Dallas Cowboys - TeamReport
NFL Team Report - Dallas Cowboys - INSIDE SLANT
Things appear to be setting up right for the Dallas Cowboys as they prepare to meet the Bears on Monday night in Chicago.
Jay Cutler and star linebacker Lance Briggs.
The Cowboys are tied atop the NFC East and control their own destiny for the division title and the playoffs with four games to go in the season.
All they have to do is finish.
Sounds simple but history has shown that to be a problem for the Cowboys.
The Cowboys finished with a winning record in the month of December only once in the last 16 years. So it is little wonder they have just one playoff win during that time period.
Ironically, their only winning month came last season when the Cowboys went 3-2.
But that season ended in ultimate failure as the Cowboys won their first three games of the month to take an 8-6 record, where they again controlled their own destiny.
Then they lost their final two, including the season finale that was a winner take all for the division title and the playoffs to the Washington Redskins.
The Cowboys say one year has nothing to do with the next. That's what they are telling themselves.
Last year marked the second consecutive season the Cowboys started 8-6 only to lose their final two games, including a win-or-go-home game. They lost the NFC East title to the New York Giants in 2011.
"We didn't play well enough in those games," Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said of the losses to end the last two seasons. "We played pretty darn well leading up to some of those games and didn't play well enough in those (final) games. And you go back and look at it and say, 'Why?'
"It's a long time ago, but I can give you the down-by-down analysis as to why that we weren't good enough and they were better. Typically, it has something to do with doing things that winning football teams do and not doing things that losing football teams do, and that's usually the case every week in this league."
But owner Jerry Jones says the December trend is hard to overlook. The Cowboys are 25-41 in December games from 1997-2011, including 15-18 at home.
"I think it's real," Jones said. "I don't mean to be trite, but you can probably tie that to why we have had disappointments in December. In this time of the NFL, it's hard to build up enough edge to play at that level during December, so you'd better be having your arrow going up rather than going down.
"We need to change that," Jones said. "That was our goal this year. That should've been our goal last year. We've had some setbacks through some injuries but every other team does, too, and we've got a chance to do something about it this year."
The Cowboys plan on changing that tune, starting Monday against the Bears.
"You have to relish these moments," Cowboys cornerback Orlando Scandrick said. "No matter what we did last year or the year before or a few years ago when we beat Philly and went to the playoffs -- none of that matters; that's all history. We've got an opportunity to accomplish everything that we want to accomplish.
"Our first goal was to make the playoffs, win the NFC East and continue to go on. We got a month to put it together, and it goes back to you have the resolve and the resiliency and the want-to. It's just you've got to figure out a way."
"Every game is like a playoff game, man," defensive tackle Jason Hatcher said. "We control our own destiny. We can't get into one of those situations where we're looking for somebody to lose or something like that, so we've just got to take care of these next four games and go out there and win like we're supposed to."
SERIES HISTORY: 22nd regular-season meeting. Cowboys lead series, 11-10. The Bears have won the last two and three of the last five. The Bears won 34-18 in 2012.
NFL Team Report - Dallas Cowboys - NOTES, QUOTES
--Coach Jason Garrett said he has a heightened sense of awareness of the sideline after the $100,000 fine levied on Steelers coach Mike Tomlin for being on the field of play during a game against the Ravens last week.
Garrett said a coach can easily lose sight of where he is on the field.
"We all have a tendency to want to get out there a little bit closer," Garrett said at his Thursday press conference, then gave a good-natured example of how the Cowboys try to stay clear. "We have the best 'get-back' coach in the business in (strength and conditioning coach) Mike Woicik. You can be in the middle of calling a play, and he'll tell you to get back."
Garrett laughed. "Like, do I have to go now or can I finish calling this play?
"He takes it very seriously and we take it very seriously because that can be a factor in the game, obviously," Garrett said. "That is a good reminder for everybody out there on the field. We got to make sure we stay back."
--WR Dez Bryant said the Cowboys' 34-18 loss to the Bears last year was the turning point for him because it was one of the worst games of his career.
Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo targeted Bryant 13 times in the Oct. 1, 2012, game against the Bears, and the receiver caught eight passes for 105 yards. But Bryant also had three drops.
"I had to get on top of my (stuff)," Bryant said Thursday. "That's what I had to do. Obviously there were some things there that I needed to clean up, sharpen up on my end."
Bryant's biggest mistake was in the second quarter when he ran the wrong route and the ball was intercepted by Charles Tillman, who returned it 25 yards for a touchdown.
Bryant vowed to be better player, paying attention in meetings and asking more questions.
"It was basically decision-making," Bryant said. "You can either feel bad, feel sorry for yourself or get your stuff together and be the person that you think that you can become.
"Tony needed to believe in me, and I needed to do my job right so he could do that," Bryant said. "From there, not that I never took my job seriously, but I ...paid more attention during meetings, asked more questions.
"That's one thing I wanted to do. I felt like I can't get up and speak to a crowd or whatever, but I got out of that. I felt like I needed to open up my mouth, ask more questions, 'What do I do when this guy comes? What do I do if this guy comes?' I knew the simple stuff, but as the season went on a little bit more we were going to start seeing some funny looks and all of that, I needed to know what to do on everything and I got it done."
Bryant had 50 receptions for 879 yards and 10 touchdowns in the second half of last season, scoring at least once in nine of the last 10 games. He has 68 catches for 896 yards and nine touchdowns this season.
