Dallas Cowboys: Pittsburgh Steelers

Running game to blame for Romo's record?

August, 23, 2013
8/23/13
2:02
PM ET
Put in the historical context of Cowboys’ championship teams, Roger Staubach’s point about Tony Romo needing a better running game is right on.

Fact: The Cowboys have never won a Super Bowl without a top-five rushing offense.

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Staubach and Troy Aikman had the luxury of working behind dominant offensive lines and sharing the backfield with fellow Hall of Famers in Tony Dorsett and Emmitt Smith. (The Cowboys didn’t have a Hall of Fame running back on their first title team, but Duane Thomas, Calvin Hill and Walt Garrison formed a heck of a committee.)

Here’s a quick look at the Dallas running game’s NFL rankings during the Cowboys’ championship seasons:

1971 – 3rd
1977 – 4th
1992 – 5th
1993 – 2nd
1995 – 2nd

By contrast, Romo has never quarterbacked a team with a top-five rushing offense. The only time the Cowboys ranked among the top 10 rushing offenses during his tenure as a starter just so happens to be the lone season in which the franchise won a playoff game over the last 16 seasons.

The Cowboys’ rushing ranks in the Romo era:

2006 – 13th
2007 – 17th
2008 – 21st
2009 – 7th
2010 – 16th
2011 – 18th
2012 – 31st

So Romo has only had a running game good enough to contend for the Super Bowl once, right? Not so fast. The Cowboys’ rushing offense has ranked higher than the Super Bowl champions’ four times during Romo’s tenure. The Giants won the Super Bowl two seasons ago despite ranking dead last in the league in rushing.

The Super Bowl winners’ rushing offense rank over the last seven seasons:

2006 Indianapolis Colts – 18th
2007 New York Giants – 4th
2008 Pittsburgh Steelers – 23rd
2009 New Orleans Saints – 6th
2010 Green Bay Packers – 24th
2011 New York Giants – 32nd
2012 Baltimore Ravens – 11th

The game has changed since the Cowboys’ glory years. It certainly helps to have a good running game, but it’s far from a prerequisite for winning a Super Bowl.

Now, more than ever, the NFL is a quarterback’s league. The lack of a quality running game might be a reason (or an excuse) for Romo’s lack of playoff success, but his peers have found a way to overcome the same problem in recent years.

Texas pro day observations

March, 26, 2013
3/26/13
4:21
PM ET
AUSTIN -- The University of Texas held its annual pro day Tuesday. Here are some observations from the event:

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Calvin Watkins joins Fitzsimmons & Durrett from the Texas Longhorns' pro day to discuss potential Cowboys draft pick Kenny Vaccaro, Vince Young and if any other pro prospects stood out.

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  • Safety Kenny Vaccaro had an impressive day. He didn't run the 40 because of a hip flexor injury, but he displayed a burst, lateral movement and quickness while performing position drills for Cincinnati Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer. Vaccaro said he's studied various defenses, including the Tampa 2, and is getting ready for the NFL game from a mental standpoint. Vaccaro said he was disappointed he couldn't run the 40, but indicated that he has run it in the low 4.40s during training. Vaccaro injured the hip while working out but re-injured it during his drill session with the Cowboys last week. After three drills, Vaccaro shut it down so he wouldn't further injure himself. Vacarro said his goal is to be the first safety taken in the draft.

  • Defensive end Alex Okafor needed a solid pro day to prove to NFL scouts that he's healthy and worthy of a Day 2 draft selection. He declined the bench press, standing on his combine numbers of 21 times at 225 pounds, but he ran a 4.88 and a 4.96 in the 40 and was concerned about being too stiff when he worked on his individual drills. Okafor ran through some of the drills smoothly and looked comfortable, but he still needs some work. Okafor said he believes he can play defensive end in a 4-3 or outside linebacker in a 3-4. Weight could be an issue. He came in at 262 pounds and might have to pick up more bulk to play end.

