NFC East: Dallas Cowboys

IRVING, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys have a lot of worries when it comes to the Philadelphia Eagles offense.

There is LeSean McCoy and Darren Sproles running the ball. There are wide receivers Jeremy Maclin, Riley Cooper and Jordan Matthews. There are tight ends Brent Celek, Zach Ertz and James Casey.

Mark Sanchez has thrown for 300 yards in each of his three starts.

But it’s more than just the personnel. It’s the tempo at which Philadelphia plays that worries the Cowboys most. Defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli went with a basketball comparison.

“You remember Loyola-Marymount with coach (Paul) Westhead, that pace?” Marinelli said. “They just run the pace and run their system, run the pace and run the system with speed. That’s something we’ve kind of believed in on defense. We’ve got to align, get set, get ready to get our feet in the ground and we have to play fast. So we’ve got to match that. The challenge is there.”

The Cowboys performed rather well against the Eagles last year, but the short week has made it difficult to simulate the speed of play in practice. The Cowboys were not in pads all week, going through mostly jog-through sessions. They used multiple huddles with the scout-team offenses to get the defense prepared, running one play and then turn around to face the next play in a matter of seconds.

The New York Giants had success against the Cowboys last week with a no-huddle attack, but Eli Manning was calling plays at the line of scrimmage and the pace of play was not drastically different.

“Philly gets up there and snaps it,” cornerback Orlando Scandrick said. “The tempo is before the ball is snapped. We need to be lined up and ready to play when they come to the line of scrimmage.”

The Eagles average nearly 73 plays per game. The Cowboys’ defense was on the field a season-high 74 plays against the Giants and average 60.5 snaps per game.

“Now, they’ve got really good players and a challenging scheme,” coach Jason Garrett said. “They attack you a lot of different ways. Really just that basic element of 11 guys lined up the right way, everybody running the same defense, doing their job; that’s what gives you a chance to be successful against a team like this.”
IRVING, Texas - Dwayne Harris turned in his best performance of the season against the New York Giants.

The Cowboys could use a similar performance Thursday against Philadelphia, which has one of the best special teams units in the league.

Harris
Harris returned four punts for 68 yards with a long of 20. He also made a nice tackle on Odell Beckham Jr. on a punt return and downed another punt inside the 10.

He has only two punt returns of more than 20 yards this season -- he had eight in 2012 -- but he showed signs against the Giants of finding a rhythm.

“It looked like he got his swagger back and he was making the plays we’re used to having him making,” Jason Garrett said. “It’s always a collective effort.

“The return unit has to get the return started, and he has the unique ability to make guys miss and get north and south. I felt we were real close to making a couple of big plays.”

Harris’ contribution to the coverage units will be as important as his returns this week. Two weeks ago, Darren Sproles returned a punt for a touchdown. In Philadelphia’s last game, Josh Huff returned a kickoff for a touchdown.

The Cowboys have had a punt and two field goals blocked this year. They must avoid those mistakes against Philadelphia by being much more sound in the kicking game.
IRVING, Texas - Terrell McClain signed a three-year, $3 million deal with the Cowboys in the offseason. Thus far, they haven’t received much return on their investment.

A high ankle sprain limited the defensive tackle in training camp, and he missed the New Orleans game as he recovered from a concussion.

McClain
McClain, inactive against the Giants on Sunday, has 12 tackles and virtually no impact this season. It’s worth noting he was inactive against the Giants because he had one of his best games of the season in the Cowboys’ first matchup against New York, when he had four tackles, including two for loss.

But the Cowboys opted to activate Jack Crawford instead of McClain. Crawford, who had thumb surgery on Tuesday, will miss at least one game and that should give McClain an opportunity to prove he deserves more playing time.

“He dealt with some injuries early on and when he’s gotten some opportunities to play he’s done a good job,” coach Jason Garrett said. “We made a decision to keep Jack up because he played really well the last couple of weeks and deserved an opportunity.

“We went back and watched the Giants game prior to last week’s Giants game and he really showed up in that game. We feel good about what he’s done with the opportunities he’s gotten and working around the injuries he’s had.”
IRVING, Texas -- Running backs know running backs.

McCoy
Murray
Before Dallas Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray became the NFL's leading rusher -- he has 1,354 yards -- Philadelphia Eagles running back LeSean McCoy was a fan.

"Not just this year." McCoy said. "I always felt like if he got the ball more, he could do some special things."

