Romo has worn a rib protector since he became the starter, and when he suffered a punctured lung and broken rib, it was fortified with Kevlar. He also wore a specially designed vest as added protection for several games that year as his rib healed. He already has an longer-than-normal back plate for more protection after undergoing two back surgeries.
Coach Jason Garrett has said the team has no hard and fast rules about whether a player needs to practice in order to play. Romo has talked about the importance of practice leading into a game, but he has played without a practice before.
If it happens again this week, the Cowboys want to make sure Romo has extra protection.
Overall, the Cardinals ranked near the bottom of the league in total offense (25th), rushing (28th) and middle of the pack in passing (15) and points per game overall (15th).
Star receiver Larry Fitzgerald is tied for 48th in receiving with just 30 catches for 443 yards and two touchdowns. But in last week's victory over Philadelphia, Fitzgerald caught seven passes for 160 yards including a career-long 80-yard touchdown reception.
Rookie wideout John Brown had five catches for a career-high 119 yards.
Cowboys defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli is trying to get his defense ready minus weakside linebacker (and leading tackler) Justin Durant (season-ending biceps surgery). The team is coming off a season-high three-sack game against Washington.
"I just think obviously, a heck of a player for us, really terrific player and having a great year," Marinelli said of Durant. "It's part of the business, we got other guys stepping up and you have an opportunity to work with them and other guys have to step up that where it is. Each guy has to bring their game up a little bit more."
Marinelli saw positive things from his defensive line last week particularly from defensive tackle Henry Melton, who picked up two sacks and overall the Cowboys had eight tackles for loss and six quarterback hurries against a third-string quarterback in Colt McCoy.
What will Marinelli's group do against Carson Palmer, a veteran of 12 NFL seasons?
"Usually what it comes down to is alignment, assignment, key and technique," he said. "Every defense, every call. If we’re on our alignments, we’re on our keys, we’re on the proper technique and we’re hustling, we’ll play good. So it’s consistent throughout. Some you can see bigger than others. Sometimes we’ll see a guy get hooked for a 5-yard run, shouldn’t happen. Alignment."
IRVING, Texas -- Dallas Cowboys linebacker Justin Durant underwent season-ending surgery Thursday to repair a significant tear in his right biceps.
Durant, the Cowboys' leading tackler, thought about avoiding surgery with the goal of returning in December, but the team's medical staff said it wouldn't heal in enough time.
"I wasn’t going to be effective," Durant said. "And the way that I play, it was going to be impossible for me to play with the type of tear that I have. The trainers talked to me about it and we decided that was the best thing to do."
Durant wanted to get the surgery done as quickly as possible so he could start the rehabilitation process. What makes the injury even more difficult is the uncertain future for Durant.
He becomes a free agent after the season and there's no guarantees the Cowboys will bring him back.
"I’ll just leave that up to people in front offices to decide, let my agent handle everything that comes with free agency," Durant said of his future. "I just play."
The team likes rookie Anthony Hitchens, who most likely will see time at the weakside and middle linebacker spots, and even Durant has praised him.
"He has all the ability and he has young legs," Durant said. "He’s going to be a force once he gets a little more experience. We all get better with experience. The more and more he’s out there the better he’s going to be, so I have full confidence in him. I’m definitely going to be here as much as I can to help him out."
As far as his own future, the 29-year old Durant was unsure. Health has been an issue for him since he signed a two-year deal with the Cowboys in 2013. He played in 10 games last season before he was placed on season-ending injured reserve.
He was off to a solid start this season, and received one of the highest production grades given to a linebacker this season at 37. Normally a player might receive an 18 or something in the 20s as an example of a high grade.
"I just want to play," he said. "I’m just sad right now but I know that guys are going to step up and we’re going to be alright."
Carter said his finger got caught in the pads of running back Lance Dunbar in one-on-one drills. He had an MRI performed at the team’s facility before heading to the hospital to get it re-set. He said he has to return to the doctor on Friday for a special splint for the game.
