The Dallas Cowboys might be 4-5, but they've had a pretty brutal schedule to begin the season. Consider the following:
- Through 9 games, Dallas has played 3 home games compared to 6 road games.
- Dallas has lost to the following teams: Seattle, Chicago, Baltimore, Atlanta, and the New York Giants. Those teams have a combined record of 34-11. Granted, it's not good that Dallas can't beat contending teams, but they are looking to turn things around, starting with the Eagles last week and continuing with the Browns this week.
Let's get to this week's scouting report of the Cowboys.
#1 - Romo's Hot Streak: This is Tony Romo's seventh year as the Cowboys' starting quarterback, and he has compiled a very impressive 20-3 record in the month of November. I have always enjoyed watching Romo play, but I've also poked fun at him a bit in the past for some of the downright idiotic plays that he makes, along with other players in Dallas. Looking at his career numbers, though, I think I've really underestimated just how good Romo has been. Prior to this season, the worst quarterback rating Romo had in a season was 91.4. Last year, he threw for 31 touchdowns to only 10 interceptions. Romo is a very elusive quarterback, but he doesn't take off and run as much as you might think.
When you consider the 2012 season, Romo is having the worst season of his career. He has more interceptions (13) than touchdowns (12) through nine games. All of his other numbers are pretty comparable, so it just comes down to better decision making, something that might not be an issue against a banged up Browns secondary at home. It's also worth considering that nine of Romo's interceptions came in two games: against Chicago and the New York Giants. Considering his track record in November, he should be ready to deliver on Sunday.
#2 - Still a Little One-Dimensional: The Cowboys lost a dynamic part of their offense when DeMarco Murray went down with a foot injury over a month ago. For the first time since his injury, Murray has not been ruled out on the Cowboys' Friday injury report, but he's still listed as doubtful and is unlikely to play. That means Felix Jones will be the team's featured back again.
Jones has done a formidable job filling in for Murray, but he's not a workhorse back, is injury prone himself, and has some games in which he can't find the holes very well. While he averaged 4.4 yards per carry against the Eagles last week, he averaged 1.5 yards per carry against the Giants a few weeks prior to that. Romo's passing attempts are up from a season ago; in 2011, he threw 32.6 passes per game, but that number is up to 38.2 passes per game in 2012. The Cowboys would like to feature a more balanced attack in a perfect world.
#3 - Containing DeMarcus Ware: The Browns' offensive line has done an outstanding job keeping Brandon Weeden clean in the pocket, but they'll have their hands full this week with pass-rushing specialist DeMarcus Ware. Listed as an outside linebacker, Ware almost fits in as a fourth defensive linemen with the way he lines up. After registering 19.5 sacks a year ago, Ware already has 9.5 sacks in 2012.
Some pass rushers are one-year wonders, but Ware is as consistent as you can get in the NFL; he's been doing it at a high level for eight years now. It's almost not a question of "if" Ware will get a sack against the Browns, but "when" -- will it be on a key third down, or will it be at a time in which it minimizes the damage? Either way, you can imagine that Alex Smith will be used as a chipper in the backfield or at the line. Ware should primarily line up over the almighty Joe Thomas at right outside linebacker, but he will be moved around throughout the game too.
#4 - Rob Ryan's Chance at Vengeance: Former Browns defensive coordinator Rob Ryan is upset about how things ended for him and the Eric Mangini regime in Cleveland.
"Any time you pour everything into it and apparently management didn’t see it as good enough, of course it’s personal," Ryan said of his feelings about the Browns firing him.
Ryan also noted that for seven straight weeks as a member of the Browns' coaching staff, he slept at the facility due to his dedication to getting things turned around. Ryan had a lot of supporters among Cleveland fans, but knowing his personality, you know the guy is going to be really fired up at beating the Browns, even if it's not a national story or anything like that. If he has a chance to rub it in, he will. The Cowboys' defense has done pretty well this year, ranking 13th against the run and 8th against the pass. The big improvement has been against the pass, where they ranked 23rd a year ago. Dallas beefed up their secondary in the offseason by adding CB Brandon Carr in free agency and drafting CB Morris Claiborne (a guy the Browns had their eye on).
#5 - Special Teams Coverage: The Cowboys' special teams coverage units have done a good job this year; they rank 1st in the league in covering punts (3.2 yards per return) and 14th in covering kickoffs. As far as their return men go, Dallas has had some recent success there too. Second-year receiver Dwayne Harris has taken over as the team's punt returner. Last week, he had a game-changing 78-yard punt return for a touchdown against the Eagles. The week before that, he had a 37-yard punt return. Kicker Dan Bailey hits on a high percentage of his kicks; over the past two seasons, he is 48-of-55 (87.3%). His one weakness has been from beyond 50 yards, where he is 3-of-7 over that span. In Cowboys Stadium, though, Bailey is 2-of-2 in his career from beyond 50 yards and has only missed one kick period in the stadium.