The Cowboys evidently didn’t.

They played across-the-board press coverage on 10 snaps against Atlanta after doing it 25 times against the Giants. They played off 38 times and half-press 14 times. The Cowboys used more zone against the Falcons, and Roddy White killed them. The Cowboys chose not to flip the corners when the Falcons lined their wideouts up on the same field. It gave White a free release and he was able to work the middle of the field with ease.

Rob Ryan did not employ much pressure either. He brought five pass-rushers three times in the game and a sixth once. The three sacks were a result of four-man pressure. Four times the Cowboys rushed three (in one case that was a late rush from Anthony Spencer, who was sprinting on the field as the ball was snapped). They gave up two first downs on those plays.

The only time Ryan brought six players came on the Falcons’ final drive with Danny McCray on a delayed blitz. Ryan’s pass was incomplete, but Orlando Scandrick was correctly called for holding to give Atlanta a first down.

** Big plays killed the defense.

On Julio Jones’ 48-yard grab, rookie cornerback Morris Claiborne jammed him at the line with a five-man pass rush that didn’t get to Matt Ryan. Jones was able to create separation with Claiborne inside and made the catch.

Claiborne made a bad gamble on a crossing route to White that ended up in a big run after catch. He swiped at Ryan’s pass and missed with his left hand. Had he used his right hand maybe he gets his hand on it. Even if he didn’t, he could’ve attempted to trip up White with his left hand.

Claiborne nearly came up with a huge interception on a throw from Ryan to White on the Falcons' final drive. White could have been flagged for interference on the play because he tugged the rookie’s arm as the ball was coming to him. Claiborne used great technique on that long fade down the sideline.

** Michael Turner’s 43-yard run was the longest allowed by the Cowboys this season. How did it happen?

Rob Ryan took the blame for a poor call that had DeMarcus Ware and Jason Hatcher playing a game that took Ware inside. That helped the Falcons seal the edge with Hatcher unable to get outside. White smothered safety Gerald Sensabaugh off the slot to give Turner the room to break the long one. Ernie Sims was late getting outside and McCray missed Turner at the Dallas 45.

Against Carolina, Ryan had Ware and Spencer play a similar game and it allowed quarterback Cam Newton to break a long run to the outside.

** Little things matter.

Over the years teams have tried to run weak-side tosses against the Cowboys and have done so with little success because of Ware. Jones, however, got by Ware Sunday on that final drive. Ware did a great job reading the play with Jones lined up in the backfield, but the receiver made a hard fake to the inside to get Ware off balance for an instant to gain the corner.

How does Josh Brent not recover the fumble after a Ware sack of Ryan? Instead of first down at the Dallas 48 they take over a few plays later at their 3 because of a punt.

How does Phillip Tanner not get a first down on that drive? The play was blocked well enough to get a yard, but Tanner ran into the back of fullback Lawrence Vickers. Jason Witten, John Phillips and Doug Free all won to a good enough degree on their blocks for Tanner to get a yard. Poor vision on the play by the back.

Prior to that play, however, I think the Cowboys might have missed an opportunity for a replay challenge. Cole Beasley’s catch was good for eight yards, but it looked like the officials robbed him of a ninth, which would’ve been a first down. He appeared to bounce on the 50.

Dan Bailey has missed two field goals this season, from 51 and 54 yards. Both have come from the left hash mark. The miss at Baltimore from 51 might have had some help from the wind. The miss Sunday from 54 obviously had no wind issue, but there can be a tendency to pull the ball on longer kicks.

Final Word: NFC East

November, 3, 2012
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 9:

[+] EnlargeRobert Griffin III
Paul Frederiksen/US PresswireRobert Griffin III is averaging nearly five yards per carry this season on designed-run plays.
Dual-threat QBs: The Washington Redskins' Robert Griffin III has more carries on designed-run plays than any other quarterback in the league this year. According to ESPN Stats & Information's Next Level numbers, Griffin has 41 designed-run plays, averaging 4.7 yards per carry. The Carolina Panthers' Cam Newton is second in the league in designed-run plays for quarterbacks. Carolina is Washington's opponent on Sunday. Newton has 34 designed-run plays this year, averaging 5.4 yards per carry (and outdoing Griffin). Griffin has 29 other rushing attempts, and Newton has 17.

Keep your eye on the ball: The New York Giants lead the NFL this year with 24 takeaways, the most by a team through its first eight games of a season since the 2009 Saints. The Giants this week will host the Pittsburgh Steelers, who have turned the ball over just six times this season, tied with the Houston Texans for the lowest number of turnovers in the league. Something's got to give!

