What led to the Morris Claiborne controversy and do you think he might play Sunday night against the Saints?
It's ironic that this controversy arose the week the New Orleans Saints come to town. Despite the fact that Orlando Scandrick was just promoted to a starting spot, he is one of the best nickelbacks in the league. When the Saints come out in multiple receiver sets, which I'd expect they'll do often, Scandrick will shift inside to the slot. So basically, despite being demoted, Claiborne is going to play a lot of snaps at cornerback Sunday night.
As for what led us to this point, Scandrick has simply been the more reliable player between the two. He started 15 games in 2013 and had the best season of his career while Claiborne struggled through injury problems. When Scandrick was suspended for violating the league drug policy this summer, Claiborne was given the starting nod – but it was widely expected the veteran would win his job back when he returned. Claiborne's struggles last weekend in St. Louis accelerated that decision, but it wasn't exactly surprising.
Demarco Murray is averaging 25 carries and 128 yards a game. Are the Cowboys now a run-first offense or the passing attack still their calling card?
Before Claiborne left the facility Tuesday, this was probably the biggest talking point of the season so far. Through three games, Murray is averaging 10 more carries per game than his average in his other 37 games.
This was a theme of the offseason. Having taken offensive linemen in the first round of three of the last four drafts, the talk was about committing to the run game and playing a more physical style of football. Down 21-0 in St. Louis last week, the Cowboys continued to pound the ball with Murray, rather than try to throw their way back into the game – something that would have happened in years past.
The Saints will be a great test for how well this strategy works. The logical assumption is that New Orleans is going to put plenty of points on the board. Can the Cowboys keep up using their ground game, or will they have to hand the reigns to Romo?
How did the Cowboys pull off their amazing 21-point comeback against the Rams?
They didn't panic. They had every right to, given how much went wrong for them in the early going of the game. The Rams sold out to stop the run, and the Cowboys were floundering when Romo threw a pick-six to Janoris Jenkins with six minutes left in the first half.
To their credit, the Cowboys didn't change the gameplan. They stuck with Murray and their line, pounding away to the tune of 4.2 yards per carry. That came in handy in the second half, when the focus on the run opened the field up for Romo to hit Dez Bryant for the most wide-open touchdown pass I have ever seen.
Romo was cool under pressure, as well – especially given his early mistake. Having cut the deficit to 24-20, he led the offense on an 11-play, 84-yard yard drive that ate up seven minutes of the fourth quarter. He made perhaps the play of the game on third-and-3 from his own 13 when he scrambled for 16 yards and a first down to preserve the drive. Eight plays later, he hit Terrance Williams for the go-ahead points – again on a crucial third down.
The defense was picked on all day, but they also managed to keep cool under pressure. The Cowboys intercepted Austin Davis twice in the fourth quarter – the first time for a critical touchdown, and the second time to kill off the Rams' last-gasp scoring drive.
What were the major personnel changes the Cowboys made to upgrade their defense or did they just need to get healthy?
It's probably a bit early to say this defense has improved, but the health of the starting lineup has certainly been better so far this year – until recently, at least.
The big difference so far has been the addition of Rolando McClain at middle linebacker. The Cowboys took a chance in trading for the former first-round pick, who has gone through a litany of off-the-field problems in his career. He adds speed, physicality and an undeniable play-making ability in the middle of the field, as he demonstrated in Week 2 against Tennessee. Unfortunately for Dallas, he missed last week against St. Louis and seems like a long shot for Sunday night, as well.
Another big addition this season has been former Bears Pro Bowler Henry Melton, who has anchored the defensive line for defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli. Melton is off to the best start for the Cowboys' underperforming pass rush with four quarterback hurries and a half-sack. Melton might also miss this game with a hamstring injury – a problem the Cowboys are very familiar with.
If there is one bit of good news for the Cowboys this weekend, it's that they might be welcoming another Pro Bowler into the lineup for the first time in nearly two years. Anthony Spencer, who earned a Pro Bowl nod in 2012, is coming back from a microfracture knee surgery that kept him out for virtually all of the 2013 season. He has practiced with the team for the past two weeks, and Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones has said he's hopeful Spencer can go against the Saints.