NFC East: Dallas Cowboys

Three thoughts on the Cowboys’ 38-17 win over New Orleans:

 1. I think Bruce Carter must wonder what football gods have against him, since a quadriceps strain will probably cost him at least one game.

Two seasons ago, he was playing the best he’d ever played when he suffered a dislocated elbow that ended his season. He spent last season in an unproductive fog but seemed to find his niche again this season after moving to strongside linebacker.

He had six tackles an two pass deflections before getting hurt against New Orleans. The Cowboys hope he’s not out long and that he returns with the same passion and performance.

  2. I think the Cowboys need to make sure they continue to get Joseph Randle involved, which is admittedly hard to do with DeMarco Murray leading the NFL in rushing and carries.

Murray, who has missed 11 games in his first three seasons, has 99 carries in the first four games. He’s on pace to carry 396 times, a huge number for a dude who has never carried more than 396 times in a season.

Coach Jason Garrett gave Randle the final series of the third quarter, and he responded with three carries for 21 yards and had an 18-yard run negated by a penalty. Garrett said Randle is running confidently and aggressively.

That’s why it’s time to ease Murray’s load just a tad, so he’s still able to grind in November and December.

3. I think the Cowboys’ defensive line is going to be better than I figured.
It’s because they don’t have any bad players in their rotation. You don’t think about it much, but there’s a significant difference between an average player and a bad player.

You can survive with average players in the right circumstance. You can’t survive with bad players.

The Cowboys don’t have any stars, but with the mix of guys they have, there’s little difference when one comes out and another goes in, and the result is the defensive line plays to the same standard the entire game. They can play with maximum effort because they’re getting consistent rest and the offense has been keeping them off the field.

KEY STAT: 50.8

Garrett always talks about having the ability to attack a defense in a lot of different ways.

Well, the Cowboys have achieved perfect offensive harmony during their first four games, as they’re running it 50.8 percent of the time -- and that has helped lead to a three-game winning streak.

The Cowboys are No. 1 in the NFL with 165.0 yards rushing per games and rank fourth with a 5.08 average per carry.

This is the first time under Garrett that the Cowboys have made the running game the epicenter of their offense -- and it’s opening up everything else.

That’s because the more opponents have to use an additional safety to stop Murray, the more the Cowboys can attack downfield with Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams or Jason Witten.

Bryant and Williams each scored on touchdown passes Sunday against New Orleans, in part, because they were facing single coverage so the Saints could devote more manpower to stopping the Cowboys’ running game.

 PLAYER TO WATCH: Barry Church

He’s not flashy, but he doesn't mistake that for not being effective. Actually, Church would be really good on a great defense because he could freelance more and put himself in position to make more plays.

But in the Cowboys’ defensive scheme and with their personnel, he tends to play it safe, as he should.

Church is solid in coverage, a willing tackler and a guy who makes the right play most of the time. He had six tackles against the Saints and made a couple of nice tackles that stopped New Orleans from converting third downs.

They weren’t spectacular plays, but they were effective and ended the drive. They were typical Church plays.
IRVING, Texas -- Last week Jason Witten's blocking on Dez Bryant's 68-yard touchdown against the St. Louis Rams brought extra attention. In the win against the New Orleans Saints, it is a critical third-down catch in the fourth quarter by Witten that brings extra attention.

Witten has said thousands of times one of the best feelings is making a play when everybody in the stands and on the sideline knows the ball is coming to you, like Troy Aikman to Jay Novacek in the 1990s.

On third-and-9 with 5:26 to play at the New Orleans 38, everybody knew Tony Romo would look to Witten. The Cowboys stopped the Saints' momentum by sniffing out a fake punt, but needed at least a first down to end their chances of a comeback.

The Cowboys were in 11 personnel (three wide receivers) with Witten flexed wide of right tackle Doug Free. New Orleans safety Kenny Vaccaro was lined up on top of Witten, a sign of how much respect defensive coordinator Rob Ryan had for Witten.