Murray and McCoy struck up a friendship at the Pro Bowl last January. Murray was a late addition after rushing for a career-high 1,121 yards. McCoy led the NFL in rushing in 2013, fitting in perfectly in Chip Kelly's offense.

Things have been a little different for McCoy this season. He has 859 yards on 217 carries and three touchdowns, but he looked more like last year's McCoy last week when he ran for 130 yards on 21 carries against the Tennessee Titans.

That was the same Titans defense that Murray had 167 yards on 29 carries in September.

"I like his game," McCoy said. "He runs hard, he finishes very well. They're a good team. They're giving him some lanes to run in. I think the way he finishes runs and how strong he is, that's what makes him an elite back. I think we have different styles, so I wouldn't want to take anything from his game. I like it how it is."

Tony Romo ready for the 'mental' week

November, 25, 2014
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IRVING, Texas – Playing two games in five days will not be an issue for Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo.

Romo
Romo went through a full practice on Tuesday -- even if it was just a little bit faster than a walkthrough -- and will practice again on Wednesday as the Cowboys go through their red-zone and short-yardage plan.

“The game will be Thursday so you do everything you can to get yourself feeling at your best around 3:30 on Thursday,” Romo said. “That’s my job, and I’m going to wear out the mental side of it to get ready and to have the Eagles down cold by the time we get there.”

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The stress of the Thanksgiving week is more mental than physical. The players have not worn helmets during the two practices so far. Romo said the Cowboys used their bye week to implement some plays that could be part of the game plan this week as a way to work ahead.

Romo has fared well on Thanksgiving in his career. The Cowboys are 6-1 in his starts and has thrown 18 touchdown passes to just six interceptions.

“I mean the mental challenge is there, but I’ve played in enough Thanksgiving games to understand what is going to give you some advantages to the short week, to give you a leg up,” Romo said. “You’ve got to really grind it out. And you’ll be a little bit exhausted on the mental side of it but that’s a good thing in this sort of week.”

Cowboys respond to Eagles' trash talk

November, 25, 2014
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IRVING, Texas -- The trash talking has started between the Dallas Cowboys and the Philadelphia Eagles in anticipation of their Thanksgiving Day clash at AT&T Stadium.

On Monday, Eagles defensive tackle Bennie Logan didn't seemed impressed with the Cowboys' offensive line.

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"They’re OK," Logan told CSNPhilly. "Yeah, they’re OK. I don’t really know what’s great about them."

The Cowboys have the NFL's leading rusher in DeMarco Murray and an offensive line with three first-round draft picks, including Pro Bowl left tackle Tyron Smith.

Starting left guard Zack Martin, the Cowboys' 2014 first-round selection, is getting consideration for the offensive rookie of the year award.

"The running back’s having a good year running, but I don’t see anything spectacular about them," Logan said. "Same offensive line we faced last year and they have one new guy. We faced them [before]. They’re OK linemen."

Cowboys center Travis Frederick, like Martin and Smith, a first-round pick, didn't take the bait.

"I'm not really a big bulletin-board guy," Frederick said after Tuesday's practice at Valley Ranch. "For me, if you can't get motivated to play a game, this is your job, this is what I do, this is what I love. I'm motivated to play every game. People say things sometimes to the media and sometimes the media spins it a little bit. It is what it is."

Frederick was made aware of Logan's comments by fans on Twitter and Murray didn't know what was said until a reporter told him about it.

"Let's find out Thursday," Murray said with a smirk.

QB snapshot: Tony Romo

November, 25, 2014
Nov 25
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A quick observation of quarterback Tony Romo and how he played in the Dallas Cowboys' 31-28 win in Week 12 against the New York Giants:

Romo
The Romo who played Sunday against the Giants looked a lot different from the Romo who played Nov. 9 against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Romo moved much more freely against the Giants than he did against the Jaguars, which was his first game playing through two transverse process fractures in his back.

The Cowboys also felt more comfortable with him moving out of the pocket on designed plays. Romo said he feels better and expects to be back closer to normal in a week or two.

The challenge Thursday against the Philadelphia Eagles is the quick turnaround. He has been limited in his practice work since the second week of the season as he rested and rehabbed his surgically repaired back, but there is no time for rest this week.

Romo has excelled in Thanksgiving games in the past. He has posted a 6-1 record with 2,033 yards, 18 touchdowns and six interceptions. His only defeat came in 2012 when he lost to Washington 38-31 while throwing for 441 yards on 37-of-62 passing with three touchdowns and two interceptions. These Cowboys are not as pass-happy with their focus on the running game, so the burden is not as heavy on Romo to do everything.

