Dallas Cowboys: Orlando Scandrick

Cowboys' D needs to make more plays

November, 2, 2014
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ARLINGTON, Texas -- Brandon Carr sat at his locker trying to find the words to describe his feelings. The Dallas Cowboys' cornerback was in full uniform as his teammates were pulling theirs off. He was searching for answers.

"Frustrated, but a little adversity is nothing we haven't been through before," Carr said after the Cowboys' 28-17 loss to the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday. "We have to pick our heads up. We got a business trip coming up (to London to take on Jacksonville) and it's an opportunity to end this sked."

The Cowboys' defense has struggled during this two-game losing streak. On Sunday, Arizona was a perfect four-for-four in the red zone, and all this from a team that entered Week 9 with the NFL's second-worst red zone percentage at 42.1 percent.

There were other questions about the Cowboys' defense such as its failure to get opposing offenses off the field on third down. Arizona converted 60 percent of its third-down plays, the second-highest against the Cowboys' defense this season.

Melton
Quarterback Carson Palmer got passes off with defenders at his feet, inches from the Cowboys pulling him down in the back and basically on his face. Palmer completed 22 of 34 passes for 249 yards with three touchdowns. Yes, he was sacked three times, twice by Henry Melton, who has four the past two weeks, and the defense was credited with nine quarterback hurries.

"We were out there a lot," Melton said. "I don't know the play count, it seemed like a lot. We're not the only defense that plays a lot of snaps in game, but once you're out there you got to get it done."

The Cowboys' defense was on the field for 65 plays, the third most this season. Arizona controlled the clock with an efficient run game, 102 yards, and Palmer's passing to eat up 31:28. That's not even close to Washington's time of possession last week of 38:12.

With the Cowboys using a rotation of linemen, which also included the return of rookie DeMarcus Lawrence, guys should be fresher.

Larry Fitzgerald, one of the great receivers of his generation, had five catches for 70 yards, which included a 31-yard reception off a pick-play against Orlando Scandrick.

Palmer completed passes to eight different players and out of 29 carries, the run game averaged 3.5 yards.

"We ain't do enough to win," Scandrick said. "It's a good football team over there. They do a lot of stuff; a veteran quarterback, a veteran receiver, arguably a Hall of Fame receiver, they made plays."

The Cowboys lost starting middle linebacker Rolando McClain and starting defensive tackle Tyrone Crawford to knee injuries in the fourth quarter, and the injuries raises concerns about their availability for London.

Scandrick
The Cowboys' defense has always been this mysterious deal since the start of the season because the expectations were low. Losing DeMarcus Ware and the lack of confidence in the secondary were the main reasons and nobody knew where the pass rush was coming from.

We've seen improved play from Melton the past two weeks, but we need to see more from other players. Rookie defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence was pretty active in his first game of the season, producing two tackles and almost sacking Palmer.

Yet, the common theme around here was frustration and a lack of progress. It's like the Cowboys have been stagnated after their 6-1 start.

"We're frustrated but we got 24 hours to be frustrated and stop the ceiling from falling," Scandrick said. "We need to go over the London and get a W. We need a win in the worst way."

Cowboys defense struggles

October, 28, 2014
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ARLINGTON, Texas -- For the Cowboys defense, this isn't about the statistics.

Monday night, against a third-string quarterback, at home, the Cowboys defense failed in critical moments of the game.

Washington was able to beat Dallas 20-17 in overtime and continue a wacky trend in the NFC that had three quality teams -- Philadelphia, Green Bay and Dallas -- all losing this week.

"I had a simple message for us before the game. [It] was to get it done," cornerback Orlando Scandrick said. "We didn't get it done today. We made too many mistakes, and it don't matter what a team's record is, there's too much talent around this league. We made too many mistakes, and we just didn't get it done."

The Cowboys defense failed to respond when quarterback Tony Romo went down with a back contusion in the third quarter. When it was time for the Cowboys defense to make quality plays, it instead allowed the Redskins to score the go-ahead touchdown.

