Dallas Cowboys: Devin Hester

Morris Claiborne needs to forget

October, 7, 2012
IRVING, Texas -- Rookie cornerback Morris Claiborne was beaten for a touchdown for the first time in his career Monday night against the Chicago Bears.

Devin Hester beat Claiborne on a double-move and caught a 34-yard touchdown pass. It was a learning experience for Claiborne, who has been targeted a team-high 15 times this season.

Coach Jason Garrett said Claiborne didn't use the proper technique defending the play.

Claiborne said that's part of the business of the NFL, especially when you're a rookie. But making plays is what Claiborne is being asked to do. He has only one pass breakup and had a forced fumble negated by replay.

"I just gave up a double-move," Claiborne said. "We had an all out blitz something you can't do, especially in this league. I sat down on it and try to play the comeback and he hit it over the top."

Claiborne said from a physical standpoint, he feels good. He missed offseason workouts due to his recovery from wrist surgery and he also missed a few training camp practices with a sprained knee. But Claiborne continues to press receivers at the line of scrimmage and normally doesn't get a lot of deep help from a safety.

"Every game is a learning experience, good or bad," he said. "You just got to take what you learn from that game and try to make it better the next time."

Morris Claiborne learns from touchdown mistake

October, 3, 2012
IRVING, Texas – Morris Claiborne gave up the first touchdown of his career when he was beaten by Chicago’s Devin Hester for a 34-yard touchdown in the third quarter.

“It was all on me,” Claiborne said. “I feel like we had a good call up at that time. It was just me playing it wrong, playing it outside when I should’ve been inside. Chalk that up as a loss and learn from it and come back stronger the next time.”

Hester put a double move on Claiborne, faking to the outside to create even more room for Jay Cutler to make the throw. When he got to the sideline, secondary coach Jerome Henderson let him know he used the wrong leverage.

“I should’ve been inside from the start,” Claiborne said. “I was lingering outside and I paid for it.”

Claiborne nearly forced his first turnover of the season when he ripped the ball free from wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, but the officials overturned the call on replay. He is waiting for his first interception.

“I’m patiently waiting on that opportunity,” Claiborne said. “I feel like I had a couple of opportunities and missed my chance on it. Just waiting on the right one I guess.”

Report Card: Offense a big mess

October, 2, 2012

Rushing Offense

The running game was bad in Week 3 against the Buccaneers and got worse against the Bears. DeMarco Murray gained only 24 yards on 11 carries. He was dropped for a loss four times, meaning he's lost yardage on 11 of 29 carries over the last two games. Murray's 131-yard performance in the season-opening win over the Giants is the exception. The norm: 106 yards on 31 carries in the three games since then, an average of 3.4 yards per carry. Speaking of exceptions, Felix Jones actually looked fast on his lone carry of the night, a 13-yard burst. That was a rare occasion when the offensive line opened a hole.


Passing Offense

The five interceptions far overshadow Tony Romo's 307 passing yards. And who cares that Kyle Orton threw for 89 yards and a touchdown during mop-up time? It's close to impossible to win when the franchise quarterback throws more touchdown passes to the opposing team than to his teammates. Romo missed wide-open receivers twice on potential touchdowns, too. Dez Bryant had eight catches for a career-high 105 yards, but this was one of his worst performances. He had two killer drops and a mental bust that led to Charles Tillman's pick-six. The return of the real Jason Witten (13 catches, 112 yards, TD) offered little comfort.


Rushing Defense

Matt Forte found some room, gaining 52 yards on 13 carries, but the Bears' running game didn't really hurt the Cowboys. Dallas bottled up backup Michael Bush for 29 yards on 10 carries. The Bears finished with fewer than 100 yards on the ground and averaged only 3.3 yards per carry. Inside linebacker Sean Lee had another outstanding performance as a run-stopper, being credited with 14 tackles, including one for a loss. Nose tackle Josh Brent played strong up the middle, getting four stops, including one behind the line on a third-and-short. Fill-in outside linebacker Victor Butler got his end turned a few times and only made one tackle, but it's not like the Bears won the game because they exploited Anthony Spencer's absence.


