NFC East: Dallas Cowboys

IRVING, Texas -- The trade deadline is Oct. 28, but the Dallas Cowboys already feel like they have a big acquisition on the way in rookie defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence.

Lawrence will begin his second week of practice on Thursday as he works his way back from a broken right foot suffered in training camp and can make his season debut Nov. 2 against the Arizona Cardinals.

On 105.3 The Fan in Dallas on Tuesday, owner and general manager Jerry Jones said Lawrence had “everybody frothing at the mouth,” at practice last week. The Cowboys placed Lawrence on short-term injured reserve, which knocked him out of the first eight games, but allowed him to get 100 percent healthy after surgery.

Lawrence
The Cowboys have an obvious need for a pass rusher with only seven sacks in seven games. Coach Jason Garrett acknowledged the pass rush was not good in the win against the New York Giants and must improve as the season goes on.

“You have to win one-on-one rushes,” Garrett said. “You have to get more pressure with your down guys. Maybe it’s one-on-one rushes, maybe it’s rush games, maybe it’s bringing people. i don’t think we did a good enough job affecting the quarterback in [Sunday’s] game. You talk all you want about not having any sacks but you also have to affect the guy. I thought they did a pretty good job in their passing game getting the ball out quickly. We didn’t get a chance to get to the quarterback and disrupt the passing game as much as we liked. There were some good individual efforts, and at times we did a good job in that area, but we continue to have to improve there. It’s a really important part of playing good defense.”

That’s where Lawrence comes in. The Cowboys gave up their second- and third-round picks to the Washington Redskins in order to move up to the 34th pick in the second round to take Lawrence. He was their third-rated right defensive end in the draft behind Jadeveon Clowney and Anthony Barr, who went first and ninth overall, respectively.

Lawrence had 20 sacks in two years at Boise State and was having a productive camp until getting hurt in a pass rush drill against Tyron Smith.

“Just working on my movement, getting back into it so at times I felt a little rusty, but then again I felt like I never left, if you know what I mean,” Lawrence said of his practice work last week. “It’s really just getting back into football shape.”

Lawrence said his foot has not given him any issues in his rehab, and the time in the weight room has made him stronger.

“I feel like I put on at least 10 pounds basically just working out every day. That’s all I could do,” Lawrence said. “I feel like I’ve gotten a lot stronger and in some way I feel like I ain’t lost my step either. It’s a good feeling I have about coming back.”
IRVING, Texas -- Dallas Cowboys defensive tackle Amobi Okoye is expected to practice Thursday for the first time with the Cowboys, his attorney, Darin Morgan, told ESPN's Adam Caplan.

Okoye
Okoye is on the reserve/non-football injury list as he continues to come back from anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis, a brain condition that causes memory issues and seizures and that had Okoye in a coma for three months last year.

Okoye, 27, was cleared for contact at the end of training camp, but the Cowboys kept him on the injury list so he could continue to rehab. Once the Cowboys activate Okoye, there will be a three-week window in which he can practice but not count against the 53-man roster. At the end of that period, the Cowboys will have to activate him, keep him on the injury list for the season, or release him.

Okoye said two weeks ago he no longer doubts he will play again. He said he is in much better shape after the extended workouts with strength and conditioning coach Mike Woicik. He signed a two-year deal with the Cowboys in May.

If he can return this year, he would be part of a defensive line rotation that has been beset by injuries. Anthony Spencer (knee) has already returned, while DeMarcus Lawrence (foot) is expected to return soon.

The Cowboys will monitor Okoye's work closely since no player has ever played in the NFL after recovering from this condition.

Okoye last played in the NFL in 2012 with the Bears.
IRVING, Texas -- Back in August, Stephen Jones said he hoped DeMarcus Ware got to the Super Bowl with the Denver Broncos, such is the feelings the Dallas Cowboys executive vice president has for the franchise’s all-time leader in sacks.

Jones was quickly asked that day which NFC team Ware would face.

“You know what I hope,” Jones said. “But then you’ll all say I’m predicting the Super Bowl. But I hope he gets to it, for sure.”

There were a bunch of laughs after he said that, but now? Who knows, maybe it will happen?

The Cowboys have the NFL’s best record at 6-1. Ware’s Broncos have the best record in the AFC at 5-1. They also have this quarterback you may have heard about: Peyton Manning. He just set some NFL record with his 510th career touchdown pass.