--Ironically, while the Cowboys continue to lament the departure of defensive tackle Jay Ratliff, who was released Oct. 16 and has since signed with the Bears, the emergence of Jason Hatcher is rooted in that decision.
With a career-high and team-leading nine sacks in 11 games, and a career-high tying five tackles for loss (tied for first on the team), Hatcher arguably is the Cowboys' best defender while emerging as a unchallenged team leader.
There is no way this would have occurred if Ratliff didn't force his way off the team. Hatcher would have been forced to play the nose tackle position and do the grunt work while Ratliff would have played the more glamorous three-technique position in defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin's scheme.
"I'm not going to say I'm glad Rat is gone because I wish we had him because he's a helluva football player," Hatcher said. "But God works in mysterious ways and I'm at the position. I'm making plays and having a helluva year, so I've got to keep it up."
If he continues to keep it up, Hatcher stands to get a big payoff in the offseason when he is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent.
Hatcher, 32, wants to stay with the Cowboys but he said he will test the free-agent market.
BY THE NUMBERS: 5 -- Number of wins for Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo in 16 career starts in the month of December.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's just it would be very frustrating to see him get in there and play when most thought that he couldn't play when he left us, as far as he was concerned and his approach to what he was going to be doing this year. And so with all of that in mind, I look at that and I have always thought a lot of him as a pro football player, and with the shape that we're in on our defensive front, as far as I'm concerned, he needs to be over here helping the Dallas Cowboys." -- Owner Jerry Jones on the prospects of seeing former Cowboys defensive tackle Jay Ratliff playing for the Bears on Monday night.
NFL Team Report - Dallas Cowboys - STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
--DE DeMarcus Ware said he finally has his strength back in an injured quad that has bothered him for more than a month, causing him to miss three games and be limited in the last three. He said he will have all his rush moves at his disposal against the Bears.
Ware has not had a sack since the Saints game, when he aggravated his quadriceps injury. He played in 44 snaps against the Raiders and 52 snaps against the Giants, about 78 percent of the time combined in the two games.
Asked if he can get to the quarterback Monday night, Ware said, "I got to. I got to get back on track."
Ware is third on the team with five sacks.
--LB Sean Lee is good to go and ready to roll for the Bears game Monday. He practiced Thursday for the first time since missing the last two games with a hamstring injury. He is welcomed to help a run defense stop Bears running back Matt Forte.
--FB Tyler Clutts was signed to the roster. He is the first true fullback on the roster since the offseason when the Cowboys cut Lawrence Vickers. It's an admission that the plan to use tight ends as the fullback was a failure and the plan is to use the fullback and rely on the run going forward.
--RB Lance Dunbar had surgery to repair an injured knee and has been placed on injured reserve.
--RB Joseph Randle could see an increased role in the offense behind starter DeMarco Murray because of the loss of Lance Dunbar. Randle has not carried in the past two games and carried only once in the game before that. He has 44 carries for 108 yards (2.5 average) and one touchdown in three games this season.
"I know his numbers might not indicate that, but he went in and played football at this level," coach Jason Garrett said. "Sometimes, when a rookie goes in there, on his first opportunity to carry the ball for an extended period of time, he seems young, seems like maybe a college guy, and it might be a little bit too big for him. Joseph has never had that way about him."
--WR Dwayne Harris remains questionable for the Bears game with a hamstring injury. He said he has run full speed but he is still not 100 percent and doesn't want to chance making the injury worse and being lost for the season.
--CB Morris Claiborne is questionable for the Bears game with a hamstring injury. He has not practiced all week. He will likely miss his second straight game.
GAME PLAN: The Cowboys anticipate the weather to be a problem on Monday night in Chicago, where temperatures are supposed to be in the single digits and there could be precipitation. And at those temperatures, we aren't talking about rain. More likely snow, or sleet.
They plan to rely on the rushing game against a suspect Bears defense that has been getting overrun by teams of late. That is one reason the Cowboys signed a true fullback to the roster for the first time all season. Defensively, the Cowboys must stop the run and force Bears backup quarterback Josh McCown to try to make plays down field in arctic conditions.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Bears WRs Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall vs. Cowboys CBs Brandon Carr and Orlando Scandrick -- Jeffery and Marshall are big and productive. Jeffery has 70 catches for 1,109 yards. Marshall has 990 receiving yards. The Bears will have multiple 1,000-yard receivers for the first time since Jeff Graham and Curtis Conway in 1995. Jeffery is on pace for 1,478 receiving yards this season, with Marshall on pace for 1,320. Both have good size and strength to go up and get the ball. They will pose problems for Carr and Scandrick. Carr is tied for third for the most catches allowed, with 46. He has allowed 750 yards and two touchdowns, according to STATS. Scandrick has had a solid season, with 31 receptions allowed for 344 yards and two touchdowns. But Scandrick is 5-foot-10 and has problems with big receivers.
--Cowboys LT Tyron Smith vs. Bears DRE Julius Peppers -- Smith is having a Pro Bowl type season and is easily the best player on the offensive line as a run and pass blocker. He has allowed one sack in 12 starts and he has only been penalized four times. Smith has shut down all the top pass rushers he faced so far this season, from Jason Pierre-Paul to Justin Houston to Jared Allen. He will again be challenged by Peppers, who is playing his best football of the season after a slow start. Peppers has 4.5 sacks in the past three games.