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Dallas Cowboys News And Notes: Is Byron Jones Ready For The Gronkowski Experience?

All the news that's fit to link. Today's top storylines: leftovers from Saints game; the Cowboys defense is struggling, and so is Joe Randle; is the season doomed?; Dallas falls in power rankings; The Kraken returns, and so do Tom Brady and the World Champs; who will cover Gronk?

Harry How/Getty Images

We begin this morning's news with leftovers from the rather sour banquet in New Orleans:

Cowboys in a bind; Terrance Williams among worst in key stat - Bob Sturm, DMN

Sturm's weekly "decoding Linehan" article, in which he counters those who are saying that the Cowboys offense is terrible this year. In fact, Sturm argues, it is almost exactly league average in multiple performance categories. The exception? Third down conversions:

Now, 3rd downs are an issue. They have converted just 14 of 41 3rd down attempts for a disappointing 34%. This is where Tony Romo and Dez Bryant were pretty special last year and the Cowboys were up near the top of the league in 3rd Downs all year and finished 2nd only to New Orleans with 47% conversions all year.

But, the league average is 39%. The Cowboys are 34%. To get to league average, the team would only need to have converted 2 more of those 41 chances this year. And that can be easily traced back to the issues the Cowboys are having on "3rd and 1" this year. The NFL Average for "3rd and 1" in 2015 is 65% conversions. So far, the Cowboys have had 5 cracks at "3rd and 1" and have converted on just once. 20%. If they simply hit the league average for that short gimme, then that entire 3rd down department would be right at league average.

Assessing The Ground Game Struggles, Other Notes From The Film - Bryan Broaddus, The Mothership

The Broad One emerges from the darkness of the film room, scratches his bald, fat head, and serves up some observations gleaned from his study. Here's one that caught my eye:

Film confirmed what I observed during the game – Anthony Hitchens was outstanding. He played with physical toughness and a keen awareness of what the Saints were trying to do to his defense scheme-wise. He showed the range and closing burst that he played with last season. His lateral quickness and agility put him to the ball on several plays, but it was his ability to finish those plays that I thought was the most impressive. There had been some games earlier in the season where he was struggling to fight blocks and was not able to get to the ball. What was positive to see is that this Saints offensive line really had no answer for how to slow him down.

Dallas Cowboys WR Brice Butler hopes to return from injury after bye week - Brandon George, DMN

George with a wee bit of info on Brice Butler's night against the Saints. The injured wideout answers a question that I've had since the moment he was injured:

Butler was in for 20 plays Sunday against the Saints and was targeted once, the longest reception by a Cowboys player this season.

Butler insists he would have scored if he hadn't been injured as he sprinted to catch the football.


More on the defense's struggles:

Missed takeaways hurting Dallas Cowboys' defense - Dallas Cowboys Blog - ESPN

Thus far, the Cowboys defense has amassed only three takeaways, all of which came against Philadelphia. That may represent the biggest drop-off from 2014:

Through four games last season the Cowboys had eight takeaways with five interceptions and three fumble recoveries. On seven of those takeaways the Cowboys’ offense answered with either a touchdown or field goal or ended the game.

Takeaways help the defense (they end drives) and help the offense (they lead to short fields and easy scores). Boy, would a couple more of those have helped in the last couple of weeks.

2015 Cowboys Defense: Three Stats That Will Leave You Scratching Your Head - One.Cool.Customer, BTB

The Cool One with a lucid statistical analysis of the Cowboys defense. Here's one obvious stat that I have managed to overlook:

Over four games, the Cowboys have allowed 54 points in the first three quarters, and 47 points in the fourth quarter and overtime. Only the Giants (50 points) have allowed more points late in the game. Think about that. ALMOST HALF of all points allowed were scored on the Cowboys in the 4th quarter or OT.

When Jason Garrett was asked a few years back which stats the Cowboys pay the most attention to, he answered turnover differential and 'winning the fourth quarter,' because he believes they are the two stats most significantly correlated with winning in the NFL. Given the stats we just looked at, Garrett can't be particularly happy.


The Joseph Randle saga continues...but will it for much longer?

With faith in Joseph Randle dwindling, Cowboys could have big running back shakeup - David Moore, DMN

In an uncharacteristically rambling article, Moore declares the end of the short-lived Joseph Randle era:

But the ground game, headed by Randle to this point, has done nothing to brake the slide. His dysfunctional blend of productivity and unreliability symbolizes what the Cowboys must fix in this rotation.

Lance Dunbar's season-ending injury accelerates the need to address the committee's structure immediately.