The Saints had nine defenders close to the line of scrimmage. One safety played over the top of Bryant to Romo’s left. The other was splitting the difference between Witten, Cole Beasley and Terrance Williams.

Here’s where playcaller Scott Linehan delivered some genius.

Beasley runs mostly short in- or out-breaking routes, but this time streaked down the field. Williams had an inside release and went vertical as well, to occupy safety Rafael Bush, leaving Vaccaro on Witten.

Witten breaks inside at the snap, takes five steps and reverse pivots back to his right, creating separation from Vaccaro and an easy throw for Romo. With Beasley and Williams running down the field, there is a ton of space for Witten to run for a first down and pick up 16 yards.

“That’s Linehan’s touch,” Romo said. “Pretty good one, too, huh?”

Three plays later, Romo hit Bryant for an 18-yard touchdown on a back-shoulder throw, ending the game.

“After we stopped the fake punt,” Witten said, “our mindset was, ‘We need to score.’”

Before the Cowboys could score, they needed a big third-down conversion.

The Film Don't Lie: Cowboys

September, 30, 2014
Sep 30
IRVING, Texas -- A weekly look at what the Dallas Cowboys must fix:

The Cowboys have been excellent on third down through the first four games of the season, so it isn't necessarily a problem they must fix. But it's an area in which they need to be particularly sharp when they face the Houston Texans on Sunday.

The Texans’ opponents have the worst third-down conversion percentage this season (28.6). The Cowboys are tied for second in third-down success rate, converting 55.1 percent of the time (27-of-49).

The Cowboys' third-down production was awful last year -- they converted just 35 percent of the time and could not consistently help their defense by staying on the field longer. This year they are staying on the field more and keeping their defense rested. The Cowboys have held the ball for at least 31 minutes, 24 seconds in three of the first four games.

The biggest reason the Cowboys have been good on third down has been their work on first down. They have averaged 6 yards per rush on first down and 8.3 yards per pass on first down. Having the entire playbook open on second and third down has made life easier for playcaller Scott Linehan.

With a pass-rusher like J.J. Watt, the Cowboys have to stay ahead of the chains and continue to win on first down.

Quad strain could limit Bruce Carter

September, 29, 2014
Sep 29
IRVING, Texas – Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garett put linebacker Bruce Carter in the day-to-day category with a quadriceps strain in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s win against the New Orleans Saints.

Carter pulled up on a 62-yard run by Khiry Robinson on the Saints’ first touchdown drive and did not return.

After the game Carter said he would be OK, but defensive end DeMarcus Ware suffered a quadriceps strain last season and missed three games.

Garrett said Carter played his best game of the season Sunday. He was credited with six tackles and two pass deflections, including one that ended up in Justin Durant’s arms for an interception.

“He was around the ball, made the big tip on the interception, just seemed to be around the ball,” Garrett said. “Hits on the ball, both in the run game and in the pass game. I thought he did a good job of knocking them back when he tackled them. I thought we did a good job of that as a football team. That’s a point of emphasis for us, the way you tackle matters. I thought Bruce was a part of those tackles besides just being around the ball most of the night.”

When Carter went down for the night, Rolando McClain took more work in the nickel defense. He had been playing only in the base defense as he recovered from a groin strain that kept him out of the Sept. 21 meeting against the St. Louis Rams

McClain was questionable heading into the game after taking part in a limited portion of Friday’s practice. Garrett said McClain came out of the Saints’ win fine.

“He’s a smart player – very instinctive, he picks things up quickly,” Garrett said. “I think that certainly helped in his ability to play in that game.”
IRVING, Texas -- Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett was scheduled to meet with Josh Brent Monday afternoon after the NFL modified the defensive tackle’s suspension.

While Brent will miss the first 10 games, the NFL allowed him to take part in meetings and workouts two weeks earlier than originally planned after reaching an agreement with him late last week. He can return to practice beginning on Week 9 and he is eligible to play in a game for the first time on Nov. 23 against the New York Giants

Brent has not played in a game since Dec. 2, 2012, after a car accident that cost the life of teammate and friend Jerry Brown. The Cowboys placed Brent on the non-football injury list for the remainder of the season and he retired before training camp began in 2013.