[+] EnlargeWashington's Jordan Reed
Tom Pennington/Getty ImagesThe Redskins completed this 16-yard pass to Jordan Reed in overtime to set up the winning field goal.
In overtime, the defense couldn't make a key stop, get a sack or force an interception. It allowed a 23-yard completion and an 8-yard run before tight end Jordan Reed converted on third-and-3 by catching a 5-yard pass against safety Barry Church.

There was Colt McCoy, the third-stringer who got the start with Kirk Cousins sitting and Robert Griffin not ready to return due to injury, directing traffic during a scramble.

Faced with a first-and-10 from the Dallas 45, McCoy was flushed out of the pocket and then pointed to Reed to move downfield. McCoy lofted a pass over linebacker Bruce Carter and turned it into a 16-yard completion to Reed.

Four plays later, Kai Forbath nailed a 40-yard field goal to give Washington the lead. Dallas had it's own chances to tie or win the game but couldn't even get to midfield.

"Situational football again came to bite us in the butt," cornerback Brandon Carr said. "Across the board, we hang our hat on winning our one-on-one matchups on defense, and too many times today, we didn't win those."

Overall, the Cowboys' defense did pressure the quarterback and record a season-high three sacks and six quarterback hurries. McCoy threw passes underneath for the majority of the game and completed a stunning 25-of-30 for 299 yards. He didn't throw any touchdowns, but he threw just one interception, on a deep pass into the end zone that was picked off by safety J.J. Wilcox.

The Redskins run game was strong and gained 4 yards a carry. Speedy, big-play threat DeSean Jackson caught six passes for 136 yards.

McCoy was efficient and worked within the confines of the offense to make things happen.

"I wish we could have done more, man," said defensive end Jeremy Mincey, who did have a sack. "We didn't make the plays we should have made. That's what cost us the game."

One of the leaders from this defense, linebacker Justin Durant, is done for the season with a torn biceps. He finished with a team-leading 10 tackles and added two tackles for loss.

Henry Melton, the defensive tackle who was missing for a bit, had his first multi-sack game as well as three tackles for loss.

Rolando McClain (seven tackles and one pass breakup) and Church (six tackles) -- two of the more reliable players -- missed tackles. The Dallas defense made the basic plays, but there were several missed tackles -- two from Church and one from McClain.

"Very disappointed," Church said. "I feel like this has been my worst game since I became a Dallas Cowboy. I played really [badly] overall. It wasn't a great performance in any of the phases."

It's something the Cowboys need to clean up.

Justin Durant ruled out with an arm injury

October, 27, 2014
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ARLINGTON, Texas -- Cowboys linebacker Justin Durant will not return to Monday's game against the Washington Redskins with an arm injury.

Durant, who missed two games earlier in the season with a groin injury, was hurt in the third quarter.

Kyle Wilber replaced Durant in the starting lineup.

Durant is just one of several injuries to the Cowboys.

Quarterback Tony Romo left the game with an apparent back injury, though team officials wouldn't disclose what exactly is wrong.

Cornerback Orlando Scandrick was nicked up on Colt McCoy's touchdown run up the middle but stayed in the game.

5 Plays that shaped the game

October, 20, 2014
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IRVING, Texas - There were 119 plays in the Cowboys’ 31-21 win over the New York Giants. They weren’t all created equal. It’s never that way. Touchdowns and turnovers get most of the attention, but who wins or loses is often determined by plays that get lost in shadows of those that command the most attention.

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

Murray
Play: DeMarco Murray run
Situation: Third-and-1 from Dallas 29
Score: Dallas leads, 28-21
Time: 4:04 left in fourth quarter

Taylor's Take: The Cowboys knew they needed a couple of first downs or there was a good chance the Giants would drive for the game-tying touchdown. The Cowboys lined up in a three-tight end formation and ran right behind them, Jason Witten, James Hanna and Gavin Escobar each won their individual battles and Murray ran over Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie for the first down. The Cowboys took 4:59 off the clock before kicking a field goal that clinched the win.

