NFC East: Edgar Jones
Now the Cowboys' linebacker corps is as thin as a piece of paper as they prepare for Sunday's game against the Washington Redskins.
“You always have guys who are at certain points with their health over the course of the week and you've got to make your judgments,” coach Jason Garrett said. “The big thing we try to do is make sure we have all of the contingency plans in place. If this guy is not available, who is playing? What happens if he gets hurt, who goes in and all that stuff. We have a lot of discussions about that as coaches at all positions with all injuries. You deal with them the best you can and you go forward.”
Sean Lee is expected to miss his second straight game with a neck injury. Ernie Sims did not practice because of a groin injury and his availability for the Redskins' game is in doubt. Justin Durant's season ended on Tuesday because of a hamstring injury.
Bruce Carter said he will return after not playing last week against the Green Bay Packers. DeVonte Holloman could start his first game at middle linebacker. Kyle Wilber, who was a defensive end last month, will start at strongside linebacker. They have Cameron Lawrence and Orie Lemon as backups. Defensive end Edgar Jones has some linebacker experience from his 3-4 days.
“Right, we understood we don't have really any depth right now at linebacker so if we can get guys back healthy like me, try to get Ernie there, he's been banged up,” Carter said. “We just need to get anybody really.”
Before the loss to the Packers Holloman had never played middle linebacker in a game.
“Just knowing what to look for before it happens,” Holloman said. “Guys that have been in the fire before, they can see things coming a lot faster than guys just thrown out there or their first time out there. So just seeing a couple of things before they come at you.”
When the Cowboys lost Durant and Sims last week, they had to rely on hand signals from the coaches to the players since only two communication devices are allowed in players' helmets. Carter will be the signal-caller Sunday with Holloman serving as the backup.
It does not help that the Redskin feature the NFL's third-ranked rush offense, led by Alfred Morris.
“We know we've got a little extra tutorship going on and things like that,” defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin said. “We've just got to do the best we can. We're going to show up and we're going to play hard and whoever is out there is going to do a heck of a job. When we walked into that meeting this morning, ‘Man, we're upbeat. Let's go. Let's go, man.' We've got a couple of games to go and hopefully another one after that. But you only play one at a time. You've got to play 60 plays, 65 plays, whatever it is, so don't worry about the second game. Don't worry about Philadelphia. Let's play 60, 65 plays at the very best of our ability and then play hard. That's what we've got to do.”
If the defense is to have a chance to succeed, the Cowboys need Ware and Hatcher. But here's a question: Why are they not in the game more?
Jason Garrett said the Cowboys, "believe in the rotational system that Rod [Marinelli] uses."
It's fine to rotate players. You want players to remain fresh through the course of a game. But do they need to come off the field together?
Of the 69 defensive snaps in Sunday's loss to the Green Bay Packers, Ware and Hatcher were on the field together for 44 of them. There were 13 snaps where one or the other was on the field. There were 12 snaps in which neither was on the field, including goal-line snaps in the fourth quarter before Andrew Quarless' touchdown. Hatcher was not on the field for James Jones' 3-yard touchdown catch and Eddie Lacy's game-winning score.
At different times the Cowboys' defensive line featured Everette Brown, Drake Nevis, Corey Irvin and George Selvie. At one point they had Ware and Edgar Jones at defensive end with Jarius Wynn and Irvin at tackle.
"It's real important to keep that group fresh up front," Garrett said. "If you're looking for guys to put pressure on the quarterback, being fresh is a big part of that. The best defenses line I've been around rotated guys. So we'll continue to do that. It's not exclusive. They don't always come out together. They don't always play together. But occasionally they do, sometimes they're on the sideline together and you have to battle through that. The other guys have an opportunity to step up and make an impact on the game. George Selvie did a fantastic job in yesterday's game. He made a lot of plays, tackle for losses, sacks and impacted the game in a positive way. Everett Brown did as well. We have to get that across the board."
