Dallas Cowboys: Jason Witten

Player tiffs happen, get over it

October, 31, 2014
IRVING, Texas -- Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant and running back Joseph Randle exchanged heated words during Friday's practice at Valley Ranch.

It got to the point where tight end Jason Witten told Randle to, well this is a family website, to shut up.

The reason for the exchange surrounds Randle getting booked into jail two weeks ago by Frisco, Texas, police for shoplifting and saying a few things about teammates -- Josh Brent and Bryant.

On a videotape released to Dallas-area television stations, Fox 4 and CBS 11, Randle asked about possibly getting suspended for his arrest on shoplifting charges and noted Brent, who did some time for intoxication manslaughter, was in the Cowboys' locker room.

Then, Randle said this about Bryant, "Dez don't miss no games for smacking his mom."

In 2012, Bryant turned himself in after he was charged on a misdemeanor domestic violence charge in DeSoto, Texas. Bryant didn't do any jail time for the incident, and it was dismissed after he served probation.

Randle might have crossed the line in mentioning these two incidents with police. He probably didn't know he was being videotaped when getting booked and felt he could say anything he wanted. He probably also was unaware the videotape of any arrest is public record, and any media outlet can obtain the booking video.

Keeping your mouth shut regarding teammates off-the-field issues is an important part of locker room code.

You could probably say the Cowboys have some issues in their locker room, but Witten, the sage captain of this team, has seen these issues before. He was involved in a skirmish himself with former wide receiver Terrell Owens several years ago. And in 2006, former cornerback Terence Newman got into a fight with former defensive tackle Chris Canty over some foolishness.

"That's Witten, that’s just him, it's great to have somebody like that in this locker room," Bryant said. "Not a lot of teams (are) blessed with a guy like that. Wit does a tremendous job, that’s why we look at him as our leader. We’re going to keep doing that."

There have been practice fights and arguments over the years.

It happens.

Everyday in the Cowboys' locker room, players are debating about something.

"I know those two guys probably better than anybody in this locker room and I was with them at Oklahoma State," backup quarterback Brandon Weeden said of Bryant and Randle. "Shoot, they [are] always arguing about something. I've seen them fight over who's better, [Michael] Jordan or Kobe [Bryant]. When those guys are going at it you laugh at it. I've been around them since 2007, nothing surprises me."

So, this tiff between Bryant and Randle, regardless of what it was about, is nothing more than two people beefing over something that should have remained private.

"Oh man, it’s all good, it’s all right," Bryant said. "That ain't no big deal, it ain't a big deal. It ain't no big deal, we got to get on the Arizona Cardinals."

In reality, that's what it's really about.

Brandon Weeden prepares to start

October, 29, 2014
IRVING, Texas -- Dallas Cowboys quarterback Brandon Weeden has had the same routine for about two months: Practice with the first-team offense on Wednesdays and then go back to the scout team the rest of the week.

It gets interesting now for Weeden as starting quarterback Tony Romo deals with a stubborn back that has raised concerns about his availability for Sunday's game against the Arizona Cardinals.

Weeden took the first-team reps in a walkthrough practice Wednesday and is expected to do the same the rest of the week, or at least until further notice.

“It's still a day-to-day type thing,” Weeden said. “I took the reps today and if he's [Romo] out there practicing great, if not then I will step in there and take each rep which has been good for the last seven, eight weeks. I've been able to take the reps on Wednesday which has been big for me so I'm going to treat it no different, if he's able to go that's the best thing. We'll have to see how everything plays out.”

Weeden was pressed to participate in Monday's game against the Washington Redskins when Romo went down in the third quarter when he took a knee to his lower back. He led the Cowboys on two scoring drives, which concluded in a Dan Bailey 21-yard field goal and a 25-yard touchdown pass to Jason Witten. Weeden's scoring drives led the Cowboys to tie the score twice, but Romo returned for the final drive of the game and remained on the field for overtime.

Weeden finished 4-of-6 for 69 yards and the touchdown.

“He did a nice job,” coach Jason Garrett said. “I thought he had poise and composure, ran the offense, handled himself in the huddle, at the line of scrimmage, made good decisions, made good throws, led us on a couple of scoring drives. He really did a nice job. Not a real surprise.”

Weeden might take over the starting job if Romo is unable to play against the blitz-happy Cardinals, and that's something he's preparing himself for.

