Dallas Cowboys: Michael Turner
Assuming they move on from Felix Jones, the Cowboys will be in the market for a running back who can spell starter DeMarco Murray and, if need be, replace him when he gets injured. Unlike Calvin, I actually think someone like Turner or former Giants running back Ahmad Bradshaw would work here. They need someone who's used to carrying the load, since it doesn't appear as though they can count on Murray lasting a whole season. And even if he did, they'd need someone who can replace him for long stretches during the game in order to help keep him healthy. I understand the temptation for a speed back as a change of pace, but Jones was supposed to be that and it didn't work. Why not a veteran grinder who runs with power and is used to playing in a passing offense? Someone like Phillip Tanner or Lance Dunbar could develop into what they need behind Murray, but it's not a bad idea to bring in someone with experience just in case they don't.
New York Giants
After cutting Bradshaw, the Giants appear set to go with second-year man David Wilson as the lead back and, assuming they re-sign him, Andre Brown as the goal-line guy. Maybe Brown's duties increase over what they were last year behind Bradshaw. And maybe Wilson isn't (a) ready or (b) the right kind of back to handle the running and pass-protection responsibilities in the Giants' offense. They ended the season with guys like Ryan Torain and Kregg Lumpkin on the roster for depth, and they could go back to one or both of them. I imagine they'll give Wilson the shot at the lead-back role, but they'll want to be protected in case he can't handle it. So don't be surprised if they bring a few backs to camp that you've heard of.
The Eagles look pretty well set with LeSean McCoy and Bryce Brown as electric playmakers in the backfield. They also still have Dion Lewis and Chris Polk kicking around for depth. I don't see this as a need area for the Eagles this offseason.
As Mike points out in that link up there, it appears the Redskins would like to find someone who can fill in for workhorse starter Alfred Morris on third downs. That could certainly be Roy Helu if he could manage to stay healthy, but to this point he has not done that, and Mike Shanahan will surely want to bring four or more backs to camp for depth and competition purposes. As great as Morris' rookie season was -- and it was fantastic -- this is a position at which Shanahan has a well-known history of trying to stay ahead of the curve. If the Redskins' running game hierarchy is altered in 2013 from what it was in its very successful 2012, it would not be a surprise.
|Adam Schefter joins Fitzsimmons & Durrett to discuss how much the Cowboys will pay Tony Romo, what Romo would demand on the open market, what Romo's potential trade value would be and what else we can expect from the Cowboys this offseason.
A: The NFL is a young man's game and I don't think signing a 31-year old running back with 1,639 career rushing attempts is a smart move. Now Turner is a physical back the Cowboys haven't had since the days of Marion Barber. They've have elusive backs such as Felix Jones and DeMarco Murray in recent years. Murray runs better between the tackles than Jones but he's not as physical as Turner. But I believe Turner wouldn't be a good fit with Dallas because of his age and Murray can run with a physical style that's needed from time-to-time. If the Cowboys add a running back, it should come in the draft.
Q: Calvin, huge Cowboys fan and always keeping up with new information and my question is what do you think of the Cowboys taking Tyler Bray out of Tennessee in the third or fourth round? All the scouts have said he has one of the strongest arms in the draft. He just needs to work on consistency and that would be perfect since we do not need him to come in and start and now we have Derek Dooley on the coaching staff. Cody Harris (Wichita, Kansas).
A: In Bray's last season at Tennessee he threw for a career-high 34 touchdowns and was impressive at times. Mel Kiper, ESPN's draft expert, doesn't rank Bray among his Top 5 quarterbacks in his position rankings. It doesn't mean Bray isn't very good. This quarterback class is very weak, so selecting Bray in the third or fourth rounds wouldn't be a bad idea. However, if quarterbacks such as Mike Glennon, Tyler Wilson and maybe Ryan Nassib fall out of the first two rounds, that means, Bray could be a fifth or sixth round pick. Is he a steal if this happens? I'm not against drafting a quarterback, especially if that means the youngster can sit and learn for about two years while the Cowboys maximize Tony Romo's prime years.
Q: We can't afford Anthony Spencer, furthermore do you think he can excel in a 4-3? I think we have to draft a true 4-3 guy, maybe offensive line (Jonathan Cooper) in first round and defensive end in second round (Margus Hunt). What do you think? Toneye Brown (Balm Bay, Fla.)
