Behind Enemy Lines: The Cowboys' Perspective

We get ready for Sunday's key game by talking Cowboys with RanchReport.com's Steve Lansdale. How big was that win over Philadelphia? Has Tony Romo silenced the critics? Who is Miles Austin? Steve lends his expertise to get you the inside scoop.

Bill Huber: I remember doing my game-by-game previews back in August and wondering when the Cowboys would implode with a lame-duck coach. Guess I got that one wrong. How big was that win over Philadelphia? From the outside perspective, that's the kind of big road win that I know Green Bay is still searching for over the last couple years.

Steve Lansdale: The win over the Eagles was huge for the Cowboys. Despite the win over a solid Atlanta team the week before, the skeptics were circling overhead, saying Dallas had only beaten one decent team after piling up wins against cupcakes like Tampa Bay and Kansas City and Carolina. Dallas not only beat Philadelphia, it was able to snuff out Philly's big-play passing game. DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin were emerging as one of the best — if not the best — tandems of big-play WR threats in the league, and with good reason. But the Dallas front seven was able to pressure Donovan McNabb enough that he did very little with the deep passing game, and with Brian Westbrook out with a concussion suffered the week before, the Philly offense mustered little in the way of a serious threat.

In addition, the win allowed the Cowboys to re-stake their claim as perhaps the elite team in the NFC East. It's too early to determine that, of course, but after annihilating the Giants a week before, the Eagles were perceived by many as the heavyweight in the division. For the Cowboys to go into Philadelphia and knock off the Eagles went a long way toward suggesting that Dallas can at least compete for the title of the division's best team.

Bill: It seems Tony Romo and Aaron Rodgers are kind of the same guy. Both have a ton of talent. Both can make all the throws. Both can make something out of nothing. Rodgers is coming under fire for not producing enough wins, and I know Romo has heard the same sort of things because of his playoff resume. Is Romo ready to take that next step?

Steve: He needs to be, but whether he is remains to be seen. Romo is a sensational athlete who is still learning to be an NFL quarterback, Pro Bowl appearances notwithstanding. Whether he needs to be a playoff star is a matter of debate, because with a contract on the north side of $60 million, he's not going anywhere. From the outside, it looks like Rodgers is slightly more polished as a passer, while Romo is slightly more athletic, and able to create the playground-style highlights that land him on "SportsCenter."

But before it can be determined if Romo is ready to "take the next step" and enjoy postseason success, the team has questions in the positions surrounding Romo. When Terrell Owens was dumped in the offseason, the company line issued by owner Jerry Jones was that the move was made to accelerate the development of Roy Williams into a No. 1 receiver. While Owens has hardly lit up the stat sheets in Buffalo, Williams hasn't shown he is a No. 1 receiver in Dallas, either (despite his claims that he is just that). Defenses have geared their gameplans around taking tight end Jason Witten out of the passing game, forcing Romo to find other targets and forcing the team to rely heavily on the three-headed rushing attack that is Marion Barber, Felix Jones and Tashard Choice. Romo and wideout Miles Austin have become one of the NFL's most potent passing tandems in recent weeks, and if that trend continues, this very well could be the season in which Romo shakes his "can't win in the postseason" label.

Bill: Who on earth is Miles Austin? He made two big plays here last year but sort of was a nobody before that game and after the game. Was he a well-kept secret that helped make the decision to get rid of Terrell Owens a bit easier?


Miles Austin has scored six touchdowns in his last four games.
Jamie Squire/Getty Images
Steve: Yes and no. Austin is a well-kept secret, to be sure, but again, team officials (primarily Jones) insisted Owens was tossed aside because Williams was deemed the next go-to receiver in Dallas. While Williams and Romo have not always been on the same page, Austin has flourished. The fourth-year receiver from tiny Monmouth (it's in New Jersey, and about as easy for out-of-state fans to find as Green Bay might be for those who live outside Wisconsin) is bigger than he looks (listed at 6-3, 214), absurdly strong and the fastest receiver on the Dallas roster. The knock on him was always that he didn't play any real competition in college, but he is one of the hardest-working practice players on the team and consistently makes the same highlight-reel plays in practice that he makes in games. He might be anonymous for now, but that won't last. Austin looks like anything but a flash-in-the-pan guy.

Bill: Are you covering a Super Bowl team? On paper, between Marion Barber and Tony Romo and Jason Witten and DeMarcus Ware and Jay Ratliff, wow, that team's loaded. I know the Saints and Vikings have better records, but is there any reason to believe the Cowboys can't get to the Super Bowl?

Steve: Actually, there is reason to believe that. Romo never has won in the postseason, and while Witten is as good a tight end as there is anywhere, and Austin looks like a future (if not present) star, the offense lacks a third receiving threat. Patrick Crayton is consistent but limited. Sam Hurd has great athleticism but doesn't get used much. Williams is great one week, and disappears the next. Until another threat is established, teams will continue to double-team Witten and/or Austin and bring seven or eight defenders into the box to stack the run, and dare the Cowboys to beat them elsewhere.

Defensively, the team has stars in Ware, Ratliff and cornerback Terence Newman, but the opposite cornerback spot (manned by Mike Jenkins and Orlando Scandrick) has been inconsistent. New strong safety Gerald Sensabaugh has been a stabilizing force, but has battled a broken thumb that has affected his ability to make plays when the ball is in the air.

The team is very talented, and at times looks sensational, but it would be premature to put Dallas in the same class as the Saints and Vikings.

Bill: Minnesota's Jared Allen leads the NFL in sacks, thanks to two games against the Packers. Cincinnati's Antwan Odom is tied for fourth in sacks, even though he's been on injured reserve for a few weeks, thanks to one game against the Packers. What are the Cowboys saying ahead of what looks like a colossal pass rush vs. pass blocking mismatch.

Steve: The Dallas defenders are very aware of the struggles the Packers have had keeping Aaron Rodgers upright this season, and admit they are looking forward to taking on Green Bay's injury-riddled offensive line. The players I talked to were quick to laud the talent of the Packers' blockers, saying the struggles they have seen on film seem to be more a result of poor health than problems with talent or schemes. Maybe they're being diplomatic, but they seem to genuinely respect the Green Bay offense, both in terms of the effort and toughness of the line, and the willingness of guys like Ryan Grant to stay in and block.

Likewise, several defensive players were quick to point out the fact that while Rodgers might get most of his praise for his arm, he is a fairly mobile guy who runs better than most think, and they said getting to him will be a challenge. But when pressed about Jared Allen's success this season against Green Bay, a couple of the Dallas defenders did allow a wide smile, and acknowledged that they "can't wait" for Sunday to arrive.


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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.


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