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Dallas Cowboys News and Notes: Offensive and Defensive Players Of The Month Face Off

All the news that's fit for a Friday. Today's headlines: Sunday's game will feature two Players of the Month going head-to-head; Marinelli let his guys play loose; Texans previews; Houston-centric views of the Cowboys

Tom Pennington

Our lead story today is generated by a happy coincidence:

Murray named offensive player of the month for September - Nick Eatman, The Mothership
As Eatman writes, running back DeMarco Murray has been named NFC Offensive Player of the Month for September. Murray leads the NFL with 534 rushing yards, along with a league-high 99 attempts. His five rushing touchdowns are tied for the NFL lead, as well.

Oh, and Murray is the first Cowboys player to be named NFC Offensive Player of the Month since Tony Romo in Nov. 2009. Murray is the first Cowboys running back to receive the honor since Emmitt Smith in Sept. 1995.

J.J. Watt named AFC defensive player of the month - Tim, Battle Red Blog
For the month, Watt had 15 tackles, two sacks, an interception-return touchdown, a blocked PAT and his first career touchdown catch. That's a pretty impressive month...And: this is Watt’s third career Player of the Month Award; he won twice in 2012 (September and December).


What will the Cowboys and Texans do to contain the opposing Player of the Month?

According to Free's head coach:
"Guys get to a certain point in their career and there’s a feeling from the outside that, ‘Nah, they can’t get any better; he is what he is.’ That’s not the way we approach it around here, and Doug’s a great example of that. He really gets better and better the more he plays, getting stronger, playing with more snap, playing with more aggressiveness. His hands are better. I think we’ve seen a lot of that in this first part of the season."
Redball was unable to define "snap," however.

After allowing 193 yards in the 30-17 loss to the New York Giants, they surrendered 96 in the 23-17 conquest of the Bills.

"Against Buffalo, we had good gap discipline, and we had more than one guy flying to the ball," Crennel said. "We’ve got to do that and a lot more (against Dallas)."

With an emphasis on the "and a lot more"...


From the "you can't have too much analysis from a dominating victory" department:

Xs and Os - Three things from week 4 to examine - Bob Sturm, Live from Lewisville

Sturm, the patron saint of sports geeks, goes full geek mode, offering in-depth analysis of three items from Sunday Night's beatdown: Tyrone Crawford's splashy play at DT; two big DeMarco Murray gainers that came on the same play; Justin Durant's interception. Here he is on Crawford:

Tyrone Crawford is starting to pop more off the film....The bad news is that at DE his pass rush moves are so/so and at the 1-tech (where he played a bit on Sunday), he doesn't have the ideal anchor.

But, 3-tech?  He looks like a natural fit.  He seems to have that size/quickness combo to have potential that has already shown itself on the NFL field.  He is in year #3, so this is where we need to see his big step forward, and partly because of Henry Melton's injury work load, we are seeing it at the 3-tech where I was told by a member of the Cowboys' brain-trust, "His best spot is 3...By far."


More on the state of the Cowboys:

"He gave us more freedom, let us just play," McClain said. "Be loose. Make plays. We had to earn his trust, so to speak. Once we did that, he saw we played better when we were more relaxed and calm, so he kind of took the reins off and let us play."

Spencer content with debut; but eager to improve - Nick Eatman, The Mothership
His first game back, Spencer is in mid-season form in terms of spouting Garrett-isms:

"There’s things I need to work on. I just want to progress throughout the year," Spencer said. "Even when I was healthy, there were things I’ was working in and trying to get better. It’s a process. You never really to a stopping point."

Taylor based his entire article on this quote:
"It's tough losing Bruce because you could tell he was getting into a groove," Durant said. "He was kind of skeptical when he first made the move, but things were finally coming together for him. Then - boom - he's out. We're going to miss him."

If asked to carry the ball 400 times (he's currently on pace for 396 carries), Murray believes he can handle it, given his varied offseason program that includes yoga and mixed-martial arts training to help with strength and stamina. That's fine - but we should all expect to see a broken man in 2015...