Tony Romo taking part in light practice

November, 25, 2014
Nov 25
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IRVING, Texas -- The calendar might say it’s Tuesday but for the Dallas Cowboys it is a Thursday in terms of their practice schedule, which means quarterback Tony Romo will take part in a full workout.

The nature of the practices this week is light because of the quick turnaround with the Cowboys playing the Philadelphia Eagles on Thanksgiving, and Romo took part in Monday’s walkthrough as well. Since the second game of the season Romo has not practiced a full week because of his surgically repaired back, but that will not be the case this week.

The only players missing from Tuesday’s practice are defensive end Jack Crawford, safety Jeff Heath, linebacker Dekoda Watson and cornerback Tyler Patmon. Crawford and Heath had surgery Tuesday morning to repair broken thumbs. Watson has a hamstring strain, and Patmon is working his way back from a sprained knee.

Wide receiver Terrance Williams is on the practice field. He suffered a fractured index finger against the New York Giants but will wear a splint and continue to play.
IRVING, Texas -- How good has DeMarco Murray's season been?

Murray
He can rush for 121 yards on 24 carries and it gets lost in the shuffle of the Dallas Cowboys' 31-28 win against the New York Giants.

"I thought he was fantastic," coach Jason Garrett said. "It starts with the offensive line. They blocked very well, but to be able to run the football as well as he's run the football week in and week out, against a lot of eight-man type fronts where they're trying to defend the run, I just think is really, really good stuff. He was physical throughout. Sometimes you get some gaudy numbers running the football because you make some big runs. He had a couple of explosive runs for us, but for the most part it was a grinder. That's really to me, when you're evaluating a back, that's when it gets most impressive. He's had a number of those kind of games where a lot of dirty runs, a lot of five, six, seven yard runs where he's finishing forward. He just did a lot of positive things in allowing us to control the football, make some first downs and really control a lot of the game."

And yet Murray wasn't completely pleased Sunday.

"I definitely felt like I was rusty," Murray said, adding, "I may have missed a few things here and there, but we'll watch the film and get it corrected and see where we go."

Murray entered the season seven games of at least 120 rushing yards in his career. He has six this season. He has recorded at least 100 yards in 10 of the Cowboys' 11 games. He is now third in team history with 17 career 100-yard games, trailing only Emmitt Smith (76) and Tony Dorsett (43).

His 1,354 yards are ninth-most in franchise history. He is on pace for 1,970 yards, which would be a franchise record. Smith had 1,773 yards in 1995. He needs one more 100-yard game to equal Smith's team record for most in a single season.

"I like the word patience better than pace," Garrett said. "Pace kind of suggests that he's pacing himself. But great runners have patience. They have great vision and they have patience. There's a ton of expressions that have been used through the years, slow to the hole, fast through the hole. You're always kind of working on coordinating the runner with the line blocking and the scheme and the timing of that, his depth, his steps, all of those things. And allowing plays to develop is a big part of being a good runner. The best runners I've been around, they kind of see things and ‘Hah!' and they go. And he certainly has those traits."
IRVING, Texas -- When the Dallas Cowboys beat the Carolina Panthers on Nov. 23, 2003, Bill Parcells made a memorable statement at his postgame news conference:

“You can’t call them losers anymore,” said an emotional Parcells after the Cowboys picked up their eighth win of that season, “because they’re something else now.”

On Nov. 23, 2014, the Cowboys beat the New York Giants for their eighth win of the season, but there were no bold proclamations Sunday night.

These Cowboys have gone 8-8 in each of the previous three seasons. The bulk of those Cowboys teams under Parcells endured three straight 5-11 seasons.

The Cowboys haven’t won more than eight games in a season since 2009, which just so happens to be the last time they made the playoffs. They finished 11-5 that season and won a playoff game.

Owner and general manager Jerry Jones hopes there is some motivation to get that ninth win Thursday against the Philadelphia Eagles.

“It’s enough [motivation] just to go down and beat Philadelphia,” Jones said Sunday. “They’ve been a big nemesis for us for many years. But if we needed any, it would be nice to break eight.”

According to ESPN Stats & Information, this is only the third time the Eagles and Cowboys will meet when both teams are at least five games above .500. The Cowboys won the previous two meetings: Week 17 in 2009 and Week 16 in 1980.

