Dallas Cowboys: Roddy White

Fantasy Week: Dez Bryant and matchups

July, 9, 2013
I asked our man KC Joyner, "The Football Scientist," for some help during our NFC East blog Fantasy Week, and he never disappoints. KC this morning sent over a note about Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant, who was one of the best fantasy (and real-life) performers of the second half of the 2012 NFL season and is being ranked extremely high going into the 2013 season as a result:
When Bryant had his dominant second half of the season, it was said by many that the light had suddenly turned on for Bryant. That may be, but the biggest reason Bryant was dominant in 2012 was an extraordinarily favorable set of matchups. The draft guide measures wide receiver productivity by a number of elements and cornerback competition level is one of them. The weakest cornerbacks in the league are given a green rating, and 43.1 percent of Bryant's 2012 targets occurred against that level of matchup. That total was easily the highest in the league, as no other qualifying wide receiver (minimum of 48 targets to qualify) was even close to that mark (Dwayne Bowe ended up in second place with 35.1 percent of his targets against green-rated CBs).

Bryant torched that level of matchup to the tune of 39 receptions for 687 yards and six touchdowns. Add in his 24 yards on three penalties and it equals a 12.1 YPA, which is an incredibly high total on that level of target volume.

I remember this about Bryant last year. I had KC's draft guide, and his weekly matchup sheets, and I remember they kept showing green boxes all over the second half of Bryant's schedule. This is why I spent so much time trying to trade for Bryant in fantasy, because I thought the combination of his matchups and his incredible raw talent could lead to huge second-half numbers, and in fact they did.

What's this mean about this year? Well, it doesn't necessarily mean that Bryant needs the heavily favorable matchups in order to be as great as he was in the second half of 2012. Don't take it that way, please. Bryant is a talented enough player to physically dominate defenders and put up numbers nearly any week. He's still only 24 years old, and there remains a chance he could be even better this year and in the future than he was last year. As you know if you read me regularly, I believe this to be quite possible.

But when we play fantasy football, the goal is to maximize value. And if this year's matchups don't look as favorable as last year's, it may not make sense to pay an exorbitant, Calvin Johnson-type auction price for Bryant in your draft this year, or to take him as the second or third wide receiver off the board. Not to say he can't perform that way, but if you're basing your hopes on the kinds of numbers he put up last November and December, you may end up paying a transcendent-receiver price for a receiver who's "just" very good. And that could cost you elsewhere on your roster.

Example: Our preseason rankings assign Bryant a $39 auction price while assigning Roddy White a $30 price. If you think Bryant's 30 percent better than White, and you're willing to bet on that, go ahead. It's your money. But if you're basing that decision on 2013 numbers, you could end up disappointed. Surely, if Bryant gives you Roddy White production, you'll take it. But if you paid $39 for that production and could have had it for $30 while spending $9 more to get the running back or quarterback you needed, you could regret it.

Anyway, I haven't seen the matchups in KC's draft guide this year. It's out next week, he says, and you can pre-order it here for a discount. (That's right. We help each other out here at ESPN.com. It's that kind of place.) Could be Bryant gets to feast again on weaker cornerback competition, in which case he might be a steal at $39. I'm just saying be careful, is all. It was fun last year if you got Bryant for less than he ended up being worth and he helped you win. Not as much fun if that value play breaks the other way on you.

Dez Bryant making case for Pro Bowl

December, 19, 2012

IRVING, Texas – Fan voting for the Pro Bowl ended Monday and players, coaches and executives will vote this week.

The folks on NFL Live said the other day that Dez Bryant deserves to be on the NFC roster and it’s difficult to argue otherwise. Bryant has career highs in catches (79), yards (1,087) and touchdowns (10) this season and has been among the best receivers in the league – never mind the conference – in the second half of the season.

Bryant’s selection won’t be a lock. Only four receivers are picked for the team.

Detroit’s Calvin Johnson and Chicago’s Brandon Marshall have more catches and yards. Atlanta’s Roddy White has the same catches as Bryant, but more yards. Arizona’s Larry Fitzgerald has been hurt by the Cardinals’ quarterback play but he has the respect of every defender. Green Bay’s James Jones has only 51 catches for 622 yards, but he has 12 touchdowns. How do you factor in Tampa Bay’s Vincent Jackson, who has 1,226 yards and eight touchdowns?

