NFC East: Pacman Jones

And welcome to another fun week in the NFC East. This is a very cool week for a number of reasons. First, the predictions for which you guys have been asking me for months now will come out ... Thursday? Pretty sure it's Thursday, but I'll be sure to make a big fuss and let you know when it happens. Second, it's the final week of preseason games, and I'm sure we can all agree that's a good thing with which to be done. And third, it's the final full week of the offseason. Yes, next week there's an actual NFL game, and it's in our division. I know, right? Chills. And links. Don't forget the links.

New York Giants

Prince Amukamara says what he has is a "mild high ankle sprain," which is a lot of adjectives for one injury, but what he's trying to get across is that it could be worse. Nevertheless, it's hard to imagine him recovering from any sort of high ankle sprain in time for the regular-season opener, since that is only nine days from now.

Oh yeah. The other thing that happens this week is the final roster cuts, and I know how obsessive everyone gets about those. So here's a Star-Ledger story on Adewale Ojomo and his chances.

Philadelphia Eagles

The Eagles have decided to go with Akeem Jordan as the starting weakside linebacker. This is a bit of an upset and represents a terrible missed opportunity for Brian Rolle, who didn't play well enough, and Jamar Chaney, who couldn't keep his hamstrings healthy enough. I imagine Chaney can win the job eventually, once he's healthy. But the Eagles' opener is in 13 days, and it's time to start making decisions about who's going to play.

One of several other issues the Eagles need to sort out is nickel cornerback, and Sheil Kapadia's breakdown of the defensive backs' performance in Friday's game talks about the competition there between veteran Joselio Hanson and rookie Brandon Boykin.

Washington Redskins

The surprise return of Tim Hightower, the surprise injury to Evan Royster and the strong performance by Alfred Morris in Saturday's preseason game all added a great deal of intrigue to the Redskins' running back situation. Washington opens in 13 days in New Orleans and still has not settled on a starter at running back. The key thing to watch this week is the news on Hightower's knee and how it's recovering from its first game action in 10 months.

A couple of interesting nuggets in Rich Campbell's thorough film review of the offense's performance Saturday, including high marks for Pierre Garcon's downfield blocking and some questions about Will Montgomery's shotgun snaps. A worthy read all the way through.

Dallas Cowboys

Jean-Jacques Taylor writes that the new restrictions the Cowboys are putting on Dez Bryant's off-field activity remind him of those they once placed on Pacman Jones and that a major violation could lead to Bryant's release. There are some pretty obvious differences between Bryant and Pacman, not the least of which are the age at which these restrictions were put in place and the severity of the off-field trouble in question. But Jacques' central point stands, which is that the Cowboys have set up a situation in which they will have to take drastic action if the young man does not abide by the standards they've set for him. The good news is that Bryant seems to be on board with the new setup.

The Cowboys' offensive line was terrible in Saturday night's preseason game, and their hope is that starting center Phil Costa can return to practice this week and maybe shore some things up. Maybe. I guess. But it's worth remembering that Costa was the team's worst offensive player last season, and if you're counting on him to shore things up, you may be in more trouble than you're willing to admit.

Cowboys-Bengals observations

August, 9, 2010
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Dallas-Cincinnati was a Hall of Fame Game in name only. It wasn't pretty to watch either offense, but the Cowboys have reason feel good about their defense, which provided their only touchdown. Tight end John Phillips had an excellent evening, but it was cut short by what appears to be a serious knee injury. With Martellus Bennett's inconsistency last season, the Cowboys were counting on Phillips to play a significant role in the offense. The way his knee completely gave out as he started his route was not a good sign. Now, let's talk about what stood out to me in the Cowboys' 16-7 win over the Bengals.

  • I know it was only one series, but left tackle Doug Free was outstanding in protecting Tony Romo. Antwan Odom's a pretty solid pass-rusher, but Free controlled him throughout the series. Even when he got knocked off balance on one play, he stayed in front of Odom. Before he got hurt, second-team left tackle Alex Barron did not impress me at all. The Cowboys' backup linemen made Geno Atkins look like he belonged in Canton, Ohio, on a permanent basis. And Michael Johnson also gave the Cowboys' blockers fits. John Phillips was the only player who consistently stayed with his blocks throughout the first half.

  • When I saw that Ron Winter was running the show, I knew we were in for a long evening. I know it wasn't his usual officiating crew, but he made sure they called everything. They hit Andre Gurode for a holding penalty on the Cowboys' first drive.

  • That was pretty entertaining to watch Miles Austin and Patrick Crayton match up with Adam Jones. The cornerback held his own for the most part, but Crayton and Romo fooled him on an excellent back-shoulder pass. Just exquisite timing -- especially since it's so early in camp.

  • Romo connected with Roy Williams on a crossing route during that first drive. The ball was a little behind Williams and it was high, but he snagged it anyway. That's a really good sign for Williams. I thought he and Austin made the most of their limited opportunities. Jason Garrett made it a point to get Williams involved quite a bit.

  • Felix Jones got bailed out by an offside call when the Cowboys were inside the Bengals' 10-yard line. He has to secure the ball in that situation.

  • [+] EnlargeBrandon Sharpe
    AP Photo/Ron SchwaneBrandon Sharpe of Dallas scored the Cowboys' only touchdown, returning an interception 6 yards against the Bengals.
    Through one preseason game, it doesn't look like the Cowboys have solved those red-zone issues. It was only one opportunity, but there was no reason to get bogged down inside the 5-yard line.

  • David Buehler made his short field-goal attempts, but he missed a 49-yarder by about 20 yards to the left. It was a gigantic hook, and that's something that has to concern Wade Phillips. You can handle a miss from 49 yards, but it's concerning when the ball's not even close. I Thought I was watching more "highlights" of Tiger at the World Golf Challenge.

  • I loved how defensive end Stephen Bowen played Sunday night. He was an absolute beast from the right side. He forced a poor throw from Carson Palmer by collapsing the pocket in the first quarter. The Cowboys will be just fine if Marcus Spears isn't able to make it back for the first game. Jason Hatcher and Bowen both played well against the Bengals.

  • What an awful deal for John Phillips. He was the Cowboys' best offensive player in the first half and he hurt his knee in a non-contact situation. I seriously think he was ready to surpass Bennett. He can line up in the backfield as the lead blocker and he can make nice catches downfield. He was on his way to being the best blocking tight end on the team. I really believe that. Tough, tough injury for a guy who was having an excellent camp.

  • Kevin Ogletree caught everything thrown his way, but he has to know where he is on the field. On his first catch, he sort of staggered forward and lost the first down. It was an awkward play from a normally smooth player.

  • Tashard Choice showed some nice acceleration on that 21-yard run around the right side. You have to find a way to get him more involved in the offense. He's too good to only have two or three carries per game.

  • Herb Donaldson, it was nice knowing you. You can't fumble on your first carry of the evening. Gibril Wilson made a nice play to poke it out of there, but Donaldson did not secure the ball properly.

  • I thought Cris Collinsworth made a really nice assessment of Bowen when he compared him to Jim Jeffcoat. He's obviously not there yet, but he sort of moves like Jeffcoat. He doesn't look very fast, but he always seems to be causing trouble in the backfield. Really good night for him.

  • I'm not sure what happened to third-string quarterback Stephen McGee. He looked confident early in completing his first five passes. But as the night went on, he became more and more tentative. You're going to get sacked if you hold it that long. He reminded me of Drew Henson tonight because he just took too long to process things. McGee has good athleticism and an excellent arm, but you need to unload the ball. Otherwise, a guy named Michael Johnson suddenly looks like an All-Pro linebacker. Mike Zimmer appears to be onto something with that guy.

  • It was a good night for former Texas Tech players. Jamar Wall did an excellent job in coverage. On one particular play, Chad Ochocinco could not shake Wall. And linebackers Brandon Williams and Brandon Sharpe both had big interceptions. Williams had a nice return that should've set up a touchdown. Sharpe picked off a Jordan Palmer pass and returned it for a touchdown in the fourth quarter. Sort of fun to see Tony Romo cut off an interview with NBC to celebrate the touchdown with a loud, "Yes!" And if I'm Carson Palmer, I'm in there tomorrow morning begging the coaches not to cut my little brother. For goodness sakes, Jordan Palmer looked nothing like an NFL quarterback. He held the ball too long, and then he made backbreaking decisions.

  • Sorry, but Robert Brewster looked like a bust on this evening. The former Ball State offensive tackle was taken in the third round in '09. He promptly tore a pectoral muscle while lifting weights. On Sunday, he had no chance against the Bengals backup defensive ends and linebackers. He wasn't strong enough to anchor his body and he just got bullied the whole time he was in there. I was not impressed with anything about his performance.

  • Brian McCann's back there trying to make a play on a punt return and Brandon Ghee just nails him. I know they said Ghee was blocked into McCann, but I thought the play could've been avoided. You hate to see a defenseless player take a shot in the chest like that.

  • I thought Danny McCray had a nice outing. He had the interception, but he also was very active on special teams. The Cowboys wanted more turnovers this season, and on Sunday, they caused four. Jason Hatcher applied the pressure that led to McCray's interception. Did I mention how poorly the Bengals' backup quarterbacks played?

  • Wall had a solid game, but he got burned going for an interception on a pass to Matt Jones.

  • The Cowboys' young linebackers were incredibly active. Insider backer Jason Williams flattened one of the Bengals' running backs and Brandon Williams was flying all over the field. Also strong showings by Victor Butler and Steve Octavien. It looks like the Cowboys have a ton of depth at linebacker based on what we saw Sunday night. And rookie Sean Lee didn't even play because of a quadriceps injury that has slowed him early in camp.

  • Great special teams play by former Oklahoma standout Manuel Johnson to help the Cowboys down a Mat McBriar punt at the 1-yard line.

  • I liked how Marcus Dixon played in the second half. He was very active and he always seemed to be in the right place. If Jordan Palmer's going to hold the ball, Butler and Dixon are going to get to him. For a first preseason game, the defense was very impressive.

  • I thought Marion Barber looked quick early in the game. And he brought a ton of energy to the offense. I think the Cowboys will try to do a better job of keeping him fresh for the fourth quarter this season.

  • Former University of Texas star Jordan Shipley burned the Cowboys for a 64-yard punt return. Apparently Carson Palmer has been raving about Shipley. Shipley and Wall have faced each other several times in Big 12 play. Shipley certainly got the best of Wall with a nice move in the open field. And McBriar's one of the best punters in the league, but open-field tackling's not his strength.

  • It's probably time to end the Pat McQuistan era in Dallas. He's just not quick enough to hold off defensive tackles. And if you run a stunt against him, he's in big trouble.

  • Rookie running back Lonyae Miller out of Fresno State had his moments. He'll be a good practice squad candidate.

  • Overall, not a bad first outing. The Phillips injury is tough blow.

Pacman back in the league?

February, 12, 2010
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Former Dallas Cowboys cornerback Adam "Pacman" Jones worked out for the Bengals on Thursday, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter. Jones was released by the Cowboys last February and was out of the league last season.

Jones
Jones
Owner Jerry Jones did everything in his power to salvage Pacman's troubled career but the player refused to cooperate. The Bengals have never shied away from troubled players during the Marvin Lewis era, but Pacman's a different story. Perhaps Lewis is simply kicking the tires on Jones to see what type of condition he's in. I'd love to hear what former Cowboys defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer thinks about the possibility of adding such a notorious player. Zimmer is now the Bengals' defensive coordinator.

Even when he was behaving off the field, Jones was not regarded as a very coachable player with the Cowboys. In fact, he often tuned out coaches and exploited his direct line to the owner's office. Former Titans defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz constantly challenged Jones in practice -- and the player actually responded. But the organization could no longer deal with Pacman's nightmarish off-the-field behavior.

The Bengals went ahead and signed another troubled player Friday in wide receiver Matt Jones. I know that Jerry Jones desperately wanted to draft Matt Jones when he was coming out of Arkansas, but folks at Valley Ranch convinced him that it was a bad idea.

But is Jones (the wide receiver) worth taking a one-year, $700,000 chance on? I certainly think so. It's amazing how some players react when they're literally down to their final opportunity -- and I think the Joneses are right there. But of the two players, I think Matt has a much better chance of rehabilitating his career.

Jerry: Phillips back for 2010, maybe more

January, 19, 2010
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We've been reporting since Monday that the Dallas Cowboys are bringing back head coach Wade Phillips for 2010, but now owner Jerry Jones is hinting Phillips' contract could be extended beyond next season. Jones has been indicating for a month that he would exercise a club option for 2010, but he finally came out and made a definitive statement (by his standards) Tuesday.

"We've got to work out the details of what we want to do besides the option, but I want him back," Jones said on ESPNEWS. "I said that early in the season before we got on the run that we got on at the end."

Jones never wanted to fire Phillips because he loves their relationship. Phillips heads up the defense and acts as head coach, but Jones gets to remain front and center. But if the Cowboys had faded in December again this season and missed the playoffs, I think Jones would've been forced to fire Phillips because of an irate fan base.

The somewhat surprising part of this story is that it looks like Jones will extend Phillips through 2011 or beyond. I think Phillips probably earned the right to be extended through 2011 with the way his team played down the stretch, but I wasn't sure Jones was ready to make that type of commitment. So what's holding up this process?

Well, I think the potential of a lockout in 2011 is probably making a lot of owners rethink the way they do contracts. The Cowboys actually broke the news that Phillips had a three-year extension on their own Web site, but the story was taken down.

"There are no announcements today and nothing has been finalized," said Cowboys director of public relations Rich Dalrymple.

The Web site said the Cowboys had a "three-year agreement in place" with Phillips before removing the story. This set up the unusual scenario of a team's P.R. staff having to shoot down the team's "scoop." This could only happen with the Cowboys organization, which once launched an internal investigation into a Pacman Jones incident that took about 37 minutes.

ESPNDallas.com was able to secure a screen shot of the Cowboys' original story:

Cowboys' chemistry experiment pays off

January, 14, 2010
1/14/10
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Tony Romo/Terrell OwensAP PhotosQuarterback Tony Romo had arguably his best season as a pro after the Cowboys cut wide receiver Terrell Owens.
IRVING, Texas -- It would be easy to point to the removal of a certain wide receiver from the Cowboys' locker room as the impetus for this season's inspiring playoff run -- and it's not far from the truth. Quarterback Tony Romo wasn't going to reach his full potential as long as Terrell Owens continued to be a polarizing voice at Valley Ranch, and that's the main reason owner Jerry Jones bit the bullet and released the wide receiver last March.

I've talked to enough people within the Cowboys' organization to know that Jones' son, Stephen, is the one who finally got through to his father. Jones, who wasn't inclined to release T.O. at the end of the '08 season, listened to several voices. But I'm told that Stephen stubbornly fought to convince his father that Romo couldn't flourish until T.O. was extracted from the locker room. And once T.O., Tank Johnson and Adam "Pacman" Jones were gone, the owner introduced us to his catchphrase of the offseason, a "Romo-friendly offense."

[+] EnlargeStephen Jones
Mark J. Rebilas/US PresswireStephen Jones was reportedly the one who convinced owner Jerry Jones to cut Terrell Owens.
I wrote in training camp that there was something different about this team, but it didn't matter unless the locker room chemistry experiment resulted in a playoff win. Now that the Cowboys head into Sunday's divisional-round playoff game in Minneapolis as the hottest team in the NFC, it appears that the experiment worked.

Against all odds and conventional wisdom, Jones retained Wade Phillips in the aftermath of a 44-6 beatdown in Philly. He soon announced that Phillips would be adding "defensive coordinator" to his job title, which is probably the way it should have been in the first place. Phillips made too many excuses for his players during his first two seasons and didn't hold them accountable at crucial moments along the way. But no one ever doubted the man's credentials as a defensive coach. Phillips' hands are all over a defense that has been dominant over the past four games and held opponents to 250 points during the regular-season, the second-lowest total in the league.

He also helped himself in the personnel department when he spoke on behalf of free-agent linebacker Keith Brooking, a player he coached when he was with the Falcons. The Falcons had a great young linebacker in Curtis Lofton and decided to move forward without the 33-year-old Brooking. The Cowboys' scouting department knew that Brooking was bigger than Zach Thomas and thought he'd be a much better fit at inside linebacker.

