LAST MEETING: NOVEMBER 3, 2002, DETROIT 9 - DALLAS 7 (FORD FIELD)
One week after Dallas Cowboys RB Emmitt Smith surpassed Walter Payton as the NFL's all-time leading rusher, the Detroit Lions defense held Smith to only 39 yards on 16 attempts.
ALL TIME: Detroit leads series 8-7 including three straight wins.
(ALLEN PARK) - The Detroit Lions hope that coming home to the friendly confines of Ford Field will help them to snap a nasty four-game losing streak that has them headed toward the bottom of the NFC North division.
Detroit is facing an opportunistic Dallas Cowboys team that is thriving under new head coach Bill Parcells. Veteran Cowboys safety Darren Woodson is happy to be back on the winning track and credits Parcells for instilling a new attitude into the Dallas organization.
"He's a hands-on guy and he has a lot of passion for the game," said Woodson. "I think that's the difference between he and the other coaches I've been around."
Parcells, while happy with the initial results isn't counting his chickens too early.
"First of all, I don't think it's turned around yet. I don't think you can say that at five weeks. I think if you're a contender for two, three years in a row and everybody knows you're a lot better team then I would talk about the team turning around, but I was telling the guys around here that I like horse racing and if they paid off at the half-mile pole, I would have been rich a long time ago."
Parcells also feels the Lions are a dangerous team this is gradually learning to play football Steve Mariucci's way.
"I think they're trying to win. The thing that I saw that impressed me a little bit was coming back in San Francisco, being on the road and being down by a pretty good score early and then fighting back. I thought they did a good job in that game. I know they gave Minnesota a lot of trouble and then I saw that game in Denver that was kind of a nail biter right to the end.
Steve (Mariucci) does a good job. He's got a philosophy and his imprint, to me, is already on the team. You see things that he's doing to take advantage of the people that he has and I think that's the whole key and the whole indication of a good solid football coach. He has his philosophy. I think we're a little bit familiar with that, but you see it being put in place and he's trying to use the people that he has currently to the best advantage that he can."
But for Detroit, the injuries continue to take their toll on any chance the team has to build something successful. Despite a bye week, Detroit was forced to add three key players to their injury report. The devastating loss of rookie wide receiver Charles Rogers is still bothering corner Dre' Bly.
"I was a little hurt because he was making a lot of progress. Most guys, most rookies, after they get to the fourth or fifth game after having a preseason, kind of hit a wall. He was kind of sore and kind of getting a little fatigued, but I think he was starting to come into his own. During the off-week that's one thing you try to prevent are injuries like that. I just felt bad, but that's kind of been the story for this team all year, injuries to key guys."
Coach Mariucci is making sure Rogers stays involved so that he can get right back into the actions once he's healthy.
"He's getting early treatment then he gets late in the afternoon treatment. He knows that he has to stay up with it; with the game plan, with the new wrinkles, the study of opponents that he's going to be playing against in the future so he's trying to be around as much as possible, obviously, to learn and stay involved in any way," said Mariucci.
Rogers is lost to the team for the next four to six weeks. Meanwhile quarterback Joey Harrington, who injured the ring finger on his throwing hand after he smacked it against the helmet of Dominic Raiola, didn't see the finger improve substantially.
Harrington has been placed on the team's injury report for the first time this season. If Harrington has trouble, backup Mike McMahon could see some significant playing time for the first time this season.
Concurrently, guard Ray Brown is also listed on the injury report. "[He] stepped on Olandis Gary's foot and he sort of aggravated his big toe. I haven't talked to him but from what I was told, he did an x-ray and it seems to be calming down right now. I know Ray Brown – he'll play. He's a tough guy and has been doing this for a lot of years."
Mariucci has not gotten the solid play out of Detroit's offensive line that was expected. Detroit has three high draft picks (left tackle Jeff Backus, center Dominic Raiola, and right tackle Stockar McDougle) starting across it's offensive front but has not seen the running game materialize or gotten a consistent push up front. Mariucci said it is deathly important that the team not sustain any injuries in the offensive front.
"We've been lucky that way to have our offensive line so healthy because we're short. We're shorthanded there too. We've even talked about adding another lineman but then we had to add a punter."
Defending the Cowboys
Detroit will have to contain quarterback Quincy Carter who has the ability to hurt them by getting out of the pocket and running the football. Coach Parcells has simplified the playbook for Carter, giving him just two progressions before he has the green light to run.
While it took Parcells a little while to warm up to Carter's style, he credits the young QB for putting in the hours to get better. "He's doing well. We haven't let many links out of the choke collar yet. We are still working on that, but he's doing well. What I'm really pleased with is the way he's approached this stuff. He's over here at night until 8 or 8:30. He is 100 percent football and has been."