But there is a time and place for everything. In the most crucial snaps -- like on the goal line -- Ware and Hatcher must be on the field.
"I think I can jump right back into it," Jones said. "I think my preparation I was doing before I got back on the field as far as staying in the meeting rooms and staying up to date with my playbook and still talking to my coaches and acting like I was playing has helped me. It felt like I hadn't missed any time."
Jones has not played since Sept. 29 against the San Diego Chargers. He had sports hernia surgery Oct. 18 and was placed on short-term injured reserve with the hope he would return in December. He had five tackles and three quarterback pressures before the injury. He also had four special teams tackles.
"I feel like I can help out," Jones said. "With the coaches putting me back out there, I know they're counting on me to do what I do."
For a defensive line that has been hurting, anything will help at this point in the season.
I wonder if they can make it three in a row Sunday against the Detroit Lions. They have not won three in a row since Weeks 13-15 last season.
On to the Wonders:
• Right guard Brian Waters has helped cement the interior of the offensive line this season. It has not always been perfect, but it’s been solid and that’s not always been the case for the Cowboys the last few seasons. Waters is 36. I wonder if he wants to play again as a 37 year old. The Cowboys signed Waters to a one-year deal before the season started and allowed him to work in slowly before taking over the starting spot. If Waters wants to play again -- and it’s a question I’ll try to ask him this week -- I would bet the Cowboys would want him. There will have to be some assurances that he will take part in the offseason or training camp for sure. The proximity to his home should make a difference if he wants to play. I don’t know how big that “if” is, but the younger players have learned a lot from Waters and so have the more veteran guys. He helps with the shotgun snap by tapping rookie Travis Frederick. He has the strength to hold up at the point of attack. He doesn’t move as well as he once did, but he’s not just a phone booth guy either.
• Entering the game against the Philadelphia Eagles, DeMarco Murray had the highest percentage of rushing yards of a team in the league with 428 of the Cowboys’ 509 rushing yards. That percentage went down since he missed the Eagles’ game, and I wonder if the Cowboys will continue to use Joseph Randle in a role once Murray comes back from the knee injury. Murray has had a good 2013 season, but if Randle can lessen the burden, then the fresher Murray will be. We don’t know how Murray will handle a large amount of carries. He has never had more than 164 in a season because of injuries. Randle showed some decent vision against the Eagles and he was secure with the ball. He has more make-you-miss than Murray as well. Murray will still be the Cowboys’ bell cow in the running game, but if Randle can offer more than just a change of pace it makes sense to keep him involved in the game plan.
• I wonder if Dwayne Harris' punt return opportunities will be limited for the rest of the season. It would be the ultimate sign of respect from the opposition. Philadelphia’s Donnie Jones made sure Harris would not be a factor. His punts were high and outside the numbers, limiting where Harris could go if he chose to return a punt. As a result Harris averaged just 4.6 yards per punt return and had to use a fair catch signal twice. If this continues -- and if teams are smart it will -- then Harris will have to remain patient. Jason Garrett loves Harris’ decision making, but he knows there could come a time where Harris might try to make something out of nothing. That can only lead to trouble. Harris is a major weapon and the Eagles made sure he would not beat them the way he beat the Washington Redskins the previous week.
• I wonder if Edgar Jones knows just how much people will be paying attention to his recovery from sports hernia surgery. The Cowboys put him on the short-term injured reserve list, meaning he is out for eight weeks and can return Dec. 15 against the Green Bay Packers. Last December, the Cowboys chose not to place Jay Ratliff on injured reserve after he had sports hernia surgery because they hoped he would be able to return for a possible playoff run. Ratliff’s agent contended the surgery was more severe than the typical sports hernia, but I contend that if the Cowboys believed it would be a 12-month recovery they would have put him on injured reserve immediately last year. All surgeries are different. All rehab times are different. Terence Newman was back in five weeks from a sports hernia surgery a few years ago. Jones’ surgery was performed by the same doctor as Ratliff as well. If you’re wondering why the Cowboys used the one-time IR designation on Jones, then remember that the team was running out of time to use it and hope a player can be back in the regular season.