Passing Defense

Chicago QB Jay Cutler entered the week as the NFL's interceptions leader but had an almost flawless performance against the Cowboys. Cutler completed 18 of 24 passes for 275 yards and two touchdowns for a passer rating of 140.1. The Cowboys weren't able to exploit a questionable offensive line, sacking Cutler only twice. Starting cornerbacks Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne both owned up to playing poorly. Brandon Marshall (seven catches, 138 yards, TD) was dominant, although Carr didn't cover him on all of his catches. Claiborne got burnt by a Devin Hester double move for a touchdown.


Special Teams

The Cowboys contained Devin Hester, who had only one punt return for eight yards and two kickoff returns for 50 yards. Brian Moorman pinned the Bears inside the 10-yard line on two of his three punts. Felix Jones took a knee on five kickoffs -- yes, that counts as progress -- and failed to get to the 20 the two times he came out of the end zone. Dan Bailey made his only field goal attempt. And Joe DeCamillis' units didn't have any disasters.



Jason Garrett's offense is as big a mess as there is in the NFL. Oh, the Cowboys are no longer the lowest-scoring team in the NFL. They avoided that dubious distinction with a garbage-time touchdown, but a five-turnover performance was an epic failure. Garrett has two weeks to figure things out, and he'll need every minute of it. Rob Ryan failed to generate much pressure on Cutler despite facing a suspect Chicago offensive line, but at least he had an excuse with four starters out and linebacker Bruce Carter missing much of the game.

Bears-Cowboys: Devin Hester's role

October, 1, 2012
OK. We've reviewed the Sunday performances for three-fourths of the NFC North. Now it's time to turn our attention to the Monday night matchup between the Chicago Bears and Dallas Cowboys. Kickoff is set for 8:30 p.m. ET, but the game will be hard-pressed to reach the drama level of last Monday's affair.

Coop and Nate discuss the Monday Night Football matchup between the Cowboys and Bears.

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We've discussed a few aspects of this game, from the apparent mismatch the Bears' defensive line should have over the Cowboys offensive line, to quarterback Jay Cutler's dismal record in prime-time games on the road, to the Bears' aggressive but unsuccessful attempts to get the ball down the field through three games.

In the last few hours before kickoff, I'd like to focus on the Cowboys' top-ranked defense, and how a potential antidote has to this point not been a part of the Bears offense.

The Cowboys are limiting opponents to an NFL-low 250 yards and 15.7 first downs per game and boast one of the league's top pass-rushers in DeMarcus Ware. An easy and high-percentage offensive alternative to the Bears' downfield throws could include an emphasis on receiver Devin Hester near the line of scrimmage, but to this point Hester has been almost invisible in the Bears' new offense.

Hester has been targeted on five passes, catching two for 27 yards, and has played on 30 percent of the Bears' snaps, according to Pro Football Focus. Late last week, he expressed frustration to ESPNChicago.com, saying: "It's hard being one of the top electrifying players in the league and you're not able to get your hands on the ball as much as you want."

Based on what we discussed over the weekend, I'm not sure Cutler wants to redirect his efforts away from receivers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery. But you wonder if Hester won't emerge as a bigger factor Monday night -- or whether he should. Just a thought.
IRVING, Texas -- The Cowboys worked out two punters Wednesday afternoon, and a former two-time Pro Bowler emerged as the winner in Brian Moorman.

Punter Chris Jones has a sprained knee and will miss the next two weeks, so that forced the Cowboys to act quickly. Moorman had struggled in Buffalo, where he had a net average of 32.7 yards. His punts have been returned for a league-high 172 yards.

There are many factors involved in return yardages -- coverage, weather, direction of the kick and the returner -- but it's pretty stunning that the Cowboys lost Jones, who had allowed just 22 return yards, among the lowest in the league.

Coach Jason Garrett said Moorman's struggles didn't scare the team because he's had a strong career prior to this season.

"You look at the body of work, and he's punted for a long time in this league at a real high level," Garrett said. "And he punted well in the workout."

With Jones out, Moorman also becomes the Cowboys' holder, which he did with the Bills.

Kicker Dan Bailey most likely will work with Moorman in practice Thursday. And with the game being on Monday night against Chicago, the extra day of work should help from a comfort level.

This is a difficult move for the Cowboys to make, given the Bears' Devin Hester, who Garrett called one of the best in the league, averages 11.7 yards a return, which ranks ninth in the league this season.