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The Cowboys still have a long way to go to feel as secure as the Broncos, but given the formula that is working so well, there is a path to Glendale, Arizona. The Cowboys control the line of scrimmage, run the ball and control the time of possession. The offense can score points and the defense is opportunistic.

Would it be better if it still had Ware? He has seven sacks in six games. The Cowboys have seven sacks as a team in seven games. You draw the conclusion.

But the economics of the league forced the Cowboys to make a decision in the offseason after Ware suffered through a career-low six sacks in part because of injuries.

The Cowboys had a chance to see Ware -- if not play against him -- in the preseason finale at AT&T Stadium.

Could they see him again at University of Phoenix Stadium for Super Bowl XLIX on Feb. 1, 2015?

Could Jones have even have imagined that back in August?

The Film Don't Lie: Cowboys

October, 21, 2014
Oct 21
11:00
AM ET
A weekly look at what the Dallas Cowboys must fix:

DeMarco Murray leads the NFL in rushing with 913 yards on 187 carries. No other running back in NFL history has opened the season with seven straight 100-yard games. He should be in any MVP talk as the Cowboys head into Monday night's matchup against the Washington Redskins.

He is doing it when defenses know the Cowboys want to run the ball.

Despite defenses loading the box to stop the run, the Cowboys have run the ball surprisingly well. It has led to more “dirty” yards, as Jason Garrett has called runs of 0, 1, 2 or 3 yards. After averaging at least 5.4 yards per carry in three of the first four games, Murray has put up at least 4 yards per carry in the past three games. The ability to get chunks of yards has changed from otherworldly -- Murray had 17 runs of at least 10 yards or more in the first four games -- to a still respectable 10 in the past three games.

There will come a time when the Cowboys will have to rely more on their adjustments to the eight-man fronts they are seeing through scheme or passing the ball early in games to free Murray up as the game goes on. The Cowboys countered some of that against the New York Giants with more three-tight-end sets knowing the versatility of tight ends Jason Witten, James Hanna and Gavin Escobar allows them to run and throw the ball.

The Cowboys don’t really need to “fix” much about what they’re doing offensively, but they need to stay ahead of the game for the times when the running game does not succeed.
IRVING, Texas -- With Sunday’s win against the New York Giants, Jason Garrett surpassed Bill Parcells and Wade Phillips for the fourth-most regular-season wins in Dallas Cowboys history with 35.

Garrett
Garrett
Garrett, who is 35-28 as head coach, is in the final year of his contract, and Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones has repeatedly said he believes Garrett has a bright future with the Cowboys but he is not interested in talking about a contract extension.

Neither is Garrett.

“I just know where I need to focus, where our team needs to focus and it needs to focus on playing our best football,” Garrett said. “The way we do that is we focus on being our best today, do a great job evaluating that game, get ready for the players coming in, let’s go to work. That’s really what I think about.”

The Cowboys have the best record in the NFL at 6-1, and their six-game winning streak is their longest since 2007, when they finished an NFC-best 13-3 in Phillips’ first season.

Garrett has never wavered from his process-oriented approach, and the team’s fast start this season is not about to change that.

“If you just keep trying to do things the right way, the results on the scoreboard will hopefully take care of itself,” Garrett said. “And that’s just the way I think. That’s the way we try to help this team.”

When asked if Jones and Garrett’s agent, David Dunn, will talk about a deal, Garrett was terse.

“That was the last answer I’m going to have about my contract,” Garrett said. “Seriously, I’m thinking about getting ready for the Redskins.”
IRVING, Texas – Officially, Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Terrance Williams was targeted on three Tony Romo passes in Sunday’s win against the New York Giants.

Realistically, he was targeted just once, on a go route in the first quarter. He was just in the vicinity of a Romo throwaway for his second target. And on his third, which was his only catch, the play was not designed for him.

Williams
Williams
But it is what Williams does when he is not among the top reads for Romo that has the quarterback singing the praises of the second-year wide receiver.

For the third straight week, Williams made a play when Romo found himself in trouble while under pressure.

Against the Houston Texans, it came after Romo spun away from defensive end J.J. Watt and found Williams in the end zone for a 43-yard touchdown.

Against the Seattle Seahawks, it came after Romo spun away from pass rusher Bruce Irvin and then stepped through two tacklers to loft a third-and-20 pass to Williams, who not only caught the ball but was able to drag his feet for the completion, a 23-yard pickup on what turned out to be the game-winning touchdown drive.