A: I don't believe Anthony Spencer will play for the Cowboys this season. It appears doubtful the team will franchise him. Spencer can play outside linebacker in the 3-4 and defensive end in the 4-3. I think his skill set is better suited in a 3-4 defense, I think New Orleans would be a nice fit for Spencer, reunite him with Rob Ryan. Cooper is moving up the draft boards so he'll probably be unavailable at No. 18. Hunt is an interesting prospect. He was impressive at the Senior Bowl practices and at the Scouting Combine. Hunt could be a third or round pick. Not sure if drafting him in the second round is worth it at this stage.
Q: Even though I hated to see Rob Ryan go I like the thought of playing 4-3 and lining up and playing football. What do you think? Aceboogie (Jacksonville, Fla.)
A: The only issue I have with the 4-3 defense is whether or not the Cowboys have the personnel to implement it. If the Cowboys lose Anthony Spencer in free agency, you have to find a defensive end. Is it Jason Hatcher? Sean Lissemore? Tyrone Crawford? Someone else? The Cowboys don't have a lot of money to play with in free agency after they get under the $121 million salary cap. The other outside linebacker is another issue. Is it Kyle Wilber? Alex Albright? Someone else? Do you try and bring Victor Butler back? Finding players at those two spots are issues, not major ones, but important enough to worry about. Other than those two positions the Cowboys have the talent to move to a 4-3.
Q: As a huge Cowboys fan, it bothers me that we have moved from a focus on the offensive and defensive line to specialty players. If you look at great teams, even of the Cowboys, it starts with the line. Do you think this year will be a focus for the 'Boys during the draft? Herb Bennett (Valdosta, Ga.)
A: I don't believe the Cowboys have forgotten about the offensive and defensive lines. If you remember last season they signed two guards in free agency, totaling $30 million. It's hard for most NFL teams to find offensive line help. That's just the way it is. But saying that, the Cowboys also need some help in the skill position areas: running backs and safeties are two positions worth improving. The best thing for the Cowboys to do at this stage of their development as a franchise is to draft the best player available. If at No. 18, the best player is a running back, get him and challenge DeMarco Murray. If the best player at No. 18 is a defensive end, select him and add more depth to the defensive line. It's not about moving away from the defensive or offensive lines, it's about making your team better.
We have two good questions about the running game this week.
Billy Keele from San Diego asks: "What are the chances of Peyton Hillis or Reggie Bush coming to Dallas if Felix Jones is not signed?" Michael from Maine wants to know: "Can and will Dallas go after Michael Turner if he's a free agent? Could he be a big help if Dallas get him.
A: I doubt the Cowboys will go after Hillis or Turner. But Bush is an interesting selection. He can become that third-down back that Felix Jones could never become. Bush can blitz protect on third down and he can catch passes out of the backfield and get up field. Bush is also solid at running off tackle and he's a solid change of pace to Murray. Of course money is an issue when it comes to signing anyone in free agency and it will be difficult for the Cowboys to give big money to Bush. If Bush wants to take less money to become a backup to Murray and take over in case of injury, it might be worth signing him.
IRVING, Texas – Following Sunday’s game at Atlanta, I wrote that it is time for Jason Garrett to cede some control of the offense to Tony Romo, especially given how well the Cowboys operated on their lone touchdown drive of the game.
On Monday, Garrett was asked if the Cowboys will incorporate more hurry-up in the future.
“That’s an interesting question,” Garrett said. “I think there are some game situations that have come into play in the last couple of weeks. We’ve been down. In the case of (Sunday) night’s game, we were down two scores with seven minutes to go. So we have to plan a little more of a hurry-up mode, whether we’re in the huddle, huddling quickly or getting to the line of scrimmage and just throwing the football more than we had throughout the rest of the ball game. We’ve been able to throw the ball fairly well around here, and when we get in that mode and we throw it a lot we’ve been able to move it. We do have to factor in the fact that the defenses are playing a little bit differently based on what the score is and what the game situation is. To say we’re going to start the game like that, it’s unrealistic to think the defense would play the same way.”
