Dallas Cowboys: Tony Romo

MIAMI -- Three thoughts on the Dallas Cowboys' 25-20 loss to the Miami Dolphins

1) Tyler Patmon, an undrafted rookie free agent, intercepted two passes (returning one for a TD) and forced a fumble.

Ultimately, the game is about making plays and he provided the coaching staff with several reasons why he should be on the roster, especially at a position where the Cowboys have a plethora of questions.

[+] EnlargeTyler Patmon
AP Photo/Lynne SladkyTyler Patmon, right, made a number of big plays against the Dolphins, including making two interceptions.
Patmon forced a fumble with a perfect open-field hit at the Dallas 36-yard line, ending one potential Miami scoring drive.

In the third quarter, he intercepted starter Ryan Tannehill's underthrown pass along the sideline at the Dallas 5. Patmon made his biggest play in the fourth quarter, intercepting a swing pass at the Miami 9 and returning it for a touchdown that gave Dallas a 20-11 lead with about seven minutes left.

Each play changed the game, and it will help that Patmon made his first two plays against Miami’s starters.

2) In case you didn’t know it, Dwayne Harris showed why he’s one of the Cowboys’ most valuable players.

He’s a difference-maker on kick and punt returns, the kind of player who will help the Cowboys win a couple of games this season with his work in the return game.

He averaged 38.5 yards on two kickoff returns, including a 50-yard return that he nearly took back for a touchdown. He has outstanding vision and a feel for the soft spots in coverage, and once he sees an opening he attacks it.

3) Right now, safety Ahmad Dixon gets the vote for the player most likely to give Jason Garrett a migraine. Or turn his red hair gray.

Still, there’s something to like about Dixon’s aggressive -- perhaps reckless is a better word -- approach. If it can be harnessed, then Dixon could eventually be a really nice addition to this secondary.

Last week, he didn’t play as punishment for being late to a walk-through practice the day before the Baltimore game. Against Miami, he made a poor decision that resulted in a 15-yard penalty for unnecessary roughness late in the fourth quarter.

On third-and-9 from Dallas' 22-yard line with 2:11 left, Miami quarterback Matt Moore overthrew receiver Matt Hazel near the goal line. Dixon might have been able to intercept the pass if he hadn’t been so intent on punishing Hazel.

Instead, Dixon blasted Hazel in the chest. It was a classic example of hitting a defenseless receiver and drew a penalty.

An incompletion would’ve forced Miami, trailing 20-19, to attempt a field goal and would’ve given Dallas an additional 30 seconds or so to rally had Miami made the kick.

The penalty moved the ball to the Dallas 11 and five plays later Miami scored the go-ahead touchdown.

Key number: 3.4

The Cowboys gained only 110 yards on 32 first-half plays. Tony Romo played the entire first half, so that excuse has been eliminated. The Cowboys didn’t have any pass plays of 20 yards or more or running plays of 10 yards or more, so we shouldn’t be surprised their offense produced just two field goals. More important, they failed to control the line of scrimmage.

Player to Watch: Ryan Williams

Williams is doing his best to make it difficult for the Cowboys to cut him. He finished with 12 carries for 47 yards, a 3.9 yard average per carry, but he’s a more dynamic runner than Joseph Randle.

The problem, of course, is the third running back has considerably more responsibilities than just running the ball since DeMarco Murray and Lance Dunbar will get the vast majority of carries.

Randle is better in pass protection and he’s better on special teams. Randle delivered a big hit on kickoff coverage against Miami. The Cowboys can suit him up and know he has a role; they can’t do that with Williams.

This is the best competition for a roster spot on the team. Each week, Williams makes it more difficult.

He has one more opportunity to sway the coaching staff, but he needs to do it without the ball in his hands.

Miami batters Romo, beats Cowboys

August, 23, 2014
Aug 23
11:20
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Tony RomoAP Photo/Lynne SladkyCowboys starter Tony Romo finished Saturday's game with a quarterback rating of just 68.5.

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- The Dallas Cowboys' offense we saw against the Miami Dolphins on Saturday night isn’t going to be nearly good enough during the regular season to offset their raggedy defense.

The offensive line, fortified with three first-round picks in the past four seasons, struggled against Miami’s defensive line.

In the process, the unit allowed Miami to hit quarterback Tony Romo way too often. The Dolphins sacked him three times -- and he played only a half.

Oh my.

Miami beat the Cowboys 25-20 at Sun Life Stadium, but Romo absorbed the beating Miami put on him. Even though the 34-year-old needed a trip to the cold tub immediately after the game, overall it remained a successful evening.

At least we found out Romo can take such a beating. Hey, that’s important when you consider that Romo has had two back surgeries in the past year, and that the club has been extremely cautious with him during training camp.

The Cowboys have consistently given Romo days off during training camp to ensure he has no issues with his back. Romo didn’t play in the first preseason game, and he played just 14 snaps in the second.

And it’s unlikely that he’ll play in Thursday's final preseason game against Denver. Baltimore jostled him a bit last weekend, but the Ravens didn’t pound him the way Miami did.

“It was good to see Tony out there playing,” Dallas coach Jason Garrett said. “He got knocked around a little bit, and that could be good and bad.

"You want the protection to be clean, but at the same time for him, in his preparation for [the Sept. 7 opener versus] San Francisco, it's good to have him feel the physical part of the game.”

[+] EnlargeTony Romo
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images"It's good to have him feel the physical part of the game," Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said of quarterback Tony Romo, sacked three times Saturday.
The consistent pressure on Romo is the biggest reason the Cowboys couldn’t sustain drives Saturday, which is troubling since most of their offensive starters played the first half.

The Cowboys ran 32 plays in five series but managed only a pair of long field goals -- 52 and 50 yards -- from Dan Bailey. The Cowboys gained just 110 yards, an average of 3.4 per play.

Romo completed just 10 of 18 passes for 87 yards, with a long of 17. He finished with a passer rating of 68.5.

