Machota: ‘Aggressive and creating havoc’ - Early impressions of Michael Bennett, and 15 other Cowboys notes

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By Jon Machota Nov 4, 2019

FRISCO, Texas — Michael Bennett will make his Dallas Cowboys debut Monday night at MetLife Stadium.

The veteran defensive lineman participated in four practices with his new team since being traded from New England on Oct. 24.

Bennett has mostly kept to himself during the portions of those practices open to the media. He has already developed a signature look on the practice fields, having cut the sleeves off of his No. 79 practice jersey and trimmed off his team sweatpants just below the knee.



Bennett has not spoken to reporters since joining the Cowboys. During locker room availability, he has passed through but has not stopped to speak with the groups that have gathered at his locker.

His impact on the field will likely come in a variety of ways, playing behind starters Robert Quinn and DeMarcus Lawrence at right and left defensive end while also rushing the passer alongside Quinn, Lawrence and Maliek Collins from one of the defensive tackle spots on third down.

Bennett was in a 3-4 scheme with the Patriots that wasn’t the best fit for him. In Dallas, he’s returning to a 4-3 defense he played in during his most productive seasons in Seattle and Philadelphia.

Bennett recorded nine sacks last year with the Eagles, with three and a half coming from the defensive tackle position, two and a half at left end and three at right end. He also had one from left end against the Chicago Bears in the playoffs.

“What he brings is high production throughout his career,” Cowboys defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli said. “In three of the four spots, he’s done that in. So that’s a really big factor. He’s productive. I think what he really brings that I like is he’s a winner. He knows what it takes to win. And the details – he’s very detailed. Smart. And he’s just going to fit really well.”

Cowboys defensive play-caller Kris Richard was a significant factor behind the move. Richard was Seattle’s defensive coordinator during Bennett’s three consecutive Pro Bowl seasons (2015-2017). Richard said when he was asked about Bennett before the Cowboys finalized the deal, which sent a conditional seventh-round pick to the Patriots, at the top of the list of things he mentioned was how Bennett would fit the team’s culture.

“We’re both fired up to be back together again,” Richard said. “All we’re looking for him to do is to come in and play the way that he knows how. And that’s the way our defensive line plays, up the field, gap-penetrating, aggressive and creating havoc.

“He has championship pedigree. He has always been a fantastic teammate. We’re absolutely fired up to have him.”

Bennett had another year remaining on his contract before the trade. But the Cowboys restructured it, making him a free agent at the end of this season.

“We got some things that we think really helped us out,” Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones said last week on 105.3 The Fan (KRLD-FM). “Michael was willing to do that. In turn, we gave him the ability to be a free agent after this year. Felt like that was the fair thing to do.”

Some have speculated that part of that adjustment might have included Bennett agreeing to stand during the national anthem before games. Bennett had been staying in the locker room during the anthem while with the Patriots and Eagles. While with the Seahawks, Bennett sat during the anthem to raise awareness of social injustice and racial inequality.

“I’m satisfied,” Jerry Jones said on The Fan, “that in Michael, we got a player that knows how we do it here with the Cowboys.”

No Cowboys player has protested or stayed in the locker room during the national anthem.

To get you ready for Monday night’s game versus the Giants, here are 15 Cowboys notes gathered during the previous week.

1.) Injury updates. This might be the healthiest the Cowboys have been since the season started. Backup offensive tackle Cameron Fleming (calf) was the only player who did not practice all week. He has been ruled out for this game. Weakside linebacker Leighton Vander Esch (neck) and cornerback Anthony Brown (hamstring) are both questionable after being limited all week. Brown is much more likely to play than Vander Esch, who is expected to be a game-time decision. If Vander Esch can’t go, that will mean more playing time for Sean Lee. Even if Brown is able to play, Jourdan Lewis was impressive enough in Brown’s absence that he’s expected to continue getting more playing time than he was before Brown’s injury.

2.) Amari Cooper health update. Cooper acknowledged this week that this is the healthiest he’s been in a while. “I’m good,” he said. “I’m pretty healthy.” The nagging heel injury and quad bruise have healed, but his ankle still isn’t quite 100 percent. The Cowboys are clearly a much better offense with Cooper on the field, so it was a good sign when he was a full participant in practice all week. Heading into the Eagles game, Cooper didn’t practice Wednesday or Thursday and was limited on Friday. But he was able to make it through that entire game (5 catches, 106 yards) and then get the entire bye week to rest. Cooper had six receptions for 106 yards and a touchdown in Dallas’ Week 1 win over the Giants.