Against the Giants, Romo once again spun away from trouble to his left. As Williams looked back at Romo, he saw the quarterback out of the pocket, pivoted to the far sideline to keep cornerback Zack Bowman on his hip and then came back to his left, where Romo found him in the back of the end zone through a sliver of space.

Williams has 19 catches for 338 yards and a team-best six receiving touchdowns this season. But his work when things go off script is similar to the way Laurent Robinson worked in 2011. Robinson caught 11 touchdown passes -- and 54 passes for 858 yards -- while mostly being able to find Romo’s plane of vision when plays broke down.

“Terrance works his butt off,” Romo said. “He is continually getting better and better. I have full trust in Terrance at this point. He is showing over and over again that he is going to do the right things.”
IRVING, Texas -- In the offseason Terrell McClain was one of the Dallas Cowboys' biggest surprises, but then the defensive tackle suffered a high ankle sprain in training camp that kept him out of the preseason games.

McClain
The ankle injury kept him out of the season opener against the San Francisco 49ers. He then suffered a concussion against the St. Louis Rams in Week 3 and did not play the following week against the New Orleans Saints.

In three games he was credited with five tackles and a quarterback pressure.

But in the third quarter of Sunday’s 31-21 win against the New York Giants, McClain had three tackles and two tackles for a loss. He should have been credited with a forced fumble and recovery if not for the officials incorrectly ruling forward progress stopped.

“I don’t know what it was,” McClain said. “It was just something that hit me. We came in at halftime and say, ‘That wasn’t us in the first half. We’ve got to come out and play our ball.’ Just had to go out there and let it go.”

There was some outcry over the weekend when the Cowboys released defensive tackle Ken Bishop instead of McClain to make room for linebacker Keith Smith on the active roster, but McClain showed in the third quarter he can be a disruptive player.

“He was just driven out there,” Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones said. “He's playing for a jersey in practice. Rod (Marinelli) has got him wondering if he's going to get (one of the eight) jerseys to come in there and play on the defensive line.”
ARLINGTON, Texas -- When attempting to find out why the Dallas Cowboys are rolling along offensively, the easy answer is the running game and DeMarco Murray’s 913 yards.

Tony Romo believes it goes past what Murray has done.

“This is the best we have ever been on third down,” Romo said. “That is really changing the game. It is our ability to consistently stay patient and run the ball over and over again. If we continue to be good on third down, we can continue to get a lot of reps on the ground. That helps the process.”

The Cowboys converted 9 of 14 third-down chances in Sunday’s 31-21 win against the New York Giants, upping their season total to 54 conversions of 94 third downs (57 percent).

Last year the Cowboys converted just 35 percent of the time on third down.

The Cowboys spent a good portion of their offseason trying to fix what went wrong on third down in 2013. New playcaller Scott Linehan has changed the dynamics of the offense by running more, but he has also found a way to get his playmakers, like Dez Bryant and Jason Witten, involved as well as the role players.

“I think a lot of it is the plan, and I think a lot of it is the execution,” Romo said. “I don’t know what the numbers were today, but on third-and-8 or third-and-10, we were converting some of those. Third-and-3 feels the same way as third-and-8 or 9 for us right now. That is a testament to everybody -- the coaches coming up with a good plan and the players going out and executing that.”

The Cowboys converted on third-and-5 or more on eight out of 13 tries against the Giants. Witten’s two catches went for a first down. Bryant had catches of 44, 25, and 8 yards. Tight end Gavin Escobar converted two -- one of which was a 15-yard score -- and Romo scrambled 6 yards for a first down.

The third-down success on offense has affected the defense. Last year, the defense was on the field too much. This year, the defense is playing fewer snaps and not getting exposed.

“Typically you’re in more manageable third-down situations when you run the ball effectively,” coach Jason Garrett said. “You get in some of those short-yardage situations and goal-line situations and end-of-game situations, you just run the football. When you’ve got a big, strong offensive line, you’re able to do that. There’s a physicalness about our football right now. It stems from those guys up front. It pervades our offense. It pervades our defense. It’s a good thing for our team.”
ARLINGTON, Texas -- No matter how hard the media tries, Jerry Jones isn't going to touch the topic of a potential contract extension for Dallas Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett.