  • Vince Young looked slim and seemed to be in good spirits during his pro day. Most, if not all, of his throws were tight spirals and he displayed good arm strength. It seemed that when he threw to a variety of receivers inside and outside, he didn't have that funky shot-put motion. Young is throwing more traditionally and no longer appears to be dropping his elbow low when he throws.

  • Running back D.J. Moore ran the fastest 40 time of the prospective draft picks in 4.41 and 4.38. One negative: Size. He's listed at 5-foot-9, but he measured at 5-foot-7, 175 pounds. That's not to say little guys can't play in the NFL, but it will be hard for him to get significant playing time at running back unless he impresses an NFL team during training camp. He might be a solid return guy on the next level.

  • Wide receiver Marquise Goodwin measured in at 5-foot-9, 177 pounds -- good size for a slot receiver. He didn't run the 40, however his three tries at the vertical jump were 41, 42 and 42 inches. Goodwin has the speed it seems to make some plays from the slot at the next level. He just needs to make sure he can be a consistent player.

  • Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin attended the pro day. The Cowboys had two scouts, and Denver, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Houston, Miami, Kansas City, Oakland, Cleveland, the New York Jets and San Diego also had reps in attendance. ... Texas coach Mack Brown and former running back Ricky Williams were in attendance. ... Most scouts will either go to LSU's pro day Wednesday or SMU's.
  • The Cowboys with only $102,000 in salary cap space available will bring in two free agents, strong safety Will Allen and linebacker Justin Durant, for visits to Valley Ranch on Monday, according to a source.

    Allen started seven games for the Pittsburgh Steelers last season and finished with five pass breakups and one forced fumble as Troy Polamalu's backup. Allen has played in 130 games in his career with 33 starts.

    The Cowboys have a goal of signing a veteran safety to play with starting free safety Barry Church. Matt Johnson, who missed his entire rookie season with hamstring injuries, is another possible starter at strong safety.

    Durant started 14 games for the Detroit Lions and finished second on the team with 103 total tackles based on the team statistics. Durant played outside linebacker in the 4-3 defense. He had half-a-sack and three pass breakups last season.

    The projected strong side linebacker in the Cowboys defense is Kyle Wilber, but the team would like more competition at that spot. Alex Albright is another possible starter.

    Victor Butler drawing interest

    March, 21, 2013
    3/21/13
    12:21
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    Cowboys free agent linebacker Victor Butler is drawing interest from several teams.

    There are reports that he is visiting the New Orleans Saints on Thursday. Butler has also visited the Pittsburgh Steelers and has the New York Jets interested in his services.

    Butler was a backup for the Cowboys, but former defensive coordinator Rob Ryan loved the impact he made on the field. The problem with Butler was consistency, or lack thereof.

    A look at the Cowboys' coaches stats from the 2012 season reveals Butler did make plays. He was fourth on the team in sacks (three), had seven quarterback pressures, three pass breakups and one forced fumble.

    Butler is one of those players who could excel with a new team in the 3-4 scheme, which is what the Saints are moving toward with Ryan as their defensive coordinator.

    Mike Tomlin is big fan of Monte Kiffin

    March, 19, 2013
    3/19/13
    1:30
    PM ET
    PHOENIX -- If there's anybody who believes in new Cowboys defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, it's Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin.

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    Tomlin worked with Kiffin and defensive line coach Rod Marinelli in Tampa Bay.

    "Monte is going to be great in particular, Monte in a combination with Rod, that's a lethal combination," said Tomlin, who worked with the duo from 2001 to 2005 as a defensive backs coach. "These guys are football purists. I imagine they're somewhere in the bowels of that facility right now, man, with trash cans talking about how to defend the A, B, C gap.

    "I grew up professionally with those guys. They're special people. I wish them nothing but the best. I acknowledge if you're competing against them, you got your hands full for a lot of reasons. I've been blessed to be associated with those guys."

    Kiffin encountered some lean years in the college game following his son, Lane, especially last season at USC. He resigned after the season and was open to a return to the NFL.

    In some ways, Monte Kiffin might be back in his comfort zone in the NFL instead of college.

