Another battle between two even teams, as the 4-3 Cowboys prepare for the 4-3 Lions. They may not have played Detroit since 2011, but the Cowboys still probably have a taste of that defeat in their mouths. They squandered a 24-point third quarter lead and lost the last time the two teams played, and Tony Romo has to remember the two interceptions he threw that were returned for touchdowns. His three interceptions that day are just two fewer than he has all season this year.
Romo’s hot start this year has a lot to do with why the Cowboys are sitting atop the NFC East through seven weeks. He’s got a 3-to-1 touchdown to interception ratio and is tied for second in the league in touchdown passes with 15, with rookie Terrance Williams catching at least one each of the last three weeks. He’s also got his own version of Calvin Johnson in Dez Bryant, who’s bested Johnson in every major category other than touchdowns, which they’re tied in with six apiece. But Romo hasn’t really been needed a whole lot the last couple weeks.
The Cowboys’ maligned defense early on has now allowed 19 combined points its past two weeks to two division foes. That defense features a new face every week on the defensive line, and somehow it’s working. Jarius Wynn was signed last week, suited up and contributed with half a sack. They added former second-round pick Marvin Austin to the defensive tackle mix. Six current players on the defensive line weren’t with the team when training camp began, but they’ve still gotten pressure on the quarterback, thanks in large part to the consistency of Jason Hatcher (six sacks) and George Selvie (4.5).
The improved play in the secondary has helped the pressure on the quarterback. The corners will need to continue that if they want to stop Johnson, who, after injuries slowed him early on, went off for 155 yards and two touchdowns last week. Brandon Carr and Orlando Scandrick combined to hold DeSean Jackson to just three catches and 21 yards last week. They’ll need to keep that up, and the Cowboys’ could use a second straight game with 100 yards from Bryant. They may also get another jolt if either DeMarcus Ware or DeMarco Murray can return from injuries.
A 4-3 record goes much further in the NFC East than it does in the NFC North. The Cowboys and Lions are tremendously similar. Going past the obvious in their records, the Lions and Cowboys both have exactly 49 penalties, a plus-five turnover margin and are in the top 10 in the league in scoring average. Unfortunately for Detroit, the Lions play in a division where 4-3 is only good for second place. They’re one of two four-win teams in the NFC North, along with Green Bay and Chicago.
There are only two quarterbacks in the NFC with at least 2,000 passing yards, and they’ll both be playing this weekend. Matt Stafford leads the NFC with 2,129 passing yards, totaling 119 more than Romo. He hasn’t been quite as accurate, however, as Romo’s competing 68.3 percent of his passes compared to just 61.4 percent for Stafford. It will help for Stafford that he has a healthier star receiver to throw to now in Johnson, who missed a game earlier this year. Johnson’s still accumulated six touchdowns in six games and three 100-yard receiving games despite playing banged up.
The Lions have been needing to put up a ton of points to win their four games this year. Every game they’ve won, they’ve scored at least 27 points. They’ve allowed at least 20 points in six of seven games this year and currently sit 31st in the league, allowing 397.1 yards per game (the Cowboys’ defense isn’t much better, allowing 393.9 a game). Despite putting Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley in the middle of their line, the Lions are just 27th in the league in sacks. They are, however, getting enough pressure on the quarterback to get 10 interceptions, which is good to tie them for third in the league.
The plus-five turnover ratio has put the Lions’ offense in better position, and Stafford and company are delivering. The Lions are No. 8 in the league in scoring average (26.6) and No. 7 in total offense per game (386.4). They feature more explosion at running back, as Reggie Bush joined the team and is fourth in the league in total yards from scrimmage (731). The Cowboys faced the toughest in the league in LeSean McCoy and took care of business, but if they take a breather this week, Bush and Johnson will make them pay. Bush’s backup, Joique Bell, also works in and has 478 yards from scrimmage.