Dallas Cowboys: Jay Cutler
But there are five that stand out as musts for the Cowboys if they want to make the playoffs for the first time since 2009. And it might not be the five you are thinking of, such as the season opener against the San Francisco 49ers or the season ender against the Washington Redskins.
Let’s take a look:
Sept. 21 at St. Louis Rams: You might think this is an odd choice, but the Cowboys need to win games they are supposed to win. If this game was at AT&T Stadium, then you could book DeMarco Murray for at least 150 yards and the Cowboys winning big. Since it is in St. Louis, it will be more difficult but not impossible. The last time the Cowboys visited the Arch, they were pasted 34-14 in 2008 with Tony Romo out because of a busted pinky. The Cowboys missed the playoffs that year by one game. The Rams were a different team at the end of last season than they were when they played the Cowboys in Week 3, but if Dallas wants to be serious, then this is a game they must win.
Oct. 5 vs. Houston Texans: The Texans were 2-14 last year and have a new coach and will have a new quarterback, potentially even a rookie. But Houston has more talent than most 2-14 teams. Last year just snowballed on them and they could do nothing about it. This will be only the second trip to the area to play the Cowboys. In 2006, Tony Romo threw the first passes of his career against Houston in a 34-6 win. Why is this game important? It’s sandwiched between a visit from the New Orleans Saints, who embarrassed the Cowboys last year, and a trip to take on the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks. The Cowboys can’t afford a three-game losing streak this early in the season.
Nov. 2 vs. Arizona Cardinals: The easiest way to make the playoffs is to win the NFC East. In order to have a wild-card chance, the Cowboys need to win their out of division matchups in the NFC. The Cardinals finished 10-6 last year and look like a team that can contend for a postseason spot even in a division with the Seahawks and 49ers. For the Cowboys to have wild-card hopes, they will need to hold off Larry Fitzgerald, Carson Palmer & Co. in what concludes a three-game homestand.
Nov. 23 at NY Giants: The NFL did not do the Cowboys any favors with this game being on NBC’s “Sunday Night Football,” which will mean the Cowboys have a quick turnaround on Thanksgiving against the Philadelphia Eagles. As much as we have discussed the Giants’ success in Arlington, the Cowboys have won three of four games at MetLife Stadium. Coming off the bye week following their trip to London to take on the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Cowboys would be best served to continue their road success in the Meadowlands with the Eagles coming to AT&T Stadium four days later.
Dec. 4 at Chicago Bears: The Cowboys were embarrassed at Soldier Field last year and Jay Cutler didn’t even play. Josh McCown threw four touchdown passes against Dallas, and the Cowboys’ offense was equally as abysmal. It might have been the worst effort of the season. If the Cowboys can win this game, then they could gain a wild-card edge. They would also have a 10-day break before heading to Philadelphia for a key NFC East matchup at Lincoln Financial Field on Dec. 14.
If anything, you could say this was a smart move in getting rid of a player to save money, in this case, $7.4 million.
Quarterback Tony Romo will reach that point someday.
If not for the restructure, Romo would have had the second-highest cap number in the NFL at his position behind Chicago’s Jay Cutler ($22.5 million).
Now Romo has the 16th highest cap hit at his position for this year.
But the future is almost now in the NFL, and the more the Cowboys keep pushing money around to create salary-cap space for the present, the more it will hurt them in the future.
Next year, Romo’s cap number is projected to be $27.7 million, the highest in the NFL. New Orleans' Drew Brees is projected to have the second-highest cap number for a quarterback at $26.4 million.
Romo’s base salary for 2015 is $17 million.
Team executive vice president Stephen Jones said a quarterback is going to take the biggest chunk of the cap on most NFL teams, and he’s right. Another example: the Giants' Eli Manning has a cap number of $20.4 million for 2014.
But at what point are you getting bang for your buck?
Romo turns 34 next month and is coming off his second type of back surgery, and if you see the same overall team result -- not making the postseason again -- regardless of how he plays, is it worth devoting a huge amount of cap space to him?
Yes, especially if you think he’s a good quarterback, which Romo is. Age and health are determining factors for players in the NFL. The fate of Romo, meanwhile might be decided in 2016.