Brent was sentenced to 180 days in jail and spent the final 45 days at a treatment facility. On Sept. 2 commissioner Roger Goodell suspended him 10 games for violating the league’s personal conduct and substance-abuse policies.

Brent and the NFL came to the agreement on the modifications after his appeal was not heard in the time limits prescribed by the collective bargaining agreement.

“I think it’s a really good thing for him to lay the foundation to get back,” Garrett said. “The biggest emphasis that we have with Josh is to make sure he gets himself settled back as a human being, as a man. We feel like being around football, his livelihood, his passion, can be good for him in that regard. I think it’s set up the right way for him. He has to stay in this mode for about four weeks before he can get back on the practice field and I think that will allow him a good transition period to come back and be ready to go.”

The Cowboys have supported Brent since the accident in part because they believed it was the right thing to do and in part because of the request of Brown’s mother, Stacey Jackson.

Safety Jakar Hamilton’s four-game suspension for violating the substance-abuse policy is over and he will be allowed to practice with the team this week. The Cowboys will have a one-week roster exemption for Hamilton and would need to make a move to add him to the 53-man roster.

Hamilton was able to be around the team and work out but not practice or take part in meetings.

“It’s been a good month for him and consistency of behavior each and every day, doing the right things he’s able to do, I think those are all good things,” Garrett said. “I think you want to make sure that all players are developing the right habits. Gave him a chance to do that and good to get him back.”

Rolando McClain with solid effort

September, 29, 2014
Sep 29
Last week, Rolando McClain appeared doubtful for Sunday night’s game against the New Orleans Saints.

The Dallas Cowboys linebacker was battling a groin injury and hadn’t practiced until Friday, and when he did step onto the field, it was in limited fashion. Sunday night, McClain was a force, again, for a Cowboys’ defense that was part of a strong effort in a 38-17 victory.

"I just had to work out with the trainers before the game and I felt OK," said McClain, who forced a fumble and recorded two tackles.

McClain didn’t start the game because the Cowboys were in the nickel defense, but he was in on the base package at middle linebacker.

"I need them," McClain said. "I need to be on the field. They want me on the field, we need everybody. It’s not taking one, it’s taking everybody to finish the game. It was a great team win, it’s not just me, it’s everybody."

Through four weeks, McClain, who has 17 total tackles, 14 solo, has set the tone with his violent tackles and aggressive play.

The Cowboys have missed several players because of injuries to linebacker Justin Durant, defensive end Anthony Spencer and defensive tackle Henry Melton.

All three, along with McClain, participated in Sunday’s victory.

The Cowboys needed them to erase what happened in last season’s loss to the Saints. The Cowboys allowed 625 yards in a 49-17 loss in New Orleans. The return meeting was in Arlington, and the Cowboys were aggressive to the ball and were able to contain quarterback Drew Brees and the Saints' high-powered offense.

"It was physical," McClain said of Sunday’s win. "I wasn’t here last year, but we watched the tape from the game and it was embarrassing and everybody knew that. As a defense, we just want to go out and play better."
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Anthony Spencer was never a forgotten man for the Dallas Cowboys, he was just somebody the team had patience for.

Spencer made his season debut on Sunday night and played 22 snaps, getting three tackles and one quarterback hurry in the 38-17 victory over the Saints.

Spencer's return to the field follows microfracture surgery on his knee. Few players return from such a surgery in the NFL, especially a pass-rusher such as Spencer.

"It feels good," he said. "It's what I've been waiting for, I've been working toward this for the last year or so. It's all the hard work paying off and now I got to start working hard on being a football player again."

Given the Cowboys' lack of pass rush from its defensive front, adding a player like Spencer can only help. He was a 2007 first-round pick, drafted to play outside linebacker in a 3-4 but when the Cowboys converted to a 4-3 two years ago, he was asked to move to defensive end.

But knee troubles slowed his progress in the last year and after playing in a Week 3 game at Kansas City, he was shut down.

