Murray will be mostly right-handed now

September, 18, 2014
Sep 18
IRVING, Texas -- With two fumbles in his first two games, Dallas Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray is returning to the ball-carrying style he used his first three seasons when he lost just three fumbles.

Murray’s fumbles against the San Francisco 49ers and Tennessee Titans came when he held the ball with his left hand. He said he will go back to holding the football primarily in his right hand.

“I worked on it throughout the offseason," Murray said of using both hands as a ball carrier. "It was something that (running backs coach Gary Brown) and I talked about throughout the course of the year, throughout the offseason. We wanted to get it done and I tried it. Not saying I won’t do it again but I’m just more comfortable and stronger, I think, in my right (hand).”

Emmitt Smith held the ball almost exclusively in his left hand in becoming the NFL’s all-time leading rusher.

“You definitely make more plays when the ball is in your outside hand,” Murray said, “(but) just got to be smart about it and see what happens. Can’t overthink it, so I’m not worried about it.”

Murray is coming off a career-high 29 carries against the Titans.

Murray’s 51 carries are the most he has had in a two-game span in his career. He had 47 carries over back-to-back games in 2011. Only once before has he had more than 20 carries in at least three games, going back to his rookie season.

The added work has not affected his preparation.

“I feel good,” said Murray, who leads the NFL in rushing with 285 yards after two games. “I haven’t been limited or anything like that. I try not to take a lot of hard hits so I think I do well in that department, but I feel fine and it wasn’t a big deal.”

Dez Bryant sore, but will be ready Sunday

September, 18, 2014
Sep 18
IRVING, Texas -- Dallas Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant has minimal concern about the sore right shoulder that caused him to be a limited participant in Thursday’s practice.

“It’s a little bit sore, but nothing that’s going to keep me out,” Bryant said. “I’m going to be ready to roll on Sunday.”

Bryant injured the shoulder during the first quarter of Sunday’s win over the Tennessee Titans. He missed the next series but had eight of his team-high 10 receptions after returning.

Bryant did not participate in Wednesday’s practice. He took almost all of the first-team reps Thursday, but the Cowboys exercised caution in keeping him out of contact situations.

Asked if he had full range of motion, Bryant extended both arms above his head.

Bryant will get treatment throughout the week, but he said the shoulder will not impact his performance or his style of play Sunday against the St. Louis Rams.

“I’m not going to adjust the way that I play,” Bryant said, referring to his tendency to be physical with defensive backs and attempt to break tackles. “That’s how I play. I’m going to go out there and have fun.”

Linebacker Rolando McClain (groin), linebacker Justin Durant (groin), running back Joseph Randle (concussion) and defensive tackle Davon Coleman (calf) did not practice Thursday. Randle said Thursday afternoon that he has passed the league’s concussion protocol tests and expects to practice Friday.

Defensive end Anthony Spencer (knee) and tight end Gavin Escobar (knee) were limited Thursday. Spencer just did individual drills for a second consecutive day and will not be ready for game action until next week at the earliest.

Quarterback Tony Romo fully participated Thursday after sitting out Wednesday’s practice due to tightness in his surgically repaired back.

Tony Romo feeling good after practice

September, 18, 2014
Sep 18
IRVING, Texas -- Unable to practice Wednesday with tightness in his back, Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo took every snap in practice Thursday and is set to play Sunday against the St. Louis Rams.

Romo said he felt good after practice and said the day off gave him time to build more strength as he continues to return to form from back surgery. He said his practice schedule going forward would be dependent on how he feels.

"It was just to try something new," passing game coordinator Scott Linehan said. "I don't think we felt as good as we wanted to feel last Thursday. So, that's why we're trying something different. I think it was a little bit of tightness or something like that. But he looked really good today."

Romo did not miss a regular-season practice before Wednesday, although he did not practice more than two straight days during training camp. Romo took part in Wednesday's walk-through and Linehan said the quarterback has to do more mental work when he is not physically able to take the snaps in practice.