Getting to Big Ben: The Giants have shown major improvement in their four-man pass rush in recent weeks. Over their first five games, they were averaging a sack every 39.3 drop-backs when sending four or fewer pass-rushers. But in their past three games, the Giants are recording a sack every 12.2 drop-backs when sending four or fewer. Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is notoriously difficult to sack because he excels at dodging the rush and extending plays, so the Giants may focus more this week on containing him. And if they do so by pressuring him with their front four, as they prefer to do, it will put more pressure on their coverage units to stay with the receivers longer than usual.

Slaying the unbeatens: Sunday night's game in Atlanta features the Dallas Cowboys against the 7-0 Falcons; it will be the fourth game the Cowboys have played since 1991 against an opponent that was 7-0 or better. The Cowboys are 3-0 in those games since '91, though if the Falcons lose they may find a silver lining. Each of those other three teams went on to win the Super Bowl.

Offensive opportunity: The Philadelphia Eagles' offense has been sluggish this year. Behind a struggling offensive line that's missing three starters, quarterback Michael Vick has been sacked or put under duress on 32.5 percent of his drop-backs this year (according to ESPN Stats & Information), the highest percentage in the league. And running back LeSean McCoy has been hit in the backfield on 24.4 percent of his rushing attempts, the highest rate in the league. However, Monday night's game in New Orleans offers the Eagles their best chance of the year to get the offense right. The 2-5 Saints are the first team in NFL history to allow at least 400 yards of offense in seven straight games; plus, they've allowed 3,323 yards, the most ever in the first seven games of an NFL season.

Morris Claiborne welcomes Eli Manning

October, 27, 2012
IRVING, Texas -- Rookie cornerback Morris Claiborne remembers his first NFL game.

He was nervous, but a good kind of nervous before facing the New York Giants on the road.

Giants quarterback Eli Manning targeted Claiborne four times and completed all of those passes for 38 yards in the Cowboys' 24-17 victory.

"I was just ready to play," he said. "I was ready to get the game going, just get all the butterflies out and I hate waiting and I just wanted to get it on."

Claiborne grabbed his first interception of the season in last week's 19-14 win over Carolina, picking off a Cam Newton pass in the end zone, and he was targeted a season-high eight times. In the past three weeks, Claiborne has been targeted 16 times and has allowed three touchdowns.

Overall, quarterbacks have directed passes 25 his way this season, three fewer than veteran corner Brandon Carr (28).

"I think they’re coming, what quarterback wouldn't go at a rookie?" Claiborne said. "If I was a quarterback, I would go at me and I just have to continue to play the way I've been playing and continue to step up and continue to get better each and every week."

Claiborne is playing well for a turnover-challenged team. He's tied for the team lead with three pass breakups and is dealing with some health issues. Claiborne sprained a knee in training camp and returned in time for the season opener. But he tweaked the knee late in the first half of the Cowboys' 31-29 loss at Baltimore on Oct. 14.

Claiborne is also playing with a brace over his surgically repaired left wrist, but that doesn't give him too much trouble.

"I'm used to play like that," Claiborne said, regarding getting nicked up. "I played the whole season [at LSU] with torn ligaments [in my wrist] and a high ankle sprain, but [I've] been playing through injures since I was in high school."

Mike Jenkins should get more snaps

October, 26, 2012
IRVING, Texas -- Last week at Carolina, Cowboys cornerback Mike Jenkins got one snap because defensive coordinator Rob Ryan wanted more linebackers and safeties on the field to contend with quarterback Cam Newton and his option-style offense.

The New York Giants come to Cowboys Stadium on Sunday, and Jenkins is expected to play more because of what quarterback Eli Manning can do.

He's completed passes to 12 different wide receivers this season and his receivers have picked up 100 receiving yards at least six times.

So using Jenkins more in coverage if the Giants go three and four wide will be important.

"We like to get Jenks out there. He's played well for us," coach Jason Garrett said Friday morning. "The combination of him having a little bit of a shoulder injury going into (the Carolina game) and playing a team that ran the ball so much particularly with their quarterback, we felt like we wanted to play with some different packages. We like to get him out there cause he's a good football player and he's played well for us."

Sean Lee is not replaceable

October, 23, 2012
The Dallas Cowboys are bracing for rotten news on inside linebacker Sean Lee, who as Todd Archer reports could need season-ending surgery on his right big toe. Lee injured the toe in the third quarter of Sunday's victory over the Panthers in Carolina and said after the game that he expected to be fine. But he had an MRI on Monday, and it sounds as though the results were quite discouraging.

