NFC East: Dallas Cowboys

Cowboys vs. Rams preview

September, 18, 2014
Sep 18
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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.

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IRVING, Texas -- Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo is missing his first practice of the regular season as he takes a day of rest for his surgically repaired back.

Coach Jason Garrett made no reference to Romo not practicing in his morning news conference but talked about Romo’s health.

“He is coming back from an injury,” Garrett said. “He is working his way back through and there has been some good things over the first couple of weeks. He, like everybody else on our team is trying to get better, learn from the things that weren’t good and try to build on the things that were, try to get himself physically right. He goes through a process to get himself right each and every day and over the course of a week.

“I think it’s an important thing for him try to continue to do. Hopefully he will get better and better as the year goes on.”

Romo was in the weight room working out during practice.

He was not the only big-name Cowboy to not participate in the portion of practice that's open to the media.

Wide receiver Dez Bryant (shoulder) was not in pads, but he was catching passes and running sprints off to the side. He hurt his shoulder in the first quarter of last week’s win against the Tennessee Titans but finished with 10 catches for 103 yards and a touchdown. He had an extra pad placed under his shoulder pads after returning.

Linebacker Rolando McClain was not spotted at practice either. He has a groin injury that he suffered against the Titans. McClain leads the Cowboys with 15 tackles, a sack and an interception.

Running back Joseph Randle (concussion), defensive tackle Davon Coleman (calf) and linebacker Justin Durant (groin) are not practicing.

Defensive end Anthony Spencer is in full pads and went through individual drills for the first time as he works his way back from microfracture surgery on his left knee. Defensive end Lavar Edwards (knee) also returned to practice after sitting out last week’s game.

Orlando Scandrick back at Valley Ranch

September, 17, 2014
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IRVING, Texas -- Dallas Cowboys cornerback Orlando Scandrick has rejoined his teammates Wednesday and will be on the practice for the first time now that his suspension for violating the NFL’s performance-enhancing drug policy has been lifted.

Scandrick
Scandrick was set to rejoin the Cowboys on Sept. 29 and play Oct. 5 against the Houston Texans once his original four-game suspension was up, but with the new drug policy finally in place Scandrick is free to play Sunday against the St. Louis Rams.

That’s a good thing for a Cowboys defense that lost linebacker Sean Lee (knee) for the season in May, defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence (foot) for the first eight games and linebacker Justin Durant (groin) for up to a month.

The Cowboys are slowly getting some pieces back. Scandrick’s return coincides this week with the first on-field football work for defensive end Anthony Spencer, who is working back from microfracture surgery on his left knee.

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Scandrick was the Cowboys’ best cornerback last year. He had a strong training camp over the summer. Though he took the starting job away from Morris Claiborne last season, his best asset is his ability to play in the slot. He is quick enough and strong enough to stay with receivers in the middle of the field and he has a good knack for timing his blitzes off the slot.

For a defense in need of all kinds of pass-rush help, having Scandrick will upgrade coverage and even the pass rush.

Given the way Sterling Moore has played in Scandrick’s absence, the Cowboys could have a decision to make as to which cornerback plays where. Morris Claiborne started the first two games opposite Brandon Carr with Moore working in the slot. It’s possible the Cowboys continue to give Moore playing time inside or outside as Scandrick works his way into form after a two-week absence or over Claiborne.

In order to make room for Scandrick on the 53-man roster, offensive tackle Darrion Weems was placed on injured reserve. He hurt his shoulder early in training camp and has not practiced since.
IRVING, Texas -- Rolando McClain really doesn't like to talk much.

McClain is intelligent and can be insightful when interviewed, but he'd rather not talk to reporters, and does so only to avoid being fined by the NFL. The twice-retired 25-year-old linebacker isn't a rah-rah guy on his field, where he "leads with his pads," as Dallas Cowboys defensive end Jeremy Mincey put it.

[+] EnlargeRolando McClain
Ron T. Ennis/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/MCT/Getty ImagesRolando McClain, a first-round pick by the Raiders in 2010, is leading the Cowboys in total tackles through two games this season.
McClain definitely isn't the kind of guy who is going to make meaningless small talk. That's what made the brief conversation McClain initiated on the practice field one day so memorable to defensive captain Barry Church.

