After victories over Washington and Philadelphia in consecutive games, the Dallas Cowboys head to Detroit alone in first place in the NFC East. A victory over the Lions on Sunday will give Dallas its first winning record at the midpoint of the season since 2009, which also happens to be the last time the Cowboys made a run to the playoffs. This game will be appointment viewing because of the receiver battle that will take place between Detroit’s Calvin Johnson and Dallas’ Dez Bryant. Here is a look at how both teams match up:
When the Cowboys run
It’s been a long time since the Cowboys have had a reliable rushing offense. Lineup changes and a wavering commitment to the run have prevented Dallas from consistently producing yards on the ground. The knee injury suffered by DeMarco Murray and the promotion of rookie Joseph Randle to a starting role hasn’t helped. But Murray, who is listed as questionable, could be back. And if he is he will face a Detroit defense allowing 5.13 yards per carry, the highest average in the NFL.
When the Cowboys pass
Since throwing for 506 yards against Denver, Tony Romo’s combined output in victories over Philadelphia and Washington has fallen short of that single-game total. But if he can stay upright against Detroit’s strong front, he should be able to pick apart the Lions’ pass defense that is surrendering 282 yards per game, the fifth-highest average in the NFL.
When the Lions run
Reggie Bush was one of the key acquisitions the Lions made this off-season. But the running back has rushed for more than 100 yards in game just once in 2013. Injuries along the offensive line and the Lions’ pass-heavy philosophy have hindered Detroit’s ground game. The Lions will have their work cut out for them if the Dallas Cowboys’ defense can duplicate their performance against Philadelphia, when it held the Eagles’ potent rushing attack to 84 yards on the ground.
When the Lions pass
Through Week 7, no player had attempted more passes this season than Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford. The Highland Park (Dallas) alum has thrown for 2,129 yards and 15 touchdowns. He has also been sacked only nine times. The Lions will move the ball through the air. After all, they have the league’s premier receiver, Calvin Johnson. The Dallas Cowboys’ defense, which has looked shaky against accomplished passers, will be challenged to stop Stafford and his favorite target.
Dwayne Harris has established himself as one of the premier returners in the NFL this season. He is second in the league in both punt and kick return average. Harris is a weapon and he gives the Dallas Cowboys an advantage against the Lions, who haven’t given up much yardage when they’ve had to punt. In a game in which kickers Dan Bailey and David Akers are evenly matched, Harris may make the difference on special teams.
The Dallas Cowboys are riding high after defeating two divisional opponents in consecutive weeks. Another victory this weekend will ensure Dallas a winning record in the first half of the season. The Cowboys can make a statement if they go on the road and beat Detroit, a quality team with a potent passing attack. Dallas will be motivated to get the job done.
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When: Sunday, October 27th, 2013 at high noon (Dallas time)
Where: Ford Field | Detroit, MI
Watch on TV: Local FOX affiliate | DirecTV
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Rams Nemesis: DeMarco Murray
In the long history of the Dallas Cowboys there have been games by running backs that have been legendary. Calvin Hill, Duane Thomas, Tony Dorsett and Emmitt Smith have all at one point in time during their careers had a game or two that has left you in awe. DeMarco Murray was a rookie in the league when he made his one and only start against the St. Louis Rams but it was a performance that was for the record books.
Murray pounded the Rams that Sunday afternoon for a Dallas Cowboys single game rushing record of 253 yards on 25 carries. When asked about what he remembered about that game Murray could only recall how well the offensive line played that day. It is not likely that Murray will rush for a club record as these two teams once again met, but after what we saw last week against the Kansas City Chiefs, something different needs to be done. Not all the blame should be placed at Murray’s feet but there will be opportunities to run the ball here. The Rams defensively at times will play light in the box with their personnel trying to get the safety down late to help. The front is also light on the edges with Chris Long and Robert Quinn, look for Murray and this Cowboys rushing attack look inside of those ends to pop some runs to get things going.
The Weapon: Jason Hatcher
Through the first two games of the 2013 season, it is extremely clear that Jason Hatcher is playing with a purpose. Some will say he is playing for a new contract with the club or the opportunity to move on to another club after the season. Whatever his reasoning, he is getting the job done. In his play, Hatcher has shown quickness and technique but where he has made this biggest improvement in his game is through his use of power. I have always thought the one area that held him back was his lack of functional strength in terms of controlling blockers and getting off blocks at the point of attack.