    "I don't think Monte is ever out of his comfort zone," Tomlin joked. "If you asked me that when he was in L.A., he's in his comfort zone; if they're snapping a ball and he's got 11 to defend it, he's in his comfort zone."

    Kiffin is changing the Cowboys' defense from a 3-4 alignment to a 4-3. The Cowboys believe they have the personnel to pull this off. They will move outside linebackers DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer to defensive end and move defensive end Jason Hatcher to defensive tackle alongside Jay Ratliff.

    The linebackers remain the same in Sean Lee (middle) and Bruce Carter (weak side), but the strongside linebacker spot has to be filled. Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones has pegged Kyle Wilber in that spot.

    Tomlin doesn't believe the switch will be a problem for Kiffin and Marinelli.

    "How those guys work, I really think it's insignificant when you talk about whether or not you got four guys with their hand on the ground or three guys with their hand on the ground," Tomlin said. "One thing that they're going to do is they're going to be fundamentally sound, their going to play responsible football and they're going to play extremely hard with the 11 men that they have. I look forward to watching their tape. I think there's a lot of people in the NFL looking forward to watching their tape. Those are the type of guys, when they put tape out there, it's food for all of us. It's going to be fun."

    The hiring of Monte Kiffin as the Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator makes him tied as the second-oldest assistant coach in the NFL at 72

    Kiffin turns 73 on February 29.

    Kiffin is tied for the second oldest in the NFL with Philadelphia Eagles defensive line coach Tommy Brasher, who came out of retirement in the last few weeks of the 2012 season.

    The oldest assistant coach in the NFL is Pittsburgh Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, who is 75.

    Incidentally, Eagles offensive line coach Howard Mudd is 70.

    Brasher and Mudd could retire again, leaving LeBeau and Kiffin as the oldest assistants in the league.

    Tony Romo talks about Steelers fans

    December, 20, 2012
    12/20/12
    4:10
    PM ET
    IRVING, Texas --It's hard to estimate, but Cowboys owner Jerry Jones thought there were about 15,000 Pittsburgh Steelers fans in last week's game at Cowboys Stadium. The paid attendance was 95,595, the highest of the season.

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    This week, the New Orleans Saints come to town, another team with a strong fan base that travels well, especially in the south.

    It's not the first time Steelers' and Saints fans invaded a Cowboys home game. In 2004, the Steelers had a large fan base at Texas Stadium. Dallas lost, 24-20, in front of 64,162, the second-largest crowd of that season. The Saints also visited, another Cowboys loss, 27-13, and 64,056 attended, making it the third largest home crowd.

    That was the last time both teams visited in the same year. The Saints, however, came in 2006 and beat the Cowboys, 42-17, in front of 63,722, the largest home crowd of the 2006 season.

    "We've played against Pittsburgh before at home, a while back when I was young," said quarterback Tony Romo, who is 32. "I can remember they travel well. I think bigger than that, the one game they all want to travel to, is Dallas and that was why Pittsburgh, I felt like had a lot of fans here. They obviously traveled to other games but this is the one game I think a lot of the fans pick out. We understand that, but our fans were awesome that last game I was excited to see how they created problems for the other team's offense."

    DeMarco Murray, Ernie Sims return to practice

    December, 20, 2012
    12/20/12
    3:37
    PM ET
    IRVING, Texas -- Keeping with the same schedule as last week, starting running back DeMarco Murray (foot) returned to practice Thursday, though in a limited fashion.

    Murray doesn't practice Wednesdays but does work the next two days.

    Inside linebacker Ernie Sims also returned to the practice field for the first time since suffering a concussion in the first half of Dallas' victory over Pittsburgh on Sunday. Sims passed a concussion test Thursday and has to take another one Friday.

    Both Murray and Sims were limited.

    Wide receiver Dez Bryant (finger) and outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware (elbow) were limited in practice but each is expected to play in Sunday's game against New Orleans.

    Morris Claiborne (concussion) and Charlie Peprah (foot) were full participants in practice.

    The Cowboys moved practice from Valley Ranch to Highland Park High School's indoor facility because of the windy conditions in the Dallas area.