Garrett
Garrett
"We've got so many contracts that we're supposed to be needing to be talking about now that things are going good," Jones said with a wide smile after the Cowboys improved to an NFL-best 6-1 on Sunday. "I'm not even going to begin to start anywhere. I'm just going to squat."

Make no mistake, it's a matter of when and how much --not if -- with Garrett's next contract.

Jones has never been searching for reasons to get rid of Garrett. To the contrary, the Cowboys' owner/general manager has always wanted to look for reasons to keep Garrett, the coach he has said he hoped would be his Tom Landry.

"I don't know that anybody has had a better, brighter vision of Jason's future than I do," Jones said after Sunday's 31-21 win against the New York Giants. "I've always thought he had the potential to be a serious consistent winning coach in the NFL and still think that.

"I'm just proud that he has structured his staff the way that he has, the way he's coaching them the way he has, I'm glad he's coaching the coaches the way he is. They have a great appreciation for what he's bringing to the table, as it should be. It's his staff.

"I'm just glad to see him have this kind of success. His players hang on every word and they're seeing what he's preaching works. That's an ideal set of circumstances for a coach that is looking for a big future in the NFL."
ARLINGTON, Texas -- How 'bout that home-field advantage?

For the first time this season, it didn’t feel like a bowl game when the Dallas Cowboys played at home.

Sure, there were some New York Giants fans sprinkled into the crowd of 91,028 at AT&T Stadium. But it was nothing like the previous few home crowds for the Cowboys, when hordes of folks wearing San Francisco 49ers red, New Orleans Saints black and gold, and Houston Texans blue and red made themselves at home in the $1.2 billion stadium.

Dallas definitely didn’t have to use a silent count, as was the case during their overtime win against the Texans earlier this month. In fact, the home crowd was actually a factor in causing a couple of false starts by the Giants.

“I think this was as fine an hour for our crowd that we've had,” owner Jerry Jones said.

Several Cowboys, including quarterback Tony Romo and tight end Jason Witten, had made a point to publicly request that season-ticket holders stop selling their seats to opposing fans.

[+] EnlargeCowboys
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsGavin Escobar and Dez Bryant played in front of a solidly supportive home crowd for the first time this season.
Perhaps that played a role in the Cowboys enjoying a true home-field advantage for the first time all season. More likely, it was the fact that the Cowboys have given their fans reason to be excited, beating the defending Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks last week to enter this game tied for the NFL’s best record.

Whatever the reasons might be, the Cowboys appreciated the support.

“It was outstanding out there,” Romo said. “We have such a strong contingent of fans across America, and obviously here they showed that today. They were a big part of that win, and I think that is going to continue at home. It felt a lot like what Seattle had up there, so that is pretty big.”

Added coach Jason Garrett: “We certainly appreciate our crowd, and we’re working hard every day to give them the best product that we can.”
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Normally when a kicker is limping, there is not much of a reaction, but Dan Bailey is not a normal kicker.

As he limped back to the sideline after making a point-after attempt in the third quarter, he was greeted by head athletic trainer Jim Maurer.

“I just kind of got leg whipped a little bit,” Bailey said, “but it’s not a big deal.”

Bailey’s left leg took the brunt of the hit but he said it did not bother him and does not expect it to be an issue in the future. Bailey sent the ensuing kickoff into the end zone and nailed a 49-yard field goal with 59 seconds to play to give the Dallas Cowboys a 10-point cushion.

“I don’t necessarily look at it from a make-or-miss standpoint,” Bailey said. “Obviously, yeah, you’re aware of the situations and what’s going on. I think you have to be. But once you get out there you put it on the back burner and just focus on going one for one.”

Bailey said the Cowboys were prepared for the New York Giants' rush on field goal attempts, which uses more defensive lineman than other team.

“You have to stay within your game and not worry much about that,” Bailey said. “I have confidence in those guys that they’re going to kind of stop that rush. From that point it’s just a matter of putting points on the board.”
videoARLINGTON, Texas -- It’s blasphemous to think it, let alone say it. But the Dallas Cowboys’ offense is so good these days that comparing it to The Triplets’ offense led by Troy Aikman, Michael Irvin and Emmitt Smith seems like the right thing to do.

Especially since the Cowboys have the NFL’s best record -- proof a higher power exists, right -- and its best offense.

Dallas 31, New York 21.

It all starts with DeMarco Murray, who broke Jim Brown’s 56-year-old record with his seventh straight 100-yard game to start the season and finished with 128 yards on 28 carries.

Tony Romo completed 17 of 23 passes for 279 yards and three touchdowns and Dez Bryant caught nine passes for 151 yards. Those are the kind of days Aikman, Irvin and Smith seemingly had all of the time during the glory days of the 1990s.

Jason Witten and Gavin Escobar, who caught two touchdown passes Sunday, certainly give this offense everything tight end Jay Novacek gave those offenses whether it’s converting third downs or attacking the seam.

Terrance Williams, who scored his sixth touchdown with a leaping 18-yard catch, is doing a pretty good imitation of Alvin Harper's big-play production. Cole Beasley and Dwayne Harris provide play-making from the slot the way Kelvin Martin did.

And they do it behind an offensive line that dominates the line of scrimmage each week.

“Obviously, DeMarco is at the highest level of his position and Dez is at the highest level of his position,” Romo said, “but I’d be hard-pressed to name a lot more players who are playing better than Jason Witten, Cole, Terrance and the guys up front.

“We’re just a balanced team that can get the ball to a lot of different people, and it’s just hard on teams to figure out what they’re going to take away. It’s my job to figure out what they’re doing and find the guy who’s going to be in position.”

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The Cowboys’ offense is even good enough to compensate for a scrappy, hard-playing defense that remains suspect because it can’t rush the passer. They barely touched Eli Manning in 33 pass attempts.

Dallas also kept the ball for 33:49 Sunday, the fourth consecutive time it has had the ball for more than 33 minutes, something the Cowboys hadn’t accomplished since 1980. All that time of possession keeps the defense rested and off the field, where they can’t be exposed.

All of this is why the Cowboys have the NFL’s best offense.

Yes, the Cowboys’ offense is better than Peyton Manning's show in Denver. It’s better than Andrew Luck's offense in Indianapolis. It’s better than Drew Brees' offense in New Orleans or Aaron Rodgers’ offense in Green Bay.

It’s better because the Cowboys can run the ball, something each of those other teams struggles to do, while still throwing it nearly as well as each of those other clubs.

The Cowboys’ offense will function on the road and in domes. It works in frigid weather, a monsoon or under a blazing sun. The Cowboys had 400 yards of offense Sunday for the fourth consecutive game, a feat they hadn’t accomplished since 1976.

Heck, the Cowboys’ offense is so good it even made New York coach Tom Coughlin panic.

After the Cowboys took a 7-0 first-quarter lead, Coughlin wanted to go for it on fourth-and-1 from the New York 46 on the Giants’ next possession because he feared his team would trail by two touchdowns the next time they touched the ball.

A procedure penalty forced the Giants to kick, but he went for it on fourth-and-1 from the Dallas 38 in the second quarter for the same reason and it led to a touchdown.

The Giants pulled within 28-21 on a 5-yard touchdown pass to Odell Beckham with 5:28 left.

Well, the Giants didn’t get the ball again until 59 seconds remained and the lead had been stretched to 10 on a 49-yard field goal by Dan Bailey. That’s exactly how the Cowboys used to win games in the '90s.

“We don’t like to compare things,” said Garrett, when asked about The Triplets. “Those are some of the best teams in the history of the National Football League.

“That was a good formula for playing winning football back then -- being able to run the ball and spread it around to everybody. That’s certainly an objective of ours.”

Garrett played for those championship teams in the '90s, and he has built this team in their image.

And a new collection of Triplets has made the Cowboys contenders.
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ARLINGTON, Texas -- Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant did not feel like Dez Bryant in the first half Sunday. He didn't look like him either.

After he stumbled on a route that led to a Tony Romo interception, failed to hold on to a deep ball and had another route miscommunication with the quarterback, Bryant had the perfect antidote at halftime: a visor and a new pair of cleats.

"Had to go back to being Dez," Bryant said. "I wore my visor this week as y'all can tell. Truthfully, it makes me feel a certain way. I feel like I have to go back to being me, wear the things I normally wear and don't try to do anything different. I am like that. I am just that kind of guy. I am back to me."

[+] EnlargeDez Bryant
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesWide receiver Dez Bryant comes up big for the Cowboys in the second half against the Giants.
Whatever works.

Bryant caught two passes for 15 yards in the first half. In the second half, he caught seven passes for 136 yards, showing a patience and a resolve he might not have shown just a year or two ago, dominating the New York Giants at whatever turn.