If Moorman struggles Monday night, the saving grace is the Cowboys have a bye next week. So they could release him if Jones is healthy enough to return.

"It's a day-to-day type thing," Garrett said of Jones' knee. "We don't think its surgical right now, but we're hopeful that he'll be back sooner rather than later. We didn't think he was going to be able to punt this week. He did a really good job in the game punting it after getting knocked around. That was important for us. We'll take it day-by-day, week-by-week."

Familiar foe helps Eric Frampton

September, 27, 2012
IRVING, Texas – If something were to happen to one or both of the Cowboys’ safeties Monday against Chicago, then Eric Frampton would be pressed into service after just six days with the team.

Frampton, who spent the previous five years in Minnesota primarily as a special teams’ player, signed with the Cowboys on Tuesday after a workout with four other players.

“Coming in here as far as the playbook, it’s very similar in terms of the scheme and some of the techniques,” Frampton said. “I think the biggest thing for me would be learning the terminology and locking into that. Once I get that down, putting two and two together, I’ll be fine.”

The Cowboys will need Frampton to play a big special teams’ role. And he knows all about Chicago’s Devin Hester, who has 29 kick and punt return touchdowns in his career, from his days of playing in the NFC North.

“They play great special teams, so I’m familiar with that,” Frampton said. “I know kind of what I have to do to get prepared for that game.”

Five-star: Ball, field control will pin Peterson

December, 1, 2011
Five-star question: Will Patrick Peterson, averaging 19.2 per punt return the past four games with three touchdowns, hit his average or return a punt for a touchdown Sunday against the Cowboys?

Watching Patrick Peterson return punts reminds me of how Desmond Howard was able to do that during our Super Bowl run with the Green Bay Packers in 1996.

Peterson is playing with a great deal of confidence. As a blocker on that return unit, you don’t want to be the guy that doesn’t secure his block, thus resulting in a missed opportunity to score points.

Watching practice Wednesday, I noticed on scout team work that Dez Bryant was able to get one to the wall that had a chance for a huge return. For special teams coach Joe DeCamillis, he was lucky that it was just practice and he would be able to coach off that in the film session Thursday morning and correct any problems.

With all that being said, a healthy Mat McBriar would make me feel better about directional punting and being more consistent at it. I feel that the Cowboys will try this anyway and see if they can control where and how Peterson fields the ball.

The problem with great return men such as Howard, Brian Mitchell and Devin Hester is that they make you pay for mistakes. The best way to control Peterson is through offensive possessions, which the Cowboys have a chance to do against the Cardinals.

By holding the ball and a plan to pin Peterson on one side of the field, if necessary, the Cowboys will not allow him to gain his average or score a touchdown.
Five-star question: Will Patrick Peterson, averaging 19.2 per punt return the past four games with three touchdowns, hit his average or return a punt for a touchdown Sunday against the Cowboys?

Patrick Peterson is an outstanding punt returner. He's got vision, speed and the ability to break tackles on most returns. But he's had some issues. He's fumbled, been stopped for negative yards and in the last five games has five fair catches.

Mat McBriar should contain Peterson on Sunday at Arizona with high kicks, forcing him to fair catch and with punts to the sidelines which forces him against the sidelines making it easier for the gunners to tackle him.

McBriar has faced dangerous punt returners in the past most notably, Chicago's Devin Hester, considered one of the best in the league, who has a better punts-per-return average than Peterson this season.

In the last two meetings vs. McBriar, Hester has three returns for a total of negative four yards, a fair catch and a muffed punt.

It's not like these returners are unstoppable and the Cowboys special teams unit has played well at times, it's just that long returns has hurt their average in 2011. McBriar has a good group in front of him that should contain Peterson Sunday.

If not, expect a long, long, long day.

Five-star: Mat McBriar holds the fort

December, 1, 2011
Five-star question: Will Patrick Peterson, averaging 19.2 per punt return the past four games with three touchdowns, hit his average or return a punt for a touchdown Sunday against the Cowboys?

This is probably not the best time for Mat McBriar to be in a mini-slump with Patrick Peterson on the other end of his punts, but if you go by history the Cowboys should be able to keep the rookie returner under his 19.2-yard average.