Yuck.

The Cowboys were 2-of-8 on third down under Romo. Twice, Miami sacked Romo on third down, ending a drive. Another time, Romo was hit hard as he delivered the ball, leading to an incompletion.

“I’ll be very candid with you, their defensive front was doing a pretty good job, and that concerned me,” owner Jerry Jones said. “He took those three sacks, and that concerned me. Not that we couldn’t correct what it takes to block them, but it concerned me that he was taking those sacks.”

At the end of the first half, the Cowboys had moved from their 20 to the Miami 24. On first-and-15, defensive end Cameron Wake sacked Romo for an 8-yard loss, thwarting the drive and setting up Bailey’s second field goal.

"We wanted to put more points on the board, but we hurt ourselves with penalties,” Romo said. “The game is always going to be hard if you keep putting yourself behind."

Here’s the deal: This team has no chance if its offense doesn’t play well. What you saw from the Cowboys’ defense against Miami is what you’re going to see all season. The unit is going to give up a ton of yards and hope it forces turnovers and makes teams kick field goals.

Any thoughts the Cowboys have of making the playoffs depends on them fielding a dynamic offense. And when you consider the plethora of playmakers Romo and playcaller Scott Linehan have at their disposal, there’s no reason Dallas shouldn’t have one of the league’s top offenses.

The best way for the Cowboys to win games is to use their offense to grab leads, then use the running game, led by DeMarco Murray and the offensive line, to protect the defense and close out games in the fourth quarter.

To do that, however, the offensive line can’t get manhandled the way it was by the Dolphins. This is the preseason, so there’s zero reason to overreact, although this is the last time we’ll see most of the team’s key starters before the season begins.

Romo would tell you that a tad better execution on a couple of plays and the offense would’ve looked just fine Saturday. Romo would also tell you he didn’t feel as though Miami overwhelmed the Cowboys’ offense, otherwise he’d be concerned.

Still, it’s clear the Cowboys have much work to do to get ready for San Francisco.

Garrett has spent all offseason talking about having an offensive line that will enable the Cowboys to play a more physical style. He’s said the line will make Romo better and the defense more efficient.

We didn’t see that against Miami. We'd better against San Francisco in two weeks.
IRVING -- Three thoughts on the Dallas Cowboys’ 37-30 loss to the Baltimore Ravens:

1. Play-caller Scott Linehan’s mission during the preseason is to show San Francisco as little as possible of the offense he plans to unveil in Week 1.

But you should like the little we've seen during the first two preseason games.

Linehan is making a concerted effort to run the ball -- the Cowboys starters ran on eight of 14 plays -- and he’s mixed in a liberal dose of play-action passes. He’s using screen passes to slow down the opponent’s pass rush, and it all looks good.

Obviously, you can’t get too carried away because there’s a difference between calling plays in the preseason and calling plays in games that count, but the philosophical approach Linehan is taking bodes well for the regular season.

2. Zach Minter has been with the Cowboys for only a few days, but he made quite an impact against Baltimore with two sacks, two tackles for loss and quarterback hit.

Yes, he did it against Baltimore’s second- and third-team, but that’s still a ton of production.

What it probably means for Minter, who played two games with the Bears last season, is he’ll get a chance against Miami’s starters next week to see if he can make the same type of impact. Whether he does or not, he showed every youngster on the roster how to get the coaching staff’s attention.

3. One of the intriguing questions in training camp revolves around the Cowboys’ long-term view of quarterback Dustin Vaughan.

Do they see the 6-5, 235-pounder as a career backup? A marginal starter? A frontline starter?

The Cowboys haven't kept a third quarterback on the active roster in years because each roster spot is too important to keep a developmental player who’s unlikely to play.

Vaughan, an undrafted free agent from West Texas A&M, turned in his second consecutive good performance during the fourth quarter. The Cowboys would love to add him to their practice squad, but they must first expose him to waivers to do so.

That means every club would have an opportunity to sign him. Based on what we’ve seen from him, thus far, some team would claim him because quarterbacks are hard to find.

Tony Romo, 34, has had two back surgeries in the past year. No one really knows whether his back will hold up for a year, two years or five years. If the Cowboys view Vaughan as a player with a long-term future, even if it’s as a quality backup, they should keep him.

Key number: 141

Detroit quarterback Matt Stafford threw 141 play-action passes last season. Tony Romo threw 73.

Romo was good at it -- he had a passer rating of 111.2 with six touchdowns and no interceptions on those passes. The Cowboys just didn’t give him enough opportunities.

That will change this year.

Player to Watch: Ahmad Dixon

Dixon, a seventh-round draft pick, turned in a terrific performance against San Diego in the Cowboys’ first preseason game with 12 tackles.

He didn’t record any tackles Saturday night because he didn’t play after being benched for missing a walk-through practice.

The first game created a margin of error for Dixon. Well, he’s used it. Now, Dixon needs a good week of practice and a strong game against Miami to sustain the momentum he created against San Diego.

Romo preseason debut is success

August, 16, 2014
Aug 16
10:45
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video

ARLINGTON, Texas -- You wanted to see Tony Romo move around Saturday night in his preseason debut against the Baltimore Ravens.

You wanted to see him get jostled, and you wanted to see him throw the deep ball. And deep down, you probably wanted to see him lead the first-team offense on a scoring drive too.

He did all of that in just 14 plays and emerged unscathed.

So the evening must be considered a rousing success, despite Baltimore's 37-30 win at AT&T Stadium.

This season is all about the Dallas Cowboys' offense because we know the defense is going to stink. For the Cowboys to end their string of three consecutive 8-8 seasons, Romo must stay healthy and the offense must be prolific.

[+] EnlargeTony Romo
Tom Pennington/Getty ImagesTony Romo's 4-for-5 night and long TD pass suggest the 34-year-old QB will be ready for Week 1.
Obviously, we won't know whether Romo's back is going to hold up until the regular season begins, but the starting offense has looked dynamic throughout training camp and has been good in each of the first two preseason games.

