NFC East: Jeff Heath

Dallas Cowboys' projected roster

July, 18, 2014
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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.
IRVING, Texas -- When Matt Johnson spoke after the first day of the Dallas Cowboys' organized team activities about how well his hamstrings had felt for more than year, he joked that he needed to find a piece of wood to knock on.

Johnson
It must not have worked.

Johnson has missed most of the OTAs with a sore hamstring but there is a tiny hope will be able to do some work during next week's minicamp. Johnson suffered hamstring injuries that mostly kept him out for his entire rookie year. He missed last season with a foot injury that required surgery.

As they have since they drafted him in the fourth round of the 2012 draft, the Cowboys will remain patient.

"Our attitude is to try to give him an opportunity to show us what he can do," coach Jason Garrett said.

Some of you might ask why.

"The interesting thing about Matt is that every time we've given him an opportunity, he seems to do a pretty good job, whether it's in practice or some of the scrimmage situations that he's been in," Garrett said. "He just needs time on task. He needs to get out there. It seems to me that he's got a real good approach mentally. He continues to work. He doesn't seem outwardly frustrated. I'm sure he is, but he's just got to continue to work through it, get himself healthy. We're going to try to give him every chance to show us what he can do."

If the Cowboys were set at the safety position maybe they would feel otherwise. While they like what J.J. Wilcox has done this offseason, he is hardly a lock to win the spot. Jeff Heath started nine games last year.

Johnson, despite his inability to stay healthy, still has a chance to win a job.
IRVING, Texas -- Matt Johnson remains the most mysterious of all Dallas Cowboys.

In his third season with the Cowboys, he has yet to play a game. Hamstring, back and foot injuries have kept him off the field in his first two seasons. He is like some sort of myth.

Johnson
The questions asked to him on Tuesday after the first organized team activities (OTAs) were the same asked to him last spring.

“I can just repeat my answers from last year,” Johnson joked. “I feel like it’s been a long time since I’ve been in a groove playing football really since my senior year in college. It’s just good to get back out there with the guys and compete and kind of gear up for a new season.”

He hopes the new season isn’t like the old season. The Cowboys have been extremely patient with Johnson, perhaps more than they should have been. Johnson understands the angst fans have toward him.

“I have to own it, there’s no other way,” Johnson said. “I’ve been hurt. I haven’t proven myself. I haven’t proven why they drafted me.”

The Cowboys drafted Johnson in the fourth round out of Eastern Washington because of his abilities to make plays. He had 17 interceptions in four seasons. He had a four-interception game against Portland State as a sophomore.

All of that is so long ago, but Johnson still has a chance to deliver on what the Cowboys saw in him in 2012. They waited until the seventh round to draft a safety earlier in the month (Ahmad Dixon) and have yet to add a veteran. J.J. Wilcox, a third-round pick last year, is working with the starters now. Johnson is working the second team with Jeff Heath.

The screw in his foot will remain unless it starts to bother him. So far it hasn’t. He hasn’t had an issue with his hamstrings in more than a year, but he quickly looked to knock on wood once he said it.

Even though he hasn’t shown it, he feels he has improved.

“Mentally is the only way,” Johnson said. “I’ve tried to get better at my footwork when I’ve been out there, but I’m grasping the game better. It’s slowed down for me definitely from my rookie minicamp to now. The game is a lot slower. I want to get in a groove each day. I see myself progressing whereas before it was progress, progress, progress, have a setback. It would be nice to keep it going for a while.”
IRVING, Texas -- Everybody believes one of the Dallas Cowboys' most pressing needs is safety. Everybody except the Cowboys.

[+] EnlargeJ.J. Wilcox
Howard Smith/USA Today SportsThe Cowboys will rely on second-year safety J.J. Wilcox to add depth to the position in 2014.
The Cowboys liked Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Calvin Pryor, the top-rated safeties in the draft, but did not love either, especially when compared to offensive tackle Zack Martin, whom they took with the 16th pick in the first round. The Cowboys could have had Dix or Pryor at No. 16 but stuck with their board.

They loved Jimmie Ward, but in the second round. The San Francisco 49ers took Ward with the 30th pick in the first round.

When they looked at the rest of the board, they saw safeties who were comparable to what they already had on the roster, according to executive vice president Stephen Jones.

The Cowboys are putting their belief in last year’s third-round pick, J.J. Wilcox. He had 38 tackles in 2013. He started five games and missed three with a knee injury.

But it was the loss of his mother, Marshell Wilcox, in training camp that affected Wilcox’s performance the most. The Cowboys were set to name him the starter in training camp on the day his mother died, according to Jones. He missed two weeks to be with his family to grieve. He eventually was named the starter in Week 3.

SportsNation

Which 7th-round pick has the best chance to make an impact for the Cowboys this season?

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“That can get a lot of people off track when you have that type of emotional tragedy like that,” Jones said. “It took a toll on him, and we started seeing signs of what we’d seen in camp towards the end of the year. But I think, obviously, that was a tough deal he was going through, and we have a lot of confidence we’re going to see the J.J. we saw in training camp.”

Wilcox was mostly a running back at Georgia Southern, playing safety only his senior season. The Dallas coaches, however, saw him make a quick transition to the position and were primed to rely on him as a rookie. After hurting his knee, Wilcox could not unseat Jeff Heath as the starter opposite Barry Church, but saw his playing time increase down the stretch.

The Cowboys drafted Baylor safety Ahmad Dixon in the seventh round. They also have Matt Johnson and Jakar Hamilton at the position. Johnson still intrigues because the 2012 fourth-round pick has yet to stay healthy enough to play in a game.

“Matt Johnson is the great unknown,” Jones said. “We’ll see. Maybe he’ll stay healthy and we’ll get to really take a long look at him.”
IRVING, Texas -- With only $80,362 to spend on rookie free-agent signing bonuses, the Dallas Cowboys have a little advantage over other teams with three compensatory picks in the seventh round.

Instead of having to guarantee portions of a base salary to get around the bonus limit, the Cowboys can target their priority free agents with picks Nos. 248, 251 and 254 in the seventh round on Saturday.

Last year the Cowboys guaranteed linebacker Brandon Magee $70,000, and he was among their final cuts, eventually joining the Cleveland Browns. Safety Jakar Hamilton received a $10,000 signing bonus. Safety Jeff Heath received $2,000 and became a starter.

Historically the Cowboys have done well in college free agency with Hamilton, Heath and Cam Lawrence earning spots on the 53-man roster at some point in 2013. In 2012, the Cowboys added Ronald Leary, Cole Beasley, Lance Dunbar and Ben Bass as undrafted free agents. Leary is a starter, while Beasley and Dunbar have legitimate offensive roles.

Kicker Dan Bailey was the best undrafted free-agent signing in 2011 and signed a seven-year deal this offseason.

The Cowboys have six seventh-round selections.

“The seventh-round picks historically are throw-ins [in trades],” executive vice president Stephen Jones said. “I don’t know if the league has caught up to what value a seventh-round pick is, in terms of the quote-unquote ‘charts’ that are out there. If you look at what a seventh-round pick can bring you, you start to say the player [in the seventh round] is more valuable than boosting the bottom of the six [round] to five picks, 10 picks up to the middle of the sixth when a lot of times that player will fall to you anyway. A lot of times you see it as thrown-ins. I see it as a great opportunity for us to take six players that can help our football team.”
IRVING, Texas -- In many ways a successful draft is measured by how well a team does in the later rounds.

Ben Volin of The Boston Globe put together a story about teams that draft well and poorly with an interesting graphic.

SportsNation

Who would be the best first-round pick for the Cowboys?

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The Dallas Cowboys are one of six teams not to have a current starter they selected in Rounds 5-7, according to the chart, which means Volin did not count Orlando Scandrick (fifth round, 2008) as a starter even though he started most of the 2013 season. If Morris Claiborne performed up to capabilities and was not hurt, he would have been the starter. If you count Scandrick, then the Cowboys would be one of 12 teams to have one starter from Rounds 5-7.

The other five without a starter were the Detroit Lions, Arizona Cardinals, Jacksonville Jaguars, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Chicago Bears.

Since 2010, the Cowboys have had 12 picks in Rounds 5-7 and only Dwayne Harris, James Hanna, Joseph Randle and DeVonte Holloman remain.

Hitting on late-round picks is guesswork in a lot of ways. In 2004, the Cowboys hit on three seventh-rounders in Nate Jones, Patrick Crayton and Jacques Reeves. They all had productive NFL careers and earned second contracts.

That’s the goal: find players who can fill roles. The Cowboys kept Crayton for a second contract, but Jones and Reeves left after their rookie deals expired.

Teams build their depth through late-round picks and the Cowboys have not hit enough in the late rounds to fortify their depth. The Seattle Seahawks had an NFL-best five starters from Rounds 5-7 in 2013. The Philadelphia Eagles were next with four.

Also in Volin’s chart is a look at undrafted starters. The Cowboys had a league-high five in 2013 with Tony Romo, Miles Austin, Barry Church, Ronald Leary and Jeff Heath. The Denver Broncos and Miami Dolphins had four apiece to tie for second.

For years the Cowboys have excelled in finding undrafted free agents. In the last three years they have landed Dan Bailey, Phillip Tanner, Chris Jones, Ben Bass, Cole Beasley, Leary, Heath and Cam Lawrence.

They make up for the misses in Rounds 5-7 with hits in undrafted free agency. With three compensatory picks in the seventh round this year, the Cowboys will have the chance to draft what would have been their priority undrafted free agents.

They only hope they’re not just making up for misses in Rounds 5-7.

Chat recap: A look at safety play

April, 10, 2014
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IRVING, Texas -- We had another lively Dallas Cowboys chat on Wednesday with a wide range of topics.

We touched on the Cowboys possibly trading down in the first round if a player like Aaron Donald was not available, the non-issue (to me anyway) of Tony Romo, Jason Witten and DeMarco Murray in Jerry Jones’ suite at the NCAA title game, if the scheme change was just an excuse for some of the poor defensive play in 2013 and, as always, drafting a quartrerback.

If you want to read the whole chat, click here.

If you have more questions, send me one on Twitter (@toddarcher) and use the #cowboysmail hashtag. The mailbag posts will go up Friday and Saturday.

But Geno in Plano asked a question I’d like to expand upon.

Church
Thomas
Geno: the Cowboys seem to undervalue the safety positions- always seem to back fill or try a stop-gap; any chance of signing a more proven commodity this year pre- or post- draft?

Todd Archer: I don't think so, Geno. There's not a real proven guy worth it right now. Look at Marinelli's safeties in Chicago. They were solid players but hardly stars. Maybe they look in the draft, but I really think they try to see what they have in J.J. Wilcox, Jeff Heath and Matt Johnson.

To expand, I have received a ton of questions about the safety spot this offseason because there is no doubt the play was poor in 2013 next to Barry Church. The Cowboys have not expressed interest in any veteran safeties that I have been able to determine, so it looks clear they will go with Wilcox, Heath and Johnson, as I stated in the answer. Personally, I’d take a look at Steve Gregory, but they are not about to take me up on that suggestion.

Jimmie Ward is among the pre-draft visitors, so they could look at him as well.

But the notion is that the Cowboys have to have an Earl Thomas to succeed in today’s NFL. Sure, but how many teams have an Earl Thomas? Five years ago everybody was saying the Cowboys needed to get a safety like Troy Polamalu or Ed Reed. Sure, but how many of those guys are rolling around?

They are rare players. I think the Cowboys would have selected Kenny Vaccaro last year if he wasn’t scooped up by the New Orleans Saints before Dallas picked in the first round. He was gone, so they traded down.

In his three years with the Chicago Bears, [Rod] Marinelli’s safeties were Danieal Manning and Chris Harris in 2010, with Chris Conte and Major Wright handling the duties in 2011-12. The Bears let Manning walk as a free agent when the Houston Texans offered him a big deal. Conte and Wright were third-round picks in the 2011 and 2010 drafts, respectively.

Wilcox was a third-round pick last year by the Cowboys.

Since 2000, the winning Super Bowl teams have had five All-Pro safeties: Rodney Harris (New England), Polamalu (twice), Darren Sharper (New Orleans) and Thomas.

You can get by with functional safeties. Marinelli did it in Chicago. He will try to do it here as well.

The question should be do the Cowboys have a functional safety next to Church, not whether they can get a Thomas.

Kiper's Mock 3.0: Cowboys

March, 13, 2014
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The Dallas Cowboys need defense when it comes to the draft.

That was the case before they decided to part ways with DeMarcus Ware on Tuesday. That remains the case whether they re-sign defensive tackle Jason Hatcher.

In his first two mock drafts, ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. had the Cowboys selecting Alabama safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. That would represent a fit because the Cowboys need help at safety as well, according to many folks.

But at the NFL scouting combine, owner and general manager Jerry Jones expressed optimism in J.J. Wilcox, a third-round pick last year. Wilcox’s season was slowed by the death of his mother, which took him away from training camp for a long spell, and a knee injury, which took him out of three games. When he did return he was unable to unseat Jeff Heath from the starter’s role.

But if you’re looking at what new defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli has done in his career, it has always been about the defensive line. The Cowboys have added two pieces in free agency in Jeremy Mincey and Terrell McClain, but they are hardly cornerstone pieces.

ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay had the Cowboys selecting Florida State defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan in his most recent mock. Pitt’s Aaron Donald has been the player most linked to the Cowboys since the process began, but he might not make it to No. 16 in the first round.

Mel Kiper's latest mock draft .

Cowboys' Twitter mailbag, Part 2

February, 22, 2014
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INDIANAPOLIS -- Here's Part 2 of the Dallas Cowboys' Twitter mailbag.

In it we discuss whether the Cowboys were wise to move to the 4-3, the cap issues and what the Cowboys might do at safety. If you want to check out Part 1, click here.

Age not a factor for Cowboys

February, 4, 2014
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Dallas CowboysAP Photo/Tim SharpThe Cowboys have a good core of veterans such as Jason Witten, Tony Romo and Doug Free, but they lack quality backups.


After a third consecutive 8-8 season, you have to say age isn't a factor with the Dallas Cowboys.

The average age for the Cowboys in 2013 was 26.1, and that two veterans who didn't finish the season in Will Allen (31) and Brian Waters (36). In 2012, the Cowboys' average age was 25.9.

Coaching and a lack of quality depth hurt the Cowboys in most cases the last two seasons. You can blame Tony Romo's late interception against Washington in the 2012 regular-season finale or Kyle Orton's pick in the 2013 finale against Philadelphia as other issues.

SportsNation

Whose health is most key to the Cowboys' success?

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But don't say the Cowboys were an old team.

If anything, the Cowboys should rebuild around some young pieces which include Sean Lee, Dez Bryant, Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick, Terrance Williams, DeMarco Murray, Orlando Scandrick, Dan Bailey and Barry Church.

Core veterans in their 30s such as Romo, DeMarcus Ware and Jason Witten, and other quality vets in their late 20s like Brandon Carr and Doug Free, are worth keeping around.

Finding quality backups is the key for 2014. When you have guys such as Corvey Irvin, Frank Kearse, Jarius Wynn and Everette Brown as backups along the defensive line, it doesn't bode well for success.

The Cowboys have to fix their issues with finding undrafted players who can't play consistently, which was the case with safety Jeff Heath, at key backup positions.

Drafting quality players in the middle rounds should also help the Cowboys. It was something Todd Archer pointed out but the reality is age isn't and shouldn't be a factor for this team.

You can worry about Romo and his age -- 34 when 2014 regular season starts -- and health, recovering from back surgery, but the quarterback has young players to help him move the offense.

Coaching is a problem at Valley Ranch. The Cowboys currently have three -- head coach Jason Garrett, offensive line coach Bill Callahan, and new play caller Scott Linehan -- who have been head coaches and play callers.

Too many cooks in the kitchen? Team officials will say no.

But can these coaches, offense and defense, get the young core of this team to the next level?

If they can't, the numbers of not reaching the postseason will move to five years and counting.

Cowboys Twitter mailbag, Part 2

January, 25, 2014
Jan 25
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IRVING, Texas -- The second part of the Dallas Cowboys’ Twitter Mailbag is ready for you guys.

If you have questions for next week or beyond, hit me up on Twitter (@toddarcher) and use the #cowboysmail hashtag.

Away we go:
 

Mel Kiper's re-grade of Cowboys draft

January, 24, 2014
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IRVING, Texas – Last April, ESPN's Mel Kiper gave the Dallas Cowboys a C+ for their draft grade. After seeing the season play out, Kiper bumped them up to a B in his re-grade.

If you're an ESPN Insider, you can click here for Kiper's comments. Insider

To paraphrase, Kiper liked what Travis Frederick did, even if he felt the Cowboys could have gotten him in the second round. Technically, that was just two picks later since they moved down to No. 31. And in the Cowboys' draft grades, Frederick was a second round pick because they had only 18 players with first-round grades. He was also a big fan of the Terrance Williams' pick in the third round.