“Just watching him and seeing how he’s doing coming back off the injury and making sure we’re doing the right things, and rest is part of the equation for him, as it would be for anybody,” Garrett said.
Austin ran some routes off to the side Friday as the offense worked. He played Sunday against the Washington Redskins but did not have a catch after missing the previous two games.
Defensive ends DeMarcus Ware (quadriceps) and Edgar Jones (groin), running backs DeMarco Murray (knee) and Lance Dunbar (hamstring), and linebacker DeVonte Holloman (neck) are not practicing Friday.
Ware said he would be a game-time decision. Murray has held out hope he could play Sunday and was doing some running on the side Friday during the portion of practice open to the media.
The Cowboys expect to fill their roster vacancy after practice. With Ware, defensive end George Selvie (shoulder) and defensive tackle Jason Hatcher (stinger) bothered by injury, it would make the most sense to call up defensive end Jason Vega from the practice squad.
Selvie did not practice on Wednesday because of a sore shoulder but part of that was by design because the players were in pads for the workout. Defensive end Jason Hatcher was also limited for the second straight day but will play Sunday.
Wide receiver Miles Austin (hamstring) was given the day off and was joined on the sideline by defensive end DeMarcus Ware (quadriceps), DeMarco Murray (knee), running back Lance Dunbar (hamstring), defensive end Edgar Jones (groin) and linebacker DeVonte Holloman (neck).
Holloman was hurt in Wednesday’s practice.
Wide receiver Dwayne Harris (hip) took part in his second straight full practice.
Running backs DeMarco Murray (knee) and Lance Dunbar (hamstring) are also missing from practice, as is DeMarcus Ware, who has a quadriceps strain that could keep him out Sunday. Murray has hopes of playing, but owner and general manager Jerry Jones already ruled him out.
Defensive end George Selvie returned to the practice field after he sat out Wednesday’s workout because of a sore shoulder.
Linebacker DeVonte Holloman is not practicing because of a neck strain he suffered Wednesday. Defensive end Edgar Jones (groin) is also not at practice. He did not play against Washington.
The Cowboys have seven linebackers active with Cameron Lawrence getting called up from the practice squad on Friday.
Running back Lance Dunbar, cornerback Chris Greenwood, defensive end Edgar Jones, guard David Arkin, center Phil Costa, tackle Darrion Weems and tight end Andre Smith are inactive.
With Costa out, linebacker Kyle Bosworth will serve as the short-yardage and goal-line fullback if the Cowboys go that route.
“Another big, explosive receiver,” Dez Bryant said. “It’s always great to have Miles back in the lineup.”
Defensive end Jason Hatcher was limited in practice for the second straight day because of a stinger, but he is expected to play Sunday.
Linebacker Justin Durant (groin), defensive end Edgar Jones (groin) and running back Lance Dunbar (hamstring) did not practice for the second straight day. Safety Barry Church (broken nose) said the swelling in his nose has gone down, and he did not need a procedure to reset the break. He was a full participant in practice. Wide receiver Dwayne Harris (hip) was limited for the second straight day.
Wide receiver Miles Austin was practicing for a second straight day. He took part in a full session on Wednesday.
“I thought he did some good things,” coach Jason Garrett said. “He seemed comfortable. He’s run well the last couple of days leading up to (Wednesday’s) practice and really got through practice for the most part fairly healthy.”
Linebacker Justin Durant (groin), defensive end Edgar Jones (groin) and running back Lance Dunbar (hamstring) did not practice. Durant and Jones did some rehab work on the field, but Dunbar was not spotted.
The Cowboys have a roster spot available after cutting safety Will Allen on Tuesday. Garrett said the health of players could determine the move before Sunday. Safety Jakar Hamilton, defensive end Jason Vega and linebacker Cameron Lawrence are possible options from the practice squad.
“We’ve just got to see how it progresses the next couple of days,” Garrett said.