Thomas played well for the first six or seven games of '08, but his production started to fall off midway through the season. He never felt comfortable in Phillips' 3-4 and both parties were ready to move on. Brooking showed up for the Cowboys' offseason program and immediately started turning heads. Phillips said the linebacker tried to win every single sprint during conditioning drills and younger players such as Anthony Spencer and Bobby Carpenter began to notice Brooking's uncommon work ethic.

[+] EnlargeKeith Brooking
Wesley Hitt/Getty ImagesKeith Brooking has been a valuable leader on defense.
When I talked to Brooking on Tuesday, he said there wasn't one specific moment when he became a leader on this team. But other players have told me that he started to become more vocal as the season unfolded. During last Saturday's broadcast of the Cowboys-Eagles game, NBC's Cris Collinsworth told a story that Brooking had fought a defensive back in practice when the player was mouthing off after a play. Brooking confirmed the story Tuesday, though he chose not to add any details. But it's hard to miss the way players react to him when he breaks down the huddle before games. Running back Tashard Choice said earlier this week that Brooking reminds him of professional wrestler-turned-actor The Rock.

The Cowboys also added former Jaguars safety Gerald Sensabaugh during free agency. He solidified an area that had been in a state of flux since Darren Woodson retired because of a back injury in 2004. Sensabaugh has been a better player than Pro Bowler Ken Hamlin, who hasn't lived up to his big contract.

"When all hell breaks loose, you want Sensabaugh on your side," said one highly ranked member of the organization who asked not to be identified. "He's highly, highly respected by pretty much everyone in the organization. There's a toughness and a swagger to his approach that other guys just feed off of."

Of course, one of the biggest changes this season was the meteoric rise of Miles Austin. He's a younger, faster version of Owens -- without all the drama. And if you ever hear a scout say they knew Austin could be this good, they're lying.

Even when Romo was moving the ball down the field last season, it was always in the back of his mind that he needed to keep T.O. happy. I'm not sure that any quarterback can have long-term success with that type of scenario, and Donovan McNabb and Jeff Garcia would probably have my back on that statement.

With his words, Jerry Jones will still tell you that locker room chemistry is overrated. But his actions say something else.

Jerry had his doubts after last season

January, 6, 2010
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Cowboys owner Jerry Jones is one of the most optimistic men in professional sports. When most of us see a glass half empty, he sees it about to overflow. Perhaps it's the old oil wildcatter in him that causes him to think this organization is about to hit a playoff gusher at any moment. But with the Cowboys' late-season success, Jones has a legitimate reason to hope for the best.

On Tuesday at Valley Ranch, Jones sat down with reporters and talked about the pain he felt following last season's 44-6 loss to the Eagles and how it led to sweeping changes within his organization. Here's the most interesting portion of Philadelphia Inquirer writer Ashley Fox's story:

"My confidence was shaken," Jones said. He paused, stammered a bit, cleared his throat, apologized for doing so, then rambled on about being routinely criticized for not having a layer of management between himself and the head coach, but saying that's the best way to do business in the National Football League.

"Because of that kind of self-designed structure that we have here, and hearing it for 20 years, then it was pounding in my head pretty good when we left Philadelphia."



It's rare to hear a man capable of building a $1.1 billion monument to his own legacy express any level of doubt. But I think he was truly hurt after watching his players go belly-up in the season finale against a hated rival. As Fox points out, Jones responded by sacking Terrell Owens, Pacman Jones and Tank Johnson. He retained Wade Phillips, not based on anything Phillips had done as head coach. He kept him because he still felt like Phillips was one of the best defensive coordinators in the league -- and that's why he gave him the additional title.

The Cowboys also fired special teams coach Bruce Read and hired Joe DeCamillis, which turned out to be one of the most underrated moves of the offseason. The fiery DeCamillis was exactly what this coaching staff needed. Phillips is more of the nurturing type and DeCamillis became his hammer. It's not something you'll see many folks writing about this week, but it's definitely something that has inspired this team.

"When you don't have success or you have really tangible setbacks, then it will shake you," said Jones. "It's completely the way I've lived my life and professionally. It invites big bumps and bruises. ... Since I'm past this past weekend, I'm worried about the bruise or the bump coming."



And make no mistake, a loss to the Eagles on Saturday night could sting just as much as the one at the end of last season. I think the Cowboys have already shown that they can handle adversity this season. Tony Romo has exorcised his late-season demons and is playing as well as any quarterback in the league. And two consecutive shutout wins shows you that Phillips is doing a superb job.

But will this season still be viewed as a failure if the Cowboys lose Saturday night at home? Absolutely.

Any thoughts from you guys?

Update: Here's another good take on Jones from ESPNDallas.com's own Calvin Watkins.

Dallas poised for playoff win thanks to No. 9

December, 30, 2009
12/30/09
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Tony RomoIcon SMITony Romo seems to have found a balance between between protecting the football and using his ability to make big plays in the passing game.
IRVING, Texas -- We spent the majority of training camp talking about how this was a different Cowboys team. And it was a rather obvious point when you considered that polarizing personalities such as Terrell Owens, Tank Johnson and Pacman Jones had been banished from the locker room.

Unfortunately, though, they don't hand out Lombardi trophies based on improved locker room chemistry. For the '09 Cowboys to be truly different from the teams that have spent the past 13 years dealing with playoff futility, we knew they had to exorcise their December demons and then win a couple of games in January. The arrival of blue-collar players such as linebacker Keith Brooking and defensive end Igor Olshansky via free agency seemed to suggest a different approach. From the start of training camp, the sense of entitlement that was captured on film by HBO's "Hard Knocks" heading into the '08 season seemed to disappear.

