One-armed Knife Sharpener
- Apr 7, 2013
By Jon Machota 6h ago
FRISCO, Texas — The Cowboys suffered a blow to their offensive game plan Friday afternoon when they learned that star wide receiver Amari Cooper will not be making the trip to Kansas City. Cooper has been placed on the Reserve/COVID-19 list and won’t play Sunday. Cooper is also expected to miss Dallas’ following game, Thursday against the Las Vegas Raiders.
The Cowboys are fortunate to have great depth at the position. CeeDee Lamb is one of the NFL’s elite wide receivers and Michael Gallup can certainly carry the No. 2 load now that he is fully healthy from the calf strain that caused him to miss seven games. Gallup was targeted four times in Week 1 and three times last week against Atlanta. Those numbers will increase against Kansas City.
Then there is Cedrick Wilson, who filled in well as the team’s No. 3 wide receiver when Gallup was out. Wilson had three touchdowns in a five-game stretch between Week 3 and Week 7. Dallas also has Noah Brown and Malik Turner. Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott has shown that he’s comfortable throwing to either. Turner had two touchdowns against Denver. Brown had an 18-yard reception last week and has caught eight of his 11 targets for 117 yards this season.
“It doesn’t matter to me who’s outside, who’s inside,” Prescott said. “All those guys are very athletic, very capable, very knowledgeable of what we’re doing. I’m fortunate to have a group like that, and not just the three of Amari, CeeDee and Michael, but Ced, Noah, Malik. Any guy that comes in, we’ve got complete confidence in them doing their job. It’s a special group to have.”
While Cooper’s absence will be felt in all areas of the offense, moving the chains could be the biggest. Cooper ranks 16th in the NFL and second to Lamb on the Cowboys in first-down receptions with 32 (3.5 per game). Cooper has lined up 235 times on the outside and 105 times in the slot this season. Look for Wilson to continue getting most of his work in the slot. He leads the team with 203 snaps there. Gallup will likely see most of his work on the outside. Eighty-nine percent of his snaps this season have come there. Lamb will likely do both. He has lined up outside 240 times and in the slot 89 times. Eighty-four percent of Brown’s snaps have been on the outside. Sixty-seven percent of Turner’s snaps have been in the slot.
Sunday’s matchup will be the Cowboys’ biggest measuring stick game since the season opener against the defending Super Bowl champion Buccaneers in Tampa Bay. Dallas fell short there, but showed it could hold its own against the game’s elite. It’s yet to be determined if Kansas City has returned to form as the team that has reached the previous two Super Bowls. The Chiefs looked the part on Sunday, improving to 6-4 behind a 41-14 win at Las Vegas.
To get you ready for Sunday’s game, here are 19 other notes.
Connor or Connor? The decision has been made and Connor McGovern will be getting his first start of the season at left guard. He will be replacing Connor Williams, who has played more offensive snaps this season than any other player on the Cowboys roster. Williams had started the previous nine games at left guard and every game there last season. But his high number of penalties has become an issue.
Williams leads the NFL with 13 penalties called against him. Eleven have been offensive holding. Three have been declined. The 10 that have stood have accounted for 110 yards. The Cowboys lead the NFL with 85 penalties called against them. Combine that with McGovern taking advantage of his reps in practice and in games, Dallas felt it was time for a change.
“He certainly impressed his teammates and coaches,” Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said Friday morning on 105.3 The Fan, after confirming the move. “This is a great opportunity for him. … I think he’ll do well. He’s earned it.”
McGovern should have some pretty good experience lining up to his left. Tyron Smith is expected to return Sunday after missing the past two games with an ankle injury. The seven-time Pro Bowl left tackle was limited in practice all week after not practicing at all the previous week.
“One thing I love about our football team is just the competition, and we got depth,” Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones said Friday on The Fan. “Certainly other than the Broncos game, next-man-up has been the battle cry of this team. We hadn’t had probably the continuity as a team that you love to have, but that comes with the NFL. That’s the problem all 32 (teams) have, in terms of whether it’s injuries, whether it’s COVID-related, whatever those challenges may be, you have to meet those.
