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Cowboys News And Notes: Jason Witten Nears Top Ten All-Time Receiver Status

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All the news that's fit to link...and a bunch of substandard stuff from the national media. Today's top storylines: game analysis; PFF grades; defensive struggles; Cowboys' interim triplets garner press; the funeral bells begin to toll; hope springs eternal; Jason Witten is awesome.

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The day after the Cowboys hit the historical point of no return, we were treated to a litany of funeral orations for the Cowboys' 2015 season. We'll get to those in a moment; for now, however, there is just to much good post-game analysis to wade through...

Dallas Cowboys face familiar song: Close but not good enough - Todd Archer, ESPN Dallas

Archer with his game summary, which he always caps off with a collection of observations. Here's on that I found particularly interesting:

What were they thinking? The Cowboys deferred to open the game in hopes of gaining an edge with the final drive of the first half and the opening drive of the second half. They failed on both accounts. On the first drive of the third quarter, the Cowboys used a three-tight end formation on four straight plays and the drive stalled. It seemed a curious mix of plays to start the half even with how well the Cowboys ran the ball in the first two quarters.

Why you shouldn't check out on the 2-6 Cowboys - Bob Sturm, DMN

The Sturminator's weekly post-game think piece. Al always, he has much to offer therein, including this subtle yet critical observation:

The Eagles gained 192 yards and scored 19 points after the end of the 3rd Quarter, which is certainly not going to be good enough to win. In fact, the Cowboys actually stopped the Eagles on all 3 3rd down situations in the 4th Quarter and overtime. The issue there is that they were unable to force 3rd downs most of the time. The Eagles marched right down the field when the game was in the balance. The Cowboys were sure their defense would improve with all of the talent being assembled, but it is difficult to suggest that a unit on pace for 8 takeaways this season that has come close to happening.

And that is deeply connected to this persistent problem:

If we have seen something constant in this 50-day odyssey, it is that the defensive front - with or without Greg Hardy - is not able to take over games when they needed them most.

This isn't to say that the defensive line is fully to blame because clearly there are many things at work here. But, the defensive front 7 - the DL and the Linebackers - was going to have to be the strength and to keep opponents to a reasonable output. But, in five of the six games, the Cowboys would have had to get four touchdowns to win without their full offensive compliment and without the benefit of even a single takeaway. And that, was simply a task that was going to be asking too much of a backup QB.

Lack of Pressure, Beasley’s Effort Among 12 Thoughts - Bryan Broaddus, The Mothership

The Broad One with the first of three post-game assessments. This one is a late night collocation of thoughts. Here's his lead-off effort:

Would have never believed that Philadelphia would have been able to capture the edge in the running game the way they did. For a group that was shuffling offensive linemen around, especially at tackle, it was an impressive night for them. It was clear, especially in the second half, that they felt that regardless of who was lined up on the outside for the Cowboys, they were going to be able take DeMarco Murray and get him on the edge with no problem. If the Eagles had a play in this game that they could hang their hat on, no matter the down and distance, it was handing the ball to Murray underneath and letting him run to the collapsed edge. It worked for them all night.

Scout's Eye: Breaking Down The Offense's Tape From The Loss To Philly - Bryan Broaddus, The Mothership

Broaddus's second effort offers further thoughts from his film review. Several were interesting, but here's one that I found my self thinking of late, so I'll share it:

I believe Darren McFadden has some DeMarco Murray in him in regard to being a one-back runner. It’s just an observation, but McFadden just doesn’t look as comfortable with Tyler Clutts in front of him. Murray just didn’t like Clutts because he made him have to start, stop and re-start because there were times where he hesitated in the hole and it threw Murray’s reads off. McFadden appears to have trouble with Clutts as well, and it is due to Clutts’ inability to hit the hole with any quickness. McFadden wants to take the ball and get going – Clutts doesn’t always allow him to do that.

Broaddus: Detailing The Defense's Missed Chances Against The Eagles Bryan Broadus, The Mothership

The Broad One, part III. Here, he finishes up his film review with several salient bullet points. I chose to share one about the much maligned pass rush:

I counted five separate times where there was a Cowboys rusher at the arm of Sam Bradford just as he was delivering the ball. On the touchdown pass that he threw in overtime – Greg Hardy was just inches away from turning that game completely around with a strip-sack. I am not telling you this to try and make you feel better, because a loss is a loss, but to just have the thought that this pass rush is non-existent is not what the film shows.

