Cowboys - Jags Preview

The Dallas Cowboys look to get their season started on the right foot Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:15 ET

GAMEDATE: 09/10/06

SURFACE: Grass

TV: FOX, Joe Buck, Troy Aikman, Pam Oliver

SERIES: 4th meeting. The Dallas Cowboys lead series, 2-1. The Cowboys won the last meeting 21-19 in 2002. This will be the teams' first meeting at Alltel Stadium in Jacksonville.

2005 RANKINGS: Cowboys: offense 13th (13th rush, 15th pass); defense 10th (15th rush, 11th pass). Jaguars: offense 15th (10th rush, 19th pass); defense 6th (14th rush, 7th pass)

PREDICTION: Cowboys 24-14

KEYS TO THE GAME: With a very suspect passing game, the Jaguars can't afford to get caught up in a shootout with the high-powered Cowboys. RB Fred Taylor is healthy and must lead a strong ground game that allows Jacksonville to control the clock and field position. Dallas is extremely athletic along its defensive front seven, and will wreak havoc if allowed to attack mobility-challenged Jaguars QB Byron Leftwich, who struggled during the preseason and lacks proven receivers. Jacksonville's strength lies with its own defense, which must stop the run without the help of an eighth man in the box. If given the time, QB Drew Bledsoe will attack downfield to WRs Terrell Owens and Terry Glenn, who will be locked in a great duel with the solid tandem of Jaguars CBs Rashean Mathis and Brian Williams.

FAST FACTS: Cowboys: Need eight regular-season victories to reach 400 as a franchise. ... Have a league-best 29-17 (.630) record in road openers. Jaguars: Have an NFL-best 8-3 (.727) record in season openers. ... Coach Jack Del Rio started 44 games as a linebacker for Dallas from 1989-91. ... Are 10-1 when Leftwich passes for at least two touchdowns.

PERSONNEL NEWS: Cowboys: --LB Greg Ellis is bracing for teams to try to spread the Cowboys out and take advantage of him in coverage on a receiver. "We have a couple of things that we do," coach Bill Parcells said. "There are two sides to that pancake. They spread out, they make themselves more vulnerable. We have to be able to do something to counter that. That's going to be a fact of life. Most offenses are going to have the capability of spreading you. I don't think we're going to play a team that doesn't spread you some nowadays. Some more than others. This team that spreads quite a bit. Now we're hopeful we have some things ready to deal with that. But its not something we don't think quite a bit about. It's a big part of our discussion."

--DE Jason Hatcher will be used as a nickel pass rusher as a defensive tackle.

--WR Terrell Owens is ready to go and ready to get in the end zone. After missing the last 10 months, he plans for a big coming out party against the Jaguars. "It's been a while, but I expect to hit the end zone every time I step on the field," Owens said. "That's no different for me. Honestly, I'm trying to start a new chapter here in Dallas. I'm looking to score my first one and many to follow."

--FS Keith Davis is on his way out of a starting job. But it may not be the season opener. The Cowboys are working rookie Pat Watkins at the position. It will be a game-time decision. Either way, Davis is a valuable member of the team. If he doesn't start he will have a huge role on special teams where he could be the league's best.

--OT Flozell Adams missed the last three preseason games with a strained calf, but he appears ready to go for the season opener. If he can't go, the Cowboys will start rookie Pat McQuistan.

Jaguars: --DT Marcus Stroud suffered a major ankle injury Wednesday that will sideline him for the Dallas game Sunday and could sideline him for several weeks.

--MLB Mike Peterson returned to practice Thursday after sitting out Wednesday with a sprained MCL. The Jaguars aren't certain if he'll play.

--TE Marcedes Lewis, out since the first preseason game with a high ankle sprain, practiced for the second straight day Thursday, but he said he's not completely healed and it's not certain if he'll be ready to play.

--DT Rob Meier will start in place of the injured Marcus Stroud against Dallas.

--DE Paul Spicer will likely see action at tackle against the Cowboys Sunday because of Marcus Stroud's injury.