Over the last few years McBriar has faced some of the NFL’s best returners, from Dante Hall to Devin Hester to DeSean Jackson to Ted Ginn and he has more than held his own.

Of course, he was healthy in those matchups. This case of drop foot has affected him some, although he said the pain has subsided for the most part recently.

McBriar will have to limit Peterson’s access to the full field. McBriar is adept at keeping his punts outside the numbers. Washington’s two returns a few weeks ago came on punts that were close to the middle of the field, which stretched the coverage team.

That came after McBriar had a 23-yard punt out of bounds. He was conscious of that happening again and his aim was off.

His aim can’t be off against Peterson. He has shown the willingness to catch a punt anywhere and return it. The 99-yard return against St. Louis is the classic no-no-no, yes-yes-yes play. His other returns for touchdowns are 89, 82 and 80 yards.

Look for McBriar to kick the ball near the sideline or out of bounds or use his flip-flop technique to force fair catches.

Let Dez Bryant return punts

October, 26, 2011
The owner of the Dallas Cowboys was talking, we think, like the general manager of the Cowboys.

Jerry Jones, who is actually the GM and owner said he's concerned about using Dez Bryant, one of his dynamic playmakers, on punt returns. It's pretty interesting to note that Jones has praised Bryant's ability to return punts where he took two back for touchdowns last year.

But in the 2011 season opener, Bryant injured a thigh forcing him to miss one game and play gimpy in another. He's healthy now, as evident of his performance on Sunday at Cowboys Stadium. Bryant was running routes almost pain free and he was trying to break tackles almost at will. Bryant plays the game with passion. He doesn't give up anything on the football field. You can tell he likes playing football. He's into every play on offense and defense. He doesn't stop talking on the sidelines. He's talking to himself, his teammates, opponents, the coaches and the fans.

It's why Jason Garrett likes Bryant and wants him on the field at all times.

Yet, Garrett is placed in this interesting situation of deciding what to do with Bryant thanks to what Jones, the GM said. See, if Jones, the owner were talking, Bryant is still returning punts with no problems.

Jones, the GM, sees potential problems here. Injuries.

But Garrett has no real threats in the punt return game. He could put Kevin Ogletree back there, but he hasn't returned a punt since he was playing high school football back in Queens, N.Y. Terence Newman has done it, but has fielded only six punts since 2007.

There is Dwayne Harris, the rookie from East Carolina. But he's currently on the practice squad and to elevate him to the 53-man roster again, the Cowboys have to make a roster move. And when Harris did it, he averaged just 6.6 yards per return.

Jones wants one of his best players on the field for the offensive snaps. That's understandable. But Bryant can do so much more with the return game. Garrett talked last week about not having starters play extended time on offense get time on special teams.

It's a balance he's trying to find with Bryant and other starters such as linebacker Sean Lee.

Garrett isn't the only coach with this problem.

One of the best returners in the NFL is Chicago's Devin Hester. He's averaging 14.6 yards per return and has scored once this year. As a receiver, Hester is second on the team with 21 catches with one touchdown.

We understand the need to protect your best players, but football is a game of risk. If you don't want somebody to get hurt, don't use them. Trade him. Cut him.

If you don't want to do that, play them.

“Now, the game is one that you risk injury on every play, but because he just refuses to go down – which is a great thing about him – then you’ve got to watch using that in situations like kick returns,” Jones said on his weekly radio show Tuesday morning. “We’ll monitor that as the year goes. We’ll play that by ear as to when he’ll actually return the ball. We’ve got to watch him."

Bryant should stay on punt returns, that simple. It's not easy to find a good returner.

“I’m not going to say he’s injury prone," Jones said of Bryant, "but I will say he’s more subject to getting hit and hurt with the way he stands up and fights it than probably any player we’ve got.”

Jones has a right to be concerned. If he's bothered by it get Garrett somebody else to use.

Welcome to Arlington: The home opener

September, 19, 2010

ARLINGTON, Texas -- The Cowboys (0-1) have their home opener today against the Chicago Bears (1-0) at Cowboys Stadium.

Dallas has won three of its last four home openers, losing last year's home opener in the first regular-season NFL game at Cowboys Stadium to the New York Giants.