“We’ll just wrap it up and I should be fine,” Carter said.
The Cowboys’ linebacker position has been hit by injuries all year, starting in the spring when Sean Lee was lost for the season with a knee injury. Justin Durant had biceps surgery on Thursday and is out for the season. Rolando McClain returned to practice Thursday after sitting out Wednesday’s workout with a sore shoulder.
Durant, who missed two games earlier this year with a groin injury, leads the Cowboys in tackles with 61. McClain is second and Carter is fifth.
Carter said he is not sure if he will move to Durant’s weakside linebacker spot or remain on the strong side with rookie Anthony Hitchens replacing Durant.
“I think for everybody, all the linebackers, everybody has to step up,” Carter said. “Everybody’s role gets a lot better so we got to really prepare well. Me, Rolando, all the younger guys we really got to step up because Justin was a huge part of our defense and we’re really going to miss him. But everybody has to step up.”
Tony Romo (back) missed his second straight day of practice, as did starting left guard Ronald Leary (groin). McClain was limited in his return as was defensive end Anthony Spencer (knee, foot). Cornerback Brandon Carr (hamstring), right tackle Jermey Parnell (chest) and defensive end Jack Crawford (calf) were full participants.
Doug Free (foot) did not practice and is expected to miss his third straight game.
Quarterback Tony Romo (back), left guard Ronald Leary (groin) and tackle Doug Free (foot) missed practice.
The Cowboys, preparing for the Arizona Cardinals on a short week, didn't practice in helmets on Wednesday but did so on Thursday.
Also, suspended defensive tackle Josh Brent practiced for the first time.
He saw limited work on Wednesday but was able to get scout team action Thursday.
AP Photo/Brandon WadeDeMarco Murray has rushed for 100 yards in a Cowboys-record eight consecutive games.
The Cowboys are coming off their first loss since Week 1, while the Cardinals’ only loss was in Denver, where third-string quarterback Logan Thomas was forced into action.
Here are a few things to keep an eye on as the Cowboys and Cardinals duel for the NFC’s top seed.
More Murray, Less Problems
DeMarco Murray extended his 100-yard streak to eight games with his most efficient rushing game of the season Monday, despite a season-low 19 rushes. But Dallas looked elsewhere in short-yardage situations.
Dallas ran 14 plays with 3 yards or fewer to gain. Only two were rushing plays, and both resulted in first downs. On the 12 pass plays, the Cowboys went 3-of-10 passing with two sacks taken.
This season, the Cowboys have gained a first down on 81 percent of rushing attempts with 3-yards-or-fewer to gain, the highest rate in the league.
Arizona’s defense has held opponents to a 52 percent conversion rate with 3-yards-or-fewer to gain, the second-lowest rate in the league this season.
The Cardinals pressure the opposing quarterback on 35 percent of their attempts with 3 yards or fewer to gain, the third-highest percentage in the league.
Cardiac Cards Bring Pressure
Since defensive coordinator Todd Bowles joined the Cardinals prior to the 2013 season, Arizona has had the most blitz-happy defense in the league.
This season, the Cardinals have a league-high five interceptions when blitzing and are one of three teams with a negative touchdown-interception differential (minus-1) when blitzing.
The Cardinals not only bring pressure, but they bring it from deep. Arizona has blitzed a defensive back on a league-high 48 pass attempts this season.
Opposing quarterbacks have completed only 38 percent of their attempts when the Cardinals send a defensive back on a blitz, tied for the second-lowest percentage in the league.
Ellington Evolves into Every-Down Back
After averaging 10.5 touches per game last season, Andre Ellington has 20-plus touches in each of the Cardinals’ last five games.
The Arizona running back has 31 percent of the Cardinals’ yards from scrimmage this season. Ellington is one of five running backs to record more than one-quarter of his team’s yards from scrimmage.
Ellington, Le’Veon Bell and Matt Forte are the only three backs this season with at least 400 rush yards and 250 receiving yards.
