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Everything went perfect for the Dallas Cowboys in their 44-21 stomping of the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday. Everything, except for the unrelenting injury bug, which claimed yet another victim.

According to Michael Gehlken of the Dallas Morning News, Cowboys rookie linebacker Luke Gifford suffered a fractured arm against the Rams and is done for the season.

Gifford went down in the first quarter of the game and never returned. In the second quarter, Dallas lost LB Joe Thomas to a thigh injury, reducing their depth to little-used Justin March-Lillard and second-year man Chris Covington, who was signed off the practice squad Saturday.

Gifford and Thomas had been helping pull the load following injuries to starting ‘backers Leighton Vander Esch, who’s out indefinitely with a neck stinger, and his backup Sean Lee, who played Sunday despite not practicing all week with pectoral and thigh ailments.

Thomas recorded two tackles while Gifford was held off the stat sheet. Lee was Dallas’ defensive MVP with three solo tackles, a tackle-for-loss, one sack, one interception, and a pass breakup.

Immediately after Thomas exited, the Rams exploited the Cowboys’ JV ‘backers on a touchdown toss to running back Todd Gurley, who accounted for two of L.A.’s three scores.

Signed by the club as an undrafted free agent, Gifford previously battled a high-ankle sprain that kept him out of action. He figures to be moved to injured reserve, freeing a spot on the 53-man roster, likely for his depth replacement.

Thomas is scheduled to undergo an MRI on Monday to determine the severity of his thigh injury, per Gelhken.

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It’s Jaylon Smith, Lee, and … everyone else, including little-used Justin March, who tied for the team lead with six tackles (five solo stops) against the Rams. He also broke up two passes.

Behind March is second-year pro Chris Covington, whom the Cowboys promoted from the practice squad on Saturday. Covington — not to be confused with teammate Christian Covington — made three solo tackles versus Los Angeles.

Behind Covington? Nobody. Unless you count Kerry Hyder, who’s more of a hand-in-the-dirt defensive end than stand-up edge rusher. Because they no longer have a natural LB on the practice squad, it’s possible, if not likely, Dallas signs an outside free agent for insurance purposes.

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FRISCO, Texas — It doesn’t take a Super Bowl champion to figure these things out, but it carries some extra weight coming from a guy who’s been there.

Asked about the attitude in the Cowboys’ locker room this week, Michael Bennett summed things up pretty nicely.

“I think the mood’s been good. I think everyone just wants to win,” he said. “When you want to win, there’s always going to be some chippiness.”

Chippiness has been the subject of the week after Ezekiel Elliott said the Cowboys got after it at a spirited Sunday practice. It’s an understandable byproduct of a two-game losing streak, but Bennett doesn’t think it has adversely affected the Cowboys heading into this week’s road trip to Chicago.

“I think everybody respects the amount of work each player puts in, the coaches put in,” he said. “But we want great output. And the output is winning. That’s the most important thing and we’re trying to figure out what’s the best way of doing that.”

Bennett has been in the news for his own role in that process. Following Thursday’s loss to Buffalo, he could be heard in the Cowboys’ locker room giving an impassioned speech to his teammates. He declined to comment on that, but he did say that this is the time for the Cowboys to take a hard look at themselves.

“Everybody enjoys winning, but losing makes you look into the mirror more and self-reflect on things you got to fix,” he said. “Sometimes, when you win you can overlook things but when you lose, the eye of the camera finds everything that’s wrong. So I think sometimes you’ve got to self-reflect and we’re at the moment where we’ve got to self-reflect and figure out how to put our best foot forward.”

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FRISCO – The Dallas Cowboys’ official position regarding the offensive line is that when second-year man Connor Williams is healthy, he will regain the starting left guard spot from Xavier Su’a-Filo. As we scan Thursday’s Practice/Injury Report for Sunday’s game at New England, the key phrase might be “when healthy.”

