NFC East: Roy E. Williams
What it means: The Cowboys are playing hard for the interim coach. With this team playing well, it gives owner Jerry Jones more confidence to give Garrett the job full time in 2011.
Roy E. Williams' fumble sets up wining score: The Cowboys had taken a 27-23 lead in the fourth quarter and were on the verge of trying to close out the game. On a third and six from the 42, Jon Kitna found Williams with a long pass play and Williams fumbled as he was tackled. Malcolm Jenkins forced the fumble at the Saints' 11 with 3:03 left. The Saints used the turnover to score. Drew Brees connected on a 12-yard touchdown pass to Lance Moore to push the score to 30-27.
Dez Bryant has issues: The rookie receiver finished with zero catches. But it was his inability to know what to do several times down the stretch that gives the Cowboys pause. At least twice, Kinta yelled at Bryant after there appeared to be miscommunication on pass plays. The Cowboys have to fix this quick.
Cowboys defense plays well in second half: After giving up 20 first-half points, the Dallas defense shut the Saints down in the second half, with the exception of the frantic final drive of the game for the visitors. Gerald Sensabaugh had a interception, Jay Ratliff a key third-down sack, Terence Newman had some pass breakups. The Cowboys don't blitz much, and play more zone than before, but it's been effective the past three weeks.
What's next: The Cowboys will take the weekend off. They visit the Colts next Sunday.
Meanwhile, ESPN's Ed Werder has delivered a strong piece on Williams this week. He thinks Jerry Jones' refusal to admit his mistake with Williams and Wade Phillips' belief that the wide receiver should receiver an "E" for effort could undermine the Cowboys in the playoffs. And Werder brings up another strong point. Here, I'll let him say it:
"Not only has Williams' ineptitude provided Austin the opportunity to become the Cowboys' most feared offensive player, but Jones is already confronting the reality that Austin is seeking $10 million a season to sign a long-term contract extension, according to league sources," writes Werder. "Unless the Cowboys remove Williams and his guaranteed money from the roster, they are going to be taking an indefensible position on negotiations with Austin.
"Austin is the player Roy Williams was supposed to be. Meanwhile, Williams is trying to avoid becoming the next Sam Hurd, a wide receiver whose career is devoted to covering kickoffs."
Hey, let's not drag poor Sam into this. He's an undrafted player who's doing a superb job on special teams. I don't think Williams can fill that role, either. But strong work by Mr. Werder, as always.
Posted by Scouts Inc.'s Matt Williamson
The good news is Dallas did plan for this day. Owens, who will be 36 in December, is not the elite threat he once was. In October 2008, the Cowboys traded a 2009 first-, third- and sixth-round selection to the Detroit Lions for wideout Roy E. Williams. They did not get immediate great returns on the deal -- Williams caught just 19 passes in 10 games with the Cowboys. But he is an immense talent. It certainly could be argued that Williams is a far superior player to any wideout that Dallas could have selected with the 20th overall selection -- the pick Detroit got from Dallas -- in April's draft. Still, much more is required from this rare specimen.
Williams has everything you look for in a No. 1 wideout. His short stint in Dallas has been underwhelming. But consider the circumstances Williams faced when he became a Cowboy: He appeared to be battling injury and was thrown into a new offense without the benefit of a training camp with the Cowboys. Then, Tony Romo's injured finger obviously affected how he threw the football down the stretch last season.
It is not a coincidence the Cowboys acquired Jon Kitna, Williams' former Lions' teammate, to provide a backup for Romo. Williams will play the role of Owens and he has all the physical abilities to do it admirably. Now it is on Williams to step up and no more excuses should be tolerated. Much of the fate of this offense is in Williams' hands.
Patrick Crayton isn't a dynamic wideout, but he is steady and tough. He is a stretch as a No. 2 receiver, but the reality is that Crayton will be at best a No. 3 option in this offense. Tight end Jason Witten very well could end up leading the team in receptions. Few tight ends are as valuable and Romo loves getting him the ball. Witten rarely lets his quarterback down.
Keep your eyes on two other Cowboys' weapons as they enter their second seasons. Backup tight end Marcellus Bennett and running back Felix Jones are up-and-comers whose roles should expand in Dallas' passing attack. Expect to see far more double-tight end sets in 2009 to get the incredibly talented Bennett on the field with more regularity. Meanwhile, Jones will often detach from the formation with intentions of exploiting linebacker coverage.
It should also be noted that Dallas' massive offensive line is more adept at run blocking than in protection. With running backs Marion Barber, Tashard Choice and Jones in the fold, Dallas would be wise to increase the percentage of times they run the football. Jones is on the verge of becoming an excellent player who can contribute in a lot of different ways.
As backup wide receivers go, you could do worse than Miles Austin and Sam Hurd. Both have size, upside and youth on their side. While the Cowboys lack a first-round pick in the 2009 draft, they still could add wide receiver help in a very deep draft at that position. They potentially could sign a proven veteran at this position to challenge Crayton. The Cowboys' quarterback situation is stable now and Dallas will not have to force feed Owens to keep the peace.
If Williams steps up his game, the Cowboys' passing attack very well could be more potent this season than it was in 2008, but it rests on Williams' shoulders more than anyone else.Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com.