INSIDE THE CAMPS: Cowboys: Mike Vanderjagt can tell you in a minute that he is the most accurate kicker in NFL history. But he also knows his days with the Colts don't mean anything to Cowboys fans.

Signed in the off-season to a three-year, $5.4 million contract to rescue the kicking game, Vanderjagt is a big question mark heading into the season opener. He has been plagued by a groin injury and inconsistency throughout the preseason. Cowboys coach Bill Parcells said he is very concerned about the kicking game and plans to make a game-day decision on whether to use Vanderjagt or backup Shaun Suisham.

Parcells had to use an extra roster spot for a kicker because of Vanderjagt's struggles. He said it cost at least two players their jobs. However, he will not take two kickers to the game. Considering Vanderjagt's past, Parcells is hoping the nine-year veteran can figure it out.

"I don't know the player well enough to be offering advice to him," Parcells said. "This guy is 36 years old. He has been doing this for a long time. I am just learning the player. I am not standing there telling him what to do. I am just hoping that based on his history he will find it. I think that is what he is trying to do."

Jaguars: The Jaguars' hopes of beating the Dallas Cowboys in their season opener suffered a major blow Wednesday when defensive tackle Marcus Stroud suffered a major ankle injury.

Stroud's five-year streak of playing in 80 consecutive regular-season games since being drafted by the Jaguars on the first round in 2002 is likely to be snapped Sunday.

Stroud was on crutches Thursday with a boot on his lower right leg.

Stroud was grimacing as he hobbled into the team's practice facility on his crutches and when he was asked how it looked, he only said, "It's looking."

The Jaguars officially listed him as questionable for the game against the Cowboys, but Stroud would appear to have virtually no chance of playing on Sunday.

The bigger question is whether he'll make it back for any of the team's first four games against playoff teams, which will be played in the next 24 days. The team then plays the New York Jets before the bye week and resumes play on Oct. 22, which may be a realistic date for his return.

The Jaguars, though, did get good news on the injury front when middle linebacker Mike Peterson returned to practice Thursday after sitting out Wednesday's practice with a sprained MCL.

Peterson will have a better idea today of whether he'll be able to play when he learns if the knee swells up overnight.

"It feels fine, but I haven't been using it so I find myself limping sometimes because I haven't used my knee with the brace on," he said. Peterson appeared somewhat tentative during the 30-minute media viewing session and remained questionable on the injury report.

Peterson said before practice that he thought he'd know by the end of practice whether he could play.

When he was asked after practice, he said, "I said I'd know. I didn't say I was going to tell you."

Stroud's injury turns what was supposed to be a Jaguars' strength into a problem area.

The Cowboys were worried about whether center Andre Gurode and left guard Kyle Kosier could block Stroud, who has made the Pro Bowl the last three years and is one of two players they've drafted since 1996 to play in the Pro Bowl. Tackle John Henderson is the other.

While the Jaguars have a good tackle backup in Rob Meier, who'll step into the lineup for Stroud, they have virtually no other depth at the position. Tony McDaniel, who made the team as an undrafted rookie free agent, is the only other tackle on the roster.

Coach Jack Del Rio, who declined to say whether Stroud suffered ligament damage in the ankle because the league doesn't require him to give any specific information, said that defensive end Paul Spicer can switch to tackle.

Del Rio said, "You end up doing whatever you can do with the guys you have. That's what we all do. We go into the game with 45 guys. That's part of doing business in the NFL. You get to dress 45 guys. You've got to have versatility and flexibility and you've got to be able to adapt and overcome.

"Most teams carry 'X' amount and we'll have X amount and we'll play the game. That's what everybody does. If one guy can't go, one guy takes that one guy's place and we keep going."

But the Jaguars like to rotate their linemen, especially on hot September days, to keep them fresh and they won't be able to do that as much without Stroud.

The Cowboys, who like to feature the run and are willing to stick with it even if they struggle running at the start, could try to wear the Jaguars down in a physical game and turn the heat to their advantage.

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