Friday, August 31, 2007

Cowboys | Moore may go to practice squad if cut

Cowboys | Moore may go to practice squad if cut
Fri, 31 Aug 2007 11:06:39 -0700

Rob Phillips, of, reports Dallas Cowboys QB Matt Moore is a candidate for the team's practice squad if he does not make the final roster.

Cowboys | Austin a leading candidate for roster spot

Cowboys | Austin a leading candidate for roster spot
Fri, 31 Aug 2007 11:10:46 -0700

Jana Willis, of, reports Dallas Cowboys WR Miles Austin is one of the leading candidates for the final wide receiver spot on the roster.

Cowboys | Team may only keep 2 QBs

Cowboys | Team may only keep 2 QBs
Fri, 31 Aug 2007 11:24:43 -0700

Clarence E. Hill Jr., of the Fort Worth Star Telegram, reports the Dallas Cowboys may only keep two quarterbacks on their active roster this season.

Jerry thinks both Newman and Glenn will be ready for Giants

Cowboys | Owner thinks Newman will be ready Week 1
Fri, 31 Aug 2007 11:51:22 -0700
Todd Archer, of the Dallas Morning News, reports Dallas Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones said he expects CB Terence Newman (foot) to be ready to play Week 1.

Cowboys | Owner thinks T. Glenn will be ready Week 1
Fri, 31 Aug 2007 11:50:25 -0700
Todd Archer, of the Dallas Morning News, reports Dallas Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones said he expects WR Terry Glenn (knee) to be ready to play Week 1.

Pregame analysis: Giants @ Boys

Giants at Cowboys
Sunday, 8:15 p.m. ET (NBC), Texas Stadium

The Edge

Quarterback: Advantage NYG
Running backs: Advantage DAL
Receivers: Advantage DAL
Offensive line: Advantage DAL
Defensive line: Advantage DAL
Linebackers: Advantage DAL
Secondary: Advantage DAL
Pass rushers: Advantage NYG
Special teams: Advantage NYG
Depth: Advantage DAL
Coaching: Advantage NYG

Prediction: Giants = 20 Cowboys = 30

Giants Keys For Success

1. Locate outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware. Phillips plans to utilize Ware the same way he did Shawne Merriman last year in San Diego, lining him up all over the field and putting him in the best position to confuse and abuse the quarterback. The Giants will shift protection toward Ware but could struggle to succeed because Ware will move often before the snap. Center Shaun O'Hara must find Ware on every play and communicate the protection calls to his linemates. Manning also must keep his eyes on Ware and hit his "hot" receivers in a hurry if the protection breaks down.

2. Use more cover-3 schemes. New defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo would prefer to use a bump-and-run, man-to-man coverage scheme but lacks the capable personnel. Therefore, he will run more three-deep schemes, dropping a third defender deep to take away the downfield routes. This will limit the big-play possibilities of Cowboys wide receivers Terrell Owens and Terry Glenn (if healthy) and tight end Jason Witten.

3. Utilize play-action fakes. Cowboys safeties Roy Williams and Ken Hamlin are talented but love contact and always are quick to sniff out the run and step up to deliver big hits. Manning should use plenty of play-action fakes in Week 1, hoping to catch Williams and/or Hamlin peeking in the backfield just long enough for wide receivers Plaxico Burress and Amani Toomer to get behind them for a big gain. Hamlin's job is to patrol center field and not bite on such fakes, but Manning is sure to test him and see if he has learned any new discipline.

Cowboys Keys For Success

1. Use more screen passes and draw plays. The Giants' new defensive scheme is more aggressive than the old one. The linemen are asked to shoot gaps with the linebackers attacking the line of scrimmage rather than reading and reacting. The Giants' defense was inconsistent in preseason, sometimes looking dominant and sometimes giving up big plays. The Cowboys will allow the Giants' linemen and linebackers to penetrate upfield and catch them off-guard with draw plays and screen passes, and there should be plenty of running room for Julius Jones and Marion Barber III.

2. Control the line of scrimmage. The Cowboys still use a 3-4 alignment, but Phillips' scheme is much more aggressive than Parcells' version. The Giants' offensive line is athletic but can get overwhelmed by aggressive defenses. The Cowboys will look to pierce the line and force running back Brandon Jacobs to stutter and/or make cuts in the backfield, preventing him from getting a full head of steam.

3. Use three- and four-receiver sets. Last year, the Cowboys used plenty of two-tight end sets with Jason Witten and Anthony Fasano, but expect a different approach in Week 1. The Giants' secondary got banged up in preseason and has limited depth. The Cowboys should take advantage by using three and four wide receivers to force the Giants to use substandard nickel and dime personnel. This should create mismatches everywhere in the passing game and further limit the Giants' ability to stop the run.

Cowboys: Philips sticks with "Two-headed monster"

Chad Peters
Express-News staff writer

In the eyes of Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Patrick Crayton, watching running back Marion Barber carry the football is like looking at a miniature version of former Pittsburgh bruiser Jerome Bettis.

“He’s like our ‘Mini Bus,’” Crayton said.

Maybe that’s why the roars to start Barber over Julius Jones seem to grow louder and louder with every carry Barber gets.

Whether it's because of his reckless running style, his penchant for finding the end zone or the way his flowing dreadlocks oscillate with every broken tackle, the third-year back certainly has won people over.

During the team’s two-week stay for training camp at the Alamodome, fans sometimes greeted Barber with as loud of cheers as they gave Tony Romo and Terrell Owens.

But while the fans might be ready to hand over the starting reins to Barber, the Cowboys don’t want to disrupt the two-back system that worked so well for them last season.

“It used to be you had one running back,” coach Wade Phillips said. “Now it's changed where a lot of teams have been able to utilize two good backs. That's the situation I've walked into and I think it's a good situation.”

The shifty Jones, entering his fourth season, started all 16 games last year. Barber, more of a grinder, primarily came in on third downs and near the goal line.

The Cowboys had shown interest earlier this preseason in giving Jones more opportunities near the goal line and feeding Barber more carries in between the 20-yard lines. And in last week’s 28-16 loss to Houston, they distributed the carries by quarter, giving Jones the bulk of the work in the first quarter and Barber the majority of the carries in the second.

But significantly changing either player’s role from last season seems unlikely. And Barber says he’s fine with that.

“I don’t think nothing of it, man,” Barber said of those calling for him to start. “That’s their opinion. Right now I’m looking for the coaches’ opinion. And right now the coaches are using me how they’re using me.”

Meanwhile, Jones, an unrestricted free agent at season’s end, says all he’s worried about is staying healthy and having a chance to produce behind the rebuilt offensive line.

“Everything else will take care of itself,” he said.

Jones surpassed the 1,000-yard mark last season for the first time in his career, finishing with 1,084 yards and four touchdowns.

But his performance deteriorated down the stretch. After rushing for 100-or-more yards in three of the first five games, he cracked the century mark just once more during the rest of the regular season. He also averaged four-plus yards a carry in just one game during that 11-game stretch.

Meanwhile, Barber – who ran for 654 yards – flashed grit and consistency. He finished every month with a four-plus-yard average en route to scoring an NFC-leading 16 TDs.

But is Barber’s production enough to justify phasing out Jones? The Cowboys think not.

“I think they’re a good combination in that one of them is smaller, faster and one of them is bigger, stronger,” Phillips said. “What I’ve noticed already with both of them is they have real good vision. That’s what you need in a running back.

“Julius is kind of a slasher, movement guy, and Marion kind of skips into it and goes. They’re a little different styles, certainly they’re different body types, but they both have good vision. And they both catch the ball. So we’re going to try to utilize both of them.”

And it might not be such a bad idea to avoid forcing Barber into a starting role.

History has shown quality backup runners have a tendency to put up eye-catching numbers, sometimes even better than those of the starter. But that doesn’t necessarily mean the backup always is the better player.

Just last season, New York Giants running back Brandon Jacobs’ nine TDs nearly doubled Tiki Barber’s total of five, while San Diego backup Michael Turner’s average of 6.3 yards eclipsed LaDainian Tomlinson’s 5.2 mark.

But even with the support for Barber continuing to swell, Crayton says he’s not worried the two-back approach will wear on either Jones or Barber.

“They’re not selfish like that,” he said. “There’s no selfishness on this team. They know that each one of them complements the other.

“They’re a two-headed monster.”

Cowboys' 2007 Preview: Can Romo Bring It Again?

by Sportz Assassin
AOL FanHouse

2006 Record: 9-7

2006 Offense: The Cowboys found their QB of the future and present with Tony Romo. Despite getting slammed for dropping passes, Terrell Owens still came up with huge plays and led the league with TD receptions. Only LT and Larry Johnson rushed for more TDs than Marion Barber. Needless to say, that this was one of the league's most potent offenses.

2006 Defense: The defense was pretty good. They had one of the best run defenses in the league ... so-so against the pass. The two-gap zone scheme from last year will be replaced by a more aggressive one-gapper under new head coach Wade Phillips.

2006 Special Teams: Vanderjagt! Maybe that's Swedish for "unemployed". One of the most interesting developments from last year was that the "idiot kicker" was unceremoniously axed for Martin Gramatica ... who hadn't kicked in the NFL is some time.

Coaching: Wade Phillips takes over for Bill Parcells, which means the news conferences won't be as fun this year. The main difference will be on defense, where the Cowboys will blitz more often and try to confuse opposing offenses. Also, Tony Romo has been given a myriad of coaching support. Tony Sparano takes over as "assistant head coach" and former Dallas QBs Jason Garrett is the offensive coordinator and Wade Wilson the quarterbacks coach.

Draft: Anthony Spencer will be the future of the linebacking corps, but won't be relied on heavily this year. However, he will be groomed to take over for Greg Ellis. The same thing could be said about OT James Marten, who could be Marc Colombo's future replacement.

New Additions: The main addition was Leonard Davis to the offensive line. Davis will be the right guard and could be a key component to getting the line back to a level where they can both pound the football plus give Romo time to find his receiving weapons.

Three Keys:

1) Tony Romo's development is tops. Romo was all the rage last season, but sort of wore down as the season went along. Now, with defensive coordinators with a ton of film on him, will they figure him out or will Romo rise above it?

2) The defense had its ups and downs, but will be committed to being aggressive this year. Will that help with the somewhat shaky secondary?.

3) It will be interesting to see how Terrell Owens acts. Thus far, he's been pretty quiet. However, if there is a down patch, will he revolt? I mean, Andy Reid and Bill Parcells struggled to keep T.O. on task ... so how will a "player's coach" in Wade Phillips deal with him?

Prediction: There is plenty of talent to win a questionable NFC East. They could also make a deep run in the playoffs. Personally, I think it will end in the NFC Championship game. Still an 11-5 or 10-6 should be expected.

DMN Blog: Clearing up some Ellis stuff

Some of you have asked why the Cowboys can't put Greg Ellis on the physically unable to perform list. Here's why - the Cowboys needed to put him on the active PUP list before the first training camp practice. They considered it, but didn't because his rehab went so well. Yet he practiced the first day and hasn't been on the field since.

If he had been on PUP from the beginning, then the Cowboys could have kept him there for the first six weeks of the season and made a decision later.

Posted by Todd Archer at 11:12 PM (E-mail this entry) | Comments (2)

DMN Blog: Guys who helped their cause

(AP) A look at some fringe players whose performances tonight might put them on the 53-man roster:

WR Miles Austin: His two best plays -- catch-and-runs of 31 and 30 yards -- were called back. But Austin, a speedy, 6-3, 216-pound second-year guy, flashed enough potential to make it real tough to cut him.

DL Stephen Bowen: Took advantage of a starting assignment by getting a sack and three tackles. Consistently had good penetration.

NT Remi Ayodele (right): His final impression was nailing a RB five yards behind the line of scrimmage. Made a team-high five tackles, which is a ton for a nose tackle who didn't play the whole game. Did he convince the Cowboys to keep seven D-linemen?

LB John Saldi: Don't think he'd have a shot if Kevin Burnett and Greg Ellis weren't hurt, but they are. Saldi, who can play inside or outside, was very active in the fourth quarter.

FS Courtney Brown: Flashed great athleticism on his leaping interception, but I doubt he'll make it over Abram Elam, one of the Cowboys' top kick coverage guys.

Posted by Tim MacMahon at 9:59 PM (E-mail this entry) | Comments (6)

Week 1 Primer... The New York Football Giants

New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys
NBC Sunday Night Football

Vegas line for the game...

The Cowboys are 3-3 all time on September 9th. One of the 3 losses was to the Giants on this date in 1984. This date has been the date of the first game of the season for the Cowboys 3 times, in 1985, 1990, and 2001. The are 2-1 in season openers on this date.

Cowboys lead series, 52-35-2

30-15-1 @ Dallas
20-20-1 @ New York
2-0 @ New Haven

Decade by Decade

Click here for a complete breakdown of every game in the head to head series.

Cowboys points scored...1,925
Giants points scored...1,598

Cowboys series sweeps...16

1965, 1966, 1971, 1973, 1975, 1976, 1977, 1978, 1979, 1983, 1985, 1987, 1992, 1993, 1998, & 2003

Giants series sweeps...10

1962, 1963, 1984, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1997, 2000, 2002, & 2004

Giants History

This week the Cowboys welcome their long time division rival, the New York Football Giants. The legal corporate name of the team includes the word "football" in it. That was done to distinguish them from the New York Giants baseball team that moved to San Francisco in 1957. Here's some background on the Giants football team.

The Giants franchise began in 1925 under the ownership of Tim Mara. He passed the franchise on to his sons, Wellington & Jack Mara. After his death in 1959, Wellington owned and operated the team until his death last year. His son John Mara has taken over the team. Thus it is a true family owned and run team.

The football made for the NFL by Wilson that was used from 1941 through 1969 was nicknamed "The Duke" in honor of Wellington Mara.

The Giants have won a total of six Championships. Four of them are NFL Championships in 1927, 1934, 1938, & 1956, plus being the victors in Super Bowls XXI & XXV under the tutelage of Bill "Tuna" Parcells.

Bill Parcells is the 2nd Head Coach the Cowboys have stolen from the Giants (via the Patriots & Jets). Our very own revered Tom Landry was an Assistant Coach and former player for the Giants. He was first a player/assistant and later the Giants Defensive Coordinator. The Giants Offensive Coordinator on that same team was none other than Vince Lombardi of Green Bay Packers fame.

Tom Landry played in 80 games for the Giants and recorded 32 Interceptions for them. Landry was an All Pro in 1954, he played one more year before assuming his coaching role full time. While serving there the Giants played for the NFL Championship 3 times in 4 years, winning one, and losing two. His "football genius" was readily apparent.

In 1959 Clint Murchison signed Tom Landry to a Personal Sevices Contract for an NFL team that didn't even exist yet, the Dallas Cowboys.

The Giants have had 17 Head Coaches in their History. One is enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Steve Owen. He is one of 17 Giants to be so honored. He is also the Giants longest serving head Coach. He took over in 1930 and coached until 1953. His all time record with them is 153-108-17, and he led them to 2 of their NFL titles.

The Giants also participated in Super Bowl XXXV, but lost to the Baltimore Ravens.

The Giants all time post season record is 16-22. Their all time record is 612-522-33.

Giants Depth Chart

QB...Eli Manning,
RB...Brandon Jacobs,
FB...Robert Douglas,
WR...Plaxico Burress,
WR...Amani Toomer,
TE...Jeremy Shockey,
LT...David Diehl,
LG...Rich Seubert,
C...Shaun O'Hara,
RG...Chris Snee,
RT...Kareem McKenzie,

LDE...Justin Tuck,
DT...Fred Robbins,
DT...Barry Cofield,
RDE...Osi Umenyiora,
SOLB...Mathias Kiwanuka,
MLB...Antonio Pierce,
WOLB...Kawika Mitchell,
CB...R. W. McQuarters,
SS...James Butler,
FS...Gibril Wilson,
CB...Sam Madison,

K...Lawrence Tynes
P...Jeff Feagles

Cowboys | Gramatica misses game; candidate to be released

Fri, 31 Aug 2007 01:02:53 -0700

The Associated Press reports Dallas Cowboys PK Martin Gramatica (hamstring) did not play Thursday, Aug. 30, and is a candidate to be released.

Cowboys play it safe, show mostly nothing

Star-Telegram staff writer

MINNEAPOLIS -- Before the final preseason game began Thursday night, owner Jerry Jones held court on the field at the Metrodome.

He downplayed the much-talked-about injury concerns with wide receiver Terry Glenn, cornerback Terence Newman and linebacker Greg Ellis.

And as long as the Cowboys didn't suffer any more injuries, he declared them ready to go for the Sept. 9 season opener against the New York Giants.

For that reason, quarterback Tony Romo and receiver Terrell Owens were among 17 starters not playing in the 23-14 loss at Minnesota.

Cowboys highlights included a 95-yard punt return for a touchdown by receiver Jerheme Urban and a good outing from third-team quarterback Matt Moore. The undrafted rookie completed 14 of 19 passes for 94 yards, including a 5-yard TD pass to tight end Tony Curtis. However, four lost fumbles by the Cowboys proved costly against the Vikings.

Still, it wasn't about Thursday night, but the season. The Cowboys say they are ready.

And while Jones refuses to call the Cowboys a Super Bowl team, he doesn't deny that the Super Bowl is the team's goal. And he saw nothing in the preseason to cause him to step back.

Although the Cowboys do have some important decisions ahead -- the team must cut 22 players by Saturday -- they have far fewer to make than in past seasons.

Not only has the starting lineup been set since before training camp, the Cowboys have already decided on most of the roster spots.

Jones said the team must decide on about two or three spots to complete its final 53 spots-- though he remains concerned about the depth at cornerback.

Newman's foot injury -- an acute tear of the plantar fascia -- has made the situation most acute. But according to Jones, it won't be a problem against the Giants.

"I wish he didn't have that to deal with it," Jones said. "But if we were playing tomorrow, he would be out here and he would play well for us."

He also expects Glenn, who missed the preseason following arthroscopic knee surgery, to be healthy and ready to go for the Giants.

Jones said he's excited about the preseason Romo has had and his long-term future with the Cowboys.

"I feel good about him," Jones said.

Jones said Romo will be aided by a much-improved offensive line, which he has called the team's best in more than a decade, and Owens.

Owens caught 85 passes for 1,180 yards and 13 touchdowns last year. He also had 18 dropped passes. He readily acknowledges he could have been better in 2006 and came into training motivated to do so in 2007.


Why the Vikings won:

They were able to move the ball; their quarterbacks passed for 184 yards and a touchdown. The defense forced five turnovers.

Why the Cowboys lost:

Two of their defensive starters played, and three of their offensive starters played in a backup night. The Cowboys lost four fumbles and were penalized seven times. The team averaged 1.9 yards per rush.


Receiver Jerheme Urban returned a punt 95 yards for a touchdown. It was the first punt return for a touchdown of his football career.

The Cowboys finished the preseason 2-2.


Leave Romo something to shoot for: next year's contract

Leave Romo something to shoot for: next year's contract
Star-Telegram staff writer

MINNEAPOLIS -- The end is here. Finally.

The Faux Cowboys played their last faux game of 2007 Thursday and defeated the only opponent who mattered: injury. They did not have any, or at least not to anybody who is irreplaceable.

None of those types played anyway, as Coach Wade proved he is not in fact an idiot.

His competence was in semi-question after his brush with stupidity against the Texans, where he sent QB Tony Romo in for another series. Late in the third quarter. Very late.

He is lucky Romo did not get hurt.

Or his boots may have been back in Texas, but his butt would have been on the unemployment line.

The reality is as Romo goes so does this Cowboys season, which is probably why the only thing Coach Wade had him doing in Minny was wearing a ballcap and trying not to look as bored as everybody else.

Forget all of this defense talk and certainly this idea that Phillips 3-4 Special alone transforms them into a Super Bowl lock, and repeat after me: It is all about Romo.

If he is the QB the Cowboys think he is, they have a good chance at being the title contender everybody believes they are.

That and he are still question marks.

The question is not whether he belongs. He is in the NFL QB club. What is left to be determined is whether he is one of the elite ones, the ones who win championships.

Oh, I know what I think. I think this kid already has shown us that he possesses the "it" factor necessary to be one of the special quarterbacks in this league. I know Romo definitely thinks this. As do the Cowboys.

But what you think you have, and what you get, are not always the same in the NFL. Just ask Seattle about Jon Kitna.

Before Thursday's exercise in futility in which, not that it matters, Vikings Light defeated the Cowboy Depth Chart 23-14, Owner Jones talked about what he hopes is his franchise QB.

Most notably how it is unlikely they re-sign him before the season.

This had been the big question of the off-season with Owner Jones vacillating between admitting a man crush to hinting that he needed to see more.

He did not hint Thursday. He believes he has his guy. It is just a matter of when to dot i's, cross t's and agree on how many zeros.

"Obviously, you'd like to see a year but I'm ready to go now," Owner Jones said. "I've taken more risk than this, sometimes three or four times a day."

Of course, he has.

If anything, knowing Jerry, he had to be talked out of money-whipping Romo. He loves him, believes in him and most important, desperately wants to be right about him.

He wants to write that check.

He has longed for a day when he had a QB good enough to break his bank.

You are doing the right thing by waiting, Jerry.

Do not re-sign Romo. Not yet.

He has affirmed his faith in Romo on many occasions -- by not trading for Drew Brees, by not drafting Brady Quinn, by bringing in a clipboard holder rather than a challenger to be his backup QB.

There is no earthly reason to go even more all in than he already has.

OK, there are two semi-reasons for re-signing him now 1) Save Owner Jones money and; 2) Prevent cash considerations from distracting Romo from the task at hand this season.

I do not buy either, namely because Owner Jones has proven himself to be immune to sticker shock, and Romo has proven distractions do not distract him.

His US Weekly off-season certainly had plenty, and he barely blinked.

"The only thing that is nice about a contract is the organization is telling you that you are our guy and we like you a lot," Romo said Thursday. "Now I feel like they like me a lot right now ... and the money, if I get paid a million or $10 million, it is a lot more money than I ever thought I'd make. It is more the gesture, the we-believe-in-you-this-much kind of thing."

What Owner Jones needs to do right now is sit Romo down and be perfectly honest with him.

Tell him: I want you to make me pay you ugly money, filthy-disgusting cash at the end of this season, so much that Matt Schaub calls his agent crying, so much that I have to put Gene on an allowance for a while.

Tell him: All you have to do is go kick butt this season.

What Romo has shown us in his time in Dallas is that is when he is at his best. Let's not forget this is a kid who used to play in meaningless fourth quarters like Thursday, fighting to be one of the 53.

"It's a little nostalgic in some ways to remember where I was," Romo said. "It's kind of neat, the journey, too."

The beginning of the next leg of that journey is here.


Real games start in 10 days and what Owner Jones is hoping is when all is said and done he is out a lot of cash to Romo.

"That would be a problem I would relish," he said.

If so, the Real Cowboys will have done very well indeed.

Vikings Down Cowboys In Preseason Finale


Minneapolis, MN -- (Sports Network) - Brooks Bollinger was 9-of-15 for 109 yards and a touchdown as the Minnesota Vikings downed the Dallas Cowboys, 23-14, in the preseason finale for both teams.

Expected starting quarterback Tarvaris Jackson struggled in his final tune-up before the regular season, completing just 1-of-5 passes for 13 yards in limited action for the Vikings (2-2), who will host the Atlanta Falcons in Week 1.

Ryan Longwell was a perfect 3-for-3 on field goal attempts while Artose Pinner rushed for 34 yards and a touchdown in the victory.

Matt Moore threw for 94 yards and a touchdown on 14-of-19 passing for the Cowboys (2-2), who rested the majority of their starters in preparation for their opener against the New York Giants on September 9.

Tony Curtis caught five passes for 44 yards and a touchdown in defeat.

The Cowboys struck first after Jerheme Urban returned a punt 95 yards into the end zone with just under 11 minutes left in the opening quarter

Early in the second quarter, Minnesota tied the game at 7-7 after Pinner rushed from one-yard out to cap an eight-play, 58-yard drive.

The Vikings went up 14-7 with 10:29 left in the second after Sidney Rice caught a four-yard touchdown pass from Bollinger.

Dallas tied the game with 1:56 left in the first half as Moore threw a five- yard touchdown pass to Curtis, but just before halftime, Longwell's 47-yard field goal put the Vikings back on top, 17-14.

Minnesota opened the scoring in the second half as Longwell drilled a 27-yard field goal for a six-point lead.

Longwell's 37-yard field goal with 8:48 left in the final quarter made it 23-14.

T.O. Takes Time to Answer 10 Questions


The September 10 issue of Time -- which is not yet online --- contains 10 questions for Your Dallas Cowboys' wide receiver Terrell Owens. And it's just brilliant, brilliant -- if only for the queries posed by Randall L. Dunn of Cincinnati and Patrick Hurley of Buffalo:

Why are you so self-absorbed?

I don't feel that way. You can only base your opinion off the media's portrayal of me if you don't know me personally. But I definitely feel I have the skills to be able to put me on the plateau I'm on. I'm really confident in who I am, and you know, sometimes you have to be a little selfish to be great in what you do.

Were you offended when your ex-publicist explained that your accidental painkiller overdose last year wasn't a suicide attempt by referring to your contract, saying you had "25 million reasons" to live?

Patrick Hurley, BUFFALO, N.Y.
At that time, there was so much going on that it didn't really have an impact on me until I got back home and started seeing the media making fun of it. I'm pretty sure it was something she wished she wouldn't have said. Look, we all make mistakes, just like I have. You just have to recognize the mistake and move on.

We just can't. But, fine, we'll try.

Also, when asked who he'd choose to be Dallas' starting QB, if he could pick anyone in the league, Owens responds: "Peyton Manning, then Donovan McNabb." Um. Um. Um? And Annie Mac'Kie of Calgary wants to know, "Is Barack Obama black enough for your vote?" We'll let you find the answer for yourself. --Robert Wilonsky

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Stars will play 'zero snaps'

T.O. is making the trip to Minnesota, but don't expect to see him on the field during the Cowboys' final preseason game.

"Right now, we're scheduled to play zero snaps," T.O. said, punctuating the sentence with a huge smile.

I asked him if "we" meant the starting offense, and he responded that he was referring to proven players picked by Wade Phillips that don't need any more preseason work. Phillips indicated that tackles Flozell Adams and Marc Colombo might get a significant amount of playing time because they haven't had much live work since returning from knee surgery. But you can expect to see a lot of TV shots of T.O., Tony Romo, Jason Witten, Roy Williams, DeMarcus Ware, etc. joking around on the sideline.

"You don't want to go out and play the last preseason game and something freaky happen," T.O. said. "This is going to protect a lot of the guys, especially some of the starters. For the starters, this is not a game of importance to us."

Posted by Tim MacMahon at 3:41 PM (E-mail this entry) | Comments (2)

Cowboys to wrap up preseason in Minnesota

Cowboys, Vikings still have key positions to shore up
Posted: 12:32 PM Aug 30, 2007
Last Updated: 12:32 PM Aug 30, 2007
Reporter: From Wire Reports

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- With the season opener just over a week away, Minnesota Vikings quarterback Tarvaris Jackson still doesn't know who is going to be protecting him on the right side of the line.

Four players are vying for openings at right guard and right tackle, and Thursday night's preseason finale against the Dallas Cowboys could go a long way toward deciding the race.

"I am not ready to crown anybody king at that position and say this is going to be the starter in our first game," coach Brad Childress said earlier this week.

Anthony Herrera and Artis Hicks have been swapping in and out at right guard, with Ryan Cook and Marcus Johnson competing for the right tackle job.

The Cowboys have some decisions to make themselves after a sloppy performance last week against Houston. New coach Wade Phillips is looking for another cornerback because Terence Newman's bad foot could limit him this season, especially early.

Dallas also has a question at kicker. Incumbent Martin Gramatica was not expected to make the trip to Minneapolis because of a strained hamstring. Gramatica missed an extra point against Houston, but rookie Nick Folk has been perfect in the preseason, including a 52-yard field goal.

"I am worried about our roster overall -- who fits where and who our best players are," Phillips said. "Really, the only way to tell is to play."

Childress would appear to have the bigger issue, with decisions to make on the entire side of what has been an unbalanced line. The left side is solid with Pro Bowl guard Steve Hutchinson and tackle Bryant McKinnie, once considered an emerging star who is looking to rebound from a so-so first season under Childress.

But Hicks and Cook, who finished last season as the starters on the right side of center Matt Birk, have struggled to hold up their end.

"I have no say-so on the outcome," said Hicks, who has looked overmatched at times. "I just try and go out and do my job."

Cook has had a hard time with false starts, drawing the ire of a coaching staff that has made reducing penalties one of the top priorities of the new season.

"Ryan Cook knows he can't have two false starts," offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said. "You go from a third-and-4 to a third-and-9 and you miss the conversion by 1 yard. Those are things that can't happen and he knows that. He is learning that, as well as anybody else who steps in there."

Childress plans to play his starters for the first series only on Thursday night. But Cook, Johnson, Herrera and Hicks will get plenty of work. The coach said their performances against the Cowboys will not be the sole basis for his decision, but it's clear there is a lot on the line.

"Competition is not always a bad thing because it brings the best out of those guys, so I wouldn't characterize it other than it's a competition," Childress said.

There's plenty of that in the Cowboys' secondary right now. Newman has a partially torn plantar fascia, a painful injury that he said he expects to linger throughout the season.

With Newman hurting, Phillips sorely needs another cornerback to emerge. Anthony Henry becomes the No. 1 guy by default, but will need help from veteran Aaron Glenn and the rest of his group to slow down opposing offenses.

"Any time you're missing a top-notch caliber player of that magnitude, it definitely affects you," Glenn said. "It affects how you do things."

Jacques Reeves, Nate Jones, Joey Thomas, Alan Ball and Quincy Butler failed to answer Phillips' call for help in a 28-16 loss to the Texans.

"That's the problem going into the fourth preseason game -- who to play and how long to play them," Phillips said. "Really, in our situation, there's a lot of evaluation. We're going to need to look at a lot of players to give them a fair chance."

Unit-by-unit analysis: Dallas Cowboys

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QUARTERBACK: Starter — Tony Romo. Backups — Brad Johnson, Matt Moore.

Cowboys believe they have finally found a long-term answer at quarterback in Tony Romo. Romo was the surprise of the NFL last year when he came out of nowhere to start the final 10 games, earning a Pro Bowl nod and leading the Cowboys to the playoffs. However, he must continue to improve and be better in 2007 if the Cowboys hope to be a Super Bowl contender in 2007. He must cut down on his mistakes and learn how to make the safe play. He must be calmer in the pocket than he was last season. Johnson gives the Cowboys an experienced alternative in case of injury. He can also help teach Romo how to be a better game manager.
RUNNING BACKS: Starters — RB Julius Jones, FB Oliver Hoyte. Backups — RB Marion Barber III, RB Tyson Thompson, FB Lousaka Polite, FB Deon Anderson.

The Cowboys like their running back by committee approach. Jones and Barber were as good as any tandem in the league last year when they combined for more than 1,700 yards and 20 rushing touchdowns. The Cowboys will continue the running back by committee again in 2007. The only difference is that instead of being just the third down and short-yardage back, Barber may get a bigger load on first and second down. The rookie Anderson is the future at fullback, though Hoyte might still be the starter to open the season.

TIGHT ENDS: Starter — Jason Witten. Backups — Anthony Fasano, Tony Curtis.

Jason Witten has already established himself as one of the top tight ends in the NFL. He might be the best tight end in Cowboys history, already with three Pro Bowls and at least 60 receptions each of the last three years. He just has to find his way into the end zone. He caught only one touchdown pass in 2006. Offensive coordinator Jason Garrett wants to make him factor in the red zone and get him making more big plays downfield against linebackers and safeties. Fasano had a good camp and seems ready to live top expectations in second year.

WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters — Terry Glenn, Terrell Owens. Backups — Patrick Crayton, Sam Hurd, Jamaica Rector, Isaiah Stanback, Miles Austin.

Terrell Owens and Terry Glenn remain one of the league's most productive receiver tandems, despite their age. The Cowboys plan to be smart in how they use them in practice so they don't wear down and continue be productive on game day. Owens could be in line for a monster season. He is motivated to make up for what he felt was a sub-par campaign in 2006. He had 85 catches and a league-high 13 touchdowns but he also had 18 dropped passes. Don't sleep on Crayton. He is a solid third receiver who has the best hands on the team.

OFFENSIVE LINE: Starters — RT Marc Colombo, RG Leonard Davis, C Andre Gurode, LG Kyle Kosier, LT Flozell Adams. Backups — T Pat McQuistan, T James Marten, T Doug Free, G Joe Berger, G Cory Proctor, G Matt Tarullo.

The Cowboys have $45 million tied up in signing bonuses to the five starters. No wonder owner Jerry Jones said it is the team's best offensive line in more than a decade. Colombo, Gurode, Kosier and Adams all returned from last year. Davis joined the mix with a club-record $16 million signing bonus to replace the injured Marc Colombo. The Cowboys believe he is ready to live to his enormous potential. He has already been compared to a young Larry Allen.

DEFENSIVE LINE: Starters — LE Marcus Spears, NT Jason Ferguson, RE Chris Canty. Backups — E Jason Hatcher, E Stephen Bowen, E Jay Ratliff, NT Remy Ayodele, NT Montavious Stanley.

The Cowboys have no concerns about Jason Ferguson. He is solid at nose guard. They have no depth behind him however, which could be problem because of his age. They don't want him playing more than 40 plays a game. And that could be too many. The Cowboys need more production out of Spears and Canty, who combined for two sacks last season. Both players felt stagnated in Bill Parcells conservative scheme. They will get a chance to attack the quarterback in 2007. Canty could be the one to break out.

LINEBACKERS: Starters —OLB Greg Ellis, ILB Akin Ayodele, ILB Bradie James, OLB DeMarcus Ware. Backups —OLB Anthony Spencer, ILB Bobby Carpenter, ILB Kevin Burnett, OLB Junior Glymph.

They key to the linebackers is Ellis. If he returns to health, this could be a special and productive group. If not, the pressure is on Ware to carry to team in quarterback sacks. He could get 17 or more this year. But will it be enough in Phillips' pressure defense which requires at least two or three quality linebackers to get to the quarterback? Spencer will start for Ellis and is not quite ready.

James has lost weight and could be a factor as a three-down linebacker again. Burnett is pushing Ayodele for the starting job, if he can stay healthy. He will start in the dime package.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters — LCB Terence Newman, RCB Anthony Henry, SS Roy Williams, FS Ken Hamlin. Backups — CB Jacques Reeves, CB Nate Jones, CB Aaron Glenn, S Keith Davis, S Abram Elam.

The Cowboys got Henry back healthy after an injury plagued 2006. Now Newman is hobbled. He has a tear in his plantar fascia on his right heel and could be hobbled all season. That is crucial because of the Cowboys' blitz happy scheme and Newman's skills as the only true man-to-man cornerback on the team. The Cowboys have no one they can count to replace him. Glenn is just a situational cornerback at this stage in his career. The others are unproven. What the Cowboys are most excited about is the addition of Hamlin at safety. He will give the Cowboys a true center fielder at the free safety, which will allow Roy Williams to do what he does best — play close to the line of scrimmage and disarm the run. The result should be more impact plays from Williams.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Starters — PK Nick Folk, LS L.P. Ladouceur, P Mat McBriar, KR Tyson Thompson, PR Terence Newman.

The Cowboys are giving rookie Nick Folk every opportunity to unseat the veteran Martin Gramatica. He kicked better in the preseason and would have won the job even if Gramatica hadn't suffered a hamstring injury. The question is whether a team with Super Bowl aspirations can head into the season with an unproven rookie kicker. McBriar has finally reached his potential as the best punter in the NFL. He is a bona fide weapon who flips the field position. A healthy Thompson is back returning kickoffs, though he will be pushed by Miles Austin and Isaiah Stanback on kickoff returns. Newman will be the punt returner when the Cowboys are looking to make a big play. Pat Crayton will handle it the punts the other times.

Notes, quotes: Dallas Cowboys

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The Cowboys were a two-back team last year and will be the same in 2007 with Julius Jones starting and Marion Barber serving as the third-down and short-yardage back.

Barber, however, will get more looks on first and second down this year than last year.
Look for Jones to get 60 percent of the carries with Barber getting 40 percent.

"Of course you want to (start)," Barber said. "It's a goal of mine. If you are not motivated to start or train yourself like you are going to start, you shouldn't be playing. But you have to know your role. I just try to be ready when they call my name."

The Cowboys were one of seven teams last year who had a backup running back with a better yards-per-carry average than the starter.

The Cowboys had just 34 sacks last season. They simply couldn't pressure the quarterback when Greg Ellis was sidelined with a torn left Achilles. That is one reason Wade Phillips was brought to Dallas. He will get after the quarterback. Under Phillips, the Chargers registered 61 sacks last season. Even if you take away the 17 from Shawne Merriman, they still had more than the Cowboys.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Any time you're missing a top-notch caliber player of that magnitude, it definitely affects you. It affects how you do things." -- Cornerback Aaron Glenn said of the potential absence of cornerback Terence Newman for the season opener.

Strategy and personnel
PLAYER TO WATCH: FS Ken Hamlin — Hamlin is considered the final piece to the puzzle on what the Cowboys believe is a potentially dominant defense. He is a centerfielder and true quarterback of the defense. He will have a major impact on strong safety Roy Williams. He will also allow Williams to play closer to the line scrimmage where he can maximize his abilities to make plays in the backfield. Williams was used too often in deep coverage the past two seasons, which is not his strength. Hamlin will also make Williams more accountable.

Draft picks to stick
Rd. 1/26, DE Anthony Spencer, Purdue — He will start opening day. But he remains a work in progress in his transition from college defensive end to NFL linebacker.

Rd. 3/67, OT James Marten, Boston College — He has struggled in pass protection. Is at least a year away from contributing.

Rd. 4/103, WR Isaiah Stanback, Washington — A converted college quarterback who missed most of camp with an injury. He was picked for the future.

Rd. 4/122, OT Doug Free, Northern Illinois — He had been a big surprise until he sprained his knee in the preseason opener.

Rd. 6/178, K Nick Folk, Arizona — Has had a wonderful preseason and will make the team as the opening day kicker.

Rd. 6/195, FB Deon Anderson, Connecticut — Has all the tools to be an NFL fullback. He can also play special teams. Will be a contributor if not a starter.

Cowboys WR Glenn Hoping to Play in Season Opener

Posted by Stephen Rhodes

If the Dallas Cowboys want to get a head start out of the gate, a healthy receiving corps will go a long ways towards that end. Tim McMahon of the Dallas Morning News is reporting that wide receiver Terry Glenn intends to practice for the first time and start the team’s season opener against the New York Giants. Glenn, by his own admission, stated that he isn’t sure he will be at full speed in the next few days, telling the Morning News on Wednesday, “We’ll see. Can’t say too much about that right now, but we’ll see.”

Glenn also said that he was not certain about he would be ready for the season opener; he also didn’t sound very optimistic that he would be ready in two weeks’ time, either. From all apperances it looks like the Cowboys will have to do without the services of Glenn for at least the first week of the regular season, if not a bit longer. But I would suspect that this issue will be addressed very soon. And the NFC East being the strong division that it is, it is imperative that Glenn get healthy and on the field as soon as possible.

Power Rankings: Patriots a clear No. 1

Maybe it's the acquisition of Randy Moss, Adalius Thomas and others in a surprisingly active offseason. Maybe it's the proven leadership of Tom Brady. Or maybe it's just that the Patriots are due, having failed to reach the Super Bowl the past two seasons, an eternity in the Bill Belichick era.'s Power RankingsThe preseason rankings were determined by a poll of's NFL staff -- writers John Clayton, Len Pasquarelli, Matt Mosley, Jeffri Chadiha and Mike Sando; Scouts Inc. Insider Jeremy Green; and NFL senior editor Mike McAllister. No matter the reason, the Patriots will enter 2007 wearing the label as the NFL's best team. In the balloting for our preseason power rankings, each of the voters put the Pats atop his respective list, a clear indication that mercurial Moss is expected to toe the line (or at least minimize his distractions) under Belichick.

If Moss does, the Patriots could be celebrating their fourth Super Bowl title this decade. If he doesn't? Well, there are plenty of other championship-caliber teams waiting in the wings, including the defending champion Colts and a Chargers team (and new coach) with plenty to prove.

On the other side of the spectrum, Michael Vick's troubles obviously put the Falcons in a free fall, as our experts moved Atlanta from No. 19 in the offseason to No. 31, just ahead of the Browns.

So how would you rank the teams going into this season? SportsNation gives you the chance.

2007 Power Rankings: Week 1 RK

1 (1)Patriots12-4-0
Now that last year's NFL interception co-leader Asante Samuel has signed, the Patriots really have no excuses not to fulfill the expectations of the multitudes who already have handed them the Lombardi trophy. Right?

2 (2)Colts12-4-0
Presumably, Peyton Manning & Co. will be more relaxed this year now that the can't-win-the-big-one albatross has finally disappeared. In fact, Manning has looked very comfortable in the 483 commercials he's appearing in right now.

3 (3)Chargers14-2-0
Memo to new coach Norv Turner: Don't screw it up. You have Super Bowl-caliber talent, so if you don't win, only one person gets the blame. Just like your predecessor.

4 (5)Bears13-3-0
In the past few years, Super Bowl losers generally haven't fared well the next season. But if Rex Grossman can find consistency in 2007, the Bears could have an easy time in the NFC.

5 (4)Ravens13-3-0
Besides having younger legs at RB (Willis McGahee), the Ravens have loads of experience. But the flip side of being a veteran team is being an injury-prone one. Which way that pendulum swings might determine their fate.

6 (6)Saints10-6-0
The feel-good story of 2006 hopes to take the next step this season. New Orleans has never been to the Super Bowl, but Saints fans can taste it like the jambalaya waiting for them at home.

7 (8)Eagles10-6-0
It's easy to say that as Donovan McNabb goes, so go the Eagles. But their fortunes might rest more on whether Brian Westbrook can continue to run like one of the NFL's elite backs.

8 (9)Cowboys9-7-0
Expect new coach Wade Phillips to turn up the tempo on defense, but his legacy in Dallas ultimately will be tied to Tony Romo. And Romo hopes his legacy won't forever be tied to that botched field goal snap last year.

9 (7)Broncos9-7-0
Gotta love those lockdown cornerbacks, Champ Bailey and Dre' Bly. New D-coordinator Jim Bates certainly does, as their presence will allow the Broncos to play an aggressive 4-3.

10 (11)Seahawks9-7-0
It wasn't always pretty last season, but the Seahawks did make the playoffs. But whether they can recapture the magic of two years ago ... well, that might be asking too much.

11 (10)Bengals8-8-0
Remember when the Bengals used to be the league's biggest off-field embarrassment? Thanks to Michael Vick and Pacman Jones, the Bengals now seem like choirboys (yes, it's difficult to say that with a straight face).

12 (14)Jaguars8-8-0
Jack Del Rio has never hesitated to make changes to his coaching staff. But if the Jags don't improve on an eight-win 2006 season, the change in Jacksonville could be Del Rio's employment status.

13 (13)Steelers8-8-0
Just like when predecessors Chuck Noll and Bill Cowher were hired, new coach Mike Tomlin is young and eager to prove his worth. In Pittsburgh, that requires just one thing: a Super Bowl win.

14 (12)Jets10-6-0
Last year, QB Chad Pennington started every game in a season for the first time in his career. Does that mean he's due for an injury, or has that pesky black cloud finally disappeared?

15 (16)Panthers8-8-0
If the club's yo-yo record in recent years continues, you should count on double-digit wins in 2007. Don't be surprised if DeAngelo Williams emerges as the feature back.

16 (15)49ers7-9-0
Here's your sexy pick to be the breakthrough team of this season. And yes, Alex Smith and Frank Gore make a nice combo. But do the Niners need another year of seasoning?

17 (18)Rams8-8-0
Stephen Jackson touched the ball 436 times last season and produced a career year. Now the goal is to get the same productivity in fewer touches.

18 (17)Giants8-8-0
Tiki Barber is gone. Michael Strahan might join him. This is a team that's clearly in transition, which would be a perfect time for Eli Manning to step up and truly become this club's leader.

19 (28)Redskins5-11-0
Will RBs Clinton Portis and Ladell Betts rush for 1,000 yards apiece this season? As coach Joe Gibbs says, who knows? But you can bet they'll get every opportunity.

20 (26)Dolphins6-10-0
A defense led by Jason Taylor and Zach Thomas should keep the Dolphins in most games, but the offense could be spotty. Even so, the future looks promising with the preseason performance of rookie QB John Beck.

21 (23)Bills7-9-0
Hey, the Bills are ending their Monday night drought, making their first MNF appearance since 2000 when they play Dallas on Oct. 8. So who's to say they also can't end their playoff futility (no postseason appearances since 1999) this year?

22 (21)Titans8-8-0
Vince Young will make this team enjoyable to watch. Making it a playoff contender will be much more difficult. But it's never good to underestimate him.

23 (22)Cardinals5-11-0
One thing is certain: Arizona fans will get an up-close view of the Super Bowl this season. Another thing we're fairly certain about: Those fans won't be cheering on the hometown team. But we are pretty certain the weather will be nice on Feb. 3.

24 (24)Packers8-8-0
Anytime you write the name Brett Favre, the phrase 'retirement plans' is sure to follow. But if this is it, you can expect Farve to go out slingin'.

25 (30)Lions3-13-0
Jon Kitna must be pinching himself. Roy Williams? Calvin Johnson? Any quarterback would love to have that combination, especially a few years from now.

26 (20)Chiefs9-7-0
Larry Johnson has returned from his holdout but is not in football shape. And who knows what shape Priest Holmes is in after sitting out 22 months. But at least the QB situation (Damon Huard over Brodie Croyle) is figured out -- for now.

27 (25)Vikings6-10-0
Whew! The Kelly Holcomb Sweepstakes are over, and the Vikings are the big winners. And their prize? A journeyman quarterback with 21 starts who'll provide backup for Tarvaris Jackson.

28 (27)Buccaneers4-12-0
Hey, Jon Gruden, what you have done for us lately? That's what Bucs fans are asking, and Gruden will need to answer this year to avoid the hot seat.

29 (29)Texans6-10-0
Let the Matt Schaub era begin. Don't be surprised if there are growing pains -- after all, Schaub started just two games in his first three years in the league.

30 (32)Raiders2-14-0
Does anyone really believe someone other than Daunte Culpepper will be the starting QB in the season opener against Detroit? First-year coach Lane Kiffin may not be proven, but at least he can throw a veteran out there who has skins on the wall.

31 (19)Falcons7-9-0
New coach Bobby Petrino will get to prove immediately whether his reputation as a passing game guru is justified. Yeah, the Michael Vick saga was a cruel blow, but if Petrino can make Joey Harrington a star, he'll be the toast of Atlanta.

32 (31)Browns4-12-0
Will rookie Brady Quinn start the season opener against the Steelers? Latest reports indicate he won't. That'd be the smart move. No need to rush the QB of the future for a team unlikely to go anywhere this season.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Fantasy Q&A: Jason Garrett

By Dave Richard
Senior Fantasy Writer

There isn't a team in the NFC with as many startable Fantasy options as the Dallas Cowboys. Quarterback Tony Romo, running backs Julius Jones and Marion Barber, wide receivers Terrell Owens and Terry Glenn, tight end Jason Witten and the Cowboys DST are all recommended for use on a weekly basis in standard Fantasy leagues. Eliminating the defense from the conversation, the man at the controls for the 'Boys offense is Jason Garrett, a first-year offensive coordinator.

We had the chance to pick his brain following Dallas' preseason loss at Houston on Saturday and find out as much as we could about the Cowboys semi-revamped offensive scheme.

The third preseason game is important because the starters see so much playing time. Even though you lost the game, were you happy with where the offense is at this point?

Garrett: We were sloppier than we've been, and that's the one thing we were really pleased about in the first two games. You want the number of penalties you incur to be zero. We only had two or three in the first couple of games, and I think we had better balance in the first couple of games. Houston did a nice job making it difficult for us to run the football. We got ourselves into some bad down-and-distance situations with some penalties or some minus-yardage plays. So I don't think we were in as good a rhythm as we had been the first couple of weeks. But for the third preseason game, it will be a great learning tool for us to see how we can come back and respond and play better.

Do you forsee any changes based on this game?

Garrett: I don't know change as much as just refocus everybody and just make sure that we go out and play the way we're capable of playing.

The Cowboys running backs have been a hot topic this preseason. Julius Jones looks like the "running downs" guy and Marion Barber looks like the "passing downs" guy. How true is that statement?

Garrett: I don't know if that's true. They're both going to play, they're both very good football players and we love both of those guys. We want to get them as many touches as we can get them. They're both so versatile, so we can use them in any kind of situation. For now, you're right, Julius was the regular down back and Marion has been coming in on third down, but both of those guys are going to play in a lot of different situations.

Were you encouraged by Julius Jones' goal-line touchdown vs. Denver earlier this preseason?

Garrett: Yeah. I'm just impressed by both of those guys. They're both very talented guys who can do a lot of things, and their approach is right. They love playing football, they play tough, they're smart guys and like I said, we just want to give them as many opportunities as we can within the confines of the offense.

We've seen a lot of Patrick Crayton with Terry Glenn sidelined this preseason. Obviously, the confidence in him being your No. 3 receiver is high, but if push came to shove and you needed Crayton to start, how confident are you that your offense wouldn't miss a beat?

Garrett: He's done a lot of good things and is a good football player. Patrick is smart, he knows what to do, he's competitive, he makes catches when he needs to make them and will play in traffic. He's one of those guys that quarterbacks like to throw to. He's shown that as an inside receiver and I think he's continuing to show that as an outside receiver.

Considering the significance in using mismatches on offense, how important is Jason Witten to your team?

Garrett: Jason is such an established player. I'm saying this about a lot of different guys, but he's a talented player who goes about it the right way and works hard in practice. He wants to be as good a player as he can be. The sky's the limit for him. He still has so much room to grow.

Can you explain how much of an advantage it is for Tony Romo to have all of these options to throw to?

Garrett: I think the more weapons you have on offense, the better you're going to be. You want to have balance between the run and pass game, and when you're throwing the ball you want balance between the receivers. To have the kind of outside receivers we have and have Witten working inside and have backs who can catch the ball out of the backfield, that's all going to help us as an offense and force the defense to make some decisions about who they want to stop. Anytime you have those weapons, it's certainly a benefit to you.

It looks like the change in Dallas' offensive philosophy is helping you out. Do you expect to be more productive this year and be more of a help to the offense?

Witten: I think so. I think we'll be more dimensional, and hopefully I can be productive. I feel confident in what this system is trying to do, and I feel like I am a valid part in my role as a tight end.

And how beneficial is it to be a tight end in this pass-oriented offense?

Witten: It's good. I think that especially when you have a quarterback like Tony (Romo) who moves around, that tight end becomes a safety valve, and that's a crucial part. And especially when we have some great receivers on the outside in Terrell (Owens), Terry (Glenn) and Patrick Crayton, the tight end turns into a great spot.

NFC East preview: Not-so-hot division at least is wide open

By Clark Judge Senior Writer

A year ago, the NFC East looked like a four-team race. Now the field is reduced by two, with Philadelphia and Dallas the frontrunners.

They were first and second a year ago, the Eagles winning the division for the fifth time in six years when they rallied behind Jeff Garcia to win their final five, plus a playoff game.

But Garcia is gone, which means it's all about Donovan McNabb again. Only McNabb doesn't determine what happens to Philadelphia. Brian Westbrook and an attacking defense do.

If the Eagles shore up the league's 26th-ranked run defense and Westbrook stays healthy they are the team to beat. Just because they always are.

Dallas is loaded on defense. But I'm not sold on quarterback Tony Romo, and nice guy Wade Phillips hasn't dealt with anyone like Terrell Owens yet. And offensive coordinator Jason Garrett is in his first season calling plays.

So it's the Dallas offense that makes me nervous. Plus, of course, Mt. St. Terrell.

That doesn't mean Washington and the New York Giants can't challenge for the top. This is not a strong division, folks, and the gap between second and third is narrow. But the Redskins better do something other than finish near the bottom of almost every significant defensive category, while the Giants just better learn how to finish, period.

They lost seven of their final nine a year ago, and I'm talking games. They also lost a slew of starters.

"We're all about health," Giants linebacker Antonio Pierce told me last week. "If we're healthy we can compete with anybody. If we're not, we lose."

Philadelphia Eagles

Significant additions: WR Kevin Curtis, LB Takeo Spikes, DT Ian Scott, DT Montae Reagor, QB Kevin Kolb.

Significant subtractions: QB Jeff Garcia, DT Darwin Walker, LB Jeremiah Trotter, S Michael Lewis, WR Donte' Stallworth, CB Rod Hood, LB Dhani Jones, LB Shawn Barber, DT Sam Rayburn.