Sims will replace Durant and Carter will be the weakside linebacker.
But Sims figures to play more with the Cowboys expected to rely on their nickel defense against the three-wide-receiver-heavy offense of the Broncos. He replaced Carter in the nickel in the second half of last week’s loss to the San Diego Chargers.
Miles Austin is also inactive, missing his second straight game. Terrance Williams will replace Austin.
Defensive end Edgar Jones is inactive with a groin injury and will be replaced by Caesar Rayford. For the second straight game the Cowboys have all four running backs -- DeMarco Murray, Lance Dunbar, Phillip Tanner and Joseph Randle -- active.
Center Phil Costa is active after he did not dress last week with the Cowboys choosing to go with an extra offensive lineman over a fifth cornerback in Chris Greenwood.
Osi Umenyiora and Chris Canty might be gone, but in their place the Giants added Cullen Jenkins and drafted Johnathan Hankins and Damontre Moore in the second and third rounds, respectively, in April. They also brought in free agents Shaun Rogers and Mike Patterson.
The Cowboys did not draft any defensive linemen and, when the teams meet Sunday, will have Jay Ratliff and Tyrone Crawford, expected to be key contributors at the outset of training camp, reduced by injury to spectator status, and another either watching or limited in Anthony Spencer. Two of Dallas' defensive-line pickups, George Selvie and Landon Cohen, came after training camp began. Two more came in trades within the past week in Edgar Jones and Caesar Rayford.
“They’ve always made a huge emphasis on signing and drafting defensive linemen and that’s been going on probably since the 1950s,” Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett said of the Giants. “And they’re good at it. And they challenge you every time you break the huddle because of how big, strong and powerful those guys are. There are some new faces there, but the same mentality.”
In the past 10 drafts, the Giants have selected eight defensive linemen in the top three rounds, including Jason Pierre-Paul (2010), Mathias Kiwanuka (2006), Justin Tuck (2005) and Linval Joseph (2010). Using outside linebackers because of their time in the 3-4 scheme, the Cowboys drafted six outside linebackers/defensive linemen in the top three rounds from 2004-13, but only one since 2006 (Crawford, a third-rounder in 2012).
In a passing league, affecting the quarterback is vital. Having a deep defensive line is a must.
“It’s very critical during a game to be able to do that, be able to rotate enough people through so that you’re fresh, that you have a chance to give guys a chance to catch their breath,” Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. “You might have a pitch count in mind for some guys that you have to keep track of, but that’s very important. We’ve been doing that in one way, shape or form for quite a while.”
A source told ESPNDallas.com's Todd Archer that the Cowboys gave up a 2014 sixth-round pick for Jones and the Chiefs' 2014 seventh-round pick.
The 6-foot-3, 262-pound Jones is primarily a special-teams player. He has 32 tackles and 1.5 sacks in six NFL seasons, spending the first five years of his career with the Baltimore Ravens before going to Kansas City last season.
Jones will fill the roster spot created by placing guard Nate Livings on injured reserve.
IRVING -- The Blue parking lot at Texas Stadium was full about an hour earlier than usual tonight. Cars were shoe polished with messages such as "Farewell to Texas Stadium" and "We'll always remember you."
And it seems that more than 1,000 people have secured VIP pre-game field passes. Camera flashes are going off throughout the stadium -- and many of them were pointed at Roger Staubach as he made his way to the NFL Network set. The only thing that would make this better is if the Cowboys were actually playing a rival. The Ravens are playing for the first and last time at Texas Stadium.
After the game, more than 100 former players will participate in a closing ceremony. I'm a little surprised Jerry Jones opted to wait until after the game to hold the ceremony. If the Cowboys lose, I can't imagine a lot of fans sticking around to watch.
Tony Romo and Terrell Owens just ran onto the field together and received a pretty nice ovation. Pacman Jones just ran the length of the field to hug Ravens backup quarterback Troy Smith. Not sure what to read into that development.
Here's a look at all the inactives: