First Look: The Dallas Cowboys

The Cowboys might as well face the facts. There is no help for their defense right now. A defense that entered the season talking about being another Doomsday has simply spelled doom for the Cowboys down the stretch.

Dallas has given up a combined 132 points the past four games, capped by Sunday's 39-31 loss to the Lions. And this after the team made wholesale defensive changes before the Detroit game. The Cowboys used primarily a 4-3 front against the Lions after playing the 3-4 most of the season. They started rookie Bobby Carpenter at linebacker for the first time, and they used veteran Tony Parrish in place of rookie free safety Pat Watkins.

It was all to no avail as the Lions had their highest-scoring game since 1987. The Cowboys sacked quarterback Jon Kitna five times, but it didn't matter as Dallas couldn't cover in the secondary and was victimized again for big plays by an opposing offense.

Receivers Roy Williams and Mike Furrey combined for 17 catches for 206 yards and three touchdowns. The Cowboys were without words and answers to explain their frustration. They will head into the wild-card game against the Seahawks, who are sure to copy the Lions' blue print, with scant hope of things being different.

"The Detroit Lions just hung 39 points in our house," defensive end Chris Canty said. "We have to be honest about our performances. Don't blame anybody else. We have to deal with the truth."

NOTES, QUOTES

--The Cowboys were undone by hidden yardage against the Lions. Hidden yardage, according to Cowboys coach Bill Parcells, is acquired because of turnovers or poor kick coverage that leads to short-field scores.

Detroit's average drive start was its own 41-yard line, and its offense scored 17 points off three Cowboys turnovers -- Terence Newman's muffed punt and Tony Romo's second-half fumble and interception. The Lions scored 10 points after punt returns of 40 and 32 yards by Eddie Drummond. The first one set up a field goal, while the second one, which was compounded by a 15-yard penalty, set up a 20-yard touchdown reception by Roy Williams.

Said cornerback Nate Jones of Drummond: "He's always a threat. He went out and made some plays for them and definitely gave them some good field position in early parts of the game."

--The schedule of opponents for 2007 has been set. Along with their traditional NFC East foes, the Cowboys will face the NFC North and AFC East in 2007. Since they finished second in the NFC East, their other two 2007 opponents will be NFC South runner-up Carolina and NFC West runner-up St. Louis.

Aside from their home-and-home games within the division, the Cowboys will play at home against Green Bay, Minnesota, St. Louis, New England and the New York Jets. Road games will include Chicago, Detroit, Carolina, Buffalo and Miami.

PLAYER NOTES

--CB Terence Newman tried to motivate his team last week by saying that the Cowboys had more talkers than players. Then he went out Sunday and committed a penalty that brought back a touchdown on an interception return. He also had a muffed punt and gave up a touchdown pass. Newman atoned for his muffed punt with a 56-yard punt return for a touchdown. "They outplayed us. They got a lot of yards passing, so our defense is definitely to blame on most of that," Newman said. "I muffed a punt, I gave up a touchdown. So I definitely have to put my finger on me as a big reason why they got 14 points."

--LB Bobby Carpenter got his first career start against the Lions. The rookie top pick was one of several game-day roster changes made by the Cowboys for the season finale.

--LB Junior Glymph was active for the game, as was rookie OT Pat McQuistan, who was inactive the first 15 games.

--FS Tony Parrish was active against the Lions for the first time since being claimed off waivers from the 49ers last month. He played on special teams and spelled FS Pat Watkins. Parrish was called for a personal-foul penalty on special teams and did little to help stop the Lions passing game.

--DT Stephen Bowen was active for the first time all season as he replaced an injured Jay Ratliff. Bowen was a big part of the Cowboys' 4-3 alignment that they used extensively against the Lions in place of their traditional 3-4 front.

--KR Miles Austin's 29.0-yard kickoff return average against the Lions pushed his season average to 26.0, the second-best kickoff return average by a rookie in club history behind Bob Hayes' 26.5-yard mark in 1965.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

REPORT CARD VS. LIONS

PASSING OFFENSE: F --
Tony Romo passed for a season-high 321 yards and two touchdowns, but he didn't play winning football. Romo had four fumbles, and Dallas lost two of them. He also threw an interception. He has seemingly regressed to old small-college gunslinger ways.

RUSHING OFFENSE: F -- The running game has regressed. Julius Jones looks nothing like a 1,000-yard rusher, and the bloom is off backup Marion Barber.

PASS DEFENSE: F -- Jon Kitna passed for 308 yards, and the Cowboys could do nothing with WRs Roy Williams and Mike Furrey, who combined for 17 catches for 206 yards and three touchdowns.

RUSH DEFENSE: C -- The Lions, led by former Cowboys castoff Aveion Cason, rushed for 85 yards as a team. They did enough on the ground to open up the play-action passing game.

SPECIAL TEAMS: D --
Give Terence Newman credit for returning a punt 56 yards for a touchdown, but he also muffed a punt that led to a Lions score. The Cowboys were gashed for punt returns of 40 and 32 yards by Eddie Drummond.

COACHING: F --
Bill Parcells is as disappointed as he's been since taking over in 2003. And why not? This team, which has lost three of its last four, was built to Parcells' exact specifications. For it to play its worst football down the stretch is an indictment of the coach.


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