Scouting the Cowboys

The Cowboys are on the verge of arguably the biggest collapse in franchise history. Never has a Cowboys team missed the playoffs after winning seven of its first 10 games. But that is a distinct possibility in 2005 for the Cowboys, who are heading into Sunday's showdown in Charlotte, N.C. against the Carolina Panthers on the brink of playoff elimination.

The Cowboys (8-6) must beat the NFC South-leading Panthers (10-4) on the road, then must win their final game, at home against the Rams, to have a chance at the postseason.

They also must get some help.

Achieving the first goal against the Panthers will be a tall order because their strengths are the Cowboys' weaknesses of late.

Offensively, Carolina is a strong running team featuring the explosive DeShaun Foster. The Cowboys, who have lost three of their last four games, have not been able to stop anyone on the ground of late, giving up 603 rushing yards the last four games to the Broncos (144), the Giants (127), the Chiefs (161) and the Redskins (171). The Cowboys have gone from sixth against the run earlier in the season to 15th now.

"Sometimes it's about attitude," nose tackle Jason Ferguson said. "They want to run the ball and we don't have the same will we had earlier in the season. We have to get our will back. But it's definitely surprising. We take a lot of pride in our run defense. We have just gone the wrong way."

Defensively, the Panthers are led by one of the league's premier defensive end tandems - Mike Rucker and Julius Peppers. Not coincidentally, the shaky play of tackles Torrin Tucker and Rob Petitti have held the Cowboys hostage all season. The Cowboys gave up seven sacks against the Redskins last Sunday. Tucker's man accounted for four, while Petitti gave up two.

"This team we've got coming up here is a good running team, very good," Cowboys coach Bill Parcells said. "It's a tall order here for us to get back and ready to go in a short week against this team because they are very good, and they also have very good defensive ends, so it's kind of a combination of things that have been bothersome to us."

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--LB Mike Barrow has officially been moved to the injured reserve list with a strained quadriceps tendon in his right knee. It's the same injury that kept Barrow out of football for more than a year. He missed all of last season with the Redskins because of the injury. When he played one play against the Chiefs on Dec. 11 after signing with the Cowboys three weeks ago, it was his first action since 2003 when he was with the Giants. He went down against the Redskins after only two plays so he has combined for three plays in 2005 before going on injured reserve. The Cowboys signed him to a split contract, allowing them to save roughly $70,000 the final two weeks.

--QB Drew Bledsoe said he never considered coming out of the blowout loss to the Redskins despite putting himself at risk to injury by taking a pounding in the fourth quarter. "I think for me, I have been playing this game since I was 12 and never once asked out of a game," Bledsoe said. "I won't ever do that. That's just the kind of way you are as a player. Hopefully, what guys took from that I am going to stay in there and fight this battle with you until the battle is over. That's the way I am hoping for these last two regular-season games. Fighting that battle means coming out on the winning side. That's what I anticipate."

--LB DeMarcus Ware had a sack in four straight games earlier in the season, but he has not had a sack since Oct. 16 against the Giants. The Cowboys are 4-4 since that game. He had one tackle in last Sunday's 35-7 loss to the Redskins.

--K Billy Cundiff and P Matt McBriar are safe for at least another week. Cundiff missed a short field goal against the Redskins. McBriar had punts of 24 and 15 yards in the game, prompting coach Bill Parcells to tell special teams coach Bruce DeHaven that "he is gone." Parcells says now he will not make any changes going into the Panthers game.

--CB Anthony Henry said he suffered an abdominal strain against the Chiefs two weeks ago and will likely be limited by the injury for the rest of the season. Henry, who was the team's defensive MVP for the first half of the season, missed three of the four games prior to the Chiefs game with a partially torn groin. He returned to the starting lineup against the Chiefs. The injury forced him to play sparingly in the 35-7 loss to the Redskins. He played primarily on running plays in one-receiver sets.

--RB Julius Jones needs 236 yards in the final two games to reach 1,000 for the season. He currently has 764 yards and is averaging just 3.7 yards per carry. That number was spiked by a meaningless 51-yard run late in the blowout loss to the Redskins. That Jones didn't reach the end zone on that run was telling - he has not scored since Sept. 25 against the 49ers.

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