Dallas Cowboys: Robert Mathis

DeMarcus Ware back in old face mask

August, 13, 2013
8/13/13
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OXNARD, Calif. -- When the Dallas Cowboys play the Arizona Cardinals on Saturday, DE DeMarcus Ware will be back in his helmet with the U-bar face mask. The NFL is awaiting more paperwork before it approves the eight-bar helmet he would like to wear.

Ware wore the eight-bar mask last week at Oakland and had hoped that meant he would be cleared for the regular season. He was in the U-bar helmet at Tuesday's practice.

Last week, the NFL denied a request by Indianapolis Colts DE/LB Robert Mathis to wear a nonconforming face mask.

An NFL player must have a medical reason in order to wear a specialized mask. Ware has battled through a series of stingers in the past few years.

Anthony Spencer bulks up for move

May, 29, 2013
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IRVING, Texas – Like DeMarcus Ware, Anthony Spencer has used the offseason to gain more weight as he moves to defensive end in the Cowboys’ switch to the 4-3 scheme.

“A strong 10,” Spencer said of how much weight he gained.

Spencer was listed at 250 pounds last season but said he played at about 253. He said he weighs about 263 pounds now.

“I changed my diet for the first couple of months,” Spencer said. “I usually don’t eat a lot of red meat, burgers. I just ate whatever I wanted to and then after that I got back to the weight room and leaned up.”

Defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin has acknowledged that Ware (262 pounds) and Spencer are slightly undersized from what he had in Tampa Bay when Simeon Rice (6-foot-5, 268 pounds) and Greg Spires (6-foot-1, 265). Indianapolis excelled in the same defense with Robert Mathis (235 pounds) playing Spencer’s left defensive end spot and Dwight Freeney (268) playing Ware’s spot on the right side.

“They pretty much preach speed,” Spencer said. “The thing is getting off and using speed and athleticism to beat blocks. But at the same time we went down in weight to be outside linebackers, so this pretty much gets us back to our ideal weight.”

Source: Cowboys release OLB Adrian Hamilton

August, 30, 2012
8/30/12
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IRVING, Texas – The Cowboys released promising undrafted rookie pass rusher Adrian Hamilton, according to a source.

Hamilton, a product of Dallas’ Carter High who broke three-time Pro Bowler Robert Mathis’ SWAC single-season record for sacks last year at Prairie View A&M, got caught in a numbers crunch at outside linebacker.

DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer are established starters. Victor Butler is a solid backup whose role could be expanding, and the Cowboys invested a fourth-round pick in Kyle Wilber. Alex Albright, a second-year player, is one of the Cowboys’ best special teams performers and also has the advantage of being able to play all four linebacker positions.

The Dallas coaches and front office had questions about Hamilton’s ability to contribute on special teams, a must for a backup linebacker.

Hamilton, who fought through knee and wrist injuries during training camp, would be a prime candidate for the Cowboys’ practice squad if he clears waivers.

Power Rankings: Top 10 NFL pass-rushers

March, 22, 2011
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Clay Matthews/DeMarcus Ware/Dwight Freeney/Jared AllenESPN.com IllustrationDeMarcus Ware (94) was the clear choice for the top spot when our writers ranked the best pass-rushers in the game.
ESPN.com’s NFL writers rank the top 10 pass-rushers in the league today. Next week: Top 10 tight ends.

ESPN.com's panel of power rankers had no trouble identifying the best pass-rusher in football. The rest of our Top 10 list? It was easily the most difficult to compile so far in what will be a 10-week project.

Dallas Cowboys linebacker DeMarcus Ware received seven of eight first-place votes. AFC South blogger Paul Kuharsky ranked him No. 2, putting Indianapolis Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney at the top of his ballot. Overall, a total of 17 players received votes, and the crowd was dense enough to exclude established veterans such as Houston Texans defensive end Mario Williams, New York Giants defensive end Justin Tuck, Baltimore Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs and Colts defensive end Robert Mathis.