Bryant would be the third Cowboys receiver to make the Pro Bowl since 2000, joining Terrell Owens (2007) and Miles Austin (2009, ’10) if he is selected.

Even if Bryant is selected, he likely wouldn’t play in the game because he will need finger surgery whenever the Cowboys’ season ends.

Can Dez Bryant make the Pro Bowl roster?

November, 29, 2012
IRVING, Texas -- Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant is just 120 yards away from his first 1,000-yard receiving season. He's produced four games with over 100 receiving yards, including 290 yards over the last two weeks.

Has Bryant done enough to get into the Pro Bowl conversation?

Currently, Bryant is 11th in the NFL in receiving yards, and you would have to think Detroit's Calvin Johnson, Chicago's Brandon Marshall and most likely either Atlanta's Roddy White or Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald will make the roster.

Bryant has put up big numbers in nationally televised games and has a chance to do it again Sunday night when the Cowboys host the Philadelphia Eagles.

His biggest challenge could be New York's Victor Cruz and Atlanta's Julio Jones. If anything, Bryant has a chance to become one of the Pro Bowl alternates, meaning if one of the selected players opts out, the first alternate gets a call up.

Bryant has been wonderful this season, but more established players such as Johnson, Marshall and White could prevent him from getting the coaches and player votes, which each account for one-third of the vote. The fans get the other third of the vote, so maybe he gets some opportunities there.

Morris Claiborne faces another tough test

November, 7, 2012

IRVING, Texas -- Cowboys rookie cornerback Morris Claiborne was targeted six times Sunday night against the Atlanta Falcons and had five passes completed on him while also recording one pass breakup. Claiborne almost had an interception but lost the ball as he came down to the ground.

It was tough test for Claiborne, who faced one of the NFC's best tandems in Julio Jones and Roddy White. Claiborne was beaten on a 38-yard pass play by Jones in the first quarter.

"I felt like it went pretty well," Claiborne said of his performance. "I gave up a couple of plays, but I mean, it's the NFL, guys are going to catch balls on you. I felt like, overall, I played pretty good."

On Sunday afternoon, Claiborne will take on a similar pair of wide receivers in DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin. Jackson and Maclin are fast and stretch defenses deep. The Falcons exploited the Cowboys' zone defense with completions over the middle.

The Eagles might do the same, especially if they're trying to get rid of the ball quickly to protect quarterback Michael Vick, who is getting beaten up in the pocket because of an inconsistent offensive line.

"They got some speed on their side of the ball," Claiborne said. "They got some guys who can go out there and go get it. Vick is the type of quarterback who can get them the ball."

Look back: Time for more hurry-up from Cowboys?

November, 6, 2012

IRVING, Texas – Following Sunday’s game at Atlanta, I wrote that it is time for Jason Garrett to cede some control of the offense to Tony Romo, especially given how well the Cowboys operated on their lone touchdown drive of the game.

On Monday, Garrett was asked if the Cowboys will incorporate more hurry-up in the future.

“That’s an interesting question,” Garrett said. “I think there are some game situations that have come into play in the last couple of weeks. We’ve been down. In the case of (Sunday) night’s game, we were down two scores with seven minutes to go. So we have to plan a little more of a hurry-up mode, whether we’re in the huddle, huddling quickly or getting to the line of scrimmage and just throwing the football more than we had throughout the rest of the ball game. We’ve been able to throw the ball fairly well around here, and when we get in that mode and we throw it a lot we’ve been able to move it. We do have to factor in the fact that the defenses are playing a little bit differently based on what the score is and what the game situation is. To say we’re going to start the game like that, it’s unrealistic to think the defense would play the same way.”

The Cowboys went to their hurry-up offense on their eighth drive of the game and Romo completed six straight passes for 78 yards and a touchdown. The Falcons brought four-man pressure on every snap. That was the predominant pass rush used by the Falcons throughout the game. They used four-man pressures on 19 pass plays. They brought five guys six times, six guys twice and seven defenders once.

