Cowboys Wary of Fitzgerald

One of the basic principles of playing defense in the National Football League says that defenses always want to make an opposing offense into a one-dimensional attack.

"That's NFL 101," Dallas Cowboys nose tackle Jay Ratliff said. "You always want to do that."

That may be, but Sunday's road game against the Arizona Cardinals could end up being a case of "careful what you wish for."

The Cardinals are not an offensive juggernaut, ranking 22nd in the NFL in overall offense. Running back Chris "Beanie" Wells has emerged as a viable rushing threat, piling up 849 yards on 181 carries (4.7 yards per carry) and eight rushing touchdowns. In Sunday's 23-20 victory over NFC West rival St. Louis, Wells established a new Cardinal record with 27 carries for 228 rushing yards (8.4 yards per carry).

But while Wells presents the Dallas defense — a unit that has been much-maligned through much of the season for being somewhat porous against the run — with a considerable challenge, he might end up being the least of the Cowboys' defensive worries. The Arizona offense has picked up 65.4 percent of its yards through the air … and there is a good chance the Cardinals' aerial attack will get a big boost Sunday with the return to the starting lineup of starting quarterback Kevin Kolb.

Kolb was acquired over the offseason from the Philadelphia Eagles for starting cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and a second-round pick — quite a bounty for a player who had started all of seven games in his first four NFL seasons in Philadelphia. This season, he completed 129 of 227 passes (56.8 percent) for 1,706 passing yards, eight interceptions and eight touchdowns before being shelved by an injury to his right foot that included some combination of turf toe, a sprained ligament and a bone bruise.

His 243.7 passing yards per game and his 1-to-1 passing touchdowns-to-interceptions ratio are fairly pedestrian for someone who was awarded with a six-year, $65 million contract upon his arrival in Arizona. For that kind of salary, much more is expected of Kolb.

If Kolb is not back in the lineup, the Arizona offense again will be led by backup John Skelton, whose numbers are even more modest than Kolb's: Skelton has completed 59 of 117 passes (50.4 percent) out of the bullpen for 750 yards, four passing touchdowns and seven interceptions. In addition, it was Skelton who piloted the Cardinals past the Cowboys last year.

But Kolb has said he fully plans to be back on the field this week after resuming his role as his team's first-team quarterback in practice this week.

Whoever is under center for the Redbirds will have an array of targets to whom he can throw, including former Baltimore Ravens tight end Todd Heap, wide receiver Early Doucet and all-world wideout Larry Fitzgerald, who is widely considered (along with Houston's Andre Johnson and Detroit's Calvin Johnson) to be one of the league's top three receivers. Only three players in NFL history have a career average higher than Fitzgerald's 76 yards per game, and over the last four seasons, only future Hall of Famer Randy Moss has caught more touchdown passes.

The thing that makes Fitzgerald so remarkable is that everyone knows he is his team's top target, and he still produces at an elite level. When Baltimore shipped fellow receiver Anquan Boldin to the Baltimore Ravens, Fitzgerald continued to produce. While he has enjoyed playing with talented quarterbacks like Kurt Warner and Kolb, he also has played with the likes of Skelton and Dallas cast-off Richard Bartel … and still, he produces.

"We know how great he is," Ratliff said of Fitzgerald said. "We want to get some takeaways and have our offense hold a big advantage in time of possession. ‘Fitz' is a great player, and we want to keep him on the sideline.

"We know he can make something out of nothing, and we don't want to give him any chances — that's just out of respect."

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