The Cowboys went to their hurry-up offense on their eighth drive of the game and Romo completed six straight passes for 78 yards and a touchdown. The Falcons brought four-man pressure on every snap. That was the predominant pass rush used by the Falcons throughout the game. They used four-man pressures on 19 pass plays. They brought five guys six times, six guys twice and seven defenders once.
They didn’t play wildly softer with a two-score lead than they had earlier in the game. Only once in the second half did coordinator Mike Nolan bring five guys. On the final drive Nolan used a three-man rush on every play, staying back in coverage to prevent any chances of a long throw.
Quite simply, the Cowboys are at their best when they use 11 personnel and spread the field.
** Remember that press coverage that worked so well against Eli Manning and the New York Giants two weeks ago? The Cowboys evidently didn’t.
They played across-the-board press coverage on 10 snaps against Atlanta after doing it 25 times against the Giants. They played off 38 times and half-press 14 times. The Cowboys used more zone against the Falcons, and Roddy White killed them. The Cowboys chose not to flip the corners when the Falcons lined their wideouts up on the same field. It gave White a free release and he was able to work the middle of the field with ease.
Rob Ryan did not employ much pressure either. He brought five pass-rushers three times in the game and a sixth once. The three sacks were a result of four-man pressure. Four times the Cowboys rushed three (in one case that was a late rush from Anthony Spencer, who was sprinting on the field as the ball was snapped). They gave up two first downs on those plays.
The only time Ryan brought six players came on the Falcons’ final drive with Danny McCray on a delayed blitz. Ryan’s pass was incomplete, but Orlando Scandrick was correctly called for holding to give Atlanta a first down.
** Big plays killed the defense.
On Julio Jones’ 48-yard grab, rookie cornerback Morris Claiborne jammed him at the line with a five-man pass rush that didn’t get to Matt Ryan. Jones was able to create separation with Claiborne inside and made the catch.
Claiborne made a bad gamble on a crossing route to White that ended up in a big run after catch. He swiped at Ryan’s pass and missed with his left hand. Had he used his right hand maybe he gets his hand on it. Even if he didn’t, he could’ve attempted to trip up White with his left hand.
Claiborne nearly came up with a huge interception on a throw from Ryan to White on the Falcons' final drive. White could have been flagged for interference on the play because he tugged the rookie’s arm as the ball was coming to him. Claiborne used great technique on that long fade down the sideline.
** Michael Turner’s 43-yard run was the longest allowed by the Cowboys this season. How did it happen?
Rob Ryan took the blame for a poor call that had DeMarcus Ware and Jason Hatcher playing a game that took Ware inside. That helped the Falcons seal the edge with Hatcher unable to get outside. White smothered safety Gerald Sensabaugh off the slot to give Turner the room to break the long one. Ernie Sims was late getting outside and McCray missed Turner at the Dallas 45.
Against Carolina, Ryan had Ware and Spencer play a similar game and it allowed quarterback Cam Newton to break a long run to the outside.
** Little things matter.
Over the years teams have tried to run weak-side tosses against the Cowboys and have done so with little success because of Ware. Jones, however, got by Ware Sunday on that final drive. Ware did a great job reading the play with Jones lined up in the backfield, but the receiver made a hard fake to the inside to get Ware off balance for an instant to gain the corner.
How does Josh Brent not recover the fumble after a Ware sack of Ryan? Instead of first down at the Dallas 48 they take over a few plays later at their 3 because of a punt.
How does Phillip Tanner not get a first down on that drive? The play was blocked well enough to get a yard, but Tanner ran into the back of fullback Lawrence Vickers. Jason Witten, John Phillips and Doug Free all won to a good enough degree on their blocks for Tanner to get a yard. Poor vision on the play by the back.
Prior to that play, however, I think the Cowboys might have missed an opportunity for a replay challenge. Cole Beasley’s catch was good for eight yards, but it looked like the officials robbed him of a ninth, which would’ve been a first down. He appeared to bounce on the 50.
Dan Bailey has missed two field goals this season, from 51 and 54 yards. Both have come from the left hash mark. The miss at Baltimore from 51 might have had some help from the wind. The miss Sunday from 54 obviously had no wind issue, but there can be a tendency to pull the ball on longer kicks.
