Head Coach Jay Gruden
"Did not participate was Chris Baker, had an illness that's going around a little bit; [Derek] Carrier with his ankle and Achilles; D-Gold [Dashon Goldson] with his knee, hamstring and wrist; [Jason] Hatcher, knee, rest; Andre Roberts, knee. Limited was Will Blackmon with his shoulder and hip; [Deshazor] Everett with his hamstring; Chris Thompson with his shoulder; [Quinton] Dunbar with his finger; Perry Riley [Jr.] – injured his foot a little bit in practice, he'll go get an MRI and we'll see how he's doing; Trenton Robinson, hamstring; Keenan Robinson, shoulder… They did a little bit, but, yeah, we were a short-handed today a little bit."
On the play of CB Will Blackmon and if it is surprising that Blackmon was available to sign mid-season:
"It is. He's an older defensive back. I guess that's the main reason he was probably was on the streets but… we needed a veteran guy, a guy who could play multiple spots and he was perfect for us. We were fortunate to get him. You know, I think we're one of the few teams that had a lot of injuries in the back end and we just got hit hard at that position — lot of areas. We needed a veteran guy to come in and play right away. It's hard to get a rookie right off the streets, teach him everything. Will has been there and done that and he's probably been our most pleasant surprise for this football team. Getting him and the way he's played and the way he is in the locker room, another leader back there, he's been outstanding."
On if the Cowboys' record belies how they are playing this year:
"They were what, a play away from going to the NFC Championship game last year? You know, the Dez Bryant catch. They still have a mammoth offensive line. They still have Jason Witten. You know, they still have [Darren] McFadden, who's a heck of a back. They have got Dez Bryant still. They're a very good football team. You know, defensively, they have, obviously [Greg] Hardy, have a good pass rush. They play hard. [Dallas Cowboys Defensive Coordinator] Rod Marinelli gets those guys ready to go. They've been close. You know, obviously, they've had the injury to [Tony] Romo, but you know, this is a football team that can dominate the line of scrimmage and that's something we're focusing on. We've got to play physical — continue our physical play up front especially — and that's the biggest challenge this week is to match their physicality – their offensive line against our defensive line and vice versa. That's where the key matchups will be in my opinion."
On if he is concerned by the drop in third down efficiency in recent weeks:
"Well, we're concerned about it. We have high standards for our third-down offense. We were pretty efficient there for a while. In the last two weeks we have been down. There are a couple reasons for that. We just have to put our finger on them and make sure we get the corrections made and try to get better at it because those are key, key elements of our success is converting third downs to enable us to keep drives going, keep our defense fresh, maintain the time of possession that we like. That is something we have to continue to work on. The big third down we got was the play of the day — Jordan Reed on third down and five with about two minutes to go in the game, three minutes to go. We have converted some good ones but we do have to get better."
On if he is worried about the younger players playing in prime time:
"I don't think so. I think, you know, in the NFL, the good thing about it is every game you're under a big stage. Monday Night Football obviously is a special event for everybody involved when you're able to participate in it, but to be able to step up and play on a Sunday afternoon in Foxborough or Atlanta or our place against the teams that we've played — the Giants – I think they've gotten the butterflies out of their system. I think everybody is going to be excited because it is Monday night and it is the Dallas Cowboys and we're in the position we're in, but I don't think nerves will have a big negative impact on us."
On if LB Will Compton has earned the starting role as the Mike linebacker:
"I think Will Compton has cemented a role as a starter on this football team based on his play, yes. Keenan [Robinson] is a good football player. When he gets healthy, we'll find a spot for him also, but Compton is playing outstanding."
On how LB Perry Riley Jr. hurt his foot:
"He just hurt it turning the corner and sprained his foot — we don't know. We're going to get an MRI on it today — right now — and we'll have a better idea after we get that."
On if he expects LB Keenan Robinson to play on Monday:
"We'd like to see him play, but you know, you just don't know the extent of how much strength that he has. He is continuing to improve it in the weight room and the training room. He had a PRP [platelet-rich plasma treatment] last week so hopefully that will give him some relief but we'll have to wait and see. I think there's a good chance that he could be up but, you know, only time will tell on him."
On the team's attitude this week at practice:
"Well, their attitude has been good. They came back ready to work. They had two days off. I figured we'd be a little bit rusty and complacent a little bit but practice was outstanding today. We put the pads on for that reason and they got some good work in there. I don't think anybody is really worried about first place. The big message is we've just got to continue to get better — focus on ourselves getting better — and make sure we continue to stress the ball. getting after the ball and protecting the football and we'll go from there."
On if he can compare the talent level of the current roster to last season's roster:
"Oh, no, I don't even hardly remember last year, to be honest with you. I tried to erase that from my memory. Like I've said, we're just trying to get people in here, try to get them in here and develop them, continue to get these guys better and put them in positions to succeed. Every time we put a team out there, I feel confident that we have a chance to win — if that's what you're asking — last year and this year. The experience factor, some of the guys we've got back from last year, they're obviously playing at a higher level. I think they've improved. Some of the new guys that we've got through the draft or free agency or on the streets have improved this football team also."
