But in getting to the 46-man roster, it creates something of a dilemma.
Josh Brent is eligible to play for the first time since Dec. 2, 2012, but how do the Cowboys get him on the active roster.
As we Ponder the 46 for Sunday’s game against the New York Giants, there just didn’t seem a way to get Brent on the field without taking off a player the Cowboys like.
First, let’s get through the inactives we know: quarterback Dustin Vaughan, tackle Tony Hills, tackle Donald Hawkins, safety Jakar Hamilton and cornerback Tyler Patmon, who has a knee injury.
The leaves two more inactives to find.
Could the Cowboys go with four wide receivers in a game for the first time this season? Rookie Devin Street has not had a catch since the season opener.
Try as I might, I can’t see Brent on the 46-man roster this week. In order to do it, the Cowboys would have to dress four wide receivers, de-activate fullback Tyler Clutts or go light in the secondary. None of that will happen. And Rod Marinelli is a big believer in Nick Hayden, so Brent will not be active over him.
In fact, the Cowboys will have to de-activate another linemen just to keep the numbers right. Jack Crawford offers up versatility and played extremely well in the Cowboys’ last game. Anthony Spencer is looking for his first sack. George Selvie has just one sack. Terrell McClain can play both tackle spots, but he could be without a jersey on Sunday.
The guess at the inactives: Vaughan, Hills, Hawkins, Hamilton, Patmon, Brent and McClain.
With Tyler Patmon out of Sunday’s game against the New York Giants with a knee injury, the Cowboys needed to add Pellerin to have a fourth cornerback on the roster. He joins Orlando Scandrick, Brandon Carr and Sterling Moore. Patmon could miss up to two more games with his knee injury.
Coleman played in the first two games of the season and started the opener and had four tackles. He injured his knee/calf in the weight room and missed two games. He has been inactive for the past eight games. If he clears waivers, he could be brought back to the practice squad.
- Paying Dez Bryant
- Jason Witten's status
- Doug Free or Ronald Leary
- Rod Marinelli or Bill Callahan
- Throwback uniforms
@toddarcher: The simple answer is this: because he doesn't have to. Nor should he respond to any players comments and pay the guy simply because the guy wants more money. Heck, I want more money. You want more money. That doesn't mean our bosses are just going to give it to us. The Cowboys can simply put the franchise tag on Dez Bryant and worry about the future later. It's not the best solution but neither is giving a player what he wants just because he is asking for it. Eventually I believe a deal will get done, but I think the franchise tag is the most likely option right now. If Bryant does not like that, he can blame the union for not getting it out of the CBA. But what will he do, not play? We should all struggle by making in excess of $12 million for a season.
From Twitter: Have we seen the last of the elite pass-catcher Jason Witten? #cowboysmail
@toddarcher: To me Jason Witten's numbers are down simply because of opportunity. The Cowboys are a running team and don't throw it as much. But Witten is still playing at a top level. He is still getting open. He is still getting separation. This might be the best he has ever blocked, too. I don't know if you'll see him put up 85-100 catch seasons again because of the way the Cowboys run but that doesn't mean he's not having a fine season. He is. It's normal to wait for the decline in a player that has played as long as Witten has, but the slippage has been minimal. His offseason work is tremendous. His in-season work is tremendous.
@toddarcher: Good question, Malcolm. I'd go with Doug Free. To me right tackle is a more important position. That's not to knock Ronald Leary. I think he's done a good job. He's a vital part to the Cowboys' success on the ground and in protecting Tony Romo. The Cowboys want to be stout up the middle to protect Romo. But I think Free means more. He is the leader in the offensive line room. He has played fairly well the last two years. I've stumped for the Cowboys to re-sign him a few times. Leary will be an exclusive rights free agent, so the Cowboys have his rights at least through 2016. Free will be an unrestricted free agent and with the voidable years on his current deal he will count against the cap next year whether he is on the team or not. I'd get something done with Free.