Play: Jason Pierre-Paul sack
Situation: Second-and-5 from Dallas 25
Score: Tied, 0-0
Time: 14:28 left in third quarter

Taylor's Take: Few things are worse -- it has been reinforced this season -- than a first quarter turnover that gives an opponent early momentum. Romo was trying to throw a checkdown pass to Murray, when he saw a Giants’ player in that area. When he pulled the ball back, Romo lost control of it. He juggled it several times and finally corralled it just as Jason Pierre-Paul sacked him. Lose a fumble right then and the Giants almost certainly would have taken an early lead.

McClain
Play: Terrell McClain tackle
Situation: First-and-10 from Dallas 35
Score: Tied, 14-14
Time: 11:44 left in third quarter

Taylor's Take: On their first possession of the third quarter, the Giants were driving to take the lead. They converted two third downs and had moved to the Dallas 35, when Terrell McClain made his biggest play of the season. McClain sliced through the line of scrimmage and drilled running back Andre Williams for a three-yard loss. He stripped the ball in the process, but Williams was ruled down because his forward progress had been stopped. That hit energized the Cowboys’ defense, and the Giants punted after failing to convert a third-and-18.

Play: J.J. Wilcox pass interference penalty
Situation: Fourth-and-1 from Dallas 38
Score: Dallas leads, 7-0
Time: 12:50 left in second quarter

Taylor's Take: New York coach Tom Coughlin was already feeling desperate, which is why he went for it this early in the game. The Giants called a play-action pass and Dallas covered it perfectly. Barry Church was behind tight end Daniel Fells and J.J. Wilcox was perfectly positioned in front of him. But Wilcox didn’t trust his coverage, so he put his hands on Fells drawing a penalty and giving the Giants a first down. Four plays later, the Giants tied the score.

Play: Rueben Randle penalty
Situation: First-and-10 from Dallas 40
Score: Dallas leads, 21-14
Time: 3:10 left in third quarter

Taylor's Take: The Cowboys had just taken the lead, and the Giants were driving once again to tie the score. The Giants wanted a bubble screen to Preston Parker, but Orlando Scandrick recognized it so quickly that Randle had no choice but to hold him because he was going to blow the play up. The penalty made first-and-20, thwarting the Giants' drive.
IRVING, Texas -- Dallas Cowboys linebacker Rolando McClain didn't practice until Friday, but it didn't seem to affect him in the 30-23 win against the Seattle Seahawks.

He played 43 plays and finished with four tackles, a tackle for loss, a pass deflection and the game-clinching interception 20 yards from the line of scrimmage.

Anthony Spencer played a season-high 29 plays and easily had his best game of the season. He had three tackles, but he applied consistent pressure to quarterback Russell Wilson and made him move in the pocket several times.

Kyle Wilber had two pass deflections -- one was a dropped interception that he might've scored on -- in 13 plays, the most he's played in a couple of weeks.

Tyrone Crawford and Henry Melton seem to be splitting the three-technique position with Crawford doing the heavy lifting and Melton providing the change of pace.

There's still plenty of time, but you wonder if Crawford's development means the Cowboys will pass on Melton's three-year team option at the end of the season.

Cowboys' defensive snaps:
Brandon Carr 49
Orlando Scandrick 49
Justin Durant 49
J.J. Wilcox 46
Rolando McClain 43
Jeremy Mincey 42
Barry Church 41
Tyrone Crawford 37
Sterling Moore 34
Anthony Spencer 29
Nick Hayden 27
Henry Melton 24
George Selvie 22
Jack Crawford 21
Kyle Wilber 13
Jeff Heath 12
Terrell McClain 10
Lavar Edwards 5
Anthony Hitchens 4
Tyler Patmon 3
The Dallas Cowboys are 4-1 after a 20-17 overtime victory against the Houston Texans on Sunday afternoon.

With that we present our weekly Upon Further Review.

Enjoy.