"He came up to me and was like, 'I love y'all. Y'all make this game fun for me again,'" Church recalled after McClain starred in Dallas' 26-10 win Sunday against the Tennessee Titans. "Once he said that, I knew he was back to his old ways, like how he was back at Alabama. Just a love for the game and love for winning. We need that type of guy around us. We just need him on our defense and I'm glad he's here."

Man, do the Cowboys ever need that kind of player, that type of talent on their defense. The no-risk deal to acquire McClain's rights from the Baltimore Ravens -- and recruit him out of retirement -- was rooted in desperation after a defense that ranked last in the league last season lost playmaking middle linebacker Sean Lee to a season-ending knee injury in May.

McClain was a miserable failure for the Oakland Raiders, who made him the eighth overall pick in the 2010 draft but released him less than three years and countless headaches later. He never stepped on the field in Baltimore, and many figured he was a lost cause if fellow Bama man Ozzie Newsome, the Ravens' general manager, couldn't get McClain on the right track.

"I was on a bad path," said McClain, who has been arrested three times since entering the NFL and is appealing an 18-day jail sentence stemming from a 2013 incident in his Alabama hometown. "I didn't deserve to play football, so to say. I wasn't all the way there in the game. You ain't going to be the best if you ain't focused on the job, so I needed to take time to do what was important, get myself right, and I got that right.

"Now I'm in a great organization, got some great teammates, and just happy to play football again."

It finally looks as if McClain has a legitimate chance of fulfilling the potential that prompted Alabama coach Nick Saban to tell NFL people that the 6-foot-4, 260-pound physical specimen with a nasty streak, natural instincts and an excellent X's and O's mind was one of the best players he'd ever coached.

Cowboys coach Jason Garrett remembered Saban, Garrett's boss when he broke into coaching in Miami, raving about McClain during Garrett's trip to an Alabama pro day. He called Saban when the Cowboys first considered McClain as an option and was told it was worth taking a shot on a gifted player with a troubled past who was truly trying to get his life together.

McClain, the father of two young boys, refocused his life around faith and family. He weeded out the negative influences, giving him a chance to take advantage of his football gifts, which he's done to the tune of a team-high 22 tackles (per the coaches' film), a sack and a spectacular interception in two games for a defense that is exceeding basement-low expectations.

There have been bumps in the road for McClain during his brief time with the Cowboys. Training camp was especially tough for him after a 20-month layoff. He missed a handful of practices due to his Alabama court date and minor, conditioning-related health issues.

But McClain, who quit on two NFL teams, convinced the Cowboys that they could count on him.

"[We] tried to give him an opportunity to come in and show us he can be a football player," Garrett said. "Create the right kind of environment for him to do that, and really emphasize taking day by day, play by play. Just focus on this task right here, and I think over time, he's demonstrated he can be a trustworthy player for us."

With his actions speaking a lot louder than words, McClain has definitely demonstrated his talent.

Defense ready for Scandrick's return

September, 16, 2014
Sep 16
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IRVING, Texas – Dallas Cowboys cornerback Orlando Scandrick is waiting for his formal reinstatement once the NFL and NFL Players Association come to an agreement on a new drug policy, but his teammates can’t wait for his return.

Scandrick has missed the first two games as part of a four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s performance-enhancing drug policy after testing positive for amphetamines in the spring. Under the terms of a new policy, Scandrick, as well as other players, like Denver Broncos wide receiver Wes Welker, will be allowed to play immediately.

Scandrick
“In the secondary right now, guys are playing pretty well,” cornerback Brandon Carr said. “With Scandrick, he's going to fit easily back into the puzzle as far as our chemistry on the back end. He's that guy that has a chip on his shoulder. I know he's going to come back ready to prove some things to us and to the rest of the world. I'm ready for him to come back, man, just get him back into the flow of things. We want all of our pieces up when it's time to go to war. We'll be happy to get that guy back.”

Morris Claiborne has started the first two games opposite Carr, and Sterling Moore has manned Scandrick’s role in the slot and earned the coaches’ praise.

“All I can do is go out there and make plays on the plays I have an opportunity to make,” Moore said. “I think I’ve done that so far, but it’s out of my hands whenever he comes back.”

Scandrick had two interceptions last season and was the Cowboys’ best cornerback. He had a solid preseason and training camp as well.

Linebacker Bruce Carter said Scandrick brings an attitude to the defense.