“He’s a challenge whether he’s inside or outside,” Giants coach Pat Shurmur said Saturday. “How we choose to cover him, that will reveal itself. I think because of who he is as a player, and they do use him inside and outside, we have to have a plan for both.”

3.) Trysten Hill. The rookie defensive tackle hasn’t made a noticeable impact through the first seven games of the season. To make matters worse, he was late to a team meeting last Tuesday that resulted in Jason Garrett sending him home. He also reportedly fell asleep during a recent team meeting that included a speech from NBA legend Isiah Thomas.

“I think when you do everything right, then the other thing takes place,” Rod Marinelli said. “When you’re doing what you are supposed to do 100 percent of the time, because that’s what the game of football is about, doing what you’re supposed to do when you’re supposed to do it. So it’s a learning process for him.”

Marinelli formed a strong bond with Hill during the pre-draft process. After Dallas selected Hill in the second round, Marinelli had him sign a work ethic contract, explaining what the long-time defensive line coach expected in practice and games.

“I don’t really get disappointed,” Marinelli said. “I just look at the situation, and I want to improve the man. I’ve got a guy who is willing. All those things, I’ve got to help him and keep standards. That’s how you do it, very patiently and strong, and there’s no waver with how we do business.”

4.) Contract updates. Jerry Jones still feels good about the chances of getting long-term agreements done with Dak Prescott and Amari Cooper. Neither happened during the bye week, and both players seem fine with playing out the rest of the season under the final year of their rookie contracts.

“I always think that there is movement one way or the other, even though there isn’t a technical movement,” Jones said last week on The Fan. “I think we moved that needle in a positive direction this week.”

The longer this plays out for both, the more money it’s likely costing the Cowboys. Jones is expected to do whatever it takes to keep Prescott and Cooper in Dallas for the foreseeable future.

5.) Coach K on Dak. Speaking of Dak Prescott, legendary Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski made an interesting observation about the Cowboys quarterback during an interview last week with Jason Garrett. The Cowboys head coach was a guest on Krzyzewski’s “Basketball and Beyond” radio show on SiriusXM.

“You know what I’ve noticed, Jason, is as he’s grown as a quarterback – not that he’s never had this, but he has it even more: a leader’s face,” Krzyzewski said of Prescott. “He has a face and a voice that you want to follow. When I watch, he’s more assertive, I think he gets eye contact with his teammates better. He has the face of a winner. I really like what he does.

“When I was a cadet a long time ago and an Army officer at West Point and in the military, they taught us, ‘Look, you all are human beings, and at times you’re going to be unsure, you’re going to feel a little bit weak. You’re not going to be strong all the time. But the character of a leader is to look strong. If you look strong, sometimes that look will then follow into words, and then words lead to action.’ I really think that’s where Dak is in his career.”

6.) Daniel Jones is the new Eli. It’s no secret that DeMarcus Lawrence enjoys playing against Giants quarterback Eli Manning. Lawrence is a big fan of most pocket passers. But he won’t be facing Manning this week. He’ll be going against New York’s rookie QB Daniel Jones, who took over the starting job in Week 3.

“I feel like they did a great job getting another Eli,” Lawrence said last week of Jones, the sixth overall pick in this year’s draft. “He can move around, he’s got a strong arm, he’s athletic. He can be good in this league. But he’s also got to play us twice a year.”

When told of those comments, Jones responded: “Well, I appreciate that. It’s nice of him to say.”

Jones doesn’t say much. He has never been mic’d up during a game and said last week that he doesn’t expect to be Monday night. A reporter then followed up that maybe Lawrence will be mic’d up, adding he’d likely be more interesting than Jones.

“There’s probably a lot more content there,” Jones said with a smile.

7.) Zeke hitting his stride. Ezekiel Elliott’s statistics through seven games this season are very similar to the first seven games last year, when he earned his second rushing title.

First seven games last year: 132 carries, 619 yards, 3 TDs, 25 receptions, 175 yards, 1 TD.

First seven games this year: 135 carries, 602 yards, 6 TDs, 24 receptions, 176 yards, 0 TD.

Elliott said Dallas’ last game against the Eagles was the best he’s felt this season, both from a physical standpoint and how he was hitting his landmarks. He had 111 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries against Philadelphia.

“I’ve been solid,” Elliott said of his play so far this season. “I think I’ve had a solid year. I definitely can pick it up some more. Just definitely looking to get into a groove early in this stretch so I can keep it going through the end of the season.”