The Cowboys have taken a cautious approach with Romo throughout training camp, given that the 34-year-old quarterback has had two back surgeries in the past year and the alternative is Brandon Weeden.

So far, so good.

Romo completed four of five passes for 80 yards and a touchdown in his preseason debut. He led the starting offense to a touchdown but also botched a handoff that resulted in a Ravens touchdown.

Considering he's missed so much practice time during training camp, we shouldn't really be surprised he was involved in a mishap such as that. Actually, the real surprise is probably that more mistakes didn't occur.

Romo has become one of the NFL's best quarterbacks because of his ability to move in the pocket and create extra time that often results in big plays. He provided a glimpse of his ability to still do that on the Cowboys' third play.

Facing pressure, Romo stepped up into the pocket. Then, he moved right and delivered a perfect pass to Dez Bryant, who was running across the field. The catch and run netted 22 yards.

"I thought he looked like himself and moved around in the pocket," coach Jason Garrett said. "He made some good throws that looked like he saw the field well. He felt the pocket really well and looked comfortable moving the team."

(Read full post)

Whenever you see a player from a small school such as West Texas A&M get an opportunity, you always wonder whether the game is too big for him.

Would Dustin Vaughan be overwhelmed by the atmosphere? The paid attendance of 57,228 in San Diego was easily among the biggest crowds that had ever seen the Corpus Christi, Texas, native play.

Then you wonder if the competition would overwhelm him. Vaughan, who had a record-setting college career, is no longer just a YouTube sensation known for the funny scouting combine spoof he made. He's an undrafted free agent with a legitimate opportunity to make an NFL roster.

[+] EnlargeDustin Vaughan
AP Photo/Jae C. HongDustin Vaughan showed good pocket presence in his preseason debut.
Vaughan, who played the fourth quarter of the Dallas Cowboys' 27-7 preseason loss to the San Diego Chargers on Thursday, completed 7 of 14 passes for 80 yards against San Diego. The 6-foot-5, 233-pound Vaughan moved well in the pocket and led the third string on a nice fourth-quarter drive that ended when he was sacked on fourth down at the San Diego 15.

"I should've thrown the ball up and given one of my guys a chance to catch it," he said. "I talked to Tony (Romo) and coach (Scott) Linehan about it after I came out of the game.

"You're trying to go through your progression, but you don't have a lot of time. You think you know what's going to be there and when it's not, you try to create more time. It's something I'll learn with experience."

Vaughan will create a dilemma for Cowboys, who would love to stash him on the practice squad. To do so, they must release him and expose him to other teams.

Quarterbacks are so hard to find that if he has a good preseason, he'll get snapped up. This might be the year the Cowboys keep three quarterbacks on the roster.

"For his first action, I was impressed by how he moved around," Garrett said. "Sometimes as a big guy with a strong arm, you're concerned about his ability to move his feet and be spontaneous when something breaks down.

"But we saw evidence of him climbing up in the pocket and getting out of the pocket. I thought he made some good, quick decisions out in space."
SAN DIEGO -- Three thoughts on Day 15 of Dallas Cowboys' training camp:

1) It’s really good to see Jason Garrett spending considerable time on situational football.

The Cowboys have played 38 games in the last three seasons where they have been within one score -- ahead or behind -- of their opponent in the fourth quarter.

Dallas is just 20-18 in those games.

Too many times they’ve blown leads and, ultimately, games with poor clock management, questionable strategy by Garrett, or mistakes by players. They haven’t been good enough to overcome many of those mistakes, and it’s among the reasons they have missed the playoffs each of the last four seasons.

Perhaps this extra work will help them.

2) There have been times the Cowboys kept an extra tight end instead of a fullback on the roster.

Well that’s not going to happen this year.

Garrett continues to insist the Cowboys want to be a physical team and part of that is having a fullback, who can help create running lanes and establish a physical tone.

Tyler Clutts, a 29-year-old playing with his fourth team in three seasons, has a big lead in the competition for that spot.

3) One way the Cowboys’ defense can help their offense is by scoring points like they did last year.

The Cowboys scored six non-offensive touchdowns last season -- three fumble returns, two interception returns and a punt return. Only Kansas City, Chicago and Cincinnati scored more. Kansas City led the league with 11 non-offensive touchdowns, and Chicago and Cincinnati each had seven.

Key number: .315

Last year, Dallas finished 3-2 when Tony Romo threw at least 40 passes.

Romo is 6-7 the last two years and is just 6-13 overal -- a .315 winning percentage -- when he throws more than 40 passes in a game since the start of the 2010 season.

But that’s a difficult way to win, and it’s an approach Garrett said he’d prefer not to use this season.

Player to Watch: Dustin Vaughan


If you’re going to take a chance on a small-school quarterback, it should probably be a 6-foot-5, 233-pound dude who broke a lot of records in college.

Vaughan, who played in a spread offense, passed for 5,401 yards with 53 touchdowns as a senior at West Texas A&M. The Cowboys view him a developmental player, which probably means he's destined for the practice squad this season.

He’s an intelligent player with a big arm, but the adjustment from West Texas to the NFL is about as big as a player can make. He’ll get plenty of playing time in the preseason, especially with the Cowboys being cautious with Tony Romo, and it’ll give him an opportunity to prove he’s worth a spot on the practice squad.
Three thoughts on Day 12 of Dallas Cowboys' training camp:

A few days ago, I was watching practice with former Pro Bowl guard Nate Newton, while the offense was gashing the defense virtually every play.

Newton leaned over and said, “If Butch Davis or Dave Wannstedt was coaching this defense and they had a day like this, he’d tell one of his guys, 'Enough of this, let’s take them to the ground. I want to see somebody get hit.'