Yeah, it’s a few years away, but if the Cowboys restructure Romo’s contract again next year to lower his cap number, it only increases it the following year. In 2016, Romo’s cap hit will be $17.6 million, pretty reasonable right?
Well before the restructure of 2014, the cap number for 2016 was $15.1 million. Now it has been increased. The Cowboys, like most NFL teams, expect the salary cap to grow each year, so they can absorb some of this money.
However, Romo, who is signed through 2019, will be 36 in 2016. Will he be the same at that age?
What happened to Ware this week could happen to Romo, and though it’s not easy to find a replacement for a defensive lineman, it’s harder to find a franchise quarterback.
Ware missed three games earlier this season because of a quadriceps strain, but he has played in each of the last three games. In his first game back, against the New Orleans Saints, he was limited to 51 of 83 snaps after he aggravated his quadriceps on a sack of Drew Brees. He played on 96 of the last 123 defensive snaps in the Cowboys' wins against the New York Giants and the Raiders. It is the highest percentage of plays Ware has played since the first two games of the season.
Now he knows he has to get his sack totals up. He has only five this season, his fewest this late in a season since his rookie year. And he knows it will be Josh McCown he must track down, now that the Bears have ruled out Jay Cutler.
McCown has been sacked 10 times in his six games (four starts). Cutler was sacked 11 times in his eight starts.
“I’ve got to get back on track,” Ware said.
Every Tuesday as always wonder about some things. Five Wonders is back and off we go:
- Jason Hatcher is having a career year and it could not have come at a better time. Hatcher will be a free agent after the season and already has more sacks this year than he has had in any season. And he could make the Pro Bowl, which is something he mentions frequently. But Hatcher will turn 32 next July. I'm on record saying the Cowboys can't pay age. But I wonder if the Cowboys would consider using the franchise tag on him. It would chew up $9-10 million in salary-cap room, but they would buy some time in finding defensive line help for beyond 2014. The Cowboys will have to make a number of moves to get under the cap, but they would be able to fit Hatcher in at the franchise number. Is it worth it? The Cowboys put the tag on Anthony Spencer last year, paying him $10.6 million. I thought it was the right move at the time and did not second guess it after Spencer's knee injury cost him all but one game this season. I'm not as sure about tagging Hatcher. They might have to restructure more deals than they would want and that would also affect the cap in 2015 and beyond. And last year the defensive line market was thin, even for the top players.
- Kyle Orton in the offseason. He will make $3.25 million in 2014 and count $4.377 against the salary cap. The Cowboys will have to do a lot of maneuvering to get under the cap in the offseason and could just restructure Orton's contract in the same way they did last March. The Cowboys have yet to start the clock on finding Tony Romo's replacement, which is another reason to keep Orton around. But the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers also offer up valid reasons to keep Orton even if he does not throw a pass this year. The Packers season has gone to shreds without Aaron Rodgers. They have not won since losing Rodgers, turning first to Seneca Wallace, who got hurt, then to Scott Tolzien and now they're on Matt Flynn. The Bears are 2-3 without Jay Cutler, though it is difficult to put much of the blame on Josh McCown. He's done a nice job and been a stabilizing force, but the Bears appeared to learn their lesson when they lost Cutler in previous seasons. Romo turns 34 in April. He's battled injuries in the past and had back surgery last April. Keeping Orton makes sense and something I think the Cowboys do. It's an insurance policy worth keeping. I wonder if the Cowboys will have a decision to make on backup quarterback
- I wonder if the Cowboys had Laurent Robinson in the back of their mind when they have signed some of these defensive linemen this season. Confused? Hear me out. In 2011, Robinson had a career year with 54 catches for 858 yards and 11 touchdowns, but because the Cowboys signed him to a minimum salary-benefit contract they were unable to re-sign him before he hit free agency. Jacksonville swooped in with a five-year, $32.5 million deal with $14 million guaranteed. It was way too rich for the Cowboys -- and ultimately the Jaguars -- but without the restriction Robinson would have re-signed with the Cowboys at a much cheaper rate. That brings me to the defensive linemen. When the Cowboys signed George Selvie, Everette Brown, Jarius Wynn, Drake Nevis and Martez Wilson, they made sure they got a second year on the contracts. They are all signed through 2014, so if they hit -- and Selvie is a hit -- the Cowboys hold their rights for a second year. That's a shrewd move, in my opinion.