“It's just a different mindset, the uncertainty of you may play or you may not play for six, seven eight weeks whatever,” Weeden said. “You just don't know. You've got to approach it like you're going to play at some point, that way when your number is called, you're not caught off guard.”

Dez Bryant: 'We let this one slip away'

October, 28, 2014
ARLINGTON, Texas – The Cowboys best receiving threat was slowed down Monday night.

Wide receiver Dez Bryant finished with three catches for a season-low 30 yards and one touchdown in the 20-17 overtime loss to Washington. Bryant was targeted just twice in the third quarter, none in the fourth and once in overtime.

There were two plays Bryant should have made that appeared to be drops, including one in the end zone yet Washington doubled him with tight coverage from a cornerback and then used a safety over the top to prevent deep throws for a majority of the game.

The coverages Bryant faced Monday isn’t something new, just part of the deal that comes with being one of the playmakers on offense.

“Shading a little bit,” Bryant said of the safeties who were near him. “A little bit of [zone] and they did a good job.”

Normally when defenses employ tight coverages on Bryant it opens things for receiver Terrance Williams and tight end Jason Witten. Those two combined for 11 catches and 139 yards and one touchdown. According to ESPN's Stats and Information, the Redskins tied a season-high by sending five or more pass rushers on 60 percent of dropbacks against the Cowboys.

Yet with more defenders coming at quarterback Tony Romo it should have cleared things for Bryant one on one.

"We moved him around some," coach Jason Garrett said of Bryant."He made some plays in the game and obviously you get used to him making a ton of plays and making a huge difference."

Bryant's second-quarter touchdown catch was just amazing. He caught a short pass behind the line of scrimmage with one hand. The tip of the ball landed in the cup of his hand and after shaking a defender he carried safety Ryan Clark into the end zone.

Bryant didn't want to talk about the touchdown catch, instead focusing on the loss.

Garrett called the touchdown catch amazing.

"To make the catch that he made and then get in the end zone, it was a pretty special play," Garrett said. "But he gets a lot of attention and he always gets a lot of attention. He's got to fight through it."

On the final play of the game, Bryant was doubled and was able to scramble free with Romo moving out of the pocket.

Bryant was open for a moment near the Cowboys’ sideline but Redskins cornerback Bashaud Breeland stepped in front to knock the pass away.

“We let this one slip away,” Bryant said. “We have to look at ourselves in the mirror. As a team, we let one slip away. I’m scrambling and trying to get open and try to give him a target, guy did a good job on the ball.”
IRVING, Texas -- Tight end James Hanna has played 135 snaps, starting six of seven games this season.

He has yet to catch a pass.

Actually, Tony Romo has directed only one pass Hanna’s way -- and that was three games ago against New Orleans - but Jason Garrett says the tight end plays a valuable role for the Dallas Cowboys.

Hanna spends much of his playing time as a blocking tight end, which should probably be considered impressive considering he’s just 249 pounds. By contrast, Jason Witten is 265 pounds.

“I think he’s a good player in the run game and a good player in the pass game," Jason Garrett said. "I think he’s underappreciated athletically, and I think he’s getting better technically as blocker.

“He’s a young player who continues to grow. He wants to be a good player and there’s a reason he’s playing. He’s worthy of having opportunities. We ask him to do a lot of things and some of it’s not fancy stuff that’s glamorous -- it’s some of the dirty work -- but he embraces it and gets better at it.”

One of the things you notice about the complementary players on this offense is they don't grumble about their roles. Sure, players such as receiver Dwayne Harris and running backs Lance Dunbar and Joseph Randle want to play more and Gavin Escobar, Cole Beasley and Terrance Williams would like more passes directed their way.

But Garrett constantly preaches the importance of the team and these players have bought in, which hasn’t always been the case for the Cowboys.

“We have guys who understand the importance of doing their job,” Garrett said. “A lot of times their job isn’t the glamorous thing to do, but they understand that helps us have success on that particular play and, ultimately, that helps us have success as a football team.

“Guys understand that. We have a lot of good players and a lot of good people on our team.”

DeMarco Murray making history

October, 13, 2014
SEATTLE – Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray wasn’t around to speak with reporters in the locker room after another solid performance.

Murray’s numbers said everything about him. He rushed for 115 yards on 29 carries in the 30-23 victory over the defending Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks on Sunday.