    Cowboys' offensive line playing better

    December, 18, 2012
    12/18/12
    5:11
    PM ET

    The Cowboys' offensive line produced one of their better all-around games Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers' front seven.

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    Running back DeMarco Murray rushed for 81 yards on just 14 carries. As a unit, the run game picked up 91 yards on 17 carries.

    Quarterback Tony Romo was sacked just once and knocked down twice.

    "I thought they played one of their best games," coach Jason Garrett said of the offensive line. "I thought Tony was as comfortable in the pocket as he's been in a long, long time. You know, it's hard to block these great rushers in this league and I think for the most part the guys did a really good job of that."

    The right tackle rotation between Doug Free and Jermey Parnell is doing well. Garrett said the competition between Free (47 snaps) and Parnell (23 snaps) has resulted in each pushing the other do better.

    "I think it's been a real positive impact for not only Doug but also for Jermey," Garrett said. "Bill Callahan has done a great job. That's something he wanted to do a couple of weeks ago just to rotate Jermey in to take some reps in practice and see how it went and he thought it went well. He wanted to rotate a series in ballgames and play it out as the game wore on. Doug has played more than Jermey in each of the last two ballgames but has played some of his best games and Jermey has responded to that challenge also."

    Five key plays that shaped the game

    December, 18, 2012
    12/18/12
    5:08
    PM ET
    ARLINGTON -- There were 125 games in the Cowboys' 27-24 overtime win over Pittsburgh and some were more important than others.

    Here are five that shaped the game:

    Play: Alex Albright tackle
    Situation: Third-and-5
    Score: Dallas, 3-0
    Time: 14:19 left in second quarter
    Taylor's Take: After DeMarco Murray lost a fumble at the Pittsburgh 8, the defense’s job was to get the ball back without giving up a first down. Backup linebacker Alex Albright, playing because Ernie Sims suffered a concussion, fought off a guard, shed him and tripped up Chris Rainey a yard short of the first down. Five plays later, the Cowboys scored a touchdown.

    Play: Dwayne Harris reception
    Situation: Second-and-23
    Score: Tied, 10-10
    Time: 8:07 left in third quarter
    Taylor's Take: Finally, Jason Garrett has a player who can make something happen with the receiver screen. On second-and-23, Harris made at least defenders miss and gained 17 yards to set up a manageable third-down situation on an 80-yard drive that ended with Dez Bryant’s 24-yard touchdown reception.

    Play: DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer sack
    Situation: Third-and-4 from Dallas 37
    Score: Tied, 24-24
    Time: 3:35 left in fourth quarter
    Taylor's Take: Ware, a non-factor much of the day, made a play when the Cowboys needed it most. Ware looped around left end and then crawled the last couple of feet until he grabbed Ben Roethlisberger’s leg. As the quarterback struggled to get free, Anthony Spencer finished him off, knocking the Steelers out of field goal territory and forcing a punt.

    Play: Sean Lissemore sack
    Situation: First-and-10
    Score: Tied, 24-24
    Time: 1:34 left in fourth quarter
    Taylor's Take: Give credit to defensive coordinator Rob Ryan for scheming this sack. The Cowboys had a three-on-two advantage with linebackers Anthony Spencer and Victor Butler on either side of Lissemore. At the snap, the tackle took Butler and the guard took Spencer, while Lissemore went unblocked. He grabbed Roethlisberger around the waist and hurled him down for the Cowboys’ second consecutive sack.

    Play: Victor Butler forced fumble
    Situation: Fourth-and-19
    Score: Pittsburgh, 24-17
    Time: 10:18 left in fourth quarter
    Taylor's Take: Antonio Brown was seemingly en route to a game-changing play, when Victor Butler stuck out his left hand and knocked the ball loose during Brown’s 22-yard return. John Phillips recovered at the 44 Pittsburgh 44 and quickly took advantage of the turnover.