IRVING, Texas -- Tony Romo did not take part in Thursday's walkthrough and will not practice, but Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett remains hopeful the quarterback can play in Sunday's game against the Arizona Cardinals.
"He's not ruled out for this game by any means," Garrett said. "He's getting himself mentally ready. He's in the meetings. He's a part of our football team, and hopefully as the week goes on, it feels better and he can function and it'll give him a chance to play."
Romo, who did not practice Wednesday, is recovering from a hit to his back in the third quarter of Monday's loss to the Washington Redskins. He was able to return to the game, but said Wednesday that the pain level was "pretty similar" to how he felt after the game.
The Cowboys and Romo have said the injury is not disk-related and not connected to the surgery he had last December. Garrett said the initial reports back from the medical staff were that Romo could need a "few days."
Romo said if the question is only about pain tolerance, then he would play if he could show during the week that he can move around and function. When asked if the Cowboys are calling Romo's injury a bone contusion, Garrett said, "Yeah, I think that's the best way to describe it."
Romo wore a kevlar vest for added protection when he played through a cracked rib and punctured lung in 2011. Garrett said the team is looking into possible modifications to the quarterback's pads if he can play Sunday.
"Just talking to him, it just sounds like he's feeling better," Garrett said. "Typically that happens. The further away you are from an injury, hopefully the better it gets. You get some blood flowing through your body. So hopefully he's able to do something today, and we can build on that."
If Romo can't play, Brandon Weeden
The good and the bad: The Cowboys have won 14 straight regular-season home games against the Cardinals, which according to the Elias Sports Bureau is the second-longest active home win streak against a single opponent. The last time the Cardinals won a regular-season game in Dallas was Oct. 29, 1989 and the Cardinals head coach was Gene Stallings.
The Cowboys saw their six-game win streak end on Monday and need to bounce back quickly, but they have struggled in the game's following an appearance on "Monday Night Football."
In the five seasons prior to this one, the Cowboys have played one "Monday Night Football" game each season and lost their next game each time.
The pace car: DeMarco Murray has 1,054 yards in eight games, putting him on pace to set the record for the most yards in a season. Here is how his start matches the other 2,000-yard seasons.
Tough to crack: Murray has opened the season with eight straight 100-yard games but faces a big test in the Cardinals run defense.
Arizona is ranked third in the league both in yards per rush allowed (3.32) and rush yards per game (77.9). They have allowed only four rushing touchdowns, which is tied for seventh best in the NFL.
Ready for the call?: If Tony Romo cannot play Sunday because of a back injury, then Brandon Weeden would start. As a starter with the Cleveland Browns, Weeden had a 5-10 record with 21 touchdowns and 25 picks. He completed 56.5 percent of his throws and had a Total QBR of just 25.9.
Since 2012, that 25.9 mark as a starter is the worst in the NFL among 32 quarterbacks. Chad Henne (27.1), Geno Smith (32.9) and Josh Freeman (44.7) follow Weeden with the lowest Total QBRs.
"Yeah, that's all it is," the Dallas Cowboys' second-round pick said.
Lawrence is expected to make his debut Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals after missing the first eight games while on short-term injured reserve as he recovered from a broken foot suffered in training camp.
The Cowboys need Lawrence, too. While they were able to come up with three sacks in Monday's loss to the Washington Redskins, they have only 10 sacks for the season. They have not been able to come up with a consistent pass rush and have not affected the opposing quarterback enough.
The Cowboys moved up to take Lawrence in the second round in hopes he could get to the quarterback. He had 20 sacks in his two seasons at Boise State and the Cowboys had him rated as the third-best right defensive end in the draft behind Jadeveon Clowney and Anthony Barr.
"I ain't going to say they need me because they've been doing it and winning games off of me not being there," Lawrence said. "I just say I'll be a help to them when I get back."
Lawrence has been practicing for the last two weeks, which he believes has helped him get in better football shape as well as ease his transition to the game.
