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Dallas Cowboys News and Notes: A Lingering Case of 'Skin-digestion

All the news that's fit to print - and even some that ain't. Today's headlines: game reviews; A chink in Dallas' armor?; Romo's back injury; Garrett is like the Buddha; practice reports; early looks at Arizona

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

As the Cowboys lick their wounds following Monday night's loss to the hated 'Skins, the Cowboys-centric media tries to make sense of a loss to a heavy underdog. And we'll start with the patron saint of football nerds:

Decoding Linehan: Cowboys saw Redskins attack on most every down - Bob Sturm, DMN

Sturm's weekly look at the Cowboys' offensive performance is an absolute must-read, as he does a superb job breaking down the present situation. Above all else, he makes much of third downs, so much so that I'm going to have to share several selections. He begins with this gem:

As you can see below, the Cowboys 3rd Down Conversions have really been just as big an accomplishment for Romo/Linehan/Garrett as anything they have done running the ball. In 2013, they were horrible on 3rd Downs, stuck at 35% at 63-180. In 2014, they have set the pace for the entire league at 59-106 or 56%.

Looking at these numbers, he later asks:

What is more vital to the performance of the offense in 2014? The running game on 1st and 2nd down or the 3rd Down conversions? Well, if you look at it from the perspective of Washington Defensive Coordinator Jim Haslett or Arizona Defensive Coordinator Todd Bowles, you are asking yourself what you have a better chance of slowing down. If you were to roll the dice in a game against the Cowboys, which one might you have a chance to take away?

His answer: third downs! And, indeed, that's what the Washington Grudens did:

On 1st down, the Redskins sent pressure at a reasonable 30% rate. On 2nd down, they cranked it up a bit more to 34%. But, on that all important money down? On 3rd down, as we talked about yesterday, the Redskins blitzed on 100% of the scenarios. Just to compare, the Cowboys have received pressure in 2014 on 3rd Downs on 26 of 74 occasions (35%) before Monday. Then, Washington laughs at that and sends them on 12 for 12 (if you include the 4th down that ended the game).

Pretty darned clear breakdown, eh?

Grading the pass protections, Romo's off night - Bryan Broaddus, The Mothership

The Broad One offers a few scattered thoughts on the Cowboys loss. As might be expected, these focus on elements of the game that didn't go right. Here's one that is particularly frustrating:

In reviewing the sacks that the Cowboys gave up against the Redskins, it was surprising that they were able to get rushers home, because these were blitzes that Tony Romo and this offense had seen before – there was nothing exotic or special in the way they were run.

Did the Cowboys get out coached? Or simply out-executed?

Romo returning, defensive play among bald head thoughts - Jeff Sullivan, The Mothership

Another bald-headed pundit offers a similar collection of thoughts. And he touches on the same point, but from a slightly different angle:

Watched each of the five sacks multiple times and couldn't find fault with any of the offensive linemen. Lance Dunbar and DeMarco Murray both missed blocks, and the other three the protection just wasn't there. Romo needed to make an immediate decision and didn't. They had to prepare for such instances during the week, right?

And I just had to share this one as well:

J.J. Wilcox had far and away his best game in two seasons with the Cowboys. His first career interception was ridiculously athletic, the way he swung his other leg around, making sure it didn't hit the turf out of bounds. He covered so much ground on that throw, too. Wilcox hasn't been great this season, but he continues to improve, which is encouraging. He's still only played the position for about 30 games in his life.


For many Cowboys fans, myself included, the nagging concern is: did Washington expose a chink in the Cowboys' armor?

Cowboys lose their identity. Temporary? - KD Drummond, Cowboys HQ

An interesting take from The Noble Drummond's post filled with interesting takes:

Even though Jermey Parnell has acquitted himself well, the absence of Doug Free was felt in this game...Maybe the lack of a veteran presence left the young line a bit flustered. There were several plays where Dallas simply failed to pick up free men, even when they had enough guys kept in to block. Other plays, Dallas never adjusted to being outmanned with alternate strategies than the two playcall options they came to the line with.

Concerns for Cowboys offense - Matt Williamson,

As this is an insider piece from one of ESPN's top analysts, I'll offer an extended quote, from what I gleaned to be the heart of the matter:

For starters, here are the basics: Washington possessed the ball by nearly 10 more minutes than the Cowboys in this overtime affair and won the turnover battle. These are two key components to beating Dallas, as the Cowboys' ball-control offense has been their talent-lacking defense's best friend this season. But what we need to examine is how Washington consistently disrupted Romo.

The Redskins didn't hold back and blitzed Romo constantly. Romo was blitzed a whopping 60 percent of the time he dropped back to pass. Of course, bringing extra pass-rushers means the defense has one less cover man, but Washington's often-belittled secondary held up well.