"People aren't going to feel great every week, being able to take every snap," Linehan said. "It's a long season that way. It's just a matter of being smart and managing it and moving forward. I thought we made good progress from Week 1 to Week 2 and our goal is to continue to be able to do that.

In two games, Romo has completed 42 of 66 passes for 457 yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions. He has been sacked seven times and hit nine more. There have been throws that Romo has made in the past in the first two games that have not had the same zip, but the quarterback has said he is throwing the ball better than he ever has.

"I think he's his normal self and I think he's working back into it just like anybody that's missed that much time and trying to go through it," tight end Jason Witten said. "We have a lot of confidence in him and I don't know how he feels or what he's thinking when he's throwing, but we've seen a lot from him and we're all confident he can make all those throws and do the things he's done in the past."
IRVING, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys continue to play linebacker roulette.

It appears that the starting trio will be Bruce Carter, Anthony Hitchens and Kyle Wilber when the wheel stops spinning this week.

Middle linebacker Rolando McClain has not been ruled out of Sunday’s game against the St. Louis Rams, but his status is in doubt due to a groin injury that has prevented him from practicing the last two days. Weakside linebacker Justin Durant has not practiced since suffering a groin strain in the season opener that is likely to sideline him at least two more games.

That’s caused the Cowboys to shuffle the linebackers again. Carter has moved back to the weak side – his position last season and throughout training camp – after starting on the strong side the first two games. Hitchens is manning the middle after filling in for Durant on the weak side last week. Wilber is preparing to start on the strong side after backing up Carter the previous two games.

“They have been working hard,” defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli said. “They had really good couple days of practice. The key thing is they have all been with us since the offseason, so it’s not like somebody coming in new. I trust that.”

Hitchens, a rookie fourth-round pick, would have especially big shoes to fill.

McClain has been the Cowboys’ best defensive player, leading the team with 22 tackles, according to coaches after film review, one sack and one interception.

Hitchens played only nine defensive snaps in last week’s win over the Tennessee Titans because the Cowboys played the nickel package for most of the game. He is also preparing to replace McClain in the nickel Sunday.

“He’s a good football player,” said Hitchens, who has bounced back and forth between the middle and weak side since arriving at Valley Ranch. “Everyone knows that. Next guy in has got to step up and carry the load.”

Inside Edge: Cowboys-Rams

September, 18, 2014
Sep 18


ESPN NFL Insider Mike Sando delivers stats to help you make a pick for Dallas at St. Louis.

Tight ends an issue for Cowboys' D

September, 18, 2014
Sep 18
IRVING, Texas -- In the first two games of this season, St. Louis Rams tight end Jared Cook has eight catches for 102 yards.

He might like seeing the Dallas Cowboys Sunday at the Edward Jones Dome.

In the first two games, the Cowboys have seen tight ends Vernon Davis of the San Francisco 49ers and Delanie Walker of the Tennessee Titans score three touchdowns total. Davis caught four passes for 44 yards, while Walker caught 10 passes for 142 yards.

Barry Church believes he has the reason why tight ends have hurt the Cowboys: zone coverage.

“In man-to-man coverage I feel like they’re not affecting us like that,” Church said. “In zone, they get lost in the zones and are able to find holes and make big plays.”

This is not a new problem. Last year tight ends caught 91 passes for 1,047 yards and eight touchdowns against the Cowboys. Antonio Gates caught 10 passes for 136 yards and a touchdown. Julius Thomas caught nine passes for 122 yards and two touchdowns.

Cook caught five passes for 44 yards against the Cowboys last season.

“Play with better eyes,” Church said of a solution. “When a play does break down, that guy next to you you’ve got to plaster. That means take him man to man. We’ve got to start playing things high to low. If there’s a seven route behind us and a little fullback in the flat, we can’t go jump the fullback. We call that taking the cheese because they want to throw the deep one. We’ve got to play things high to low and I think we’ll be able to get that problem solved.”

