Skip to main content

Notes: Road Blocks? Austin's Timetable & More 


FRISCO, Texas – The Cowboys had a quiet day at The Star on Tuesday as the players aren't expected back in the building until Wednesday, when the full preparation for the Redskins game begins.

But there were some news items that occurred, as both Leighton Vander Esch and Zack Martin had conference calls with the media, and owner Jerry Jones gave an update on Tavon Austin.

LVE: Sean Lee's Help Is A "Lifeline"

Leighton Vander Esch knows people won't believe him, especially if they've never seen it.

But the Cowboys' rookie linebacker credits his unique background – eight-man football in Riggins, Idaho – for developing his skills as a tackler.

"There's a lot of tackling you've got to make in space," he said, referencing his days at Salmon River High School. "I know that taught me a lot, being able to make plays in space."

Vander Esch has a team-best 60 tackles through six games this season. Sean Lee usually holds that lead when healthy, but the defensive captain has missed the last three games with a hamstring injury. There's a chance Lee returns this Sunday at Washington.

In the meantime, Vander Esch has played 177 of a possible 182 defensive snaps in the last three games. The major jump in playing time has helped his production, but so has Lee "watching every move" he makes in practice.

This year's first-round draft pick described Lee as a "lifeline" in terms of giving advice.

"Having a resource like that, I don't think you get anybody better in the NFL," Vander Esch said.

-Rob Phillips

Ill Communication

It sounds like a common problem to struggle on the road, but it really hasn't been an issue for the Cowboys in recent memory.

"We've talked about it all year – it's usually been reversed," said Zack Martin on Tuesday. "We've usually been better on the road than we have at home, and for whatever reason we're playing much better at home."

Martin is spot on. During his four previous years in the NFL, the Cowboys have been undeniably better on the road than at AT&T Stadium, as they have posted a 23-9 record in opposing venues, as opposed to a 15-17 mark in their own.

This year, it has flipped, with the Cowboys a sterling 3-0 at home and a concerning 0-3 on the road.

Pressed for an answer on why that's been the case, Martin said the Dallas offense needs to do a better job of getting on the same page during road games.

"I think the biggest thing is our communication on the road has not been anywhere near how it's been at home," he said. "That's something we really need to focus on this week and get it dialed in before we go to Washington."

What exactly does that mean? It's a combination of things. The Cowboys are still getting comfortable with a new center in Joe Looney, not to mention a rookie guard in Connor Williams. In a hostile environment, Martin said the offensive line needs to stay focused on good communication.

"Offensively, it starts up front with just being on the same page with the calls and communicating – whether it be different snap counts or different line calls – when it's real loud," he said. "Different signals, different guys. It's just being on the same page. That's really what's killed us the first three road games."

-David Helman

Austin Not Expected Back Soon

One day after coach Jason Garrett said it could be "a little of time" before Tavon Austin returns, owner Jerry Jones clarified the groin injury even more with a comparison. Either way, don't expect Austin back in the lineup anytime soon.

On his weekly radio show on 105.3 The Fan, Jones said Austin's injury is similar to what former cornerback Morris Claiborne had in the 2015 season. That injury eventually kept Claiborne out for nine games.

"It's not looking good for him for the week, but we'll see," Jones said of Austin.

The injury occurred on a third-quarter reverse that was actually negated by a penalty. Austin was tackled on the sideline and never returned because of the groin injury.

"We'll take his situation day-by-day," Garrett said. "But we're not overly optimistic he'll be available this week."

Especially considering the Cowboys have a bye week after the Washington game this Sunday, it makes sense to hold out Austin for at least two weeks, if not longer.
Expect Brice Butler to be active now as the fifth receiver and perhaps Deonte Thompson and/or Michael Gallup could help with some of the variable plays Austin had been running on offense.

Before the injury, Cole Beasley had taken over for most of the punt returns, so it's likely he would continue that role as well.

-Nick Eatman