Spencer didn't want the microfractue surgery because he was entering his free-agent year but he had no choice. The Cowboys gambled on him and signed him to a one-year deal with the hope he would add something to the defense.

He returned to the field on Sunday, played defensive end and took on right tackle Zach Strief on the first snap, one-on-one.

"Every game you have some kind of nerves but you still go out there and play," Spencer said. "I wasn't afraid, I knew my knee was going to hold up and I knew the things I've been doing have been working. I feel confident in how the surgery went and how it feels. I don't feel worried about that."

Jerry: First half best he can recall

September, 29, 2014
Sep 29
ARLINGTON, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys completely dominated the first half of Sunday night’s 38-17 rout of the New Orleans Saints.

The halftime scoreboard -- Cowboys 24, Saints 0 -- was no fluke. Dallas did whatever it wanted offensively in the first 30 minutes, with Tony Romo completing 17 of 22 passes for 202 yards and two touchdowns and DeMarco Murray rushing for 87 yards and a score. The Cowboys defense didn’t let Drew Brees and the explosive Saints offense establish any sort of a rhythm, holding New Orleans to only 114 yards in the first two quarters.


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And Jerry Jones loved every second of it, leading him to a little bit of hyperbole.

“I don’t recall ever seeing a Cowboy team in my 25 years play better, including the effort, including mistake-free execution, than we played in the first half,” Jones said after the finishing touches were put on the 38-17 win.

This performance was particularly sweet to Jones because he was so humiliated the last time these teams met.

That 49-17 loss -- and, really, it could have been much worse if old friend Sean Payton didn’t take his foot off the gas -- had been stuck in Jones’ craw since that November night in New Orleans. Jones couldn’t help but think of that embarrassment as he watched his Cowboys stomp the Saints from his luxury suite.

“I sure did. Oh yeah, I did,” Jones said. “I didn’t want to think before the game was over, but I had thought about it all week, thought about it in the offseason. That was a rough trip home. I’ve got a lot of friends in Louisiana and there are a lot of Cowboys fans in north Louisiana. That hurt. That was embarrassing to go down there and not do better.

“This is really an important victory to us, because of the respect, because of how we fared against New Orleans over the last eight or nine ballgames. This is one of those that we kind of needed to knock the ghostly cobwebs out of our minds.”

Tony Romo close to 100 percent

September, 29, 2014
Sep 29
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo isn’t ready to say he is 100 percent.

“I think I am getting close,” Romo said after the Cowboys’ 38-17 win against the New Orleans Saints.

Whatever the percentage is, Romo is feeling much better than he did in the first two weeks of the regular season. He has altered his practiced schedule the last two weeks, taking off Wednesday’s workouts to focus on strengthening his core and legs.

In the last two games Romo has completed 40 of 52 passes for 479 yards with five touchdowns and just one interception.

“I think it’s always going to be there. You’re going to have to constantly work on your back, but that doesn’t mean you can’t come back and be what you were,” Romo said. “I think that is part of being a great football player. That is what I’m trying to do and that is what I am going to have to do to be successful.”

For the second straight game, Romo’s legs were a big part of the story. On third and 5 from the New Orleans 49, Romo scrambled for a career-long 21-yard pickup. On the next play DeMarco Murray scored on a 28-yard run to give the Cowboys a 31-3 lead.

“Sometimes they play coverage where they play two-deep guys and man underneath,” coach Jason Garrett said. “Tony had really good awareness recognizing that all the underneath guys had their back to him, so he has to kind of pick his way through the rush, find a lane and run.”

In the Week 3 win against the St. Louis Rams, Romo ran 16 yards on third-and-13 on the Cowboys’ go-ahead drive in the fourth quarter.

Sunday’s run was not even in Romo’s thought process in the first two games.

“I don’t know that I would have attempted it to tell the truth,” Romo said. “I wasn’t in position to feel like I do now. You’re trying to manage the game instead of just going out and doing it. That’s the difference from Week 1 to now.”

DeMarco Murray keeps head among company

September, 29, 2014
Sep 29

ARLINGTON, Texas -- After four games, DeMarco Murray finds himself in the same conversation with Jim Brown, O.J. Simpson and Emmitt Smith.