“I feel 100-percent,” said Williams on Wednesday as he returned to practice after missing Sunday’s win over Detroit – and having just had arthroscopic knee surgery following the club’s loss to the Minnesota Vikings in Week 10. “My goal was getting back this week.”

The Cowboys have the No. 1 offense in football and a record of success when Su’a-Filo plays. The Patriots have the No. 1 defense in the NFL. But Dallas is a 6.5-point underdog against a New England team that rarely loses at home. So for the 6-4 Cowboys, in trying to close the gap, every decision, every move, is of heightened importance.

That includes who starts at left guard. Is Williams healthy? Would another week benefit him? Is he a better player than Su’a-Filo? Is one O-lineman or another better suited to handle New England?

Williams has spent time lining up with the first team, and as you can see by the Practice/Injury Report, he’s “limited” – actually a sign of progress.

Dallas needs the right decision here and needs injury breaks, too. Hopefully they’ll get that in the form of another O-line starter, right tackle La’el Collins (knee), who has not practiced. Dallas hopes to have him Sunday, but if not, Cam Fleming – a former Patriot – would be the right tackle.

Also clearing health hurdles for Dallas are Amari Cooper, DeMarcus Lawrence and Jeff Heath (shoulder). Linbacker Joe Thomas (illness) missed a second straight day.

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He should be a rocket scientist but instead he is in his sixth NFL season, earning two Super Bowl rings with the New England Patriots before he joined the Dallas Cowboys last season.

He was only too sure that he would never play college football.

That is why when TCU coach Gary Patterson offered Cypress Creek offensive lineman Cameron Fleming a scholarship to play for the Horned Frogs, Fleming grabbed it. His father wanted him to wait, so the son complied. From the drive back from Fort Worth to Houston, Cameron Fleming waited.

The four-hour drive was long enough.

“I accepted the offer on the day they made the offer,” Fleming said. “I mean, I didn’t think I was going to play college football. After I told TCU, almost immediately I had, like, 30 more offers.”

One of those offers came from Stanford.

“My mom made me go there. Once my parents saw Stanford offered me they said, ‘You’ll go there,’” Fleming said. “I had to call Coach Patterson and tell him. I think he knew it was Stanford. I loved it there. Super interesting people. Fun campus. I liked TCU but Stanford was the right place for me.”

Today Fleming is arguably one of the smartest players in the NFL.

Fleming graduated from Stanford with a degree in aeronautics and astronautics. At the time, in 2013, he was one of 18 students majoring in that sequence at Stanford.

Despite his intellect, education and background, Fleming has no clue what makes the New England Patriots so much better than every other NFL team.

The Cowboys play the Patriots in New England on Sunday, and are a 6.5 point underdog.

If anyone on the Dallas Cowboys could know what makes the Patriots laughably elite, Fleming is your guy. He was selected by the Patriots in the 2014 NFL Draft and stuck with the team for the next four years.

“I don’t know what their secret is. They’re keeping it,” he said. “People think they have some magic formula or something like that. I think everybody thinks something like that. They are just a team but it’s more about execution more than anything else.

“Even being there, you just execute really well, and (quarterback Tom Brady) helps a lot more. I don’t know how to verbalize it all.”

If this guy can’t verbalize it, no one can.

Fleming was one of the versatile “swing” players coach Bill Belichick is renowned for finding. Fleming was a tackle-eligible player. He started at left tackle. He started at right tackle.

He played in three Super Bowls.

He came to the Cowboys last season and has served in a similar role. He has filled in for Tyron Smith on the left side and La’el Collins on the right.

Fleming is the backup for a reason. He also has this six-figure job for a reason.

He just doesn’t know beyond the rest of us. It’s Brady. It’s Belichik.

“A lot of teams have a good quarterback,” Fleming said. “They are not the only team with a good coach. They have something more teams are trying to find. I think we have it here but we have to execute throughout the entire season.”

So there is your answer.