He still has faith that second rounder Gavin Escobar will be a starter. As I wrote over the weekend, it will be the No. 1 job of new tight ends coach Mike Pope to make sure Escobar develops. Will he ever be a true on-the-line tight end? I'm not sure of that.

Kiper said J.J. Wilcox was not ready to start but has value. To me, it's a little disconcerting that the coaches would not insert Wilcox into the starting lineup late in the season for Jeff Heath, an undrafted free agent. Joseph Randle has the "upside of a No. 1 back," according to Kiper, which might be strong. I like Randle, but there's a lot to improve upon. Kiper didn't seem too impressed with DeVonte Holloman, but I would say he had his best game in the finale versus the Philadelphia Eagles.

If it were me, I would've kept the Cowboys at a C+ but there is one thing we do agree upon and Kiper hits it with his final sentence: "It's just still hard for me to believe a defensive lineman wasn't a part of the haul, given the age of that group."

Upon Further Review: Cowboys Week 16

December, 23, 2013
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LANDOVER, Md. -- A review of four hot issues from the Dallas Cowboys24-23 win against the Washington Redskins.

Up for the challenge: For the third straight season and fourth time in the past six years, the Cowboys find themselves in a win-and-get-in scenario in Week 17. If they beat the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday, they would win the NFC East and host a playoff game on wild-card weekend. If they lose, they would finish 8-8 for the third year in a row. The only two recent seasons in which they did not face this situation came in 2009, when they had clinched a postseason berth but needed to beat the Eagles to win the division, and in 2010, when they finished 6-10.

Romo
They lost the finale in 2008 (Eagles), 2011 (Giants) and 2012 (Redskins).

“I know in some ways we’ve gotten hit with the fact of losing the last couple of years in that final game, but I think we’re the only team that keeps getting itself in position to win the NFC East every year,” quarterback Tony Romo said. “That’s a credit. That’s also a negative in the fact we didn’t do it the last couple of years. You just have to keep getting yourself there. When your team is good enough you’ll knock down that door.”

Back to the run: After the game, Jason Garrett praised the coaches’ ability to stay with the run in the fourth quarter when they were trailing by nine points. He seemed to forget the three-and-out the Cowboys had after Washington took a 20-14 lead. Dez Bryant dropped a slant. Romo threw the ball away on second down and then was sacked on third down. The drive totaled 50 seconds. The Redskins answered with a field goal to go up 23-14.

“We were just committed to saying, ‘Let’s stay after them. Let’s continue to try to drive the ball by running it, throwing it,’” Garrett said. “We had to make some big third downs. When you’re running the ball on first and second down you get into those third-and-3s and those third-and-4s and I thought our guys did a great job stepping up. Tony made some great throws. Guys made some great conversions and that was really important to sustain those drives. But balance was going to be importance for us throughout this game.”

A look back: The Cowboys’ defense has not played a better game than the one it had on Oct. 20 at Lincoln Financial Field against the Eagles. The Cowboys held Philadelphia to three points and allowed only 278 yards. Nick Foles threw for only 80 yards and Matt Barkley was intercepted three times in the fourth quarter. LeSean McCoy was held to 55 yards rushing. So much of the talk leading into that game was how Chip Kelly dominated Monte Kiffin while he was at Oregon and Kiffin was at USC. The Cowboys could get a boost from the returns of Sean Lee (neck) and Morris Claiborne (hamstring), but even when healthy -- or closer to healthy -- the defense has not played up to par.

No pressure: Try as they might to spin the good work done by Rod Marinelli’s rushers, the Cowboys did not record a sack of Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins. Jeff Heath forced an early throw on a blitz as he planted Cousins on the ground, but DeMarcus Ware, Jason Hatcher and George Selvie did not do enough to affect the quarterback. That can’t be the case Sunday against the Eagles with the way Foles has played. In October the Cowboys sacked Philadelphia’s quarterback three times. They have not had a three-sack game since then, and have just nine sacks in their past eight games.

Upon Further Review: Cowboys Week 15

December, 16, 2013
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ARLINGTON, Texas -- A review of four hot issues from the Dallas Cowboys' 37-36 loss to the Green Bay Packers.