    Offensive snaps: No role for Felix Jones

    December, 18, 2012
    12/18/12
    11:30
    AM ET
    A look at the snaps played by Cowboys’ offensive players in the team’s 27-24 overtime win over the Pittsburgh Steelers, while analyzing what it means:

    LT Tyron Smith: 67 of 67
    RG Mackenzy Bernadeau: 67 of 67
    LG Nate Livings: 67 of 67
    C Ryan Cook: 67 of 67
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    QB Tony Romo: 67 of 67
    TE Jason Witten: 66 of 67
    WR Miles Austin: 57 of 67
    RB DeMarco Murray: 54 of 67
    WR Dez Bryant: 49 of 67
    RT Doug Free: 47 of 67
    TE John Phillips: 24 of 67
    RT Jermey Parnell: 23 of 67
    WR Kevin Ogletree: 23 of 67
    TE James Hanna: 17 of 67
    WR Dwayne Harris: 16 of 67
    FB Lawrence Vickers: 14 of 67
    RB Felix Jones: 6 of 67
    WR Cole Beasley: 5 of 67
    RB Lance Dunbar: 1 of 67

    Taylor's Takes: If you thought for some reason Felix Jones was going to return next season, forget about it. A week after getting his lowest playing time of the season, Jones set a new low for plays against Pittsburgh. He’s a non-factor these days and doesn’t even have a role on third down anymore. ... In the fourth quarter with the game on the line, Dwayne Harris was in the game and Kevin Ogletree was on the bench. ... Ogletree had more plays, but that was probably the result of Dez Bryant not playing quite as much because of his broken left index finger. ... Rookie TE James Hanna played a season-high 17 snaps and caught two passes for 45 yards, which could result in John Phillips losing playing time.
    After a review of the Cowboys-Steelers game we have our weekly review in random thoughts.

    1. Cornerback Mike Jenkins played a season-high 60 snaps in the game and made four tackles and allowed one touchdown from the slot position. Jenkins played outside and inside corner, not an easy task, but something the Cowboys expect from a former Pro Bowler and first round pick to do given the injury situation at his position. This is an interesting season for Jenkins who is entering the final weeks of his contract with the Cowboys. You can never have enough corners because of injuries, and the Cowboys have endured that the last few years. But should the Cowboys consider bringing Jenkins back for 2013? If the team signs Jenkins to a one-year contract, it could benefit both. The Cowboys will keep intact the four main corners for 2013, add Brandon Carr, Morris Claiborne and Orlando Scandrick to the list, and Jenkins can build his resume to other teams that he's a good player. It's a similar situation wide receiver Kevin Ogletree found himself in last season. He was a free agent but elected to re-sign with Dallas for one season. Jenkins might do the same.

    2. One of the toughest players on the Cowboys' team is safety Gerald Sensabaugh. You can question his deep coverage ability all you want, that 60-yard reception by Mike Wallace with Danny McCray trailing and Sensabaugh coming over for support, was poor coverage. But Sensabaugh has played with a sore hip and just doesn't come off the field. He played 60 defensive snaps on Sunday. Most weeks, Sensabaugh plays every snap or comes off the field maybe one or two plays. Sensabaugh lined up closer to the line of scrimmage and played deep at times in Rob Ryan's defense. He's a trusted member of the defense that doesn't get enough credit for hard hits. He made another one in Sunday's game on Emmanuel Sanders on a reception.

    3. It's good the Cowboys want to rotate Doug Free and Jermey Parnell at right tackle. Offensive line coach Bill Callahan said whoever has the hot hand will remain in the game. Free played the last five offensive possessions at the position, four in the fourth quarter and one in overtime, while Parnell came in as a tackle eligible player late in the third quarter. Free was the right tackle for the last two possessions of the Cincinnati game last week as well. It seems the Cowboys will go with the experience in Free over Parnell with the game on the line.

    4. The Cowboys defense saved outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware late in the game. He was flagged for a 15-yard roughing the passer penalty for hitting Ben Roethlisberger in the back of the head on a pass rush with 1:34 to play. You can't have these penalties late in games. But Sean Lissemore sacked Roethlisberger on the next play and then Anthony Spencer picked up another sack forcing a third and long. Roethlisberger would complete a pass well short of the first down marker and Pittsburgh would punt. Lissemore and Spencer ended the late drive with sacks making sure Ware's penalty wouldn't cost the Cowboys.