Fleming has Super Bowl rings because of the Patriots, and he spent years on their team, and he is the smartest man in the NFL.

But in the end he’s better equipped to answer questions about aeronautics and astronautics than how the New England Patriots always win.

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FRISCO — Popcorn shrimp, shrimp fried rice and a salad were part of the usual order at John’s Seafood restaurant in Baton Rouge. Lahairoi Dillon occasionally placed it when visiting home as a student at nearby Southern University and A&M College.

Some of the plate, she’d eat right away. The rest, she’d plan to finish later. But upon returning to the refrigerator, that white to-go box would feel noticeably lighter than before.

Popcorn shrimp: gone.

Fried rice: gone.

“I’d leave the salad,” La’el Collins said with a laugh. “I let her have that.”

As two of five siblings raised by a resilient mother who worked multiple jobs, Lahairoi and La’el in some sense shared a typical sibling relationship. There was the occasional dust-up over food or footraces to see who sprinted faster. Far deeper than that, there was a bond. This surfaced around Thanksgiving last year when tragedy struck.

Today, La’el has much for which to be thankful.

The Cowboys’ right tackle is healthy, albeit donning a bulky brace over a left knee sprain. He is playing the best football of his NFL career following a five-year, $50 million contract extension he signed in August. Most important, he has his family.

About 30 members, including Lahairoi and her husband, are in the Dallas area this week. The majority will attend Thursday’s game against the Buffalo Bills before convening at his home for a holiday feast.

“I’m extremely grateful for everything I have,” La’el said. “Family, my two beautiful kids. … I’m thankful just to be in the place that I am right now. I’ve been through a lot in my life, the challenges that came with growing as a man. I’m thankful I finally get to see all of my family here together.”

La’el wore No. 70 at Redemptorist Upper School and also LSU before switching to No. 71 upon joining the Cowboys. Neither number represents who he is as a football player or how he’s quietly come into his own this season.

His offensive line coach has a number for that.


After each win, the Cowboys’ staff selects one player to receive boxing gloves and a championship belt in honor of exemplary individual contribution to the game’s result. This is more hallowed ground than a game ball. On Oct. 20, La’el earned the hardware for his performance in a 37-10 win over the Philadelphia Eagles.

Marc Colombo, an NFL offensive lineman from 2002 to 2011, joined the Cowboys’ coaching staff in 2015.

His arrival coincided with that of La’el, who signed as an undrafted free agent. La’el was considered a first-round prospect until, shortly before the draft, Baton Rouge police announced intent to interview him as part of a murder investigation. He never was a suspect. Investigators ultimately cleared him of wrongdoing.

Under Colombo, La’el has settled in here in Dallas.

After two seasons at left guard, he switched to right tackle in 2017. He gradually gained a greater understanding of the position’s nuances. Between that comfort and improved hand usage, he’s made a significant jump this year.

So far, his performance against the Eagles was the pinnacle.

“He had 14 knockdowns in the game,” Colombo said. “It’s the most I’ve ever seen of any lineman since I’ve been coaching or even playing. I mean, you look at that. Sixty-nine total plays. Fourteen of those times, he was knocking a guy to the ground. … We made a big deal about it because it’s not easy to knock down anyone in the NFL, especially a physical team like the Philadelphia Eagles.”

This is who La’el is during a football play.

Aggressive. Nasty.

“He is one of the most physical players I’ve ever played with,” running back Ezekiel Elliott said. “It’s a big factor in his game.”

Said right guard Zack Martin: “He’s an enforcer on our line. He brings a lot of that kind of demeanor and attitude to our line. … I’m not a big smack talker, but La’el in his case, he’s almost better when he is playing that game with someone.”

This isn’t who La’el is outside the game.

He flips a switch, sometimes just seconds before a snap.