8.) Zeke vs. Saquon. Monday night will be the fourth time that Ezekiel Elliott and Saquon Barkley square off in an NFL game. Well, it will actually only be the third time because Elliott was a healthy scratch in last year’s season finale.

None of the games have come down to arguably the NFL’s top two running backs. Barkley has put up better numbers, but Elliott’s team has gotten the win in the previous three matchups.

“He’s a great back,” Barkley said this week. “Do I keep track? Not really. I’m too focused over here. If there are times when I can catch him on film or catch a game, he’s always putting on a show. He’s one of my favorite backs in the league, you guys already know that. Not only do I play in the NFL, but I am a fan of the NFL, and he’s a guy I am a real big fan of him, and I respect his game. Every time you face that guy, you know he is going to be a tough challenge.”

What does Elliott like most about Barkley’s game?

“His wheels,” Elliott said. “He just goes. You just don’t really expect a guy that big to be able to run that fast. Just the way he turns on the jets and goes.”

Cowboys middle linebacker Jaylon Smith last week on Barkley: “All it takes is for one man to be off, especially against a guy like him. He’s our generation’s version of Barry Sanders. For us, it’s just about being disciplined, running and hitting. What eliminates all errors is the fact that we sprint to the ball. We need to be consistent.”

9.) Cowboys players on Michael Bennett. The veteran pass rusher wears a very noticeable set of shoulder pads. They actually look like something Brett Maher or Chris Jones should be wearing. Zack Martin, who has gone against Bennett several times, was curious. He asked Bennett last week if they are the same ones he’s been wearing or if he gets a new set with every new team. Same ones. Martin hasn’t faced any other player that has worn shoulder pads that small.

“It’s tough,” Martin said. “There’s not much to grab on to. He does it for a reason. And it works for him.”

Martin added: “I think the biggest challenge is he kind of lines up all over, but when we’ve played him in the past in Seattle and Philly, he gets in that real wide – they call it a three-technique, but it’s almost a five-technique – and he gets all that space, and he works from there. He’s very good at reading your set, he’s got all that space, and then going to work off what you’re doing. I’m glad we got him on our side now.”

Bennett put some pretty good hits on Dak Prescott last year. One particular shot came on a bootleg at Philly. Bennett was lined up out wide at left end. When Prescott turned to look up field, Bennett hit him so hard that it knocked Prescott back three yards. The play resulted in a 12-yard loss.

“I told him the first time I saw him, ‘I’m glad you’re on this side so I don’t have to take those hits anymore,’” Prescott said. “He laughed. … Glad to have him on this team.”

Robert Quinn likes the idea of getting more pass-rush help, but he was also quick to point out that none of it matters if the group doesn’t produce.

“We’ve been playing with a lot of what-if this year,” Quinn said. “We know the talent we have on the D-line. It’s about going out there and doing it. We got all the pieces. We can talk a good game all day, you got to put up or shut up.”

10.) Michael Jackson to Detroit. The Cowboys really wanted to keep the rookie cornerback on their practice squad. They tried to increase his salary but didn’t have room on their 53-man roster. Jackson, a fifth-round pick by the Cowboys this year out of Miami, wanted to play, so he accepted an offer last week to join the Lions’ active roster. If things don’t work out in Detroit, look for Jackson to wind up back in Dallas. The coaching staff thinks very highly of him, they just didn’t have the space because of their current depth at the position.

11.) Dak on being mic’d up. Dak Prescott was wearing a microphone Week 3 against the Dolphins. He made a funny comment in the huddle about spicy chicken nuggets being back at Wendy’s. It gained some attention. Jets quarterback Sam Darnold had a memorable comment recently while he was wearing a mic against the Patriots. Only his was about “seeing ghosts” as New England’s defense was in the process of forcing the second-year quarterback to throw four interceptions. Many criticized the Monday Night Football crew for airing those words.

“That was super unfair,” Prescott said. “If you play quarterback, anybody who has played this game, has said that. I don’t care who you are. Tom Brady has said that, or he has mentioned it.”

Prescott’s approach when he’s wearing a mic: “I don’t care what I say. If I say something bad, and they don’t protect me, then they don’t protect me. Bad on them and bad on the brand, right? … I’m just going to be me.”

12.) No microphone for Witten. Jason Witten won’t be wearing a mic when he plays his first Monday night game since leaving the MNF booth. He hasn’t worn one in a long time and doesn’t plan to in the future.