“Certainly it’s an important game,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. “It’s a division game. We have the same record. There’s significance to that. And you heard me say this before: You play 16 games, and each one is critical. Every game that you play is the most important game you’re playing because it’s the one you’re involved in, so this is the most important game of the year up to this point. Just like [Sunday] night’s was the most important game.”
IRVING, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys are expected to be without safety Jeff Heath and defensive lineman Jack Crawford on Thursday against the Philadelphia Eagles because of upcoming thumb surgeries.

Crawford
Heath
Heath and Crawford are scheduled to each have surgery on Tuesday morning, but the injuries are not expected to be season-ending. Heath would not rule out playing Thursday but admitted it is a long shot. Crawford's absence would open up a spot on the defensive line for Terrell McClain or Josh Brent to play against the Eagles. They were inactive in Sunday’s win against the New York Giants.

Heath suffered his injury in the first half against the Giants and played one snap in the second half before coming out for good. With Barry Church cramping late in the game and Heath out, C.J. Spillman saw time with the first-team defense.

Coach Jason Garrett said wide receiver Terrance Williams fractured the tip of his index finger and will play with a splint. Garrett did not anticipate it being a problem for Williams in catching the ball. Officially Williams was listed as not practicing, but he did do some drills during the portion of practice that was open to the media.

Officially, Tony Romo was listed as not having participated in practice, but he was on the field during the portion of practice open to the media. Tyler Patmon (knee) and Dekoda Watson (hamstring) also did not practice. Josh Brent (groin), Tyrone Crawford (knee), Doug Free (foot), Nick Hayden (shoulder) and Rolando McClain (knee) were listed as full participants.

Heath saw time in the dime defense against the Giants before the injury. His absence should put Jakar Hamilton on the game-day roster for the first time this season.

"It's a setback," said Heath, who is second on the team in special teams' tackles with eight, "and that kind of sucks, but I’m pretty confident I’ll be back soon."

Tony Romo on practice field

November, 24, 2014
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IRVING, Texas -- Quarterback Tony Romo is taking part in Monday's walkthrough as the Dallas Cowboys start their quick turnaround for Thursday's game against the Philadelphia Eagles.

Romo
Romo has not practiced three straight days since the second week of the season, but with short, light workouts leading into the Eagles' game he did not think his back would take too much of a toll.

"I don't know that we're going to have much time to go too hard," Romo said after the Cowboys beat the New York Giants on Sunday. "I think if you're playing in football games, I'm sure you can make it through walkthroughs."

The only players not taking part in Monday's practice are safety Jeff Heath, who will need thumb surgery, defensive lineman Jack Crawford (thumb), cornerback Tyler Patmon (knee) and linebacker Dekoda Watson (hamstring). Crawford could also need thumb surgery. Watson could miss two games with his injury, which likely means the Cowboys will have to call up linebacker Keith Smith from the practice squad again.

The Cowboys will hold their normal "Wednesday" practice on Tuesday and go through a quick workout on Wednesday.

Defensive tackle Davon Coleman cleared waivers and was re-signed to the team's practice squad.

Upon Further Review: Cowboys make second half adjustments

November, 24, 2014
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After the Cowboys dramatic 31-28 victory over the New York Giants on Sunday night, we review it in our weekly Upon Further Review.

Church
  1. The Cowboys’ defense performed badly in the first half the Giants. It allowed scores on the first three possessions of the game. Things changed in the second half, and that’s probably the difference in the Cowboys’ victory. Yes, the defense, overall, looked sloppy particularly in the secondary giving you concern about the Philadelphia Eagles’ offense on Thanksgiving Day. But the Cowboys defense kept the Giants in check in the final 30 minutes with two three-and-outs to start the third quarter, and the Giants didn’t even score again until 3:00 remained in the game. Of the six second-half possessions, the Giants scored once, turned the ball over, a Barry Church interception at the Cowboys’ 3 and turned the ball over on downs when middle linebacker Rolando McClain stopped Rashad Jennings short of the marker on fourth down to clinch the victory. The pass rush could have been better, secondary too, but when it counted, the defense made the necessary plays to win the game.

Beasley
 2. Cole Beasley is one of those underutilized players for the Cowboys. Dez Bryant, DeMarco Murray and Jason Witten get the hype because, well let’s be honest, they’re playmakers for Tony Romo. So is Beasley in a small way. He had just two catches on the night and each was big. His 45-yard catch and run for a score in the third quarter cut the Giants' lead to 21-17. Beasley, a slot receiver who uses his small frame, 5-foot-8 to and speed to slice through defenses, also made a 21-yard catch in the fourth quarter. Beasley’s grab moved the Cowboys from their 43 into Giants territory on the game-clinching drive. Sometimes it’s not about the big plays made in a game, the small ones, such as Beasley’s two catches, that helps teams win games.