Rolando McClain misses practice again

September, 18, 2014
Sep 18
IRVING, Texas – Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo and wide receiver Dez Bryant returned to practice Thursday, but middle linebacker Rolando McClain missed his second straight practice with a groin injury and will have to improve quickly to play Sunday against the St. Louis Rams.

“We certainly have confidence in his ability to play, but we believe in practice,” coach Jason Garrett said. “He has to practice this week in some way, shape or form for us to believe that he can play in the game, so hopefully as the week goes on, he’s able to do get out there and get some snaps.”

Later Garrett said the Cowboys do not have hard-and-fast rules about a player having to practice, but McClain has played two regular-season games since 2012. He leads the Cowboys in tackles (22) and tied for the team lead in sacks and interceptions.

If he can’t play, then rookie Anthony Hitchens would move to middle linebacker and Kyle Wilber would take one of the outside linebacker spots. Justin Durant is expected to miss two more games with a groin injury.

Romo (back) and Bryant (shoulder) did not practice Wednesday. Romo had tightness in his back and spent time in the weight room during practice. Bryant ran sprints and caught passes on the side. Garrett said Bryant could be limited in Thursday’s practice in order to avoid contact.

Running back Joseph Randle (concussion) and defensive tackle Davon Coleman (calf) missed their second straight days of practice. Defensive tackle Ken Bishop, who was limited Wednesday because of an illness, was on the practice field Thursday.
video's Jean-Jacques Taylor and Calvin Watkins break down the latest Cowboys news for Week 3.

Cowboys see a new look in Rams' defense

September, 18, 2014
Sep 18
IRVING, Texas – Through the first two games, the Dallas Cowboys’ running game has been better than many people imagined.

DeMarco Murray leads the NFL in rushing with 285 yards. The Cowboys rank second in the NFL in rushing, averaging 173.3 yards per game on the ground.

But for the first time this season, the Cowboys will not be facing a 3-4 defensive scheme. Sunday’s foe, the St. Louis Rams, run a 4-3 defense. Center Travis Frederick doesn’t believe there will be much of an adjustment.

[+] EnlargeGregg Williams
AP Photo/Jeff RobersonDallas will be going up against Rams defensive coordinator Gregg Williams and his 4-3 defense on Sunday.
“It’s really just a personnel type because both of the 3-4 teams (San Francisco, Tennessee) we played also played a little bit of a 4-3 fronts, even though it was 3-4 personnel,” Frederick said. “It’s really just a matter of recognizing where they are and what they’re doing and applying our rules to that … Tennessee kind of bridged the gap from San Francisco to St. Louis, so it kind has been growing each week.”

Murray has had tremendous success against the Rams in two games (428 yards on 51 carries), but the Rams have a new coordinator in Gregg Williams. Through two games, St. Louis’ run defense has been porous, allowing two 100-yard rushers (one being Minnesota receiver Cordarrelle Patterson). But in three meetings since 2007 against a defense run by Williams, the Cowboys have not had a rusher gain more than 62 yards in a Jason Garrett offense.

But they have shown a willingness to stick with the run. In 2009, when Williams was running the New Orleans Saints’ defense, the Cowboys ran it 36 times for 145 yards in a 24-17 win. A year later on Thanksgiving, they ran it 32 times for 144 yards in a 30-27 loss.

Coach Jason Garrett said the fact that the Cowboys worked against a 4-3 front in offseason and training camp practices against the Dallas defense will help.

“There’s a comfort level that we have there,” Garrett said, “but your question is a good one. I mean, different teams play different fronts. Sometimes the challenging thing is they play a 3-4, but they play it like this. Different teams play these fronts differently, so the nuances of how they’re playing the front is really the big thing. We do have a comfort level going against a 4-3, and fortunately the last couple weeks, we were running against a 3-4 and those looks were relatively similar.”

Scandrick: NFL got drug policy right

September, 18, 2014
Sep 18
IRVING, Texas -- Orlando Scandrick has an obviously biased opinion, but the Dallas Cowboys cornerback firmly believes the NFL’s new drug policy is a significant improvement.