Who is more important to the offensive line this year and going foward, Doug Free or Ronald Leary? #cowboysmail— Malcom M. (@cowboys_flyhigh) November 20, 2014
@toddarcher: I don't think so. I know he has said he believes this is one of the best coaching staffs the Cowboys have had in his tenure as owner, but I think there are prices that might be too expensive. And there is another thing to remember: The coaches will be free to sign elsewhere. Despite the happy faces that have been put on the situation, Callahan was upset he was not able to leave in the offeason when Scott Linehan took over as the playcaller. Callahan wants to call plays and will not get that chance here. Maybe another team gives him that shot and he chooses to leave. If Callahan leaves, then the Cowboys can plug in Frank Pollack as line coach. Marinelli's situation is tricky too. He is best friends with Lovie Smith. Things have not gone well for Smith in Tampa Bay and maybe he calls on Marinelli, who has displayed loyalty to Smith in the past by leaving the Bears. The Cowboys don't want to lose either coach, but they might not be in position to do much about it.
#cowboysmail Does JJ pay whatever it takes to keep Callahan and Marinelli past this season??— James Oltman (@odieoltman) November 20, 2014
@toddarcher: I like this one. A little off the board here. You won't see throwbacks again unless the Cowboys want to wear their current helmets with the old uniforms. That's why you will see the Cowboys wear their blue jerseys at home on Thanksgiving against Philadelphia. The league does not want teams wearing multiple helmets during the course of the year with the concussion litigation going on. That makes sense. I've wondered why colleges haven't followed suit on that but I guess recruiting wins out. I miss the Cowboys' throwbacks. I thought they looked sharp. But I'll admit this too: I liked the blue jerseys at home on Thanksgiving last year.
Any chance the cowboys ever where the throwback uniforms again? #cowboysmail— Jared Bernal (@bernal_jared) November 21, 2014
- Maybe the bye week is not all that it is cracked up to be.
- Jean-Jacques Taylor says the Cowboys must beat the Giants if they want to win the NFC East.
- Tony Romo’s health is improving, but he’s worried only about the New York Giants, not two games in five days or three in 12.
- There’s a lot on the line for Jason Garrett and others in this six-game stretch.
- DeMarco Murray has already set career highs in yards and carries in 10 games. He’s ready for the final push.
- Dez Bryant is something of a bargain for the Cowboys now. That won’t be the case if he ever signs a long-term deal.
- Speaking of that deal, Bryant is getting caught up in the Cowboys’ new way of business.
- Eli Manning might be coming off a five-interception game, but the Cowboys are preparing for Manning’s best.
- Calvin Watkins and Jean-Jacques Taylor bring you this week’s edition of The Boys.
- NFL Nation Giants reporter Dan Graziano and I bring you this week’s Game Preview.
McClain and Crawford went through their third straight day of a full practice on Friday and are listed as probable for Sunday’s game. Neither played Nov. 9 against the Jacksonville Jaguars but McClain was active.
McClain leads the Cowboys with 68 tackles, and Crawford is second on the team in quarterback hurries with 20.
Cornerback Tyler Patmon was ruled out with a knee injury and could need 2-3 more weeks for his sprained medial collateral ligament to heal.
Quarterback Tony Romo (back), right tackle Doug Free (foot), defensive tackle Nick Hayden (shoulder) and defensive tackle Josh Brent (groin) are also probable. Brent is looking to be active for his first game since Dec. 2, 2012, but there are no guarantees he will be on the 46-man roster for the game.
Pellerin, a cornerback, will make his 2014 debut Sunday against the New York Giants after spending the first 11 weeks of the season on the practice squad. With Tyler Patmon unable to play because of a knee injury, the Cowboys will use Pellerin as their fourth cornerback.
Coach Jason Garrett said Pellerin faces a challenge of running the scout team all season to the active roster in a week.
“It’s the same type of defense but there are certain nuances that are different this year as opposed to last year, so just getting accustomed to those things,” Pellerin said. “But all in all the defense allows you to play fast. You look at the practices this week I think consistently I’ve been getting better and so ultimately this last practice was my practice was my best, so it’s good.”
The Cowboys have until Saturday afternoon to call up Pellerin, but with only three healthy cornerbacks on the 53-man roster in Orlando Scandrick, Brandon Carr and Sterling Moore, they need Pellerin. To get him on the roster, the Cowboys will have to make a roster move before flying to New Jersey,.