Dallas' pass protection really had a difficult time identifying and picking up safety and inside linebacker pressures. The problems here for the Cowboys are with identification, not talent.

I think Williamson's analysis is spot on, and not just because he's echoing the larger points I made in my "by the letters" piece on Tuesday. The Cowboys next challenge may well be to find an answer to games full of exotic, all-out pressures dialed up by rival defensive coordinators.


Of course, the most lingering of Monday Night's stories is Tony Romo's damaged back - and the confusing reports emerging from Valley Ranch in the wake of his injury.

Oh no, Romo: the one guy Dallas can't afford to lose - Bill Barnwell,

In his NFL roundup, Barnwell gives top billing to Romo's injury. Here's his lead:

Only one thing was ever going to shake the NFC East–leading Dallas Cowboys. Although they would surely suffer if they lost the likes of DeMarco Murray or Tyron Smith, there’s just one truly irreplaceable player on their roster. The sole thing the Cowboys had to worry might drag them back down to the depths of the NFC’s also-rans was a serious injury to Tony Romo. On Monday night, for an hour or so, that fear was briefly realized. Losing to Washington is one thing. The idea of losing Romo is another.

Cowboys' words after CT scan suggest Romo suffered more than contusion - David Moore, DMN

Romo's injury was initially reported as a back contusion. Since then, Moore points out, Romo has undergone a CT scan and had additional consultations with doctors and the Cowboys’ training staff. Club officials skirt questions about what was found — all Garrett will say is that the injury "came from physical contact," but no one is calling it a contusion, which  suggests the injury is more significant:

"I don’t want to get into specifics about what it is," said Romo, who did divulge the injury is not to a disk or related to his previous two back surgeries. "It will be something you’ll look at each day, figure out a way to manage it and go from there.

Jerry: Romo injury not season-ending - Todd Archer, ESPN Dallas

It looks like Number Nine will be a game-time decision on Sunday, in large part due to the schedule:

A short turnaround between games could be Romo's biggest issue in playing against the Cardinals (6-1). The Cowboys (6-2) would have what Garrett called a "jog through" practice Wednesday before getting into a normal schedule Thursday and Friday.

There are so many weird things about this article. The first, of course, is: why is Jerry the one relaying this information?

Jerry Jones: I was on Cowboys sideline to inspire to overcome Tony Romo not being on field - Jon Machota, DMN

Jerry does what he can to defuse the "Jerry told Jason to play Tony" controversy:

"No. 1, I wanted to go down there and do what I could, look our guys in the eye, look at them, inspire them to overcome Romo not being out there and overcome what I thought was a critical time," Jones said. "First of all, I’ve been down there hundreds of ball games. Everyone that follows it has certainly seen it, either criticized it or whatever or lived with it."

Wait. Jones actually thinks he has the power to inspire? Inspire laughter, maybe...

Tony Romo taking wait, see approach - Todd Archer, ESPN Dallas

Let's let Number Nine tell us how it is:

"At a certain point, there needs to be a shift in the way you feel that shows you that you're able to do the fundamental things that need to get done," Romo said. "From there, you got to get the doctors' clearance and take those steps and go."


As the above article suggests, the Cowboys are being uncharacteristically chill about Romo's situation. Methinks previous iterations of this team would have collapsed, stressed, or freaked. These guys? Nahhh...and it's because of the man in charge:

Jason Garrett doesn't change who he is - Calvin Watkins, ESPN Dallas

As Watkins writes, the way Jason Garrett has acted since Tony Romo was injured, you'd think quarterback Romo had the flu:

"Garrett had the same demeanor he always has when it comes to one of his players being injured: It's a day-to-day process and don't panic."

I noticed this when the Seahawks returned a blocked punt for a score, just after Romo had been smacked in the midsection by Bobby Wagner; Garrett was the very picture of calm. And he's applied that demeanor to the latest hot-button issue. To wit:

Tony Romo's absence not throwing Cowboys for loss - Todd Archer, ESPN Dallas

Romo's absence from Wednesday practices, Archer notes, is more about a standard operating procedure than anything that will throw the Cowboys' plans out of whack. As the RHG says,

"It's like with any player: 'Is he available to practice? No? Who is? Let's get that guy ready to go?'" coach Jason Garrett said. "What's his availability as the week goes on. Maybe he can practice tomorrow. OK, good. Do you change the game plan dramatically? No, not really. You run the plays....


