Hardy's Take, Dez' Fake, Romo's Cake: Cowboys Countdown In Miami

MIAMI - Hardy's take. Dez' fake. Romo's cake. A franchise QB joins the fragmenting 2-7 Cowboys hoping to snap a seven-game losing streak and resurrect their dying playoff hopes. Mark Lane and I present 10 key stats and storylines as the Cowboys square off with the Dolphins at Sun Life Stadium.

Cowboys Countdown to today's noon (DFW time) kickoff from Miami ... follow Mark Lane on Twitter here and Fish on Twitter here ... All brought to you by LS Wealth Strategies!


10: Number of Cowboys points off takeaways -- Not only has there been a dearth of takeaways for the Cowboys defense, but the Dallas offense has equally been unable to take advantage of the extra possessions. Last week, the Cowboys picked off Tampa Bay twice, but they could not get a single point off the two interceptions. In 2014, the Cowboys were the eighth-best team in the league at converting takeaways into points. No coincidence that Tony Romo only missed one game that season as opposed to the seven so far in 2015.

The heat needs to come from upfront, where Greg Hardy is being paid the big bucks (with all the risks that go with those rewards). CowboysHQ.com had a conversation with him on Saturday evening at the team hotel in Fort Lauderdale as he was hustling to avoid being late for a team meeting.

"No way I'm going to be late!'' Hardy told us as he trotted through the hotel corridors towards the elevator. "I don't need to be in the newspapers again. I'm telling you, I'm trying to be a good guy!''



There are those who are convinced that's an impossible goal. Most people inside Valley Ranch do not share that view. We can tell you that even the Cowboys players who have conflicted with this standout talent (over issues like tardiness ... yes, #GregTardy)... want to get this thing on-track and know Hardy can help do that. Jeremy Mincey was Hardy's very first vocal supporter when the controversial pass-rusher was first signed.

"I love him!'' Mincey told us back in March.

Hardy needs Mincey on his side. And of them not only need to show up to meetings ... they also need to meet at the quarterback.

(By the way: You'll hear a lot today about the Cowboys "changing their minds'' on wanting Hardy here long-term. This all comes from Jerry Jones' early-week interview on 105.3 The Fan, during which he crawfished only slightly on a full commitment to the idea. But don't over-read this thing; both parties are a long, long way from knowing how this all might play out. And yes, superstar talent gets treated differently than the C-Mikes and the Corey Whites, both of whom were released this week for reasons that are football-performance-centered - and trust us, that comes directly from the people in charge of making those moves. If C-Mike would've won the first-team RB job - as the coaching staff wanted him to do way back on Oct. 19 - they might look the other way if he dressed like Caitlyn Jenner.)


9: Romo's jersey number -- The 35-year-old has missed the last seven games with a broken left collarbone, and the Cowboys have missed seven times to add to the win column. Romo will be coming back in mid-season for the third time in his career, but this seven-game absence is by far the longest of his 13-year career. When coming back from injury in the middle of the year, Romo has a 2-0 record and a 113.5 passer rating. Going by averages, expect his stat line to be something like 20/27 for 272 yards, a touchdown, a pick, and getting sacked once.

Of course, the most predictable thing about Romo's presence here is the sense of ... fun. His tweet brought some laughs into the building and maybe built some confidence in the fan base ...


But the feeling that he might make a buoyant difference is also privately-held within the Cowboys, too, as evidenced by a (still-funny) cake presented for dessert to Romo and some of his regular Thursday-night Cowboys steak-house dinner companions ...



8: Dolphins defense's rank of net yards gained per passing attempt -- Miami's opponents have been able to gain 6.9 net yards per passing attempt, making Lou Anarumo's defense the eighth-worst in the NFL. In 2015, Romo put up a 7.1 net yards per passing attempts, and has had an 8.4 yards gained per passing attempt in the last 10 games. A skilled field general like Romo should be able to find the open spots in Miami's defense to advance the ball downfield.


7: Rank of most illegal contacts the Cowboys defense has committed -- Though tied with five other teams for the seventh spot, the Cowboys' two illegal contact penalties have all come on second-and-12 or third-and-12, big down-and-distances that are nullified by giving the opposing offenses a free first down. Both of the automatic first down penalties have been committed by safety J.J. Wilcox. With cornerback Corey White released earlier in the week and starting corner Morris Claiborne a scratch with a hamstring injury, the Cowboys secondary can't afford any mistakes as they attempt to contain Jarvis Landry and Greg Jennings.

Who is the pressure on?


Yet another new position for the rookie. ... who has met every challenge handed to him so far.