On if he will seek analysis from his brother, Jon, following Monday's game:
"I'm sure he'll seek me [laughter] and give his analysis on our game. He's good about that… He's really good. He's always been supportive. He offers any advice that I ask for, but he doesn't really seek me out to tell me I should've done this or should've done that. You know, he just has been very supportive."
On what QB Kirk Cousins' increased confidence has allowed him to do in recent weeks:
"I just think seeing the same concepts and seeing the defenses and reacting to what he's sees and having confidence in delivering the football in the right spots. That's still a work in progress. He's still working to get better, but you can just see him making better and better decisions and not forcing the ball into crowds. Just overall playing the position – snap count, getting the team out of the huddle – just everything that the quarterback has to do that people don't even realize. Everybody thinks it's a passing game and he's judged by completion percentage, but there's so much more the quarterback has to do that he's getting better at. Like I said, it's still a work in progress, but he's doing good."
On G Spencer Long:
"He's done good. He's had some ups and downs like most young players have, but, you know, we're impressed with the way he's getting better and we're impressed with the way he doesn't harp on a mistake. He'll just continue to work and get better in practice and work on his craft. That's all we can ask, but he's a big strong kid. Very smart, and he's another guy that the more reps he gets in practice and in games is going to be a huge benefit to him down the road towards the end of this year and obviously next year and in his future."
Quarterback Kirk Cousins
On how much the team is helped by having players who have been through playoff hunts:
"Any experience in this league I believe helps you, whether it's success, whether it's failure, whether it was a previous playoff run. The longer you play, the more you see, the more you've been around, it's going to make you a better football player, a more capable leader, a more capable teammate. We certainly draw on past experiences to make us the best players we can be and that's why continuing to play and continuing to be out there is so valuable."
On how he reacts to his teammates wanting him to be a vocal leader:
"I just want to be the guy that I naturally am. I try to be genuine and not be fake and try to be myself. I think that's how I react to things – just be myself, be who I am, who God created me to be and trust that that will be good enough. I believe if I just be who I am, it will be good enough."
On how he grew to be more comfortable in the offense:
"We had said when we ran the ball well earlier in the season that this isn't going to be an every week thing, eventually we won't be able to run it as well as we were early. We knew that at that point in time, we'd have to be able to make the necessary yards and points through the air. That's the job of the quarterback and of the passing game and of pass protection. You look at the great players, the great offenses, the great quarterbacks in this league, they're able to get it done regardless of the people around him. I watched Tom Brady on Sunday night — without Julian Edelman, without Danny Amendola and without Rob Gronkowski — go right down the field in the snow on the road for a two-minute drill to tie the game and go to overtime. And so, you realize the great ones find a way no matter what adversity comes their way. That's I think what we're always striving to be is to be great no matter what is going around you."
On what feels different between playing at home and on the road:
"Not a lot feels different. I think that most recently we played two undefeated teams. If you count the actual moment when we played them, I think we played three undefeated teams on the road this year. So, whether you play them at home or on the road, they're good football teams. I think that's where you sense a challenge. The most obvious differences when you just look at playing at home versus on the road as a quarterback is crowd noise, communication, the cadence at the line of scrimmage. There are a lot of behind-the-scenes factors that play into the mechanics of having a good offense that make it much harder to do that on the road."
On if he considers himself a better quarterback than when he started the season:
"I do. I think I'll be better tomorrow than I was today. I'm better now than I was at the start of the season. I think it's because of experience. I think experience brings confidence. It also enables me to be a better decision maker, a better game manager as a result of being through situations. Whether I handled the situation correctly or I made a mistake in the situation, it enables you to say, 'OK, I've been here before, what's the proper decision? What's the proper approach in this situation?' The more experience you have the better you play, so I do believe I'm better."
On if he sees his confidence level up when he watches himself on film:
"I don't know that I'm a lot different. I think I'm the same guy. I think this is a results-based business. When you win, the quarterback looks confident. When you lose, the quarterback looks like he doesn't know what he's doing. I just think that's the surface-level approach, but really, when I look at myself, I think I've been pretty consistent all the way through. Like I've said, I try to stay process-focused and let the results carry themselves if I handle the process."
On if defenses play differently when WR DeSean Jackson is available:
"To be honest, I haven't seen teams completely change or play out of their way to cover him. If you think about the Carolina game where we went deep to him for a touchdown, that safety did not cheat over the top of DeSean to take him away. He played it honestly. So there are times where maybe you'd think maybe they will and they don't. I think corners once they see what he's done on film, they're going to maybe play a little softer, maybe be ready to get out of their backpedal a little quicker, get on top of him a little faster. But you know, really, that's what we try to challenge DeSean with is that because they may be playing you more for the deep ball, for you it should open up a lot of opportunities and catches in the intermediate game and in the quick game. We want to not just make him a deep threat but enable him to be catching the football over all kinds of routes because if they have to defend all angles of his cuts, it's going to be very tough to defend them."
