Cowboys - Rams Preview & Prediction

The Cowboys know turnovers are about the only thing that could give the Rams hope, so it's up to QB Tony Romo to be smart with the ball downfield.

KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 ET

GAMEDATE: 9/30/07

SURFACE: Sportfield Realgrass

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

SERIES: 20th regular-season meeting. Rams lead, 10-9, and the teams have each won four playoff meetings. In the last seven regular-season meetings dating back to 1986, the teams have alternated victories: Rams, 1986; Cowboys, 1987; Rams, 1989; Cowboys, 1990; Rams, 1992; Cowboys, 2002; Rams, 2005. Oddly, the last three Rams wins have all come in Dallas and the Rams have won four straight games in Dallas, including a 1983 playoff game. The last Cowboys' win over the Rams in Dallas was a 1980 playoff game and a 1979 regular-season game.

PREDICTION: Cowboys 31-28

KEYS TO THE GAME: Rams QB Marc Bulger is in the unenviable position of facing a strong pass-rushing team while playing behind a patchwork offensive line and without injured RB Steven Jackson. But St. Louis can't afford to play it close to the vest -- Bulger will have to pull the trigger in the face of oncoming rushers and hope to get some help from rookie RB Brian Leonard. ... The Cowboys know turnovers are about the only thing that could give the Rams hope, so it's up to QB Tony Romo to be smart with the ball downfield. But the crux of the game plan is likely to be on RBs Julius Jones and Marion Barber. The Rams are allowing 152.3 rushing yards per game and have given up five touchdowns on the ground in three games.

KEY INJURIES: Rams: Jackson (groin) is out; RG Richie Incognito (high ankle sprain) is practicing on a limited basis and might play; LB Pisa Tinoisamoa (ankle) will play after missing two games. Cowboys: OLB Greg Ellis (Achilles) has an outside shot to return this week; CB Terence Newman (plantar fascia) should be the nickel corner again.

FAST FACTS: The Rams have been outscored 51-9 in the second half and 30-6 in the fourth quarter. ... Romo has 3,501 passing yards, behind only Kurt Warner (3,559) and Bulger (3,534) for a quarterback's first 13 NFL starts in the Super Bowl era.

RAMS PERSONNEL NEWS: OG Richie Incognito hopes to be able to play against Dallas Sunday, which would be his first game of the season. Incognito was limited in practice Thursday, but coach Scott Linehan said there's a chance he could play. "I'm not going to count him out," Linehan said. "He's still limited because we're working him gradually into it. I think he looked like he was a lot more comfortable even today compared to yesterday."

--LB Pisa Tinoisamoa had full participation in practice Thursday for the second consecutive day, and is expected to start Sunday against Dallas. Tinoisamoa missed the last two games because of an ankle injury.

--DE James Hall (pectoral), who was limited in practice Wednesday, had full participation in Thursday's practice.

--LB Tim McGarigle (groin), who was limited in practice Wednesday, had full participation in Thursday's practice.

--OT Jeremy Parquet, who was in training camp with the Rams but was released in the final cut, was re-signed to take the roster spot of OG Mark Setterstrom.

--OG Mark Setterstrom was officially placed on injured reserve because of a torn ACL suffered last Sunday against Tampa Bay.

COWBOYS PERSONNEL NEWS: CB Terence Newman will continue his role as a nickel cornerback against the Rams. Newman is no longer troubled by a torn plantar fascia. It's patellar tendinitis that is giving him problems now.

--SS Keith Davis will not play against the Rams because of a shoulder strain. He will be sorely missed on special teams, especially since his primary backup Courtney Brown is sidelined for a few weeks with a bicep injury. Davis will be replaced as a backup safety by Nate Jones.

--LB Bobby Carpenter practiced Thursday after sitting out practice on Wednesday with a sore knee. He will be ready to go for the Rams game.

--FB Deon Anderson could get his second start against the Rams because Oliver Hoyte is still limited with a neck strain.