6: Number of Miami takeaways and giveaways with Dan Campbell -- Campbell has done well in emphasizing how critical the ball is for his team. In the first four games with Joe Philbin, the Dolphins were minus-3 in turnover differential compared to an even zero with Campbell. Since Week Six, when the Dolphins are even or win the turnover battle, they are 3-0. When they do not, they are 0-2 and lose by an average margin of 23 points. Campbell's team thrives off of turnovers. If the return of Romo can limit giveaways, the Cowboys should expunge one of the vital components for a Miami victory.


Meanwhile, Campbell and Jason Witten should have some fun tangling today. Campbell is a former Cowboys tight end who mentored Witten in his early years. And Witten? He's already in the Bob Lilly ironman strata. Now he's eight receptions away from 1,000 career. Only 10 players have ever reached that milestone. And it's worth noting that Campbell's club allowed 11 receptions and 202 yards to tight ends last week.


5: Lamar Miller's number of all-purpose touchdowns -- The former Hurricane's total touchdowns tie him with 10 other players in the league for the fifth-most spot. Campbell has made it his offense's priority to give Miller touches. From Weeks 1-4, Miller only had 131 tushing yards, 39th-most in the NFL. Since Campbell's ascent to head coach in Week Six, Miller has rushed for 390 yards, the fifth-most in that span and behind only Adrian Peterson, Jonathan Stewart, Mark Ingram, and Todd Gurley. Miller had a bad rushing game against Philadelphia last week, carrying the ball 16 times for a measly 43 yards. However, he caught six balls for 50 yards and a touchdown. When Miller gets 90 or more total yards, the Dolphins are 3-1 compared to 1-4 when he does not. The Dallas defense, which has not given up 100 yards to a single rusher since Week Three against Atlanta's Freeman, can't afford to give one up to Miller in Miami.

Big issue today, with Miller and with McMadden: Sun Life is getting poured on as we write this. This game could be a slopfest.


4: Number of offensive holding calls Jeff Triplette's crew makes per game -- The number is actually 4.4, but nonetheless Sunday's referee in Jeff Triplette has proven this year to be a defensive lineman's best friend. Not only do his 4.4 offensive holdings per game rate as the highest among referees in 2015, but Triplette's games also see 5.4 sacks per game, the second-most in the NFL. If Greg Hardy, DeMarcus Lawrence, or Jeremy Mincey are being held grabbed en route to sacking Ryan Tannehill, you can count on Triplette's crew to throw the flag instead of swallow the whistle.

And on the flip side? Miami might move Suh around to find a matchup he can win. Suh vs. the rookie La'el Collins might be critical.


3: Number of minutes an average Dallas offensive drive lasts -- Strangely, the Cowboys 3:11 average offensive drive time is the best in the NFL, but not so hard to believe that the Cowboys are the 12th-worst in the league at points per drive with just 1.67. They also are the 11th-worst in the league at turnovers per drive by committing a turnover on 13.7 percent of their drives. Dallas may hold onto the football the longest of anybody in the league, but it is clear they haven't been able to be productive with so much time. One of the hopes with Romo returning is that he will be able to make use of the team's dominating time of possession and put points on the board to win ballgames, the first being in Miami.

Want more cool numbers to help define Dallas-Miami? Check out out "Cowboys 100'' -- the most stolen-from ... er, borrowed-from ... weekly feature around! 


2: Number of fourth-quarter comebacks Ryan Tannehill has mounted in 2015 -- The fourth-year signal caller out of Texas A&M has orchestrated two comeback wins to up his career total to nine, a number that Romo had attained as well after completing his fourth season as a starter. The Dallas defense has blown three fourth-quarter leads this year, the most since 2013. If the Cowboys offense is able to build a lead in the final period, the defense must protect that lead if this team is to attain that almost unachievable third win.


1: Jarvis Landry's punt return touchdowns this year -- The sophomore sensation is one of eight players in 2015 to have taken a punt to the house. The Cowboys special teams gave up a back-breaking kickoff return for a touchdown against the Giants on Oct. 25 that piled on the losses during the seven games without Romo. Even though Romo's Pro Bowl play is a deodorant that has been covering up the Cowboys stink at least since 2011, the other units must do their jobs and not task their franchise quarterback to overcome free special teams points. Keeping a 2-7 team's playoff hopes alive is difficult enough.

But as good as Landry is (on Teams and as a receiver), the top receiver in this game is Dez Bryant, who found a way to cool down this week at Valley Ranch. After a conflict with a pair of reporters in the locker room before last week's loss at Tampa, Dez occupied himself this past week with a "modeling'' job. Every time he was quizzed about taking a moment to visit with the media inside the locker room, he politely excused himself for a "special project'' ... which turned out to be his involvement in the photo shoot for Thursday's Thanksgiving game ColorRush uniforms.


Did Dez really have to exit the locker room on Wednesday and Thursday and Friday to take more photos? Probably not. But if the pent-up energy means less confrontational interviews and just one win, Cowboys fans will likely enjoy the trade-off.

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