The fact that offseason amphetamine use will no longer be classified under the performance-enhancing category has been the subject of much discussion because the suspensions of players such as Scandrick and Denver Broncos receiver Wes Welker were retroactively overturned, allowing them to return to their teams two weeks earlier than originally scheduled.

However, the implementation of testing for human growth hormone is the headline of the new policy, a change that will have a far greater long-term impact.

“I think it was right,” Scandrick said. “We are talking about cleaning up our game and keeping a clean game. We are not cleaning up our game if we are suspending guys for stimulants and not testing guys for human growth hormones, so I think it kind of went hand in hand.

“I think this is better for the game and I think now that we have HGH test implemented, we make sure our game stays clean.”

Scandrick tested positive for amphetamine after taking the recreational drug MDMA, known as “Molly,” during an April vacation to Mexico. He readily admits to an inexcusable lack of judgment and will be frequently tested under the NFL’s substance-abuse program as a first-time offender.

But Scandrick was adamant from the time his suspension became public that he did not take a substance to enhance his performance on the field. This change in the drug policy ensures that the record will reflect that.

“Not having that on my record, not having a failed test for a performance-enhancing drug, I mean that’s big,” Scandrick said. “All of that not being on my record and everyone knowing I’m not a cheater. Because I’m not and I was adamant from the time I got caught for this. I am not a cheater.”

Stats-eye view of Cowboys-Rams

September, 18, 2014
Sep 18
IRVING, Texas – Thanks to the fine folks at ESPN Stats & Information, here is a stats-eyed look at the Dallas Cowboys as they enter Sunday's game against the St. Louis Rams.

Ground and pound: Last season the Cowboys were ranked 29th in rush percentage, but are ranked fourth after two weeks. That translates to having the second most rush yards in the NFL with 347 yards on the ground. During the 2013 season, the Cowboys finished 24th in total rush yards with 1,504. They are also leading the league in time of possession after finishing 26th last season.

There's this from the folks at Elias: The Cowboys' final series included 11 straight runs. The last time the Cowboys ran the ball 11 or more consecutive times on the same drive was Dec. 2, 2001 at Washington. They ran it 14 consecutive times in a drive which spanned the first and second quarters.

Less is more: Romo threw 29 passes last week against the Tennessee Titans. He's much more effective the less he throws. He's efficient too. Romo has thrown a touchdown pass in 30 straight games.

Security blanket: Dez Bryant was targeted on 14 of Tony Romo's 29 pass attempts in Week 2. That's the highest percentage of Romo passes to go to Bryant in a game since the two became teammates in 2010. Romo threw two interceptions on six Bryant targets in the Week 1 loss to the San Francisco 49ers.

Tony Romo 'all for' complementary role

September, 18, 2014
Sep 18
IRVING, Texas -- Bill Parcells, the first head coach of Tony Romo's NFL career, famously referred to the game-managing style of quarterbacking as a "bus driver" role.

Call it what you want, but Romo insists that he would be ecstatic to continue playing a complementary role, as he did while handing the ball off 10 more times than he dropped back to pass.

"That's what a really good team is; everyone is complementary of each other," Romo said. "I'm all for going out and having games like we just had and playing the way Seattle has the last few years and just having those style of games. It makes everyone's job easier. If we continue to do that I think we'll have a great chance to be where we want to be at the end of the year."

The Dallas Cowboys have the league's second-ranked rushing offense and are tied for the fourth-most rushing attempts in the NFL. That's a stark contrast to the last couple of seasons. The Cowboys had the second-fewest rushing attempts in each of the last two years, ranking 31st in rushing offense in 2012 and 24th in 2013.

But there's no doubt that Dallas has the personnel for a ground-and-pound game. DeMarco Murray's biggest problem last season, when he made his first Pro Bowl appearance, was that he didn't get enough opportunities. He's running behind an offensive line that features recent first-round picks Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick and Zack Martin and leads the NFL with 285 rushing yards, the most in franchise history two weeks into a season.