“Early on, it was too big on the shoulder pads,” he said. “And then I did it one other time, and I didn’t play very well. And so at halftime, I told (Cowboys equipment manager Mike McCord), ‘Take that mic off my pads.’ And we haven’t put it on ever since. That’s kind of my excuse.”

In regards to the Darnold situation, Witten said he understands how important it is to get that unique content, but he wouldn’t be happy if that had happened to him or one of his teammates.

“It’s a tricky deal,” Witten said. “You want to give a lot of access, but at the same time, that’s a young player that you’ve got to be able to feel like you’ve got some ability to be protected from that. I think they’ll learn from it. It’s unfortunate that that happened. If they could go back, I’m sure they probably would say they would change it in some regards. Because I think he’s going to be a star in this league. You would hate for something like that that he didn’t put out there himself. I think it’s important. I think the networks, I can tell you from my experience, they work hard to try to prevent any of that from taking place.”

13.) Witten reflects on his MNF decision. At the time, Jason Witten didn’t think the Week 17 game at Philadelphia in 2017 would be his final one. But then a job opportunity came open that many told him he’d never get again if he passed. Only a year after taking that job, however, he returned to the one he had for the previous 15 years.

“I don’t have any regrets because I think I’m better because of that experience,” Witten said. “But I do think there were moments throughout that I thought, something inside of me was just like, ‘I should still be playing football. I have more to give. I have more to give.’ Maybe that opportunity forced my hand. If I could go back, I would say just trust your instincts of, ‘You’ll get other opportunities. You’ll have things. But this is what you love to do, and you still have ability to give to it.’

“I think it’s easy for me to say it now that I’m able to come back here. But if I wouldn’t have had this opportunity, I think it would have been tough for me. So, yeah, it was a struggle. Not because of what happened every Monday night. I think just I wanted to play football. I wanted to be a part of this. This is what I wanted to do. It’s lived up to everything that I could of ever asked for because I think it’s a hell of a group of guys that works hard.

“We’re in the middle of it, right now. There’s been some good, some bad and then last week against the Eagles, which that’s where you want to get to, where you can play like that. Nine weeks to go. I’m excited.”

So what about next year? Has he made a decision on if he’ll try to play another season after this one?

“One thing I told myself when I made this decision … if I did regret it, when I go back in, I want to stay right here,” Witten responded. “Don’t worry about what’s next. I think a lot of people say that in their lives. It’s harder to do that and really live it out. I haven’t allowed myself to go (into the future). I mean (it) when I tell you every day I just think about where I’m at and the opportunity I have. All those things will work themselves out later on.”

14.) Dak wearing a glove. Dak Prescott hasn’t worn a glove on his throwing hand during a game. However, he was experimenting with it during practice last Tuesday.

“It actually wasn’t bad,” Prescott said. “I’m just not comfortable with it yet. We’ve practiced with it. We might do it some more. It wasn’t something where I’ll say, ‘You’ll never see me do it,’ because it wasn’t that bad. There are just little seams in the glove that I just got to get comfortable with.”

Prescott said the one he tried last week is something he can see himself wearing in a game because it’s not sticky like a receiver glove. The texture is similar to a football.

“If I can just keep my hands halfway warm and a little moist, I’m fine,” he said.

The Cowboys will be potentially playing in some cold-weather games in the near future with trips to New England, Chicago and Philadelphia.

15.) Notable stats.

— Cowboys sack leaders through seven games: Robert Quinn 6, DeMarcus Lawrence 3.5, Maliek Collins 2, Jaylon Smith 2.

— Cowboys QB pressures leaders: Robert Quinn 17, Maliek Collins 17, DeMarcus Lawrence 15, Kerry Hyder 10.

— Most 100-yard rushing games since 2016, entering Week 9: Ezekiel Elliott 23, Jordan Howard 14, Todd Gurley 12, LeSean McCoy 12.

— Dak Prescott’s top career targets:
  • Cole Beasley: 174 catches; 1,774 yards; 12 TDs
  • Ezekiel Elliott: 159 catches; 1,375 yards; 6 TDs
  • Jason Witten: 157 catches; 1,486 yards; 9 TDs
  • Dez Bryant: 119 catches; 1,634 yards; 14 TDs
  • Terrance Williams: 97 catches; 1,162 yards, 3 TDs
  • Amari Cooper: 91 catches; 1,346 yards; 11 TDs
— Most QB rushing touchdowns through first 55 games: Cam Newton 29, Daunte Culpepper 26, Jack Kemp 25, Steve McNair 22, Dak Prescott 21, Steve Grogan 20, Kordell Stewart 19, Michael Vick 19.
 
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