Hatcher has done a much better job of playing with power and being able to sustain that down-after-down where in the past he would be in the mix for two or three snaps, then you would not see him for the rest of the game. His endurance and play making ability has improved greatly because of it. From what I have observed from Rams’ guards, Chris Williams and Harvey Dahl, this will be a difficult matchup for them to have to deal with Hatcher. These guards don’t move all that well which means they struggle with quickness. Jason Hatcher is playing at the top of his game right now and has an opportunity to control this game inside.
Under The Radar: Dwayne Harris
In this game against the Rams, Dwayne Harris might only get one or two shots at either a kickoff or punt return but it could make a difference in the outcome of the game. The Rams are one of the best in the league when it comes to covering punts and kicks largely because of the job that both Johnny Hekker and Greg Zuerlein do in that area. Hekker is one of the top punters in the league with a 46.7 net average. Last week against the Chiefs, the Cowboys special teams unit did a much better job of blocking to give Harris a chance to find some space.
After studying the tape, Harris left some yards on the field during his 22 yard punt return, when he could have cut it back inside. I don’t expect Harris to make the same mistake this week. This Cowboys special teams group under Rich Bisaccia is starting to develop some core guys to go along with the veterans like Danny McCray, Phillip Tanner and Lance Dunbar that have been on the squad in the past. You are seeing players step up like J.J. Wilcox and Jeff Heath. This group is much closer to making more plays like we saw last week with a big return either on a kickoff or punt return and Dwayne Harris will play a critical role in making that happen.
St. Louis Rams
Cowboys Nemesis: Cortland Finnegan
Finnegan is a non-stop competitor that will fight you during the play and many times afterwards. He has always played the game to the echo of the whistle.
Finnegan has played his entire career under Jeff Fisher, who has always taken a liking to these types of players. He has an edge to his game. Finnegan will line up mainly on the left side at corner and when defensive coordinator Tim Walton goes to his nickel package, he puts Finnegan in the slot and he will cover from there. Finnegan plays with a great deal of quickness and savvy. He will line up very tight and looks most comfortable playing this way but there have been some snaps in the first two games where he and Janoris Jenkins have been asked to play in off coverage or more zone. When he plays tight, there is not as much room or space with him, so you have to be careful attacking him. It is when you can get him in off coverage that you will have the most success. There were some snaps in nickel against the Falcons where they did just that out of the slot.
The Weapon: Tavon Austin
One of my favorite players in the 2013 NFL Draft was West Virginia wide receiver, Tavon Austin. There is a real dynamic to his game, with the explosiveness in which he plays with. He is one of those players that you can line up at any position and he is going to cause the defense problems. He is a fearless player that will go all over the field to make a play.
Offensive coordinator, Brian Schottenheimer has lined him up in the slot, out wide and in the backfield as a running back. Schottenheimer has been very creative getting him the ball. Once in his hands, you really hold your breath when on defense because he has that ability to score from anywhere on the field. On tape through these first two games, you can see that opponents are struggling to gage his speed and quickness. For a short player, he does play with power and he can break tackles. Austin can be a nightmare to cover in the open field one-on-one because of his elusiveness. You have to get people to the ball in a hurry to get him on the ground now to not allow him to make those explosive plays.
Under The Radar: Greg Zuerlein
It’s not often that you break down an opponent’s kicker, but here you go. Dallas Cowboys kicker Dan Bailey is just as valuable to the team as Dez Bryant and DeMarcus Ware. What Bailey brings to this squad is nothing short of amazing. When you have a player on your roster that has the ability of Bailey, it takes a great deal of pressure off of the coaches to have to make decisions. Rams kicker, Greg Zuerlein is similar to Bailey in that he is as automatic as they come when kicking field goals. Through two games this season, Zuerlein is a perfect 5-for-5 and is 2nd in the NFL on kickoffs with 75 percent of his kicks travelling out of the end zone.
During the 2012, Zuerlein was able to connect on 7-of-13 field goals from 50 yards plus, so you can see that Jeff Fisher is not afraid to trot him out there once the Rams cross midfield. What has to concern Jason Garrett and this defensive staff, if the score is within three or less points, how do you play defense to not allow the Rams to get in field goal range either at the end of the half or game. It can be a tricky situation to deal with when you have a kicker that can change the direction of the game with one swing of the leg.
IRVING, Texas – He might have taken 18 months off, but Brian Waters is starting to get back in the groove.
It would be one thing for a 13-year NFL veteran to simply pick back up where he left off. But starting with practice last week, and building from the Chiefs game up through this week’s routine, Waters said he’s starting to get re-acclimated.
“I’m getting back into the continuity of the game. These weeks start to add up,” he said. “You know what you want to do on Wednesday, you know what you want to do on Thursday and Friday. As the week goes on, you know where you want to be. I’m starting to get back into that.”