Detroit also will likely match its best player, cornerback Dre' Bly against Cowboys wide receiver Joey Galloway. "They are probably the fastest group of receivers we'll face all year. Galloway has been clocked in the past at like 4.1 (40 yard time), Terry Glenn about the same at about 4.2 and Antonio Bryant is a young speedy guy and a confident guy. We have our work cut out for us, but I'm not at all intimidated. I don't feel like we can't get the job done, because I feel we can."
Otis Smith, who has been a nice surprise will likely draw Glenn. Lions secondary coach Ray Horton has elevated rookie corner Rod Babers to the team's starting nickel back. Babers would take on Bryant in a three receiver set. Babers impressed the coaching staff with his strong play on special teams. He has a picked up the team's defensive scheme quickly. Horton said Babers speed, quickness and solid tackling has him on the rise with the team's coaching staff.
Dallas will try to run the ball with Troy Hambrick who replaced hall of famer Emmitt Smith in the Cowboys backfield, but it's been the big play through the air that has been the difference for Dallas this season
The Lions will try to be more balanced, especially with Harrington not 100%. Running back Olandis Gary, who came on a little in the loss to San Francisco, believes Detroit can get the run game going. "When you look at the running game there's a lot of components into it, not just the guy with the ball. Right now, I think everybody's clicking and gelling together and just ready to do our part to help the running game go."
The Lions need Gary and Shawn Bryson to deliver Sunday to avoid becoming one dimensional. The Cowboys have a strong secondary led by Woodson, second-year safety Roy Williams along with rookie corner Terence Neumann and veteran Mario Edwards. Woodson thinks the secondary is one of the team's strong suits.
"These guys play hard, each down, and that's all I can ask for. Mentally, they're ready for the games and physically, you know Roy's (Williams) and Terence Newman is the same. They have the gift to play on Sundays and they're playing well. Then you have Mario Edwards on the other side who is playing lights out. He doesn't have any big interceptions or anything, but he's playing very consistently. He's holding the receivers down a little bit."
Without Rogers, Detroit will need veterans Bill Schroeder (12 catches), Az Hakim (8 catches), Scotty Anderson (2 catches) and Shawn Jefferson (3 catches)to step up their production. Pro Bowl tight end Mikhael Ricks wouldn't be surprised if he becomes a bigger part of the offense. "Hopefully after what happened against San Francisco (Ricks caught four balls for 76 yards and 1 TD) I'll get more opportunities."
The "X" factor in this game will be the punting of newly signed Nick Harris. Harris ranked last in the league with a 30 yards per punt net average before he was released by Cincinnati and signed by Detroit, but Harris said he was the victim of circumstances. "I had a couple of bad kicks at some inopportune times and that's just how it goes. It's how it works with kickers. I'm off the circuit now and I'm with a new club and happy to be here."
While Harris knows he's just biding his time until John Jett returns, that could be later rather than sooner. Jett admitted he has no idea how long he'll be out of action. "I don't know," replied Jett when asked how much longer he thought he'd be out. "I'm taking it week by week, but at least a couple of weeks."
Detroit has a backup if Harris stinks up the joint in former all-America punter at Washington State, Jason Hanson. Hanson did double duty but Detroit didn't want to risk wearing out Hanson's leg by having him perform both tasks for the remainder of the season.
If Detroit loses and falls to 1-5 it's a deep hole out of the basement to .500 again, isn't it?
"We're not looking at that route right now. We're looking forward to playing Dallas just trying to get this win. Regardless of what the record says right now we're thinking we're 0-0 and just trying to make this an 11-game season and we'll have a 1-0 record.
So without Rogers and Dallas on a four-game winning streak, we can chalk this one up as a Lions loss right?
"That's what we said last year and they beat us the last two times we've seen them," said Woodson. "We have to work hard. We have to work extra hard and mentally we've got to get right for this game because again, this is a team that beat us, somewhat like Philly. Philly beat us six games straight so mentally they had the edge against us and we had to come out physically and take it back. It's the same thing this week. Detroit has the mental edge on us, but we have to physically go out there and win the game."
Gary agreed with Woodson.
"Records in this league don't mean anything," said Gary. "A team could be 4-1 and if one or two plays went the other way it could be 1-4. The margin of error is so small in this league its impossible to judge a team on its record alone. [There] is so much parity in this league that any team can beat any team on any given Sunday."
PICK: The home crowd will energize Detroit early on and they'll need to take advantage of the momentum and then try to hang on.
Dallas 20 - Detroit 17