Biggest offseason move: Not signing Garcia. All he did was win five of six starts to launch the Eagles to the playoffs. Now the backup is A.J. Feeley, who pulled a Garcia in 2002 when McNabb was hurt.

Will go to the playoffs if ... defensive coordinator Jim Johnson can shore up holes in the defense, particularly against the run. The loss of Trotter means Omar Gaither fills the middle, and first impressions weren't good ones: He was pushed around in Sunday's loss to Pittsburgh. Rookie to watch: For the second straight year the Eagles drafted a strong-side linebacker in the third round, only, unlike Chris Gocong in 2006, this year's choice -- Stewart Bradley -- should make an immediate contribution. He's tall and can cover a lot of ground, both of which are important when you play in a division with Jeremy Shockey and Jason Witten.

Overview: McNabb is healthy, and the defense should be improved if -- and I can't emphasize this enough -- the safeties hold up. That's where there's not a lot of depth. Remember, Brian Dawkins turns 34 in October.

Dallas Cowboys

Significant additions: T Leonard Davis, S Ken Hamlin, QB Brad Johnson, LB Anthony Spencer.

Significant subtractions: QB Drew Bledsoe, G Marco Rivera, DE Kenyon Coleman.

Biggest offseason move: Signing Mr. Big, Leonard Davis, to shore up holes in the offensive line. Davis can play tackle or guard, and the Cowboys will have him at right guard.

Will get to the playoffs if ... Tony Romo plays as he did his first five starts of 2006 and not his final six. Romo looked great early, ordinary later. Ordinary won't cut it.

Rookie to watch: I like the draft of pass rusher Anthony Spencer because Phillips can use him and DeMarcus Ware as he used Shawne Merriman and Shaun Phillips in San Diego. Spencer is quick to the pocket and an insurance policy against Greg Ellis, who is trying to recover from a torn Achilles.

Overview: There's talent, a lot of talent, especially on defense. But the foot injury to cornerback Terence Newman scares me. So does Owens with a new offensive staff. If the Cowboys sputter, I feel a meltdown coming.

Washington Redskins

Significant additions: LB London Fletcher, G Pete Kendall, CB Fred Smoot, CB David Macklin, S LaRon Landry.

Significant subtractions: G Derrick Dockery, LB Lemar Marshall, S Troy Vincent, S Adam Archuleta, WR David Patten.

Biggest offseason move: The acquisition of Fletcher. The Redskins last year floundered on defense, ranking 31st and setting a league record with only 12 takeaways. Fletcher made a zillion tackles in Buffalo and led the team in interceptions a year ago. "He makes a big difference," said defensive coordinator Gregg Williams.

Will get to the playoffs if ... the defense, particularly the pass defense, can do something other than show up. The Redskins had a league-low 19 sacks last season, but it's those takeaways that must improve. Washington's 12 were down from 28 in 2005.

Rookie to watch: Safety LaRon Landry could be an All-Pro in waiting. An AFC personnel boss I trust last week told me the two best safeties in football are in Washington. Landry is fast, instinctive and has great ball skills. In short, he's everything this club needs to shore up a leaky defense.

Overview: There's a gap, though not much of one, between the upper and lower tiers of this division. The Redskins should battle for third with the Giants and might not have the players to reach higher. I like Joe Gibbs too, not only because he's a class guy, but because he's a winner. But he's 21-27 since returning in 2004.

New York Giants

Significant additions: LB Kawika Mitchell, RB Reuben Droughns, K Lawrence Tynes, G Zach Piller, S J.R. Reed, CB Aaron Ross, WR Steve Smith.

Significant subtractions: RB Tiki Barber, T Luke Petitgout, LB LaVar Arrington, TE Visanthe Shiancoe, LB Carlos Emmons, LB Brandon Short, CB Frank Walker, K Jay Feely, T Bob Whitfield, WR Tim Carter.

Biggest offseason move: The retirement of Tiki Barber. All the guy did was produce 2,127 yards in offense last season, or 41 percent of the Giants' output. That means a lot of people on offense must elevate their games to soften the blow.

Will get to the playoffs if ... they can ever figure out how to play defense. I don't think scoring is a problem for these guys; I worry about the secondary and the linebackers. This could be four months of tennis, with the Giants struggling to keep up.

Rookie to watch: Second-round draft pick Steve Smith figures to make it as the team's third receiver. He'll play ahead of Sinorice Moss, who has been injured for most of his pro career, and Smith should make a contribution. The guy has a knack for making big plays and will be an asset to a club that last year was reduced to two receivers -- Shockey and Plaxico Burress -- the second half of the season.

Overview: Forget Broadway. This is the can't-miss show of the fall. Coach Tom Coughlin is fighting for his career. Eli Manning is trying to make a name for himself. Tiki Barber is gone. Michael Strahan hasn't been seen. Yet. There is intrigue everywhere. The Giants should score points. It's their defense, especially at linebacker, that could keep them down.

Faith Hill Performs 'Sunday Night Football' Opening Theme

from Starpulse News Blog

NBC Sports selected five-time Grammy Award-winner and multi-platinum recording artist, Faith Hill, to perform the opening theme for NBC Sunday Night Football, "Waiting All Day for Sunday Night."

A special version of the song, "Waiting All Year for Opening Night" will air Thursday, Sept. 6 in the "NFL Opening Kickoff" as the entire 2007 NFL season kicks off on NBC with the Super Bowl Champion Indianapolis Colts hosting the New Orleans Saints.

"Waiting All Day for Sunday Night" debuts Sunday, Sept. 9, NBC's first "Sunday Night Football" broadcast of 2007 featuring NFC East rivals Tony Romo and the Dallas Cowboys hosting Eli Manning and the New York Giants. The opening theme will continue to weekly kick off "Sunday Night Football" every Sunday night throughout the NFL season on NBC.

"It's exciting to have been asked to sing the open for this season's Sunday Night games," said Hill. "Maybe now I'll be able to get my jersey size and some better seats for the games?"

Dallas Cowboys, Minnesota Vikings still have key positions to shore up


MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - With the season opener just over a week away, Minnesota Vikings quarterback Tarvaris Jackson still doesn't know who is going to be protecting him on the right side of the line.

Four players are vying for openings at right guard and right tackle, and Thursday night's pre-season finale against the Dallas Cowboys could go a long way toward deciding the race. "I am not ready to crown anybody king at that position and say this is going to be the starter in our first game," coach Brad Childress said earlier this week.

Anthony Herrera and Artis Hicks have been swapping in and out at right guard, with Ryan Cook and Marcus Johnson competing for the right tackle job.

The Cowboys have some decisions to make themselves after a sloppy performance last week against Houston. New coach Wade Phillips is looking for another cornerback because Terence Newman's bad foot could limit him this season, especially early.

Dallas also has a question at kicker. Incumbent Martin Gramatica was not expected to make the trip to Minneapolis because of a strained hamstring. Gramatica missed an extra point against Houston, but rookie Nick Folk has been perfect in the pre-season, including a 52-yard field goal.

"I am worried about our roster overall - who fits where and who our best players are," Phillips said. "Really, the only way to tell is to play."

Childress would appear to have the bigger issue, with decisions to make on the entire side of what has been an unbalanced line. The left side is solid with Pro Bowl guard Steve Hutchinson and tackle Bryant McKinnie, once considered an emerging star who is looking to rebound from a so-so first season under Childress.

But Hicks and Cook, who finished last season as the starters on the right side of centre Matt Birk, have struggled to hold up their end.

"I have no say-so on the outcome," said Hicks, who has looked overmatched at times. "I just try and go out and do my job."

Cook has had a hard time with false starts, drawing the ire of a coaching staff that has made reducing penalties one of the top priorities of the new season.

"Ryan Cook knows he can't have two false starts," offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said. "You go from a third-and-4 to a third-and-9 and you miss the conversion by 1 yard. Those are things that can't happen and he knows that. He is learning that, as well as anybody else who steps in there."

Childress plans to play his starters for the first series only on Thursday night. But Cook, Johnson, Herrera and Hicks will get plenty of work. The coach said their performances against the Cowboys will not be the sole basis for his decision, but it's clear there is a lot on the line.

"Competition is not always a bad thing because it brings the best out of those guys, so I wouldn't characterize it other than it's a competition," Childress said.

There's plenty of that in the Cowboys' secondary right now. Newman has a partially torn plantar fascia, a painful injury that he said he expects to linger throughout the season.

With Newman hurting, Phillips sorely needs another cornerback to emerge. Anthony Henry becomes the No. 1 guy by default, but will need help from veteran Aaron Glenn and the rest of his group to slow down opposing offences.

"Any time you're missing a top-notch calibre player of that magnitude, it definitely affects you," Glenn said. "It affects how you do things."

Jacques Reeves, Nate Jones, Joey Thomas, Alan Ball and Quincy Butler failed to answer Phillips' call for help in a 28-16 loss to the Texans.

"That's the problem going into the fourth pre-season game - who to play and how long to play them," Phillips said. "Really, in our situation, there's a lot of evaluation. We're going to need to look at a lot of players to give them a fair chance."

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

SI: What lies ahead: NFC East

1. Philadelphia Eagles

A reason to believe: By now it's apparent that the Eagles won't be held back this season by the state of Donovan McNabb's surgically repaired right knee. Philly's veteran quarterback has been so sharp this month that questions about it now sound hopelessly dated. Next topic?

The thing that makes you nervous: Newly installed starting middle linebacker Omar Gaither doesn't have the run-stopping pedigree just yet of the departed Jeremiah Trotter, and that's not all that comforting to consider given that the Eagles finished 26th against the rush last season.

2. Dallas Cowboys

A reason to believe: We happen to think that old re-tread Wade Phillips was a pretty inspired choice to be the Cowboys' head coach, because his history of success with the 3-4 defense melds perfectly with the talent that Dallas has on that side of the ball. I expect the Cowboys' dominating front seven to be one of the early season stories in the NFL, and Phillips to generate some coach of the year buzz by October.

The thing that makes you nervous: The Cowboys' secondary was a concern already, but things look a bit bleaker now that No. 1 cornerback Terrence Newman is suffering from a case of plantar fascia that figures to linger all season to some degree. The job of covering up safety Roy Williams' deficiencies in pass coverage depends somewhat on how well Newman handles his role.

3. Washington Redskins

A reason to believe: The Redskins' defense still seems almost afraid of takeaways, but Washington will put a better product on the field with the addition of rookie safety LaRon Landry and free-agent linebacker London Fletcher, and the return to health of tackle Cornelius Griffin.

The thing that makes you nervous: That Redskins offensive line, which was bolstered via a trade last week for veteran left guard Pete Kendall. With starting left tackle Chris Samuels missing the entire preseason with a knee injury, the line's early play could be pivotal in how things start off this year for both young quarterback Jason Campbell and the Washington running game.