Last Sunday, against the New England Patriots, rain and wind made a nightmare of kicking, passing and catching. The wind chill sunk into the 20s. And yet, before becoming the Cowboys’ thumper, he found himself laughing at the line of scrimmage because center Travis Frederick was diagnosing the defense’s pass rushers so accurately and eloquently while directing the protection assignments.

How frustrating that must be for the opponent, La’el thought.


His on-field nastiness was not inherent; he learned early to channel it into his game. Youth football coaches preached to him that collisions were coming either way. It was either hit or be hit. That made sense to La’el, who preferred the first option.

Hardship coached him, too.

In middle school, he rode the bus and played sports with his best friend until one day learning they could no longer. The friend was killed as a bystander to gun violence. La’el attended his funeral. He had to learn to ride, play and live without him.

There were days at home when the lights or water was off. His mother worked so both utilities returned in short order. Still, La’el was aware of their circumstances. La’el didn’t just clean out food from the refrigerator, growing into the eventual 6-4, 320-pound lineman he became.

He paid attention.

Be it Domino’s Pizza, working security, delivering phone books or a different vocation, Loyetta Collins went from one job to the next. She didn’t complain between shifts. She did what needed to be done.

“My mom was a hustler,” said La’el, who calls her his “superhero.”

And in case her work ethic wasn’t inspiring enough, there was Loyetta’s personality. Faith seems to flow through the very fabric of her being, her sentences often slipping into sermons. She recites proverbs and biblical passages with passion.

All the while, she’s sought what was best for her children.

La’el became involved in Boy Scouts of America during elementary school before he ever began organized football or basketball. He was active in church, singing as part of the choir. That felt a little awkward, he admitted, since it seemed the whole congregation was staring at him as the tallest one. He was active, too, in the Boys & Girls Club and Big Buddy, a youth mentoring organization in Baton Rouge.

Such experience has made La’el mindful of giving back.

He annually hosts a free football clinic in his hometown. On Monday evening, he will host a celebrity bowling night at Bowlmor Dallas in Addison. It will accept unwrapped toys and benefit the Oliver W. Holmes Humanities/Communications Academy.

“As the years went on, the neighborhood got bad,” Loyetta said in a phone interview. “But I’m going to be honest with you: We lived there, but we were always gone. We were involved in church. We were involved in sports. We were involved in scouting. We were involved in so many things. We slept there, but we weren’t there for the most part.

“I didn’t allow my children to [be] with everybody because I understand how things can work. Association can bring on assimilation. … I tried to keep them under my wing.”

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Allen Park, Mich.— The Detroit Lions announced today that they have acquired G Caleb Benenoch via waivers from the Dallas Cowboys. Additional contract terms were not disclosed.

Detroit also announced that they have placed DT Mike Daniels and G Kenny Wiggins on Reserve/Injured.

Currently in his fourth season, Benenoch has appeared in 35 career games (22 starts). Prior to Dallas, he has spent time in 2019 with the Carolina Panthers, New England Patriots and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He was originally drafted by Tampa Bay in the fifth-round (148th overall) of the 2016 NFL Draft out of UCLA.

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Before we can move on to the Buffalo Bills and the looming Thanksgiving Day match-up, let’s make sure we take one more look at the Coaches Film from Sunday’s 13-9 loss to the New England Patriots. There are some good Dallas Cowboys and some bad Dallas Cowboys that must be addresses.

First, it’s clear the weather played a significant part of what transpired on Sunday. Dak Prescott was uncharacteristically inaccurate with otherwise routine passes and players who normally have reliable mitts struggled to catch and/or hang onto the ball.

Jason Witten had a couple ugly drops furthering the discussion that he needs to concede a larger number of snaps to Blake Jarwin. But Jarwin had his own struggles holding onto the ball, fumbling a catch and run, but managing to fortuitously fall on it. After watching the total body of work, I choose to ignore the issues with the slippery ball and just focus on blocking and route-running, to which Jarwin, once again, get’s the nod. That kid needs TE1 snaps.

