NFC West: Dallas Cowboys

Cowboys vs. Rams preview

September, 18, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IRVING, Texas -- Henry Melton's visit with the Dallas Cowboys has ended and the free-agent defensive tackle is off to visit the St. Louis Rams, according to a source.

From all accounts, Melton's visit went well. According to sources, the medical checkup on his surgically-repaired knee came back fine, and he was able to re-connect with the coach that developed him into a Pro Bowler with the Chicago Bears, defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli.

Melton has visited with the Cowboys, Seattle Seahawks and Minnesota Vikings since free agency started. Talks with the teams will continue as Melton looks for his next home.

The Cowboys will continue meeting with free-agent defensive end Jared Allen, who arrived in Dallas Monday night and met with coach Jason Garrett and several assistants.

The Cowboys are looking for defensive line help, but so far in free agency have maintained a disciplined approach despite the release of DeMarcus Ware and the loss of Jason Hatcher. Ware has since signed with the Denver Broncos and Hatcher signed with the Washington Redskins.

The Cowboys have roughly $7.6 million in salary cap space. Depending on the structure and lengths of deals, they may need to come up with more cap room by either restructuring or releasing players.

Live blog: Rams at Cowboys

September, 22, 2013
Join our NFL experts as they break down the St. Louis Rams' visit to the Dallas Cowboys. Contribute your thoughts and questions beginning at 1 p.m. ET. And, be sure to visit our NFL Nation Blitz page for commentary from every game, as well as fan photos and the latest buzz from Twitter. See you there.

Posted by's Mike Sando

The collapse of the Cowboys' indoor practice facility cannot surprise anyone who has stood inside a similar "bubble" during a windstorm.

Photos of the twisted facility show a metal infrastructure. The practice bubble I frequented while covering the Seahawks from 1998 through the 2006 season had a similar look from the outside -- imagine a giant white Michelen Man lying on his back, minus appendages -- without as much metal on the inside.

Watching indoor practices in a windstorm was always a bit concerning. The Seahawks' video staff would sometimes have to lower the towers from which they taped practices after winds blew the facility's pliable walls into the towers, creating a danger. The windblown walls would also disrupt the portable light stands used to illuminate practices.

The Seahawks no longer use such a practice bubble because their new headquarters features a walled indoor facility. I'm sure players didn't miss the musty old white bubble when strong winds blew hail across their outdoor fields Sunday. The team continued practicing outside despite the conditions.

Posted by's Mike Sando

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says the Cardinals arrived in Tampa early with the wind at their backs. Emotions ran high. Defensive end Bertrand Berry fought tears.

More from Somers, with Bob McManaman: Larry Fitzgerald is 15 pounds lighter this season.

Paola Boivin of the Arizona Republic says the Cardinals don't mind the underdog role.

Dan Bickley of the Arizona Republic examines the chilly relationship between Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt and Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

Darren Urban of says the Cardinals didn't seem to be relishing the spotlight during their first media session at Super Bowl XLIII. Anquan Boldin said he wished this were a regular week.

Also from Urban: A look behind the scenes as Whisenhunt and Adrian Wilson made an appearance on NFL Network.

Mike Tulumello of the East Valley Tribune provides an overview of the Cardinals' first day in Tampa. Wilson says the Cardinals are here to win the game, not to enjoy the week.

Scott Bordow of the East Valley Tribune says Super Bowls are won on Sunday and sometimes lost earlier in the week.

Mike Branom of the East Valley Tribune says about 1,800 people attended a rally sending off the Cardinals from Phoenix.

Revenge of the Birds' Hawkwind looks at the Cardinals' improved running game.

More Cardinals news here: A Google news feed with the latest headlines.

Clare Farnsworth of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer looks at the Seahawks' issues in the secondary. Farnsworth: "The most glaring shortcoming was the lack of a playmaker -- and size -- at the cornerback spot opposite Marcus Trufant. Kelly Jennings, a 180-pounder who is called 'Slim' by his teammates, started the season, but was not the answer. The coaches then turned to Josh Wilson, a more aggressive player, but one who is 5-feet-9."

Jim Moore of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer wants to know what Leroy Hill was doing in a 1975 Buick Electra when authorities found him passed out behind the wheel. Moore speaks with the motorist who reported Hill to police, and with car dealers versed in all things Buick.

Pro Football Weekly corroborates the Seahawks' potential interest in receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh, noting that Koren Robinson's knee issues are a concern.

Dave Boling of the Tacoma News Tribune looks at what the Seahawks must do to become a Super Bowl team again.

John Morgan of Field Gulls sizes up Jovan Haye as a potential free agent of interest for the Seahawks.

Also from Morgan: He really likes Seahawks defensive tackle Brandon Mebane, for good reason.

