Eye on the Enemy: Dallas Cowboys

TEMPE, Ariz. — The biggest storyline surrounding the Dallas Cowboys this weekend is the health and status of quarterback Tony Romo, as they prepare to take on the Arizona Cardinals at AT&T Stadium on Sunday.

The world saw Romo take an awkward shot from Redskins linebacker Keenan Robinson on Monday Night Football, which had him on the deck for quite a while.

Romo returned to the game, but clearly wasn’t the normal Tony Romo Cowboys fans are used to seeing.

Romo didn’t take part in practice at all this week, and is officially listed as “questionable” on the Cowboys Friday injury report. He’ll most likely be a game-time decision.

Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians has believed all along that Romo will start on Sunday.

“He’s not going to miss this game. It’s too big,” Arians said. “He’s a heck of a competitor. He showed it coming back in that game. They’re not going to change.”

Romo believes he can tough out the back problems and take the field against Arizona.

“I think for me it’s always been a situation where if it’s about pain tolerance then I’ll play. That part of it has never been an issue for me,” Romo said. “I think the other part is you just have to make sure that you can function, you can go. If we can get to that point, we’ll go.”

As far as treatments go to get Romo as close to 100-percent, he says he’s getting the normal amount that he gets during game week, so that hasn’t changed.

On the off chance that Romo can’t go, Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett says things won’t change much as far as their offense goes under Brandon Weeden.

“I don’t know that it changes dramatically. I think we are who we are as an offense,” Garrett said. “Obviously, you want to feature things that your players do best and limit things they don’t do quite as well, but we have a lot of confidence in Brandon Weeden. I think we saw that the other night. You just go in there and you function. He has a good feel for what we’re trying to do offensively and certainly is physically capable of doing anything we ask him to do.”

Weeden has taken first-team snaps since OTAs, so he’s pretty familiar and comfortable with what they’re trying to do offensively.

One constant in the Cowboys arsenal is running back DeMarco Murray, who has been torching defenses for the past eight weeks at a record pace. Murray has 1,054 yards on the season, and will be looking to extend his record setting streak of consecutive 100-yard rushing games against one of the stingiest run defenses in the league in the Cardinals.

“He’s doing a great job. He really made that commitment awhile back, and he’s reaping the rewards and benefits of it now,” Romo said. “He’s just a committed football player who works his butt off. He’s always had ability. You’re just starting to see it now with some of the surrounding cast he has.”

The success Murray and the Cowboys are having right now has to be attributed to Dallas’ revamped offensive line. The Cowboys selected Tyron Smith [2011 NFL Draft], Travis Frederick [2013 NFL Draft] and rookie Zack Martin [2014 NFL Draft], plugged them in and they are making the most of their opportunities.

“When you allocate those resources, three first-round picks to your offensive line, and you have big, strong, physical guys up front, it makes a heck of a lot of sense to run the football,” Garrett said. “I think we’ve demonstrated that and we feel good about the style of football we’re playing, and it starts up front with those guys. Certainly, DeMarco has benefited a great deal.”

The Cardinals defense saw a much different running back last week in Eagles running back LeSean McCoy than they’ll see on Sunday in Murray. Defensive end Calais Campbell sees a different kind of determination in the way Murray runs than McCoy.

“He doesn’t tippy-toe around too much, he’s very decisive,” Campbell said. “We have to get to him before he makes his mind up and create havoc in backfields.”

No one has held Murray under 100-yards rushing this season. Campbell and the defense would love to do that. Even if they can’t, they have an endgame to dealing with Murray.

“That’s our goal, but the No. 1 goal is winning, but we know if we can hold him under 100-yards, it gives us the best chance to win,” Campbell said. “The end result, as long as we win, whatever happens, happens.”

The dangers the Cowboys have extend beyond just Romo and Murray. They have solid wide receivers and a pretty good defense. The wide receiver group is led by Dez Bryant, who Arians gave the ultimate compliment to, saying that, at this point in his career, Bryant can do what wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald was able to do with the Cardinals at the same point in his career.

Cardinals defensive coordinator Todd Bowles put Bryant right next to Cowboys great and Hall-of-Fame wide receiver Michael Irvin, even going as far as saying Bryant is faster than Irvin was when he was with Dallas.

Bowles knows matching up with Bryant will be a tough task.

“He’s hard to bring down, he’s tough,” Bowles said. “He’s tough at the line, he can run over you, he can run around you, he can jump over you, he’s one of the premium wideouts today, so we [have] our work cut out for us.”

Bowles feels the key to affecting the Dallas offense and slowing down their skill players is to get pressure on the quarterback, whether it be Romo or Weeden. Take out the head, and the body will fall.

“You’d like to have more sacks and hit the quarterback a little more, but as far as [quarterbacks] stepping up in the pocket, we’ve succeeded in that,” Bowles said. “Anything we can do to disrupt the timing, I think any team that blitzes tries to do that.”

Garrett sees a tough task at hand, trying to make a dent in Arizona’s defense.

“They’re just a good defense. They’re really good across the board. They’ve got really good players in their front seven,” Garrett said. “They have an aggressive style of defense, really intent on stopping the running game, and have a lot of confidence on the back end because they’ve got really good corners and really good cover guys across the board. Certainly, they’re an aggressive style of defense, they pressure you a lot in different ways, and you really have to be on the screws when you play against them.”

What Garrett sees in the Cardinals defense, quarterback Carson Palmer sees, for the most part, in Dallas’ defense. Even though the Cowboys are giving up 6.1 yards per play, they give up an average of 21 points per game, so they get stingy when they need to.

“It’s a very talented group. They play extremely hard. They’re tenacious,” Palmer said. “They do enough blitzing and enough pressures that you really have to game plan for it, and they do enough just line up and play and show you what they’ve got.”

“It’s a group that’s played well,” Palmer said. “Obviously, they have a good record and they’ve played well to get to this point. There’s no weakness. There is no weak link. You don’t look at them and say, ‘We have to go after this guy or that guy.’ It’s just a really well balanced group top to bottom.”

A battle between a 6-1 team [Arizona] and a 6-2 team [Dallas] might just come down to the intangibles – special teams and field position.

Dallas has a pretty good player on special teams in wide receiver Dwayne Harris, who linebacker Lorenzo Alexander’s faced numerous times when he was with the Redskins. Alexander says the Cardinals will need maximum effort from all special teams players to deal with Harris and win that field position battle.

“As a unit, as far as punt[s] and kickoff[s], we definitely want to be able to go down and corral him [Harris], when Chandler [Catanzaro] doesn’t end up putting them out,” Alexander said.

“Obviously we want to get Ted [Ginn, Jr.] going,” Alexander said. “We want to continue to build on what we were able to do last week. He got some yards here and there, [and] as a team just block better for him so he can get some chunk plays, some explosive plays and setup our offense, or even score for us.”








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