“You’d love to have the continuity, but at the same time, you got some skilled players on your team that create competition and push players, which is what is doing with Connor (McGovern).”
Injury updates. DE DeMarcus Lawrence (foot), DE Randy Gregory (calf) and DT Neville Gallimore (elbow) were all seen at practice this week, working off to the side as they continue rehabbing their injuries. Stephen Jones said during a SiriusXM NFL Radio interview this week that those three probably won’t return in the next week or two, “but in the next three to four weeks.” … Rookie CB Kelvin Joseph did not practice Thursday or Friday and he will not play Sunday as he is dealing with a personal matter. Rookie CB Nahshon Wright was a full participant in practice on Wednesday but was limited with a hamstring injury Thursday and Friday. He is questionable for Sunday.
Dak vs. Mahomes. Many will view Sunday’s matchup this way. It’s two of the game’s top quarterbacks in charge of two of the game’s most dangerous offenses. No quarterback this year has attempted more passes than Patrick Mahomes (412), the 2018 NFL MVP and 2019 Super Bowl champion. No quarterback has a higher passer rating than Prescott (110.8).
There’s a strong possibility that whoever is better on Sunday will determine which team wins.
“I mean, first off, he’s a tremendous leader,” Mahomes said this week of Prescott. “I think you can see that even when you’re just watching as a fan of him and of them. He’s a tremendous leader, he’s been a starter in the league for a long time now, he’s athletic, you can see that by the way he played in college. And he can make a lot of big-time throws. They have a great offense over there, they have a great team over there. It will be a great challenge for us to go up against them this week.”
Former Cowboys fan. Mahomes, who was born in Tyler, Texas, grew up rooting for the Cowboys, going to games with his father. His favorite player was Dez Bryant.
“He’s from East Texas, my area, he’s from Lufkin, Texas, so I got to see him play in high school,” Mahomes said this week on 610 Sports Radio in Kansas City. “And then I got to see him play at Oklahoma State and then with the Cowboys, so I was always rooting him on for sure.”
Mahomes will be making his first start against the Cowboys on Sunday.
“It will definitely be cool to be able to play against them, especially with the Kansas City Chiefs originally being the Dallas Texans,” he said. “There’s a lot of history in this game. And they’re obviously a great football team. So this is going to be an awesome experience. I’m sure I’ll have a lot of family members at the game, and hopefully they’re cheering me on and not the other team.”
Preparing for the extended plays. Mahomes is one of the game’s best at getting outside of the pocket and extending plays. Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy prepared the team this week for Mahomes by spending more time on scramble drills in practice. Knowing that, does that change Mahomes’ approach to the game?
“I’m going to continue to do what I do,” Mahomes said. “I haven’t scrambled as much this year, but it’s always been a part of our game. They have a great scrambling quarterback, too, so I’m sure they’ve seen it a lot in preseason and training camp and all that different type of stuff. For me, it’s just taking what the defense gives me and then if I need to scramble to make the play happen, I’ll do that.”
Turnover opportunities. Mahomes threw 12 interceptions in 16 games in 2018, his first season as the team’s starter. He only threw five in 2019 and six in 2020. But he’s already up to 10 this season in 10 games. Only Cincinnati’s Joe Burrow and Carolina’s Sam Darnold have thrown more, each with 11. So there should be opportunities for Trevon Diggs to add to his league-leading eight interceptions this season.
“When you have that many interceptions, that means you know what’s going on,” Mahomes said, “you have an understanding of what the offense is trying to do, so you definitely have to have an eye on him at all times. He’s going to wait for his opportunity and usually when he gets his hands on it, he ends up making the catch, so definitely a great player, someone you have to pay attention to on every single snap and try to find ways that you can have success in either other places or on him in certain areas.”
Best friends. Prescott’s friendship with Ezekiel Elliott is nothing new. They’ve been close since their rookie seasons in 2016. But it was interesting that McCarthy, who has been in the NFL for 29 years, said it’s one of the closest he’s seen.
“It’s a special relationship,” McCarthy said. “I would say it’s on the level of brothers. They’re together a lot. They laugh a lot together. They push each other. They warm up together. You can see the connection that they have on the field. Obviously two excellent, great young football players. Definitely their bond will go far, far beyond the football field.”
