Just as it seemed like our Beloved 'Boys were getting healthier (indeed, Todd Archer penned a short piece to that effect earlier in the day), two offensive starters popped up on Thursday’s injury report: Terrance Williams did not practice because of a bruised back and Zack Martin was limited with a foot strain. Yikes! The good news is that neither injury is considered serious and shouldn't affect either player's status for the game.
Terrell McClain had returned to practice in a limited fashion this week, our fearless leader writes, stoking hopes that he would be able to suit up this Sunday. Unfortunately, we learned yesterday, that likely won't happen. With McClain out, Nick Hayden will likely be the starter and seventh-round draft pick Ken Bishop will be the backup/rotation guy.
The Cowboys spent their entire preseason playing musical chairs with their linebackers, trying to get the best three on the field at the same time. For now, they plan to start Rolando McClain at middle linebacker against the 49ers with Justin Durant at weak-side linebacker and Bruce Carter at strong-side. Kyle Wilber is the odd man out, although he may be getting defensive end snaps until Anthony Spencer is ready to play.
As O.C.C. punned in his coverage of the situation: "55 is the Mike! 55 is the Mike!"
The headline gives us everything except the question of who will call the plays in McClain's stead. The answer: Justin Durant. One reason for this, Eatman points out, is that the player who wears the headset will need to be a three-down linebacker - which Durant is, given his involvement on the nickel defense.
For those of you wondering why Bruce Carter, after spending the preseason at the weakside linebacker, was moved to the strongside so abruptly, there is a threefold answer: 1) Justin Durant has the instincts necessary to play Will (and Carter apparently doesn't); 2) Carter won’t have to do nearly as much reading and reacting at the Sam; 3) The Sam tends to blitz more often, which plays to one of Carter's strengths. Fine by me; I just wish they had figured this out a little sooner...
In an exercise that several of us have popularized here on BTB (the last instance being a joint effort between myself and my podcast partner, Landon McCool), Archer ranks the players on the roster (including the 10-man practice squad guys) from 1-63. In case you're wondering, Tony Romo comes out on top; Mr. Irrelevant is backup interior lineman Ronald Patrick.
As the season approaches, Sturm gets his awesome on. This time around, he looks at the records, playoff records, and Super Bowl titles for the 32 QBs who are their team's respective "QB1" at this moment in time. What I found interesting is that Eli Manning has 43 more starts than Tony Romo when he became a starter only the year before Romo did. More than anything, this speaks to the two QBs' respective O-lines' ability to keep them healthy.
Tony Romo has said on multiple occasions that his best years as an NFL quarterback are ahead of him. Apparently, new Cowboys offensive play-caller Scott Linehan agrees with him:
"A lot of guys have played far beyond his age," Linehan said. "There’s no reason, I don’t think, why he wouldn’t be able to do the same thing. He played really well last year, I thought. So he has the ability to go out and use the experience that he has and the years he has left, and for a quarterback he’s young in this league, so that wouldn’t be surprising if that’s true. It’s going to be fun to hopefully be a part of that."
And now we move to Sunday's long-anticipated matchup...
The Broad One peers into two of Sunday's key matchups: Doug Free vs. 49ers OLB Ahmad Brooks and, in an interesting twist, Rod Marinelli against Colin Kaepernick. As Broaddus makes clear, it's important that they don't let him be "QB keeper-nick":
Kaepernick has yet to prove he can stand in that pocket and make consistent, accurate throws. He makes the majority of his mistakes in the pocket and becomes careless in his approach to throwing the ball....The more Marinelli can make him play as a true quarterback, the better chance he has for a mistake. When Kaepernick is at his best is when he can use his rare speed and mobility to escape the rush, turning a negative situation into a positive one.
No, indeed. Let's make sure his negatives stay negatives.
Archer throws out a few statistical nuggets borrowed from the ESPN Stats and Info guys. Here's a little somethin' for you:
Dez Bryant has a touchdown catch in five straight regular-season games, which is the longest active streak in the NFL and two shy of his career-high set between Weeks 10-16 of 2012. Since the start of the 2011 season Bryant has 34 touchdown catches, the most of any receiver. Only New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham (36) has more in that span.
San Francisco will be without two star defenders in Aldon Smith and NaVorro Bowman (Dan Skuta will replace Smith, while Michael Wilhoite will replace Bowman), but the Cowboys’ offensive players aren’t going to take the vaunted 49ers’ defense lightly. Probably a sound policy...
Strangely - or not - ESPN's Tim MacMahon writes an almost identical article.
Zack Martin has made such a seamless transition to the Dallas Cowboys’ offensive line, Archer notes, that it’s sometimes easy to forget he will play his first regular-season game on Sunday. In case you're wondering, Z-Mart will line up mostly against Ray McDonald, but he will also get to knock heads with five-time Pro Bowl defensive end Justin Smith. Welcome to the NFL, kid!
Right now, we're hanging our hats on the fact that they're going to play hard:
"I believe in these men have really worked hard," Marinelli said. "We’re getting a little bit healthier, not a whole lot, but we’re getting some guys back. The one thing I think you can identify with this group is how hard they’re going to play. They’re going to play hard, and we just have to be effective and we have to have eight guys in a rotation and keep fresh and go."
Eatman continues on this defense-is-bad theme:
The only way to change the perception is to change the reality. And that’s what this defense gets a chance to do come Sunday afternoon at AT&T Stadium. While it’s only one in a 16-game season, there won’t be many tougher tests for a defense than what they’ll face against a 49ers group that has been a steady, powerful unit that has its share of weapons.
Barnwell has been a busy boy of late, penning four separate season prediction post, each featuring a set of eight teams ("eight worst"; "eight rising"; "cellar dwellers"). He places the Cowboys amongst the "eight declining" NFL teams, and distributes some analytical crumbs. His summation:
We always talk about whether a quarterback is good enough to take his team to the Super Bowl. This is the opposite. I can’t think of a quarterback good enough to take this defense to the Super Bowl. The various players the Cowboys have assembled here have a chance to be the worst defense of this generation. Defensive performance is far more random from year to year than offense is, so you could maybe piece together some random year when Marinelli revitalizes the defensive line and the Cowboys create some fluky amount of turnovers, but they recovered a league-high 67.6 percent of fumbles last year and still finished 30th in defensive DVOA. And that was with Ware, and Hatcher, and Lee...
Helman predicts the Redskins to win the division, followed by the Eagles and Cowboys, who, he opines, will finish 6-10. The primary reason he cites is the "absolutely brutal back half of the schedule." Funny, but it's the first six games that have me quaking in my boots...
In a click-generating slideshow, Sabin runs through the Cowboys 2014 campaign, and sees a promising 5-3 start quickly sour, and the team limping to a 6-10 finish. The ignominy of all ignominies? A week ten loss to Jacksonville. Yuck.
Davison does Helman and Sabin one better, predicting a return to the Dave Campo era's familiar 5-11 refrain. I'm not sure which is worse, remembering those fallow years or the fact that he has the Eagles winning the East. Double yuck.
Okay, fellas, Sunday gives you a terrific opportunity to prove these guys wrong...