The Sultans of September seemed better equipped to hold up during the harsh winter months (I know it's Dallas, but just go with me). Brooking, whose successful run with the Falcons came to an abrupt halt, bristled at any mention of the Cowboys' past failures and seemed to convince his teammates to focus only on the present. But a team that surged into December with an 8-3 record suffered back-to-back losses to the Giants and Chargers, and once again they were hounded by questions. What happened next could end up being the turning point in this organization's dubious playoff winless streak.

Special-teams coach Joe DeCamillis, who has become the hammer that the cuddly Wade Phillips so desperately needed, showed the team a clip of Tony Dungy saying the Cowboys had "no chance" of beating the Saints in New Orleans. For whatever reason, the thought that a former NFL head coach would show them absolutely no respect angered the Cowboys to the point where they wanted to shut everyone up. The Cowboys scored 14 points on the previously unbeaten Saints before Sean Payton knew what hit him, and their confidence began to grow. It was certainly the biggest win of the Phillips era and it sent a message that the Cowboys might be a team to be reckoned with in the playoffs.

In trying to identify what makes this Cowboys team better-equipped for a successful playoff run than some of the talented teams of the past ('07), I think you have to point first to quarterback Tony Romo and then to Phillips' defense. Romo is playing as well if not better than any quarterback in the NFC right now. And it's a good sign that he elevated his game when the stakes became higher in December.

For all his gaudy numbers, Saints quarterback Drew Brees has fallen off over the past month. And the same goes for Brett Favre, though he certainly made some huge plays in the second half of the loss against the Bears. Donovan McNabb and Aaron Rodgers are also operating at a high level, but neither of those quarterbacks has protected the ball as well as Romo.

You could attribute Romo's December failures in '06 and '07 to a lack of experience, but last season he simply didn't give his team a chance to win games down the stretch. And his infamous postgame news conference following a season-ending 44-6 loss to the Eagles made some Cowboys fans wonder whether he truly hated losing enough to make some much-needed changes.

When he threw three interceptions in a Week 2 loss to the Giants this season, Romo became the symbol for all that was wrong with the team. But while he took heavy criticism from both the media and fans, Romo stuck with a plan that he brought into the season.

He focused on becoming a better game manager and the following week he didn't have a turnover in a 21-7 win over the Panthers. Had we just met Tony the bus driver? But as his numbers reflect, Romo never stopped using his rare improvisational skills to create big plays. Heading into Sunday's NFC East showdown with the Eagles, Romo has played nine games in which he hasn't thrown an interception, and he's lost only four fumbles.

In '08, he threw at least one interception in 10 of the 13 games he started and lost seven fumbles. He did not trust offensive coordinator Jason Garrett and he felt the need to take unnecessary chances because the Cowboys' defense gave up too many points. Bill Parcells had left word that Romo needed to be coached all the way through games because of his habit of trying to do too much on his own. Although I don't think Romo would admit this publicly, I think he stopped listening to the coaches once Parcells and former quarterbacks coach David Lee left the building.

Honestly, I'm not sure it was a coach who finally got through to Romo this season. I think he finally came to the conclusion that the only way the Cowboys could be successful was for him to strike a proper balance between protecting the football and using his ability to make big plays in the passing game. Romo has been coy about the actual changes that he made heading into this season, but backup quarterback Jon Kitna has his own opinions.

"I think he came to the understanding that with every decision he makes, 52 other guys on the roster have to live with that decision," Kitna said Wednesday. "I think that's why he's been more willing to take a sack this season and not try to do everything on his own."

And here's where the defense ties into Romo's development as a quarterback. His willingness to throw the ball away or take the occasional sack has a lot to do with his trust that Phillips' defense will do its job. Earlier in the season, the Cowboys' defense played well for three quarters and then surrendered late leads. That hasn't been the case in recent games -- as evidenced by the defense's ability to end the Saints' frantic rally in a 24-17 win.

Only the Jets and Ravens have surrendered fewer points than the Cowboys (250), and remember that those teams don't face as many high-powered offenses on a regular basis. I remember late in '06, Romo felt like he had to make a play on every possession in order to give the Cowboys a chance to win. That Cowboys defense was getting lit up by teams such as the Lions who already had been eliminated from the playoffs. Now the quarterback of that Lions team is watching Romo take some very important steps.

"He's done a great job protecting the football," said Kitna. "His ball-handling skills in the pocket are excellent and you can see him tucking it away a lot more. More than anything, he doesn't feel the pressure to constantly make a play."

And that's why I think the Cowboys are poised to win their first playoff game in 13 seasons.

Are the Cowboys the Beast's most stable team?

September, 3, 2009
9/03/09
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Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley


We begin today's column with a simple question: What in the world has happened to the Dallas Cowboys?

In one offseason, they've gone from being the most compelling locker room in professional sports to the most mundane. After watching a couple episodes of "Hard Knocks," I've even looked at real estate in the greater Cincinnati area. Last season, more than 50 reporters would show up at Valley Ranch on days when quarterback Tony Romo and Terrell Owens held dueling news conferences. On Wednesday, I walked into the locker room and noticed a dozen reporters milling around looking for scraps.

With the Cowboys' version of the Rat Pack -- T.O., Pacman and Tank -- gone, the locker room has taken on an entirely different vibe. Romo remains the headliner, but he has disappointed the editors of US Weekly and People with at least one recent decision. Before the Cowboys' quarterback made his weekly appearance Wednesday, reporters flocked to hear what former fifth-round cornerback Orlando Scandrick had to say. Just think what it will be like if Scandrick becomes a starter.