Wilcox
Well, J.J. Wilcox took it upon himself to drill Dez Bryant during Sunday’s Blue and White scrimmage. Less than a minute later, punches were being thrown.

Bryant had been talking trash virtually the entire scrimmage, and he had just taken a slant about 80 yards for a touchdown on the previous series. Finally, Wilcox had heard and seen enough.

He delivered a message. Good for him. Next time, delivering it sooner would be even better.

Zack Martin gets matched up with former Pro Bowl defensive tackle Henry Melton much of the time, and it hasn’t seemed to bother him.

It’s just training camp, but he looks like a player who is going to be a quality starter for a long time.

Martin
That is good because it’s devastating when a franchise misses on a first-round pick. One of the biggest reasons the Cowboys have only one playoff win since 1996 is they missed on a pair of first-round picks in 2008.

Coming off a 13-3 season, the Cowboys had two first-round picks and three of the first 61 picks.

They drafted Felix Jones, Mike Jenkins and Martellus Bennett. Neither first-rounder received a second contract with the Cowboys.

They spent a third-round pick on DeMarco Murray to replace Jones, they spent $50 million on Brandon Carr to replace Jenkins and they essentially spent a second-round pick on Gavin Escobar to replace Bennett.

Jones, Jenkins and Bennett didn’t have to be stars, but what if they were? The Cowboys would have more than one playoff win.

The same is true if they had each had been good players like Anthony Spencer. Or really good players like Greg Ellis.

None of them were impact players in Dallas, and the Cowboys have spent a lot of time, money and resources cleaning up that mess.

Dallas might have a similar situation with Morris Claiborne, but it looks like they got it right with Martin.

If the Cowboys can keep Tony Romo upright -- that is a huge if -- this could be the Cowboys’ best offense since the glory days of the early 90s.

In 2007, the Cowboys scored 455 points (28.4 per game) as Tony Romo passed for 4,200 yards with 36 touchdowns and 19 interceptions. Terrell Owens had 1,355 yards receiving with 15 touchdowns, and Jason Witten had 1,145 yards with seven touchdowns.

This offense should be able to run it, and the triumvirate of Dez Bryant, Witten and Terrance Williams is better than T.O., Witten and Patrick Crayton.

The key, as it was in 2007, will be the offensive line. If that unit plays to its immense potential this offense will be one of the league’s best -- as long as Romo is in the lineup.

Key number: 257

The Cowboys’ defense was on the field for 1,094 plays last season and 257 of them -- 65 runs and 192 passes -- gained 10 yards or more.

That’s 23.4 percent. Wow.

The 65 runs of 10 plus yards they allowed ranked second only to Chicago’s 84. Philadelphia (202) and Minnesota (200) were the only teams that allowed more pass plays of 10 yards or more.

The Tampa 2 scheme is designed to stop big plays because the safeties and linebackers are supposed to keep plays in front of them.

This is the biggest indictment of Monte Kiffin as defensive coordinator. He couldn’t get his players to play the scheme the way it was designed.

Player to Watch: Martez Wilson

The Cowboys are trying to convert Wilson from a linebacker to a defensive end, in part, because they are so desperate for someone, anyone who can rush the passer.

Wilson, who played nine games with three different teams last season, has a quick first-step and he used it to scoot past tackle Jermey Parnell during Sunday’s Blue & White scrimmage. Then he stripped the ball from quarterback Brandon Weeden and returned it from a touchdown.

“One of the things he has that’s just so evident is great quickness and explosiveness off the ball,” coach Jason Garrett said. “The biggest thing for him to do is to learn how to play the position and all the nuances of playing with his hand on the ground as a defensive end.”

The Cowboys need pass-rushers and playmakers, which is why he will get every opportunity to make the team.
OXNARD, Calif. - Three thoughts on Day 8 of Dallas Cowboys’ training camp:

There should be no doubt that Josh Brent is returning to the Cowboys. Every time owner Jerry Jones is asks, he talks around it, but refuses to deny it.

[+] EnlargeJosh Brent
LM Otero/AP PhotoIn January, former Cowboys DT Josh Brent was sentenced to 180 days in jail and 10 years of probation for a drunken car crash that killed his friend and teammate, Jerry Brown.
The more important questions are whether NFL commissioner Roger Goodell will suspend him. Brent spent six months in jail after being convicted of intoxicated vehicular manslaughter, which resulted in the death of practice squad linebacker Jerry Brown.

Brent has not played since November 2012. He retired before the start of last season to focus on the trial and his personal life.

In theory, Goodell could consider his time away from the game as a suspension and reinstate him immediately.

Then the question would be whether Brent could make this team after being away from the game for more than a year.

He’s paid his debt to society. Other players, such as Leonard Little and Donta Stallworth, committed similar crimes and returned.

It would be interesting to see what Goodell does, as he was roundly criticized for his two-game suspension of Baltimore running back Ray Rice, who knocked his then-fiancee out in a hotel elevator.

Sometimes you need to take what’s behind Door No. 1, which is what Tyron Smith did.

Smith signed an eight-year extension worth $98 million that includes a $10 million signing bonus. There’s no doubt it’s a team-friendly deal, but it gives Smith $40 million in the first four years of the deal.

Guaranteed money is the most important aspect of an NFL contract. Smith probably could have gotten more, but everyone doesn’t place the same value on money.

Some dudes want security more, especially in a game like professional football, where the injury rate is so high.

And guess what? In five years, when the deal has been surpassed, he can go back and ask the club to re-do the deal -- who will be shocked if he does -- just like teams ask players to re-do deals when their performance no lingers coincides with their pay.

Morris Claiborne has a strained tendon in his knee, which he twisted during Wednesday’s practice.

He participated in the walk-through but won’t practice Thursday afternoon. Claiborne said he worked hard in the walk-through on staying attentive and engaged, something he hasn’t always done.

The most important thing is to keep Claiborne on the field, where he can continue to learn and get confidence for the season. If he misses much time, it will be a significant blow for a player who needs a good training camp in the worst way.