- I wonder if DeMarco Murray can reach 1,000 yards. Yep, I do. Murray missed two games with a knee injury and essentially missed a third when he got just four carries for 31 yards against the Minnesota Vikings when the game plan called for Tony Romo to pass the ball early and often. But with four games to go Murray needs 303 yards to reach 1,000. In his last three games Murray has rushed for 89, 86 and 63 yards. If he keeps up that pace, he would get there. Reaching 1,000 yards should not be that difficult, but the Cowboys sure seem to make it difficult after years of Tony Dorsett and Emmitt Smith almost annually reaching the mark. The last Dallas runner to go for more than 1,000 yards was Julius Jones (1,084) in 2006 and that's the Cowboys only 1,000-yard rusher since 2001.
- I don't wonder if the Cowboys will rue the day they lost Alex Tanney, just as I don't think the Cowboys have rued the day since losing Matt Moore oh so many years ago. (Long-time readers will know how I feel about Moore). The Cleveland Browns signed Tanney off the Cowboys' practice squad last week. I liked what Tanney did in a short time with the Cowboys over the summer. He showed some things in his preseason work, but there will be a new Tanney next summer. Or even next week. I wonder if the Cowboys add a quarterback to the practice squad over the final month of the season. They could use the last four weeks to bring a guy in for a free look and essentially give him a “signing bonus” for four weeks of being on the practice squad and sign him to a futures deal when the season ends.
Where's the pressure?: For just the second time this season, the Cowboys did not record a quarterback sack. The only other time it happened came against Denver Broncos signal-caller Peyton Manning. Matt McGloin isn't Manning, but he was getting rid of the ball quickly, and that made it difficult for DeMarcus Ware or Jason Hatcher to get to him. With Jay Cutler (possibly), Aaron Rodgers (possibly), Robert Griffin III and Nick Foles left on the schedule, the Cowboys have to hope this is not the start of a trend.
Good coaching: DeMarco Murray is the Cowboys' lead runner. That should not be in doubt, but offensive coordinator Bill Callahan should be credited for sticking with Lance Dunbar in the third quarter. The Cowboys found something that was working and kept hitting it. With the field spread with the Cowboys using three wide receivers, Dunbar's quickness kept the Raiders off guard. Dunbar's longest run -- a 45-yarder -- came out of 11 personnel. If Dunbar can stay healthy, he will give the Cowboys a good change-of-pace back down the stretch to complement Murray.
Protect the ball: Dez Bryant could not blame his second-quarter fumble on cold weather like he did his fumble last week against the New York Giants. The Cowboys have had conversations with Bryant about being more willing to go down instead of fighting for extra yards, because he has not always secured the ball. That wasn't the case Thursday, but Bryant has to be careful, and the Cowboys have to be careful it doesn't take some of his aggression away. Facing second-and-15 in the fourth quarter, Bryant fought off three tacklers and gained 14 yards to make a third-down conversion much easier.
Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford did to the Cowboys what Eli Manning, Philip Rivers and Peyton Manning did to the Cowboys, completing 33 of 48 passes for 488 yards. He only had one touchdown and was intercepted twice, but 329 of those yards went to Calvin Johnson.
The Cowboys are the first team to allow four 400-yard passers in a season and eight games remain. And they still have to say hello New Orleans’ Drew Brees, Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers and Chicago’s Jay Cutler, who should be healthy by the Dec. 9 meeting. There’s also the rematch with the New York Giants and Eli Manning. And Robert Griffin III should be in better form for the Washington Redskins than he was in the first meeting of the season.
Stafford, the Manning brothers and Rivers have thrown for 1,753 yards against the Cowboys, completed 73.5 percent of their passes and averaged 438.3 yards per game.
The good news for the Cowboys is that they will see Christian Ponder, Josh Freeman or maybe even Matt Cassel Sunday at AT&T Stadium when the Minnesota Vikings visit.
I wonder if they can make it three in a row Sunday against the Detroit Lions. They have not won three in a row since Weeks 13-15 last season.