"Truthfully, I think what I learned to do is not to make things personal because I think once you make things personal you tend to fall off a little bit," Bryant said. "That's for anybody."

That has not always been Bryant's demeanor. He has let defenders get under his skin at times, wasting emotion that has sapped him of his strength and composure. That has played a part in why he has needed intravenous fluids during games.

Now all he needs is a visor and cleats.

And Tony Romo.

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More than half of Romo's completions went to Bryant. He finished with 279 yards on 17-of-23 passing. He had three touchdown passes, two to tight end Gavin Escobar and an 18-yard scrambling find of Terrance Williams.

"I'd have to say that may be [the] best game I've ever seen Tony Romo play," owner and general manager Jerry Jones said. "That was an outstanding game. He was pinpointing the ball, making the kind of plays and protecting the ball."

Romo was Troy Aikman-like with his efficiency and Roger Staubach-like with his ability to buy time. He needed a toradol shot before the game to help with bruised ribs and a sprained ankle suffered in last week's win against the Seattle Seahawks, but maintained his surgically repaired back felt fine.

On his touchdown throw to Williams, Romo spun his way out of trouble and immediately spotted Williams in the back of the end zone. His touchdown passes to Escobar were perfect. He took no chances with the ball.

And if he was going to take a chance in the second half, it would be to Bryant.

"I think he wanted a couple of plays back in the first half and he mentally locked in," Romo said, apparently unaware of what a visor and different cleats mean to Bryant. "He played an outstanding game. He was tough to handle in the second half."

Five of Bryant's seven second-half catches went for a first down. A 44-yarder on third and 6 helped lead to Escobar's second touchdown. He had a touchdown called back after a strike from Romo over Prince Amukamara when the replay showed his knee hit the ground before he stretched over the goal line.

"That's one of those that when we go back and watch the tape, we'll watch that one again and again," Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. "To me when I saw it live and then I saw it replayed up on the screen as we were trying to determine whether it was a touchdown or not, just to see what he's all about on that play, to go get the football and put every ounce of energy into getting in the end zone. It was big time."

Bigger time was the two catches on the next drive after the Giants cut the lead to 28-21. Bryant had a 10-yard gain on second-and-11 and 13 yards on second-and-9. The Cowboys were effectively able to kill the clock and put the game away with a 49-yard field goal from Dan Bailey.

"One of the things he's done a really good job of is not getting frustrated," Garrett said. "He's got a mature approach, a real calm, composed approach. And he's a really fiery guy. He's a great competitor, so for him to balance those things throughout the game and be patient and wait for his opportunities, it's really impressive."

Cowboys defense doing just enough

October, 19, 2014
Oct 19
10:55
PM ET

ARLINGTON, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys' defense had zero sacks and New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning was upright for the majority of the game. There were three pass breakups and no interceptions. The defense, run by Rod Marinelli, isn’t going to scare offensive coordinators, but it is doing enough to win.

And that was the case on Sunday when the Cowboys upended the Giants, 31-21, in Dallas' first NFC East game of the season.

The Giants didn't have top weapons Victor Cruz or Rashard Jennings but they still have Manning, a two-time Super Bowl winner. The Cowboys' secondary provided tight coverage most of the day and limited the deep passing game. Manning had just one completion of more than 25 yards, a 27-yard touchdown pass to Daniel Fells in the second quarter. There wasn't much blitzing from the Cowboys and a four-man pass rush applied much of the pressure.

It was nice how the game ended with Justin Durant forcing a fumble with 35 seconds remaining and Henry Melton recovering the ball to close the show. The credit for this 6-1 start goes to DeMarco Murray and Dez Bryant but the Cowboys' defense deserves some mention, too.

“We had a bad game,” Durant said. “We didn’t play our game. I felt like we gave up a lot of stuff. A couple of those plays were definitely on me. I have to clean up what I’m doing and get my eyes right. We have a lot of stuff to get better at.”

It is great that Marinelli is stressing the little things: Open field tackling, making sure you don’t give up first downs on long-down-and-distances, play your responsibilities within the zone defense, no free-styling and go after the ball carrier no matter where you are on the field.

While it will not be mistaken for the "Doomsday Defense," it’s a unit that’s efficient enough to beat teams.

“We’re a physical defense and we’re not going to back down from anybody,” safety Barry Church said. “There are corrections to be made but we’re a physical team and we’re not going to be out-hit by anybody.”