"He was doing well," coach Jason Garrett said of Lawrence's work in training camp. "He's one of those guys who seemed to be picking things up the right way and maybe as much as anything else the physicalness and the tempo with which you have to play. Obviously from a technical standpoint he has to improve. He just doesn't have that much experience, but he's certainly off to a good start and it will be good to get him back."
Lawrence said he does not feel pressure to become an impact player.
"I feel like I put pressure on myself," Lawrence said, "so it's me going out there maintaining my goals and my focus and really doing what I think and I know I can do."
I've crunched the numbers. I've watched the film. I've studied the matchups. And here's my main concern leading up to Sunday's big NFC showdown between the Arizona Cardinals and the Dallas Cowboys: Hey Jer, just how secure are your goalposts inside AT&T Stadium?
It doesn't happen very often in the corporatized and indemnified No Fun League, but the last time I saw NFL fans actually storm a field and tear down the goalposts was Sept. 7, 1997, in Tempe, Arizona. Looking back now, I wonder if that was the classic Hollywood body swap, "changeup" moment; the one that forever altered the course of these two franchises and, 17 seasons later, brought us to Sunday's duel for NFC supremacy.
Heading into that 1997 game between these former NFC East "rivals," the Cowboys' dynasty had been on a seven-year streak, winning 13 games in a row against the sad-sack Cardinals. Down 22-7 in the third quarter and getting thunderously booed by their own fans, somehow the Cardinals and quarterback Kent Graham (who had blown an 18-point lead the week before) rallied back to win 25-22 in overtime on a 20-yard field goal from Kevin Butler. Afterward, it seemed like all 71,000 fans instantly flooded the Sun Devil Stadium field and took out seven years of frustration on those poor goalposts. They never stood a chance.
Before that game, the Cowboys had held a massive 46-22 head-to-head advantage against the Cardinals.
Since that fateful moment in the desert, the Cardinals have, dare I say -- swallow your coffee, wipe, breathe -- gotten the better of this rivalry.
IRVING, Texas – Few would have pegged Sunday’s meeting between the Dallas Cowboys and Arizona Cardinals as so important in terms of the NFC hierarchy.
The Cardinals (6-1) have the best record in the conference and lead the NFC West. The Cowboys' winning streak ended Monday, but their 6-2 record has them in first place in the NFC East.
These former division rivals have played some zany games, with two of the past three meetings going to overtime and the other decided, in part, because of a missed extra point.
ESPN Cardinals reporter Josh Weinfuss and Cowboys reporter Todd Archer offer up this week’s game preview:
Todd Archer: A lot of people are waiting for Tony Romo to falter after his strong start, aided by a great running game, and I think a lot of people are waiting for the same from Carson Palmer. Why is this a different Palmer and is it as simple as Bruce Arians keeping it all together?
Josh Weinfuss: I think the Carson Palmer you see now is partly the result of him being more mature and more comfortable with his lot in football, as well as the Bruce Arians effect. Palmer fits Arians’ scheme perfectly and Arians has tailored his play calling to what Palmer does well. And Palmer also has a talented corps of receivers, a fast back in Andre Ellington, brutish tight ends who can block and get out for a pass here and there, and an offensive line that has done a great job at keeping him clean -- not necessarily pressure-free, but clean -- and combined, that’s helped Palmer play the best he has in years.
How will coming off a short week and now coming off a loss impact the Cowboys after what looked like to be a pretty physical game?
Archer: It’s all about Romo. He missed two series in the second half against the Redskins because of a bruised back and was limited in practice. This is a tough matchup anyway, but it’s even tougher on a short week. Romo's injury wasn’t the only one. Justin Durant is out for the year with a torn biceps and Ronald Leary suffered a groin injury. Jason Garrett does a good job of getting his team to move on from the good or bad, but this test could be different because of Romo’s health. He was held out of the offseason because of back surgery last December and did not practice more than two straight days in training camp. He has taken Wednesdays off since the second game of the season to make sure he would be ready for game day, so his schedule has not been thrown too far out of whack, but the Cowboys have to make sure the issues they had against the Redskins’ pressure were more about a bad night than something that will expose them for the rest of the season.