The category was tough, explained NFC West blogger Mike Sando, because "sack numbers tend to fluctuate from year to year and it's tougher to know which pass-rushers are truly the best. I think the proliferation of 3-4 defenses also made this a tougher call. We weren't evaluating defensive ends exclusively. We were also looking at 3-4 outside linebackers. That deepened the pool while forcing us to compare players at more than one position."

Ware, for one, wasn't a difficult choice -- as long as sacks are the primary statistical representation of pass rushing. Ware led the NFL in sacks last season with 15.5, and he has also had more combined sacks over the past two, three and five seasons combined than any other NFL player. At 28, he would seem to have several ultra-productive seasons remaining in his career.

Beyond Ware, however, the debate was fierce. The Green Bay Packers' Clay Matthews received the second-most votes (61), but there wasn't much separating him from Freeney (58) or Minnesota Vikings defensive end Jared Allen (52).

[+] EnlargeDallas' DeMarcus Ware
Tom Pennington/Getty ImagesDeMarcus Ware had 15.5 sacks last season and has 80 sacks in six seasons in the NFL.
Kuharsky's familiarity with Freeney gave him a unique perspective.

"I've had coaches and scouts I trust tell me, repeatedly, that Freeney is the best pure pass-rusher in the league," Kuharsky said. "They say he's the guy they'd want if they could have anyone and the most difficult guy to stop because of the way he plots out his game. That's stuck with me and was a big factor for me as I put together my ballot."

From an NFC North perspective, I think it's interesting that Ware is the only NFL player who has recorded more sacks than Allen over the past five seasons. Allen's total of 11.0 last season was his low-water mark over the last four seasons, however, and the explicit instructions for voters were to base judgments on what we can expect for the 2011 season.

Given a choice between Allen, Matthews or Freeney in building a Super Bowl team for 2011, whom would you choose? With all due respect for Freeney (and Kuharsky, such that he deserves it) Matthews, 24, seems the right answer to me.

Matthews, Allen and Chicago Bears defensive end Julius Peppers gave the NFC North a league-high three members of this exclusive group. Peppers' all-around contributions last season earned him a spot on The Associated Press' All-Pro team, but his total of eight sacks left him ranked eighth on our list.

Illustrating the difficulty of this exercise, two voters left Peppers off their ballots entirely and a third -- AFC North blogger James Walker -- ranked him No. 10. The Atlanta Falcons' John Abraham, The Associated Press' other first-team All-Pro defensive end, ranked a composite No. 7.

NFC South blogger Pat Yasinskas, who covers Abraham and until 2010 covered Peppers as well, ranked Peppers No. 5 and said: "I know the sack numbers can rise and fall, but he has the ability to completely take over a game at any time." Meanwhile, a younger Abraham would have ranked higher.

"He had 11 sacks last year but 5.5 the year before," Yasinskas said. "At 32, you have to at least question whether he would sustain 2010 numbers in 2011."

Finally, if you're outraged about the absence of Williams, Tuck, Suggs, Mathis, the Philadelphia Eagles' Trent Cole or even the Denver Broncos' Elvis Dumervil, you probably need to focus your ire at the inclusion of Miami Dolphins defensive end Cameron Wake. In his second NFL season, Wake exploded for 14 sacks.

Does one elite season merit inclusion on this list? Opinions varied widely among our voters. Wake was left off three ballots and voted No. 10 on three others. AFC East blogger Tim Graham, who saw more of Wake last season than any other voter, placed him No. 4.

"If we're ranking the best overall defensive ends or outside linebackers, then maybe Cameron Wake doesn't make my list," Graham said. "He's not a run-stuffer and is lacking when it comes to pass coverage. But we're rating pure pass-rushers, and that's the one thing Wake does on an elite level. He's a freakishly gifted athlete who creates havoc in the backfield.

"I also don't view Wake as a one-year wonder because he had a strong season in 2009 despite playing behind Joey Porter and Jason Taylor in most situations and under a different defensive coordinator. He should continue to thrive under Mike Nolan's guidance. I view Wake as a legitimate star who was overlooked on a mediocre team."