Prescott shared a good story this week from their rookie year. During rookie minicamp, Elliott didn’t have a car, so Prescott was driving him around.
“He left one of his $5 million signing bonus (checks) in my truck,” Prescott said. “And I’m like, ‘Uh, this is more than I’ll make in the next four years, come get this, bud.’”
Prescott said their trust and friendship have continued to grow ever since.
Statement game? Elliott tried to downplay it, but there’s no question a win at Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday would be quite the statement for the Cowboys.
“It seems like y’all ask us that every week,” Elliott said to reporters this week. “This is another football game. Every week is important in this league. Every team we play is a very good football team. If we go out there, get a win on the road, in a hostile environment, I think that would be a statement.”
Opponent’s view. Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo was the New York Giants DC during Prescott’s first two NFL seasons. He has a good understanding of this Cowboys offense. Here’s a highlight about Dallas from his news conference this week.
“I wouldn’t say they always commit to the run, but that run threat is always there,” Spagnuolo said, “and if you don’t stop that run, they’ll easily just mow you over. Then the quarterback comes in, it’s not just a good quarterback, it’s an athletic quarterback. I think he’s a smart quarterback, I’ve gone against him a lot of times. He can make you look bad because he can do all the things that you need to do as a quarterback. I’m trying to find a weakness to be quite honest with you. I think that more than anything makes him really good.”
Anthony Brown’s message. Prescott mentioned after last Sunday’s 43-3 win over the Falcons how impressed he was by Brown’s pregame locker room speech. McCarthy shared similar thoughts about being a fan of the statement. So what exactly did Brown say?
“Coach McCarthy is always saying how we are gonna get a team’s best shot,” Brown explained. “I was like, ‘How about we give them our best shot. Let’s see if they can handle us. Let’s shoot first and see how they respond.’”
How do they do that?
“I would say you always want to be aggressive,” Brown said. “I think it was just my mindset, really. It’s just going out there and not waiting on nobody. Against Denver, we felt like we were getting pushed around a lot, so we were going to do the pushing. We were going to initiate the contact and initiate the contact from the jump, so that’s what I was saying.”
Micah Parsons’ role. Dallas’ first-round pick has played more linebacker snaps than defensive end snaps in seven of the Cowboys’ nine games this season. But he might be in for more snaps at defensive end on Sunday, considering the work he was getting in practice this week. Dallas needs his help off the edge with Lawrence and Gregory not playing. Perhaps they go with Parsons at right end more than middle linebacker. If that’s the case, that’ll likely mean more snaps for veteran linebackers Keanu Neal and Leighton Vander Esch.
Parsons was asked this week about the time he spends focusing on football.
“The lion’s always hungry,” he responded. “I’m going to stay hungry. When I’m not playing football, I’m playing football in the video game. This is just what I do. I love the game and I just love doing what I do.”
Close bond. Several Cowboys have mentioned it this year. Rookie defensive tackle Osa Odighizuwa did the best job of explaining it this week.
“I’m a team guy,” Odighizuwa said. “I feel like, whenever I’m out there on the field, I like to be extremely close with whoever is to my left and to my right, so being able to come in and just be accepted like this is huge. I try to always build good relationships with my teammates. I can’t say in my football career that it has ever paid off as much as it is now. This is the best team I’ve ever been on in my life.
“Being here and just being on a team with guys as good as we have and not having to deal with any egos or anything like that, I’d say that’s probably the biggest thing. Guys came in and accepted me with open arms. Everyone is approachable. They let me know that I was a member of this brotherhood from the day I stepped in the locker room.”
“How bout them Cowboys!” Some players were asked this week about Jimmy Johnson’s famous saying. Lamb compared it to Oklahoma fans yelling “Boomer Sooner!” He said he’s had “How bout them Cowboys!” shouted at him at restaurants on more than one occasion.
“I know it carries a lot of weight,” Lamb said, “and it means everything to this organization, so ‘How bout them Cowboys.’”
Parsons: “I don’t know. I’m still figuring it out right now. I’ve got to win me a Super Bowl myself to tell you. So maybe in a few more weeks I can let you know.”