As Todd points out, there are plenty of people on the Cowboys' roster who can play linebacker:
Dan Connor would replace Lee in the starting lineup, and he earned praise from coach Jason Garrett for his work against the Panthers, which included a third-down stop of Cam Newton and a pass deflection, after taking over for Lee. Second-year linebacker Bruce Carter would become the defensive signal caller. The Cowboys have Orie Lemon and Alex Albright as backup inside linebackers on the 53-man roster but could look to add another inside linebacker.

However, in spite of the depth the Cowboys have at the position, Lee is not a replaceable player for them. Not only is he their defensive captain and one of their most important leaders, he has played consistently better this year than has any other player on their defense, including superstar outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware and either of their two new and very talented cornerbacks. Lee's instincts and playmaking ability cannot be replicated by players like Carter or Connor, no matter how capable they are.

When you've watched the Cowboys' defense this year, you've generally been impressed. And I believe they'll continue to cover receivers well with Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne, continue to rush the passer well with Ware and Jason Hatcher and continue to defend the run capably with the help of Anthony Spencer. They have more good players on defense at this point than they do on offense, and I think they will still play fairly good defense the rest of the way.

But Lee has been playing at a transcendent, superstar-type level -- one of the absolute best defensive playmakers at any position on any team in the league this year. The closest comparison of which I keep thinking is the Steelers' Troy Polamalu in his prime -- the way he was always able to be around the ball, whether it was due to speed, instincts, pre-snap positioning or a combination of everything. That's what Lee was delivering this year -- a player who at times made it look as though the Cowboys were playing with an extra man on defense. They simply don't have anyone else on the roster who can play football the way Lee has been playing it. Few teams, if any, do.

Random Thoughts: Three seconds with Tony Romo

October, 23, 2012
Random Thoughts after a review of the Cowboys' thrilling 19-14 victory over the Carolina Panthers on Sunday:

1. We talk all the time about how fast quarterbacks get rid of the ball. There was a debate about this in Philadelphia, where quarterback Michael Vick seemingly was holding onto the ball too long, leading to sacks. Sunday at Carolina, Tony Romo got rid of the ball on an average of three seconds. If he held it longer than that, he moved up in the pocket or scrambled out of trouble. We're not saying the Panthers had a tremendous pass rush, but it's worth noting how fast Romo got rid of the ball and how the Cowboys' receivers helped him by getting open. On Romo's 26-yard touchdown pass to Miles Austin, he held the ball for three seconds before throwing the fade to the end zone.

2. It seems Kevin Ogletree, the Cowboys No. 3 receiver, just can't elevate his game. He finished with four catches for 27 yards, but he should have had a bigger impact. He dropped an easy pass in the third quarter on a leaping attempt. Then he ran the wrong route when Romo threw a back shoulder fade pass. You have to question how long the Cowboys will stick with Ogletree as the No. 3 receiver when they have Dwayne Harris, Andre Holmes and Cole Beasley waiting for playing time.

3. After the game, we gave Morris Claiborne our "Stock Up" designation for his interception and knockdown of a key fourth-down pass. But a closer look reveals Claiborne struggled a little bit. He gave up a few pass plays, including on a third-and-long near-completion where Louis Murphy dropped the ball near the sidelines in the third quarter. Claiborne also slowed down on Brandon LaFell's 5-yard touchdown reception. Claiborne followed him across the field and, when LaFell made the catch, Claiborne slowed up, thinking he might run into Brandon Carr, who was at the goal line. Claiborne perhaps should have dove into LaFell.

ESPN NFL analyst Ed Werder says he is losing confidence in Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett.

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4. The Cowboys had 85 total rushing yards -- good for just 2.7 yards per carry -- but it was a hard and physical 85 yards. Phillip Tanner and Felix Jones (combined for 74 yards) made defenders miss and weren't afraid of contact. It's easy to second-guess running backs and whether or not they make the right decisions on the field. Such was the case with Tanner's run on that key third-down play with 3:30 to go. Should Tanner have cut back outside? The same could be made of Jones, who made a point of running inside on one off-tackle run for four yards instead of taking it outside. Sometimes we don't know what the runner sees or what he's told to do.

5. We can say this every week, but Miles Austin is the Cowboys' best receiver. The Cowboys just need to focus on getting him the ball more often. It was nice to see Carolina force feed the ball to Steve Smith -- he was targeted nine times, and caught seven passes for 83 yards. Austin was also targeted nine times, catching five, including one that resulted in a fumble. But Austin needs more touches. Get him loose on slants and then try to stretch the defense with deep throws. Maybe coach Jason Garrett is afraid to overuse Austin because of his seemingly fragile hamstrings. But if the Cowboys are going to excel in their passing attack, getting Austin open in various ways helps.