Since everyone is well aware special teams was a disaster by now, I’ll just mention the two drops on returns. Dalton Schultz and Tony Pollard each dropped kick returns that they recovered but clearly lost yards. Everyone should be practicing for bad weather conditions because the team was ill-prepared.

People point to the number of pressures and sacks as an indicator of defensive line success but there’s so many other gradeable qualities that go into building a strong unit. The Dallas Cowboys have one of the best pass-rushing D-lines in the NFL when you look at pressure rate, yet they’re far from an elite unit with all things considered. .

That’s because aside from DeMarcus Lawrence, they aren’t particularly good at stopping the run. In fact, two of them, Maliek Collins and Robert Quinn, are downright terrible. Now, if you have to pick a attribute, pass-rush ability is going to beat out run-stopping ability every single time, but lining up two, and sometime three D-linemen who are well below average in stopping the run is a major vulnerability. That’s why even tough Collins is a top-5 interior pass-rusher (shocking to many), he’s likely to be replaced this offseason with a more well-balanced DT (this assumes Dallas tried to retain Robert Quinn and accepts he’s a liability against the run and fortifies around him).

Speaking of liability – Chidobe Awuzie. I’ve been piling on for a while now and been lobbying since the day he was drafted he’s a better safety prospect than cornerback, but I will continue. He needs a change because he’s not even living up to his previously low standard. His coverage is loose, his ball skills don’t fit the outside CB role, and his tackling in the open field is regressing.

It was great having Jeff Heath back. The guy played a decent game and is physical presence was needed against the Pats.

People still talk about time of possession meaning something, but Dallas was losing 10-0 and had almost twice the TOP as the Pats. I shouldn’t have to say this in 2019 but having more points is what often leads to having the greater TOP. Winning the TOP is not what leads to getting points.

The weather was awful and the Dallas Cowboys struggled converting 3rd downs, but so did the Patriots and Dak actually converted a 3rd down before Tom Brady did and that didn’t happen until well into the 2nd quarter.

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Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Tavon Austin had this date circled for weeks. When the opportunity came to get revenge on his former team, he seized it by burning the Los Angeles Rams for a 59-yard touchdown.

Los Angeles sent pressure on Dak Prescott and nearly got home. When he slipped out of the sack and looked downfield, Austin sat all alone and the duo connected for one fo the easiest touchdowns you’ll ever see.

It’s not that the Rams forgot to cover Austin, but a teammate-on-teammate collision knocked down the cornerback and allowed Austin to escape into open space. Now, the 29-year-old is celebrating a go-ahead touchdown that is especially meaningful for him. There is no feeling sweeter than revenge and Austin got just that on Sunday.

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Before Sunday’s Week 15 game, the last time that Tony Pollard had faced off against the Rams defense, he played well enough for Jerry Jones to make a headline-grabbing joke.

“Zeke who?” Jones said after the August preseason game in which Pollard had 42 yards on just five carries while starting running back Ezekiel Elliott was still in contract negotiations with the Cowboys.

That faux-controversy feels like a lifetime ago, and in Sunday’s 44-21 victory over the Rams, Cowboys fans got a full version of what Pollard is capable of, not instead of Elliott, but alongside him. The backfield duo combined for 248 yards and three touchdowns.

For Pollard, it’s been a season of relatively limited opportunity and rookie patience. Sunday was only the third game in which he received double-digit carries. He made the most of them by running for 131 yards, including a 44-yard touchdown against the Rams. He’s now averaging 5.6 yards per carry on the season.

But in today’s NFL, offenses can get away from the running game once a team finds itself in any sort of deficit. At numerous points this year, the Cowboys’ game plan has been adjusted mid-game in a way that neutralized Elliott’s impact. In such scenarios, the backup rookie running back would be lucky to touch the ball. Even after what seemed like a breakout Week 3 performance against the Dolphins in which Pollard rushed for 103 yards, he wouldn’t see more than four carries for almost a month.