For a few plays, the Cowboys looked like they had a legitimate running game. Felix Jones busted a 15-yard run on the first snap of the second half and followed it with a 6-yard gain. Lance Dunbar ripped off an 18-yard run the next snap. The Cowboys' other 15 carries gained a grand total of 26 yards. That's not nearly good enough. The Cowboys once again didn't get much push up front, with the interior offensive line particularly struggling. Phillip Tanner, who was jumped on the depth chart by Dunbar, was stuffed on fourth-and-short on his only carry. No wonder Jason Garrett lacks confidence in the running game.
Tony Romo put up some pretty statistics. He completed 25 of 35 passes for 321 yards without an interception. But the Cowboys' passing game didn't generate enough points, with Romo's 21-yard strike to Kevin Ogletree accounting for Dallas' lone touchdown. Dez Bryant was a nonfactor with only one catch for 15 yards. Ogletree was a pleasant surprise with three catches for 96 yards and a TD, but he had a drop that killed a drive. The most memorable play of the night for the Cowboys' passing game was a drop by a wide-open Miles Austin on third-and-long. If he catches that ball, the Falcons might not have caught him.
The Cowboys simply couldn't stop Michael Turner in the second half. Turner, the big Falcons back whose tires don't have a lot of tread left on them, rumbled through the Dallas defense for 83 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries after halftime. He finished with 20 carries for 102 yards, highlighted by a 43-yard run, the longest allowed by Dallas this season. Inside linebacker Sean Lee's absence was felt in the second half. So was the absence of nose tackle Jay Ratliff, who played only a handful of snaps after spraining his left ankle. Inside linebacker Bruce Carter (10 tackles, including two for losses) looked like a star in the making, but the Cowboys still allowed Turner to run for more than five yards per carry.
The Dallas pass defense tightened up in the red zone, not allowing any touchdown passes. But the Cowboys couldn't stop Matt Ryan and his electrifying receivers until the Falcons hit the red zone. Ryan had 342 yards on 24-of-34 passing despite the Cowboys getting pretty consistent pressure on him, with DeMarcus Ware registering half of their three sacks. Roddy White (seven catches, 118 yards) and Julio Jones (five catches, 129 yards) both had big games. And the Cowboys failed to generate a turnover, blowing a golden opportunity when nose tackle Josh Brent couldn't hold on to a loose ball after Ware forced a Ryan fumble.
Joe DeCamillis' units made no killer mistakes and several plays. Dwayne Harris had a beautiful punt return on his only opportunity, going 37 yards to give the Cowboys great field position on their first possession, which resulted in a field goal. Punter Brian Moorman pinned the Falcons inside the 20 of three of his four kicks and had a net average of 44.0 yards. Lance Dunbar had a 39-yard kickoff return. They Cowboys held dangerous Falcons kickoff returner Jacquizz Rodgers in check. Dan Bailey missed a field goal, but it's hard to hold a 54-yard attempt against him.
X's and O's weren't the issue on most of the critical plays in the game, such as Miles Austin's drop and Orlando Scandrick's missed tackle. However, the Cowboys' poor efficiency in the red zone is a direct reflection on play-calling head coach Jason Garrett. Throughout his tenure, the Cowboys' point-to-yards ratio has been out of whack. That's one of the primary reasons they're 3-5 and a playoff long shot at the midway point of the season. The Cowboys' lone touchdown drive occurred when Tony Romo ran the hurry-up offense. Why doesn't Garrett give Romo that freedom more often?
They must stop the run without using an eighth defender near the the line of scrimmage.
Michael Turner is a thick-thighed, punishing runner capable of punishing a defense. He's having an average season with 415 yards and a 3.8 average per carry, but his threat is what persuades teams to use a safety in run defense.
Do that, and it opens to Matt Ryan's passing game with tight end Tony Gonzalez and receivers Roddy White and Julio Jones.
Ryan has had a 100-yard receiver or tight end in five of seven games.
The Cowboys rank 13th in NFL, yielding 104.7 yards per game, but they've done a solid job against the run for the most part.
Last week, they contained the Giants' running game without using Gerald Sensabaugh that much. Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan needs a repeat of that.
