Dallas Cowboys Inside Slant

Yes, the Cowboys' 28-24 comeback victory against the Chargers was that impressive. Doing it on the road against a team that last season won AFC West with a 12-4 record is one thing. Doing it while overcoming your own miscues in comeback fashion was another.

The bumbling Cowboys of 2004 could not have accomplished that.

But this is not the 2004 Cowboys, thanks to more than $50 million in guaranteed money spent on off-season upgrades via free agency and the draft. As a result, the Cowboys have more playmakers, more depth and more mental toughness than any team in Dallas since the Super Bowl squads of the 1990s.

But more important, they have their best quarterback - free agent signee Drew Bledsoe - since Troy Aikman's departure in 2001.

No matter how good the talent upgrades were, how the Cowboys would fare in 2005 was based on how well Bledsoe would play.

Would he be the much sacked and mistake-prone quarterback that got kicked out of Buffalo for not being able to get his team over the top last season?

Or would he be the franchise quarterback coach Bill Parcells drafted with the Patriots in 1993, the man who helped take them to the Super Bowl?

The Cowboys didn't need Bledsoe to be a reincarnation of Peyton Manning or even Tom Brady. They simply want him to manage the offense, which will be built around running back Julius Jones, play turnover-free and make plays in the passing game when necessary.

That is certainly what Bledsoe did in the opener against San Diego, completing 18 of 24 passes for 226 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions. The Chargers sold out their defense to stop Jones and Bledsoe simply picked them apart.

"I expect to play that way," Bledsoe said. "I expect to be smart with what I'm doing. As I said in the preseason, one of the goals coming in for me personally was to avoid the negative plays. And there were a few opportunities in the game for me to try and force a ball down the field, force a ball into coverage, and I didn't do that. I allowed us to avoid possible turnovers whenever I could.

"I felt like I played smart football and that's what I expect to do every week. Will it always be that clean? Probably not. But that's certainly the type of game I expect to play and I also expect to be able to hit some big plays when we have the opportunities."

Step two is Monday night against the Washington Redskins (1-0).

Redskins coach Joe Gibbs was certainly impressed, saying Bledsoe's reunion with Parcells looks like a success so far.

"His quarterback rating was out of sight," Gibbs said. "He played especially well. He has us concerned."

SERIES HISTORY: 91st meeting. The Cowboys lead the series 54-34-2. The Cowboys have won 14 of the past 15 meetings. Dallas has defeated Washington more times (54) than any other team. The Cowboys have faced only one team (Philadelphia - 91) more times than the 90 times they've faced the Redskins. The Cowboys won a series-high 10 consecutive games from 1997-02.

 

NOTES, QUOTES

--A Cowboys win against the Redskins would give Dallas a 2-0 record for the first time since 1999, when the club opened the season 3-0. It would give Dallas back-to-back home opening wins for the first time since 1998 and 1999. It would give the Cowboys 15 wins in their last 16 contests against Washington, tying their best 16-game run against any team (Dallas defeated the Cardinals 15 times in 16 games).

--After one week's worth of action in 2005, the Cowboys rank 20th in the NFL in kickoff returns with an average of 19.5 yards per runback.

Dallas is 22nd in the NFL in punt return average (2.0). On the coverage side, the Cowboys are ranked 25th in the league in punt coverage, after allowing the Chargers to average 12.5 yards per return. Dallas is 29th in the NFL in kickoff return coverage with an average of 32.4 yards allowed.

--After the season's first week, the Cowboys are ranked 21st (seventh in the NFC) in total offense with 301 yards. Dallas is ranked 11th in the NFL (fifth in the NFC) in rushing (109 yards vs. San Diego). With 192 passing yards against the Chargers, Dallas ranks 19th in the NFL in passing (seventh in the NFC).

--The Cowboys converted 7 of 11 third-down opportunities at San Diego (63.6%). That was the best third-down conversion rate in the NFL on opening day. It was the team's best third-down conversion rate since converting 11 of 17 (64.7%) in a home win over San Francisco on Dec. 30, 2001.

