Bombs Away?

IRVING, Tex. - On paper, the Detroit Lions are a trainwreck, playing for the No. 1 pick in the 2007 NFL Draft. Perhaps that's not the nicest thing to say about a team, but to call a team sporting a record of 2-13 anything else would be somewhere between generous and insane.

To suggest that Sunday's regular-season finale will be easy also isn't necessarily true. Granted, it should be -- the talent differential alone should dictate that. But Dallas has jumped the tracks a couple of times in recent weeks, and head coach Bill Parcells is a big believer in the value of gaining momentum before starting the postseason.

To that end, the NFL schedule couldn't have ended any better for the Cowboys. For the final game of 2006, they face a team that has hung tough in many games, but seem to have a singular ability to find a way to lose.

But while the Lions' record doesn't exactly send waves of fear through Valley Ranch, that doesn't mean there isn't cause for concern. The biggest worry in the Dallas coaches' offices and locker room centers around the Detroit passing game.

Mike Martz, the former mad scientist/head coach in St. Louis, has brought his throw-at-all-costs approach to Detroit, and despite having far less firepower than he did when Kurt Warner, Torry Holt and Marshall Faulk were trashing records in the so-called "Greatest Show On Turf," he has made the Lions into the fourth-ranked passing attack in the NFC, and No. 6 in the entire NFL. To be fair, two elements have skewed the numbers a little: Kevin Jones, the team's only real running threat, has been banged up again this year, and Detroit usually is playing from behind, meaning the Lions have no choice but to take to the air in an effort to play catch-up.

For the Dallas defense, the Lions present a chance for a measure of redemption. Since Greg Ellis was lost for the season, the Cowboys have generated little pass rush, and the secondary has endured barbs from media and fans alike for its sporadic performance this season.

Veteran cornerback Aaron Glenn said that because of the success Dallas has had at times this season, opponents tend to crank up their performance when facing the Cowboys.

"When you establish yourselves as one of the good teams in this league, teams look at you differently," Glenn said. "Each time you go out there, you're going to get a team's best shot. We expect Detroit's best shot Sunday."

The Detroit aerial game is steered by veteran quarterback Jon Kitna, who Parcells said carries an inaccurate reputation of being a quarterback with little experience.

"It's not like this is a guy who hasn't played, or is brand new to this," Parcells said. "He's a guy who has played a lot, and has the ability to get the ball in the right place most of the time."

The headliner among the Detroit receivers is former University of Texas star Roy Williams, who is tied for eighth in the NFC with 76 receptions this year (for 1,206 yards and five scores). Parcells said Williams is vastly improved in just about all aspects of his game, compared to his first two seasons in the league.

But while Williams' talent and status as a former first-round draft pick have made him the marquee name on the Detroit defense, he is not the statistical leader among Kitna's targets. That honor goes to the relatively anonymous Mike Furrey, an undrafted free agent four years from Northern Iowa who the Lions signed as an unrestricted free agent from the St. Louis Rams. Furrey leads the Lions with 87 receptions this year (third in the NFC) for 985 yards and five touchdowns.

"He's good -- you don't know about him, but he's good," safety Patrick Watkins said. "He's not that big, and he's not that fast, but he's a very reliable receiver. He always runs the right route, he always seems to get open, and he's got great hands."

Watkins said the criticism of the Dallas secondary this season has not been unfounded, but admitted that a strong performance against the high-powered Detroit passing game can help rebuild the Dallas secondary's confidence as the Cowboys prepare for the postseason.

"We know we've been criticized a lot," Watkins said. "But we believe in each other, and we know how good we can be. I've got confidence in every single guy, in the secondary and on the entire defense. People can criticize us all they want, but we look at it like this: Detroit's got a really good passing game, and this is a great opportunity for us to show what we can do as we get ready for the playoffs."

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