Notes: The defensive line had its best game of the season Sunday, considering they were playing an option quarterback. ... Inside linebacker Dan Connor took over for Sean Lee and played weak side linebacker in the 3-4. He hadn't played that spot before in the NFL. He's always been the middle linebacker in the 4-3. ... As the season has progressed, nose tackle Josh Brent has gotten better. Sunday he had one tackle, but he also had a quarterback hit and clogged the middle well in the second half to slow up Cam Newton.
Play: Tony Romo overthrows Miles Austin
Situation: First-and-9
Time: 48 seconds left in first quarter
Score: Tied, 0-0
Taylor's Take: This offense struggles so much to score touchdowns instead of field goals that Romo simply can't miss what should've been his easiest TD pass of the season. Austin was wide open. It's disheartening when an 18-play, 81-yard drive that lasts 10:10 ends with a field goal.

Play: Cam Newton incompletion
Situation: First-and-10
Time: 8:54 left, fourth quarter
Score: Carolina, 14-13
Taylor's Take: If the 5-9, 245-pound fullback was a couple of inches taller, the Cowboys might be talking about a 2-4 start this week. Tolbert circled out of the backfield and split linebackers Dan Connor and Bruce Carter as he sprinted down the left hashmark, but Newton overthrew him. Gerald Sensabaugh was the only player between Tolbert and the goalline.

Play: Tony Romo scrambles for 10 yards
Situation: First-and-10 at Carolina 41
Time:6:04 left, fourth quarter
Score:Carolina, 14-13
Taylor's Take: Carolina pressured Romo heavily, which is why he scrambled. If he had been given just a little time to survey the field, he would've seen Jason Witten all alone in the middle of the field. The first down was good; a TD would've been better.

Play: Morris Claiborne pass deflection
Situation: Fourth-and-11
Time: 2:45 left, fourth quarter
Score: Dallas, 16-14
Taylor's Take: The Cowboys made Claiborne the first defensive player selected in the draft because he was the best defensive player in college football with a reputation as a playmaker. Instead of playing soft on fourth down, Claiborne was aggressive and ran through Carolina receiver Louis Murphy. Claiborne should've been called for interference, but since he wasn't the play was terrific.

Play: Sean Lee pass deflection
Situation: Third-and-16
Time: 9:39 left, first quarter
Score: Tied, 0-0
Taylor's Take: Lee made one of the best plays you'll see this season. Louis Murphy had caught the ball and was pulling it into his body, when a diving Lee knocked it out of his hands. Allowing a one-win team to convert third-and-16 could've easily led to Carolina scoring first and creating momentum.

Look Back: Third-and-9 call was there

October, 23, 2012
IRVING, Texas -- Jason Garrett’s third-and-9 call before that ultimately led to Dan Bailey’s go-ahead field goal with 3:25 to play will be debated for some time.

In this week’s A Look Back, Garrett’s call actually should have worked. Carolina had six players in the box and was playing shell coverage, as it predicted. Garrett went with a quick trap to free Phillip Tanner for a nice gain and if Tanner made a simple read the Cowboys might have had a touchdown but definitely would have had a first down.

With guard Mackenzy Bernadeau pulling and Tyron Smith and Miles Austin winning on their blocks, Tanner ran away from an opening to his left and cut back into linebacker Thomas Davis. As Garrett said Monday you don’t want to quibble with a runner’s in-game decision making, but if Tanner simply looked to his left there was nothing but green grass ahead of him.

That’s what makes a call great and a call questioned. For the record, I didn’t really like the call.

** That Garrett ran it 28 times (not including three Tony Romo scrambles) was a good thing. He was persistent. Looking back at the tape, there were plenty of opportunities for Felix Jones and Tanner to make more than they got. Now, it wasn’t great, but Jones left a lot of yards on the field. Twice he was tripped up as he was about to bust through the line and on one stretch play he was slow to the edge.

The best run of the day came on a delay to the right in which Doug Free sealed the edge and Bernadeau reached the second level. Jones got 9 yards on the run. It was an effective run but the Cowboys did not come back to it again in the game. Strange.

** When the Panthers brought five or more rushers, Romo completed 8 of 10 passes. Two of them came to Miles Austin down the seam. On the first catch, Austin fumbled. On the second Austin picked up 36 yards, setting up his touchdown. The Panthers rushed four defenders 20 times and Romo was 13 of 20. Against three-man pressures, he was 3-of-4 for a touchdown.