1. One of the biggest story lines for the Cowboys in their game with the Texans was slowing down defensive end J.J. Watt. In the base defense, he's an end, but moves inside on the nickel. He has swim moves, bull rushes and finesse to reach the quarterback. Early in the game, Watt targeted what he thought was the weakest link along the offensive line in left guard Ronald Leary. He got a tackle on the first running play of the game. Afterward, Watt was slowed or shut down, depending on your point of view. As the game progressed, Watt finished with just four tackles and wasn't credited with any quarterback hurries, though he piled on Tony Romo as his helmet was knocked off. In the final 16 defensive snaps of the game, Watt drew double coverage four times and faced both tackles, Zack Martin and Jason Witten. Watt wasn't credited with any tackles during that span.

2. Romo takes Wednesdays off and I'm sure old school players and fans shake their head about this. But he does it to give his back more rest and to build strength. It was clear in the first two weeks of the season, Romo was struggling to throw deep passes. Against the Texans, Romo threw deep with a zip we haven't seen in a while. You can tell Romo is feeling better as he's moving around the pocket to avoid pressures and firing passes deep. The 37-yard completion to Dez Bryant in overtime is an example of this. One of his best throws of the game was to Witten on a seam route in the third quarter. But Romo floated a pass to Bryant that was picked off to start the fourth. Out of 41 throws, he threw one pass away, was penalized for intentional grounding, and he attempted eight deep throws.

3. The key to Dan Bailey's success: The holder and the long snapper. Chris Jones, the holder and J.P. Ladouceur, the long snapper, have to be on point with everything they do when it comes to a kick. As consistent as Bailey has been during this stretch, three misses the last 29 games, he's basically had the same holder and snapper. Having a chemistry with those two players is just as important as anything else. Bailey works daily with those guys and special teams coach Rich Bisaccia works with Jones on handling different types of snaps. Knuckleballs in the turf, high ones and to each side of him. Bailey's confidence in Jones getting the ball down on the spot allows him to make sure his steps to the ball don't get altered.

4. The Cowboys missed Orlando Scandrick while he served a two-game suspension for violating the performance enhancing policy. However, Brandon Carr has been very good this season, too. He led the Cowboys with eight total tackles and had one of four pass breakups against the Texans. Carr's durability can't be questioned. He played in his 101st consecutive game on Sunday. While Carr doesn't break up as many passes as Scandrick, he normally takes on the biggest receiver on the opposing team and is playing with more confidence in the first five weeks of the season.

5. Want to know how important middle linebacker Rolando McClain is to the defense? When he was on the sidelines after re-injuring his groin, the Texans were able to produce some positive yards in overtime. McClain gets players lined up. Here's coach Jason Garrett on McClain: "We still need to be able to line up regardless of who's out there. And we didn't line up the right way and it hurt us."
There were 124 plays in the Dallas Cowboys' 38-17 destruction of the New Orleans Saints. 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: DeMarco Murray run
Situation: First-and-10 from Dallas 23
Score: Dallas leads, 17-0
Time: 2:34 left in second quarter
Taylor's Take: The Cowboys were cautiously optimistic they could score points before halftime. More importantly, they didn’t want to give New Orleans an opportunity to do the same. That all changed when guard Zack Martin blocked a defensive tackle, a linebacker and a safety on the play, and Murray ripped through several arm tackles for a 22-yard gain. The Cowboys stopped thinking about a field goal and started focusing on a touchdown, which they scored seven plays later.

Play: Orlando Scandrick tackle
Situation: Third-and-3 from Dallas 46
Score: Dallas leads, 7-0
Time: 4:35 left in first quarter
Taylor's Take: After yielding 625 yards and 40 first downs to the Saints last season, forcing New Orleans to punt on their first possession was a huge confidence booster. Scandrick easily beat Brandin Cooks’ block and tripped up running back Travaris Cadet for a 2-yard gain.

Play: Shayne Graham missed field goal
Situation: Fourth-and-2 from Dallas 23
Score: Dallas leads, 7-0
Time: 9:13 left in second quarter
Taylor's Take: The key to any upset is getting help from the opponent. Graham, a 12-year veteran, had made each of his four attempts this season, including a 50-yarder. Well, he missed this 41-yard attempt wide right and the Cowboys began to really believe this might be their night.