[+] EnlargeDeMarco Murray
Joe Nicholson/USA TODAY SportsDeMarco Murray now shares an NFL record with Jim Brown, and he can leave Brown behind next week against the Giants.
It was Murray’s 15-yard touchdown run, where he cut across the field, with 3:16 remaining that sealed the victory.

Murray has rushed for more than 100 yards in six consecutive games to open the season, becoming just the second man in league history to achieve that. The other is Jim Brown, who did it in 1958 for the Cleveland Browns.

Seattle had the best rushing defense in the NFL, allowing just 62.3 yards per game and 2.6 yards per carry.

“We thought it was going to be tough sledding to run the football, but we had to be persistent with it,” coach Jason Garrett said. “Our guys did an excellent job.”

Murray has rushed for 785 yards after six games, the most in franchise history and seventh-most in NFL history.


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Sunday was not easy. He had five carries where he gained 0 yards and four with just 1 yard picked up. This was a gritty effort by the NFL’s leading rusher.

“I think we just didn’t tackle well and a couple of times it was on our gap,” Seattle defensive end Michael Bennett said. “They’re a gap running team they’re not really the blow-you-off-the-ball type of offense.”

Whatever the opinions are, the Cowboys rushing attack was solid. It gained 162 total yards, 52 from backup Joseph Randle on just five carries, in the victory and for the first time in the Garrett era, the running attack is leading this offense.

“We just stuck with it,” tight end Jason Witten said. “Coach [Scott] Linehan talked about that early, they are No. 1 in the league in rush defense.

"Those short runs can turn into long ones. We were able to a good formation and DeMarco has hard runs. I really think he has shown his maturity as a back, sticking with us and sticking with it and coming out on the back end on a couple of those late in the game.”

Tony Romo is winless in Seattle

October, 10, 2014
IRVING, Texas -- It’s been years since Tony Romo fumbled that snap in Seattle. Years.

 Well, 2006.

After that NFC playoffs wild card debacle where Romo fumbled the snap on a field goal try in Bill Parcells’ last season as a coach in the NFL, he’s played well against Seattle.

But he’s never won in Seattle.

Romo is 3-2 lifetime against the Seahawks, with both losses coming in the Pacific Northwest. The 2006 loss ended with Romo’s fumble and the 2012 loss ended before it started with the Cowboys trailing 10-0 after touching the ball just once on offense in a 27-7 loss.

“I don’t remember negative things very much anymore,” Romo said. “I kinda let those things slide by.”

Romo takes a different team to Seattle on Sunday afternoon, and this might give him his best chance to win there. It’s a team led by a running back, DeMarco Murray, who leads the NFL in rushing and is one of the top contenders for the MVP.

Romo’s offensive line is no longer a veteran mix-matched group. He’s got young offensive linemen who are impressing coaches and scouts across the league.

The problem with going to Seattle is dealing with the crowd noise. But Romo understands how to silence crowd noise: run the ball with Murray and take shots into the Seattle zone defense.

“They do really everything well,” Romo said. “It’s a difficult atmosphere. Great up front, great on the back end, they’re fast, they kinda tightened down, and their defense makes it constricted in there and you kinda take your shots to keep them off.”

The game Sunday will tell plenty about the Cowboys and whether or not they move up to elite status in the NFL. But it seems that fumbled snap from Romo continues to haunt this franchise.

“By not having [the win], it impacted a lot of lives,” Jerry Jones said Friday on 105.3 FM The Fan.

Romo has forgotten about the loss, yet, people still remember what happened, and a victory Sunday could help in the healing process.

“I think that’s behind us, but yeah that was definitely one of the toughest games I ever played in, just how the swing of the game and coming down to that moment, “ said Romo’s best friend, tight end Jason Witten. “Try to forget those for sure.”

If the Cowboys win Sunday, we still might remember what happened in 2006 and of course in 2012, but some better memories could be forthcoming.

Gavin Escobar seeing decreased workload

October, 8, 2014
IRVING, Texas -- Second-year tight end Gavin Escobar has become a forgotten man in the Dallas Cowboys' run-oriented offense the first five weeks of the season. While running back DeMarco Murray leads the NFL in rushing with his torrid pace, Escobar, a pass-catching tight end, sits.

Escobar, a 2013 second-round pick, played just four snaps in last week's victory over the Houston Texans, the second fewest of his career.

