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Dallas Cowboys News And Notes: "We Play Through Injuries Because It's A Privilege To Be A Dallas Cowboy"

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All the news that's fit to link. Today's top stories: Mincey is a Hoss; The Drive; Hear that? It's memes on mute; Practice reports; Injured Cowboys; Colts-Cowboys previews; Homefield disadvantage.

Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Jeremy Mincey: the unsung hero of the Cowboys win - Stephen White, SBNation

A fellow by the name of Mr. White (not, not that Mr. White) gives Mincey the coveted "Hoss of the Week" award for his effort versus the Eagles. A taste:

With the division crown and a home playoff game on the line, Mincey wasn't about to just sit back and let that [shizzle] happen. On third-and-14, Mincey put everything he had into bull-rushing All-Pro left tackle Jason Peters back into Sanchez's lap, then released outside off the block to drag Sanchez down for an 11-yard loss. The huge loss of yardage on the play was so devastating that the Eagles ended up electing to punt rather than try to convert a fourth-and-25.

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And one more look back at Sunday night's win...

Xs and Os: how the Cowboys saved the season with one drive - Bob Sturm, DMN

The Sturminator's weekly look at the tape examines what I think we can all agree was the most important drive of the 2014 campaign: the 8-play, 78-yard effort after the Eagles had fought back to take a 24-21 lead. He looks at each of the eight plays, in loving, vivid detail. Here, he uses the drive's second play, a 22-yard pass to Dez Bryant on 2nd and long, as a platform for an important global observation:

this is one of the Cowboys newer toys; Shotgun 02 personnel (0RB, 2TE, 3WR).  They love running this out of shotgun with an empty backfield.  They ran it 7 times on Sunday – all 7 on 2nd down.  What this does is pretty much show the coverage of the Eagles to Romo in presnap.  He knows it is one of 2 possibilities with a high safety: 1) 5 man blitz with man under the safety or 2) 4 man rush with man under and a high safety as well as a robber in the middle (95-Kendricks).  That is what we have here and now Romo can use his eyes to move the robber and then find his matchup.

Great stuff from Sturm, as always...

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The Cowboys and the sounds of silence - Tom Ryle, Blogging the Boys

The Estimable Ryle pens a terrific piece on the Cowboys' 2014 meme-busting festival, offering five storylines that have been reduced to rubble. Here's one of my favorites:

Dez Bryant is too immature and emotional....Along the way, it has finally started to filter through the perceptions spread in the past by the media that his animated behavior on the sidelines is not seen negatively by his teammates or coaches. They understand it for what it is, an expression of his passion and trying to fire up the team. Many players call him the most popular guy on the roster, and say he takes time to talk to everyone on the roster in the locker room.

You may remember during our podcast discussion with Mike Fisher that Michael Irvin fulfilled the same function in the Cowboys locker room in the 1990s. Fish related that every guy on the roster would have said Irvin was one of his five best friends on the team. Just one more way that Bryant has become this team's version of The Playmaker.

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Practice reports!

Doug Free, Zack Martin sit again - Todd Archer, ESPN Dallas

In what is emerging at the game's most important storyline, the right side of the Cowboys line once again missed practice. Jerry Jones said he has concerns about Free’s ability to play against the Colts, but he's more confident that Martin will be a go; Jason Garrett said it could be possible Free serves as Tyron Smith and Jermey Parnell's backup, even if he cannot start.

Rolando McClain practices in full in return - Todd Archer, ESPN Dallas

Cowboys LB linebacker Rolando McClain returned to practice after sitting out Wednesday's session. McClain, the Cowboys' leading tackler, has been bothered by a sore knee for most of the last two months. Safety Jeff Heath (thumb), cornerback Tyler Patmon (knee, ankle) and defensive end George Selvie (thumb) were full participants as well.