On to the Wonders:
• Right guard Brian Waters has helped cement the interior of the offensive line this season. It has not always been perfect, but it’s been solid and that’s not always been the case for the Cowboys the last few seasons. Waters is 36. I wonder if he wants to play again as a 37 year old. The Cowboys signed Waters to a one-year deal before the season started and allowed him to work in slowly before taking over the starting spot. If Waters wants to play again -- and it’s a question I’ll try to ask him this week -- I would bet the Cowboys would want him. There will have to be some assurances that he will take part in the offseason or training camp for sure. The proximity to his home should make a difference if he wants to play. I don’t know how big that “if” is, but the younger players have learned a lot from Waters and so have the more veteran guys. He helps with the shotgun snap by tapping rookie Travis Frederick. He has the strength to hold up at the point of attack. He doesn’t move as well as he once did, but he’s not just a phone booth guy either.
• Entering the game against the Philadelphia Eagles, DeMarco Murray had the highest percentage of rushing yards of a team in the league with 428 of the Cowboys’ 509 rushing yards. That percentage went down since he missed the Eagles’ game, and I wonder if the Cowboys will continue to use Joseph Randle in a role once Murray comes back from the knee injury. Murray has had a good 2013 season, but if Randle can lessen the burden, then the fresher Murray will be. We don’t know how Murray will handle a large amount of carries. He has never had more than 164 in a season because of injuries. Randle showed some decent vision against the Eagles and he was secure with the ball. He has more make-you-miss than Murray as well. Murray will still be the Cowboys’ bell cow in the running game, but if Randle can offer more than just a change of pace it makes sense to keep him involved in the game plan.
• I wonder if Dwayne Harris' punt return opportunities will be limited for the rest of the season. It would be the ultimate sign of respect from the opposition. Philadelphia’s Donnie Jones made sure Harris would not be a factor. His punts were high and outside the numbers, limiting where Harris could go if he chose to return a punt. As a result Harris averaged just 4.6 yards per punt return and had to use a fair catch signal twice. If this continues -- and if teams are smart it will -- then Harris will have to remain patient. Jason Garrett loves Harris’ decision making, but he knows there could come a time where Harris might try to make something out of nothing. That can only lead to trouble. Harris is a major weapon and the Eagles made sure he would not beat them the way he beat the Washington Redskins the previous week.
• I wonder if Edgar Jones knows just how much people will be paying attention to his recovery from sports hernia surgery. The Cowboys put him on the short-term injured reserve list, meaning he is out for eight weeks and can return Dec. 15 against the Green Bay Packers. Last December, the Cowboys chose not to place Jay Ratliff on injured reserve after he had sports hernia surgery because they hoped he would be able to return for a possible playoff run. Ratliff’s agent contended the surgery was more severe than the typical sports hernia, but I contend that if the Cowboys believed it would be a 12-month recovery they would have put him on injured reserve immediately last year. All surgeries are different. All rehab times are different. Terence Newman was back in five weeks from a sports hernia surgery a few years ago. Jones’ surgery was performed by the same doctor as Ratliff as well. If you’re wondering why the Cowboys used the one-time IR designation on Jones, then remember that the team was running out of time to use it and hope a player can be back in the regular season.
|Fitzsimmons & Durrett discuss Tony Romo's contract extension and what it says about Jerry Jones.
How can the Cowboys give Romo a $108 million contract with one playoff victory, three Pro Bowl appearances and a 1-6 mark in win-or-go-home games?
The market dictates so is one reason and another is the Cowboys believe Romo can deliver on a Super Bowl championship. But comparing Romo to the Manning Brothers, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers and Ben Roethlisberger is almost unfair because these men have won Super Bowl titles.
So why not compare Romo's resume to some other good quarterbacks who haven't won a Super Bowl. We picked the following: Matt Ryan, Matt Schaub, Jay Cutler and Philip Rivers
Below is a statistical comparison:
Is Romo better than Ryan? Better than Schaub? Is Romo worth the money after comparing him to other quarterbacks?
|Randy Galloway and Matt Mosley discuss the latest free-agency moves going on around the NFL.