“Our spirit on defense right now is real high,” Carter said. “Everybody is flying around and just having fun, and a guy like Orlando, for me, I feel like he loves to talk. He’s always talking junk to somebody, so I think it’ll add more flavor to our defense. We’ll be happy to have him back.”

Cowboys banking on Murray's health

September, 16, 2014
Sep 16
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IRVING, Texas -- Through two games, Dallas Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray is on pace for 408 carries this season.

It's too early to say Murray will challenge Larry Johnson's NFL regular-season record of 416 carries for the Kansas City Chiefs in 2006. It's probably too early to say Murray will push for Emmitt Smith's franchise record of 377 in 1995.

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But Murray's 51 carries are the most he has had in a two-game span in his career, and he has never had more than 217 carries in a season.

As a rookie in 2011 he had 47 carries for 160 yards in a four-day span in Cowboys' wins against the Washington Redskins (Nov. 20) and Miami Dolphins (Nov. 24). He has not had more than two games in a row with at least 20 carries since his rookie seaason when he went a span of four straight games with at least 20 carries.

This is the first time Murray, who had a career-high 29 carries for 167 yards in Sunday's win against the Tennessee Titans, has had back-to-back games with at least 20 carries since Week 13-14 against the Philadelphia Eagles and Cincinnati Bengals in 2012.

"We feel like DeMarco is a durable football player who can take the pounding of being the primary running back for the Cowboys, so we're going to give him opportunities to do that," coach Jason Garrett said. "We like the other guys. If we ever get to a point where we feel like we're wearing them down, we say, 'OK, let's play the other guys a little bit more.' But we don't feel like we're to that point by any means. He seems to handle the work. He seems to relish in getting the work, and that's a good thing. He seems to get better as the game goes on with more carries, and that's what all the good backs that I've ever been around have. That's part of their demeanor. So we'll certainly be mindful of running him into the ground, just like we would any player on our team, and be willing to use the other guys and trust the guys to carry the ball behind him."

But Murray has yet to play a full season. He missed three games as a rookie with a fractured ankle. He missed six games in 2012 with a foot injury. He missed two games last year with a knee injury.

Garrett clarified what he meant by durable when Murray's injury history was mentioned.

"It probably was more than we don't feel like he wears down, you know what I'm saying?" Garrett said. "We feel like at the end of that ballgame, he was strong. It wasn't like, ‘Boy, he's breaking down, he doesn't look like himself.' I thought he got stronger as the game wore on."
IRVING, Texas -- Tony Romo insists he's throwing the ball better than ever.

"As far as down the field, I'm throwing the ball really well," the Dallas Cowboys quarterback said. "I'm excited about that."

[+] EnlargeDallas Cowboys, Tony Romo
William Purnell/Icon SMIThrough two games this season, Cowboys QB Tony Romo has 42 completions on 66 attempts.
The statistics, as well as your eyes, must be lying.

Romo, who attributed a couple of passes that fluttered to poor body positioning and not decreased arm strength after two back surgeries, hasn't taken many shots downfield this season. He attempted only five passes that traveled farther than 20 yards in the air during the Cowboys' first two games. He completed one -- a 56-yard gain by Dwayne Harris, who had to wait for a severely underthrown pass and outjump a defensive back to make the catch -- and was picked off once.

"We've been an explosive pass offense for a long time," coach Jason Garrett said. "That's not something that concerns us terribly."

The Cowboys have been an explosive pass offense for a long time. Is that in the past tense with Romo at quarterback?

Romo averaged 7.2 yards per attempt last season, by far a career low. That has dropped to 6.9 this season.

Romo, one of the league's premier vertical passers for most of his starting tenure, simply hasn't been as effective attacking downfield as he used to be. This isn't just a two-game sample size. It's a trend that dates to October 2013, after his 506-yard performance in the shootout loss to the Denver Broncos.

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Since that game, Romo is 11-of-38 (28.9 percent) on passes that travel 20-plus yards in the air for 374 yards with only one touchdown and one interception. Compare that to his numbers on 20-plus-yard passes in 91 games from 2006 to 2012: 137-of-356 (38.5 percent) for 5,179 yards and 50 touchdowns with 23 interceptions.