--Last Sunday's win at San Diego marked the Cowboys' first game without throwing an interception in five outings, dating to the Monday night win at Seattle on Dec. 6, 2004.

--Dallas finished Week 1 as the NFL's most productive offense in the red zone. The Cowboys scored touchdowns on all four possessions inside the San Diego 20-yard line.

--The Cowboys' 23 first downs in the opener were tied for third-best in the NFL after one game.

--The Cowboys are currently tied for eighth in the NFL (tied for seventh in the NFC) in total defense after giving up 291 yards to the San Diego Chargers in the season opener. In rushing defense, the Cowboys are 19th in the NFL (ninth in the NFC) after allowing 103 yards on the ground to the Chargers. Dallas is ninth in pass defense (seventh in the NFC) with 188 yards allowed through the air.

--In the opening-day win at San Diego, the Dallas defense had five new starters from the lineup that took the field for the team's final game of last season. The new starters are: DE Kenyon Coleman, MLB Bradie James, WLB DeMarcus Ware, CB Anthony Henry and FS Keith Davis.

--During his 17 seasons as an NFL head coach, Bill Parcells has faced the Washington Redskins 23 times. Parcells-coached teams are 15-8 against the Redskins, including a victory by his 1986 Giants team in the NFC Championship Game on their way to the Super Bowl XXI title. Parcells is 13-6 against Joe Gibbs teams.

BY THE NUMBERS: .585 - winning percentage for the Cowboys on Monday Night Football. With a 38-27 record, they need one win to tie Miami (39) for most wins on MNF.

--.727 - winning percentage for the Cowboys in home openers at Texas Stadium. Their record is 24-9.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I think he proved something to everybody. He showed he can deliver the football if he is protected and he has guys around him that can make some plays. He will be the great quarterback that he is." -- Cowboys receiver Peerless Price on quarterback Drew Bledsoe.

 

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

PLAYER/PERSONNEL NOTES

--QB Drew Bledsoe posted a Week 1-best 143.4 passer rating last week, tossing 3 TDs vs. 0 INTs. He has led his team to wins in 7 of his past 8 starts, with 14 TDs vs. 6 INTs.

--RB Julius Jones rushed for 198 yards and three touchdowns in his first Monday Night Football appearance (12/6/04, vs. Seattle).

--WR Keyshawn Johnson had TD catches of 13 and 2 yards vs. San Diego. His team is 6-2 when he has two or more TD catches.

--WR Patrick Crayton had career-highs with 6 catches and 89 yards, including a 20-yard TD catch, against the Chargers. He had just 12 catches as a rookie last season.

--TE Jason Witten, who set club tight end records with 87 catches and 980 yards in '04, had one catch in Week 1.

--DT La'Roi Glover had sack in Week 1 and needs 0.5 for 70 career sacks.

GAME PLAN: The Cowboys' plan is always the same on offense: pound the ball with Julius Jones to set up the play-action passing game. The blitz-happy Redskins will be bent on stopping Jones and pressuring quarterback Drew Bledsoe into mistakes. He and the Cowboys must play turnover-free. Defensively, the key is stopping Clinton Portis and the ground game and forcing the Redskins to beat them with their suspect passing game. Mark Brunell has replaced Patrick Ramsey at quarterback, and he is a shell of his former self. He no longer has mobility and can be blitzed into oblivion.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Redskins RB Clinton Portis vs. the Cowboys run defense. The Cowboys did a good job holding Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson in check. They will need to be up to the task against Portis, who represents the Redskins offense.

Redskins S Sean Taylor vs. Cowboys TE Jason Witten. Witten was held to one catch last week when the Chargers committed double coverage to him. That opened things up for the Cowboys' wide receivers. The Redskins believe that Taylor is big and athletic enough to handle Witten. Few safeties had any success against him in single coverage last season.

INJURY IMPACT: LB Kevin Burnett is out one to three weeks after having arthroscopic surgery on his left knee.


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