Chase Blackburn vs. Kevin Burnett: The Cowboys released backup inside linebacker Dan Connor because he refused to take a pay cut. The Cowboys are in the market for another one and like middle linebacker Blackburn, who started 15 games last season for the New York Giants at middle linebacker. He finished second on the Giants with 97 tackles and had eight tackles for loss and seven quarterback hits. He also had three sacks and six pass breakups. If signed, Blackburn, an eight-year pro, would be a nice backup for Sean Lee at the inside linebacker spot. But what about Burnett? The former Cowboys linebacker was released by the Miami Dolphins on Tuesday and might be a nice pickup to start at that vacant outside linebacker position. Burnett, who started 16 games for the Dolphins last season at one of the outside linebacker positions in the Dolphins' 3-4 scheme, would like a return to Dallas. He was credited with 109 total tackles (second on the team), picked up 2 1/2 sacks, five tackles for loss and five quarterback hits. Who would you rather have, Blackburn or Burnett?
Martellus Bennett goes to Chicago: The tight end signed a four-year, $20 million deal with the Chicago Bears. He's come a long way since his days in Dallas, when he fumed at times for not getting enough passes thrown his way. Bennett had an excellent season for the Giants and, while they wanted him to return, the Bears had a need at the position. One of the biggest problems with Bennett in Dallas was his lack of maturity and the Cowboys' inability to know how to use him. Bennett's career is summed up this way in Dallas: He caught four touchdown passes his rookie season (2008) and none the next three seasons. He caught five TD passes during his one year with the Giants. He's a good blocking tight end, something the Cowboys need, and he's athletic enough to make plays on the field. We'll see how Bennett does with Jay Cutler.
Jenkins and Jones drawing interest: Free agent cornerback Mike Jenkins and running back Felix Jones didn't have any visits the first day of free agency. But with the biggest day of this period over with, both are starting to draw interest. The former first-round picks, especially Jones, need to prove to NFL teams that they can stay healthy for an entire season and are willing to accept backup roles. It will be interesting to see if Jenkins, a former Pro Bowler, gets a two- or three-year contract to become a starter or maybe gets his role changed to possibly get snaps at safety, where he played some in 2012.
The good news: The Cowboys couldn't participate Tuesday because they have just $175,000 in cap space. Anthony Spencer signed his franchise tender, and the team can continue having talks with their defensive end about a long-term deal. Also, if the team can finalize a new long-term deal with Tony Romo, it'll lower his salary cap number from $16.8 million and open the door for the Cowboys to sign some second-tier free agents.
Romo is 10th.
|ESPNDallas.com's Todd Archer joins Coop and Nate to discuss the Cowboys' salary cap situation and Tony Romo.
He's never been in trouble with the law. Never been popped for PEDs. He's played in pain and challenges his teammates in private and in public settings.
So why the hate?
Romo plays for America's Team, the Dallas Cowboys, and with that comes expectations. Since becoming the starter in 2006, Romo has won one playoff game and is 1-6 in win-or-go-home games.
Some of Romo's biggest disappointments have been on national television -- most recently, his three-interception game in the regular season finale at the Washington Redskins with a playoff berth on the line.
It's a hard life, but until Romo pushes his team to a deep playoff berth, some fans might hate him.
If you judge Romo on a small sample, 2010-12, he is one of 14 NFL quarterbacks with over 10,000 passing yards. He's thrown for 10,692 yards -- 11th most in the NFL -- and his 70 touchdown passes ties him for eighth among QBs from 2010-12. Romo has also thrown 81 passes of 25 or more yards -- eighth most in the league. That's more than Michael Vick, Matt Ryan, Jay Cutler, Peyton Manning and Ben Roethlisberger.
The problem, of course, whether it's Romo's fault or not, is he plays for the Cowboys, and the expectations are high for this team. Until Romo gets a Super Bowl, they will continue to be. And at 33 when the 2013 season starts in September, time is starting to run out on him.
One of the most hated? That's unfair to Romo. He is a good quarterback and just hasn't won the big enough game to get his team to the Super Bowl.
Does Romo's agent look at what Flacco is about to get and say his client is better? Or does Romo, whose average salary is $12.7 million, get more of an average salary in the range of say Matt Schaub, whose average is $13.2 million? What about Philip Rivers, who gets an average salary of $14.03 million?