Wanting to make an impact and having the opportunity to do so have been two different things for the fourth-round pick out of Memphis.

“I try to focus on what I can control,” Pollard said after Sunday’s game. “Just control what you can control and when you get an opportunity make the most of it.”

Pollard has called Elliott a “big brother” to him, and the two have fun supporting each other mid-game, knowing that behind a proven offensive line one of them could break for a big play at any moment.

“It keeps the sideline exciting,” he said.

That big-play potential is what makes Pollard such a useful weapon for the Cowboys, whether it’s on limited snaps or with consistent carries. Along with the 44-yard touchdown, Pollard also had a 33-yard run in the fourth quarter off of what seemed to be a broken play.

“Those things happen in football,” Pollard said, recalling the play. “Not every play is going to be perfectly drawn up or perfectly blocked the way it’s supposed to be blocked. You just have to go out there and be a football player and play.”

It certainly impressed quarterback Dak Prescott.

“He’s something else,” Prescott said of Pollard after the game. “Arm tackles and all that stuff, he’s just getting through it. He just continues to make plays anytime the ball is in his hands.”

A strong running game has been an identity for the most effective version of the Dallas Cowboys since Elliott was drafted to play with this offensive line. Adding double-digit carries for Pollard and his career high in rushing yards was a part of the team’s most impressive win of the season.

Playing behind one of the league’s best running backs may make for hard earned and sporadic opportunities, but if there’s a silver lining, it’s that it allowed Pollard to see the frustration building in the Rams defense, and he was happy to jump in and add to their woes.

“I was just watching Zeke run,” Pollard said. “I could see how he was running so I had a feeling we were going to have a pretty good day on the ground.”

It’s rare for an NFL team to find a new facet to their offense this late in the season. But giving Pollard the opportunities that he’s earned alongside Elliott seems only logical at this point. And with a crucial division game against the Philadelphia Eagles coming up and a possible playoff berth on the horizon, Pollard’s patience might pay off at the perfect time.

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During the 2019 offseason, Dallas surprised many by re-signing free agent fullback Jamize Olawale to a three-year contract. He was barely used in 2018, but the switch to Kellen Moore as offensive coordinator led to speculation that the fullback may be more utilized this year. That has not been the case; Olawale is still a non-factor and it makes you wonder why the Cowboys even bothered bringing him back.

Olawale’s contract has him as the fourth-highest paid fullback in the NFL currently. So far in 2019 he’s only appeared on 11% of Dallas’ offensive snaps, has no carries, and has only been targeted twice in the passing game with no receptions.

Granted, fullbacks aren’t a big part of any offense in modern football. Even Kyle Juszczyk, who is paid a little over $5 million per year by the 49ers, appears on just 34% of his team’s offensive plays.

But if all Dallas wanted was a rarely-used lead blocker and special teams player, why did they give Olawale $1.8 million per season? They could have found someone to fill those roles for a third of the price.

Jamize’s presence on the roster, which is often forgotten, came back into the spotlight last Thursday when he was targeted on a third-down pass by Dak Prescott. Olawale was open but wasn’t even looking for the ball, clearly not understanding the play, and it led to one of the many failed conversions that caused Dallas to lose to the Chicago Bears.

Dallas sent the Oakland Raiders a fifth-round pick in 2018 to add Jamize Olawale. They had just lost Keith Smith to Oakland in free agency and were familiar with Olawale from a previous stint with the Cowboys.

But last year Olawale only appeared on a little over 10% of the team’s offensive snaps. He was only targeted four times in the passing game; about the same usage rate as this season.

Jamize has some proven receiving and rushing talent from his days in Oakland, yet the Cowboys have been unwilling or unable to find a way to use him more on offense. Why they traded for him last year, and re-signed him last March, remain baffling given this lack of use.

It’s yet another example of how the Dallas Cowboys’ ownership, management, and coaching appear to not always be on the same page.