Mincey
 3. When you review the offseason moves by the Cowboys, defensive end Jeremy Mincey and McClain appear to be the smartest decisions made by the front office. McClain had 11 tackles, 10 solo along with two tackles for loss, in the victory. Mincey had four tackles, two solo, one sack and two quarterback hits. McClain continues to be the glue for this defense with his hard hits and smart plays. Tyrone Crawford is probably the best young defensive linemen on the team and Henry Melton had a recent surge of solid play, but Mincey has played consistently well at a high level for the majority of the season.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - Dez Bryant is 6-2 and 225 pounds with hands that measure 9 inches. Odell Beckham Jr. is 5-11 and 198 pounds with hands that measure 10 inches.

When you think about it that way, perhaps we shouldn’t have been surprised at the amazing catch he made Sunday night that nearly broke the Internet.

Grimes
Beckham
 “It was special,” Tony Romo said of the catch. “I got a guy on our team who makes some pretty incredible catches and that one is right there with anything I’ve ever seen.”

Beckham Jr. spent a portion of his pre-game workout practicing one-handed catches like he does every week. In the second quarter of the Cowboys’ 31-28 win, Beckham made one of the best catches you’ll ever see.

With Brandon Carr tugging at Beckham Jr.’s jersey -- Carr was called for pass interference -- the rookie receiver leaped high and snagged the point of the ball with his right hand while he was nearly perpendicular to the ground.

He cradled the ball against his body and stumbled into the end zone, falling on his back for a 43-yard touchdown.

Yes, it was that ridiculous.

“We’ve seen Dez make catches like that for us,” safety Barry Church said. “What can you say? They get paid too. That was an amazing catch. You tip your hat and move on.”

Beckham Jr. finished with 10 catches for 146 yards and two touchdowns. He caught eight passes for 125 in the first half.

“We studied him a lot in the draft,” Jason Garrett said. “He’s not tall, but he’s long, he’s explosive, and he has huge hands. He’s a dynamic player.”

Bryant said he hated to see Beckham Jr. make a grab like that against the Cowboys, but he had to respect the play.

“I respect playmakers, and he’s a playmaker,” Bryant said. “I just don't like it when he does it against us, but I do like seeing receivers ball out in this league. I’m a fan of all wideouts and I love that catch, but I’m happy we got the win.”

Cowboys ready for quick turnaround

November, 24, 2014
Nov 24
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- As good as the Dallas Cowboys felt inside the locker room after Sunday’s 31-28 win against the New York Giants, they were already thinking about the Philadelphia Eagles.

“When we land in Dallas, (this) game no longer matters,” wide receiver Dez Bryant said.

The Cowboys landed early Monday morning and will practice at 4 p.m. Some staffers reported straight to Valley Ranch off the plane to get a jump start on the day. The coaches used the bye week to get a quick look at the Eagles but were expected to study them more on the plane ride home.

“You have to watch the tape,” tight end Jason Witten said of the win over the Giants. “We will have to do it on our own because Thursday is going to come on us quick, but it is always good to get a win these games before Thanksgiving.”

The Cowboys needed the win to maintain pace with the Eagles. Dallas trails in the standings despite both teams being 8-3 because Philadelphia has a better division record, but with two of the Cowboys' next three games coming against the Eagles, they can rectify that.

Had the Cowboys lost Sunday, a win Thursday would have been that much more crucial.

“You’ve got to move on,” running back DeMarco Murray said.

Owner and general manager Jerry Jones said he was not upset the NFL gave the Cowboys such a difficult stretch with a Sunday night game on the road leading into a Thursday afternoon game.

“That’s three hours, that’s really nothing,” Jones said. “We’ll get rest on the plane and go in there, but we’ve got three more hours to prepare than Philadelphia, I guess. Did Philadelphia get a bye last week?”

No.

“OK, we got one, so we got the edge,” Jones said.

The Eagles will leave Philadelphia Wednesday afternoon for Thursday’s game.

“And we’re playing at home, so when you look at the edges, which edge would you rather have?” Jones said. “Would you rather have Philadelphia’s having to travel or us when we had a bye week?”

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