Your thoughts? I'm expecting them.

Scout's Eye: Cowboys-Colts review

December, 7, 2010
12/07/10
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  • Coming off the disappointing Thanksgiving loss, Jason Garrett continued to preach to all those that would listen about finding a way to handle adversity.

    As bad as the loss was to the defending Super Bowl champ New Orleans Saints, the NFL schedule-makers did the Cowboys no favors with a trip to face the defending AFC champion Indianapolis Colts. In studying the Colts, injuries had taken a toll in several key areas, except for quarterback Peyton Manning.

    Despite lacking a running game and a playmaking tight end and having some banged-up wide receivers, Manning still presented a challenge to a Dallas defense that was making the transformation from Wade Phillips' blitzing, man-coverage style to Paul Pasqualoni's zone coverage and assignment-first scheme.

    The Colts have been terrible running the football. You could make an argument that the loss of Joseph Addai was a huge hit for this offense, but breaking down the previous games the Colts played against the Patriots and Chargers, you would see an offensive line that struggled to get any type of push at the point of attack. The Colts are a zone-blocking team that gets no movement up front.

    When the Colts did try and run the ball on Sunday, Cowboys linebackers Bradie James, Sean Lee and Anthony Spencer were in position to make plays.

    James was a physical tackler, attacking the line of scrimmage and not allowing any room for the Colts to run. Lee had some nice plays clearing blocks as well and playing with his hands.

    But Lee was even more of a factor in the passing game with the two interceptions, tackles on the edge against backs out of the backfield and blows delivered to receivers crossing underneath.

    Lee also made the last tackle on the punt team to keep the Colts pinned in their own end. That was before the series that Manning had the tipped ball by Mike Jenkins that Lee played well for the game-clinching drive for the Cowboys.

    To the naked eye, it would have appeared that DeMarcus Ware had a quiet game against the Colts because he didn’t have any sacks. Coming into this game, the Colts were first in the NFL in protecting Manning. There had been some games this season where he had taken hits in the pocket, but not many sacks.

    Ware was a handful for tackles Ryan Diem and Charlie Johnson, who coming into the game I thought played soft on the edge. Ware was able to take advantage of some opportunities with his rush that affected Manning in the pocket by using a spin move on Johnson. Ware at times was held but still managed to fight through and get pressure. He also ran down a screen and was able to play off blocks to help in the running game along with the other linebackers.

    In the secondary, we all saw the huge game that Reggie Wayne had against this Cowboys secondary and mainly Jenkins.

    Jenkins started the game well by doing a nice job of running with Wayne on the route as they both worked down the field, allowing Alan Ball to work over from the middle of the field for the first interception of Manning.

    On the touchdown catch that Wayne had, it looked like Jenkins was expecting from the inside from Ball. Jenkins is playing outside technique as Wayne heads inside on the route. Ball is late reacting, giving up the play.

    The second big play also involved Wayne, who once again takes his route inside of Jenkins, who appears to be in position to make the play in the middle of the field without safety help. But it was just an outstanding throw and catch.

    On the Colts' drive for the game-tying touchdown, Wayne had been running routes inside during the two-minute drill. Wayne fakes the slant, which makes Jenkins react drawing him inside. Wayne then heads up the field as Manning fits the ball between Jenkins and Sensabaugh, who is a little late arriving. Wayne dives to make another big-time reception.

    Where Jenkins also struggled once again was as a tackler. He did have one low tackle on the outside, but he also had two misses in space.

    With the concussion suffered by Orlando Scandrick in the game, look for rookie Bryan McCann to get the nod as the nickel corner. In the times he was in the game, he wasn’t tested as much as I thought he would be, but look for the Eagles to maybe make it a part of the game plan with their receivers.

  • On offense, Garrett did a nice job of making the Colts have to defend the entire field with his play-calling. He took advantage of the Colts’ lighter front seven by using misdirection to get them moving, then bringing the ball on the edge with Felix Jones and Tashard Choice.