4. New York Giants

A reason to believe: Count me among those who think the addition of quarterbacks coach Chris Palmer to Tom Coughlin's staff is going to translate into Eli Manning's best, most consistent NFL season yet. Maybe not slam-dunk Pro Bowl material, but Manning's game will smooth out under the direction of the well-grounded Palmer.

The thing that makes you nervous: No matter how much the Giants try to keep the focus on the field, something inevitably comes along to distract them from the task on hand. Either it's Tiki Barber's retirement, Barber versus Coughlin, Michael Strahan's absence, or Barber versus Manning. That's the sign of a team with a fatal flaw in the chemistry department.

Stanback not ready to return punts

I was prepared to launch a campaign on this here blog lobbying for Isaiah Stanback to get a shot returning punts. Figured I better check with the rookie first, and I'm glad I did.

"If I was them, I wouldn't put me back there yet, either," Stanback said.

Wade Phillips has indicated that he doesn't think Stanback is a pure punt returner. He mentioned that Stanback (6-2, 208) is much bigger than the prototype return guy and perhaps not as shifty.

The truth is that Stanback is struggling to catch punts during practice. He's never done it before, and it's not as easy as it sounds. Does he think he can be a punt returner down the road?

"Yeah," he said, "but I need a lot more work at it."

Posted by Tim MacMahon at 12:33 PM (E-mail this entry) | Comments (6)

Terry Glenn sighting

Terry Glenn was back on the practice field, upping his rehab from right knee surgery. Glenn is expected to practice with his teammates on Saturday. He looked smooth in his work with associate trainer Britt Brown in resistance training.

As he walked on to the practice field, several defensive backs started to chant, "Terry, Terry, Terry," prompting a wave from the veteran receiver.

Rookie tackle Doug Free is also expected to practice Saturday after missing time with a sprained medial collateral ligament in his left knee. He looked smooth going through the same rehab as Glenn, too.

Posted by Todd Archer at 1:59 PM (E-mail this entry) | Comments (1)

Spencer isn't ready to be starter

We'll hopefully get an update on Greg Ellis when Wade Phillips chats with the media in a few minutes.

At this point, the Cowboys have to prepare as if Ellis won't be ready to go against the Giants. That's why Bobby Carpenter got some snaps at OLB against the Texans. First-round pick Anthony Spencer (right) simply isn't ready to be an every-down OLB yet.

Spencer, a DE in college, admits that he's really only comfortable when he's rushing the passer. He's still learning how to play with leverage out of a two-point stance, and he's still struggling with reading the TE when he has pass-drop responsibilities.

Ahman Green's 46-yard run Saturday night was right at Spencer, though it turned from a nice gain into a big play because of shoddy tackling in the secondary. But Spencer has to be considered a liability against the run at this point.

"I definitely have to be ready to be attacked," Spencer said. "I am the rookie. I am fresh meat."

UPDATE: Wade Phillips pointed out that Shawne Merriman didn't start until his fourth game. Phillips' answered, "Sit and watch," when asked what the ideal role for Spencer this season would be. That was a joke, but he confirmed that the plan when they drafted Spencer was to use him as a reserve pass rusher this season.

Posted by Tim MacMahon at 2:56 PM (E-mail this entry) | Comments (5)

The Book on the NFC East

With one flag football game left before the new National Football League season means something, it's a good time to pick up a book I'm having a hard time putting down: Mark Maske's brand-new tome War Without Death: A Year of Extreme Competition in Pro Football's NFC East. It's a look back at last season (and pre-season) from the Washington Post sports writer, who spends considerable time with Your Dallas Cowboys -- in Oxnard and Irving and all points on the schedule. (Here's an excerpt.)

Dunno how much time Maske actually spent with the team, but there are nice details throughout -- from Terrell Owens' locker-room blow-up following the October 8 game in Philly ("Why did y'all bring me here?! Why the fuck am I here?!") to kicker Mike Vanderjagt's unwarranted cockiness ("I happen to be a pretty good field goal kicker ... I'm not here to miss field goals") to Peyton Manning's paying Tony Romo an on-field compliment ("You're a good player," awwww). And one former Cowboy thinks Parcells shoulda been a "biscuit commercial."

And there's a great deal in there about the promotion of Romo from backup to starter -- an idea Jerry Jones didn't like for a good long time, to the point where he apologized to Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson before the Cowboys played a Sunday-night game in Bank of America Stadium.

"I just can't do any more for you than to come to Charlotte and put a quarterback in that's never started a game before," Jones tells Richardson. "That's about all I can do for you. You're my buddy, but we can't do too much more." He'd eventually feel a whole lot better about the decision -- at least, till the first weekend in January. --Robert Wilonsky

A look at the Cowboys

by Silencer76

As I promised yesterday after doing the Eagles preview, here is the Dallas Cowboys one that I just completed. Odds are I won't put most of the other ones that I do up here, because I try to limit duplicate content, and hell, that is why I have my own blog, Juuust a Bit Outside, in the first place. So if you want to see more (and I inserted cheerleader photos in each one because I figured Oakland needed some sort of positive), go there.

DALLAS COWBOYS (9-7 in 2006, lost to Seattle 21-20 in NFC Wild Card Round): America's team returned to the postseason last year with a lot of new faces, and a botched snap on a chip shot field goal prevented them from moving on to the second round of the playoffs. Changes were made in the offseason, as Bill Parcells retired, replaced by Wade Phillips. Drew Bledsoe is gone, replaced full time by Tony Romo. Can Romo avoid a sophomore slump and carry the Cowboys toward the Super Bowl?

KEY ADDITIONS: QB Brad Johnson (FA, Minnesota), G Leonard Davis (FA, Arizona), S Ken Hamlin (FA, Seattle), DE/LB Anthony Spencer (26th overall pick in draft, Purdue), T James Marten (3rd round pick, Boston College), QB Isaiah Stanback (4th round pick, Washington), T Doug Free (4th round pick, Northern Illinois), K Nick Folk (6th round pick, Arizona), FB Deon Anderson (6th round pick, Connecticut), CB Courtney Brown (7th round pick, Cal Poly), CB Alan Ball (7th round pick, Illinois), TE Adam Bergen (FA, Arizona)

KEY DEFECTIONS: T Jason Fabini (released, signed with Washington), G Marco Rivera (released due to serious back issues), QB Drew Bledsoe (retired), C Al Johnson (FA, Arizona), DE Kenyon Coleman (FA, Oakland), LB Al Singleton (released), LB Ryan Fowler (FA, Tennessee), S Tony Parrish (released)

KEY GAMES: September 9 vs. New York Giants, October 14 vs. New England Patriots, November 11 @ New York Giants, December 16 vs. Philadelphia Eagles, December 30 @ Washington Redskins.

OFFENSE: The Cowboys broke down as follows on the offensive side of the ball:

6th in total offense (6003 yards)
6th in passing offense (4067 yards)
1st in yards per pass attempt (8.04)
6th in TD passes (26)
26th in INT thrown (21)
13th in rush attempts (472)
13th in rush yards (1936)
15th in rush yards per attempt (4.10)
3rd in rushing TDs (21)

Tony Romo will be the undisputed starter at quarterback from week one in 2007 for the Cowboys. Romo was 6-4 as a starter in 2006, after relieving Drew Bledsoe in a week 6 Monday Night Football game against the New York Giants. The season started with him on the bench, and ended with him being a Pro Bowl selection, the first Dallas QB to get the nod since Troy Aikman in 1996. Romo finished the year completing 65.3 percent of his passes for 2903 yards, 19 TD passes and 13 INT. However, after starting off 5-0 as a starter, he was sacked 14 times in the final five games of the regular season, completing less than 50 percent of his passes twice, and the team went 1-4. As a safety net, the Cowboys signed Brad Johnson as a free agent from Minnesota to back Romo up. Johnson threw for 2750 yards with 9 TD and 15 picks last season before being replaced by Tarvaris Jackson.

The Cowboys are a team with no problem running the ball. One of the major questions in the first year of the Phillips/Garrett era will be how the team plans to use running backs Julius Jones (1084 rushing yards, 4 TD) and Marion Barber III(654 rushing yards, 23 receptions, 16 TD). Jones broke the 1,000-yard barrier for the first time in his career last season, but was not much of a factor late in the year and reportedly fell into disfavor with Parcells. Barber heated up in the second half, putting the ball in the end zone 10 times, and he led the NFC in rushing touchdowns with 14. He also averaged a very healthy 4.8 yards per rush, and is the better receiver. Look for a platoon situation until one gets hot, then the 'Boys will go with the hot hand. Tyson Thompson (30 yards, 1 TD) is the third stringer, and will be more counted on for special teams. Rookie Deon Anderson and holdovers Oliver Hoyte, and Lousaka Polite are battling for the starting FB position.

Dallas has a great, though aging, 1-2 combination at wide receiver. The team is gambling on the health of Terrell Owens and Terry Glenn, as they made no move to get a proven, game ready NFL receiver in the offseason. Both men are 33, and if either misses extended time, Dallas's offense may suffer. Glenn (70 catches, 1047 yards, 6 TD) is slated to come back to practice Saturday after having arthroscopic knee surgery to remove a cyst on the back of his right kneecap on August 1. It will leave a short window for him to get back to game shape if he is to play in the opener. Owens (85, 1180, 9) battled through an overdose, a broken finger, and a slew of dropped balls to record another 1000 yard season, and coupled with Glenn, and Julius Jones's 1000 yard rushing season, gave the Cowboys just their second trio of 2 1000 yard receiver and a 1000 yard rusher in the same season. The other time was in 1979, when Tony Dorsett rushed for 1107 yards, while Tony Hill (60, 1062, 10) and Drew Pearson (55, 1026, 8) cracked the 1000 yard receiving mark. Patrick Crayton(36, 516, 4) showed strides of becoming a productive third option, while Sam Hurd (5 grabs, 75 yards), converted quarterback Isaiah Stanback and Miles Austin will most likely round out the group. Jason Witten (64, 754, 1) is an excellent pass catching tight end, and will be backed up by second year man Anthony Fasano (14, 126, 0), giving Romo more options to throw to.

DEFENSE: Dallas's defensive numbers stacked up as follows:

12th in total defense (5388 yards)
25th in pass yards allowed (3729)
28th in pass yards per attempt (7.31)
28th in TD passes allowed (25)
12th in INT (18)
9th in rushing attempts allowed (429)
10th in rushing yards allowed (1659)
8th in rushing yards per attempt (3.87)
14th in rushing TD allowed (12)

The Cowboys need to get more production from their defensive line. They were unable to make big plays with the three-man group of Jason Ferguson (46 tackles) in the middle and Marcus Spears (45 tackles, 1 sack) and Chris Canty (33 tackles, 1 sack). Phillips is expected to change the defensive format from the two gap format that Parcells ran to a more conducive one gap formation, in hopes of freeing up Spears and Canty on the pass rush. The downfall is that it will put more pressure on Ferguson to shut down opposing running games. Holdovers Jason Hatcher (15 tackles, 2.5 sacks) and Montavious Stanley will be the top backups at end and nose tackle, respectively, while another backup, Jay Ratliff (18 tackles, 4 sacks), can play any of the three positions up front. The Dallas defense registered just 34 sacks a season ago, and that has to improve, or they will be shredded by opponent's passing games again.