It’s too early to tell what that means for his playing time, however. Waters ceded most of Sunday’s playing time to fellow guard Mackenzy Bernadeau, and that rotational role could continue.
“I’m just going to do whatever coach tells me,” Waters said. “Obviously, I hadn’t played football in a while.”
He might not have played much in the loss, but that didn’t save him from the bombardment of questions about the Dallas Cowboys rushing deficiencies.
Waters knows a thing or two about productive ground games, as he paved the way for Priest Holmes in Kansas City. But the six-time Pro Bowler said moving the ball is what matters most, period.
“During the course of a game, games go differently. I know there’s going to be a lot of emphasis this week with you guys focusing on the running game, but honestly, I want to win the football game,” Waters said. “Our job as an offense is to move the football, any way the play is called. If it’s a pass, we want to move the ball that way. If it’s a run, we want to move the ball that way. If we get into numbers, we’re playing into the defense.”
Rather than focusing on one specific problem, such as the running game, Waters said his goal is to improve himself as completely as possible going forward. One such aspect in need of practice is bound to be footwork, which he said is crucial.
“As an offensive lineman, you have to make sure your feet are right. If not, you’re going to be in some bad situations when it comes to attacking the defensive lineman,” he said. “You’re going to be out of position, your hands are going to be out of place. You want to make sure your feet are positioned properly.”
RESPECTABLE ROSTER: Picking the 2013 Cowboys Mr. Indispensable is not so clear cut (Special Feature)
IRVING, Texas – Maybe for the first time in the eight years of naming the Dallas Cowboys’ Mr. Indispensable, the annual award that comes with a hearty pat on the back and quite possibly national Twitter acclaim, the chosen one is not so clear cut.
That can mean one of two things for the Cowboys heading toward training camp for the 2013 season:
Either the Cowboys have a slew of players they just can’t do without.
Or they just don’t have that one dominant player standing out above all the rest. You can decide.
But, well, the ton of injuries suffered by the Cowboys this past 8-8 season sure clouded not only the team’s performance but also individual expectations for this year. Like just how good is this guy? He only played six games or eight games or 10?
Think back to last season if you can stomach a second consecutive year that winning the NFC East came down to winning or losing the final game of the season, that the Cowboys lost both times. Like Sean Lee, he seemed on his way to the Pro Bowl, yet played just the first games of the season. Or Bruce Carter missing the final five games. DeMarco Murray missing six games. Jay Ratliff missing 10. Miles Austin rarely 100 percent. DeMarcus Ware playing nearly the entire season with a bad hamstring, and then down the stretch with a shoulder in need of postseason surgery and an elbow’s function aided by a brace.
Some season, huh?
But we must soldier on, and as always the quarterback is ineligible, meaning Tony Romo doesn’t count. That would be too easy, and usually is the case with I’m guessing at least two-thirds of the NFL teams, that the starting quarterback is the one guy they can’t do without. That certainly applies to Romo, no matter how maybe a quarter of the polled players voted in NFL.com’s Top 100.
So let’s go.
Dallas Cowboys executive vice-president Stephen Jones wrapped up today’s final workout in Oxnard, Calif. by saying that the team’s entire 2013-2014 camp will be back in the same location next year (… in other words, The Boys Are Back in town).
He’ll get no argument from Dallas Cowboys veterans who have seen the training camp bounce between multiple locations through the years, including last year’s stop in San Antonio.
Safety Gerald Sensabaugh said he’s in favor of Oxnard because “the weather’s always great” and the team can work with a heightened focus.
“We were able to get some optimum work in,” Sensabaugh said. “We’ve been taking full advantage of it. We got better as a football team.”
Dallas Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett agreed.
“The weather … allows you to get more work in,” Garrett said of Oxnard’s daily high temperatures in the 70s, as opposed to triple-digit heat in Texas. “The players are more focused on what we ask them to do instead of the Gatorade and the water jug behind us. We have all practiced in some of those hot Texas days when the focus isn’t on competing. It’s, ‘Where’s the trainer? Where is the water? Give me a cold towel.’ All that stuff. This gets you away from that mindset and lets you go to work.”
Having a full off-season of work, rather than last year’s truncated schedule created by the NFL lockout, also helped the team achieve more in this training camp, said veteran receiver Kevin Ogletree.
“I think there was definitely more work put in. More work that got done because we were able to have that off-season time where a lot of the installations were put in,” Ogletree said. “We were out here reviewing it. Guys were able to go out there and play a little more loosely instead of worrying about making mistakes like in last year’s training camp.”