Game 4 Preview: Dallas Cowboys at Tennessee Titans
By Andrew Strickert
Posted September 29th, 2006

National media coverage will be on Nashville Sunday as the 0-3 Titans host the 1-1 Dallas Cowboys and receiver Terrell Owens. Tennessee lost to Miami 13-10 last week, while Dallas had a bye week.

Owens is listed as questionable on the injury report with a broken hand. The big question is whether T.O. will play after reports of an overdose and attempted suicide. Owens denied those reports in a Wednesday press conference and stated he was able to play Sunday.

Field: grass. Forecast: Partly cloudy, with a high near 83°, wind around 5 mph becoming calm. Kickoff: 12:00 CT Sunday.

Dallas Scouting Report
Since taking over as the Cowboys coach, Bill Parcells has led them to a 26-24 record, and a 9-7 campaign in 2005. They just missed the playoffs last year in the tough NFC East division, finishing behind playoff teams New York and Washington. Three of their losses were by three points or less and many prognosticators have tabbed the ‘Boys as playoff and possible Super Bowl contenders this year.

Offense - Drew Bledsoe may quarterback the team, but there’s no doubt T.O. is the star and the backs are the engine that make the train run. The Cowboys’ well-balanced offense ranks 9th in the league in total offense (345 ypg), 10th in passing (232 ypg), 12th in scoring (22 ppg), and 16th in rushing (113 ypg).

In his 14th season, Bledsoe has been reunited with Parcells since their four years together in New England. A four-time Pro Bowler, Bledsoe has passed for nearly 44,000 yards and has a 77.2 career passer rating.

Deep threat Terry Glenn (10 catches, 175 yards, 1 TD) and Owens (9, 99, 1) are the leading receivers and it’s hard to try to double one of them.

After drafting Anthony Fasano in the second round, Dallas has gone to a lot of two-tight end sets this year, teaming him with Pro Bowler Jason Witten (7, 78). Witten’s versatility allow the Cowboys to go to various formations with the pair, including putting both on the line, using Witten as a H-back, or split wide. He can be a mismatch problem for the Titans, depending on how he lines up on any given play.

Julius Jones (4.5 ypc) and Marion Barber (4.7 ypc) give the Cowboys a strong 1-2 punch at running back. Titans fans remember that as a rookie, Jones beat out Eddie George for the starting job at RB.

Although Jones and Barber have good numbers, they could be better behind a better O-line. Larry Allen is gone and veterans Jason Fabini and Kyle Kosier were brought in to try to bolster the line, which gave up 50 sacks on Bledsoe last year. Fabini lost the competition at RT to Marc Colombo and Kosier has replaced Allen at LG. Big LT Flozell Adams, C Andre Gurode, and RG Marco Rivera are the other starters.

Defense - There’s no question the strength of the Dallas team is its’ defense, which is ranked sixth in total defense (276 ypg), ninth in rushing (85.5 ypg), 13th in passing (190.5 ypg) and 14th in scoring (17 ppg).

The linebackers are the strength of the 3-4 defense, led by OLBs DeMarcus Ware and Greg Ellis. Inside LBs Akin Ayodele, the ex-Jaguar, and Bradie James have ten tackles each so far.

LDE Marcus Spears, NT Jason Ferguson, and RDE Chris Canty are tough to run against. It starts with Ferguson, who can clog the middle like Jamal Williams of San Diego was able to two weeks ago. He’s a prime reason why the Cowboys yield only 86 ypg on the ground. The Dallas front seven, as a whole, is tough to run against.

Strong safety Roy Williams (2 INTs already), of horse-collar tackling fame, leads the Cowboys secondary, which usually plays cover-2. He and free safety Pat Watkins have ten tackles apiece, to co-lead the team with Ayodele and James. Terence Newman and Anthony Henry man the corner spots and do it well. The secondary as a whole is good in both run support and pass defense.

Special Teams - Mike Vanderjagt, the most accurate kicker in NFL history, could be the best offseason addition the Cowboys made. Strong-legged punter Mat McBriar averages 50.8 yards per punt and 41 gross. Newman leads three Cowboys who have returned punts for an 8.8 average and Tyson Thompson averages 24.8 yards per kickoff return. The Dallas coverage units are not quite up to par, allowing 8.6 yards per punt return and 29.3 yards per kick return.

Key Matchups
Titans receivers vs the Cowboys secondary, and the Dallas rushing game vs the Tennessee run defense. A Titans patchwork O-line vs the Cowboys front seven. Titans LT Michael Roos vs Cowboy ROLB DeMarcus Ware will be a key individual matchup to watch.

Expected Strategies
Although they’ll try, Tennessee shouldn’t be able to run the ball and will probably be forced to pass a lot more than they’d like to. Defensively, the Titans have to stop the rush first and foremost. Tennessee had success rushing Culpepper last week and should try more of the same. Bledsoe isn’t the most mobile quarterback in the league and the Cowboys do have pass protection issues.

Dallas can beat Tennessee without T.O., and should be able to run the ball. I’m sure they’ve noticed the problems tight ends have given the Titans the last two weeks, and Witten should be a target and could have a big day. Reynaldo Hill probably will have a bullseye on his jersey, no matter which side he plays opposite Pacman. On defense, there’s not much for the Cowboys to worry about, especially if they can keep pressure on Kerry Collins. Jason Taylor caused two interceptions from his ROLB spot last week and this week it’s Ware’s turn to get that chance.

Last Meeting
September 2002, at Dallas. Quincy Carter passed for two TDs and Dexter Coakley returned an interception for another score in a 21-13 Cowboys win.

The Cowboys can run on the Titans and pass on them too. They can stop the Titans’ meager run game and pressure Collins on pass attempts. Injuries make the Titan O-line very thin and vulnerable. The Titans’ only advantage may be in the return game.

Cowboys 24, Titans 13

Read Andrew Strickert's blog at Total Titans.

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