By Matthew Postins
The Dallas Cowboys (4-3) travel to the Detroit Lions on Sunday. Wednesday marks the traditional start to the NFL work week. So here are the five stories you should follow leading up to the game:
D-Ware and DeMarco Drama: Don’t expect to get much information out of the Cowboys this week when it comes to the injury statuses of defensive end DeMarcus Ware and running back DeMarco Murray. Some of that is gamesmanship, as head coach Jason Garrett maintained all of last week that the pair was “day-to-day,” even though there was plenty of information out there that would lead someone to believe otherwise. But the rest of it is the Dallas Cowboys genuinely aren’t sure when either will be back. They know these injuries aren’t long-term and don’t want them to become long-term (see Miles Austin). But they also want them back on the field as soon as possible. The good news? The entire defensive line played great without Ware, and rookie Joseph Randle did enough in place of Murray to help the Cowboys win. So they don’t have to rush either back. I’m interested to see if either is upgraded from doubtful to questionable this week. If they are, there’s a chance they could play. If they aren’t, don’t expect to see them on Sunday.
The Megatron Problem: These Lions may not be putting up dizzying amounts of yards and points like they were a couple of years ago when they made the playoffs, but Calvin Johnson (aka Megatron) is still the focal point of any game plan. The Cowboys secondary locked down Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson last week. But Johnson, one of the game’s biggest and most physical receivers, is a much different animal. The Dallas Cowboys would be wise to be physical with Johnson, as the strategy worked on the Eagles last week. But look for the Cowboys to provide more help to whomever draws Johnson in coverage. That help will likely come from a safety, which could leave the middle of the field open for players like running back Reggie Bush and tight end Brandon Pettigrew.
Monte and Rod: It’s time for the local notebook brigade to really dig in to the working relationship between defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin and defensive line coach Rod Marinelli. The defensive performance they managed to coax out of the Dallas Cowboys last week was brilliant. The fact is this pair has been working together off and on for more than a decade and Kiffin was instrumental in putting Marinelli in position to be a head coach. Of course, Marinelli was the head coach of the Lions for a few years and took the Cover 2 with him. Neither Marinelli nor the Cover 2 was successful in Motown, but some local writers will revisit Marinelli’s time there. For him, it’s old hat, as he saw the Lions twice a year while he was in Chicago as the Bears’ defensive coordinator. But for us locals, it’s a new ballgame. Expect plenty of copy focusing on both this week.
The O-Line: One thing I’ll be working on this week is a piece on the improvement in the offensive line. Seven games into this season the Dallas Cowboys turned over their entire interior offensive line – center Travis Frederick, along with guards Brian Waters and Ronald Leary – and have found a combination that is working. Sure, the rushing numbers aren’t a whole lot better than last year, but the protection is better and so is the overall performance. The Dallas Cowboys installed some zone read schemes this offseason and that’s helping too. And, there are fewer penalties (Doug Free’s performance in Philly set aside). We’ll compare this line’s performance after seven games last year to this year and see where the improvement lies and how that’s impacting the Cowboys offense.
Jason Hatcher: The veteran defensive tackle is playing for a new contract and playing like a guy who’s going to get paid next year. But will it be by the Dallas Cowboys? The sour taste of Jay Ratliff’s contract still lingers in Valley Ranch and Hatcher, sadly, is Ratliff’s age when the Cowboys awarded him his final contract. The difference? Hatcher appears on the ascent and playing some of the best football of his career. Ratliff was already in decline. There may not be much contract talk this week, but there will be talk of Hatcher’s leadership (he took the healthy defensive linemen bowling last Thursday as a team-building exercise) and his performance after registering another sack in Philly last Sunday, which by the way, helped Hatcher set a career high for sacks in a season.