Romo doesn't take as many risks as he did earlier in his career, which is an especially smart approach during games like Sunday's win against the Tennessee Titans, when the Cowboys needed their quarterback to be a bus driver to complement a dominant running game.

When the Cowboys need Romo to let it rip, can he still do it?

"He, like everybody else, is a work in progress, particularly when you're coming back off an injury," Garrett said. "Hopefully over the course of time, you just heal up more and more as you get going."

At some point, the Cowboys will need better from Romo, if not better than ever.
IRVING, Texas -- Anthony Spencer's journey back to a football field after microfracture surgery on his left knee last fall is getting closer.

Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said Spencer will “in some form he’ll do some football,” this week practice. Spencer has not practiced in more than a year after playing in just one game with 34 snaps against the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 2.

Spencer
Spencer has steadily increased his rehab work from the spring through the summer and has not reported any added soreness or complications in his comeback.

“He’s really worked hard and he looks good but he have to be mindful about where he’s coming from and just take it day by day and see how he handles the work,” Garrett said.

The Cowboys kept Spencer on the 53-man roster instead of putting him on the reserve physically unable to perform list because they thought he could be back before the Oct. 12 meeting at the Seattle Seahawks. Had he been placed on PUP, Spencer would have missed the first six games.

Garrett said Spencer could get most of the work on the side with the athletic training staff or go through a limited portion of individual drills. When Spencer returns, Garrett said he would play right defensive end. The Cowboys would work him in slowly as a designated pass rusher in nickel situations as he builds his strength and conditioning.
IRVING, Texas -- The injury to his right shoulder didn’t stop Dez Bryant from returning to Sunday’s game and finishing with 10 receptions for 103 yards and a touchdown.

Bryant
Bryant
It remains to be determined whether it will prevent Bryant from being a full participant in practice this week.

“Dez is a very, very tough individual,” Dallas Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett said. “He’s physically tough and he’s mentally tough. We went to him a number of different times in the game, and over and over and over again he made the plays. Made plays to keep drives alive. He made big plays. Scored the touchdown down in close. Again very productive once he came back.

“Anticipate taking his injury day by day. Hopefully he’ll be ready to do something Wednesday in practice. And then we’ll have a good week of preparation for St. Louis.”

Reserve running back Joseph Randle will have to pass the NFL’s concussion protocol tests after exiting in the third quarter of Sunday's win over the Tennessee Titans.

The Film Don't Lie: Cowboys

September, 15, 2014
Sep 15
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A weekly look at what the Cowboys must fix:

The St. Louis Rams might not be built to run a hurry-up offense without Sam Bradford, but they should notice the success the Tennessee Titans had against the Dallas Cowboys' defense by speeding things up.

The Cowboys allowed only two first downs and 68 yards in the first half, but the Titans came out in the second half with the no-huddle and scored on their first two possessions. Tight end Delanie Walker scored on a 61-yard pass and caught 10 passes for 142 yards, which should raise concerns about the Cowboys' ability to slow a tight end.

The Rams had 11 first downs and 246 yards in the second half without huddling.

"The challenge is just getting lined up," Cowboys safety Barry Church said. "They do that mostly to see what defense you're in. You definitely have to show your cards more. It got us out of disguising things early and they were able to pick us apart a little bit. Once we settled down, I thought we did a better job against it."
There were 125 plays in the Dallas Cowboys' 26-10 win against the Tennessee Titans, but not all of them are created equal. We all pay attention to the touchdowns and turnovers, but there are often other plays that play an important role in shaping the game, too.

Here's a look at five plays that shaped the Cowboys' win:

Play: Tony Romo incompletion
Situation: Second-and-4 from Tennessee 33
Score: Dallas leads, 16-10
Time: 4:51 left in third quarter
Taylor's Take: There's a good chance we'd be talking about the 0-2 Cowboys if Jason Witten doesn't make the play of the game. Tennessee had scored on its first two second-half possessions to pull within 16-10. On this play, Witten initially blocked before releasing into the right flat. Romo threw the ball high and it bounced off Witten's fingertips into the arms of Bernard Pollard, who would've returned it for a touchdown. Witten instinctively grabbed Pollard around the waist and knocked the ball out. Six plays later, Dez Bryant caught a touchdown pass for a 23-10 lead.

