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Delving into Dallas


The Dallas Cowboys scrounged together a much needed 14-10 win over the Washington Redskins to improve to 6-4, keeping alive their hopes for the playoffs in one of the NFC's most contested divisions.

Prior to the victory, the Cowboys had lost some of the swagger they built up in a dominating year of regular-season play in 2007, suffering a deflating overtime loss to the Cardinals in which they lost their starting quarterback and a humbling, pounding by the St. Louis Rams.

With backup Brad Johnson at the helm for three games, the Cowboys managed only one win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and were thus thrilled to welcome back starter Tony Romo for the critical divisional matchup against the Redskins. Still sporting a splint on his broken pinkie, Romo finished 19 of 27 for 198 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions.

The real offensive star in Sunday's big win was running back Marion Barber, who amassed 114 yards, his second highest rushing total of the year. More importantly, Barber carried the ball 14 times for 66 yards in the final quarter, which allowed the Cowboys to bleed the clock and keep the ball away from the Redskins offense.

Total Offense 21 Total Offense 11
Passing Offense 17 Passing Offense 10
Rushing Offense 17 Rushing Offense 13
Total Defense 21 Total Defense 9
Run Defense 16 Run Defense 15
Pass Defense 25 Pass Defense 7
KOR Average 9 KOR Average 19
PR Average 6 PR Average 27
KO Coverage 22 KO Coverage 12
PR Coverage 15 PR Coverage 18
The Cowboys should be without the help of their talented, change of pace rookie back Felix Jones, who has been out with a hamstring injury.

Charged with providing protection and opening up running lanes is a Cowboys offensive line that is one of the biggest in football. Across the board, the Cowboys offensive linemen measure around 6-6 and average 327.4 pounds, and features three Pro Bowlers in Leonard Davis, Flozell Adams and Andre Gurode.

The big boy line was built to provide an offense that can grind it out, but the group has underachieved in 2008, failing to control the line of scrimmage in a few of the Cowboys key losses. However, the unit welcomed back left guard Kyle Kosier and appeared back in top form in Sunday's big win.

49ers fans know all about the accolades of Cowboys prolific receiver, Terrell Owens. Owens is the head of the class among the Cowboys receivers with 40 grabs for 505 yards and six touchdowns, although he's been outdone in catches and receiving yards by Pro Bowl tight end Jason Witten. Witten is one of the best all-around tight ends in the business, and has already caught 48 passes for 583 yards, and two touchdowns on the season.

The Cowboys struck a trade with Detroit to attain Pro Bowl receiver Roy Williams, who now is their starter at Z. Williams has notched six grabs for 74 yards and a touchdown since joining the Cowboys, but the 49ers handled him once already when they played the Lions in week three, allowing him only a pair of receptions for 18 yards.

Since the addition of Williams, receivers Patrick Crayton and Miles Austin were sharing time as the third wide receiver, but Austin is now expected to miss two weeks with a knee injury. Crayton has 27 receptions on the year for 380 yards, a 14.1 average and two touchdowns.
In addition to his contributions on the ground, Barber is also extremely active in the Cowboys play-action passing game with 39 catches for 303 yards, including the second longest passing touchdown of the year on a 70-yard score.

Rookie Martellus Bennet has moved up the depth chart right behind Witten, and has also been involved in the passing attack with 12 catches for 206 yards, a 17.2 average and two touchdowns.

While there has been some recent speculation that head coach Wade Phillips took over play calling duty on the defense from coordinator Brian Stewart, it's definitely a true 3-4 defensive scheme, one that Phillips has been using throughout this coaching career.

Up front, starting right end Chris Canty is a dominant run stopper, with 23 stops on the season, as well as two sacks. Lining up next to him is an extremely athletic nose tackle in Jay Ratliff who is an excellent pass rusher with six sacks on the year. A former first-round pick in Marcus Spears rounds out the Cowboys starting defensive line.

The 49ers offensive line's biggest concern will be a beast of an outside linebacker in DeMarcus Ware. The Pro Bowler has already racked up 11 sacks on the season which ties him for third in the NFL in sacks, and has twice forced fumbles. Greg Ellis complements Ware on the other side, and is also a productive backer with three sacks and an interception.

The Cowboys sought and landed linebacker Zack Thomas to fit into the middle of their 3-4 scheme. A tough and high effort player, Thomas currently leads Dallas in tackling efforts with 70 stops, and also has a sack. His co-partner at inside backer is Bradie James, who is second on the team in tackles, and has three sacks.

Currently, the Cowboys best player in their secondary is cornerback Terence Newman, who notched an interception in his return to action last Sunday, while holding Santana Moss to five catches for 29 yards. Newman will typically match up man to man with the opposing team's best receiver.

Dallas could potentially add Adam "Pac Man" Jones back to the lineup as well this week, giving them a fierce tandem at cornerback. Jones has completed an alcohol treatment plan and served a four-game suspension, and is awaiting word from the NFL's Commissioner Roger Goodell, who said a decision would be reached "sometime in the coming days."

Owner Jerry Jones has said publically he would welcome back Jones to his team.

In the meantime, Anthony Henry has been serving as the team's starter, but was replaced in the second half against the Redskins by rookie Mike Jenkins. The Cowboys insisted that the changeup was due to Henry experiencing cramps, but the 49ers should prepare to see either player as the starting corner.

Rookie Orlando Scandrick handles the starting nickel responsibilities, while third-year safety Pat Watkins starts in the dime package in place of starting strong safety Keith Davis. Davis started the year as the Cowboys second choice at strong safety behind Pro Bowler Roy Williams, who has since been lost for the year due to injury.

The Cowboys starting free safety is another familiar face for the 49ers as veteran Ken Hamlin began his career with the Seattle Seahawks before signing on as a UFA with Dallas in 2007. In his first year with the club, Hamlin flourished, logging his first career 100-tackle season and notching five interceptions which earned him his first Pro Bowl selection in 2007. Hamlin is currently fourth on the team in tackles, and has one interception.

Costly plays on special teams lost the Cowboys their overtime game against Arizona, as the Cardinals ran back a kickoff for a touchdown and blocked a punt that was returned for the game-winning touchdown.

The block also cost the Cowboys their punter, as Matt McBriar sustained a broken foot on the play that required season-ending surgery.

First-year punter Sam Paulescu was quickly signed to take his place, and is averaging 41.4 yards per punt.

The Cowboys are also young at kicker, but Nick Folk proved age doesn't matter, becoming the first Cowboys rookie to be selected to a Pro Bowl since Emmitt Smith in 1990. Folk is 9 of 11 on field goals so far in 2008.

Crayton ha s been returning punts and has a long of 33 on the year, but that could change depending on what happens with Pac Man, who is a very dangerous weapon as a punt returner.

With Austin expected to miss time, the Cowboys will have to make some adjustments again at kickoff return, as the team's starting returner, Felix Jones, has also been out. Receiver Isaiah Stanback is listed as the team's next returner, and has 5 returns for 80 yards and a long of 29 to his credit.

There is absolutely no love lost between the 49ers and the Cowboys, and San Francisco fans would be thrilled to see their team spoil their longtime rival's chances for the playoffs. Tune in Sunday to see whether or not the 49ers can build on their big win over the Rams, and steal the Cowboys thunder.

Kickoff is at 10AM PST and will air on Fox.

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