They didn’t play wildly softer with a two-score lead than they had earlier in the game. Only once in the second half did coordinator Mike Nolan bring five guys. On the final drive Nolan used a three-man rush on every play, staying back in coverage to prevent any chances of a long throw.

Quite simply, the Cowboys are at their best when they use 11 personnel and spread the field.

** Remember that press coverage that worked so well against Eli Manning and the New York Giants two weeks ago? The Cowboys evidently didn’t.

They played across-the-board press coverage on 10 snaps against Atlanta after doing it 25 times against the Giants. They played off 38 times and half-press 14 times. The Cowboys used more zone against the Falcons, and Roddy White killed them. The Cowboys chose not to flip the corners when the Falcons lined their wideouts up on the same field. It gave White a free release and he was able to work the middle of the field with ease.

Rob Ryan did not employ much pressure either. He brought five pass-rushers three times in the game and a sixth once. The three sacks were a result of four-man pressure. Four times the Cowboys rushed three (in one case that was a late rush from Anthony Spencer, who was sprinting on the field as the ball was snapped). They gave up two first downs on those plays.

The only time Ryan brought six players came on the Falcons’ final drive with Danny McCray on a delayed blitz. Ryan’s pass was incomplete, but Orlando Scandrick was correctly called for holding to give Atlanta a first down.

** Big plays killed the defense.

On Julio Jones’ 48-yard grab, rookie cornerback Morris Claiborne jammed him at the line with a five-man pass rush that didn’t get to Matt Ryan. Jones was able to create separation with Claiborne inside and made the catch.

Claiborne made a bad gamble on a crossing route to White that ended up in a big run after catch. He swiped at Ryan’s pass and missed with his left hand. Had he used his right hand maybe he gets his hand on it. Even if he didn’t, he could’ve attempted to trip up White with his left hand.

Claiborne nearly came up with a huge interception on a throw from Ryan to White on the Falcons' final drive. White could have been flagged for interference on the play because he tugged the rookie’s arm as the ball was coming to him. Claiborne used great technique on that long fade down the sideline.

** Michael Turner’s 43-yard run was the longest allowed by the Cowboys this season. How did it happen?

Rob Ryan took the blame for a poor call that had DeMarcus Ware and Jason Hatcher playing a game that took Ware inside. That helped the Falcons seal the edge with Hatcher unable to get outside. White smothered safety Gerald Sensabaugh off the slot to give Turner the room to break the long one. Ernie Sims was late getting outside and McCray missed Turner at the Dallas 45.

Against Carolina, Ryan had Ware and Spencer play a similar game and it allowed quarterback Cam Newton to break a long run to the outside.

** Little things matter.

Over the years teams have tried to run weak-side tosses against the Cowboys and have done so with little success because of Ware. Jones, however, got by Ware Sunday on that final drive. Ware did a great job reading the play with Jones lined up in the backfield, but the receiver made a hard fake to the inside to get Ware off balance for an instant to gain the corner.

How does Josh Brent not recover the fumble after a Ware sack of Ryan? Instead of first down at the Dallas 48 they take over a few plays later at their 3 because of a punt.

How does Phillip Tanner not get a first down on that drive? The play was blocked well enough to get a yard, but Tanner ran into the back of fullback Lawrence Vickers. Jason Witten, John Phillips and Doug Free all won to a good enough degree on their blocks for Tanner to get a yard. Poor vision on the play by the back.

Prior to that play, however, I think the Cowboys might have missed an opportunity for a replay challenge. Cole Beasley’s catch was good for eight yards, but it looked like the officials robbed him of a ninth, which would’ve been a first down. He appeared to bounce on the 50.

Dan Bailey has missed two field goals this season, from 51 and 54 yards. Both have come from the left hash mark. The miss at Baltimore from 51 might have had some help from the wind. The miss Sunday from 54 obviously had no wind issue, but there can be a tendency to pull the ball on longer kicks.
ATLANTA -- The Cowboys come home after a 19-13 loss to the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday night.

As always, we review the team in our weekly Stock Report.


Bruce Carter. Do the Cowboys miss Sean Lee? Of course they do, but on a national stage, Carter was fantastic. He had 10 tackles, nine solo, two tackle for loss and a pass breakup. Carter is the new signal caller with Lee out for the season and he paired up well with Ernie Sims at inside linebacker.

Jay Ratliff. Sometimes you forget about the nose tackle and all that he does. He didn't have a tackle, but he knocked quarterback Matt Ryan down, he drew double-teams, even when he returned after spraining an ankle. He's the meanness for this defense and he played through a balky ankle in a game where theCowboys needed him.

Tony Romo. It's easy to blame Romo for interceptions because he is the quarterback. But despite a few bad throws -- he missed a wide open Miles Austin along the sidelines with a high throw -- Romo played a solid game. He threw for 321 yards and missed just 10 out of 35 pass attempts. He also moved well out of the pocket to avoid pressures, like on his touchdown throw to Kevin Ogletree.


Orlando Scandrick. When his night was over, Scandrick missed an open-field tackle and committed a defensive holding penalty in the fourth quarter. Scandrick took the blame for the mistakes, but you can't miss open-field tackles and he shouldn't have held Roddy White.

Jason Garrett. The head coach picked a bad time to have his offense put up another stinker. With speculation swirling about his job status with the potential availability of Sean Payton, Garrett's offense mustered just 65 yards rushing and despite Tony Romo's 321 passing yards, there was just one touchdown and three field goal attempts.

The wide receivers. Bad plays in the passing game are not solely on the quarterback. We had an Austin drop on third down, and Dez Bryant had just one catch. How does that happen? Ogletree had a touchdown, thanks to Tony Romo moving out of the pocket. This is a talented group that needed to make more plays.

Sour end for Orlando Scandrick

November, 5, 2012
ATLANTA -- Orlando Scandrick will have a hard time forgetting Sunday’s loss to Atlanta.

When the Cowboys’ defense absolutely, positively needed a stop to force a punt or long field-goal try by the Falcons, Scandrick was unable to make a play.

On third-and-6 from the Falcons 24, Scandrick was in position to stop Jacquizz Rodgers short of a first down but missed. Rodgers ended up with a 31-yard gain. Later Scandrick was flagged for a holding penalty on Roddy White on a third-down play.

Atlanta was able to burn all but 17 seconds off the clock as it ended the drive with a 32-yard field goal by Matt Bryant.

“I’m more upset with the missed tackle,” Scandrick said. “The holding penalty I was competing trying to get off the field. When it came down to that it was like a dogfight when it comes to third down. It’s just very upsetting. My first penalty and my first missed tackle of the season come in one game, in a crucial part of the game. I don’t have any excuses. I accept full responsibility. I’m not one to make excuses. I’ll bounce back. I’ll continue to work hard. I’ll work harder on those things, getting my hand placement, my feet in great tackling position and won’t let it happen again.”
There's one philosophical approach the Cowboys can use Sunday night against the Atlanta Falcons that gives them the best chance to win.

They must stop the run without using an eighth defender near the the line of scrimmage.
Michael Turner is a thick-thighed, punishing runner capable of punishing a defense. He's having an average season with 415 yards and a 3.8 average per carry, but his threat is what persuades teams to use a safety in run defense.

Do that, and it opens to Matt Ryan's passing game with tight end Tony Gonzalez and receivers Roddy White and Julio Jones.

Ryan has had a 100-yard receiver or tight end in five of seven games.

The Cowboys rank 13th in NFL, yielding 104.7 yards per game, but they've done a solid job against the run for the most part.

Last week, they contained the Giants' running game without using Gerald Sensabaugh that much. Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan needs a repeat of that.

This is a week for defensive ends Kenyon Coleman and Jason Hatcher and nose guards Jay Ratliff and Josh Brent to control the line of scrimmage.

Do that, and the Cowboys have a shot to win. Fail to control Turner without using eight and the Falcons' receivers will have big days.

Rob Ryan believes Cowboys D will be special

November, 3, 2012
IRVING, Texas – Last week the Cowboys held the New York Giants to 293 yards, including just 192 passing yards from Eli Manning. Victor Cruz was a non-factor with two catches. They allowed the Giants to convert just 3-of-15 third-down tries.

ESPN NFL analyst Darren Woodson breaks down the Cowboys' Sunday night matchup against the Falcons, plays the Tony Romo blame game and more.

Listen Listen
On Sunday the Cowboys get another challenge in Atlanta, with Matt Ryan at quarterback, Roddy White and Julio Jones at receiver, Tony Gonzalez at tight end and Michael Turner at running back.

“Obviously, they’re two of the best receivers in football,” defensive coordinator Rob Ryan said. “They’re both really competitive and really fast and real productive. So every week it seems we play somebody great. This week is no exception. They’ve also got Tony Gonzalez, who has been a great tight end forever. Still is. And Burner Turner the back. They are loaded. Ryan, Matt no-relation Ryan is the quarterback. He’s pretty damn good. So we’re ready for them. Who are we kidding? We’re ready. We can’t wait to play these guys.”

Ryan isn’t sure the Cowboys’ defense is getting enough credit despite its No. 4 ranking in the league.

“You know me, I like credit,” Ryan said. “Our guys they deserve a ton of credit. Our players work their butts off. Our coaching staff, I’m fortunate and blessed to be around the best coaches. This is the best staff I’ve ever been on and it’s not close. So good things are going to happen to those that work hard. If we just keep working, we’re going to get better. Despite losing, we’ve lost some really good players, but our guys keep going. We’ve got a whole team in there, not just a few individuals. This is really coming together and I know we’re going to be special. I think we’re going to be special this week. I really do. I think we’re just starting to get that way and I believe we’re going to have a special game this week.”

Mike Jenkins happy to remain with the Cowboys

November, 1, 2012
IRVING, Texas -- The trade deadline came and went for the Cowboys on Thursday afternoon. There was nothing to report in terms of anything being close, but team executive vice president Stephen Jones said before the deadline that the Cowboys were keeping their eyes open.

Cornerback Mike Jenkins' name was most often mentioned as trade bait, but team officials didn't want him to go anywhere.

Jenkins was glad about that.

"I tried not to keep it on my mind," Jenkins said. "I figured if it was going to happen, it would have happened, so I just tried to stay focused on the week and learn what I needed to learn this week."

Sunday night, the Cowboys take on the Atlanta Falcons and their speedy receivers Julio Jones and Roddy White. The Cowboys also have to contend with veteran tight end Tony Gonzalez.

"They are legit, those boys are nice all over the field. From receiver to the tight end to the running back everybody can catch the ball and do something with it," Jenkins said. "You definitely got to respect them and we got to come correct."

Brandon Carr's swag is back

November, 1, 2012
IRVING, Texas – For a couple weeks Brandon Carr admits he wasn’t Brandon Carr.

“I didn’t lose confidence,” Carr said. “I just lost my swag a little bit. It took a left turn on me, but I got it back right, so I’m ready to rock and roll.”

It’s come at a good time after facing New York Giants receiver Victor Cruz last week and Atlanta’s Julio Jones and Roddy White up this Sunday. Carr helped limit Cruz to two catches for 23 yards and Eli Manning to just 192 yards passing.

What’s the difference between confidence and swag?

“My swag is just how I carry myself on the field,” Carr said. “I’m an introverted person so I feed off myself more than anybody else. I kind of lost the whole swag and kind of forgot what got you to this point and who you are and you try to tailor your game or yourself to what others say or how they want you to play. I just pretty much had to say, ‘Beep, beep, beep, beep.’ That’s a whole bunch of exclamation points and asterisks.”

The Falcons figure to be the most difficult pass defense threat the Cowboys have faced this year, and Carr played reporter himself as he talked to reporters.

“Let’s talk about the game, Brandon, what about these receivers?” Carr said. “These receivers, it’s another challenging week. They’ve got some guys that get the ball. They’ve got a quarterback who can make any throw on the field. It’s a high-powered offense and they have the record to prove it.”

5 Wonders: Rob Ryan's head coaching future

October, 30, 2012
IRVING, Texas – The NFL moved the trade deadline back to Thursday because of Hurricane Sandy, but I don’t wonder if that will help the Cowboys make a move.

Here are some things I am wondering about in our weekly Five Wonders’ post:

** It’s no secret Rob Ryan wants to be a head coach. It’s part of the reason why he came to Dallas. He was on some lists last year until the Cowboys cratered in December and missed the playoffs. I wonder if he is getting back on some lists this year with the way the defense has performed. Of the opponents’ 162 points, 78 can be attributed to turnovers or mistakes by the offense and special teams. The defense has done a nice job in sudden-change situations, limiting the opponent to field goals. That’s the only way the Cowboys were actually able to come back Sunday against the New York Giants. In a passing league, the Cowboys are No. 3 against the pass and have done two great jobs vs. Eli Manning. They have a huge test this week in Matt Ryan. If the defense continues this way, then Ryan’s name will be mentioned when jobs open following the season. But here’s a bonus wonder: I wonder if how Rex Ryan’s New York Jets have fallen apart will impact Rob’s campaign.

** I wonder why the Cowboys run the ball. OK, I don’t think they should not run the ball at all, but it’s clear the only way they can run it is if they face a bad Baltimore run defense that does not move guys around so the runners can pick and choose their way. In the last two games they have picked up 104 yards on 48 carries. You have to admire the pluck, but if you’re averaging 2.2 yards a carry, why bang your head into the wall so much. I laughed when I heard people question why the Cowboys only had 15 run plays against New York. Well, the score was one thing and the 1.3 yard per carry average by Felix Jones and Phillip Tanner was another. Could the Cowboys have run the ball on second- or third-and-1 on their final drive? Sure. The Giants showed a six-man box. It was there to pick up a yard, but with how the game was going and how successful they were passing I didn’t think they were wrong. Where I think they were wrong was in the called pass play on third down. Jason Witten was doubled and taken out of it by New York, leaving Tony Romo to throw to Kevin Ogletree on a fade. It’s not a high percentage throw and it’s going to a receiver that even the coach has questioned his consistency. It was a half-field read on third down from what I was told. It goes to Witten or Ogletree. If that’s the case, then put Miles Austin or Dez Bryant next to Witten to make it more difficult for New York to double the tight end. But back to the main point on the running game: Felix Jones has a bruised knee and whatever flicker he had against Baltimore it’s not there now. Tanner has better contact balance. Lance Dunbar has more speed. If you’re going to run it, give it to those guys while DeMarco Murray is out.

** I wonder if this is the beginning of the Morris Claiborne the Cowboys wanted when they moved up to the No. 6 pick to get him in April. Claiborne had his best game of the season against the Giants. He was much more aggressive at the line than he had been. He was a surer tackler. He looked a lot more comfortable. Maybe that’s from seeing an offense for a second time. He also added a fumble recovery a week after having his first interception at Carolina. What’s funny is that the Panthers’ game might have been Claiborne’s worst even if he had the turnover. He was too laid back in that game. He was the opposite against the Giants. He’ll have to be that way again Sunday at Atlanta with Julio Jones and Roddy White on the other side of the field.

** I wonder how the punt return team can be so mediocre and the punt coverage team can be so great. Have you seen the numbers? The Cowboys are averaging 5.5 yards per punt return so far this year and that includes a 44-yard return by Dez Bryant against Tampa Bay that the Buccaneers gifted the Cowboys. Take away that return and the Cowboys are averaging 2.8 yards per return, which is about on par with their average rushing carry (3.6). The punt coverage has been outstanding, allowing only 3.2 yards per return with a long of 9 on the season. Chris Jones and Moorman have done a great job of angling their punts to the sidelines and 13 of their 23 punts have ended up inside the 20. The Cowboys would be wise to keep Bryant off the punt returns or just let him do it when the opponent is kicking out of their end zone. Let Dwayne Harris or Cole Beasley be punt catchers if not punt returners.

** At some point when Charlie Peprah plays, you should believe he will do something to help the Cowboys. That just seems to be what happens when the Cowboys sign a guy off the street here lately. Last year the Cowboys added Montrae Holland, Laurent Robinson, Tony Fiammetta, Frank Walker and Sammy Morris, who made plays to contribute to wins. So far this season the Cowboys have added Moorman, Eric Frampton and Ernie Sims off the street and they have made some big plays. Sims was a Cowboy for five days when he made his debut and had a pass breakup and a pressure. He also helped stop the Giants’ final play to set up the Cowboys’ final drive. Finding players to contribute at this time of year is extremely hard but the Cowboys’ pro department has been able to find some good pieces.