Clarence E. Hill Jr.: Tougher test lies ahead for Cowboys

Posted Monday, Oct. 24, 2011  comments  Print Reprints
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ARLINGTON -- It would be easy to dismiss the Dallas Cowboys' 34-7 victory Sunday with four little words: "It's the Rams, dude."

That phrase uttered by former Cowboys spokesman and part-time cornerback Adam "Pacman" Jones a few years back was repeated endlessly in the press box at Cowboys Stadium during this laugher, which was decided shortly after the game started.

Every time the Cowboys made a play or the St. Louis Rams looked like the hapless Rams, "It's the Rams, dude" was the refrain.

Yes, the Rams are bad to awful.

At 0-6, they would be at the front of the Andrew Luck sweepstakes -- you know, the battle for the worst record in the league to get the No. 1 draft pick and the Stanford quarterback -- if they didn't already have a franchise quarterback in Sam Bradford.

Bradford, the team's top pick in April 2010 after they finished with the worst record in the league in 2009, didn't play Sunday because of a high ankle sprain, leaving the Cowboys to have to deal with journeyman backup A.J. Feeley, who was as bad as advertised.

The comments were the same when rookie running back DeMarco Murray sprinted 91 yards for a touchdown on the Cowboys' first offensive series en route to eclipsing records set by Hall of Famers Emmitt Smith and Tony Dorsett.

Murray's final game total of 253 yards on 25 carries topped Dorsett's rookie single-game rushing mark of 206 yards and Smith's team record of 237.

Considering that Murray entered the game with just 71 yards on 24 carries and opened as the backup to Tashard Choice, who was replacing the injured Felix Jones in the starting lineup, it was an out-of-the-blue performance.

But again, "It's the Rams, dude."

St. Louis has the league's worst rushing defense, allowing an average of 162 yards entering Sunday.

They actually invited a big ground game by conceding the run to prevent getting beat deep via the pass, playing coverage and shell defense, according to Cowboys coach Jason Garrett.

Heck, even undrafted rookie running back Phillip Tanner got into act with a six carries for 34 yards, including a 6-yard touchdown run.

Because it was the hapless Rams, the Cowboys should be kicking themselves for not getting a shutout.

The league's top-ranked run defense sleepwalked through a drive in the second quarter, giving up a 40-yard scamper and 6-yard touchdown run to Stephen Jackson.

Otherwise, it was pretty much the "Rams, dude" all day.

The ironic part of the Pacman quote, as was learned in 2008 when the original comment was made before a shocking loss to a Rams team as hapless then as they are now, is that the Cowboys are nobody to take anyone lightly.

They were 6-10 last year and entered this matchup on a two-game losing streak.

That they didn't overlook the Rams and actually took care of business in dominant fashion from beginning to end to even their record at 3-3 can be considered a sign of progress.

It was certainly a welcome change from the streak of nail-biters. The blowout victory snapped a run of 11 consecutive games for the Cowboys decided by four points or less.

"It's not easy to beat anybody in the NFL by whatever the score was today," quarterback Tony Romo said. "I can tell you that. I've been playing the game a long time. You don't get a lot of wins by this margin against any team. Each game, you take it as important as it can be. For us, it's about getting better. It's a statement you guys don't like to hear because it's not flashy, but you just get out there and think this week we just need to improve from where we were last week."

With an important road division game against the Philadelphia Eagles up next, it would have been easy for the Cowboys to look ahead, making this a proverbial trap game.

But even though the Cowboys might be better than their .500 record suggests -- the three losses were to the New York Jets, Detroit Lions and New England Patriots, who have a combined record of 14-6 -- they remain a flawed football team that had no business looking ahead.

They are also team with a fractured psyche that one bad loss could send them into a 2010-type tailspin.

That's why owner Jerry Jones said this win was so important -- even if it did come in his own form of confused communication.

"We needed to win this game," Jones said. "We needed to be 3-3. We've got a team that can get out of contention with our record, but if we can be in contention we've got a team that can be better."

Remember also this was a Cowboys team that couldn't run and couldn't score in the red zone coming into the game, ranking 27th and 31st in the league in both categories. They scored touchdowns on three of four trips in the red zone in addition to the record rushing performance, which teams just don't give away no matter how bad they are.

So even though it was the Rams, these are positive steps for a Cowboys team heading into Philadelphia next week against a rested 2-4 Eagles team coming off a bye and looking to reverse their nightmare of a dream season with a win against their hated rivals.

"What we are trying to do is get better every week," Garrett said. "I think we did that [today]. I think we got better in a lot of areas. Certainly it will be a great challenge next week."

Clarence Hill, 817-390-7760

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