The game offered a few other noteworthy developments:

Melton finally arrives, makes impact against Washington - Jean-Jacques Taylor, ESPN Dallas

I'd imagine this was what the Cowboys envisioned when they decided to add Henry Melton to their defensive line "wave" this offseason:

Melton played only 26 snaps in the Cowboys' 20-17 overtime loss to Washington, but he had two sacks, three tackles for loss and hit quarterback Colt McCoy twice.

Cowboys need to tackle better - Jean-Jacques Taylor, ESPN Dallas

According to Pro Football Focus, the Cowboys missed a season-high 12 tackles in their 20-17 overtime loss to Washington. The team had not been in double figures for missed tackles since Week 1 against San Francisco, when they  missed ten. What was most galling on Monday was that the team's surest tacklers were whiffing; Rolando McClain missed four and Barry Church, arguably the Cowboys' surest tackler, missed two.

And that's why the next story stings so much:

Dallas Cowboys place Justin Durant on season-ending injured reserve; sign LB Tim Dobbins - Rainer Sabin, DMN

The Cowboys placed Durant, the team's leading tackler on the season with 61 stops, on IR with a torn right biceps and added Tim Dobbins, a veteran LB with eight seasons of NFL experience (with four teams and 22 starts under his belt). Dobbins has been out of the league since August, when he was cut by Atlanta. He practiced with the team on Wednesday.

Five wonders: Justin Durant a huge loss - Todd Archer, ESPN Dallas

A collocation of thoughtful ponderings from Toddzilla, including the titular "wonder":

I wonder if people realize just how big of an impact the loss of linebacker Justin Durant will have on the defense. For all of the talk about Rolando McClain’s high level of play, Durant was playing at a level just as high. The Cowboys had been fortunate to a degree with their injury situation at linebacker, and, no, I have not forgotten Sean Lee. For the exception of the St. Louis Rams game, the Cowboys have had two of the Durant, McClain, Bruce Carter trio available. As much as they profess to like what Anthony Hitchens has done, he is still a rookie. As much as they will build up Kyle Wilber, he is still a guy with little experience. Durant entered Monday’s game as the Cowboys' leading tackler and he was all over the place against the Washington Redskins. He will be missed.


Yesterday being Wednesday, the first practice reports trickled out...

Dallas Cowboys practice report Wednesday: QB Tony Romo, LB Rolando McClain, OG Ron Leary sit out - Brandon George, DMN

Romo and Leary missing practice? No surprise. Ro-Mac? More surprising, indeed. And it's leading to yet another game of musical chairs at the linebacker position:

Starting middle linebacker Rolando McClain, who has been bothered by a strained groin this season and struggled in Monday night’s game against Washington, wasn’t on the practice field Wednesday....Rookie Anthony Hitchens was working at middle linebacker, Bruce Carter at weak-side linebacker and Kyle Wilber at strong-side linebacker early in practice Wednesday...

Cowboys left guard Ronald Leary is feeling better - Calvin Watkins, ESPN Dallas

The Cowboys' left guard missed Wednesday's walkthrough practice, but told reporters he has a goal in mind: to play on Sunday:

"Taking it day-by-day and it is getting better every day," Leary said. "I'd like to practice and get some of the bad sets out and get ready for the game. So, we'll see how it goes."


The news dispensed with, we record some early looks ahead to the NFC-best Cardinals...

Scout's eye: Cardinals rookie safety continues to impress - Bryan Broaddus, The Mothership

In his weekly look at three key players form the opponent's roster, Broaddus selects WR Larry Fitzgerald (weapon), CB Patrick Peterson; and S Deone Bucannon (under the radar). Here's his take on Bucannon, who many draft pundits saw as a liability in pass coverage:

Bucannon has looked like a different player for the Cardinals, because they are not asking him to do things he cannot do. The first trait that jumps out at you off the tape is how physical he is at the point of attack. He is willing to take on blocks and fill when he has to in the running game. If an offense tries to run the ball wide, he has shown the ability to knife inside and make the tackle for a loss.


I'll conclude today's news with this note from Jeff Sullivan's piece:

Win these next two and no one is talking about the Washington game entering the bye week. Bruce Arians is the most underappreciated elite head coach in the NFL, though, and the Cardinals are 13-3 in their last 16 games. Yes, 13-3.


Don't forget to submit your picks for the BTB Pick 256 Challenge


Pick 256 is a season-long contest in which BTB members and readers get to pick the straight-up winners for all games each week. If you haven't yet submitted your picks, now would be a good time. Here's the link to the entry form.

If the link above doesn't work for whatever reason, use the following alternative, which does not autofill your BTB user name into the entry form.

Alternative Pick 256 Entry Form

We've logged about 162 entries so far, 80% of which are picking the Cowboys over the Cardinals.

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