“He really is attentive,” defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli said. “He’s smart. He’s got great work habits. So now, this week it’s a little bit different now. Everything’s a little bit quicker, a little bit faster, and the responsibility grows. But he’s a guy we believe in and we’ve just got to have him. He’s the guy that’s up. He’s got to do it. He’s just got to do it.”
Garrett has gone 8-8 in three consecutive seasons as the head coach, with his overall record at 31-27 in four seasons.
Garrett's contract ends after the 2014 season and neither his agent, David Dunn nor Jones have given any indications the sides are talking about a new deal.
Jones has said positive things about Garrett since he's been the head coach despite some issues with time management and the changes in the playcaller and defensive coordinator.
"It's a non-event for me to be concerned about it or not," Jones said on 105.3 The Fan Dallas/Fort Worth Friday. "I don't mean to sound that way; it hasn't been a concern of mine and [it's] not. We haven't made it a concern for the club this year. These talks about these contracts, no matter who it is, that's got an ending contract or one that is coming up, that's all for things to talk about that has no impact on my day."
A 45-7 loss at Green Bay the previous week forced owner Jerry Jones to do something he never wanted to do: fire a coach during the season.
So in came Garrett, then the offensive coordinator, who was faced with taking on the New York Giants on the road in his first game.
The interim head coach wanted to change the culture around Valley Ranch, everything from dress codes to the approach. And the result, at least that day in East Rutherford. New Jersey worked.
"I remember we had a really good team, and we weren't winning," defensive end Anthony Spencer said of the time. "We needed a win. I loved Wade and the year before we went to the playoffs. But things just didn't work out for us the next year."
Many players didn't really know Garrett.
To deep snapper L.P. Ladouceur, Garrett was simply known for the color of his hair.
"Just knew him as Red and he was the quarterbacks coach, calling plays and then he goes by Coach Garrett," Ladouceur said. "Different freaking business now. I think he was overwhelmed, too I think every coach is thrown into it. It's like any job, you got to be a rookie at some point and you got to learn and learn on the fly, which as a NFL head coach, is even harder because you're scrutinized like crazy. But where we've been and where we're going and the way he's been handling [things] I think he's been doing a good job."
Of course, Garrett became the head coach permanently, and the Cowboys have finished the past three seasons at 8-8, missing a postseason berth with a loss in the regular-season finale.
Sunday night, Garrett takes his Cowboys, tied for first in the NFC East into MetLife Stadium again, to take on the Giants nearly four years since he became the coach.
A victory would give Garrett eight wins for the fourth consecutive season, and it would be the first time he's led a team to it's eight before December in his career. In the past three seasons, the Cowboys didn't earn it's eight victory until mid or late December.
Reaching eight victories now could fuel discussions the Cowboys might finally end their four-year playoff drought.
The players have brought into Garrett's one-game-at-a-time mantra. There are awards for scout team players, sayings posted on the walls of the practice facility about doing your job/not giving up and remaining focus on the task at hand.
Garrett has changed things from the hard nosed old-school approach of Bill Parcells and grandfatherly ways of Phillips, to how the Cowboys' did things in the 90s, when they won three Super Bowls.
Popular players such as outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware were released to make way for younger players.
“Well, we knew we had to make some hard decisions from the outset, and we had to make some decisions to move on from some players who had been cornerstone players for us and then get new players in here and along the way you have to compete. So that’s what we tried to do," Garrett said.
Along the way, they found a dominant running attack, which they have with DeMarco Murray who leads the league in rushing, and a young, hungry offensive line. The Cowboys invested three first round picks on linemen and changed the defense from a 3-4 to the 4-3, led by defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli who demands his players hustle.
It's all changed for the better.
"My honest opinion, I’m just speaking on our personnel relationship, I didn’t too much understand his mindset because he went to Princeton, I’m from this small, country town [Lufkin, Texas], I didn’t understand his whole type of structure," wide receiver Dez Bryant said. "I used to always think, coach, he’s always on me, he’s always on me. I guess as I grew, he didn’t treat me no different as he treated the rest of the players. He seen a lot of potential in me, and I took that as he believed in me, so it was my job to show him what he want me to be or better, and I think he does an outstanding job with us. He don’t BS around with us. He lets us know the truth."