Todd Bowles was a secondary coach here under Bill Parcells and has been a head coach candidate for several jobs. What has he brought to the Cardinals' defense, other than having some really good players to work with?
Weinfuss: Bowles hasn’t won so much with his players as much as his scheme. He’s playing with just two of his front seven from last season -- and that number was one for the past couple of weeks while Calais Campbell was out -- so while players help, it’s what Bowles has been able to do from a schematic standpoint that has been the deciding factor. But if I had to choose one thing that Bowles brought to the Cardinals, I’d go with a No. 1 and No. 1A. No. 1 was a slight change to the previous 3-4 scheme Arizona ran, and that was getting rid of the multiple-gap responsibility. This is now a single-gap scheme, and guys love it. And No. 1A is pressure. Bowles loves to blitz, as was clear on the last drive against the Philadelphia Eagles. It has been working so far.
Last season, Bruce Arians was adamant about not putting too much responsibility in the run game on Andre Ellington, in large part because he didn’t want him to wear down in his first season. Granted, DeMarco Murray is at a different stage of his career, but he’s still a running back getting significant carries. How much of a concern is it that the Cowboys are riding him too much?
Archer: There’s some concern about it, and they have rested him at different times for a series or a few plays in the first half of the past three games, but he is their bell cow. He is their guy. They will be mindful of how much work he gets, but he’s too good to take off the field for extended spells. They like backup running backs Joseph Randle and Lance Dunbar, but those guys can’t do what Murray does in the run and pass game. He doesn’t look like he’s wearing down. He had 19 carries for 141 yards against the Redskins, so his carries were down from what they had been. But I’d maintain he took more of a beating in that game than he did when he had 29 carries in Week 2 against the Tennessee Titans. Jason Garrett was around Emmitt Smith for the bulk of his career, so I think he has a watchful eye to this sort of thing, as does Scott Linehan, who was around Steven Jackson in St. Louis. They will be smart with Murray, but not to the point that it costs them games.
I know Larry Fitzgerald. I know Michael Floyd. I didn’t know I needed to know John Brown, too. Has he changed the dynamic of the Cardinals’ offense any?
Weinfuss: He has, and it’s been a lot more than people realize. With Brown, Arizona added a reliable speed option. Palmer and Brown developed a great rapport while working together in Southern California this offseason and it’s just translated onto the field. While Fitzgerald has shown he can make a tough catch in traffic and break free for 80 yards and Floyd can go up and over anyone who challenges him, it’s Brown who can take the top off the defense. He has started showing up more and more on opposing game plans over the last few weeks, but after his game-winning touchdown catch Sunday, I’m sure he’ll be a point of emphasis going forward, which will spread secondaries thin and open up the middle and underneath for the rest of the Cardinals’ receivers.
There’s a lot of hype here, at least, surrounding the Cardinals’ run defense, which dropped from first to third this week. How much of Sunday’s game will come down to the league’s No. 1 rushing offense versus the league’s No. 1 rushing defense? Do you think the passing games will get any credit?
Archer: We talked about Romo’s back injury earlier and that could affect how the Cowboys plan to attack Arizona. I can’t imagine they will come out and chuck it 50 times and leave Romo exposed like that. The Cowboys are a run-first team, so if they’re playing the top run defense or the worst, they will attack the way they have attacked all season. They always say, "It's about us." Well, the Cardinals offer a great challenge to the running game. Teams have been committing eight guys at the line to slow Murray, and they haven’t been able to do it for four quarters. There have been some games that have been more difficult than others, but the Cowboys eventually figure things out and get to the runs that produce big plays. Then they work the pass game off the run game. They are trying to emulate the formula that worked so well in the 1990s. It has worked better than anybody really could have imagined at the start of the season.