Meanwhile, the rest of the division is in turmoil. In the Meadowlands, Pro Bowl defensive end Osi Umenyiora vanished without a trace after new defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan reportedly had the audacity to criticize him during a film session Monday. In an embarrassing scene, the ultimate disciplinarian, Tom Coughlin, could only tell reporters that his missing defensive end had been found via text. Umenyiora quickly returned to the property and apologized, but it was still an episode that would've fit better at Valley Ranch in '08.

In Philly, the Eagles continue to deliver the "nothing to see here" message as Michael Vick prepares to be the backup to the most insecure star quarterback in the league. Donovan McNabb was complaining Monday that Vick's six snaps interrupted the offense's rhythm in a preseason game against the Jaguars. And in my opinion, that's simply a precursor to Vick interrupting McNabb's hold on the starting job at some point this season. People who think that Vick will be satisfied with a handful of Wildcat plays (and there are plenty in the national media) haven't followed the man's career. He's one of the game's most fierce competitors and he hasn't been shy about stating his goal to become a starter again.

And it's not as if everything was going smoothly in Eagles camp before Vick arrived. The death of defensive coordinator Jim Johnson certainly took an emotional toll on the team, but the impact could also show up on the field. By all accounts, 35-year-old Sean McDermott is a worthy successor to Johnson, but so far the results haven't been there in the preseason.

For their part, the Redskins have spent the past month attempting to restore faith in starting quarterback Jason Campbell. Judging by the actions of owner Dan Snyder and his trusty sidekick Vinny Cerrato, I think it's fair to say that coach Jim Zorn's and Campbell's jobs are both on the line this season. It's playoffs or bust for these two, which is a dicey proposition in what is arguably the most competitive division in the league. Right now, the Redskins are dealing with another adversary: The Washington Post. A story in Thursday's newspaper provides details of how the club has sued more than 100 season-ticket holders who asked to be released from multiyear contracts over the past five years. The Redskins fired off a preemptive press release attacking the story's credibility Wednesday evening.

So what's going on in Dallas? Other than punters aiming for Jerry Jones' gigantic big screen, everything's pretty quiet. Jones thinks the biggest motivating factor in '09 will be his new $1.2 billion stadium. In his annual state-of-the-team address on the opening day of training camp, Jones said he thought his team would "play to the level of the stadium."

And after last year's drama that included allegations of Romo and road-trip roomie Jason Witten having pillow talk behind T.O.' s back, this appears to be the most stable locker room in the division. When I broached that subject with wide receiver Miles Austin on Wednesday, he started laughing.

"It's sort of nice not to have our names in the papers for all that stuff right now," Austin said. "I don't know about all the other locker rooms because I'm only in this one. But this locker room has a much different feel right now. I think guys are all about football, and that's a good thing."

We all remember how the '08 season ended for Romo. He tried to lend some perspective to a loss (to the Eagles) that didn't deserve any, and he's still paying for those comments. But he looked like a different quarterback during training camp in San Antonio. He still played with the same carefree spirit that energized the club in '06, but he also was willing to hold his teammates accountable. Players such as Austin and Patrick Crayton were a little taken aback when Romo got in their face, but they know it's a positive sign. And like Austin, Romo's relishing the fact the Cowboys are flying under the radar -- by their standards.

"In the last few years, this is probably the first time that we feel, not that we're being overlooked, but some of you guys have decided to take other teams in the division or in the conference and things of that nature," Romo said recently. "That's a different role, playing that kind of role -- not that that serves you good or bad. It's just a little different in that regard."

After what the Cowboys went through last season, I think the peace and quiet in the locker room could serve them very well.

Blue Bombers prepare to detonate with Pacman

September, 1, 2009
9/01/09
11:52
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley


Former Cowboys cornerback Adam "Pacman" Jones will resume his football career in Canada, where he'll join the Winnipeg Blue Bombers for the final 10 games of the season. It appears that he'll have the opportunity to play on both sides of the ball, thus doubling the fun for CFL fans.

Many of you will recall me saying last February that Pacman would be a wonderful fit for the Blue Bombers. Pacman covers a lot of ground on and off the field -- and he'll appreciate the wide-open spaces on CFL playing surfaces. You sort of have to admire the Blue Bombers' director of player personnel John Murphy for basically admitting this is a public relations stunt.
"From a marketing standpoint, a business standpoint and a football standpoint, I could go to 100 NFL training camps and every preseason game and more people will hear and know about the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the next two weeks -- from the coverage we'll receive -- than in the last 10 years," Murphy told SI.com.

"If I was in the same position in the NFL I might have a lot more reservations. ... There isn't a better football player who's not in the NFL, at 25 years old, who's ready to play football, is going to play with a chip on his shoulder, and is going to bring some fun and excitement to our team, our locker room, our city, and our league."
I don't know about the chip-on-the-shoulder talk, but I can confirm that Pacman knows how to bring "fun and excitement" to a city. Let's not overestimate the recognition that Pacman will bring to the CFL.

This is a one-day story -- if that. It's not like NFL fans are going to be feverishly checking box scores of CFL games. I don't even think we have the CFL standings in my hometown newspaper -- and I've been meaning to talk to someone about that. I'd be shocked if Pacman makes it more than five games with Winnipeg. He'll get bored at some point -- and that's when the real fun begins.

Quick question: Did the Blue Bombers have to sign Deion Sanders to land Pacman?