The truth is the Cowboys have a chance to do something for themselves in the next few weeks with a win on Sunday night. But it all started that windy day at MetLife when Garrett took over the Cowboys.
Against Jacksonville, Williams didn’t catch either of the passes directed his way. It marked the first time in his career he had failed to catch a pass in a game when he had at least one pass directed his way.
In the previous game against Arizona, Williams didn’t catch a pass until the final drive. More important, the big plays have dried up.
Williams had seven catches of 20 yards or more in the Cowboys’ first six games; he has none in the last four.
Jason Garrett doesn’t seem too concerned.
“We coach him hard and he’s respectful of that and he wants to do well -- not that everyone doesn’t want to do well, so don’t get me wrong,” Garrett said of Williams. “He’s one of those guys we noticed early on that if he made a mistake, he rarely made it again.
“I think he really listens to what you’re trying to get across to him and he really wants to put into practice so he can improve as a player. I think that’s why he’s improved so quickly in the early part of his career.”
DeMarco Murray ran for 128 yards in the Cowboys’ win vs. the Giants earlier this season and New York has the worst-ranked run defense in the NFL, giving up 145 yards a game. That certainly bodes well for a team coming off the bye looking to reassert its physical presence on the offensive line. The Cowboys believe they are better built for the stretch run than they have been in recent years.
They’ll kick off their final six-game push with a win and equal their win total in each of the last three seasons. They have not won more than eight games since 2009.
My prediction: Cowboys 27, Giants 19
"I'm raising my bar and my standards these last six games because we're going to need it," Mincey said. "It's time to raise the bar, start putting quarterbacks on the ground and making the plays we know we can make and are capable of."
At 7-3, the Cowboys are in position to make the playoffs for the first time since 2009. In 2011 they were 7-4 after 11 games and lost three of their final four games. In 2012, they were 8-6 with two games to play and lost both. Last year they were 7-5 and lost three of their final four games.
They were unable to raise the bar.
"We set expectations for ourselves all along and they were pretty high," cornerback Brandon Carr said. "They've gotten higher as the season has progressed, but we feel like our work isn't done. We're just getting started. This is the meat of the season. November and December is the thick of your schedule as far as games and the competition. What we've done so far is great for the past, but we're taking it one at a time. Our ultimate goal is to make the big dance and to be playing some games when it really counts. It's fine for now, but we're not satisfied. We're not content with our record or our performance. It's time to turn it up a notch."
Mincey said the "raise the bar" message was not one Jason Garrett or the coaches had to deliver. The players simply know.
"Jason has always believed in us," tight end Jason Witten said. "He's pushed us. He's done a really good job of putting the team together; not only the best 53 but the right 53. Now we got to take care of our end."
And if any questions came up about his deal, then the interview session was over.
After a six-catch, 158-yard, two-touchdown second quarter in the 31-17 win against the Jacksonville Jaguars, Bryant was asked about his contract. After practice last week Bryant, was asked about his contract.
"It's all about respect. It's all about respect," Bryant said then. "I am a very loyal person, but just don't test my loyalty."
Bryant recently changed agents, joining Roc Nation and Creative Artists Agency. He is open to talks going on during the final six weeks, and the Cowboys have touched base with his new representatives. But a deal is not pending and the Cowboys can use the franchise tag on him if they so choose.
Though some might consider the negotiations with Bryant a distraction, Jason Garrett has not seen it affect Bryant’s play.
Garrett said Bryant doesn’t have to talk about his contract. And truth be told, he has answered questions; not approached reporters with comments about his deal or the lack of a deal.
"He’s been asked a lot about it, and really what you try to do is stay focused on the task at hand," Garrett said. "I think he understands that, and that’s really what we ask all of our players to do. Try to get yourself ready to practice as well as you can each day to get ready to play each week. All the other stuff will take care of itself."