[+] EnlargeDeMarco Murray
AP Photo/Mark ZaleskiDespite a fumble by DeMarco Murray, the Cowboys held on for a Week 2 win at Tennessee.
Play: Jake Locker incompletion
Situation: Third-and-6 from Tennessee 50
Score: Tied, 0-0
Time: 7:27 left in first quarter
Taylor's Take: DeMarco Murray's second fumble of the season had given Tennessee great field position and an opportunity to take an early lead. Nate Washington ran a crossing route and settled in a soft spot on the Cowboys' zone, but safety J.J. Wilcox broke nicely on Locker's pass, deflecting it, and middle linebacker Rolando McClain slung him to the ground to force the incompletion and keep the score tied.

Play: Chris Jones punt
Situation: Fourth-and-six from Dallas 42
Score: Dallas leads, 10-0
Time: 6:51 left in second quarter
Taylor's Take: Dwayne Harris shows folks every week why he's among this team's most important players. Jones' punt bounced at 15 and was headed into the end zone, but Harris avoided Dexter McCluster's block at the 5, grabbed the ball at the 1 and tossed it backward just before he landed in the end zone. James Hanna downed the ball at the 2. The field position switch ultimately led to a field goal and a 13-0 Dallas lead.

Play: Cole Beasley reception
Situation: Third-and-7 from Dallas 35
Score: Dallas leads, 23-10
Time: 13:03 left in fourth quarter
Taylor's Take: The Cowboys needed a good drive to burn some clock and reduce Tennessee's chances of a comeback. So Romo picked a good time to deliver one of his best passes. Beasley, operating from the slot, ran a quick out and Romo delivered a perfect pass that Beasley caught in stride for a first down. The 11-play, 38-yard drive ended with a field goal.

Play: Kyle Wilber sack
Situation: Second-and-10 from Tennessee 13
Score: Dallas leads, 13-0
Time: :53 left in second quarter
Taylor's Take: The Titans were aggressive at the end of the first half, but Wilber wrecked the plan with a strong power rush. It was the first sack by a defensive lineman -- Wilber was rushing as a defensive end not a linebacker. It put the Titans in a third-and-long situation that helped force a punt and set up another Dallas field goal before the end of the half.

Replay helps Cowboys in win

September, 15, 2014
Sep 15
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett was pleased Rolando McClain was credited with an interception in the third quarter of Sunday’s 26-10 win against the Tennessee Titans.

He was upset McClain wasn’t credited with a touchdown.

Garrett needed to challenge the ruling on the field of an interception after the officials said Jake Locker’s pass hit the ground after Henry Melton hit the quarterback’s arm.

Garrett
Garrett
After waiting for word from the coaches upstairs, Garrett calmly dropped the challenge flag in front of the official for a review.

“I was staring right at it,” Garrett said. “One of the things they always emphasize -- and it’ the right thing to do -- is kind of work with the ref on it and get confirmation together. But there was no question in my mind because I was staring right at it. And for them to blow the whistle on that one when it should’ve been a 65-yard interception return for a touchdown was excruciating to say the least.”

That wasn’t the only time replay helped the Cowboys. In the fourth quarter Nate Washington’s 6-yard touchdown grab was overturned when replays showed the ball hit the ground with a little help from Brandon Carr.

“As soon as I saw the ball touch the ground I said, ‘Oh, no you can’t give them a touchdown on that one,” safety Barry Church said. “Me and Brandon were waving our arms like crazy. It was beneficial to us.”

Jason Witten makes big pass breakup

September, 14, 2014
Sep 14
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Dallas Cowboys tight end Jason Witten has 885 catches in a career that one day could lead him to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

If that day comes, he won’t talk about his pass breakup in Sunday’s 26-10 win against the Tennessee Titans.

It was, however, one of the Cowboys’ most critical plays in winning their first game of the season.

Witten
With the Titans bringing a heavy blitz up the middle, Tony Romo attempted to float a pass to Witten just past the line of scrimmage, but it was a little high and nearly fell into the arms of safety Bernard Pollard. With Pollard in full sprint, Witten reached out to stop what would have been an interception return for a touchdown.

“I was just trying to tackle him and got my hand on it,” Witten said. “We got lucky there.”

The Cowboys’ 16-point halftime lead was cut to six points before the Witten breakup. They ended that drive with a Dez Bryant touchdown and a 23-10 lead.

“That was big,” Romo said. “Obviously turnovers matter.”

