Behind Enemy Lines Part 1

Warnest Editor in Chief Chris Steuber asked Ranch Reports Roy Philpott ten questions about the Cowboys, as the Eagles prepare for Sunday's big game. Philpott discussed Tony Romo's new deal, T.O.'s behavior this season, and who's been the biggest surprise for the Cowboys thus far? Read all of this and more inside.

Chris Steuber: What can Eagles fans expect from the Cowboys as they’re coming off a bye week?

Roy Philpott: I think this is a team that is building a good bit of confidence and it is a team that is starting to feel like it when any game on its schedule in a variety of different ways. We’ve seen the defense step up and be a force this year and we’ve also see the offense, led by Tony Romo, put up points in bunches. I’d say you’ll see a confident team in Philadelphia on Sunday. Coming off the bye week has allowed some of the injuries this team has to deal with through the first part of the season heal- for instance with CB Anthony Henry, so that obviously helps the Dallas cause.

Steuber: What has been the biggest reason for the Cowboys success this season?

Philpott: There a couple of reasons but first is the change in the coaching staff. Wade Phillips has brought a more relaxed, professional atmosphere to the Cowboys and the players have really responded. How well that works for entire season or when the Cowboys lose a couple of games in a row remains to be seen, but Phillips has certainly improved the locker room atmosphere with his style- especially with the veterans. I think the play-calling of new offensive coordinator Jason Garrett has also made a positive impact with this team. He’s allowing Tony Romo to make plays downfield yet he’s also putting running backs Marion Barber and even Julius Jones in a position to establish the ground game. The play of the offensive line has also been much more consistent with the addition of Leonard Davis at guard.

Steuber: Tony Romo just signed a six-year, $69 million contact with the Cowboys. Do you think his play warrants this kind of contract?

Tony Romo
Getty Images/Stephen Dunn

Philpott: At this point? No. I do not. But I think the writing is on the wall if he continues to develop and if he remains healthy, he could be one of the best quarterbacks in the league for a long period of time. I think the Buffalo game earlier this year where he threw all the interceptions raised some eyebrow, but at the end of the day the kid makes plays and he’s a winner. The only thing Cowboys owner Jerry Jones cares about is wins and losses, and this franchise is going to win many more games with Romo as its starter than any of the other quarterbacks who have started in Dallas since the days of Troy Aikman. Sure, it was a little bit of a risk to put that kind of deal on the table this early in his career, but I think we’ll look back on that transaction in a couple of a years and feel pretty good about it.

Steuber: Why hasn’t Marion Barber been named the Cowboys full-time starter? He seems to be much better than Julius Jones.

Philpott: That’s a great question and one that is being debated a good bit right now on TheRanchReport.com. In my opinion, it’s only a matter of time until Barber is the starter. Jones is a better open field runner while Barber is more of the “I’d rather hit you than run around you” kind of running back. His production has been superior (5.7 yds/carry versus 3.8). He’s better in the red zone and he brings a certain amount of toughness the offense needs. Eventually he’ll get the starting spot; it’s just a question of when. As far as “why” he’s not starting yet, I don’t think it matters a whole lot. Even if Barber gets to start every game the rest of the season, Jones will still play. They want to use two backs so that both will be fresh in the fourth quarter and this is a trend you’ll see more of in the NFL in the coming years.

Steuber: Has Terrell Owens been a better teammate this season and has there been any controversy to speak of?

Philpott: T.O. is T.O. He will never be a “model teammate” as Eagles fans know. But for the most, he’s been better with the off-the-field-drama in Dallas than he was in Philadelphia. The big thing with Owens this year is his quarterback - Tony Romo. He loves Romo. He loves the fact that Romo can make plays and improvise when the pocket breaks down.  To me, that’s been the one aspect that helped keep him in line the most. He knows Romo is looking for him first and the two have built a great relationship. Plus, the Cowboys are winning. It’s hard to complain about anything when you’ve won six of your first seven games and sit in first place in the NFC East.

Steuber: The Cowboys run defense has been very good this season, but is there a concern about the secondary?

Philpott: Absolutely. That remains one of my biggest concerns entering the second part of the season. Dallas has the top cover corner in the game right now in Terence Newman, and one of the hardest hitting safeties in the league in Roy Williams, but there are justified concerns with the opposition tests the Dallas secondary with the deep ball. Ken Hamlin was signed during the offseason to help here and that has worked to a certain extent, however there isn’t a Cowboys fan that follows this team that doesn’t hold his or her collective breath every time an opposing team goes deep. Remember, Williams generally likes to play close to the line of scrimmage and the other starting cornerback for the Cowboys- Anthony Henry is widely considered to be better in run support, plus he’s been injured this season as well. Henry could play on a limited basis Sunday for the first time since suffering an ankle injury early in the Sept. 30 win over the Rams.

Steuber: Which player has been the biggest surprise thus far and why?

Philpott: There are a couple of players that you list here but I’m going to go with kicker Nick Folk. Folk made a 52-yard field goal twice in the final seconds of a one-point win over Buffalo a few weeks and has been nearly perfect since then. For the season he’s connected on 13-of-15 attempts and all of his extra points. You have to remember this guy was drafted in the sixth round last year (178th overall) and had an uphill climb to beat out veteran Martin Gramatica during training camp. Considering what he’s done so far this season that has to be considered a steal. He’s provided stability to a position that has been anything but stable the last five seasons.

Anthony Spencer
Getty Images/Ronald Martinez

Steuber: The Eagles traded their first round pick to Dallas this past April, and the Cowboys selected linebacker Anthony Spencer. How has Spencer played this season?

Philpott: He’s coming along just fine at one of the outside linebacker spots. Knowing how Wade Phillips likes to pressure the passer, Spencer was drafted to do just that in the coming seasons. Right now he’s seventh on the team in total tackles with 20. He also has a sack to his credit. They are bringing him along slowly and hasn’t played as much with Greg Ellis returning to his starting position but quite frankly I’d tell you they didn’t bring him in to start immediately. I’d say overall the Cowboys are very pleased with what he’s doing, especially considering he’s learning a new position (he played as a defensive end at Purdue).

Steuber: Jason Witten is having a phenomenal season so far. How good has he been, and is he a player the Cowboys will look to get involved early against the Eagles?

Philpott: Witten truly is one of the quiet superstars in the league. He does his job, week in and week out and seemingly always puts up solid numbers. When you think of the Dallas offense, you immediately think of Tony Romo and Terrell Owens. Most people don’t realize Witten actually leads the team in receptions with 42 (eight more than Owens), and he’s also scored four touchdowns. He athletic enough to get open downfield and has some of the best hands in the league. The Cowboys would love to get him involved early Sunday, just like they would every week.

A member of the Pro Football Writers of America and the Football Writers Association of America, Chris Steuber is the Editor in Chief of WarNest.com and an NFL Analyst for Scout.com. Steuber has provided his analysis of the NFL and NFL Draft prospects on the web and on the radio since 1999. If you have any questions for Chris, email him at: csteuber@scout.com.



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