They are the only four running backs to open a season with four straight 100-yard games and a rushing touchdown. Yet Murray does not much care that he is surrounded by Hall of Famers.


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“That’s the last thing I’m worried about,” Murray said.

Murray ran for 149 yards on 24 carries in the Cowboys’ 38-17 win against the New Orleans Saints on Sunday, following up a 100-yard effort in Week 3 against the St. Louis Rams, which followed up a 167-yard effort against the Tennessee Titans in Week 2 and a 118-yard effort against the San Francisco 49ers in the season opener.

Murray’s 534 yards rushing are the second-most in team history in the first four games of a season. Smith had 543 yards in 1995.

“He’s a damn good running back,” coach Jason Garrett said. “He runs downhill. He’s got great vision. He breaks tackles. He makes people miss. He finishes runs.”

Murray had touchdown runs of 15 and 28 yards, both times he victimized Saints safety Jairus Byrd.

On the first Byrd was surprised at Murray’s speed around the corner after tight end Jason Witten sealed the edge. On the second he left Byrd flat-footed.

“I think it’s angles,” Murray said. “I definitely see him and I’ve got to set him up a certain way. It’s easier for me and I love what Dez Bryant did, staying on the corner, not push cracking to get to the safety. I’d rather him stay on the cornerback. It’s easier for me to set that guy up.”

More important to the Cowboys was the fact that he ended one streak by not fumbling. He fumbled in each of the first three games after losing only three fumbles in his first three seasons.

“DeMarco was inspirational,” owner and general manager Jerry Jones said. “I’m glad to see him have a game where he didn’t turn the ball over. It became a positive not only that our offensive line was playing so well, but then we saw DeMarco gaining yards after they had finished their jobs.”
ARLINGTON, Texas -- We can stop talking about the worst defense in the NFL last season. This Dallas Cowboys defense is different.

Not dominant, but different. And no doubt good enough to give a team with an elite offense a chance to win on a weekly basis.

If there were any demons hanging around from last season's historically horrible defense, they were exorcised in the first half of Sunday night's 38-17 rout of the New Orleans Saints. The New Orleans offense that humiliated the Dallas defense last season, setting an NFL record with 40 first downs and cruising to 625 total yards in a blowout, entered halftime with a goose egg on the scoreboard.

"We kind of put it on our shoulders this game that we're going to impose our will in this game like they did to us last year," safety Barry Church said. "For the first half, we were able to do that. The second half, they got a couple of scores, some leaked yardage, but I feel like for the most part, this defense was able to impose its will against this Saints team."

Sure, the Saints put up some pretty numbers in the second half. New Orleans finished with 438 total yards and two touchdowns, piling up a lot of that yardage in garbage time, if such a thing exists for a Cowboys team prone to epic collapses over the last few years. However, the Dallas defenders strutted into the home locker room at AT&T Stadium after the win. They punished the team that punked them 10 months ago.

"We gon' hit! We gon' hit!" shouted middle linebacker Rolando McClain, whose strip of tight end Jimmy Graham was one of three turnovers the Cowboys forced.

That forced fumble epitomized the physical, opportunistic style that Rod Marinelli, who took over the defensive coordinator reins after last season, demands of his defense. A picture of Graham holding the ball loose was posted outside the Cowboys' Valley Ranch locker room all week, with Marinelli scrawling in red ink and all caps around the edges, imploring his men to pounce on the Pro Bowl opponent's flaw.


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That's exactly what McClain did. He ran down Graham after a reception over the middle and jarred the ball loose upon impact to allow safety J.J. Wilcox to make the recovery late in the third quarter.

The Cowboys didn't need this kind of outing to boost the bruised egos of a defense that couldn't do right a year ago. This simply confirmed that they can be the kind of defense they expect to be in the second season in a 4-3 scheme.

"We had a ton of confidence," cornerback Orlando Scandrick said. "We knew that if we came out and we were physical, we did the fundamental things well -- run and tackle, do our assignments – it'd be great. It could have been worse for them and it could have been better for us. We gave up a few points at the end that kind of irks us. We want to get better."

