Dallas Cowboys (2-1) at Denver Broncos (3-0)
KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:15 ET
TV: FOX (Joe Buck, Troy Aikman, Pam Oliver)
SERIES: 10th regular-season meeting. Broncos lead, 5-4. Denver won the last meeting 24-21 in overtime in 2005. Denver has won the last three meetings. The Cowboys won the first three meetings of the series. The biggest game was in Super Bowl XII in 1978 when the Cowboys won 27-10 to claim their second Super Bowl title.
PREDICTION: Broncos 34-27
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Broncos have been successful with a methodical offense that has protected the ball. But Dallas has easily the most potent offense Denver has faced, and this could be the time for the Broncos to go to a more vertical passing game against a secondary that has given up an NFC-high 11 completions of 20-plus yards. The Cowboys' main concern is their backfield situation with starting RB Marion Barber recovering from a quad injury and backup Felix Jones out. However, Tashard Choice is a very capable runner who can carry the load. Dallas has rushed for 200-plus yards in consecutive games and will continue to let its massive offensive line control the trenches. It will be up to the Broncos' front seven to stuff the run and then try to force QB Tony Romo into mistakes when he can't work off play-action.
FAST FACTS: Cowboys coach Wade Phillips was Denver's defensive coordinator from 1989-92 and head coach from 1993-94. ... Broncos OLB Elvis Dumervil has 6.0 sacks in his past two games.
--TE Martellus Bennett has only three catches for 27 yards in the first three games. It's a far cry from what was expected after he was the breakout star to training camp. The passes just haven't come his way and he has dropped two passes. Bennett said he is starting to press a little bit but is trying to stay patient.
--QB Tony Romo won a game for first time as a Cowboys quarterback when he didn't throw a touchdown pass in the 21-7 victory against the Panthers. Romo said he was just as excited as he would have been if he tossed three touchdown passes.
"Last week was pretty fun, after the game, I was pretty excited," Romo said. "It was exciting to see the defense come up with a big play when we needed it to win a game. In some ways and I was more enjoyed about that than I would be throwing a touchdown to win, because you see that, you gain such a confidence in your teammates and everybody that's what this team has we have a belief in each other that we'll get the job done and as long as we maintain that we have a great chance."
--WR Roy Williams has eight catches for 179 yards and one touchdown. He remains frustrated about his role as he has contributed more as a downfield blocker than as a big-play No. 1 receiver.
"I do not know what my role is. I'm just trying to help this team win, whether it's catching the ball, whether it's blocking downfield, whether it's whatever. I'm just trying to win. Whatever the game is calling for at that point and time," Williams said. "My role is to, like I say, is to make plays whether it's in the run or pass game I'm guessing. I'm not like give-me-the-ball-every-play type of guy. I'm a go-with-the-flow guy because I just want to win. I was (mad) after the New York game because I had one catch. But if he would have missed that field goal, I wouldn't have been (mad) because we would have won. That's just the type of guy I am, and I hope you can understand that."
Williams said his priorities are simply doing whatever it takes to help the Cowboys win.
"I'm just a blocker, a catcher and runner and just trying to do all of them in 60 minutes of play. I just run to my spot and catch the ball. That's what I feel my role is right now, blocking down field or catching the ball when it comes my way. I don't get very many opportunities, but when I get the opportunities, I have to make the best of them. That's the way I approach it. As long as we keep racking up wins, we're good."
--LT Flozell Adams sat out practice on Thursday because of a sore shoulder suffered against the Panthers on Monday. It was for precautionary reasons and he should be ready to go against the Broncos on Sunday.
--G Ben Hamilton missed practice for the second straight day Thursday because of a hamstring injury. His chances of playing don't look great unless he recovers quickly late in the week.
--OT Ryan Harris returned to practice Thursday despite a shoulder injury. He is on pace to play Sunday if there are no setbacks.
--WR Kenny McKinley missed practice Thursday because of an illness. McKinley has been inactive in two of Denver's three games.
--RB Peyton Hillis practiced Thursday, but he was limited. Hillis has a head injury and will continue to be evaluated before Sunday's game.
--DE Le Kevin Smith isn't 100 percent, but he is playing again after missing a few weeks and Denver's first two games with a knee injury. Smith immediately became a part of Denver's defensive line rotation and should see his playing time grow as he gets closer to 100 percent.
INSIDE THE CAMPS
Owner Jerry Jones expects running back Marion Barber to play Sunday against the Broncos, while backup Felix Jones sits out a week with a sprained posterior cruciate ligament in his knee.
Barber, who sat out Monday's game against the Panthers with a quad strain, practiced Wednesday and Thursday, giving the owner optimism that Barber will be ready to face the Broncos this week.
"He did more (Wednesday) than we thought he would. I'd like to reserve that until after practice and he saw how he does in pads. Listening to how he responded Wednesday and listening to these trainers, he should be able to go," Jerry Jones said.
Felix Jones hasn't practiced all week and will likely wait until the Kansas City game next week before testing his knee. He could sit until after the bye week.
"More than likely, that is about what you would expect," Jerry Jones said.
Jerry Jones said if Barber plays he will return to the starting lineup.
Expect third back Tashard Choice to still have a big role in the game.
The Cowboys are expected to sign Chauncey Washington from the practice squad for positional depth.
Robert Ayers has the early signs of a disappointing first-round pick -- can't crack the starting lineup, has only one tackle in three games and no other stats -- but the Denver Broncos insist that's not the case.
Ayers, an outside linebacker who has played in Denver's nickel defense all season, is playing his role and coming along well.
"He's doing a lot of good things in our team defensive scheme that people don't see and recognize," linebackers coach Don Martindale said.
When asked for an example, Martindale said while Elvis Dumervil was picking up four sacks against Cleveland in Week 2, Ayers' role was to set the edge. Ayers did a fine job doing that against Browns' left tackle Joe Thomas, a Pro Bowler, while Dumervil exploited right tackle John St. Clair.
"That was able to free up Elvis Dumervil, along with everybody else," Martindale said. "If he doesn't play his role in that pass rush, in that situation, Brady Quinn is able to get out of the pocket. There's things like that, times that we ask him to do a lot of different things other than just rush the passer or setting the edge of the defense. I'm really excited about him."
Martindale said Ayers' path to the starting lineup has been blocked because Dumervil and fellow outside linebacker Mario Haggan are playing well. But Ayers is learning the defense and the coaches are pleased with him.
"I have nothing but good things to say about Robert Ayers," Martindale said. "I think he's right on schedule."
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