    5. When you use inexperience players with talent sometimes you need them to make plays late in games. Wide receiver Dwayne Harris dazzled the coaches with a nifty reception where he dodged at least three defenders. But with 2:00 to play in the game, Harris ran his route short of the first down marker and while catching a four yard pass was good, it came on third-and-five from the 17. Harris has to see where the marker is and run to that spot because quarterback Tony Romo is looking to get him the ball there.

    Look Back: Kudos to Rob Ryan

    December, 18, 2012
    12/18/12
    11:28
    AM ET
    IRVING, Texas – Rob Ryan has taken heat for some of the issues that have cropped up with the Cowboys’ defense this season.

    Maybe some of it is not entirely fair because of the injuries, but everybody at Valley Ranch has said you cannot use injuries as an excuse.

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    In Sunday’s 27-24 win against Pittsburgh, Ryan did a great job of mixing up looks, coverages and blitzes. In this week’s Look Back, Ryan brought pressure (five or more) 12 times, which does not sound like a lot considering his background but it was more than he had been bringing in recent weeks.

    Despite the call for more blitzes, Ryan has been correct to rely on his four man pressure most of the time. Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was 15 of 26 against the Cowboys four-man looks. He was sacked once and his interception in overtime came against four-man pressure.

    His first touchdown of the game came against a three-man look. He completed two of three passes against three-man pressure, but was sacked once (Marcus Spears).

    Against five- and six-man pressures Roethlisberger was seven of 11 with a touchdown (the slot throw to Antonio Brown) but Ryan’s five-man pressure call led to a split sack by DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer and his only six-man call of the game led to the sack by Sean Lissemore.

    The Steelers had to be confused because Lissemore came unblocked between the guard and tackle and was able to smother Roethlisberger. Again, it was the only time Ryan brought six games in the game.

    Let’s look at Brandon Carr’s interception that was the signature play of the game. As the Steelers lined up Carr was three yards off Mike Wallace but by the time of the snap Carr backed off to seven yards. All the while his eyes were on Roethlisberger.

    At the snap he pedals back and keeps inside leverage. In the fourth quarter Wallace was able to get him on a stop route. This time he ran an out route, but it’s almost as if Roethlisberger might have been thinking Wallace would run another stop because the throw was to the inside, allowing Carr to break on the pass.

    Carr made the athletic pick and was able to get down to the Pittsburgh 1 to set up the game-winning field goal.

    An interesting note on that play, the Steelers chose to double Spencer with the tight end and the running back on the strong side and leave left tackle Max Starks alone on Ware.

    How did the Steelers block Ware during the game?

    Starks had him one-on-one on 18 pass plays, according to my count. Ware’s half sack came on a one-on-one battle. They double-teamed Ware eight times, had a tight end block him three times, but two came on quick throws to the outside. He dropped into coverage three times, went unblocked once and three times the Steelers had their guards block him by sliding the tackle down.

    On to the offense …

    Let’s look at Jason Witten’s touchdown first. What struck me most was Tony Romo’s fake on the play action. He and DeMarco Murray did a great job selling the run, especially with guard Nate Livings pulling. That forced linebacker Lawrence Timmons to suck up toward the line and allowed Witten to get down the field after he was untouched at the line.

    It was an easy throw and catch that was set up by the run action. Since Murray’s return the Cowboys have done a lot more running out of 11 personnel with the guard pulling. Film study had them thinking it was a run on first-and-10 from their 17 but the Cowboys were able to take their shot.

    On four occasions the Cowboys faced third and 1. It’s not been a kind down and distance in recent years and they were only two of four in those situations vs. the Steelers.

    On the first third-and-1, Murray gained eight yards thanks to some solid work from Witten and Tyron Smith, who sealed the weakside edge, and Lawrence Vickers, who took care of the defensive back. Murray was able to fend off Larry Foote to get the extra yards with a stiff arm (or a face mask?).