And the Cowboys have a quarterback coming off his second back surgery who can use all the help he can get. In case they needed a reminder, Romo sat out Wednesday's practice due to tightness in his back, something that will likely happen several times throughout the season.

Can Romo embrace a complementary role if Dallas has a dominant running game? Absolutely.

Can Romo put the Cowboys on his surgically repaired back if they need to win a shootout? Does he believe he can throw it 50 times if that's what the Cowboys need on any given Sunday?

"Yes, I do," Romo said. "I think I'll be OK."

The running game is a much more sure thing for the Cowboys at this point, which is why the bus-driver role suits Romo just fine.

What almost was for Cowboys: Aaron Donald

September, 18, 2014
Sep 18
IRVING, Texas -- In February and March it seemed almost a certainty the Dallas Cowboys would draft defensive tackle Aaron Donald in the first round.

He looked to be the perfect fit as the Cowboys’ three technique in Rod Marinelli’s front. He was quick. He could get after the passer. He could penetrate gaps in the defensive line.

But Donald kept rising up draft boards.

The St. Louis Rams picked Donald with the 13th pick in the first round, three spots before the Cowboys’ selection.

“We liked him a lot,” coach Jason Garrett said. “We wanted to address our defensive line and he was one of the top defensive linemen we thought in the draft. Just a really, really explosive player. He made a lot of plays, affected the quarterback, a lot of tackles for loss. Really, really productive. The big question for him was his size, but we certainly got our arms around how good a player we thought he was, and obviously the Rams thought he was pretty good too.”

The Cowboys will get to see Donald up close Sunday, and the Rams get a chance to see Zack Martin, the Cowboys’ top pick.

Donald has 12 tackles in two games and is still looking for his first sack, but coach Jeff Fisher is not complaining. Fisher said Donald understands the “after of the pass rush.”

“It’s the use of his hands,” Fisher said. “He’s been taught very, very well even to the point where our defensive line coach said he didn’t want to mess him up. He’s just going to let him play and learn from it. He’s that kind of guy. He’s short in stature and so he’s got great leverage so he can get underneath pads. He’s got great quickness and feet. He can get around big bodied offensive linemen pretty quickly.”

Cowboys vs. Rams preview

September, 18, 2014
Sep 18
The St. Louis Rams and Dallas Cowboys put together two of the league's most dubious Week 1 performances, but both teams rebounded with road victories last week.

This week, the teams meet for the second consecutive season in search of their second win. The Cowboys thrashed the Rams 31-7 in Dallas in 2013.

ESPN Cowboys reporter Todd Archer and Rams reporter Nick Wagoner preview Sunday's matchup.

Wagoner: Todd, if DeMarco Murray ever goes into the Hall of Fame, he should probably say thank you to the Rams in his speech. He has shredded them in the past and it looks like he's off to a good start in 2014.

Does he look better now than he has in the past? And what is it that has made Dallas' running game so effective so far?

Archer: He really turned a corner late last season well after he ran for 175 yards on 26 carries against the Rams. He ran with more conviction and had a better feel for the scheme and what the linemen were doing in front of him. But it's more than that. It's understanding where the defensive fronts can give him some trouble before the snap. He has run with power but he's shown the ability to bounce plays and get more positive yards so far. The offensive line helps. The Cowboys have three first-rounders up front in Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick and Zack Martin. After years of talking about wanting to be a physical team but not actually doing it, the Cowboys are actually doing it and it's because they believe more in the line than they have since making the playoffs in 2009.

Not to get too carried away here, but did Austin Davis work at a grocery store after toiling in the Arena Football League? I thought the Rams were in trouble when they had to go to Shaun Hill after Sam Bradford's injury, but how is Davis getting it done?