This is a week for defensive ends Kenyon Coleman and Jason Hatcher and nose guards Jay Ratliff and Josh Brent to control the line of scrimmage.
Do that, and the Cowboys have a shot to win. Fail to control Turner without using eight and the Falcons' receivers will have big days.
|ESPN NFL analyst Darren Woodson breaks down the Cowboys' Sunday night matchup against the Falcons, plays the Tony Romo blame game and more.
“Obviously, they’re two of the best receivers in football,” defensive coordinator Rob Ryan said. “They’re both really competitive and really fast and real productive. So every week it seems we play somebody great. This week is no exception. They’ve also got Tony Gonzalez, who has been a great tight end forever. Still is. And Burner Turner the back. They are loaded. Ryan, Matt no-relation Ryan is the quarterback. He’s pretty damn good. So we’re ready for them. Who are we kidding? We’re ready. We can’t wait to play these guys.”
Ryan isn’t sure the Cowboys’ defense is getting enough credit despite its No. 4 ranking in the league.
“You know me, I like credit,” Ryan said. “Our guys they deserve a ton of credit. Our players work their butts off. Our coaching staff, I’m fortunate and blessed to be around the best coaches. This is the best staff I’ve ever been on and it’s not close. So good things are going to happen to those that work hard. If we just keep working, we’re going to get better. Despite losing, we’ve lost some really good players, but our guys keep going. We’ve got a whole team in there, not just a few individuals. This is really coming together and I know we’re going to be special. I think we’re going to be special this week. I really do. I think we’re just starting to get that way and I believe we’re going to have a special game this week.”
This does not mean DeMarco Murray will be a one-hit wonder, but he will not reach the century mark Sunday at Philadelphia a week after setting the franchise record for rushing yards in a game with 253 against St. Louis.
Philadelphia is allowing 4.8 yards per carry and is allowing 123.8 yards a game on the ground. Atlanta’s Michael Turner (114), San Francisco’s Frank Gore (127) and Buffalo’s Fred Jackson (111) put up more than 100 yards against the Eagles. St. Louis Cadillac Williams had 91 yards.
Leaky does not begin to describe the run defense.
But Washington’s leading rusher was Ryan Torain, who had 22 yards on 10 carries, in Philadelphia’s last game. Maybe, just maybe the Eagles are beginning to figure out how to play this “wide nine” scheme, although they did not practice during the bye week.
Murray was amazing against the Rams and I don’t care that the Rams had the worst-ranked run defense. That many yards in any game against any team in any league is a terrific feat. He deserves all of the accolades he has received.
But this is a road game and the Cowboys have had one 100-yard rusher in their last 18 road games. Tashard Choice had 100 yards against Indianapolis last year. They did not have a 100-yard rusher away from home in 2009.
I’m sensing a trend, which is why Murray will not reach 100 yards Sunday.
Cornerback Mike Jenkins' most impressive play in the Dallas Cowboys' convincing win over the Atlanta Falcons didn't make any of the highlight shows.
It wasn't his interception. It wasn't his vicious hit on Atlanta receiver Marty Booker. Those are the plays made Sunday by Jenkins that fans will remember.
Most folks have probably forgotten about Jenkins' open-field tackle of Michael Turner during the Falcons' 16-play, 80-yard drive on the opening possession. It was a solid stop for a gain of 1 yard. It firmly answered any questions about Jenkins' ability and willingness to tackle.
The lasting memory from the first-round pick's up-and-down rookie season was Jenkins avoiding then-Giants running back Derrick Ward on a touchdown run late in the Cowboys loss in the Meadowlands. The ensuing criticism stung Jenkins, and he's responded this season by consistently playing physical football. He's been beaten and missed a few tackles, but his effort has not been questionable in his second season.
The play on Turner was the latest proof that Jenkins can be a complete cornerback. If Jenkins doesn't make the play, Turner would have sprinted down the sideline. Jenkins made a solid hit, striking Turner across his massive thighs and stopping the 244-pound bowling ball in his tracks.
Jenkins still makes the occasional mistake, such as giving up the game-tying touchdown in Kansas City. But his talent and toughness have justified the Cowboys' decision to use a first-round pick on him in 2008 and hand him a starting job last month.