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As the practice reports suggest, injuries continue to dominate Cowboys headlines

We might find out root of Cowboys surprising success Sunday - Kevin Sherrington, DMN

In what is essentially a take on the DeMarco Murray situation, Sherrington notes why he thinks Number 29 will play on Sunday:

...if I were betting, I’d say he’ll play. He won’t do it because he’s trying to break Emmitt Smith’s season record or gain 2,000 yards. Numbers don’t seem an inordinate motivation. I’m not sure what drives him, because he’s not particularly chatty. But there’s a lesson in watching the man at work.

No matter the down or yardage or score or time, Murray runs the same. Hard. Linebackers feel his style in their bicuspids. Murray seems to be saying there’s a price to be paid for stopping him, a cumulative, debilitating effect, and the job’s not getting any easier from here on out.

Jason Witten: we play through injuries because it's a privilege to be a Dallas Cowboy - Jon Machota, DMN

The Senator talks about why guys play through injuries:

"I think we’ve come up short in years past, we’ve kind of stuck together and now you got yourself a chance to take advantage of that opportunity. There’s strong commitment that you’re seeing in some of these guys to fight through it and know that you can come out on the other side and experience something that nobody else can experience.

"I think that feeling is what motivates a lot of guys. We work so hard to get to this point and you want to see it pay off. I really commend the way they’ve gone about it. They love playing, they love playing for each other. It makes it fun to come to work every day."

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It's Thursday, so our look ahead to the next contest begins in earnest:

Scout's eye: Colts corners present much tougher challenge for Dez - Bryan Broaddus, The Mothership

Broaddus' weekly match-ups post focuses on two: Dez Bryant against Indy corners Vontae Davis and Greg Toler and Jeremy Mincey vs. Colts OT Anthony Castonzo. Here; Broaddus addresses a question I shared with Stampede Blue's Josh Davis during our recent podcast:

What you will notice in this game is that Toler will normally line up on the left side with Davis on the right, and Davis will not move. What will be interesting to see with this Cowboys offensive game plan is which side they are most interested in attacking. For the season, Davis leads the team in passes defensed with nineteen, while Toler has nine. I expect an all-day fight between these Colts corners and Bryant.

Advanced stats notebook: Colts at Cowboys - KD Drummond, Cowboys HQ

The Noble Drummond gifts us with his usual Thursday statistical goody bag. Here's a taste of his lead-in:

Over the last two weeks, the Cowboys offense has scored 79 points, tying Weeks 5 & 6 of 2013 as the most points the franchise has scored in back-to-back weeks since the epic regular season of 2007. That achievement occurred in the season’s first two contests. In essence, this is the best the team has been playing, on offense, down the stretch, in a long time. The advanced metrics mostly bear this out as well.

If you want to know what those metrics say, you'll have to hit the link, my friends.

2014 NFL Week Sixteen Preview: Indianapolis Colts at Dallas Cowboys - Matt Grecco, Stampede Blue

Grecco offers a nice stats-based preview of the upcoming tilt, with myriad bullet points. Here's a pair that I think will be  keys to the game:

  • The Cowboys drive stats are excellent, ranking in the top 10 in every category, so it's going to be imperative to get stops. Also, they rank tops in the NFL on 3rd/4th Down, so it's strength on strength, with the Colts ranking 2nd on Defense. Whoever wins on those plays will most likely win the game.
  • Why does the Dallas Offense rank just 5th, even though they have a lot of single-digit ranks? Turnovers (sound familiar?) We all know it's been the Achilles Heel of the Colts, but the same goes for the Cowboys. Winning the Turnover battle will probably win the game, which means getting at least two because I don't think the Colts can go a full game without one.

Big D? Not so much - Andy Benoit, SI.com

Benoit begins with the premise that the Cowboys are not a "Cover 2" team so much as a "Cover 3" defense, and that Andrew Luck and the Colts are one of the best "Cover 3 beating" teams in football. He then backtracks a bit:

It’s quite possible that Marinelli will employ different tactics this Sunday. The Cowboys have been decent in man coverage lately, something the Colts have struggled against. Above all, Cover 3 creates an eight-man box, which is why so many teams play it on first- and second-down. But the Colts’ rushing attack doesn’t warrant an eight-man box...If Marinelli wants to keep two safeties back deep and play quarters, Cover 2 or "2-man," he can.