Key number: 35.0

The Cowboys finished 25th in the NFL in third-down conversions at 35 percent (63 of 180) in 2013.

They must do better this season to protect their defense and generate more points on offense. The poor third-down percentage is among the reasons Dan Bailey kicked 28 field goals and scored 131 points.

The Cowboys need drives to end with touchdowns because their defense is so suspect. They can’t allow teams to stay within one possession because they’ve been kicking field goals instead of scoring touchdowns.

Tony Romo’s third-down efficiency should be helped by Cole Beasley and Jason Witten on third downs and by a better offensive line, which should given him more time to throw.

Player to Watch: RB Ryan Williams

The 38th player taken in the 2011 draft has just 58 career carries thanks to knee and shoulder injuries, which ruined two of his first three seasons.

He’s competing for a job with the Cowboys, but he’s going to have to beat out Joseph Randle, a fifth-round pick last season, to get it.

Right now, Randle probably has a slight edge in the competition, but it’s not going to be decided until the preseason games start. The better special-teams player -- not the better runner -- will make the team.

Williams has never played much on special teams because of his injuries and his role. Neither had Randle until last season, which is why he has an edge over Williams.

This competition probably won’t be decided until the final game.
OXNARD, Calif. -- Three thoughts from the Cowboys’ first news conference of training camp:
  • I’m not obsessing over the conditioning test the players took by themselves after coach Jason Garrett called it off, but it still doesn’t make sense. Garrett said Wednesday that he told the players at the end of their last minicamp that their attendance and performance had been so good that he decided to cancel the conditioning best. Besides, Garrett said he wasn’t sure it served a useful purpose anymore and it put the players at more risk because the conditioning test doesn’t require many football movements, per se. All of that is fine. But if that’s the case, then he should’ve been fuming that Jason Witten apparently encouraged the players to do it themselves. That’s not a knock on Witten, but if the coach is adamant about not doing something then the players shouldn't ignore his request and do it anyway.
  • You have to wonder if the Cowboys’ offensive coaching staff is set up to succeed with all of the changes. Obviously, owner Jerry Jones and Garrett think it’ll work fine, but neither of them was demoted. Garrett was sending the plays into Tony Romo at the end of last season instead of Bill Callahan. Now, Callahan is out of the mix entirely having been replaced by Scott Linehan. Then you have assistant offensive line coach Frank Pollack, who did a nice job last year. Now, he’ll probably have less responsibility because Callahan has more time to work with the line since he’s not putting the game plan together. A lot of people must subjugate their egos to make this staff work. It’ll be interesting to see if they can do it.
  • Anthony Spencer still isn’t ready to practice, so he’s been put on the physically unable to perform list. He’s been limited all offseason as he recovers from micro fracture surgery. It’s OK to wonder if he’ll ever play again.
44.3: The 12 playoff teams from last season ran the ball 44.3 percent of the time. The Cowboys ran it 35.1 percent of the time.

Garrett can use any stat or rationalization he wants, but that’s not a winning number. Only one team ranked among the bottom 10 in percent of rushing attempts made the playoffs -- and that was New Orleans.

Nine playoff teams ranked among the top 16 in percentage of rushing attempts. This is a passing league and you have to make big plays in the passing game to score points, but the best teams can still run it when they need to run and when they want to run.

Player to Watch: Brandon Weeden

It’s not normal to pay that much attention to the backup quarterback, especially when a team has a quality starter. But Tony Romo has had two back surgeries in the past year and backup Brandon Weeden is here because he was a first-round bust in Cleveland

He has talent and with a better supporting cast, he could be a solid backup. The key, as usual for a quarterback, will be limiting his mistakes. He had nine games with multiple interceptions with Cleveland and the Browns were 1-8. He had nine games with no interceptions and the Browns were 4-5.

Romo cleared; Spencer, Okoye aren't

July, 23, 2014
Jul 23
8:10
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OXNARD, Calif. – The Dallas Cowboys believe quarterback Tony Romo has made a complete recovery from December surgery to repair a herniated disk in his back.

Spencer
Romo
After not participating in competitive drills during offseason workouts, Romo has been fully cleared for the start of training camp.

Meanwhile, defensive end Anthony Spencer and defensive tackle Amobi Okoye “won’t be ready to go for a while,” coach Jason Garrett said. Spencer, who played in only one game last season, is recovering from microfracture knee surgery. Okoye, who signed with the Cowboys in May, did not play in 2013 due to what has been described as a personal medical issue.

The Cowboys exercised caution with Romo by keeping him out of competitive drills during the offseason, although he resumed his throwing program before the beginning of organized team activities. Romo’s reps will be closely monitored during training camp, but the Cowboys do not believe any extra limitations are necessary.

“He’s been working very hard on his conditioning and his throwing, and we do anticipate him being ready to go for all aspects,” Garrett said. “Like with anybody else coming off of an injury, though, we’ll evaluate him on a day by day basis and just see how he’s doing. In a situation like this, you want to monitor his throws. You want to make sure his reps are quality reps, that he’s not just out there banging balls, so to speak. So we want to make sure we’re very thoughtful about that, really like we would any player who is coming off an injury, and evaluate how he’s handling the work and continue to progress with him or dial it back a little bit.

“But he’s had no issues, no obstacles, nothing that’s held him back from doing anything. He’s certainly on schedule and ready to go full go.”

A look back at Tony Romo's last game

July, 23, 2014
Jul 23
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OXNARD, Calif. -- On Thursday, Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo will return to the field full-time for the first time since a Week 16 win against the Washington Redskins on Dec. 22, 2013.

Five days later Romo underwent surgery to repair a herniated disk in his back, forcing him to miss the winner-take-all season finale against the Philadelphia Eagles that the Cowboys lost.