That was also the debut of ESPNDallas.com

Now, back to this game.

Cowboys update:The Cowboys' offense is struggling. It scored only one touchdown in the season opener last week vs. the Washington Redskins, missed a field goal and had another touchdown negated by a holding call on Alex Barron at the final buzzer. Dallas will have the return of two of its offensive starters, left guard Kyle Kosier (knee) and right tackle Marc Colombo (knee). Kosier said Friday he feels 100 percent and Colombo has expressed similar thoughts. Colombo and Kosier might not play every snap, so Montrae Holland and Barron should get some snaps.

Bears update:You think the Cowboys have problems? The Bears are coming off a win, and coach Lovie Smith was questioned for going for it on a fourth-and-1 at the Lions 1 in the fourth quarter. Smith said it was his fault, but offensive coordinator Mike Martz said it was his fault. Sounds like Dallas. Devin Hester, the alleged No. 1 receiver for the Bears, got one catch for 17 yards vs. the Lions, and there appears to be a rift between him and quarterback Jay Cutler. If the Bears go 2-0, their Week 3 home game against Green Bay will be an important NFC North showdown in September.

Cowboys inactives: 3QB Stephen McGee, FB Deon Anderson, LB Sean Lee, LB Brandon Williams, C Phil Costa, OT Sam Young, OT Robert Brewster, DE Sean Lissemore.

Bears inactives: 3QB Caleb Hanie, S Craig Steltz, CB Joshua Moore, RB Kahlil Bell, LB Nick Roach, OT J’Marcus Webb, DE Corey Wootton, DT Marcus Harrison.

Officials: Referee Scott Green, umpire Bruce Stritesky, head linesman Tom Stabile, line judge Tom Barnes, field judge Dyrol Prioleau, side judge Larry Rose, back judge Scott Helverson, instant replay official Carl Madsen.

Scouts scheduled to attend: New York Giants, Houston Texans, Green Bay Packers

Football Outsiders insight: Bears running back Matt Forte, who rushed for 50 yards on 17 carries, was stuffed four times from the 1-yard line last week. Given the historical rate of conversion from there, an average back would have scored 2.2 touchdowns. For a single game, it was the third-worst performance of the past 11 years. Last year, Forte had the second-worst performance of any back inside the 5-yard line in the past ten seasons.

Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo converted only two of the nine third downs he faced. Why? His average third down came with 12.6 yards to go, and he never faced anything easier than a third-and-8. Last year, Romo converted just under 41 percent of his third downs into first downs or touchdowns, but his average third down came with 8.4 yards to go.

Is Devin Hester still dangerous?

September, 18, 2010
Chicago Bears wide receiver/return man Devin Hester has the potential to break a punt return for big yards.


Over the last three seasons, Hester hasn't been in double-digits in punt return yardage.

Sunday, Hester brings his speed and movements to Cowboys Stadium when the Bears face the Cowboys.

Besides dealing with the Cowboys' videoboard, which stretches between the 20-yard lines, and Mat McBriar's booming punts, the Cowboys' special teams have young players who struggled in the season opener at Washington.

Kicker David Buehler led the special teams unit with two tackles. That's not good.

Hester scored seven touchdowns combined on punt returns in 2006 and 2007 and had 21 returns over 20 plus yards in the same time span. But he has failed to score a touchdown or get a return over 20 yards the last three years, which also includes the season opener against Detroit, where he averaged 3.4 yards a return. It should be noted Hester had a 17-yard punt return against the Lions.

Hester's low numbers could be attributed to nagging injuries and moving full-time to wide receiver. Since doing that in 2008, his punt return numbers have decreased.

The Cowboys have to be careful with Hester, who has the ability break one for a touchdown. With the Cowboys struggling offense -- yeah, we're counting the first-team struggles from the preseason -- special teams will play a major role on Sunday.

Scout's Eye: Bears-Cowboys preview

September, 17, 2010
Scout's Eye
The Cowboys will face a defense that will present them a different set of challenges as opposed to what they faced last week in Washington.

Lovie Smith and former Lions head coach Rod Marinelli have once again hooked up and continue to put the Bears in the Tampa 2 scheme that they ran with great success for the Buccaneers under Tony Dungy.