** On to the defense: Rob Ryan brought five-man or more pressure 12 times. One time it led to the half sack by DeMarcus Ware and Jason Hatcher. One time it led to Morris Claiborne’s pick after pressure from Josh Brent.

** Against Baltimore, the Cowboys played full press eight times. They played it even less against Carolina (just five times). They played half press 26 times and most of the time Claiborne played off coverage and Brandon Carr played press. Carr played press coverage on 26 snaps for the game.

** In the first half, Cam Newton ran for 59 yards on three carries. Two were scrambles, one was a called play. Newton’s 24-yard scramble came as a result of an end tackle game between Ware and Hatcher. Ware looped inside and forced the pressure inside but that left a hole outside and Hatcher could not get the edge in time to slow down Newton. On his 20-yard option run, Ware took Jonathan Stewart on the dive, giving Newton the ability to get the edge. Jordan Gross hemmed Sean Lee and the run was really easy. Newton’s 15-yard run came after Anthony Spencer missed a would-be sack. I can’t say the Cowboys made great adjustments on Newton’s ability to escape in the second half because the Panthers never really gave Newton the option to move around much. But a key play was a third-and-1 stop made by Dan Connor and Gerald Sensabaugh, however, in reality Spencer made the play by forcing Newton back inside to his help.

** While some will remember this game as the first in which Claiborne recorded a pick, it was actually a struggle for the rookie. He allowed Brandon LaFell’s touchdown and it came on the same route in which LaFell picked up 32 yards. He failed to stay with LaFell twice on shallow crossing routes. In the second half, he was soft in coverage on a big gain by Louis Murphy.

** Against Baltimore, the special teams’ units were in the crosshairs. Against Carolina, the coverage was great. Three times Eric Frampton was able to make stops as a gunner on punt coverage. One time Lance Dunbar came through with a great tackle as a gunner. The Panthers had 4 total yards in the punt game.
IRVING, Texas -- Cowboys linebacker Dan Connor was the Carolina Panthers' third-round pick in the 2008 draft and he played there four seasons, making 19 starts before leaving in the offseason.

The man who drafted Connor, general manager Marty Hurney, was fired from that position on Monday.

"That's tough, Marty is a great guy and a great GM," Connor said. "I have a ton of respect for him. It's a tough situation they're in right now. They've been in so many close games and they came up short but it’s a talented team. Coach (Ron) Rivera is a great leader, (defensive coordinator Sean) McDermott does a great job with the defense. It's hard, it's a competitive (league), just trying to stay employed, it’s a stress all its own. My heart goes out to Marty."

Carolina is a mess. Currently this team is 1-5 and quarterback Cam Newton is calling reporters sweetheart and asking for a suggestion box to fix the offense.

What might have been a low point for the Panthers were the number of empty seats at kickoff for Sunday's game against the Cowboys and how many fans were cheering for the visitors.

"There were a ton of Cowboys fans there, I was shocked," Connor said. "Usually you sit on the bench and the crowd cheers during an away game and you think ‘Oh man, something bad happened.' But it's the Cowboys doing something but that was an adjustment that was different and that's how this place has been. It's so high profile (Cowboys have) such a large fan base. When we get to the hotel, there is somebody waiting and it wasn't like that in Carolina."

Mike Jenkins gets one snap in victory

October, 22, 2012
IRVING, Texas -- Cowboys cornerback Mike Jenkins was standing on the sidelines for the bulk of Sunday's victory over the Carolina Panthers.

Jenkins played just one defensive snap against the Panthers, the least amount of defensive snaps he's played in his career. He was healthy, though he tweaked his right shoulder in the loss at Baltimore while making a tackle.

But Sunday, the Cowboys defense prepared for the zone reads and option pitches of quarterback Cam Newton. It was a physical game where open-field tackling was important. Jenkins was better suited to play mainly in coverage due to his health.

Jenkins hasn't been the best tackler in the world but played through physical problems last season and displayed a toughness the Cowboys coaches have mentioned this season.

"Oh, I think as much as anything else that style of offense was an offense where we had to really be geared into defending the run, defending the quarterback run," Garrett said. "They come at you a lot of different ways running the football. There’s an option game. There’s veer. There’s the read option. All the different stuff that they do. There were some packages we had Jenks in there that were more coverage oriented. Certainly coming off the shoulder injury he’s had we wanted to make sure he was available for the coverage stuff and maybe a little less for the run defense type stuff that we played a lot in that ball game."