Romo's salary could be in line with Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler, who also becomes a free agent after the 2013 season. Cutler might command an average salary of $15-18 million. Do the Cowboys push Romo to that number?
PODCAST ESPNDallas.com's Todd Archer joins Coop and Nate to discuss the Cowboys' salary cap situation and Tony Romo.
I think Rivers is a pretty good comparison for Romo, though (obviously until the final game) Romo had a considerably better 2012 season than Rivers did. Romo's lack of playoff success keeps him out of the upper echelon, and for good reason, but he's a better player than Schaub and Cutler, and if Cutler's really going to get to $15 million or more, Romo might be tempted to hold out a while and see how that situation settles. But there is big risk in that, since Romo's contract runs out after 2013, and the security of a deal that goes beyond that is likely to tempt him more.
My guess is he gets four more years added on after this one -- a deal that runs through 2017 -- at a little more than $14 million per year. Seems fair all the way around. Had he not thrown three interceptions in the season finale in Washington, and had he capped his very good 2012 season with a division title, maybe he could have made the case for more. But he did throw those interceptions, and he lost that game, feeding into the negatives about himself, which the Cowboys are sure to mention when it comes time to talk money.
|ESPNDallas.com's Todd Archer joins Coop and Nate to discuss the Cowboys' salary cap situation and Tony Romo.
Flacco's average would put him in line with Drew Brees ($20 million), Peyton Manning ($19.2 million) and Michael Vick ($16 million) among the highest-paid quarterbacks in the NFL. (Vick gets knocked off the list if he isn't with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2013.)
Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo is entering the final year of his deal in 2013 and is almost certain to get a contract extension, which, of course, would also lower his cap number and continue the long-term stability at the position.
Does Romo's agent look at what Flacco is about to get and say his client is better?
Or does Romo, whose average salary is $12.7 million, get more of an average salary in the range of say Matt Schaub, whose average is $13.2 million? What about Philip Rivers, who gets an average salary of $14.03 million?
Romo's salary could be in line with that of Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler, who also becomes a free agent after the 2013 season.
Cutler might command an average salary of $15-18 million. Do the Cowboys push Romo to that number?
Romo is a good quarterback. But he has struggled in late-season games, as his 1-6 record in win-or-go home games would attest. The length of Romo's contract is another topic. Should Romo get a three-year contract extension? How about a five-year extension?
What about drafting a quarterback in 2013? How would Romo respond to that? Would it upset him if the Cowboys used a pick on a quarterback?
|Chris Mortensen joins Galloway & Company to discuss the Cowboys' chances of making the Super Bowl and where Tony Romo ranks among NFL quarterbacks.
One other option the Cowboys have: Don't extend Romo. Let him play out his contract, then use the franchise tag on him in 2014 if he plays well. Make Romo earn his money, given that he'll be 33 when next season begins and has led the Cowboys to just one playoff victory in his career.
|Cowboys LB Sean Lee discusses the play of the defense, focusing on their mistakes during the bye week and more.
Of the seven possessions by Chicago (not including the two kneel downs and a three-and-out when the score was 34-10), the Bears made sure they knew where Ware was and mostly made sure Cutler got rid of the ball. The one time he didn’t Ware had his sack and fumble by chasing Cutler down from behind.
Ware has seen a backup tackle (Seattle was without Russell Okung) and a picked-on tackle in Webb and he has only been OK. His sack/fumble of Cutler on Monday was a huge play that gets lost when Tony Romo is intercepted (or fumbled) on the next play and is returned for a touchdown by Lance Briggs
Ware was singled up with Webb or right tackle Gabe Carimi 14 times in his pass rush. Seven times they gave some sort of help to the tackles with either a tight end or running back. Four times Ware was in coverage. He was off the field for one of Cutler’s passes to take a rest.
On Cutler’s long touchdown to Devin Hester, Ware was singled up by Webb but Cutler was throwing away from Ware and drifted away from any pressure. On Brandon Marshall’s big third-down catch on Brandon Carr, Ware was able to pressure up the middle but it was a quick throw. On Marshall’s 31-yard touchdown, Ware got caught in the wash as he looped inside.
For those of you wanting to believe Ware doesn’t make impact sacks, take a peek at how the Bears made sure they took Ware out of the game with shorter drops and quicker throws.