Dallas Cowboys Lose To Philadelphia Eagles As Toxic Events Narrate Sixth Straight Loss - KD Drummond, Cowboys HQ

The Noble Drummond uses "toxic" plays (10+ yards running plays and 25+ yard pass plays) as his analytical tool, arriving at the following conclusion:

Philadelphia scored on every single drive in which they had a toxic event. Six in total, accounted for four touchdowns and two field goals. On the flip side, Dallas didn’t score on two drives in which they had the valuable big plays, scoring once without one and never getting the opportunity in overtime because their defense couldn’t prevent Philly from adding to their total.

Big plays are the true narrative of NFL football these days. They returned to the Cowboys offense on Sunday night, 8 in total. Unfortunately, they gave one back with the pick-six while the defense gave up 11 of their own. That’s no recipe for victory and it smells a lot like six losses in a row.

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The early grades are in!

PHI-DAL grades: Eagles deliver Cowboys a sixth consecutive loss - Ben Stockwell, PFF

Stockwell lists the players from both teams receiving the highest marks (Tyron Smith takes the Cowboys' cake with a nice +3.6 for his evening's work), and offers a bit of commentary on some of the more interesting test cases. For example:

– An unheralded contributor for the Cowboys since he entered the defensive line rotation in Week 4 has been undrafted free agent David Irving (+3.5) who earned his highest grade of the season so far. That was his third single-game grade above +2.0 in five appearances, hitting that mark every time he sees at least ten snaps. Irving racked up a season high five pressures (2 Ht, 3 Hu) and three stops, tying for the team lead in pressures with Tyrone Crawford (+1.2) and Greg Hardy (-0.1).

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Other than Irving, not many players on the defense has stellar nights...

Once again, Dallas Cowboys' defense can't come up with critical play - Todd Archer, ESPN Dallas

In the process of arguing that the Cowboys couldn't make a play on Sunday night, Archer ends up demonstrating that the Eagles consistently made big plays when it mattered. To wit:

After the Cowboys tied the game at 21-21 with 10:52 to play, Zach Ertz had a 27-yard catch with Jeff Heath in good position. The problem? Sam Bradford’s throw was perfect. After the Cowboys tied it up at 24-24, Bradford hit Jordan Matthews for a 34-yard gain that eventually led to a 53-yard field goal. And then in overtime, the Cowboys let first-and-15 and second-and-14 chances go with a 14-yard catch by DeMarco Murray and a 20-yard run by Murray...On the next play, Bradford hit Matthews for a 41-yard score with Byron Jones slipping and J.J. Wilcox unable to make a tackle near the 20. That was the Eagles’ eighth play of at least 20 yards on the night.

There's a simple answer why Cowboys are losing games - Babe Laufenberg, DMN

The Babe with his weekly post-game Q&A. Here, he answers a question about the defense's recent inability to make a play when its needed most:

But the defense went an entire ballgame, for the 6th time this year, without taking the ball away. That is almost impossible to do. The Cowboys were 10-0 last year in games where they were plus or even in the turnover differential. They are now 1-5 this year when they are minus or even in turnover differential. Not a real complicated answer as to why they are losing games.

Cowboys' defense, running game struggles, Romo nears return - Andy Benoit, MMQB

Benoit says the Cowboys can climb out of this mess only if they receive the play they expected from the running game and the defensive line:

If the Cowboys can win at Tampa next week (their easiest opponent to date), they’ll be 3-6 when Romo returns with seven games remaining. From there it would take at least five, maybe six wins to claim the division and capture the NFC’s four seed. Regardless, if there’s overflowing optimism in this scenario (and there is), the only chance it has of coming to fruition is if Dallas’s defense and running game start playing up to expectations.

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Matt Cassel has best day, but one play will haunt - Todd Archer, ESPN Dallas

Despite a good game, there is one play, Archer writes, that will haunt Matt Cassel: Jordan Hicks's 67-yard pick six. According to Cassel, it was just a good play:

"They were playing two-high defense and we had a combination route," Cassel said. "I don’t think I threw it behind [Darren McFadden] or anything. [Hicks] just made a good play on the ball. He got it and unfortunately it turned out to be a pick-six. Sometimes those plays happen."

Dez Bryant's performance helps open up entire offense - Jean-Jacques Taylor, ESPN Dallas

When Bryant is playing well, JJT argues, the entire offense opens up, because he can change a game at any time. Check it:

The Dallas Cowboys gained 411 yards (277 passing, 134 rushing) and 25 fist downs in their 33-27 overtime loss to Philadelphia....his performance helped create room for Darren McFadden to gain 117 yards on 27 carries and slot receiver Cole Beasley to catch nine passes for 112 yards and two touchdowns.