    The offensive line did a much better job of combo blocking, securing the down linemen then getting a blocker up on the linebackers. This allowed the backs to find the hole without having to deal with a defender in their face immediately.

    In the passing game, Jon Kitna did a nice job of moving and buying time when things broke down in the pocket.

    There was no doubt in my mind that there would be some struggles on the outside with Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis, but I thought it would be more over Colombo and what he was facing in Mathis.

    Colombo wasn’t pretty and never is, but for the Cowboys to run over 70 offensive snaps, I thought he played as well as could be expected. That was my same view of what I thought with Free. Like Colombo, gave up a sack and also had two holding calls (one accepted).

    Freeney is such a difficult player to play at Lucas Oil Stadium because of the crowd noise and his explosive first step. Freeney can also get you with his bull or power rushes.

    There were several times where it took all Free had to stay in front of him, but in the end, Free and Colombo both managed to survive where others had failed.

  • There are those that feel that the fumble recovery of Cowboys rookie Lonyae Miller on the kickoff return was the key point in the game. There is no doubt that it was huge, but I want to point out three other plays that might have been just as an important.

    With the Cowboys leading 17-14 with 5:52 remaining in the third quarter, the Cowboys lined up for a 46-yard field goal. At the snap, Colts DT Daniel Muir tried to jump onto the back of Andre Gurode, who was lined up at guard. Muir halfway got up on Gurode's back, then fell off. After the kick, Gurode asked umpire Rueben Fowler about what Muir had done, trying to get a call for leverage, but didn't get it.

    In the fourth quarter, the Cowboys, trailing 28-27, moved the ball to the Colts 1 and again opted for a field goal. David Buehler made the kick to give the Cowboys the lead, but a flag on the field and a delay of game call against the Cowboys wiped out the kick.

    On the play, Muir once again jumped on the back of a Cowboys blocker -- this time, snapper LP Ladouceur. Again Gurode pointed to Fowler, who did nothing. After the penalty was assessed, Buehler again tried the kick, but this time DE Eric Foster jumped squarely on Gurode's back in plain sight of Fowler, who had no choice but to throw the flag and give the Cowboys a first down.

    The Cowboys got a fresh set of downs, ran clock and were able to cap the drive with a touchdown and a 2-point conversion instead of settle for three points. Under Wade Phillips, the Cowboys played like a dumb football team. But now, under Jason Garrett, they appear to be a little smarter -- thanks to a heads-up play by Gurode.
  • Grudge Match: Cowboys-Colts

    December, 4, 2010
    12/04/10
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    A look at Sunday's key matchups between the Cowboys and Colts:

    Colts QB Peyton Manning vs. Cowboys defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni: If you were going to do a Grudge Match each week against the Colts, you could probably mention Peyton Manning against the opponent’s defensive coordinator and just go from there. There is an understanding going into a game each week that your defense will be looked at and studied by the opponent’s quarterback, but not to the level of when you play Manning.

    In his preparation, there is no stone that is left unturned. Going into the game as the defensive coordinator, you are most likely not going to be able to fool him with a look or show him something that he hasn’t seen in his 13 seasons in the league.

    Where Pasqualoni has to be careful is the way he matches his front with his coverages. He has to have a feel for when to attack the pocket or play coverage.

    Of the elite quarterbacks in the NFL, Manning has the most freedom to adjust the offense as he sees fit. Pasqualoni’s defense cannot survive with giving Manning the same look down after down and at presnap. They must be able to disguise what they are playing coverage-wise.

    This week will be a huge mental challenge for the Cowboys’ defense because it will have to line up in one front or one coverage and in the presnap shift to another.

    Where Manning has struggled in the past against the 3-4 defense is picking out the fifth rusher. The last two weeks, Pasqualoni has been able to study the success of the Patriots and Chargers and tailor his game plan to mirror situations that gave the Colts troubles the last two weeks.