Dallas's linebacking corps is one of the deepest in the league, and the deepest part of the defense. They added even more depth with the drafting of Purdue's Anthony Spencer in the first round, 26th overall, this season. Demarcus Ware made his first Pro Bowl appearance, recording 71 tackles, 11.5 sacks, 1 INT, 6 pass breakups, 5 forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. On the other side will be Greg Ellis, provided he can recover from a torn Achilles he suffered late last season. Ellis had 30 tackles, 4.5 sacks, 1 INT and 3 FF before going down. If he is not ready to go when the season start, expect Spencer to get thrown into the fire. Akin Adoyele (84 tackles, 1 sack, 2 INT, 2 FR) and Bradie James (team leading 101 tackles, 1 pick, 2 FF, 2 FR, 9 pass breakups) are the starters at the inside linebacker spots. Kevin Burnett (38 tackles, 1 INT, 1 sack) and Bobby Carpenter (19 tackles, 1.5 sacks) provide depth, but have been underachievers in the NFL so far. (NOTE: Burnett is slated to undergo surgery today, August 28, to remove a bone chip from his ankle.)

The Dallas secondary was scrutinized last season and through the offseason, as they were shredded like confetti, as teams seemed to throw at will at times last season. In the second half of the year, Dallas almost lost focus, unable to cover receivers at key points. Roy Williams made the Pro Bowl, but had, by his standards, a subpar season, recording 62 tackles, 5 INT, 14 pass breakups and two fumble recoveries. The struggles prompted Dallas to go out and get Ken Hamlin via free agency. Hamlin racked up 96 tackles, 3 picks and 2 sacks for the Seahawks in 2006, and his presence should allow Williams to roam free, make more plays in the box and generally wreak havoc. Hamlin's presence should also help corners Anthony Henry (81 tackles, 21 pass breakups, 2 INT) and Terence Newman (63 tackles, 12 pass breakups, 1 INT) as well. Newman is currently recovering from a slight tear in his plantar fascia, though the team hopes he will be ready opening day. Fourteen year vet Aaron Glenn (22 tackles, 1 INT) is the nickel back, though, at 35, the Cowboys are not sold on how much he can play and actually help the team. There is still not much secondary depth, though safeties Pat Watkins (36 tackles, 3 INT) and Keith Davis (26 tackles) have both seen significant time, as has cornerback Jacques Reeves (12 tackles). If the team chooses to cut ties with Glenn, safety Abram Elam (13 tackles) and corner Nathan Jones (9 tackles) should feel slightly more comfortable about their chances of making the squad.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Martin Gramatica was the de facto kicker for Dallas coming into the year, but has been hampered by a hamstring injury and has practically conceded the job to sixth round pick Nick Folk. Scout. com had Folk as the #2 kicker in the draft behind Colorado's Mason Crosby. He was a double duty kicker for Arizona last year, handling kicking and punting. He averaged 44 yards a kick on 78 punts, hit 75% of his field goals, and has excellent leg strength. At the combine he hit 13 of 15 field goals, with his two misses from 45.

Mat McBriar is probably one of, if not the, most underrated punter in the NFL. McBriar averaged 48.2 yards on 56 punts in 2006, putting 22 of those inside the opposing 20. For his efforts, McBriar went to the Pro Bowl. He also is just the fifth punter to average 48+ yards a kick over a full season, and the first since Yale Lary in 1963. His net average was also a stellar 38.6 yards.

Miles Austin(29 returns, 26.0 yard average) and Tyson Thompson (21 returns, 26.0 yard average) will handle the kickoff return duties, while Newman, if healthy will return punts. He averaged 10.1 yards a runback last season and took one back for a score. Patrick Crayton is the secondary option if Newman can't go. The Cowboys kick coverage team are stellar, allowing just 19.6 yards a kickoff return, though the punt unit needs a little work, allowing 10.8 yards a return.

OUTLOOK: The Cowboys are poised for a return to the playoffs, and their first postseason win since 1996. The return of Ellis and Newman will be key, as depth on the defense is a bit shaky. They also need to keep Glenn and Owens on the field. If the pass rush ramps up, and Romo avoids a slump, watch for Dallas to go 10-6, and qualify as a wild card. From there, it is anyone's game.

NFL Preseason Preview - Dallas (2-1) at Minnesota (1-2)

By Tony Moss, Sports Network
The Sports Network
A pair of teams trying to end the preseason on a winning note will meet at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome Thursday night, as the Dallas Cowboys visit the Minnesota Vikings in the final August warm-up for each team.

Dallas was handed its first setback of the preseason last week, when Wade Phillips' squad dropped a 28-16 decision to Houston. Minnesota, meanwhile, was a 30-13 loser at Seattle.

The Cowboys didn't play particularly well in any phase against the Texans, though quarterback Tony Romo did enough in a 14-of-22, two-touchdown passing performance to reassure Dallas fans that he can deliver the goods during the regular season.

Romo heads into the Minnesota game, where he will likely play only limited snaps, with a solid preseason passer rating of 89.7. Backups Brad Johnson and Matt Moore will likely see most of the time at signal-caller for Dallas on Thursday.

Among the injured Cowboys who won't take part on Thursday are cornerback Terence Newman (heel) and linebacker Greg Ellis (Achilles).

As for Minnesota, Thursday will mark a final opportunity for expected starting quarterback Tarvaris Jackson to polish his skills in advance of the team's regular season opener against Atlanta September 9th.

Jackson, a second-year pro out of Alabama State, has played to mixed reviews thus far in the preseason. The quarterback has completed 19-of-33 passes for 212 yards without a touchdown or an interception in three appearances.

Succeeding Jackson in Thursday's lineup will be backups Brooks Bollinger, Tyler Thigpen, and perhaps recently-acquired veteran Kelly Holcomb.

Holcomb, who started 22 games in Cleveland and Buffalo since entering the league in 1995, is expected to battle Bollinger for No. 2 quarterback duties. Thigpen, a rookie out of Coastal Carolina, is reportedly headed for the practice squad, meaning the loser of the Bollinger/Holcomb duel would be the Vikings' third-stringer.

Minnesota starters are slated to play one series against Dallas.

Minnesota owns a 4-3-1 advantage in its all-time preseason series with Dallas, including a 10-10 tie when the teams met in the 2006 preseason.

The Vikings and Cowboys will also square off in regular season play, with their date scheduled for Oct. 21st at Texas Stadium.

Cowboys Look At Options For Replacing Newman

(AP) IRVING The Dallas Cowboys aren't concerned. Yet. Still, they are wary about how their revamped defense will handle an injury to their best cornerback Terence Newman since they already are without one of their best pass rushers, Greg Ellis.

Ellis' status remains a mystery, except that he likely won't be around for a while as he recovers from a torn Achilles' tendon. But the Cowboys have been bracing for it since draft day when they made linebacker Anthony Spencer their top pick.

Filling in for Newman is not as simple.

"We definitely need him on the field," Anthony Henry said Tuesday. "He's our top corner."

Henry takes over that title until Newman returns from a slight tear in the tissue that runs across the base of his foot. He's missed the last two preseason games and will skip the preseason finale Thursday night against Minnesota.

While Newman hopes to be back for the opener Sept. 9 against the New York Giants, he said Monday he can't plant his foot and "it's something that's probably going to be bothering me all year."

Aaron Glenn started for Newman the last two games and gave up a touchdown pass in the most recent game. Entering his 14th season, Glenn is better suited as a third cornerback -- except the Cowboys don't really have anyone else to join Henry in the starting lineup.

Jacques Reeves and Nate Jones are going into their fourth year without having distinguished themselves as anything more than backups. The other candidates are Joey Thomas, a former third-round pick by Green Bay who was out of the NFL last year; seventh-round pick Alan Ball; and Quincy Butler, an undrafted rookie who has hardly played this preseason because of an injury.

"None of them stepped up as far as somebody to come in and play if (Newman) were out," coach Wade Phillips said. "But they're going to play some more this game so they have another opportunity. They're getting ready to play and show what they can do, that's what I challenged them with."

Phillips said he wanted the cornerbacks fighting for jobs to show "I'm ready to play in the NFL" during Saturday's game at Houston. It didn't happen.

"We're going to look at everybody and see if somebody can come in and play efficiently for us," Phillips said. "That's what we didn't get from anyone last game."

This could be the price the Cowboys pay for not having done much to address the position this past offseason. Another clunker outing by the backups and Dallas may have to turn to the waiver wire for leftovers off other rosters.

"Our guys not only are competing against guys on our team but they're also competing on someone that might be out there. That's why this game is so important, especially for guys that haven't had much playing time," he said.

The bigger issue for Phillips is how this might change his scheme.

Phillips' 3-4 defense is based on putting a lot of pressure on the quarterback. Doing so effectively requires good pursuit up front and good one-on-one coverage in the secondary.

Missing Newman or Ellis makes it tougher. Being without both really fouls things up.

Newman is considered the caliber of cornerback who takes away an area of the field because quarterbacks see him there and figure they're better off picking on someone else. Ellis has led the team in sacks six times and was tied for the lead when he went down in November, despite having been moved from defensive end to linebacker. He got good news in a second opinion Monday from Dr. James Andrews in Birmingham, Ala.

"The show still goes," Glenn said. "If they're able to play, that's great for everyone. If not, shoot, we've got to continue to go. We've got other players here who have to play. The mind-set of the guy who is playing there has to be, 'I've got to play and I'm going to play well."'

Cowboys looking at options if CB Newman's injury lingers

Associated Press - August 28, 2007 6:45 PM ET

IRVING, Texas (AP) - The Dallas Cowboys are wary about how their revamped defense will handle an injury to their best cornerback Terence Newman.

Dallas is already are without 1 of its best pass rushers.

The status of Greg Ellis remains a mystery, except that he likely won't be around for a while as he recovers from a torn Achilles' tendon.

But the Cowboys have been bracing for it since draft day when they made linebacker Anthony Spencer their top pick.

Filling in for Newman isn't as simple.

Anthony Henry takes over that title until Newman returns from a slight tear in the tissue that runs across the base of his foot.

He's missed the last two preseason games and will skip the preseason finale Thursday night against Minnesota.

While Newman hopes to be back for the opener September 9th against the New York Giants, he said Monday he can't plant his foot.