--DT Tank Johnson will head to Valley Ranch next week to continue his suspension under the supervision of the Cowboys. He can't practice but he will be allowed to lift weights at the facility. He has a locker at the team's Valley Ranch headquarters and he will wear no. 66 with the Cowboys. He wore 99 with the Bears.

INSIDE THE RAMS CAMPS: Every coach would like to go into each game with all the bullets in his gun. But that's simply not the case now with the Rams. So, as they get closer to Sunday's game against Dallas, they know the play of rookie running back Brian Leonard will largely determine whether a major upset can be attained.

A second-round pick, Leonard had been working at fullback and tailback after the release of Madison Hedgecock. Now, with Steven Jackson sidelined by a groin injury, Leonard will be the starter.

"I'm definitely excited," Leonard said. "It's just an opportunity. I've dreamed my whole life to play running back in the NFL and I finally get my first start and hopefully I make the best of it."

During the preseason, Leonard played a lot when Jackson was pulled from the game after one play from scrimmage. Coach Scott Linehan wanted him to have the mindset that he had to be ready to play at any time.

Said Linehan, "You saw a lot of Brian in the preseason and a real reason why he got so many reps and started was for this unfortunate situation we're in with Steven being out. We feel based on that that we're going to see exactly what we saw in the preseason: a guy that runs downhill. The game's not too big for him. He fits right in and just has a knack to get yards and is going to be a very good pass protector because of his size and he's a very smart and aware player. He's our starting tailback and we'll be approaching the game that way. We know based on what we were able to see in preseason that he's going to be able to do that."

Asked what workload can be expected, Linehan said, "He's going to get the starter's carries. One thing we're conscience of is making sure that his load is not too much when it comes to the entire game. He probably won't play a whole lot of special teams; that's generally the case with your starting tailback. We have to get him some help on third down when he's been able to come in for us as backup.

"Now he's going to be the starter, so you can give him breaks there. Travis (Minor) will play a number of plays. Travis has started as the second back at Miami before. He's been in this position and he'll get a number of carries as well. Particularly in this game, we'll have both Brian and Travis get a certain amount of plays as our tailback."

But don't expect the game plan to be scaled back because of Leonard's inexperience.

Said quarterback Marc Bulger, "It's tough at this point to scale anything back and dumb the game plan down, but I think (he) will do fine. He's learned enough. Certainly Steven's a special athlete, but Leonard's a good player. We have confidence in him. He did a good job in the preseason for us starting those games. We'd love to have Jack, but we don't."

And Jackson won't be far away from Leonard's side.

"We have a lot of confidence in Brian," Jackson said. "He took a majority of the snaps in the preseason and got a lot of carries, so we know he's comfortable in the running game. He's showed over time, especially in the last two weeks filling in at fullback, that he can block and pick up the blitz. He'll have to be big in that area as well.

"You have to see what their defense is trying to do and their game plan. If he has any questions or any doubts, hopefully I can be an extra pair of eyes."

INSIDE THE COWBOYS CAMP: Will he or won't he? That is the question surrounding Cowboys linebacker Greg Ellis.

After Ellis did some full speed practicing Wednesday for the first time since having his left Achilles surgically repaired, coach Wade Phillips said it was a slight chance for Ellis to play Sunday against the Rams.

Of course, talking to Ellis Thursday morning, he was less than enthusiastic about his situation.

Ellis acknowledged that he had made significant progress but said he was still experiencing pain and was nowhere near ready to play.

When told that Phillips thought he had a chance to play, he said he wasn't going to shoot down his coach and would try to make a go of it if that's what they wanted.

Ellis, however, said he was going to back it down in practice on Thursday.

However, when practice came on Thursday, Ellis did as much as he did on Wednesday and maybe a little more.

So much so that Phillips upgraded Ellis to 50-50 for the Rams game. He said he talked to Ellis after practice and was encouraged by his progress.

Phillips also said they weren't going to force feed Ellis into the starting lineup if he played. He said Ellis would likely play only on passing downs as a nickel pass rusher.

Phillips feels Ellis can handle that part of the game because he doesn't have problems running forward. It's backpedaling and doing a lot of lateral stuff that is giving him the most pain.

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