"I guess it's tough to be patient," Escobar said. "You got to take advantage of your opportunities when your name is called, and that’s what I’m trying to do."

Escobar said he was surprised by the lack of playing time this season, but it's attributed to several things: Jason Witten is the starter and an elite tight end, Murray has had success on the ground and Escobar has struggled as a run blocker.

Tight end James Hanna gets more playing time than Escobar because he's a better blocker.

"We have a lot of plays and packages for him to get out there," Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said of Escobar. "Sometimes you get a chance to call those things. Other times you are doing different things to try to win the games. So he's ready. He is getting better. He is healthier than he has been. He did a good job fighting through his injury. Hopefully he will get some chances as we go here."

Escobar was dealing with a sprained AC joint in his right shoulder and a sprained MCL in his left knee that slowed his development. But now he's healthy and continues to wait for his chance.

"There are some things we think he does better than James Hanna," Garrett said. "There are some things James Hanna does better than he does. We try to give those guys opportunities to do what they do best when they are in those two-tight-end packages. We have done some three-tight-end stuff up to this point. He is a good player and he is getting better. And he is working hard at it. He will get opportunities as we go forward."

Offensive snaps: Texans at Cowboys

October, 6, 2014
IRVING, Texas -- Jason Witten, who's in his 12th season, is the only skill position player aside from Tony Romo to be on the field for each of the Dallas Cowboys' 348 plays this season.

Although his primary responsibility thus far this season has been blocking, he showed Houston he can still be a threat in the passing game.

His 34-yard reception on a seam route was his longest of the season and helped steal momentum from Houston after the Texans had taken a 10-7 lead.

DeMarco Murray touched the ball 37 times on the 67 plays he was in the game and generated 192 yards of total offense as he notched his fifth straight 100-yard game. Murray is getting so much action that Lance Dunbar and Joseph Randle have each been on the field for fewer than 10 plays in all but one game.

Dwayne Harris and Devin Street are the Cowboys' two most physical receivers and the Cowboys tend to use them when they want to run the ball against eight-man fronts because they can block defensive backs and linebackers at least long enough for Murray to scoot by them.

Full offensive snap counts:
Doug Free 76
Zack Martin 76
Travis Frederick 76
Ronald Leary 76
Tyron Smith 76
Tony Romo 76
Jason Witten 76
Dez Bryant 69
DeMarco Murray 67
Terrance Williams 66
Cole Beasley 34
James Hanna 20
Devin Street 14
Dwayne Harris 11
Tyler Clutts 9
Gavin Escobar 4
Joseph Randle 3
Lance Dunbar 2
IRVING, Texas -- There were 131 plays in the Cowboys’ 20-17 overtime win over Houston. They weren’t all created equal. It’s never that way. While the touchdowns and turnovers get most of the attention, who wins or loses is often determined by plays that get lost in the shadow of those that command the most attention.

Here are five plays that shaped the Cowboys’ win:

Play: Ryan Fitzpatrick incompletion
Situation: Third-and-2 from Dallas 48
Score: Tied, 17-17
Time: 13:11 left in overtime
Taylor's Take: Arian Foster had 16 carries for 117 yards and a touchdown in the second half. On his first two carries of overtime, he gained 24 and 6 yards. But for some reason coach Bill O’Brien chose to put the ball in journeyman quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick’s hands on the Texans’ biggest play of the game. Now, he tried to hit Foster, who was split wide, in the right flat but Justin Durant covered him tightly, giving Jeremy Mincey time to pressure Fitzpatrick and force an incompletion.

Play: Jason Witten catch
Situation: Second-and-15 from Dallas 17
Score: Houston leads, 10-7
Time: 7:44 left in third quarter
Taylor's Take: The Texans had all of the momentum after scoring their first touchdown, and the Cowboys were facing a second-and-15 after a holding call on Travis Frederick. The Cowboys needed a play and Tony Romo completed a perfect seam route to tight end Witten for a 33-yard gain. The ball went right past the linebacker’s helmet and the ball was literally waiting for Witten, when he turned to look for it. Two plays later, the Cowboys took the lead on a touchdown pass by Witten.