On his comfort calling audibles at the line of scrimmage:
"We have built-in rules. Within the rules, you have situations in the game and how quickly can you recognize things. There are times where I recognize a potential need to change the play but there's not enough time on the play clock or we're not in a formation that is going to make it that easy to do. We may not get that play checked. Other times, we just choose to live with the play and just have more basic rules. It varies week to week and even season to season and I think that's something that I'll grow with and have more command of if I stay out there and keep playing longer. It certainly is a process and it seems to me like the really good quarterbacks have that command and that ability to basically be an offensive coordinator on the field or at least an extension of the coaching staff. That's what I look to do and want to work towards."
On if he has been able to take a step back and reflect on playing on Monday Night Football:
"That's a great question, and I think it'd be a shame if I didn't because I remember sitting out as a high school kid and staying up late with friends and you're just kind of looking out at the stars and you make a wish on a shooting star and my wish was to play in the NFL. So the fact that you get to live that dream, you forget it, like you said, because you're so involved in the job and the task at hand and trying to be as good as you can be. But there's no doubt that I feel like I'm living a dream and to be on Monday Night Football playing — knowing that there will be people back in my hometown of Holland, Michigan watching me play on Monday Night Football is something that if you were to have told me that would happen in high school, I would have told you that you were smoking something. So it's a dream for me and a thrill. It's always a balance to be able to recognize that but also execute the job at hand and not treat it like it's too big. You try to find that balance game in and game out."
On if the rushing game can help slow down the Cowboys' pass rush:
"I think running the football will always help with the pass rush. I think when you have a lead, it helps with the pass rush. We have said that when you get in a catch-up mode — a two-minute mode — it gives the pass rushers on the other teams a chance to know that they're throwing the ball and they pin their ears back and they come with a vengeance. So having a lead, running the football, all those things play well into avoiding sacks but ultimately it comes down to players holding up in protection. It comes down to me getting the ball out of my hand quickly and making good decisions and it really does take all 11 to avoid sacks. And to this point – we gave up five against Carolina, that was kind of an anomaly in my opinion – I think, overall, if you look at the season, we've done a very good job of protecting me as a quarterback and avoiding sacks because sacks really do kill drives when you look at statistics. When you take a sack, it is very, very hard to overcome and stay on the field."
On what he learned from working with Jon Gruden this past offseason:
"The time I actually worked with him was last February; it was a quick three days. He was kind enough just to give me his time more than anything. He knows what he's talking about. You guys know that from watching him call games. But it was very, very valuable. It's something that I think helped get me started, kick-started this year from going back to the offseason and getting ready for this season. It's very, very valuable to take advantage of that time you have in the offseason to try to go learn from whoever's available and pick their brain and have them be critical of you, really, and point out where you need to grow as a player and to get that outside perspective I thought was very valuable."
On being 'the hunted' and if leading the division affects his preparation:
"I personally don't feel like 'the hunted' just because I feel like we have to win in order to get anything done. When you look at our record the past couple of years, we're not in a position to really be hunted. We are the hunters. The last thing I want to do is at all feel like we've arrived or feel complacent. My mindset is 'Boy, last week was an important game but this week is just as important and after that next week will be as well.' There is an energy – not so much as hunter or hunted – I think there's an energy just because of what we have to play for and the fact that it's a meaningful game in December. We will be ready and charged up as a result."
On why the screen game has been so effective:
"I think it's a combination of getting the screens called at the right times against the right looks. You've got to have an offensive line that can be good actors and sell the pass down the field and convince the guy on them that it's a pass and they need to rush. To have the perfect timing to set that up and then let the guy go and then go find the downfield blocks. When you have athletic lineman like Morgan Moses, Trent Williams, Brandon Scherff, Spencer Long, Josh LeRibeus, they're getting out and they're able to run these guys down. I think you've seen the escort that Matt Jones has had on a couple. These guys can run. It's great to see, it's encouraging. Screens are plays that have low risk, high reward. The risks of a lot of things going wrong are not as high as if you're throwing the ball down the field deep. In return you can get a lot of big, explosive plays. It's a great play that when you can be good at it, it makes an offense very explosive and dangerous."
On if there have been discussions about overcoming struggles on the road and in prime-time:
"Well, we haven't been great under the big spotlight the last couple years, but we haven't been great in a lot of situations the last couple years, you know? [In] 2012, we were really good under the spotlight. I remember the division came down to the last game on Sunday Night Football, we won that game. I remember playing on Monday night against the… Giants, we won that game. Played on Thanksgiving day, we won that game. There have been games where I've been here where the spotlight was on us and we did consistently win. I don't see it so much as, 'Oh, it's unique to feeling like there's a lot of eyes on us.' I think it's more that we just haven't been that good, period. And we need to be better. Whether it's Monday night or Sunday afternoon, we need to be better. That's the focus every week."
On if the team's focus changes when playing on the road:
"I don't think so. I think we've been very focused. If anything, you walk into an opposing team's stadium and know that you have to be that much better, that much sharper, that much more on your game. There's an attention to detail and discipline that has to be there. Clearly it hasn't been there enough for us to come away with victories. All the more reason to be hard on ourselves and get back to work. Hopefully if we can get the right result Monday night then next time we go on the road, search for that win. One game at a time, one day at a time and we'll see where we are at the end of this year."