There are reasons to believe that the Dallas defense should get better. Defensive end Anthony Spencer made his season debut Sunday after a year-long recovery process from microfracture knee surgery. Defensive tackle Henry Melton, a 2012 Pro Bowler like Spencer, continues to chip off rust after missing most of last season due to a knee injury, recording his first full sack as a Cowboys by dropping Drew Brees. Defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence, the Cowboys' prized second-round pick, will come off the short-term injured reserve after Week 8.

And the edge this defense plays with isn't going anywhere.

"Coming off being the worst defense in the league last year, we definitely have to play with a boulder on our shoulder," Church said. "So we're just going out here and showing people we're an improved defense. Once we get everything down pact and we stay healthy, we'll be a force to be reckoned with."
ARLINGTON, Texas – As he ran into the Cowboys’ locker room after a convincing 38-17 victory over the New Orleans Saints on Sunday night, wide receiver Dez Bryant yelled, “We Dat!”

It was the direct opposite of the chant by Saints fans: “Who Dat?!”

Bryant finished with three catches for 44 yards and an 18-yard touchdown, his only catch in the second half.

The Saints played an aggressive defense against him. During one play inside the 20, two defenders manned Bryant. On a key third-down play in the fourth quarter, a linebacker dropped back in coverage underneath Bryant.

When Bryant saw one-on-one coverage in the fourth quarter, quarterback Tony Romo found him for a back-shoulder fade for the final margin of victory.

“I wanted a piece of the cake,” Bryant said. “You got to stay in the game. I did get a little frustrated, a little bit, but I want to make plays. They were cheating the safety up a little bit, but when I got the opportunity to score I did.”

Bryant’s Sunday night was unlike the past season’s 49-17 loss to the Saints, in which he didn't get any passes directed to him in the first half and finished with just one catch for 44 yards.

Bryant said he moved on from that game and focused on what defensive coordinator Rob Ryan was trying to do against him Sunday.

“I don’t think it was anything personal,” he said. “I think the approach we took a long time ago during OTAs is, we know how good we can be and all we had to do was believe.”

Bryant's getting double coverage allowed second-year receiver Terrance Williams to make big plays. He had two touchdown receptions to go with his six catches for 77 yards. He was targeted seven times.

Romo completed passes to eight receivers. On the first scoring drive, which lasted 12 plays, five players caught a pass.

“I honestly feel, when you double me, you disrespect my wideouts,” Bryant said. “And [Williams] knew he was expecting the one-on-one coverage, and all week he knew he was going to get the one-on-one, and he had to take advantage of it, and that’s exactly what he did. He killed them.”
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Observed and heard in the locker room after the Cowboys’ 38-17 win over the Saints.

High times: The Cowboys are 3-1 for the first time since 2008. They had their best performance of the Jason Garrett era. They exorcised bad memories from last year’s whipping by the Saints in New Orleans.

“We believe in what we do,” Garrett said. “We’re convicted about how we put this team together, how we build this team, the kind of guys we want on this team, the physical nature we want to play with. We have strong convictions about that. You just have to keep going about it the right way.”

High company: DeMarco Murray became the fourth player in NFL history to open a season with four straight 100-yard games and a rushing touchdown. He joined Hall of Famers Jim Brown, O.J. Simpson and Emmitt Smith.

Murray finished with 149 yards and two rushing touchdowns on 24 carries, which upped his season totals to 534 yards rushing and five touchdowns on 99 carries.

“I’m just out there to do whatever I can to help the team,” Murray said. “There’s a lot of things I’m worried about. Obviously, got to give credit to the offensive line for what they were able to accomplish up front, but that’s definitely not something I’m thinking about.”

High praise: Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones is one for hyperbole every now and then, but as he searched his mental rolodex to describe Sunday’s performance, he saw something better than what he saw in his teams that won three Super Bowl trophies in the 1990s.