    On the second third-and-1, the Cowboys went with their goal line package with tackle Jermey Parnell as their third tight end. Once again Vickers did a nice job and John Phillips and Witten were able to do enough for Murray to run through Timmons for the first down.

    So far so good, but to open the third quarter the Cowboys were stopped on third and 1. Once again they went with Parnell as the extra tight end, but Vickers could not get Keenan Lewis out of the way and it looked as if Mackenzy Bernadeau could not close the back side, which allowed Timmons to come through for the tackle.

    The fourth third-and-1 play – a Romo bootleg - was there had Parnell and Smith blocked it correctly. On the first three plays the Steelers crashed down inside on the runs, so the Cowboys figured they would bite again and they did. But Smith and Parnell were unable to keep Harrison under control, and he made the tackle for loss.

    In 2010, the Cowboys ran a similar play against Detroit in which Jon Kitna scampered home for a long touchdown.

    Overall, however, the offensive line was excellent against a good Steelers front.
    A look at the snaps played by Cowboys’ defenders in the team’s 27-24 overtime win over the Pittsburgh Steelers, while analyzing what it means:

    S Gerald Sensabaugh: 60 of 60
    CB Mike Jenkins: 60 of 60
    CB Brandon Carr: 59 of 60
    OLB Anthony Spencer: 58 of 60
    OLB DeMarcus Ware: 52 of 60
    DE Jason Hatcher: 50 of 60
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    ILB Alex Albright: 49 of 60
    S Danny McCray: 41 of 60
    ILB Dan Connor: 38 of 60
    CB Sterling Moore: 37 of 60
    S Eric Frampton: 29 of 60
    DL Sean Lissemore: 29 of 60
    DE Marcus Spears: 27 of 60
    DE Tyrone Crawford: 22 of 60
    OLB Victor Butler: 13 of 60
    CB Michael Coe: 10 of 60
    DE Brian Schaefering: 10 of 60
    NT Robert Callaway: 6 of 60
    LB Ernie Sims: 5 of 60

    Taylor's Takes: CB Sterling Moore, NT Robert Callaway, CB Michael Coe and DE Brian Schaefering combined for 63 plays. So defensive coordinator Rob Ryan deserves considerable credit for getting his unit to play well with a bunch of no-name, new-to-the-team guys. ... Eric Frampton replaced Danny McCray in some situations in the nickel and dime because McCray was struggling. He couldn’t cover TE Heath Miller in the first half and receiver Mike Wallace ran past him for a 60-yard gain in the third quarter. ... LB Alex Albright played a season-high 49 snaps and finished with five tackles -- none bigger than his third-down stop in the second quarter.
    IRVING, Texas -- The Cowboys will continue to monitor wide receiver Dez Bryant's fractured left index finger, but it's nothing out of the ordinary.

    The Cowboys always check up on their nicked-up players, and Bryant is no different. Bryant played against Pittsburgh on Sunday with a taped-up splint on his finger with the tip exposed and caught four passes for 59 yards and one touchdown. He has caught a touchdown in each of the last six games.

    Coach Jason Garrett expressed amazement that Bryant was going to play against Pittsburgh.

    "Dez was very emotional early in the week about, 'I am playing in this game.' " Garrett said. "And I think when you are a football player and you see a guy be so unequivocal about that and say 'I’m doing it, regardless of what the heck this thing is. I’ m playing. I need to play.' I think it has a real positive impact on your football team."

    Bryant had just one catch in the first half as the Steelers provided a variety of coverages his way, even dropping a linebacker underneath on his side of the field on a few pass plays. But Bryant got open more in the second half and caught a 24-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Tony Romo in the third quarter to break a 10-10 tie.

    Bryant didn't report any problems with the finger after the game.

    "We had to make sure we went through the whole process of seeing what the doctor said and all of that and talk it through," Garrett said of what the last week was like for Bryant. "But right from the start, he said 'I am playing.' I think that is a real tribute to his toughness, first and foremost as a human being and his passion for playing and passion for this football team."

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