Will Cowboys have to fight urge to get Dez Bryant back? - Dallas Cowboys Blog - ESPN

Archer's weekly "Five Wonders" post, in which he muses about Dez Bryant, Greg Hardy, Matt Cassel and Nikita Whitlock. Here, he ponders the future of the Cowboys 2013 second rounder:

I wonder if they would consider trading Gavin Escobar. This is not a slam on Escobar. It's more the team investing a second-round pick on a tight end when they knew Jason Witten was never coming off the field. Even the absence of Bryant has not meant more Escobar. With Geoff Swaim, the Cowboys have a third tight end that can help behind Witten and James Hanna. Escobar has a skill set but it's to fill a niche. He can work the seams and he can be an effective red zone player, but he's not going to be a hand-in-the-ground tight end. He is signed through 2016 but do you see his role changing greatly?


Are the Cowboys doomed?

Breaking and Breaking Down - Rafael Vela, Cowboys Nation

Vela makes a point that I have been thinking about a lot lately: that Dallas "wrapped its stars in cotton wool in August." In other words, they labored so hard to avoid injuries that the team never really had a chance to get prepared for the season. The result? They weren't ready to play:

This team isn’t Wade Phillips bad, but the penalties and crippling mental errors recall the late Phillips era. The Cowboys took a mulligan on the preseason and they still look like they’ve got one foot in the summer. And we can’t blame that on injuries. The Cowboys showed a lot of heart last night, and Brandon Weeden looked a lot more comfortable in the pocket. But this team has to play error free football in its present state to win, and it has yet to play a really tight game in 2015.

Jason Garrett's 'next man up' philosophy flawed - Jean-Jacques Taylor, ESPN Dallas

JJT calls BS on the "next man up" philosophy, which he claims ignores NFL realities. A cuppa:

They’re 2-2 with no tangible evidence they can or will win another game until Dez Bryant (foot) supposedly returns after the bye week following Sunday’s game against New England. The reality is the Cowboys will struggle to win any game until Tony Romo returns in six weeks from a broken left collarbone.

There's a reason Romo earns an average of $18 million per season and backup Brandon Weeden makes $660,000. It’s no coincidence Bryant earns an average of $14 million per year, while Terrance Williams makes $615,000.

Defensive end Greg Hardy can earn as much as $13 million this season, but Jeremy Mincey makes $2.5 million. Romo, Bryant and Hardy are among the best in the NFL at their craft and their salaries are commensurate with that.

Tony Romo's value to Dallas Cowboys never higher or more apparent - Todd Archer, ESPN Dallas

Archer makes a compelling case for the ways Tony Romo helps every aspect of the team's on-field performance:

What makes Romo elite -- yes, elite -- is how he can get the Cowboys into the right plays. His experience makes everybody else better, from the receivers -- regardless of whether Dez Bryant is playing -- to the offensive line. Remember the game-winning drive against the New York Giants in the opener? It came with Bryant hurt. *It's not about how magical Romo is when things break down. That is the easy stuff to see -- the highlight plays that make everybody's jaws drop. That’s offense almost by accident...

It's checking to the right run or right pass, depending on the defensive look. That helps the offensive line get angles on the front in the run game and helps them get an edge in pass protection. Although Romo does not predetermine where he goes with the ball before the snap, he can anticipate coverages and blitzes that allows him to get the ball out more quickly.

All of that makes the defense better because the offense can sustain drives.

Archer's larger point is that the Cowboys are missing all of those added benefits.

Some Think Sky is Falling, But Cowboys Are Going To Be Just Fine | Dallas Cowboys

Sully Bald head spends the bulk of his article talking Cowboys fans down off the ledge, then caps it all of by offering some useful perspective on Mo Claiborne and the 2012 draft:

The unsung player on the defense so far is cornerback Morris Claiborne, who really shut down Saints wide receiver Brandin Cooks. This wasn’t a one-game thing, either. He’s been playing easily at the highest level of his career this season. Really aggressive and physical in coverage, and his tackling has been solid. Could turn out to be a great story.

What’s amazing about Claiborne’s draft class is three (quarterback Robert Griffin III, running back Trent Richardson and wide receiver Justin Blackmon) of the five players taken before him in 2012 haven’t played a snap this season, and it’s possible none of them will, although Richardson, currently unemployed, worked out with the Buffalo Bills on Tuesday.


The Cowboys' star has fallen...

NFL rankings: Why Giants, Redskins, Raiders are better than Cowboys - Rick Gosselin, DMN

The Goose with his weekly rankings. As the title suggests, the Cowboys find themselves in some less-than-impressive company:

19. Dallas. The Cowboys have lost their last two games without Tony Romo and will be the underdog each of the next three games without him against the Patriots (home), Giants (road) and Seahawks (home).