Play: Tony Romo run
Situation: Third-and-5 from New Orleans 49
Score: Dallas leads, 24-3
Time: 7:42 left in fourth quarter
Taylor's Take: We’ve seen the Cowboys blow leads of more than 20 points at home twice in the past three seasons, so they needed to maintain momentum after New Orleans kicked a field goal on its first possession of the third quarter. With Romo in the shotgun, the Saints played man-to-man, which meant no one in secondary was looking at Romo. He sprinted up the middle and gained 20 yards, the longest run of his career. DeMarco Murray scored on the next play, pushing the lead to 31-3.

Play: Sterling Moore pass deflection
Situation: Second-and-15 from New Orleans 35
Score: Dallas leads, 31-17
Time: 7:56 left in fourth quarter
Taylor's Take: The Saints had scored on consecutive possessions -- one took 25 seconds and the other took 1:38 to pull within 14 points -- and they were looking for another big play. Sterling Moore, playing because Morris Claiborne was out with a knee injury, had tight end Jimmy Graham man-to-man. Drew Brees pumped right, but Moore stayed with Graham and made a leaping pass deflection, forcing New Orleans into a third-and-long.

Cornerback Scandrick is a sack master

September, 26, 2014
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Cornerback Orlando Scandrick has 8.5 career sacks, which is more than any linebacker on the Cowboys’ roster.

Wow.

Scandrick
 Rolando McClain has 7.5 sacks, Justin Durant has 3.5 and Bruce Carter has three. Scandrick has had at least two sacks in three different seasons, and he's had at least one sack in each of the past four seasons.

Don’t be shocked if Scandrick retains his sack lead at the end of the season. Rod Marinelli doesn’t blitz much in the Cowboys' scheme because it creates opportunities for the opposition to get big plays, something he loathes.

But when he does blitz, he’s going to keep using Scandrick from the slot.

Why not? He’s good at it.

“He’s quick, he’s fast and he has some explosiveness to him,” coach Jason Garrett said. “He has instincts, he can bend, and he has a tenacity about him and a hunger to get there.”

Scandrick, who doesn’t have a sack this year, blitzed twice against the St. Louis Rams and disrupted the play each time.

In the second quarter, he forced an incompletion by putting heavy pressure quarterback Austin Davis. In the fourth quarter, he hammered Davis as he released the pass that linebacker Bruce Carter intercepted and returned 25 yards for a touchdown and a 34-24 lead.

“You can’t be scared of the contact,” said Scandrick, when asked what makes him an effective blitzer. “A lot of guys don’t like the contact, so they run around the block. I’m just trying to get to the quarterback, and that guy is in my way.”

Dallas Cowboys' defensive snaps

September, 22, 2014
Sep 22
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IRVING, Texas -- Orlando Scandrick, who was suspended by the NFL for two games after violating its substance-abuse policy, played 51 snaps in his debut this season.

He spent much of his time in the slot, while Morris Claiborne lined up outside and played 53 snaps.

With another full week of practice, you would expect Scandrick to start. That said, Claiborne will still be on the field quite a bit because teams use so many formations with three receivers.

Sterling Moore, who did a solid job while Scandrick was out, saw his playing time reduced to just two snaps. It'll be interesting to see if his playing time increases because Claiborne struggled against St. Louis, even if his interception clinched the win.

Rookie linebacker Anthony Hitchens, a fourth-round draft pick, started at middle linebacker and recorded 13 tackles in 75 plays.

Justin Durant and Rolando McClain could each return next week, reducing Hitchens' playing time. But he contributed a key stop on fourth down and made a diving pass deflection in the red zone.

Kyle Wilber is another linebacker who saw his playing time increase because of injuries. He played 46 snaps and recorded eight tackles.

J.J. Wilcox, 76
Anthony Hitchens, 75
Bruce Carter, 74
Barry Church, 73
Brandon Carr, 72
Morris Claiborne, 53
Nick Hayden, 52
Orlando Scandrick, 51
Jeremy Mincey, 50
Tyrone Crawford, 46
Kyle Wilber, 46
Henry Melton, 40
Terrell McClain, 38
George Selvie, 37
Ken Bishop, 21
Jack Crawford, 18
Jeff Heath, 3

Upon Further Review: Romo gets better

September, 22, 2014
Sep 22
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The Dallas Cowboys moved to 2-1 with a 34-31 victory over the St. Louis Rams on Sunday afternoon. The Cowboys rallied from a 21-0 deficit thanks to Tony Romo, DeMarco Murray and a defense that finally made plays when the game was on the line.