Cowboys odds. Dallas continues to be well represented when it comes to being favorites for many of the NFL’s top awards this season. According to BetMGM, Prescott has the third-best odds to win MVP at +700, trailing only Bills QB Josh Allen (+200) and Tampa Bay’s Tom Brady (+400). Parsons is the favorite for Defensive Rookie of the Year, and it’s not close. Same for Prescott and Comeback Player of the Year.
Diggs continues to be second behind Cleveland’s Myles Garrett (+275) for Defensive Player of the Year, but the gap has closed significantly with Diggs at +300. McCarthy is currently second for NFL Coach of the Year at +500, closely behind the favorite, Tennessee’s Mike Vrabel (+450).
The Cowboys (+1,000) have the sixth-best odds to win the Super Bowl, trailing the Bills (+550), Buccaneers (+650), Packers (+800), Cardinals (+900) and Rams (+900).
CeeDee’s opinion. It’s pretty obvious who Lamb would take in a debate about the current top NFL quarterback.
“Of course I’m going to say Dak is the best quarterback in the league,” Lamb said. “Why not? … He’s putting up great numbers this year and he’s distributing the ball amongst a lot of us. He’s keeping us all happy. … Most importantly, he’s leading us. So I feel like with all of that being said, great to have him back. I’m proud of him for this year and look to keep it going.”
Jerry worries. The Cowboys owner probably won’t mind it if it’s the type of play that wins a playoff game. But not in the second half of a 40-point blowout win over Atlanta. When Prescott lowered his shoulder into a defender before crossing the goal line late in the third quarter last Sunday, Jones was a little concerned. He is very aware of how much things change without the franchise quarterback. He saw too much last season.
“I worry about it,” Jones said this week on The Fan. “I do worry about it. You’d like to say pick your shots and make sure every one of them are going to account for difference. That’s impossible to have happen because the competitor that he is, and he’s going to get the play finished as best as he possibly can. We’ve got to just realize that, at the end of the year, what this is about is being standing.
“Warren Buffett said one time that the hardest thing about accumulating wealth is to be there to spend it. And that could mean either livelihood or it could be financial-hood. But the point is, we want to be there with Dak. Those are fine lines.”
Special teams. McCarthy called it the team’s best unit over the last month. Special teams coordinator John Fassel is proud of his group, but also doesn’t want them looking in the past. He said the message last week was: “Spaceships don’t have rearview mirrors.” Not sure many in the room were expecting Fassel to use an Andre 3000 line from the song “Int’l Players Anthem.”
Red Ass Week. That’s what McCarthy was calling last week after the Cowboys were embarrassed by the Denver Broncos, 30-16. So how did he motivate the group? By handing out bottles of Anti Monkey Butt powder, a talcum and calamine combination that’s used to absorb excess sweat and reduce frictional skin irritation. The picture on the bottles has a monkey putting the powder on its red behind. Judging by their response against Atlanta, the motivational tool seemed to work. McCarthy has demonstrated some unique ways to motivate the team, most notably, smashing watermelons with a sledgehammer in a team meeting the day before the Cowboys won at Minnesota last year.
“Well, I don’t think I’ll be up there talking about Red Ass again, so you can have comfort in that,” he said this week. “I just think it’s, you try to make an emphasis, to keep it fresh for the guys. It’s a good thing to laugh. (You) probably don’t think I have much personality, but I do have a little bit. I think it’s important. It’s a long year. Let’s be honest, we spend a lot of time together. At the end of the day, you got to have more than one or two ways to make a point. And that’s all we were trying to do this week.”
Preston Road Trophy. There’s a little something extra on the line for this game. Jerry Jones and Lamar Hunt, the former Chiefs owner, used to live across the street from each other on Preston Road in Dallas. Hunt constructed a trophy, which looks like a birdhouse, according to Jones, that goes to the winner of the Cowboys vs. Chiefs game.
“I ran into Jerry about a month ago and I reminded him that he needed to bring the trophy,” Chiefs Chairman and CEO Clark Hunt said this week. “We’ll see if he follows through, but we plan on getting it back for sure.”