Small-Game Hunting

IRVING, Tex. - Lost in the frenzy about the Cowboys' 1-5 start and the broken collarbone quarterback Tony Romo suffered in Monday night's loss to the New York Giants is the fact that the defense also suffered what could be a very significant injury.

Defensive end Jason Hatcher was lost for an estimated four to six weeks with a significant strain to his groin. He hasn't been starting — Hatcher has been coming off the bench behind starter Marcus Spears — but the Cowboys believe strongly in rotating their defensive linemen, and Hatcher's absence creates a void … and a chance for a promising rookie, according to fellow defensive end Stephen Bowen.

"It hurts losing ‘Hatch,'" Bowen said. "He has been playing really well. But this is going to give Sean (Lissemore) a chance to show what he can do.

"He (Lissemore) has gotten a lot better since camp. He's developing really well, and you can see him getting better every day. He's a really smart player, and you can see how much he's learning. He's reacting faster and doesn't have to stop and think as much as he did at first. He's going to be really good."

While Jon Kitna stepped off the bench and into the glare of the spotlight as the Cowboys' new starting quarterback, the Dallas defense also needs to turn in stronger performances, starting with Sunday's home game against Jacksonville. The Jaguars' offense is led by running back Maurice Jones-Drew, who is 11th in the NFL with 510 rushing yards, but is adept at producing when his team needs him the most, as he ranks sixth in the NFL in first downs.

"He's a great running back," Bowen said of the 5-7, 208-pound Jones-Drew. "But he's so small, he can hide behind offensive linemen and slip out before you realize where he is. Against a guy like that, it's as important as ever that you play assignment-sound defense. We have to stay within ourselves and follow our assignments. If we try to do too much, he can make you pay."

In a recent interview, former NFL coach-turned-analyst Jon Gruden compared Jones-Drew to former Detroit Lions star Barry Sanders. Bowen said the with the exception of height (Sanders was listed at 5-8, 200 in his last NFL season), he sees little similarity between the two.

"I don't see it — they're totally different players," Bowen said. "Barry Sanders was that cut-back kind of guy who made people miss. This guy (Jones-Drew) is more of a power back. You look at him, and you think he's not that big, but he's really strong. He's got a lot of power in those legs.

"He's low to the ground and strong, and he has great vision and balance. He doesn't spin to make you miss too much — he can run right through you. We have to have the right mindset to bring him down, because he's a really tough runner."

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