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

Romo
1. Maybe Romo should take Wednesdays off more often. The Cowboys' quarterback had his best game of the season, 18-for-23 for 217 yards with two touchdowns and one interception, in the victory. Romo said his surgically repaired back is getting stronger and taking a day off last week helped in terms of his recovery. You can see Romo is feeling better by the way he's twisting and turning away from defenders. Romo even stepped up in the pocket more against the Rams than he did the previous two weeks. He scrambled up field for a 16-yard gain when no receiver was open. Romo also made two deep throws, one to Dez Bryant, a 68-yard touchdown strike, and an incompleted pass to Terrance Williams that displayed his arm strength, something that was missing in previous weeks. Romo had fewer passes that floated over a receiver. Quarterbacks are going to miss throws, that's the nature of things, but Romo was on point for a majority of the afternoon. Romo's turnovers this season haven't been the result of anything physical, it's about decision-making. On the pick-six, he was pressured up the middle and could have waited one more second before throwing the pass toward Bryant. While the play was designed for Bryant, Romo missed receiver, Cole Beasley getting open across the middle. But that's nitpicking.

Carter
Carter
2. Bruce Carter, playing weakside linebacker after starting the first two weeks on the strong side, was a mess and a thing of beauty on Sunday. He missed a tackle on the first run play of the game and had trouble tackling Rams RB Zac Stacy. He displayed good coverage on a third-and-three when he tackled Lance Kendricks short of the marker. More inconsistency is where Carter laid a shot on Jared Cook, which didn't knock him down. Carter was also flagged for holding negated by a Rams' penalty. Of course, Carter's biggest play was his interception. The pressure up the middle forced Rams quarterback Austin Davis to hurry his throw to Stacy and Carter slid over to make the play. Carter's speed, something the Cowboys liked when they drafted him in the second round, allowed him to breeze into the end zone for the score. As the season progresses, Carter must improve his tackling skills, especially in the open field and speedy running backs will give him fits if he needs to cover them in the flat.

Claiborne
3. Secondary coach Jerome Henderson teaches his cornerbacks about using the proper techniques so receivers can get shifted off their routes. Morris Claiborne, despite, the game-clinching interception on Sunday, struggled at this against the Rams. On the touchdown pass to Brian Quick, Claiborne never gets a hand on him. Quick just runs right by him. Kenny Britt made a great leaping catch over Claiborne. It seemed Claiborne, who's supposed to be an athletic corner, looked stiff here and jumped too early. Claiborne should know better when offenses run pick plays inside the 20. On a touchdown pass to Austin Pettis, Claiborne got tangled with Orlando Scandrick. Communication is key here because the corners should know who to cover in that situation and a receiver should never get free in the end zone. Claiborne's best play came on his interception. He was able to get the receiver to run near the sideline and Claiborne had inside position. Davis' pass was long and that was fine because it enabled Claiborne to snag the ball for his third career interception.

Three thoughts on Cowboys' win

September, 16, 2014
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Three thoughts on the Cowboys' 26-10 victory over the Tennessee Titans on Sunday.

1. Tony Romo can give me a million different explanations about why some of his passes wobble or lack zip, and I’m probably not going to believe him. He just doesn’t look right. I’ve seen 109 of the 110 NFL starts he has made in person, and I’ve never questioned whether he had a strong arm. Now, I do. Maybe, he’ll get stronger as the season goes on. Perhaps, he’ll adjust the way he plays to protect his back and to limit his deep balls. He can still help the Cowboys win games, but I don’t think he can do it as the focal point of the offense.

McClain
2. Rolando McClain showed me something by playing all but one snap of Sunday’s win over Tennessee, especially when the Titans spent a lot of the game using formations with three receivers. That means McClain spent a lot of time in the nickel, and he seemed to operate just fine. Each of the first two weeks, he has put a hit on an opposing player that we haven’t seen around here lately. He’s tackling with bad intentions. The Cowboys haven’t really had a player do that since Roy Williams.