Play: Ryan Fitzpatrick incompletion
Situation: Third-and-4 from Dallas 11
Score: Dallas leads, 17-7
Time: 2:36 left in fourth quarter
Taylor's Take: Houston had taken more than seven minutes to drive to the Dallas 11 and it needed to score in a two-possession game. Fitzpatrick was looking for Andre Johnson, who had lined up in the slot, but Jeremy Mincey wrapped his arm around Fitzpatrick’s torso as he threw the ball and it fluttered toward the end zone. Linebacker Anthony Hitchens made a diving attempt, but couldn’t corral the pass. An interception -- it was a difficult but makeable play -- would’ve probably sealed the win without overtime.

Play: Delay of game penalty
Situation: Second-and-9 from Dallas 21
Score: Dallas leads, 17-10
Time: 2:23 left in fourth quarter
Taylor's Take: The Cowboys were trying to close out the game and probably needed two first downs to do it since Houston had three timeouts and the two-minute warning. After Houston called timeout after the Cowboys’ first play, they were somehow penalized for delay of game creating a second-and-14 that ultimately allowed Houston to force a punt and start their game-tying drive.

Play: J.J. Wilcox tackle
Situation: Second-and-10 from Dallas 43
Score: Tied, 0-0
Time: 5:44 left in second quarter
Taylor's Take: Houston had a perfect play call against a Dallas blitz -- a receiver screen to DeAndre Hopkins. He had two linemen in front of him, but J.J. Wilcox maneuvered around the blocker and dropped Hopkins for a 2-yard gain. The Texans, who had recovered a fumble at the Dallas 43, were forced to punt.

Everyone blocking has Cowboys rolling

October, 3, 2014
DeMarco Murray has gained 327 yards before he has even been touched this season.

Let that marinate.

Understand, Murray, who leads the NFL in rushing yards (546) and carries (99) isn’t putting up those numbers without the tight ends and receivers doing just as good a job as the offensive line creating running lanes.

[+] EnlargeTony Romo
Tom Pennington/Getty ImagesThe Cowboys offensive line is creating holes for DeMarco Murray, and the receivers and the tight ends are blocking well at the second level.
On Murray’s 15-yard touchdown run that gave Dallas a 17-0 lead over the New Orleans Saints, he ran through a wide hole created by tight end Jason Witten sealing the edge and Dez Bryant manhandling the cornerback.

Murray was untouched, and Bryant was thrilled.

“It’s a commitment thing -- it’s a mindset. If you want to block, all it is is a mindset. If you don’t block, like I said, it’s a mindset -- you don’t want to block,” Bryant said. ““I’m a wideout first, I like to catch passes, but this year I think I came a long way, you know -- not using the right techniques to block, to now, feeling good about it, adding that to my game a little better. I’m not saying I couldn’t block, I’m just a better blocker now.”

And that’s really why the Cowboys’ running game leads the NFL with 165.0 yards per game and ranks fourth with 5.08 yards per carry.

Play-caller Scott Linehan began talking to the entire offense -- not just the lineman and running backs -- about the importance of consistently running the ball this season.

Linehan told them the running game wouldn’t work the way it needs to work without every offensive unit doing its part. Besides, it’s the only way to run the ball consistently against defensive fronts designed to stop the run.

“We need the receivers to crack on linebackers and safeties and they’ve done a good job,” Linehan said. “A guy like Terrance Williams -- I don’t know how much blocking he did in the offense at Baylor -- but he’s really done a good job.

“It’s not always about getting a pancake block. Sometimes, you just have to get in their way.”

Contrary to popular belief, Linehan said quarterback Tony Romo was among the first players on board with the Cowboys making the running game the epicenter of the offense.

“Every quarterback wants to throw the ball and have the gaudy numbers,” Linehan said, “but Tony understands how easy the running game makes his job. Everything isn’t on his shoulders and it opens up the running game.

“We’re all about winning. This will help us win.”

So far, it has.
IRVING, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys are under the spotlight again for issues on and off the field. On the field, the team is 3-1 heading into a Sunday afternoon clash against the Houston Texans (3-1).

Off the field, Grapevine, Texas, police confirmed that special teams player C.J. Spillman is being investigated in connection with an alleged sexual assault at the Gaylord Hotel. Also, defensive tackle Josh Brent, convicted in January of intoxication manslaughter for the December 2012 crash that killed Cowboys practice squad player Jerry Brown, was welcomed back to the team after he completed his sentencing.

Recently, coach Jason Garrett spoke to the team about conduct, especially when it comes to domestic violence. Tight end and player representative Jason Witten is mindful of the high standards the league and its fans want from players.