“Everybody plays for each other and plays hard,” linebacker Rolando McClain said. “It’s paying off.”

At this stage it is.

This defense isn’t perfect of course. There is no outstanding pass rusher and the secondary doesn’t get enough interceptions, but it’s doing just enough help win games. In the big picture of things, that’s really all that matters.

“We didn’t perform as well as I thought we could have,” defensive end Jeremy Mincey said. “We put it all together at the right moment to win the game.”


ARLINGTON, Texas -- Remember what a fool Jerry Jones was during the first two days of the 2013 draft?

The Dallas Cowboys’ doofus of an owner/general manager got fleeced by the San Francisco 49ers in a first-round trade-down deal, reached for a midround-graded center late in the first round and selected a soft, small-school tight end in the second round.

[+] EnlargeGavin Escobar
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsGavin Escobar has proved in recent weeks that he is a vital piece in Dallas' passing game.
Just another draft disaster for Dallas, further proof that Jones needs to give up GM duties to give the Cowboys a chance to return to glory.

Or so many of us thought. Hindsight being 20/20, Jones and his Valley Ranch advisory committee put together a heck of a draft class.

It didn’t take this season’s 6-1 start to see that the deal with the 49ers worked out just fine for the Cowboys, no matter what the various trade-value charts indicated. First-round center Travis Frederick and third-round receiver Terrance Williams -- ranked 22nd and 23rd on Dallas’ draft board, respectively, much higher than media draft experts had them -- made impacts as rookies and were clearly capable of being part of the Cowboys’ core for years to come.

That pair of players acquired by giving up the 18th overall pick -- and passing on defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd, the fifth-ranked player on the Cowboys’ board -- have continued to progress this season. Frederick, a brainy bully, is playing like a Pro Bowler for the NFL’s premier offensive line. Williams, a big-time bang-for-buck No. 2 receiver, has six touchdowns on 19 catches after his 18-yard score in Sunday’s 31-21 win over the New York Giants.

Hey, at least GM Jerry’s army of critics still had Gavin Escobar to pick on. Geez, how many second-round tight ends are the Cowboys going to draft during Jason Witten’s career before figuring out that’s a luxury pick that goes to waste under coach Jason Garrett?

Wait, what’s that? Oh, Escobar has three touchdowns in the past two weeks, huh?

Perhaps Escobar’s 2-yard score in last week’s win over the defending Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks could have been put in the sun-shines-on-a-dog’s-rear-every-once-in-a-while category. But it’s impossible to dismiss Escobar’s performance against the Giants, when he caught all three passes thrown his way, gaining 65 yards and scoring two touchdowns.

“I try to shut all that noise out, but you definitely hear it sometimes,” Escobar said, referring to the popular opinion that he was a bust. “It’s good to have a game like this. Maybe not so many haters out there today.”

The 6-foot-6, 260-pound Escobar will probably never be considered an overpowering blocker, but he has developed enough in that facet of the game to have his snaps increase significantly the past two weeks. That’s one reason why tight ends coach Mike Pope, a Giants assistant the previous 23 years, received a game ball from Garrett after Sunday’s win.

But the Escobar pick was always about his potential as a pass-catcher. When the Cowboys made the pick, they envisioned Escobar as a mismatch problem for defenses, particularly in the red zone. They believed Escobar could make the kind of plays he did Sunday, when he got wide open in the back of the end zone for a 15-yard score in the first quarter and extended to make a touch catch between two defenders for a 26-yard touchdown on a seam route in the third quarter.

“I just couldn't believe all those collisions that he had at the end of that catch, and what he was doing physically out there, and those soft pillow, powder-puff hands,” said Jones, seizing the opportunity to gloat a bit about the second-round pick who took a little while to pan out. “And the ball just disappears in them. Seriously, I don't know if we have -- that's the best hands that we've got, some of the best hands I've ever seen.”

That’s a bit of hyperbole, but you can’t blame GM Jerry for boasting a bit about a draft class that received such heavy criticism. And we haven’t even mentioned that third-round safety J.J. Wilcox is starting for a surprisingly decent defense or that fifth-round running back Joseph Randle is a decent backup when he isn’t shoplifting from Dillard’s.

Well, anyone wanna talk about fourth-round bust B.W. (Burned Whenever) Webb, the cornerback the Cowboys cut this summer?

Nah, not with the Cowboys sitting at 6-1 with significant contributions from that 2013 draft class.

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