By Tony Grossi
Browns vs. Dallas Cowboys
Sunday 1 p.m. in Cowboys Stadium in Dallas, Texas
Last game: Defeated Philadelphia Eagles, 38-23, Nov. 11, in Philadelphia.
Coach: Jason Garrett, 17-16, third year.
Series record: Browns lead, 17-12, counting postseason.
Last meeting: Cowboys won, 28-10, Sept. 7, 2008.
League rankings: Offense is ninth overall (29th rushing, sixth passing), defense is eighth (13th rushing, seventh passing) and turnover differential is minus-9.
Offensive overview: Unable to run the ball with any consistency, the offense is overly dependent on QB Tony Romo. When he makes the throws, they win; when he doesn’t, they lose. That tremendous burden often is too much for Romo to carry. His NFL-high 13 interceptions attest to the pressure he feels to make plays when none is there. WR Dez Bryant has the potential to ease Romo’s load, but he is inconsistent, immature and unreliable. Hence, Romo leans heavily on TE Jason Witten (66 catchs) and WR Miles Austin (43). Still, the lack of a running game without DeMarco Murray is stifling. Murray has missed the past four games with a foot injury and still is the team’s leading rusher (330 yards, 4.4 average). Even the presence of lead-blocker Lawrence Vickers hasn’t helped sub Felix Jones. Garrett doesn’t have the greatest confidence in Vickers and often resorts to two-TE and three-receiver formations.
Defensive overview: Besides his shoulder-length silvery hair, coordinator Rob Ryan would hardly be recognized this year by Browns fans familiar with his relentless blitzing and bulletin-board quotes. Both have been lacking in Ryan’s second season in Dallas. Despite having good starting CBs in big-ticket free agent Brandon Carr and No. 1 rookie draft pick Morris Claiborne, Ryan has reined in the blitz. The past three weeks, he hasn’t brought pressure much more than 10 times a game. Thus, pass pressure has been lacking as teams scheme to keep premier rusher DeMarcus Ware (nine sacks) from dominating. Ryan’s 3-4 unit has been above-average in the rankings, but it’s 17th in points per game, the most vital defensive stat. It doesn’t bend, but it breaks. The unit is tied for last with four interceptions and fourth-worst with 10 total takeaways.
Special teams overview: K Dan Bailey is 16 of 18 on field goals with a long of 51 yards, and has 15 touchbacks on kickoffs. P Brian Moorman, the long-time Buffalo Bill, replaced injured Chris Jones six weeks ago. He is 25th in gross average (43.9 yards) and 22nd in net (38.1). Moorman’s net with the Cowboys is 41.8. The punt coverage team has yielded a league-low 3.2-yard average on punts. The kick coverage team was scorched for a 108-yard TD return by Baltimore’s Jacoby Jones, but otherwise has been good. Punt returner Dwayne Harris hit Philadelphia with a 78-yard TD return.
Players to watch:
1. QB Tony Romo: He completes a good percentage of passes (66.9) and has a very good yards per pass attempt figure (7.57), but his league-high 13 interceptions speaks of his propensity to force plays because so much is on his shoulders.
2. OLB DeMarcus Ware: In the handful of premier pass rushers, his nine sacks rank fourth in the league, bringing his career total to 108.5 – tops in the NFL over his eight seasons. He’s made the Pro Bowl six consecutive years.
3. TE Jason Witten: His 66 receptions are first among tight ends and tied for third overall. His 762 career catches rank third on the NFL all-time list for tight ends.
Injury Report: DE Kenyon Coleman (triceps) and C Phil Costa (ankle) are out. RB DeMarco Murray (foot) has missed the past four games.
Small world: The Garrett brothers – Jason, head coach; John, passing game coordinator and tight ends coach; and Judd, director of pro scouting – are the sons of former Browns assistant Jim Garrett and attended University School in Chagrin Falls … Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, linebackers coach Matt Eberflus and secondary coach Jerome Henderson all had the same positions with the Browns in 2009-10 … Defensive quality control and linebackers coach Ben Bloom held two positions with the Browns in 2009-10 … Offensive quality control and receivers coach Keith O’Quinn was Browns director of pro personnel in 2009 … Fullback Lawrence Vickers (2006-10) and defensive end Kenyon Coleman (2009-10) formerly played for the Browns.
|Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and www.espncleveland.com. |
He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 44 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Email your “Hey Tony” questions to email@example.com
Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi
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