Wednesday Beastlines

June, 10, 2009
6/10/09
1:13
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

Cowboys

Eagles

Giants

Redskins

Tuesday Beastlines

June, 9, 2009
6/09/09
3:14
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

COWBOYS

Todd Archer reports that Pacman Jones will not be back. "I think he was a productive player when he was on the field, and the gradings showed that," agent Worrick Robinson said. "But when he was released, it was certainly disappointing, but he knows it's a business."

More on this from Clarence E. Hill Jr. "I have not heard from the Cowboys," Robinson said. "When he was released we were hoping for an opportunity to return. We are still hoping that opportunity exists."

EAGLES

The Eagles owe the City of Philadelphia $8 million. "I'm so pleased that today's favorable court ruling has resolved a key part of this long-standing lawsuit between the city and the Eagles, and I appreciate the hard work on all sides," Mayor Nutter said in a news release. "I am also hopeful that the judge will rule shortly in the last final phase of the case so that this entire matter can reach a final conclusion."

More on this from Chris Brennan.

Asante Samuel is absent from OTAs, but his agent said there's no need to worry about this.

Receiver Kevin Curtis is taking his time to recover after sports hernia surgery. 'Doesn't matter who we drafted, I have to do my rehab schedule,'' Curtis said. ''There's always going to be competition. The big thing for me is just getting healthy.''

Ashley Fox has a good story on athletes Twittering. "Obviously our approach under Andy [Reid] is that we're an in-house team," said backup quarterback A.J. Feeley. "The issues, we keep in house. That's our philosophy. So without even saying anything about not doing something, Andy treats us like adults. We all know where our boundaries are, what's expected on the team. You know that. So, if you're doing something like [Twitter], you're keeping in mind the principles and philosophies of the organization."

GIANTS

Tom Coughlin will visit troops in Iraq. "This is something I've wanted to do for years," Coughlin said, "and I can't tell you how excited I am, and all the coaches are, to be making this trip. It's a great chance for us to recognize the real heroes of this country. Our troops need to know how much we appreciate what they're doing, and I mean every one of us in the NFL and every one of us in the country."

More on this from Ralph Vacchiano. "I have always had great respect for those who served," Coughlin said. "In my time, we had the draft. Today, these people who are in Iraq and Afghanistan are volunteers. To spend time with them is to be able to sense the intelligence and the passion of these people and to stand in admiration and awe of this combination."

And from Paul Schwartz. Coughlin also said: "Because, in the business I am in, you try to figure out what makes people tick and what makes someone an extremely successful individual in their chosen line of work or as an athlete. It is the combination of not only ability, but intelligence and determination and dedication and the heart."

Offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride is doing his part to raise awareness for polycystic kidney disease. "If I have an opportunity to do something like this, and it doesn't interfere with my job, I'll do it," Gilbride said. "All you have to do is see one person suffer through the degenerative effects of the disease and you can't help, if you're a human being, but to be affected by it. I saw this disease ravage my dad's body and I saw the affect it had on my family afterwards -- my mom had to raise seven kids by herself. It's a horrible disease."

REDSKINS

Keith Eloi can thank YouTube for some of his accolades. "I was definitely not trying to look like a fool," the Redskins wide receiver said yesterday afternoon, with a mournful shake of his head. "Instead of, 'Oh, wow, that's the guy who jumped in the truck' it would be 'Oh... he beat up his face right before his pro day.' "

Albert Haynesworth's new court date is July 21.

Ryan O'Halloran has the story on the increasing intensity in Washington's training. "We've given them more experiences," coach Jim Zorn said. "Training camp is much like this with everybody -- you put in everything you can possibly tap into during the season, and you give them a few experiences with each. Some of it is your core stuff, and you work on that every time."

After a bad injury at last season's camp, Alex Buzbee hopes to be on the road to recovered success. "That first minicamp it was definitely [tentative], but as the practices kept going on and on it felt more and more comfortable [and] it felt like it was getting stretched out," Buzbee said. "I didn't feel like I was coming off the ball quite as good as I was last year, but even this OTA compared to the last three weeks, the OTA we had three weeks ago, it feels stronger and more explosive. So I think by training camp in July I should be back to where I was."

Could Pacman help a team?

June, 8, 2009
6/08/09
7:32
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

In the wee hours of Sunday morning, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram that he hadn't closed the door on Pacman Jones returning to the team. But in the light of day Monday, Jones was singing a different tune.

In between the reports, I reached out to Scouts Inc. stalwart Matt Williamson to see how well Jones actually played last season. In his original comments to the Star-Telegram, Jones told Clarence E. Hill that Pacman graded higher than any of the team's other cornerbacks in '08. That's why I turned to Williamson. And just because Jerry's now saying he's not interested in Pacman doesn't mean he won't change his mind.

Here's Williamson's take on Pacman's '08 season: "I really like the kid on the field," Williamson said. "I think he can be among the top 5-10 corners in the league when he's focused, fresh and motivated. He's extremely competitive. He'll mix it up. He hadn't played in a year so it's not reasonable to expect him to be the same guy he was in Tennessee immediately. He was a borderline elite cornerback in his last season with the Titans."

I also asked Williamson to name a place where he thinks Pacman would be successful.

"I think New England would be a good fit. They're so firm there, and people come there and rejuvenate their careers. Dallas doesn't have that core of players in place to be a good fit for him."

OK, that's enough Pacman Jones talk for one day. Williamson also thinks the Cowboys made a curious decision trading Anthony Henry. He thinks they'll miss him next season.