In it we discuss:
- Adrian Peterson in the future
- Tony Romo's practice schedule
- Helping Tyron Smith
- The cornerback conundrum
- Josh Brent's availability
Away we go:
@toddarcher: It certainly seems like everybody is trying to connect these dots between Adrian Peterson and the Cowboys. Some of it stems from the ESPN article on Jones earlier this season when he took a call from Peterson during a George Strait concert. Some of it has to do with Jones' penchant for stars. The first domino that has to fall is the Vikings saying goodbye to Peterson. Maybe that doesn't happen and we've all wasted a lot of breath thinking about this scenario. The threat of Peterson coming to the Cowboys could help in their talks with DeMarco Murray on a new deal. Peterson would bring a lot of baggage with him, but he's from Texas and remains a great talent. He would be an ideal fit for this offense, but so is Murray, who is younger. I don't know if either way to go would be wrong. The Cowboys have a lot of contract issues to resolve and it's not like Peterson would come cheap.
@toddarcher: I don't believe for a second that the Cowboys have not thought this through and are just focusing on the Giants. They would be doing themselves a disservice by not having a plan in place. But I do think we might be overstating this just a tad. Next week's practices aren't really practices. I'm not even sure the Cowboys will wear helmets during the three days of practice next week. They will be at most "jog-throughs," and Tony Romo should make it through those since he is doing the walk-throughs on Wednesdays when he doesn't practice. It's not that Romo can't practice on a Wednesday of a regular week. It's been the decision made by him and the team. This stretch is hardly normal but I think Romo will practice like everybody else practices next week and then gets back on the normal schedule for the Chicago Bears game. Why am I hearing Allen Iverson in my head as I type this?
@toddarcher: They are paying Tyron Smith to be the best left tackle in the NFL, so I wouldn't expect them to give him more help. He needs to play better. He has had a lot of moments where he has played like the best tackle in football. He has had some head-scratching moments too. Jason Pierre-Paul is a good player, so I wouldn't get carried away if Smith gets beat once or twice, but I don't think they need to give Smith help either. If they are sliding help to a $100 million tackle, then they have issues.
@toddarcher: I'd be surprised if Morris Claiborne isn't back. His money is guaranteed, so there is no salary-cap benefit to letting him go. They might as well see how he comes back from the knee surgery. I can guarantee they will not pick up his fifth-year option for 2016, so there's that. As for Brandon Carr, I think he could be in trouble if he does not take a cut in pay. And I'm not sure the Cowboys would offer one either, but maybe they do with him what they did with Doug Free two years ago. He is set to count $12.717 million against the cap in 2015 and I can't see the Cowboys doing a simple restructure, which would push money out against the cap in the future. He's been OK but not what they expected when he signed the $50 million deal. But if they get rid of Carr, then they put corner into the must-have territory in the draft and free agency. They would have just Orlando Scandrick as a for-sure starter.
@toddarcher: I'm not sure Josh Brent will even be active Sunday. It would be something of a surprise to me. He needs to get in better shape and he needs more practice time. I'm not sure three weeks is enough. Heck, I'm not sure four weeks is enough. But there's this question too: Whom does he bump from the 46-man roster to even be active for a game? The Cowboys like Nick Hayden more than the general fan does. Terrell McClain might be a target, but I think he has been OK too. They aren't going to take any of the defensive ends off the field. It's a difficult call without an injury to a player in the future. It wouldn't surprise me if Brent does not play at all this year.
When play-caller Scott Linehan does want to get the ball to Dunbar, he’s done a good job of designing plays that get him the ball in space and on the move, where his combination of speed and quickness can result in a big play.
Or Linehan has used the formation to get him lined up against linebackers. Dunbar has only caught 14 passes, but he’s had gains of 11, 12, 24, 21, 18, 11, 40 and 12.
That’s the definition of a play-maker.
Of course it’s hard to get Dunbar the ball, when Linehan has to make sure DeMarco Murray gets his carries and Dez Bryant and Witten get their opportunities. The Cowboys have made a conscious effort the past few weeks to keep Murray at about 44 plays per game, which gives Dunbar and Joseph Randle a few more plays each game.
But it’s clear the Cowboys view Randle more as a runner and Dunbar more of a receiver as the offense is currently constructed.
Dunbar has only 19 carries this season, and 11 of those came in Week 2 against Tennessee.
Still, he gives the Cowboys’ offense an element of big-play ability they would be wise to use.