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"I think in general you’re always hesitant to comment because you don’t know enough about any of those situations," Witten said. "Specific to the domestic violence cases, there’s no place for that in our game. And I think you’ve seen that with what the players’ association have done, and obviously the expectations are high. But at the same time, they represent those players and those players have got to learn from that and be accountable so it never happens again."

Witten was asked whether these incidents, particularly Spillman's, tarnish the reputation of the franchise, which has endured numerous off-the-field issues like several other NFL teams.

"I think they're two separate situations," Witten said. "Josh, he did serve his time and I was a teammate of his when all that went down, and it was a tragedy and to see Josh go through that and the process of coming back is great to see and we support him from that standpoint. I think with C.J. we just don't know enough. He's my teammate. I just found out about it earlier in the day. But as I said before, the expectations and standards for us is high, and it needs to be high. We'll see how that plays out and we respect him and he's been a great asset for our team and his interaction with us. He's a true pro."

Three thoughts on the Cowboys' win

September, 30, 2014
Three thoughts on the Cowboys’ 38-17 win over New Orleans:

 1. I think Bruce Carter must wonder what football gods have against him, since a quadriceps strain will probably cost him at least one game.

Two seasons ago, he was playing the best he’d ever played when he suffered a dislocated elbow that ended his season. He spent last season in an unproductive fog but seemed to find his niche again this season after moving to strongside linebacker.

He had six tackles an two pass deflections before getting hurt against New Orleans. The Cowboys hope he’s not out long and that he returns with the same passion and performance.

  2. I think the Cowboys need to make sure they continue to get Joseph Randle involved, which is admittedly hard to do with DeMarco Murray leading the NFL in rushing and carries.

Murray, who has missed 11 games in his first three seasons, has 99 carries in the first four games. He’s on pace to carry 396 times, a huge number for a dude who has never carried more than 396 times in a season.

Coach Jason Garrett gave Randle the final series of the third quarter, and he responded with three carries for 21 yards and had an 18-yard run negated by a penalty. Garrett said Randle is running confidently and aggressively.

That’s why it’s time to ease Murray’s load just a tad, so he’s still able to grind in November and December.

3. I think the Cowboys’ defensive line is going to be better than I figured.
It’s because they don’t have any bad players in their rotation. You don’t think about it much, but there’s a significant difference between an average player and a bad player.

You can survive with average players in the right circumstance. You can’t survive with bad players.

The Cowboys don’t have any stars, but with the mix of guys they have, there’s little difference when one comes out and another goes in, and the result is the defensive line plays to the same standard the entire game. They can play with maximum effort because they’re getting consistent rest and the offense has been keeping them off the field.

KEY STAT: 50.8

Garrett always talks about having the ability to attack a defense in a lot of different ways.

Well, the Cowboys have achieved perfect offensive harmony during their first four games, as they’re running it 50.8 percent of the time -- and that has helped lead to a three-game winning streak.

The Cowboys are No. 1 in the NFL with 165.0 yards rushing per games and rank fourth with a 5.08 average per carry.

This is the first time under Garrett that the Cowboys have made the running game the epicenter of their offense -- and it’s opening up everything else.

That’s because the more opponents have to use an additional safety to stop Murray, the more the Cowboys can attack downfield with Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams or Jason Witten.

Bryant and Williams each scored on touchdown passes Sunday against New Orleans, in part, because they were facing single coverage so the Saints could devote more manpower to stopping the Cowboys’ running game.

 PLAYER TO WATCH: Barry Church

He’s not flashy, but he doesn't mistake that for not being effective. Actually, Church would be really good on a great defense because he could freelance more and put himself in position to make more plays.

But in the Cowboys’ defensive scheme and with their personnel, he tends to play it safe, as he should.

Church is solid in coverage, a willing tackler and a guy who makes the right play most of the time. He had six tackles against the Saints and made a couple of nice tackles that stopped New Orleans from converting third downs.

They weren’t spectacular plays, but they were effective and ended the drive. They were typical Church plays.
IRVING, Texas -- There were 124 plays in the Cowboys' 34-31 come-from-behind win over the St. Louis Rams. They weren't all created equal. It's never that way. While the touchdowns and interceptions get most of the attention, who wins or loses is often determined by plays that get lost in shadow of those that command the most attention.

