We'll start this morning's newsfest with a look at Thursday's practice report.
Defensive tackle Henry Melton (strained right hamstring), linebacker Rolando McClain (strained groin) and defensive tackle Terrell McClain (concussion) weren’t practicing Thursday. Undrafted rookie defensive tackle Davon Coleman practiced Thursday, but he was limited.
Coleman wasn't the only defensive lineman enjoying good news...
Rod Marinelli anticipates that Spencer will make his 2014 debut against New Orleans, almost a year to the day he underwent microfracture surgery on his left knee Oct. 1, 2013. Ah, the sweet symmetry...
Anthony Spencer started training camp on the physically unable to perform list, but the Cowboys were encouraged so much by his progress while in Oxnard that they chose to keep him on the active roster to start the season. He practiced twice last week in his first on-field work, and he has had no issues in practice this week - so it looks like he's a "go" versus the Saints, although they'll work him in slowly. How's he feel about all of this? "I had a whole year off, got to recover," he said, "so I feel good about it."
It's Thursday, so Sturm must be taking his weekly look at key plays from the previous game. Indeed so, and this time around he selects three offensive plays: the Tony Romo pick-six; DeMarco Murray's 44-yard run; and the go-ahead Romo-to-Williams 12-yard TD pass. Each receives copious analysis of the kind that only a true football geek like Sturm can provide. As always, a must-read.
On the most recent BTB Cowboys Radio podcast, our resident Xs and Os guru, Joey Ickes, noted that Scott Linehan is "elite player reliant" -i.e., that he is going to feed his best players and rely on them to carry the offense. This assertion is echoed here by JJT, who points out that, in each of the Cowboys’ first three games, Murray has carried the ball on one of the game’s first two plays - and that Bryant has not gone longer than four plays into the Cowboys’ first possession without catching his first pass.
The question entering this season was whether Linehan would run the ball enough. So far, Moore writes, he has. His patience and persistence in running the ball was a big reason the Cowboys were able to overcome a 21-point deficit to beat St. Louis. The new question is: will he be patient enough to stick with is if the Cowboys fall in a similar hole against the much more explosive Saints?
The key here is that, rather than carrying the team all the time, Romo now has only has to be great in short stretches. In the Cowboys two wins, these came at critical moments: key passes in 80+ yard scoring drives.
With uncertainty surrounding the availability of Melton and McClain, defensive end Tyrone Crawford is preparing to play at the three-technique spot in both the base and sub packages. Crawford is admittedly undersized: "I’m going to work the speed this week and do what I can down there," he said. "I don’t have the weight behind me."
After manning the nickel back position in Orlando Scandrick’s absence, playing 39 snaps against the San Francisco 49ers and 44 against the Tennessee Titans, Sterling Moore played only two snaps in last week’s win against the Rams. Nonetheless, he's prepared and ready to roll:
"I've always been a guy, anytime I go out there, I feel like I can go out there and make plays," Moore said. "It’s just a matter of going out there and getting those opportunities and the kinds of things that I've been through in my career I know those opportunities are going to come now or later. You just have to be ready when they come."
And in this league, they will come. They always do.
The Dallas Cowboys continue to exercise caution with receiver Dez Bryant, but he says his right shoulder feels much better than last week. Although he will continue to wear an extra pad to protect his right shoulder, Number 88 said he does not anticipate needing a pain-killing injection before Sunday night's game.
It's Friday; you know what that means: a cornucopia of scouting and preview pieces on the Saints
The Broad One looks at two key matchups against the Saints, one on each side of the ball: Orlando Scandrick against Saints rookie WR Brandin Cooks and, on offense, Doug Free vs. OLB Junior Galette. Looking at Galette's work, Broaddus came away impressed, and concerned for Free's welfare:
I expect Ryan to identify Free as the blocker that he wants to attack pressure-wise and will make sure that Galette is to that side. Free is going to have to deal with a rusher that can really get off the ball with that first step and attack the corner. Galette does a really nice job of breaking down the blocker as he is going to the quarterback. Slap, swat, swim -- you see it all in terms of pass rush moves.
After being held to a paltry nine first downs (and 0-9 on third down) in last year's debacle against the Saints, the Cowboys are looking for redemption. One way would be to play the Saints as they were played by the Rams last week: get manageable down and distances. The Senator:
"We know he’s bringing a lot of different blitzes," Witten said. "He double-teams guys at times. He plays Cover 2 at times. He just has a rolodex of coverages and blitzes and fronts that he runs. 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. He thrives with his defense in putting you in third downs, so he can get to those blitzes."
Leaning on the fine folk at ESPN Stats and Info, Archer shares some interesting statistical nuggets. Here's an interesting hand-me-down:
Cowboys RB DeMarco Murray is the fifth player in NFL history with at least 100 rush yards and a rushing touchdown in each of his team's first three games of a season. It's the longest streak since Curtis Martin began the 2004 season also with three straight games for the New York Jets.
"I always had a good time with Coach Ryan. He’s still one of my favorites to this day. I know he’s going to double me. I know he is. I’m ready for it....DeMarco is turning straight beast mode," Bryant said. "If they want to keep doubling [me], DeMarco will just run for 150 or 200 more [yards]."
And several pieces from the Saints perspective:
Machota reminds us that Romo and Payton worked together from 2003-2005 when Payton was the Cowboys’ assistant head coach, quarterbacks coach and passing game coordinator. So, he knows of what he speaks:
"That second half in St. Louis was very impressive," Payton said of Romo. "I think the balance that you see this year from Dallas is obviously helpful for a quarterback. When you have that balance and the threat of the run and the pass, I think it complements his play very well. He can move still, make the throws out of the pocket. And he’s got a very good command as to what they’re doing."
Ella, Canal Street Chronicles' version of Joey Ickes, takes a look at the All-22 of the Saints recent win and declares that eliminating missed assignments, limiting Dallas' red zone possessions to field goals and getting after Tony Romo will go a long way towards securing a win for New Orleans. Great piece, and a good look at the Saints defense.
With Saints center Tom Goodwin a likely no-go against the Cowboys - he missed practice on Wednesday and Thursday because of an injured ankle - backup interior lineman Tim Lelito is preparing to take his place. With the Cowboys interior defense decimated by injuries, a little quid pro quo wouldn't hurt.
New Orleans' version of Todd Archer, Triplett joins with former Saint Greer on weekly "know your opponent" pieces.They look at three Dallas skill position layers: Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams and Tony Romo. Here's Greer on Williams:
The young guy, Terrance Williams, this guy is pure speed. He runs better routes and he's faster than Dez. He is the long-ball threat. And I know from playing against him, he's only a second-year player so he's still learning his craft, but his speed is unmatched.
"The approach on that guy, you have to stop him at the line. He's good coming off the line, but you have to make sure that you stay on his up-field shoulder. A guy that has that type of speed, you gotta make sure cannot get one step behind you or one step even. Because if they're even, they're leavin'."
Although they have been arguably the NFL's most efficient offense this season, the Saints have completed only two passes of 20 or more yards (on six attempt) all season. That doesn't mean there isn't plenty to fear on Sunday night; they've done quite well with an efficient run game and plenty of mid-range throws to tight end Jimmy Graham and receiver Brandin Cooks.