It allowed Romo to finish without an interception after he was picked off three times in the season-opening loss to the San Francisco 49ers. In the 11 games after Romo was intercepted three times, he has now thrown 16 touchdown passes and been picked off eight times while the Cowboys have posted a 6-5 mark.

“You know the game can come down to a couple play as you saw in San Francisco, and I needed to tighten up the way I played so that what I did today,” Romo said. “And whether we needed to throw for 300 yards or 200 or 180, I was going to do what we needed and we needed that today.”
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- As Dez Bryant lined up for the first snap of the game, he looked up and saw two Tennessee Titans cornerbacks within breath-smelling distance.

There was nothing remotely subtle about this double-team. The Titans were treating Bryant like he was a gunner on the punt team, using two guys to jam him at the line of scrimmage and keep him from getting into his route.

Bryant
Bryant
“Sign of respect,” Bryant said, smiling. “There’s nothing else to that.”

Bryant, the Dallas Cowboys’ go-to guy, saw that kind of coverage in last season’s loss to the New Orleans Saints. He saw it again later Sunday afternoon.

But Bryant had plenty of opportunities against traditional coverage against the Titans, catching 10 passes for 103 yards and a touchdown in Dallas’ 26-10 win.

“You’ve just got to make a play when your number is called,” Bryant said. “That’s it.”

The Cowboys kept calling Bryant’s number during the most critical drive of the game, a 12-play, 80-yard march for a touchdown after the Titans scored 10 quick points in the third quarter to pull within six.

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Tony Romo targeted Bryant eight times on that series. Those plays produced five catches for 57 yards and a touchdown and a 9-yard gain on a pass interference penalty. Bryant kept the drive alive with an 18-yard gain on third-and-15 and ended it by beating cornerback Blidi Wreh-Wilson for a 3-yard score on a back-shoulder fade.

The Titans couldn’t afford to consistently double Bryant because they were getting gashed so badly by running back DeMarco Murray, who gained 167 yards on 29 carries. Bryant figures that he better feast when Murray demands so much of the defense’s attention.

“DeMarco is turning straight beast mode, man, straight beast mode,” Bryant said. “I know he’s going to keep doing that. When he runs the ball like that, all the running backs, it just makes our jobs that much easier.”

And if defenses want to make Bryant their primary focus, that’s fine by him, too. Even if it means getting the gunner treatment.

“I’m going to have to go to practice and work on it,” Bryant said. “I am. I don’t think you really can [beat that coverage], but in my mind, I can beat anything.”

Cowboys clutch at critical time

September, 14, 2014
Sep 14
7:27
PM ET
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- A game the Dallas Cowboys seemingly had in hand with a 16-0 halftime lead on Sunday was suddenly contentious.

The Tennessee Titans scored 10 points on their first two possessions of the second half, and the crowd was getting into it.

“You have to respond in a 60-minute game,” said Dallas coach Jason Garrett after his team's 26-10 win. “As we all know, some things are going to go well for you in the game and you have to keep building on those things and keep the pressure on them. And sometimes it’s going to go against you. You have to respond the right way to adversity.”

On what was a quiet Tony Romo day – 19-of-29 passing, 176 yards – the Cowboys quarterback had his most important moments after the Titans made the score 16-10. He completed 6 of 9 passes for 65 yards and ended the 12-play, 80-yard drive with a 3-yard scoring throw to Dez Bryant.

“I think you could feel at that point in the game it was a drive that you feel like you can make the difference and make it very difficult for a team,” Romo said.

The Cowboys had their breathing room with 2:09 left in the third quarter.

On a day in which the Cowboys stayed mostly ahead of the chains with a running game that gained 220 yards on 43 carries, it was a bailout by Romo and Bryant on third-and- 15 that turned into one of the biggest plays. Well, that and a Jason Witten pass breakup.

After Travis Frederick was penalized for holding, the Cowboys faced third-and-15 from the Tennessee 29. The Titans rushed only four at the snap, but Romo slid to his right as he felt a little pressure up the middle. Bryant broke off his route and moved inside to give Romo more space.

“It’s not a complete ad lib because his route is where it’s supposed to be,” Romo said. “I moved just to kind of create the time that I think you need for that specific route, for that kind of down and distance.”

Bryant got 18 yards and the Cowboys had their touchdown three plays later.

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