Interesting factoid unearthed by Sabin: In the first quarter of the season, The Senator has run-blocked on 136 snaps — 42 more than he did during the first four games of 2013. He also has gone out on 30 fewer pass routes than he did over the same time period last season.


And the Texans previews begin:

On his usual must-read Thursday game preview with a writer who covers the opposing team, Archer tells us why he hesitates to say the Cowboys are for real:
I guess it's just recent history. They were impressive against the Saints last week, but, like you, I was already beginning to think about epic-collapse angles when New Orleans made it 31-17 early in the fourth quarter. Just when you think the Cowboys have things figured out, they revert back to form. It wouldn't surprise me to see them play poorly Sunday....My trepidation has nothing to do with the offense, although it has had too many turnovers. It's about the defense. I still see a lot of warts and not a lot of depth. What the Cowboys have done is make timely plays. I don't think they can be expected to just shut down opponents. If they can make them drive the field, then that's OK. Who knows, maybe if they win this week I'll change my tune?
And Ganguli shares info about the state of the Texans offense:
...You can commend the Texans for figuring out a way to win without doing what they like to do, which is run the ball effectively. As for Johnson, he is a great safety blanket for quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, if he needs it. Johnson is a smart player who runs routes well and communicates well with both his quarterback and his coaches. As they're playing together more, though, Fitzpatrick is clearly developing more confidence in second-year receiver DeAndre Hopkins. It's looking like he's starting to believe more and more, as Hopkins piles up his athletic grabs, that Hopkins will catch any jump ball that goes his way.

Toddzilla gets his stat on, with a few choice statistical nuggets, including this on Romo's passing after four games:
His 936 yards on 118 pass attempts so far this season are career lows through the Cowboys' first four games. But he is excelling in play-action. After throwing three interceptions on play-action passes in the season opener, Romo doesn't even have three incompletions on play-action passes in the last three games.
In play action passes in weeks 2-4, Romo is 11-13 for 15.2 yards per, and a nifty QBR of 99.7.

Archer isn't the only one getting his stats on. Over at CHQ, The Drummond presents a veritable cornucopia of fascinating analytics, even citing our own O.C.C. as the metaphorical town crier of passer rating differential (Watch out for O.C.C. on BTB later today; he's going to go off on passer rating differential once again). This world of smart Cowboys bloggers, it's a small one, you see...

In his weekly scouting report on the Cowboys' opponent, The Broad One offers a couple key matchups: the Dallas O-line against J.J. Watt; Orlando Scandrick against WR DeAndre Hopkins. He explains the unusual nature of the first of these:

J.J. Watt is listed at left defensive end for the Texans, but in actuality he lines up at several different spots in this scheme. Texans defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel cut his teeth working with Bill Belichick in several spots during his NFL career, and this was an approach he learned from Belichick in taking your best defensive players and moving them around in the defense to create the best possible matchups to take advantage of.
I'd bet he ends up playing primarily against Ron Leary or Doug Free...I know, out on a limb, right?!


And some preview pieces from the enemy camp:

If running back Arian Foster can’t play against Dallas because of his hamstring injury, rookie Alfred Blue will make his second start. Heck, even if Foster is able to play – and it’ll be a game-time decision – Blue should see a lot of playing time. Thus far in 2014, Blue has spelled Foster to the tune of 34 carries for 127 yards.

A video segment with Houston coach Bill O'Brien. Jump to the 3:44 mark to see O'Brien's analysis of Tony Romo's ball handling in the running game and Dallas' defensive speed. Yes, you heard me right...defensive speed.

Here they are, in summary fashion:
1. "He’s smart."
2. "He’s accurate."
3. "He’s played a lot of productive football in this league.
4. "He’s got good players around him in (Jason) Witten, Dez Bryant and obviously DeMarco Murray.
5. "He’s got a good offensive line."

I like this, from one of the Texans' corners:
Murray and the Cowboys present a challenge of a much higher order. Playing them the way they're playing right now with the ball in Tony Romo's hands is like "going to grad school," cornerback Johnathan Joseph agreed, saying, "With (receiver) Dez Bryant, (tight end) Jason Witten and Murray, they've got a lot of ways to hurt you."

Enjoy getting your advanced degree, fellas. I can promise it's gonna hurt...

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