3. Sterling Moore is the kind of NFL player who’s not quite big enough, fast enough or quick enough to excite the coaching staff. But every time they have to use him, he does a pretty solid job. Jason Garrett wants us to believe it doesn’t matter where you came from or where you were drafted. Well, when Orlando Scandrick returns this week, it’ll be interesting to see how much they use Scandrick on the outside and Moore in the slot, while Claiborne heads to the bench when the Cowboys are in their nickel defense.

Key stat: 12-1

The Cowboys improved to 12-1 when DeMarco Murray gets 20 carries or more in a game. Murray gained 167 yards on a career-high 29 carries against Tennessee on Sunday. It’s no surprise the Cowboys have a winning record when he gets the ball that much because it means the Cowboys are controlling the line of scrimmage and the game. All of that means they can keep handing the ball to Murray. But if all it took was 20 carries to Murray to win the game, then they’d just give it to him the first 20 plays of each game. Zack Martin has given the Cowboys three quality offensive linemen -- Tyron Smith and Travis Frederick are the others -- and two solid players in Doug Free and Ron Leary. The Cowboys feel comfortable running off left or right tackle as well pulling each each guard as well as running wide to each side. That makes their running attack versatile and dangerous and it should result in more games with 20 carries for Murray.

Player to Watch: Joseph Randle

A lot of folks were disappointed when Joseph Randle made the Cowboys’ final roster and Ryan Williams didn’t. You should understand the decision now. Williams is every bit as good as Randle as a runner -- some would argue he’s better -- but there’s no comparison between them as a pass protector or special teams contributor. Randle has been a good special teams player the first two weeks -- not just a guy along for the ride -- and he’s been a much more explosive runner than we was as a rookie. He looks like a player who understands his role, has accepted it and is trying to persuade the coaching staff to give him a bigger role.

Three thoughts on the Cowboys

September, 5, 2014
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IRVING -- Three thoughts on the Dallas Cowboys, who open the season Sunday against San Francisco.

1) Tony Romo played one half and 14 plays in the preseason.

Yes, he took a pretty good beating against Miami, but that was only a half.

Romo
He will get the full game against San Francisco’s defense, which remains a physical group even though it’s missing several starters because of injury or suspension. He will get hit and hit hard on a regular basis.

This is the truest test for Romo’s back that we will see. If he survives and has no issues getting ready for Tennessee next week, then you should be able to take a deep breath and relax, because it means Romo is really ready to go.

2) We will get a good feel this week for the Cowboys' alleged commitment to the run.

San Francisco did not allow a 100-yard rusher last season and finished fourth in the NFL in run defense (95.9 yards per game).

"The one thing you notice about San Francisco’s defense is that everyone does his job," Dallas center Travis Frederick said. "There’s no hero ball. If they’re supposed to be in a gap, they’re in it.

"This is a week where it’s going to be ugly. They don’t give up big plays in the running game. A four-yard run is a good play this week."

When the running game isn’t dominant, the Cowboys have a tendency to give up regardless of the score. We will see if play-caller Scott Linehan takes a new approach.

3) Middle linebacker Rolando McClain will get a strong test this week.

San Francisco is a physical running team without a lot of frills. Running back Frank Gore won’t be hard to find. He will be between the tackles, which is where McClain does his best work.

The Cowboys need McClain to be a dominant presence against San Francisco’s running game or the 49ers’ offense will score 35 points.

Key number: 48

Since Jason Garrett took over the Cowboys’ offense, they have usually been among the leaders in completions of 20 yards or more.

Last season, the Cowboys had 48 completions of 20 yards or more, tied for only 17th in the NFL. In 2012, they were 9th with 55.

You could certainly argue that last season's play-caller Bill Callahan, brought up in the West Coast offense, and his dink-and-dunk approach contributed to the lack of big plays in the passing game

Linehan likes going deep. He will challenge San Francisco’s secondary.