Bryan Burwell of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Rams fans should show patience with the team's new leadership. Burwell on the Rams' draft plans: "Of course, if you want guesswork, I can play along. Michael Crabtree. Yes, it has to be the game-changing wide receiver from Texas Tech. That's a popular pick, and it might even make sense if the Rams are able to sign a beast of an offensive tackle or two in free agency. But knowing what I have learned about the particular habits of the Rams' general manager, it's foolhardy to speculate what's on [Billy] Devaney's mind."

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch provides an update on the Rams' search for new assistant coaches. Paul Ferraro, Dick Curl and Frank Leonard have joined the staff.

Rick Herrin of the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram says he spotted 49ers defensive coordinator Greg Manusky going out to dinner with Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and head coach Wade Phillips. Herrin: "Could San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Greg Manusky be a possibility? He is good buddies with Wade Phillips and the two worked together in San Diego when Manusky was linebackers coach."

Jennifer Floyd-Engel of the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram previously suggested the 49ers had fired Manusky. Floyd-Engel then provides an update reading, "Just heard from the 49ers, who say Manusky is under contract and, as far as they know, not going to be fired." Hmmm.

Rams show anything is possible

October, 19, 2008

Posted by's Mike Sando

 Scott Rovak/US Presswire
 Steven Jackson breaks through a hole in the second half of the Rams' stunning 34-14 win over the Cowboys.

ST. LOUIS -- Quarterback Marc Bulger overthrew a potential 92-yard touchdown pass to Donnie Avery in Week 7.

Oh, well. There was plenty more where that came from.

These are the new St. Louis Rams, after all. The resilient Rams. The Jim Haslett Rams.

You wouldn't recognize them.

Tough-minded, physical, passionate and explosive, these new Rams staked their record to 2-0 against the NFC East since Haslett replaced Scott Linehan following an 0-4 start.

The Rams' 34-14 victory over the Dallas Cowboys in the Edward Jones Dome did more than validate St. Louis' road upset over the Washington Redskins in Week 6. It did more than expose the Cowboys as a fragile team made even more vulnerable without quarterback Tony Romo. This Rams victory reintroduced St. Louis as a potential player in the NFC West, trailing only idle Arizona (4-2) in the division.

"What do you have to lose?" Haslett had asked the Rams' players after their 0-4 start.

"I think a lot of guys just embraced that," running back Steven Jackson said after trampling the Cowboys for 160 yards on the ground.

Haslett is the right man in the right place at the right time. A fiery linebacker during his playing days, the Rams' former defensive coordinator under Linehan has won over the players.

"He knows how our emotions go and he knows what we're feeling and I think he knows how to get to us and how to motivate us," guard Richie Incognito said, "and we run with it. "Football is an attitude and we got the right one going for us right now."

Ten more things the Rams taught us in Week 7:

(Read full post)

Rapid Reaction: Rams 34, Cowboys 14

October, 19, 2008

Posted by's Mike Sando

ST. LOUIS -- The Rams are a new team with new life under new coach Jim Haslett.

The transformation has been more dramatic than anyone could have anticipated. The Rams are suddenly a spirited and physical team with a chance to win every game.

Quarterback Marc Bulger again showed more toughness and leadership than in the past by taking hits and bouncing back to make plays. Steven Jackson ran relentlessly and found a lot more room against the Cowboys than he did during a victory over the Redskins in Week 6. His 25-carry, 160-yard performance allowed the Rams to control the clock, a huge help for the Rams' defense.

Injuries to defensive lineman Adam Carriker and linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa could prove costly depending on the severity. But the Rams are showing how attitude can compensate for personnel issues. Haslett deserves much of the credit. He's looking like the right man at the right time for a franchise seeking to establish itself again.

A little class would be welcome

October, 19, 2008

Posted by's Mike Sando

ST. LOUIS -- Cowboys fans in attendance began chanting for quarterback Tony Romo while the Rams' medical personnel were tending to injured receiver Derek Stanley on the field.

The Rams brought a cart onto the field for Stanley, but the receiver was able to get up and walk off the field with help after several minutes. Stanley was injured while covering a punt return with 12:42 left in the third quarter.

Rams fans strongly booed when Cowboys fans chanted for Romo. The chants then stopped.

Rams lose defensive lineman Carriker

October, 19, 2008

Posted by's Mike Sando

ST. LOUIS -- The Rams have taken starting defensive tackle Adam Carriker off the field for X-rays on an injured ankle.

No details at this time. The Rams' defense has continued playing well without him, helping the Rams build a 24-7 lead in the second quarter.

Update: X-ray results were negative, the Rams announced.

Told you so: Phillips loses challenge

October, 19, 2008

Posted by's Mike Sando

ST. LOUIS -- Referee John Parry upped his record to 6-0 in replay challenges this season, shooting down Cowboys coach Wade Phillips in the first quarter at the Edward Jones Dome.