Wagoner: Does serving a few weeks as a quarterbacks coach at the Westminster Christian Academy here come close enough to stocking shelves at the grocery store? A year ago at this time, that's exactly what Davis was doing. Seriously, though, Davis took most of us by surprise with his performance last week against Tampa Bay. He didn't put up any jaw-dropping numbers, and a rash of injuries limited Tampa's defense, but the most impressive thing about his performance was how cool he was under pressure. Time and again he faced pressure, stood tall in the pocket and delivered the ball.

For Davis, that has been the biggest change. When the Rams released him in 2013, it was in no small part because he struggled to recognize coverage and was too quick to take off running without keeping his eyes downfield. He was much improved in that area against the Bucs. Whether he starts remains to be seen because coach Jeff Fisher says Hill is the starter so long as he's healthy. But Hill hasn't proved he's back to 100 percent and the Rams have a bye next week, which would allow Davis another go.

The Cowboys' defense took a lot of heat before the season started but seemed like it found some answers against the Titans last week. What do you make of that group so far? And what are some areas of weakness we should be watching for?

Archer: I still have my doubts. It has been better than I or many thought. But I need more visual evidence. Maybe it's just not wanting to be fooled so much. In Week 1, I believe San Francisco really shut it down in the second half and just wanted to avoid the big mistakes with a 28-3 lead. Last week at Tennessee, Jake Locker was terrible. Now some of that was the Cowboys' making. They got a good rush on him at times and the coverage was solid, but he also missed some throws. If they have another good game this week against Davis (or Hill), I'm still not sure I would get carried away. But it would give the Cowboys confidence and that's more important than anything I would say.

One of the matchups I want to see this weekend is Robert Quinn vs. Tyron Smith. Both guys received giant contracts recently. What kind of start is Quinn off to, and how is Chris Long's absence affecting him?

Wagoner: Quinn doesn't have any sacks yet but that single stat is really a disservice to the work he has done. Tampa Bay and Minnesota made it a point to get rid of the ball quick and both teams used screens, slants and other short routes as a way to help negate Quinn and the Rams' pass rush as a whole. Vikings quarterback Matt Cassel had the fewest air yards per attempt of any quarterback in the league in Week 1 and the Rams had no sacks.

But Quinn is still wrecking offensive lines and creating pressure despite the lack of sacks. Teams are throwing multiple blockers at him on every play and linemen are desperately clutching and grabbing him to keep him from getting to quarterbacks. He's not always getting the calls but the attention going to him should open things up for others. Of course, he also hasn't seen a tackle as good as Smith in the first two weeks, either.

Tony Romo has also had some big games against the Rams in the past. What have you seen from him, coming off his injury? And do you expect him to return to his usual levels of production?

Archer: Romo has not looked the same, despite what he, Jerry Jones and Jason Garrett say. I think he's working his way back into game speed after being limited so much in the offseason and in four preseason games because of back surgery last December. He has not had the same zip on passes. He has not moved around as well as he has in the past. It's all intermittent right now. The back can be a tricky thing and it takes some time to heal. Romo has been sacked seven times and had only 73 pass attempts, so clearly the line isn't protecting him as well. He needs to play better. I think he will get there eventually this season -- maybe even this week -- but it's a good thing the Cowboys look to have a ground game they can rely on.

Michael Sam spent the summer with the Rams and had a productive preseason. Cowboys fans have asked me about how Sam has done since joining the practice squad, but it's hard to judge development there. You saw him in the preseason. What kind of player can he be?

Wagoner: Sam really just kind of is what he is -- a high-energy, all-out effort player who has a motor that constantly runs. He's never going to wow anyone with an array of pass-rush moves or overwhelming power to win with a bull rush. He has to win by getting to the edge with his speed and/or by chasing down quarterbacks or ball carriers, because he simply never quits on a play. Because of that, his upside is limited but it's also a quality that should eventually earn him a chance to play in the league.

Dallas once added a former highly touted college performer who was a seventh-round pick of the Rams in George Selvie, and he turned into a pretty decent NFL player. I see no reason Sam couldn't eventually follow a similar but slightly lessened trajectory.


The NFL Live crew make their picks for Dallas at St. Louis.