Player to Watch: Morris Claiborne

The No. 6 overall pick in the 2012 draft is only starting at cornerback because Orlando Scandrick has been suspended for the first four games after violating the league’s substance-abuse policy.

Claiborne missed the entire preseason with knee and shoulder injuries, so he will make his debut in the opener.

Claiborne doesn’t have to be great, but the Cowboys need him to be a solid player against a really good group of receivers. Otherwise, the defense is really going to struggle.
MIAMI -- Brandon Carr, who missed the first two weeks of training camp dealing with the death of his mother, made his preseason debut against Miami.

It was an emotional experience.

Carr
 “I had my moment because it was my first time out there without her,” said Carr, “but I know she’s with me, and one of the things she taught me was how to handle adversity and continue to do my job.”

Carr made one tackle and Mike Wallace caught a short comeback route in front of him. Carr said he didn’t know if he would play Thursday against Denver.

The Cowboys need him to start the season strong because Orlando Scandrick has been suspended for the first four games for violating the league's performance-enhancing drug policy and Morris Claiborne has battled knee and shoulder injuries. Th Cowboys don't know if Claiborne will be ready to play against San Francisco, although they're hopeful

“It felt good to get out there and play at a game tempo, which is a lot faster than practice tempo,” Carr said. “The organization did a great job of letting me have the time I needed with my family and keeping my psyche right.

“But I told them once I came back and punched that clock, I would be ready to go.”
FRISCO, Texas -- Before the Dallas Cowboys' brass left for Miami, they updated the media on a few injured players.

  • Team executive vice president Stephen Jones said defensive tackle Henry Melton (groin) will not play in the third preseason game on Saturday night against the Miami Dolphins. Jones said the goal is to get most, if not all of the injured players ready for the regular-season opener against the San Francisco 49ers.

  • Middle linebacker Rolando McClain, who left Tuesday's practice with cramping and missed the next day with soreness, is expected to play against the Dolphins.

    "When you sit out for a year, and he didn't really get back into it full bore, until a couple of weeks before camp, so its going to take some time," Jones said.

  • Team officials haven't decided on cornerback Morris Claiborne's status for the Dolphins game as he's still recovering from a shoulder injury.


    Claiborne, a projected starter with Orlando Scandrick suspended the first four games, hasn't played in any preseason games because of health issues.

    Jones said he's not worried about Claiborne's long-term durability given his history of health problems.

    "Not really, I think at the end of the day he's played in a lot of games for us," Jones said. "And I think he'll do well out there, obviously you have to be conservative with your players now. The injury situation not only around here but around the league. We'll let this play out and I think he'll be ready for the 49ers."
  • Orlando Scandrick, one of the best players on an abject defense, will miss the first four games of the season after violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy.

    Scandrick
    And you thought a defense that allowed 415.3 yards and 27.0 points per game last season couldn’t get worse.

    Well, it just did. This is a huge hit for a team with a shaky cornerback situation.

    Morris Claiborne hasn’t practiced in more than a week. He has yet another training camp injury that prevented him from playing in the preseason opener for the third consecutive season.

    Brandon Carr missed the first three weeks of training camp to be with his family as he dealt with the death of his mother.

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    Which Cowboys cornerback will have the best season?

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    Neither one of those guys plays with the edge Scandrick does, which is important on a unit devoid of playmakers. He’s the one cornerback not afraid to challenge Dez Bryant on every snap of each practice.

    He always believes he’s the best player on the field -- even when it’s clear that he’s not. Scandrick’s unshakable confidence has helped make him a good player.

    Understand, Scandrick is also one of the smartest players on defense, which is why it’s hard to believe he did something so dumb. He reportedly took a drug that’s on the NFL’s banned list while vacationing in Mexico.

    There’s no acceptable excuse for that.

    All players have to do is check with the NFL to see whether whatever they’re about to ingest is on the list. If they don’t, they deserve whatever happens.

    In this case, it’s a four-game suspension that will force him to miss games against San Francisco, Tennessee, St. Louis and New Orleans.

    A bad defense just became worse. And one of its best players is to blame.

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