Romo’s offseason was filled with rehab, a little bit of football and no golf. He and his wife welcomed their second son into the world. The Cowboys confirmed their faith in him by passing on Johnny Manziel in the first round. Debates raged about how high -- or low -- he should be ranked among quarterbacks. The first questions of retirement came about in part because of his second back surgery in less than a year and the fact that he turned 34 in April.

[+] EnlargeTony Romo
AP Photo/Evan VucciTony Romo's late-game heroics against Washington last December left the Cowboys in contention to win the NFC East in the finale against the Eagles.
But as he gets ready to return to the practice field, it’s worth re-visiting what Romo did in his last game to remember just how good he was and can be.

At 7-7, the Cowboys were in a must-win situation at FedEx Field that day. With 3:39 left to play the Cowboys trailed 23-17.

Fifty-two weeks earlier the Cowboys were in a Week 17 must-win situation against the Redskins, trailing 21-18 with 3:33 to play. Romo’s pass on the second play of the drive was intercepted, ending the Cowboys’ hopes for a playoff spot and an NFC East championship.

With that in his head and his body aching, a numbing pain shooting down his legs from the back injury, Romo delivered.

For all of those who believe he does nothing but falter in the fourth quarter, this drive was his shining moment.

First down, Dallas 13, 3:39

With three wide receivers on the field and in the shotgun, the Redskins brought five pass rushers, and Romo’s throw to the sideline was low and just out of the reach of Terrance Williams.

Second down, Dallas 13, 3:28

Same personnel grouping, but the Redskins only rush four. Romo makes a small hand gesture to Williams, who runs a comeback after Washington corner David Amerson gets turned around. The completion is good for 15 yards.

First down, Dallas 28, 3:21

The Cowboys continue with 11 personnel and a shot gun, but Dez Bryant is lined up alone to Romo’s left and the Redskins only rush four. Redskins corner DeAngelo Hall makes a great play with a last-second deflection of Romo’s pass to Bryant on the sideline.

Second down, Dallas 28, 3:14

The Cowboys keep the same formation with Bryant alone to the left and Jason Witten, Cole Beasley and Williams to the right. The Redskins have eight at the line of scrimmage but only rush four. Bryant is doubled and Witten is not open. Beasley is open at the far hash, but Romo scrambled to his right as he gets pressured. He gives a quick pump fake and Josh Wilson slips at midfield. Williams turns up field and Romo chucks the pass for a 51-yard completion.

First down, Washington 21, 2:51

The Cowboys keep with 11 personnel but Witten’s hand is in the ground at tight end with the Redskins putting eight in the box, expecting a run. Romo throws a quick “smoke” to Bryant with Hall in off coverage. The play was supposed to be a run, but the pass picks up 17 yards after Bryant breaks a tackle.

First and goal, Washington 4, 2:16

The Cowboys bring in fullback Tyler Clutts and go with 21 personnel. With time on their side, the Cowboys want to eat up clock but score as well. DeMarco Murray gets his first carry of the drive and picks up three yards,

[+] EnlargeDeMarco Murray
AP Photo/Evan VucciDeMarco Murray's game-winning touchdown came after some of Tony Romo's famous improvisation.
Second and goal, Washington 1, 2:00

Coming out of the two-minute warning the Cowboys go with 22 personnel and bring in backup tackle Jermey Parnell as an extra blocker. Doug Free gets beat at the snap and is knocked back into Clutts. London Fletcher dives over the top, and Murray is stopped for no gain.

Third and goal, Washington 1, 1:55

The Cowboys stick with their power look against the Redskins goal-line defense. Travis Frederick and Ronald Leary are beaten at the snap. James Hanna misses his block. Murray attempts to circle back to his right with three defenders waiting for him and loses nine yards.

Fourth and goal, Washington 10

The season is on the line, and everybody knows the Cowboys have to pass. The Cowboys line up with 11 personnel again with Miles Austin in the slot over Beasley. Bryant is alone to Romo’s right. The Redskins only rush four, hoping to flood the tight area with defenders to make for a difficult. Witten is covered well by Fletcher. Bryant is not open. Austin is at the goal line and Murray is not an option. Murray chips the defensive end before funneling out wide. With Tyron Smith getting beat, Romo slides up to his right and gives a quick pump fake to freeze the linebacker, who is inside Murray. That gives Murray more time to shake free, and he catches the ball at the 2 and backs his way in before Hall can hit him.

The Cowboys had their touchdown. Romo had his comeback.

Five days later he would need surgery and his season was over.

On Thursday he starts on the road back, where he will have a chance to deliver again.

Garrett enters his biggest season -- again

July, 21, 2014
Jul 21
10:00
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Jason GarrettAP Photo/Aaron M. SprecherJason Garrett enters his fourth full season as Dallas' coach searching for his first playoff appearance.
IRVING, Texas -- This is the biggest year of Jason Garrett's coaching career with the Dallas Cowboys.

That's after 2013 was the biggest. And 2012. And probably 2011, even if it was his first full year as a head coach and the offseason was shortened because of a lockout. This is Dallas, after all, where winning is a birthright, even if those fans born after Jan. 28, 1996, have never seen their team make a conference title game.

But now we mean it. This year -- 2014 -- is the biggest in Garrett’s coaching career.

Basically we mean it because there are no more options for Garrett. He is not under contract for 2015 with the Cowboys. He is in a contract year the way Dez Bryant, Bruce Carter and DeMarco Murray are.

The good news for Garrett is that the outside expectations have never been lower in his run as the Cowboys’ head coach. The offseason predictions, which are often ludicrous anyway, have the Cowboys tumbling from 8-8 to 5-11 or worse.

The bad news is that he has a defense that has a ton of questions at every level. Pick a defensive lineman and there is a question. Pick a linebacker and there is a question. Pick a defensive back not named Barry Church or Orlando Scandrick and there is a question.