    *Colts DE Robert Mathis vs. RT Marc Colombo: It would be really easy for me to focus on the matchup of Doug Free against Dwight Freeney, but I really see those two cancelling each other out. The matchup that I am going to watch is Mathis against Colombo.

    [+] EnlargeMarc Colombo
    Matthew Emmons/US PresswireMarc Colombo will have his hands full Sunday with the slippery Robert Mathis of the Colts.
    Where Colombo has really struggled is with those players that have explosive quickness to the edge. Colombo just doesn’t move as well as he once did, and when he doesn’t get his hands quickly on the rusher, he struggles with control.

    One of Mathis’ best moves is when he takes the tackle up the field, getting his weight on the outside foot, then spins inside to the quarterback.

    The Cowboys can help Colombo by pounding Mathis in the running game, making him deal with tackles and tight ends. Continuing to fight blocks is the way to soften him up. Every chance that they can hit both Mathis and Freeney would be a step in the right direction to slow their pass rush down.

    The Colts ends are really effective when they can rush the passer with a lead. When they don’t have to worry about the run, they pin their ears back and really attack you. There is no doubt in my mind that Colombo will need more help in this game than Free from a protection stand point.

    *Colts WRs Reggie Wayne and Pierre Garcon vs. Cowboys CBs: The Colts are in a similar situation when it comes to running the ball as the Cowboys. Neither team really gets any type of push or movement at the point of attack on a consistent basis, so it makes it difficult to sustain a running game. The Colts have also had to deal with the neck injury to Joseph Addai, which has also hurt.

    But the Colts can really hurt you in the passing game with Reggie Wayne and Pierre Garcon.

    Wayne will catch the football all over the field. He is a smooth route runner that has an outstanding ability to create opportunities. In the two games I viewed, Wayne had some drops that you would normally not see coming from him, but still Manning has the utmost confidence in him.

    Garcon, according to the scouts I have spoken with, has been in the doghouse some, but you can’t tell by the way he plays. Like Wayne, he is smooth and can turn on a dime when running his routes. He will adjust to the ball and is a threat in the red zone and when converting third downs.

    The Cowboys will be in nickel the majority of the game to handle these receivers and how they match up down after down will be the difference whether they win or lose this game.

    Scout's Eye: Cowboys-Colts preview

    December, 3, 2010
    12/03/10
    9:33
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    In the last two weeks, the defending AFC champion Colts have lost a tough battle on the road to the Patriots on a Peyton Manning interception after a late rally and were handled by the Chargers at Lucas Oil Stadium, a place that the Colts rarely lose.

    The Colts have been playing the entire season trying to survive injuries at key positions with backup players and to their credit have had those players step up and become productive players.

    Scout's Eye
    Tight end Jacob Tamme has filled in well for Dallas Clark, as has former Michigan State walk-on Blair White at receiver for Austin Collie and Anthony Gonzalez. Donald Brown at running back for Joseph Addai, rookie Pat Angerer for middle linebacker Gary Brackett and safety Aaron Francisco for Bob Sanders have all done adequate jobs.

    Despite all the injuries, the Colts still have two of the most dynamic players in the NFL in Manning and Dwight Freeney.

    In studying the Colts on offense against the Patriots and the Chargers, there were three areas that really stood out to me: the number of pocket hits that Manning was taking, the struggles of the offensive line to get movement in the running game and some missed opportunities by the receivers to bring in accurate passes from Manning.

    I will start with the offensive line. The anchor of the group is veteran center Jeff Saturday. Saturday doesn’t play with much power and really is a catch-and-steer blocker. Tackles Ryan Diem and Charlie Johnson tend to give ground on their sets and can be taken back into Manning. Where the Colts have struggled the most has been inside at guard with Kyle DeVan and Jeff Linkenbach.

    Last week the triangle of Jay Ratliff, Keith Brooking and Bradie James did a solid job against the Saints. Look for the Cowboys to attack the middle of the pocket against the Colts. Manning does have mobility, but in the games I viewed, he had problems with the rush that was in his face. The Patriots and Chargers were able to alter his launch angles when delivering the ball to his receivers.