In 2009, the Bears were a banged up defense and struggled without several key members in the lineup. This year, with the addition of Julius Peppers from Carolina, it gives them a much more dynamic pass rusher than you have to deal with off the edge.

Peppers tends to play the open side of the formation which is away from the tight end, so a matchup against just one of the offensive tackles is possible if the Cowboys want to set the formation to one side or the other. Peppers is one of those defenders that doesn’t give you much of a hitting surface when blockers set on him. He has shown the ability to dip his shoulder and work underneath the tackle. He can be explosive from the backside as Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford learned.

Peppers does a nice job in the running game because he is difficult to hook or reach. He has very long arms and he uses them to keep blockers off him as he works down the line and into the backfield.

At the other end is Mark Anderson. Anderson is not a bulky player, but he is very quick. When Smith and Marinelli slant this line, Anderson is a problem to block on the move because he is a feel for how to beat blocks.

Anderson is the type of player that just keeps coming at you. He doesn’t want to fight these tackles toe to toe, so he needs to be on the move.

The type of player that tends to give Andre Gurode and Leonard Davis fits are the ones with quick movement off the snap. Davis and Gurode will struggle because they have to move their feet and extend the blocks. It’s the big inside guys that try to bull rush them that tends to be easier for them to block. The Bears have two of these types of players inside. Tommie Harris and Anthony Adams are both quick, up-the-field guys. Their game is based on movement more than strength.

The linebackers for the Bears are a veteran group. Brian Urlacher was throwing his body around. Lance Briggs was effective on the blitz, causing a turnover on the Lions’ 1, and Pisa Tinoisamoa can really run. This group was very active attacking the Lions.

That’s understandable because of a second-year quarterback at the controls for Detroit. It will be interesting if they try to blitz Tony Romo and allow this secondary the responsibility of playing coverage.

It’s a Cover 2 look (safeties on the hash) with the corners playing short and the safeties behind. The Bears secondary will also use a technique of the corners turning their rears to the sideline and trying to funnel the receivers inside. In the Cover 2 look as well, you will a see deep drop by Urlacher in the middle of the field.

Romo always talks about patience when playing a Cover 2 team and taking what they give you.

Charles Tillman is the better of the two corners. Zackary Bowman was picked on by the Lions. I would think that the Cowboys might do the same.

*The Bears on offense were able to move the ball on the Lions, but turnovers and red zone problems allowed to Lions to hang in the game and even have a chance to win it in the end.

The Bears will struggle to block the Cowboys’ front. Tackles Chris Williams and Frank Omiyale will have a difficult job of blocking DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer in the passing game.

Williams is the better player here because he plays with some strength. Omuyale just doesn’t play with much upper- or lower-body strength at all. You see him come out of his stance then get worked back. He is always fighting just to sustain his block. The Bears will chip with their backs out of the backfield.

At center for the Bears is veteran Olin Kreutz, who is an old-school type of player. Kreutz is one of those guys who skills have left him, but he gets by because he has the ability to hold, trip and clip. Kreutz will have his hands full with Jay Ratliff. Ratliff just plays with too much quickness for Kreutz, who will have a hard time adjusting.

The Bears might not have big names at wide receiver, but what they do have is a group that can really run. Johnny Knox is a 4.29, Devin Hester a 4.41 and Devin Aromashodu a 4.35.

Knox is a smooth route runner that will go all over the field to catch the ball, Hester is outstanding in the open field with the ball in his hands, but the interesting player to me is Aromashodu. This player can cover some ground on the outside and does a nice job in the slot. In the Lions game, Cutler was going to him more than the other receivers.

It will be interesting if the Cowboys try to press these receivers and not allow free access in the routes. If the secondary can hold up on the outside, it will make Cutler have to face this pass rush and the possibility to creating turnovers. In the Lions game there were several times where Cutler was under pressure and just unloaded the ball.

Running back Matt Forte had two huge plays in the passing game for the Bears that resulted in touchdowns. Forte’s running style is that of a slasher. If he had a problem in the Lions game, it was his inability to punch it in from the 1, but the Bears really didn’t do a very good job of securing the hole. The Bears like to pull guards in short yardage, which was a big problem against the Lions. The Cowboys need to be careful in this game not to allow Forte to have a similar game to what he did against the Lions.