“I don’t recall ever seeing a Cowboys team in my 25 years play better in terms of effort than we did in the first half,” Jones said. “We have such respect for New Orleans, especially as an offensive football team.”

Rolando McClain, Henry Melton active

September, 28, 2014
Sep 28
ARLINGTON, Texas – Needing all the help it can get, the Dallas Cowboys defense will have linebacker Rolando McClain and defensive tackle Henry Melton available Sunday night against the New Orleans Saints.

How much they play is the question. McClain and Melton were listed as questionable for the game after going through a limited portion of Friday’s practice. McClain will start, but Tyrone Crawford will replace Melton at defensive tackle with George Selvie sliding in at left defensive end.

Defensive end Anthony Spencer will make his season debut and play for the first time in more than a year. He is coming back from microfracture surgery on his left knee, and the Cowboys will attempt to limit his snaps.

The Cowboys inactives are: QB Dustin Vaughan, CB Tyler Patmon, LB Korey Toomer, DT Davon Coleman, T Donald Hawkins, DE Lavar Edwards and DT Terrell McClain. Terrell McClain was cleared for the game after suffering a concussion last week.

The Saints inactives are: WR Joseph Morgan, CB Patrick Robinson, RB Mark Ingram, S Marcus Ball, FB Erik Long, LB David Hawthorne and NT John Jenkins

Welcome to AT&T Stadium

September, 28, 2014
Sep 28
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Welcome to AT&T Stadium where the Dallas Cowboys take on the New Orleans Saints.

The Cowboys (2-1) are looking for their first three-game winning streak in September since 2008, while the Saints are looking to continue their recent dominance of Dallas. New Orleans has won three in a row and eight of its last nine against the Cowboys.

Last year, the Saints whipped the Cowboys 49-17, putting up 625 yards and an NFL-record 40 first downs. The Cowboys actually held leads of 3-0 and 10-7 before the Saints scored 28 straight points to put the game away.

“They were able to do whatever they wanted; pass, run the ball, whatever,” safety Barry Church said, “so it’s definitely an embarrassing game from last year. Definitely going to try to correct that going into this year.”

Strong on third down: For the Cowboys to change the outcome they will not only need a better performance from the defense but a better performance from the offense.

The Cowboys failed to convert on nine third-down opportunities in the meeting last year. As a result, the defense was on the field more and had no answers for Drew Brees & Co.

So far this season the Cowboys have converted 54.3 percent of their third downs into first downs (19-of-35). They know they need to be prepared for Rob Ryan’s different looks from the Saints' defense on third down.

“We were definitely not in good down and distances on third down,” tight end Jason Witten said. “It seemed like it was longer probably than it should’ve been but they did a good job. We know he’s bringing a lot of different blitzes. He double teams guys at times. He plays Cover 2 at times. He’s just has a rolodex of coverage and blitzes and fronts that he runs and we’ve got to be prepared for that and do a better job of keeping it in manageable down and distances and then execute better. We’ve done a pretty good of that after three games. I think we’re over 50 percent there. I think that’s kind of a byproduct of being good on first and second down as everybody says. That’s going to be a tough challenge.”

Under pressure: The Cowboys have three sacks in three games. Brees has been sacked only three times in three games.

Cowboys defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli said the lack of a pass rush has been addressed. The question is whether it will be improved or can be improved. Anthony Spencer will make his season debut, but what can the Cowboys expect from him in his first game in more than a year?

The defensive line has accumulated just a half sack.

Brees simply can’t have time to make throws if the Cowboys want to be successful.

“It’s critical every week because the type of quarterbacks you face,” Marinelli said. “If you’re not getting there, that ball has to come out fast, on time for the back row. But this guy is special player. He’s a special, special player. We all realize that, he’s got a good front, so we know what we’re up against but we’ve just got to make sure what we’re doing. Can’t worry about last year, we’ve just got to play one snap at a time and we’ve got to outplay their defense, that’s what we’ve got to do.”

The ref: Gene Steratore’s crew will referee tonight’s game at AT&T Stadium. Here’s a breakdown of what Steratore’s crew did last week.