    If the Cowboys can squeeze the pocket from the outside with DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer, inside pressure from Ratliff and Stephen Bowen could create inaccurate passes from Manning. How well the Cowboys play in their four-man or nickel front will go a long way to deciding the outcome of this game.

    The one area that Manning has struggled in the past against the 3-4 teams is his understanding of where that fifth rusher was coming from in the scheme. When Manning is at his best, is when he is able to take the entire play clock and break the defense down.

    Defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni has to be careful committing his defensive look too early and giving Manning a pre snap read. Early in this game, watch the movement of the Cowboys’ front and secondary to see if they try and throw Manning off with disguise. It’s difficult to fool Manning because of his preparation, but you can’t allow him the ability to get a read on your defense pre-snap because he will break you down with his personnel.

    The Colts’ offensive line, much like the Cowboys’, has really struggled to run the football. Addai has been out with a neck injury and could be back to action this week. The Colts struggle to get any type of movement or push at the point of attack. When the Colts run the ball it’s a stretch or zone-blocking scheme that they use, but it hasn’t been the least bit effective.

    The Cowboys faced this type of scheme when they played the Redskins and Texans earlier in the season. If the Colts can get the running game going, then Manning will use his play-action game to create opportunities down the field. Manning is one of the better ballhandlers in the league and puts serious pressure on the linebackers when he fakes to the backs.

    The Dallas secondary has the difficult task of dealing with Reggie Wayne, Pierre Garcon and White, who has stepped in nicely for Collie. The Colts will play in a three-wide package the majority of the time. The will put the Cowboys nickel on the field to match.

    These Colts receivers will run routes all over the field. Wayne and White tend to handle the inside and crossing stuff, while Garcon is more to the outside. Manning will find that matchup that works for him.

    The safety play for the Cowboys will be huge because of the crossing and vertical routes and the way that the Colts use the tight end in the passing game. The pressure will be on the corners, but there will be more pressure on Alan Ball and Gerald Sensabaugh to help make plays. With Manning and this offense, things happen quickly and any hesitations by the safeties will create a host of problems.

    *The Colts’ defense runs a similar scheme to that of the Bears, which the Cowboys faced earlier in the season. It’s a Cover 2 look with a quick, moving front.

    The biggest difference of the two teams is that the Colts have two outstanding pressure players in Freeney and Robert Mathis. Where these guys really shine is when they are playing at home and they have a lead, letting them pin their ears back and really come after the passer.

    Cowboys offensive tackle Doug Free has played outstanding this season and will once again draw the difficult assignment of Freeney, who is all about getting up the field as fast as he can. He will try to hit you some with a bull or power rush, but he is at his best is when he explodes to the corner and around the edge.

    Free needs to be quick out of his stance but do everything in his power to get his hands on Freeney immediately to stop his charge and make him restart his rush. Any momentum that Freeney gets will work against Free.

    On the other side, Marc Colombo will have to deal with a similar rusher in Mathis, whose big pass rush move is the spin. I know this is going to sound crazy, but in the game plan, if I was the Cowboys staff, I would try and focus on helping Colombo with the hope that my best offensive lineman is going to handle their best pass rusher one-on-one.

    Colombo will need help against Mathis. Colombo doesn’t move anywhere near as well as he once did. He will fight Mathis, but when Mathis really explodes to the edge, Colombo will struggle to move his feet quickly enough to handle his movement. Look for Jason Witten, Martellus Bennett, or one of the backs to help to that right side.

    The Cowboys have played better on the offensive line since Jason Garrett has taken over as the head coach. He will tailor his game plan to try to control this rush. The way to do that is with a balance of runs and screens.

    I really do like Tashard Choice in this game if given the opportunity. He shows better vision than Felix Jones at times, but he can run with the power of Marion Barber. Garrett has to do all he can this week to help his defense not have to play a large number of snaps against Manning.

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