Jason Garrett: Darren McFadden's 'symbolic' of Cowboys team 'in a lot of ways' - Jon Machota, DMN

In Monday's presser, Jason Garrett opined on one of the few positive surprises to take place in 2015 - Darren McFadden's emergence as the Cowboys' lead dog:

"I think he's symbolic of our team in a lot of ways," Garrett said. "He's competing his ass off and fighting and scratching and clawing. A number of those runs, at the end of runs, he's about six inches off the ground, not letting his knee go down, fighting for those extra yards, always finishing forward. We value finishing forward. We value finishing forward on offense, knocking them back on defense.

"We think those yards, those feet, those inches matter. We try to preach that to our team, and when you see a guy like that do that consistently, over and over and over again, I think it's contagious throughout your team. He's made some great contributions in the last couple weeks."

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And the funeral bells begin to toll...

With sixth straight loss, these Cowboys now tied to 1989 Cowboys - Todd Archer, ESPN Dallas

With Sunday's 33-27 overtime loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, Archer points out, the 2015 Cowboys are close to the ignominious mark set by 1989 Cowboys, who lost their final seven games that year (and lost their first eight). Here's what it comes down to:

To finish above .500, the Cowboys will have to close 7-1 or better. They have one more game (Sunday at Tampa Bay) before Romo returns Nov. 22 at Miami.

On The 2-6 Cowboys’ Signposts Up Ahead - CBS Dallas Staff

The Cowboys' sixth straight loss is giving many long-time Cowboys followers (and executives) visions of 1989:

Even Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, the optimistic wildcatter, admitted to 1989 flashbacks late Sunday night following Dallas’ 33-27 OT loss at AT&T Stadium, a decision that hands this franchise a six straight loss for the first time since its dismal 1989 campaign...

5 thoughts: Even a terrible NFC East might not be enough for Cowboys to stay in playoff hunt - Jon Machota, DMN

Machota with his handful of thoughts on the game. Here's the one that has to be on everyone's mind at this juncture:

Even a terrible division might not be enough to keep the Cowboys in playoff contention. Sunday night's loss was Dallas' sixth in a row. They are now 2.5 games behind the division leading Giants, who improved to 5-4 earlier in the day. Yes, Tony Romo's getting healthier, but he's still not back for another two games. The Cowboys badly needed this one Sunday night. The crack in the window to a division title is now paper thin.

Willingness To Keep Fighting Main Reason Behind Garrett’s Optimism - Nick Eatman, The Mothership

Its come to the point where we are style-pointing losses. When asked on Monday what gives him hope about this season, the Cowboys' head coach pointed to how his team has played in the team's six consecutive defeats:

"Just how we play," Garrett said. "How matters. How we practice and how we play matters. We emphasize that to our team a lot. We believe if you play the right way over time you’re going to get the results you want."

What happens to Cowboys when Jason Garrett's calls for fight, resilience, character become hollow catchphrases? - David Moore, DMN

As the headline, suggests, Moore wonders aloud what happens when formerly positive attributes like fight, resilience and character threaten to become hollow catchphrases in the face of a sustained losing streak. The purveyor of those catchphrases responds:

"That's the challenge,'' the Cowboys' head coach said. "Oftentimes this happens in your professional life, but sometimes it happens in your personal life when you feel like you're doing things the right way and you don't get the result that you need.

"You can call it whatever you want to call -- if it's faith -- but you've just got to keep going. You've got to keep banging away. You've got to keep doing things the right way.''

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But wait, there IS a precedent for a 2-6 team to make the playoffs!

Cowboys' long skid threatens to make Romo's return pointless - Schuyler Dixon, USA Today

Although the "no 2-6 team has ever made the playoffs' meme is alive and well, it doesn't go all the way back to the dawn of NFL time. Dixon digs in the archives and unearths a tidbit from even before Ol' Rabble's time:

If the Cowboys need a source of inspiration, maybe it's the 1970 Cincinnati Bengals. They won their last six games in the 14-game era for an 8-6 finish before a 17-10 playoff loss to the Baltimore Colts in the first year of the merger.

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Is Cowboys' Jason Witten a top 10 NFL all-time receiver? He could be soon - Kristi Scales, DMN

Scales writes that The Senator is a mere 13 catches from recording 1,000 for his career, which would lace him in the top 10 on the NFL's all-time career receptions list. But wait, there's more: The next target on Witten's list is Hines Ward who currently ranks No. 10 in career receptions with 1,000.

So far through 8 games of the 2015 season, Witten has 44 receptions. That's an average of just over 5 catches per game. If he remains on that current pace, he would reach 1,000 catches on Thanksgiving Day in front of a cheering home Cowboys crowd at AT&T Stadium.

witten cereal

Does Tony Gonzalez have his own cereal? I think not...