NFL Power Rankings Week 5 -

With two consecutive losses, the Cowboys have fallen from their once-lofty perch:

power rankings Oct 7


The good news? Greg Hardy is back at Valley Ranch and appears ready to rumble...

Hardy's Teammates Eager To Welcome "High-Energy" DE Back To Roster - David Helman, The Mothership

Now that Greg Hardy is back with the team, practices will once again feature one of the most anticipated training camp match-ups: Hardy vs All-Pro LT Tyron Smith:

Smith was on hand for Hardy’s introduction to the Dallas media on Tuesday, considering his locker is just two spots away in the Cowboys’ locker room. The matchup of those two was one of the most-anticipated matchups of training camp, and Hardy was happy it could pick back up at regular season practices.

"Favorite part of my day -- favorite and worst part of my day," Hardy said of Smith. "Flashback to that Pro Bowl every single day, getting jacked in the face 24 plays in a row. It makes me a phenomenal player in practice and hopefully it carries over this weekend, carries over to the game and we can just produce on both sides of the ball."

Greg Hardy of Dallas Cowboys says 'I don't look back' as he preps for return from suspension - Todd Archer, ESPN Dallas

Asked whether he had any remorse or regrets, Hardy told the assembled reporters:

"I'm sorry I couldn't be here for my teammates. The worst feeling in the world is not being there for somebody you care about or somebody that needs you. That's what we need, a full team, and everybody pulling their load. And that's what I'm going to do when I come back."

Greg Hardy: 'This has been the most awesome period of my life, I'm a Dallas Cowboy' - Jon Machota, DMN

A collection of quotes from Hardy's Tuesday locker room press session. Here's the one that made me do a little fist pump:

On being a Cowboy beyond 12 games: "I hope it lasts 12 more years."

Dallas Cowboys DE Greg Hardy: Tom Brady is 'cool as crap,' wants to see Gisele Bundchen at game - Kevin Duffy,

Asked Tuesday about facing Tom Brady and the Patriots offense, Hardy told reporters:

"I love seeing Tom Brady. He's cool as crap. You seen his wife? I hope she comes to the game. I hope her sister comes to the game. [I hope] all her friends come to the game."

He added that he wants to see Brady "the same way I did last time I saw him, hopefully on the ground."


Speaking of the Patriots, they come to AT&T Stadium this Sunday. In case you didn't know.

Five Reasons the Cowboys Will Beat the New England Patriots - Thomas Duck, Cover 32

The Duck Man authors his weekly "Five Reasons" post. Most of this week's have to do with defensive reinforcements. As does this one, in a way:

4. Standing Patmon – The pass rush will need some help if they are to get home on Brady. The Cowboys secondary will need to shut off the quick dump offs that Brady will be looking for in the face of pressure. Brady tends to look to his small and speedy slot receiver Julian Edelman in those situations. The job of taking Edelman away will fall to Tyler Patmon this week. Patmon is the second year player who is filling in for Orlando Scandrick this season, and this will be his biggest test to date.

Patmon has played well so far in 2015, but he hasn’t had to defend a combination like Brady and Edelman. Patmon will need to be at the top of his game on Sunday, and he has the talent to get the job done.

Why Sean Lee is the ideal defender to take on Pats' Gronkowski - Rick Gosselin, DMN

The Goose makes a case for Sean Lee as the optimal defender to match up with Gronk on Sunday. Here's what's needed athletically from whomever lines up opposite the Pats' All-World tight end:

The ideal defender for Gronkowski is someone with the size of a linebacker, the speed of a safety and the hands of a cornerback. Someone like Lee. He's the best playmaker on the Dallas defense and also the best coverage linebacker. He has the chance to run with Gronkowski and, at 6-2, 238 pounds, a chance to be physical with him as well.

The funny thing is that, in describing the optimal anti-Gronk device, Gosselin isn't describing Lee as much as he is Byron Jones, who, with his ability to jump out of the building, is well equipped to deal with Gronkowski's length.

Dallas Cowboys first-round pick Byron Jones: 'I'm gaining more confidence, which is great for me' - Brandon George, DMN

George, on the other hand, seems prepared to acknowledge that Jones will be instrumental in slowing Gronkowski down. The rookie defensive back realizes the difficulty of the task at hand:

"He's one of the best tight ends," Jones said. "Athletically, his catch radius, his ability to fight for the ball ... so it's going to be a tough challenge for me. We're just going to find ways to give him different looks, try to find a way to get this guy slowed down."

Better Eat your Witten Lucky Stars, son

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