Here are five plays that shaped the Cowboys' win:

Play: Jason Witten reception
Situation: Third-and-3 from Dallas 27
Score: St. Louis leads, 21-0
Time: 4:42 left in second quarter
Taylor's Take: Every comeback needs that first play that gets the comeback going. Jason Witten provided it. Lined up in the slot, Witten ran a quick out and caught an 8-yard pass from Tony Romo no different than he's probably done a thousand times if we're counting practices. Six plays and four first downs later, the Cowboys scored their first touchdown.

Play: Henry Melton fumble recovery
Situation: Third-and-1 from Dallas 44
Score: St. Louis leads, 21-7
Time: :42 left in second quarter
Taylor's Take: The Rams were going for the kill as they should have, and a first down would've allowed St. Louis to end the first half with no worse than a field goal attempt. Instead, center Scott Wells snapped the ball as though quarterback Austin Davis was under center instead of the shotgun. Melton's recovery led to a field goal in the final seconds on the first half, giving the Cowboys hope -- the most important element of any comeback.

Play: Jared Cook drop
Situation: Third-and-3 from Dallas 10
Score: St. Louis leads, 21-20
Time: 13:37 left in fourth quarter
Taylor's Take: You don't rally from a 21-point deficit without help from the opponent. Cook provided it in the fourth quarter. After going in motion, he ran a nice corner route against J.J. Wilcox and was wide open. Quarterback Austin Davis led him perfectly, but the ball bounced off Cook's hands. He tried to corral it with his left, but it ricocheted off his facemask and onto the ground. The Rams kicked a field goal, but that didn't do enough to stem the Cowboys' momentum.

Play: Tony Romo run
Situation: Third-and-13 from Dallas 13
Score: St. Louis leads, 24-21
Time: 11:47 left in fourth quarter
Taylor's Take: For a guy who's had two back surgeries in the last year, Romo isn't that interested in running. But with the Cowboys in an empty backfield against a three-man rush, Romo couldn't find an open receiver. Finally, he took off. Romo eluded linebacker Alec Ogletree after about 10 yards and picked up the first down. It was his longest run since a 17-yard run in 2011 against New England.

Play: Anthony Hitchens tackle
Situation: Fourth-and-1 from Dallas 15
Score: St. Louis leads, 21-17
Time: 7:11 left in third quarter
Taylor's Take: The Cowboys had scored 17 points in less than five minutes of game action and the Rams needed points in the worst way. Coach Jeff Fisher wanted a touchdown -- not a field goal -- so he went for it on fourth down. The Rams ran a slow-developing play that involved a pulling guard. Fourth-round pick Anthony Hitchens sprinted behind the guard and hit Zac Stacy in the backfield, dropping him for a 1-yard loss.

Upon Further Review: Defense shines

September, 15, 2014
The Dallas Cowboys moved to 1-1 with a commanding 26-10 victory over the Tennessee Titans on Sunday afternoon.

After every game we take a look back in Upon Further Review.

1. After training camp there were plenty of concerns about the defense from its pass rush to secondary play. Losing Sean Lee at middle linebacker was also a major blow to a defense that ranked last in 2013. Two weeks into the season, the defense is doing just fine. In the victory over the Titans, safety Barry Church had a pick, linebacker Rolando McClain also had one, Morris Claiborne almost picked one off and corners, Sterling Moore and Brandon Carr had strong performances. Moore knocked down several passes and Carr did a solid job in one-on-one coverage. The pass rush also got to Jake Locker numerous times and the Cowboys defense was on point. The unit was more physical this week and the increased snaps for defensive tackle Henry Melton helped. There was even a Kyle Wilber sighting as he obtained half a sack on a bull rush move.

2. Melton didn’t start against the San Francisco 49ers in Week 1, but in Week 2 he became a starter and showed the Cowboys’ coaches why he was worth signing in free agency. Melton’s tipped pass led to a McClain interception and he picked up a half-sack when he flushed Locker out of the pocket. Melton, using the three-technique along the defensive line, was able to push the pocket and he didn’t face a lot of double-teams. That might change this week when the Cowboys take on the St. Louis Rams.

3. DeMarco Murray was fantastic on Sunday. He rushed for 167 yards on 29 carries with one touchdown. Murray broke 11 tackles and despite a fumble for the second consecutive week, was able to brush it aside and run with a fury downfield. Murray has adopted the one-cut technique from position coach Gary Brown. In years past, Brown noticed the Cowboys’ running backs were doing too much dancing when they got to the hole, so Brown told the backs to get what they can. If the hole dictated one or two yards, so be it. Murray isn’t afraid to get just one or two yards, however, the offensive line is getting a good push into the second level of the defense, allowing him to make that one-cut and get up field.