Update on Jerry's (non)pursuit of Pacman

June, 8, 2009
6/08/09
4:06
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

In the wee hours of Sunday morning, a giddy Jerry Jones told Clarence Hill of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram that he hadn't closed the door on troubled cornerback Adam "Pacman" Jones returning to the Cowboys. But earlier this afternoon, Jones issued a statement to the Dallas Morning News via public relations chief Rich Dalrymple that he has "no plans to bring Adam back."

Could this be double-speak from Jerry? Nah, that could never happen. Pretty funny stuff. Hill had infiltrated the owner's suite at the new Cowboys Stadium at about 1 a.m. local time in an effort to let Jones know that someone forgot to order drinking straws for the concession stands. And that's when Jones apparently "broke" a little news on Pacman. 

Blessed with some perspective after his big night, Jones is now telling a different story. You can't make this stuff up! 

Jerry can't get over Pacman

June, 8, 2009
6/08/09
10:40
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

Caught up in the euphoria of opening night at the new Cowboys Stadium, owner Jerry Jones apparently told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram's Clarence Hill on Saturday that he hasn't closed the door on a reunion with troubled cornerback Adam "Pacman" Jones. Surely Jerry was simply making a bad joke.

After all, we've spent so much time this offseason talking about how Jones has gotten rid of all the locker-room drama caused by players such as Pacman, Tank Johnson and Terrell Owens. Now it sounds like Jerry is having second thoughts.

"Would you beat me up too bad if I brought back Adam?" Jones said to the Star-Telegram.

Jerry said bringing back Pacman is still a long shot, but I'm not sure why it's even a consideration. The cornerback played in only nine games and didn't have a single interception. I've heard all this talk about how he graded out better than the other Cowboys cornerbacks, but that's more of an indictment of them than some sort of tribute to Pacman. And honestly, that sounds like typical Jerry Jones hyperbole to me.

Again, why would he choose opening night at his palace in Arlington to drop this bit of news? Because he can't help himself. He got caught up in the moment and thought it might be fun to grab another headline.

Pacman was supposed to help this team return punts. How can we forget the scenes from HBO's "Hard Knocks" of an astonished Wade Phillips watching Pacman field a punt while already holding five footballs in his arms? Unfortunately, that's not a skill that comes in handy during the regular season. Pacman was awful on punt returns, averaging 4.5 yards per return on 21 opportunities.

I called Valley Ranch this morning to see what the reaction was to Jones' statement. Doesn't sound like anyone's taking the comments too seriously. The Cowboys have second-year players Mike Jenkins and Orlando Scandrick involved in a nice little competition for the other cornerback spot. And they're hoping to have a healthy Terence Newman ready to go this season. Pacman would only serve as a reminder of the past -- and the Cowboys can't afford to keep looking back.

Could Garcia end up in Dallas?

February, 16, 2009
2/16/09
7:35
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

In case you missed it, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have informed soon-to-be 39-year-old Jeff Garcia that they're moving on without him. Garcia led the Bucs to a 14-10 record over the past two regular-seasons and he's not quite ready to hang it up.

  2008: Best of Jeff Garcia
  NFL.com Video
  The best moments from Jeff Garcia in 2008.

And at the risk of (heaven forbid) stirring something up, I think the Cowboys would be wise to sign him on the first day of free agency. For three games, this team was held hostage by the poor play of Brad Johnson. Garcia would be a huge upgrade over Johnson, who would've been released during the season if the Cowboys had another option at holder.

Cowboys offensive coordinator Jason Garrett did the team a major disservice by convincing owner Jerry Jones to stick with Johnson as the backup in '08. During a stretch that included games against the lowly Rams, Bucs and Giants, a player of Garcia's ilk would've led the team to a 2-1 record. The Cowboys went 1-2 with Johnson -- and missed the playoffs by one game.

Try to forget that Johnson's only win came against a Garcia-led Bucs team. The Cowboys won in spite of Johnson in that game because of a heroic defensive effort. Garcia would not challenge for the starting job, but he'd at least give Tony Romo someone to think about. With Johnson and Brooks Bollinger on campus, Romo knew that he'd never be pulled from a game.

I think the presence of a legitimate starter would actually sharpen Romo's focus. The Cowboys were lulled to sleep regarding the backup spot in 2008 because no one has missed significant time due to injury since Bill Parcells took over in '03. And when the Cowboys released Quincy Carter during the '04 training camp, Parcells had veteran Vinny Testaverde waiting in the wings.

Yes, I realize the prospect of T.O. and Garcia sharing a locker room could be a bit awkward considering their past, but honestly, who cares?

First of all, there's still a chance Jones does the right thing and releases T.O. And even if he doesn't, it's not like this locker room could be any worse than last year. They've already cut ties with cornerback Pacman Jones and defensive tackle Tank Johnson is next.

The Cowboys can't afford to head into another season without a viable backup. The Giants have David Carr, the Redskins Todd Collins and the Eagles have former second-round pick Kevin Kolb. The Cowboys don't have anyone.

And for those of you who think Garcia's still looking for a starting job, check out what he told the St. Petersburg Times:

"I do feel like I have football life in me," Garcia said. "I feel I can still contribute. I'm not sure what my role will be with another team. I'm not looking at it like I need to start and be the man ... Hopefully, I'll have some opportunities out there. I'm pretty sure there's going to be something out there for me."

If Garcia signs with the Cowboys early in free agency, it might be an indication that Jones is ready to part ways with T.O. Either way, it's definitely a move the Cowboys should consider. The club blew off the backup position last season. I don't think Jones will let that happen again.

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