Cowboys hope to hear Andrew Luck's kindness Sunday - Todd Archer, ESPN Dallas

Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck revealed his unique way of getting inside the head of opponents, as Jeremy Mincey relates:

"He kind of got to me by saying, 'Man, that was an excellent hit,'" Mincey said. "I'm like, 'Dude, don't talk to me. Please.' But I respect him so much. He's such a mature, well-rounded quarterback ... Some quarterbacks do that, they try to be nice so you won't be angry, but I'm not. I'm going to be angry regardless."

Tony Romo on prepping for an unfamiliar foe - Todd Archer, ESPN Dallas

Interesting stat: the Colts are the only team Romo has not thrown a touchdown pass against (excluding the Cowboys, natch). One reason for this is that he's only faced them once (recall that Romo was injured when the Cowboys played the Colts in 2010). So, there's extra prep time; Romo will study every game the Colts have played this season.

"I don't know that there's you can you do more," Romo said. "You just have to go through your whole checklist of things that you normally would do to prepare for any game. There's always an exhaustive number of things that you have to go through, a checklist almost after you've played the game for a while to kind of feel ready. You go through that and you exhaust everything and you figure out the nuances and you try to attack them in that capacity."

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One of this week's dominant storylines is the Cowboys' homefield (dis)advantage:

Solving home-groan riddle would help Cowboys playoff chances - Clarence Hill, Star-Telegram

Hill offers several possible reasons for the Cowboys 3-4 home record. Here's the one that I think is most pertinent: the Cowboys have played tougher teams at home. Their home opponents have a combined record of 48-50. Their road opponents are 39-59.

A look at their home and away splits is also revelatory. In particular, check out the differences in offensive scoring and turnover margin (which are, of course, closely related):

Stat Home Road
Record 3-4 7-0
Points per game 21.4 33.0
Points allowed per game 23.4 23.4
Yards per game 370.6 379.1
Yards per game allowed 378.7 341.1
Turnover margin -6 +8

Cowboy out of time to fix home woes - Todd Archer, ESPN Dallas

Throughout the locker room, players had few answers as to why they struggle at home. Jeremy Mincey - who seems to have emerged as one of the team's defensive leaders - mentioned a possible lack of focus. Tony Romo mentioned a lack of execution:

"We've just got to play better," Romo said. "Ultimately it's about execution, just blocking, tackling, throwing, catching. We just have to do it better, narrow the focus and go out there and do your job."

Colts thought about making early Texas trip to avoid team being "distracted" by AT&T Stadium - Jon Machota, DMN

Since many of the Colts players haven’t been to Jerry Jones’ $1.2 billion stadium in Arlington, Colts coach Chuck Pagano is going out of his way to get his team prepared for the unique venue:

"I think what happens is you can go there and get enamored with all the things that I’ve heard and researched about the stadium itself, the jumbotron that covers the entire field and everything else that goes along with that stadium.

"Thought about making it a two-day trip, getting out there a day early and go there. If we were far enough away, I’d do it and go there on a Saturday and get all that out of the way. Have a walkthrough there and let them look at everything, play the game on Sunday and focus on the game and the game only. Because I think you probably could get distracted is what I heard if you don’t stay focused. There’s a lot going on I heard."

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Todd McShay's first mock draft has Cowboys taking cornerback - Todd Archer, ESPN Dallas

With the 25th pick in the first round, McShay had the Cowboys taking Wake Forest cornerback Kevin Johnson.Not a crazy pick, for the reasons Archer delineates:

Cornerback will be a huge need. McShay mentioned Claiborne, who will be entering the final year of his deal and will be coming back from major knee surgery. Brandon Carr’s future is also up in the air because of a $12.717 million salary-cap figure in 2015. The Cowboys won’t keep him at that price and will likely ask him to take a major paycut.

Sure, it's premature. But the draft never sleeps...