The secondary struggled to say the least against the Bears. A lot of the attention will go on Carr, but the Bears took advantage of the Cowboys’ safety play.
They were able to work the middle of the field against the Cowboys’ zone coverage to near perfection, especially with Marshall but Alshon Jeffery had his moments too. Gerald Sensabaugh might not want to look at the first drive of the third quarter.
Jeffery worked underneath for 14 yards against Sensabaugh. Marshall got him for 10 more a play later. And on Hester’s touchdown, Sensbaugh jumped an underneath receiver when Danny McCray was already apparently in position.
Hester uses a double move to break free from Morris Claiborne, but the rookie corner looks like he is playing outside leverage and expecting help inside to the post. It wasn’t there.
It wasn’t just Sensabaugh either. Mike Jenkins was beaten by Kellen Davis for a 21-yard pickup on third down with the score 24-10. Davis opened up the corner route by taking Jenkins inside for a few steps. Sensabaugh was in position for that but Jenkins lost contact with Davis, giving up the outside throw.
For those of you wanting Rob Ryan to blitz more, witness Marshall’s 31-yard touchdown. The Cowboys sent seven guys at Cutler, including Claiborne off the corner, and could not get home. Carr got caught up with Davis and McCray underneath, giving Marshall the middle of the field for what could have been the easiest touchdown of his career.
As Jean-Jacques Taylor noted this morning, this was another brutal game for the offense.
Jason Garrett was right about one thing: they were able to pick up yards in the passing game. The protection of Tony Romo was not that bad overall but Henry Melton’s forced pick/fumble that led to Briggs touchdown was a back breaker.
Right guard Mackenzy Bernadeau was beaten to his outside shoulder and caught off balance. He tried to push Melton by as Romo climbed the pocket but Melton was able to poke the ball free. I have a feeling this will be called a fumble after an official review of the play by the league and not an interception even as Romo was looking to flip the ball to Jason Witten.
That was a huge play, but the line’s pass protection was good enough. The Bears brought five-man or more pressures nine times and Romo completed 8 of 9 passes.
Romo will want a couple of throws back and we’re not talking about the interceptions in the second half. We’re talking two touchdown throws.
The first came in the second quarter. He missed Dez Bryant on a deep ball down the seam on man-to-man coverage after Felix Jones’ motioned wide to open up the throw. Romo either did not put enough air under the ball or threw it too early.
The second came in the third quarter with the Bears leading, 24-10. It was another deep ball down the seam, this time to Miles Austin. At the snap Austin beat the corner and the safety, Chris Conte, was late to cover up. Again Romo either didn’t put enough air under the ball or threw it too early.
The running game was non-existent and it wasn’t because the Bears were dedicating an extra defender to the box. They had only three eight-man fronts in the first half. The line could not get enough push. Simple as that.
But DeMarco Murray will lament a second-quarter toss play to the left. Jason Witten sealed the edge. Tyron Smith had Lance Briggs under control. Kevin Ogletree had safety Conte blocked and cornerback Charles Tillman took himself out of the play.
If Murray catches the toss from Romo, which was a good one, then he has a big gain. Maybe not a touchdown, but certainly a first down and perhaps his second-longest run of the season.
Making that hurt even more? Romo and Bryant had a miscommunication on the next play that led to Tillman’s pick six.
Cutler was sacked twice, fumbling on a DeMarcus Ware, strip sack, but overall the pressure didn't seem to bother him.
According to ESPN's Stats and Information Department, Culter had completed just 45 percent of his passes against five or more pass rushers, second worst in the league. But in the second half, Cutler was fantastic against added pressure.
Cutler went 6-6 for 127 yards in the second half against pressures of five or more.
"We didn't get to him enough but (if) you know what's coming at you, you know how to get the ball out of your hands," said Ware, who finished with three tackles along with the sack.
Cutler was hit three times by the Cowboys defense.
"We have to do our job week in and week out," center Roberto Garza said. "Obviously on a big stage like this, against a good defense, there was a little more pressure on us. But that's part of what we do. We're excited to go out there and execute our game plan. There's a lot we can clean (up), but our skills did a hell of a job (Monday)."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.