4. Last week, left tackle Tyron Smith played a solid game though he allowed one sack and was penalized twice. Right tackle Doug Free gave up two sacks in the first half and looked over matched. As the game progressed, the veteran took over and handled outside linebacker Derrick Morgan and defensive end Ropati Pitoitua one-on-one with little trouble. There were times he had tight end Jason Witten lined up with him, but Free was able to produce a strong effort overall.

5. One of the biggest plays of the game came from Witten. With Dallas leading 16-10 late in the third quarter, Tony Romo floated a pass into the flat over a leaping defensive tackle Jurrell Casey. The pass was too high for Witten to haul in and safety Bernard Pollard caught the ball. Witten had the presence of mind to strip Pollard and force an incompletion. If Pollard maintains control of the ball he probably gets a pick-six and the Titans take the lead.

5 plays that shaped Cowboys' 26-10 win

September, 15, 2014
There were 125 plays in the Dallas Cowboys' 26-10 win against the Tennessee Titans, but not all of them are created equal. We all pay attention to the touchdowns and turnovers, but there are often other plays that play an important role in shaping the game, too.

Here's a look at five plays that shaped the Cowboys' win:

Play: Tony Romo incompletion
Situation: Second-and-4 from Tennessee 33
Score: Dallas leads, 16-10
Time: 4:51 left in third quarter
Taylor's Take: There's a good chance we'd be talking about the 0-2 Cowboys if Jason Witten doesn't make the play of the game. Tennessee had scored on its first two second-half possessions to pull within 16-10. On this play, Witten initially blocked before releasing into the right flat. Romo threw the ball high and it bounced off Witten's fingertips into the arms of Bernard Pollard, who would've returned it for a touchdown. Witten instinctively grabbed Pollard around the waist and knocked the ball out. Six plays later, Dez Bryant caught a touchdown pass for a 23-10 lead.

[+] EnlargeDeMarco Murray
AP Photo/Mark ZaleskiDespite a fumble by DeMarco Murray, the Cowboys held on for a Week 2 win at Tennessee.
Play: Jake Locker incompletion
Situation: Third-and-6 from Tennessee 50
Score: Tied, 0-0
Time: 7:27 left in first quarter
Taylor's Take: DeMarco Murray's second fumble of the season had given Tennessee great field position and an opportunity to take an early lead. Nate Washington ran a crossing route and settled in a soft spot on the Cowboys' zone, but safety J.J. Wilcox broke nicely on Locker's pass, deflecting it, and middle linebacker Rolando McClain slung him to the ground to force the incompletion and keep the score tied.

Play: Chris Jones punt
Situation: Fourth-and-six from Dallas 42
Score: Dallas leads, 10-0
Time: 6:51 left in second quarter
Taylor's Take: Dwayne Harris shows folks every week why he's among this team's most important players. Jones' punt bounced at 15 and was headed into the end zone, but Harris avoided Dexter McCluster's block at the 5, grabbed the ball at the 1 and tossed it backward just before he landed in the end zone. James Hanna downed the ball at the 2. The field position switch ultimately led to a field goal and a 13-0 Dallas lead.

Play: Cole Beasley reception
Situation: Third-and-7 from Dallas 35
Score: Dallas leads, 23-10
Time: 13:03 left in fourth quarter
Taylor's Take: The Cowboys needed a good drive to burn some clock and reduce Tennessee's chances of a comeback. So Romo picked a good time to deliver one of his best passes. Beasley, operating from the slot, ran a quick out and Romo delivered a perfect pass that Beasley caught in stride for a first down. The 11-play, 38-yard drive ended with a field goal.

Play: Kyle Wilber sack
Situation: Second-and-10 from Tennessee 13
Score: Dallas leads, 13-0
Time: :53 left in second quarter
Taylor's Take: The Titans were aggressive at the end of the first half, but Wilber wrecked the plan with a strong power rush. It was the first sack by a defensive lineman -- Wilber was rushing as a defensive end not a linebacker. It put the Titans in a third-and-long situation that helped force a punt and set up another Dallas field goal before the end of the half.