[+] EnlargeBoyd_Murray
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesDeMarco Murray and the Cowboys are focusing on winning out and attempting to make the playoffs.
Recuperative powers: If the Cowboys win their final two games, they will make the playoffs. If there is a message Jason Garrett is looking to sell as the team looks to rebound, that's it. The Cowboys' final two games are against the Washington Redskins and Philadelphia Eagles, teams they outscored 48-19 in meetings earlier this season. It's not the message a lot of fans want to hear, but it is what matters most as the Cowboys look to make the playoffs for the first time since 2009.

"I feel good that we have a chance to beat the Redskins, and if we do that, we'll get a chance to play Philadelphia with an opportunity to get in the playoffs," owner and general manager Jerry Jones said. "I know when I see us lose a game after having a lead like we had at halftime, anything can happen one way or the other."

Pathetic work: On a day in which the offense gained 466 yards and 27 first downs, you would think everything worked well. It didn't. The third-down offense continued its season-long struggles as the Cowboys converting on just 2 of 9 chances. It was the third time this season the Cowboys converted on less than 30 percent of their third-down tries in a game. They are 56-of-159 on the season. Tony Romo said he has to be better on third downs, the receivers have to win in man-to-man situations and the blocking has to be better.

"We haven't done that well," Romo said of the third-down woes. "We have to do a better job."

No chance on D: At one point, the Cowboys fielded a defense that had three players who were not with the team when training camp started (George Selvie, Everette Brown, Corvey Irvin), two undrafted free agents (Jeff Heath, Cameron Lawrence), a sixth-round pick (DeVonte Holloman) and a cornerback (Sterling Moore) who was out of football until Nov. 25. Matt Flynn became the fifth quarterback to throw four touchdown passes against Monte Kiffin's defense, joining Eli Manning, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and Josh McCown. Flynn and McCown are backup quarterbacks, and the Cowboys will see another backup next week at Washington with Kirk Cousins quarterbacking the Redskins.

Still producing: Jason Witten caught 110 passes last year, an NFL record for tight ends in a season, but he had only three touchdowns. He has 59 catches this year and eight touchdowns. Witten needs one TD in the final two games to equal his career high. His eight from Romo this season are the most the duo has combined for in a season together. With 59 catches for 703 yards, Witten is averaging 11.9 yards per reception, which equals his career best so far. He might not have the starry numbers of the past, but at 31, Witten is not slowing down yet, either.

Cowboys' finds running out of gas

December, 13, 2013
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IRVING, Texas -- Dallas Cowboys defensive end George Selvie will make his 13th start of the season Sunday against the Green Bay Packers. He played more than nine games in a season just once in his career before 2013.

Defensive tackle Nick Hayden will also start his 13th game Sunday. He started 13 games for his career before this year.

Selvie has one sack in his last six games. Hayden has not been credited with more than two tackles in a game in a month. He had just two of those games in the first nine games.

When the Cowboys signed Hayden in February, they hoped he would be part of a defensive line rotation. When Selvie signed in July the hope was initially he helps the Cowboys get through practice, nevermind make the roster.

Neither was expected to be a core defender. Are they starting to wear down?

“We feel like those guys are our starters and have been all year long,” coach Jason Garrett said. “You’re always trying to rotate the defensive linemen like we’ve talked about, particularly in this scheme, so you’re always trying to find what that balance is.”

Selvie is tied with DeMarcus Ware for second on the defense with six sacks.

“I think he’s a good consistent football player and has been all year long for us,” Garrett said. “He was around the quarterback a little bit the other night in the ballgame. He comes to work every day. He’s not a dynamic, dynamic, dynamic pass-rusher, but to me every game he shows up and somehow positively impacts the game.”

Linebacker Ernie Sims will play starter snaps for the sixth time this season. Starter Jeff Heath will make his fifth start after making the team as an undrafted free agent. Sterling Moore wasn’t with the team two weeks ago but he will be the team’s third corner Sunday.
The Cowboys found out last year that for as well as players off the street can play for a short time, over a longer time they can be exposed.

“I think the biggest challenge for guys is acclimating themselves initially,” Garrett said. “I think our guys have done a good job of that, to step in here and play on a moment’s notice. It’s always better when you have your starting players in there -- we recognize that -- and having our starting players healthy and ready to go. Having said that, every team in the league is dealing with injuries, so that’s not something we talk about a lot. We just have to get these guys ready to play as best they can play; a tough challenge as a coaching staff.”

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