On offense things look much better, provided quarterback Tony Romo is able to come back from back surgery to play at a high level. To some that might be a huge "if" considering Romo’s age (34), but the general feeling is that everything will be fine with the quarterback, who had 31 touchdowns and 10 interceptions in 15 starts in 2013. Add Bryant, Jason Witten, Murray and an offensive line that should be this franchise’s best since 2007 and you can see the offense putting up yards and points this season.

That is where Garrett has to hang his hat if he wants to be the Cowboys’ head coach or another team’s head coach in 2015. And he can’t really hang his hat in the room, because he won’t be in the room as much as he has been.

One of Garrett's themes of 2013 was that he was entering what was the biggest year of his coaching career and unable to do what he does best -- run the offense -- because Jerry Jones gave those duties to Bill Callahan. Garrett won’t be running the offense in 2014 either, but neither will Callahan. Garrett at least has his guy, Scott Linehan, running it this season. So that is a slight bonus for Garrett.

The better news for Garrett is that if he makes the playoffs, he can control his future.

Looking objectively at what he has done since taking over as the full-time coach, there have been positive signs and mistakes that have cost the Cowboys games. The general direction of the team is better than it was when he took over. Troy Aikman said this offseason that if Garrett is not back in 2015, then the next coach will benefit from the foundation Garrett put down.

There aren’t many people outside of Valley Ranch giving the Cowboys a chance to compete in the NFC East in 2014. The Cowboys went 5-1 in the division last season and had the worst defense in the league. If they are a tick better on defense this season, can’t they contend? When did the Philadelphia Eagles, New York Giants and Washington Redskins become such juggernauts?

If the Cowboys made the playoffs, would Garrett become a hot commodity again? Would teams look at the big picture of the mess he inherited, how he kept the team competitive in a retooling if not rebuilding mode and how he worked with owner and general manager Jerry Jones, and view Garrett differently than he is viewed now?

Perhaps, and that would put him in a position of leverage.

Garrett will not address his future no matter how many times he is asked. He gives the same answer about keeping his focus on being the best coach he can be each and every day. Jones has been patient with Garrett and he doesn’t mind that the coach is in a lame-duck status. Jones wants to see the Cowboys reap the rewards of working through some of Garrett’s missteps made because of inexperience in his first three seasons.

This week Jones will be sitting next to Garrett and will be asked about the coach’s long-term status. He will profess faith in Garrett, extoll what he has done in his first three seasons and talk about the potential payoff coming in 2014.

If it doesn’t come this season, then all bets are off.

That is why this year -- 2014 -- is the biggest year of Garrett’s coaching career.

Dallas Cowboys' projected roster

July, 18, 2014
Jul 18
11:00
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IRVING, Texas -- Examining the Dallas Cowboys' roster:

QUARTERBACKS (2)

The Kyle Orton watch is over now that the Cowboys released the veteran backup. The timing of it is a surprise, and Jason Garrett spoke optimistically all offseason about Orton’s return. Now the Cowboys turn their attention to Weeden as Romo’s backup. Weeden had a productive spring, running the first-team offense as Romo recovered from back surgery. The Cowboys haven’t kept a third quarterback since 2011, and Caleb Hanie and Dustin Vaughan will have work to do to crack the 53-man roster

RUNNING BACKS (4)


The last two spots could be up in the air. Randle, a fifth-round choice, will be pushed by free-agent pickup Ryan Williams in the preseason. Williams, a former second-round pick, was not able to stay healthy in Arizona. The Cowboys have given him a chance to win a backup job. Clutts did a nice job as a late-season pickup in 2013. He is more versatile than undrafted rookie J.C. Copeland, but I don’t think having a fullback on the 53-man roster is set in stone.

WIDE RECEIVERS (5)


I debated whether to go with a sixth, but later on you will see why I stuck with five. It is possible the Cowboys will look for a veteran in the final cuts if they feel limited by their depth because of injury, but I think they like the overall group. They will work their No. 3 receiver role on a rotation basis, but Beasley could emerge as a bigger threat on third down. There will be a lot of eyes on Williams, who takes over the No. 2 role on a full-time basis. Bryant is set for another Pro Bowl-type season.

TIGHT ENDS (3)


Witten remains near the top of the game at his position. His total catches were down last year, but his touchdowns were up. Escobar’s role figures to expand, especially as a No. 3-type receiver. Hanna has the inside track on the third spot, but I have a feeling the Cowboys will be looking for more of a traditional blocker, especially if they want to get away from the fullback spot to open up a role elsewhere.

OFFENSIVE LINE (9)

The top six are set, with Bernadeau or Leary fighting it out for the left guard position and the loser becoming the top backup on the interior. Parnell is in the final year of his deal, and if Weems develops, I wonder if the Cowboys would look for a trading partner. They have invested a lot in Parnell in time and money for him to be a backup, so it would be a risk, but perhaps one worth taking. Weems had a decent offseason. Clarke gets the nod as the No. 9 guy right now, but veteran Uche Nwaneri could work his way into the mix.

DEFENSIVE LINE (10)

I think the Cowboys will go heavy here, especially considering what happened last year and the numbers they have thrown at the position this year. Four of them are rookies -- Lawrence, Gardner, Bishop and Coleman. I believe Anthony Spencer and possibly Amobi Okoye will start the year on the physically unable to perform list, so they don’t make this 53-man roster with the idea that they join the team after the sixth game of the season. Wilson garnered the last spot over a 2013 starter, Nick Hayden, but there will be a few players in the mix for the final few spots, including Ben Bass.

LINEBACKER (7)

Carrying seven linebackers might be a little heavy, but I have special teams in mind when it comes to Will Smith. He benefits from having only two quarterbacks on the 53-man roster. The Cowboys spent the offseason telling us games are won and lost up front, so carrying an extra offensive or defensive linemen could get in this mix as well. McClain gets a spot only because of his experience. Backups of Holloman, Hitchens and Smith would be tough considering their youth, and I can see the Cowboys looking for veteran backup help around the final cut dates.

CORNERBACK (5)


Carr and Claiborne have to play exceptionally well for this defense to have a chance, and they might have to do it without much help from a consistent pass rush. Scandrick is coming off his best season, and Claiborne will have to beat him out to reclaim the starting spot. Moore can play inside and out. Mitchell showed in his limited offseason work that he can make plays. Last year’s fourth-round pick, B.W. Webb, will have to fight for a spot. Based on his offseason work, he did not make the cut for this roster.

SAFETY (5)

Church is the only player without questions. The Cowboys are projecting the other four with their biggest bet on Wilcox. He enters camp as the starter, but he could be pushed by Heath and Hamilton. Dixon will be more of a special-teams threat if he is to make the roster. Hamilton showed some playmaking in the offseason. No Matt Johnson? Not right now, especially after he couldn’t practice -- again -- for most of the offseason.

SPECIALISTS (3)


Perhaps Cody Mandell can push Jones, but Jones is the more consistent punter and has a good rapport as a holder for Bailey. Ladouceur remains one of the best long-snappers in the game. This group won’t change during the summer unless there is an injury.

Chat recap: Re-thinking QB position

July, 17, 2014
Jul 17
2:00
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IRVING, Texas – In our weekly chat on Wednesday, we touched on a number of subjects, including the recently released Kyle Orton.

We also discussed:


To read the full chat, click here.

But I wanted to delve a little deeper into one subject from the chat and that’s Johnny Manziel. Wait, who? I kid. Here’s what I was asked:
Steve (Tyler, Tx): Any second thoughts on passing on Manziel now that Kyle Orton has retired?

Todd Archer: I was waiting for this question. It's an interesting scenario isn't it? Well, first off, Orton didn't retire. He was cut. Now, I believe he wanted to retire but was going to show up to camp so he didn't have to pay back bonus money. But that's splitting hairs. Let's say the Cowboys did this back before the draft. Wouldn't their philosophy have been different regarding the quarterback? I believe so. I don't think they regret not taking Manziel because we're using hindsight of what we know now and not what we knew then.

After the Cowboys took Zack Martin in the first round, Jerry Jones said the Cowboys really spent no time talking about taking Manziel with the 16th pick in the first round. A little later in the offseason, Jones said the Cowboys seriously considered it. So Jones kind of covered the bases with those answers.

Had the Cowboys made the move with Orton before the draft, I believe Manziel would have been more of a consideration. Remember, they had not seen much from Brandon Weeden before the draft. The organized team activities had not started by that time.

The drama that Manziel would have brought to the Cowboys would have been overwhelming, but I don’t think the Cowboys – or any team – should act in fear of what might happen off the field with fans’ reactions or media interpretations. I think they did the right thing in taking Martin from a football perspective. He makes the offense better in 2014 and potentially the defense better in 2014. Manziel likely wouldn’t have made either better in 2014. Maybe not in 2015, either.

Would I have felt differently if Orton were gone by then? Perhaps. I think Manziel will be an excellent quarterback.

If Orton was gone by May and if the Cowboys passed on Manziel, then I believe they would have adjusted their thinking about drafting a quarterback at all. The position wasn’t discussed much during the draft. But the guy I think they would have taken in the middle rounds if he was available: Tom Savage.

Savage went to the Houston Texans in the fourth round. Why Savage? One of the reasons why they liked Devin Street so much was the fact that he played in a pro-style offense at Pitt. Savage was his quarterback. Savage was the quarterback when the Cowboys ran Street through a private workout. Jason Garrett has a close relationship with Pitt coach Paul Chryst.

Strong offseason fueling Brandon Weeden

July, 17, 2014
Jul 17
11:05
AM ET
IRVING, Texas – Brandon Weeden's bid to be the Dallas Cowboys’ No. 2 quarterback in 2014 got a lot easier when the club decided to release Kyle Orton.

Weeden
Barring something unforeseen, Weeden, who signed a two-year deal in the offseason, will be Tony Romo’s backup. But Weeden does not look at the move as “weight off my shoulders.”

“Given the situation Kyle has been in in previous years in Dallas, he’s been the backup quarterback, so I think if he was there it would be one more obstacle I would have to kind of hurdle,” Weeden said. “But at the same time I can’t really get wrapped up in putting all of my attention on that. I need to do what I did in the [organized team activities] and continue to play well and get better. I think hopefully things will work out that way regardless.”

The Cowboys felt confident enough to jettison Orton, who skipped the entire offseason program and minicamp, in part because of what Weeden did in the spring. With Romo recovering from back surgery and being kept out of competitive drills and Orton missing, Weeden took all of the first-team snaps.

“I think the reps I got in the OTAs were kind of irreplaceable,” Weeden said. “If I was in a situation where God forbid something happened to Tony and I’m asked to play, those are the guys I’m going to battle with, so those reps I got were invaluable. I know I won’t get many of those in [training] camp, but fortunately I had 12 practices where I was able to get out with those guys. Now it’s, ‘Let’s get to work.’ I’m ready to get to California and get things rolling.”

Orton had the same benefit last year of taking all of the offseason snaps in 2013 as Romo recovered from surgery to remove a cyst from his back. When Romo hurt his back in Week 16 against the Washington Redskins, he was able to step into the season finale against the Philadelphia Eagles and play well. He completed 30 of 46 passes for 358 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions, but a late turnover sealed the Cowboys’ loss.

“[Gavin] Escobar and [Jason] Witten are two totally different players. Dez [Bryant] and Terrance [Williams] are two totally different players,” Weeden said. “You kind of learn what certain guys’ strengths are and little nuances of what they do. That’s the thing more than anything. You kind of get a feel for what Dez likes on fades and all that stuff a certain way where Terrance might like it another way. You’ve got to learn what each guy likes. When you’re with so many new guys it takes time. You always want more time, but it’s nice to have the reps I did get there to get a head start.”

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