Phillips had a 4-0 record in challenges his season coming into this game. Not any more. The lost challenge allows the Rams to take possession in Dallas territory while holding a 21-7 lead late in the first quarter. Phillips had challenged a Cowboys fumble.

The Rams continue to play with the emotion they showed against the Redskins in Week 6. The Cowboys appear lost on both sides of the ball. The Rams have been able to take their pick between the ground game and throwing deep to Donnie Avery.

Late-arriving Rams crowd wakes up

October, 19, 2008

Posted by's Mike Sando

ST. LOUIS -- Rams fans have apparently filled in many of the seats that had been empty during the Cowboys' opening drive touchdown.

Rams fans reacting to Marc Bulger's long scoring pass to Donnie Avery matched and probably exceeded the noise Dallas fans made after the Cowboys' opening drive.

Dallas fans are very well represented here. Rams fans just needed some time to wake up, and an opportunity to make some noise.

Feels like a home crowd for Cowboys

October, 19, 2008

Posted by's Mike Sando

ST. LOUIS -- Cowboys fans seem to be louder than Rams fans at the Edward Jones Dome through the first few plays of the game.

Quite a few seats remain empty. Below me, I can count 10 unoccupied seats in a row in one section.

From a noise standpoint, it feels like 70-30 in favor of Cowboys fans.

Quick note on replay challenges

October, 19, 2008

Posted by's Mike Sando

ST. LOUIS -- Replay reversals helped the Cowboys against the Cardinals last week, but Dallas coach Wade Phillips might have met his match this week.

John Parry, the referee assigned to the Cowboys-Rams game at the Edward Jones Dome, has upheld each of the three coach-initiated challenges made against him this season. Counting two booth-initiated challenges, Parry has a 5-0 record when challenged this season. He and Jerome Boger are the only referees without a reversal this season.

Phillips has a 4-0 record in replay challenges this season. I have Rams coach Jim Haslett with a 4-15 record on replay challenges since 2003. Those figures match league totals.

Big ovation for Cowboys during warmups

October, 19, 2008

Posted by's Mike Sando

ST. LOUIS -- The early crowd heavily favors the Cowboys here at the Edward Jones Dome, but the feel will change when Rams fans arrive closer to kickoff.

Hundreds of fans wearing Cowboys jerseys are lining the first row of the stands while the teams warm up. They'll blend into the crowd a little more once it's time to take their seats.

The Cowboys had a strong fan presence at University of Phoenix Stadium in Week 6. The presence here doesn't feel that strong.

Audibles: NFC West Week 7 preview

October, 17, 2008
Posted by's Mike Sando

San Francisco 49ers (2-4) at New York Giants (4-1), 1 p.m. ET

Trusting the Giants' Eli Manning is a lot easier than trusting the 49ers' J.T. O'Sullivan, even after Manning tossed three picks against the Browns in Week 6. That's where this game hinges.

Defenses are forcing O'Sullivan into interceptions at a furious rate. O'Sullivan has thrown seven picks in his last three games. The 49ers are 0-3 largely as a result.

The solution -- handing the ball to Frank Gore more frequently when the 49ers are leading -- appears almost too obvious. Look for that story line to get a rest this week. The Giants have the offensive line and playmaking ability to take the lead and force the 49ers into obvious passing situations. The combination should fuel a lopsided Giants victory.

Turnovers can be the great equalizer, something the Rams proved against the Redskins in Week 6. I just don't see the 49ers winning the turnover battle. The 49ers lead the NFL with 15 giveaways. The Giants rank third with only four.

Dallas Cowboys (4-2) at St. Louis Rams (1-4), 1 p.m. ET

The Rams are playing with an edge that helped them upset the Redskins while also nearly costing them the game. While they don't need any more 15-yard penalties from guard Richie Incognito, the new attitude players are showing under Jim Haslett does give them a chance to compete and possibly pull an upset.

It's probably wise to discount what the Rams had become under Scott Linehan. Their talent was better than that. The Rams thought their defensive line would provide a strong pass rush this season. I just question whether the Rams can score enough points to put the Cowboys in obvious passing situations.

This is a game Dallas should win even without Tony Romo. But the Cowboys can't take the outcome for granted. The Rams will beat teams that underestimate them.

Seattle Seahawks (1-4) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-2), 8:15 p.m. ET

Seneca Wallace probably gets the start at quarterback for Seattle. A calf injury figures to limit his mobility, which was one of his strengths. I also question whether Wallace will be sharp enough after missing so much practice time in recent weeks.

The Seattle passing game simply isn't functioning at a high enough level for the Seahawks to beat good teams, particularly on the road. It's a stretch to think that will change dramatically with Wallace replacing Charlie Frye.

The Bucs think big-play receiver Joey Galloway has a chance to return from injury this week. That's fitting from a Seattle perspective. The Seahawks' defense is giving up big pass plays and Galloway -- traded by Seattle in 2000 -- figures to find openings deep downfield.