Cowboys determined to stop Bucs' running game

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IRVING -- Off-season efforts to improve the Dallas Cowboys' defense focused on shoring up the secondary.

Early returns in that area have been promising, with the Cowboys ranking third among NFL teams in passing defense (160 yards per game). But the rushing defense, which ranks 22nd among NFL teams, has been a different story.

The Cowboys (1-1) head into Sunday's home opener against Tampa Bay (1-1) with a defense that is allowing 132 rushing yards per game and watched Seattle running back Marshawn Lynch post a 100-yard second half in last week's 27-7 loss to the Seahawks.

Lynch finished with 26 carries for 122 yards, with most of the damage coming in the second half when the Cowboys' defense was missing six starters because of injuries.

Two defensive starters will be absent -- nose tackle Jay Ratliff (ankle) and defensive end Kenyon Coleman (knee) -- with a third starter, free safety Gerald Sensabaugh (calf), listed as doubtful.

But defensive coordinator Rob Ryan said the Cowboys are "going to get that run handled" against the Buccaneers, who feature rookie running back Doug Martin (161 yards, 3.7 avg.) from Boise State.

Ryan blamed himself for an ill-timed zone pressure that freed Lynch for a 36-yard burst and said Friday that the team has the personnel to thrive in the trenches despite its injuries and the perception that Dallas' defensive line was manhandled by Seattle.

"I don't think they pushed us around. In fact, I know they didn't," Ryan said. "But people are going to say that when you look at the stats."

Ryan noted that Lynch managed just 2.2 yards per carry during the first half before injuries, fatigue and missed assignments contributed to Seattle touchdown drives of 90 and 88 yards in the second half.

Inside linebacker Sean Lee cited a "lack of focus" and attention to detail in the second half.

Ryan said the mental issues have been addressed in practice this week and he is confident the Cowboys will be "able to attack people the way we want to attack them" Sunday.

The defensive statistics leave room for doubt, although coach Jason Garrett is quick to view them as a September blip on the radar screen rather than an alarming trend.

"We've defended the run well here the last couple of years and the second half of that game, we didn't," Garrett said.

"For them to come out in the second half and do what they did was not good for our team ...To play good run defense, you have to tackle well. And we didn't do that on a consistent basis."

Garrett blamed that, in part, on the Cowboys' injury-riddled defense being forced to defend 38 plays in the second half in Seattle. The Dallas offense, by comparison, had only 19 snaps after intermission.

"They were on the field a lot," Garrett said of Dallas defenders. "That can get to you. I don't think at any point, we lost our competitiveness or our fight. We just weren't getting it done the way we needed to."

To put the brakes on the Tampa ground game, which ranks 16th among NFL teams (104.5 avg.), the Cowboys must lean heavily on reserve defensive linemen Josh Brent and Sean Lissemore. Ryan said both are up to the challenge, although he called Coleman's absence "a big void."

"He's as special of a run player as there is in football," Ryan said. "He's a stop sign."

But the Cowboys will play Sunday without him and Ratliff, putting pressure on a run defense that failed to measure up last week in Seattle.

Injury update

Five Cowboys have been ruled out of Sunday's game because of injuries: nose tackle Jay Ratliff (ankle), defensive end Kenyon Coleman (knee), center Phil Costa (back), linebacker Alex Albright (neck) and safety Matt Johnson (hamstring).

Safety Gerald Sensabaugh (calf) is doubtful and did not participate in Friday's workout. Defensive tackle Marcus Spears took part in limited drills and is questionable.

Players listed as probable included receiver Miles Austin (hamstring), safety Barry Church (quad), receiver Andre Holmes (knee), cornerback Mike Jenkins (shoulder), linebacker Sean Lee (hip), linebacker DeMarcus Ware (hamstring), linebacker Kyle Wilber (thumb) and tight end Jason Witten (spleen). Lee was limited in Friday's drills.

The rest participated fully.

Hairy situation

Rob Ryan said he trimmed his long locks before last week's Seattle game with plans to donate the hair to Locks of Love, an organization that provides wigs for children who have lost their hair to cancer. But Ryan said his donation came up lacking.

"The hair has to be, I've heard, from eight to 12 inches," Ryan said. "It came up a little short ... so nobody got to use it, I don't think. It was unfortunate. But it was good intention."

Brent fined

Defensive lineman Josh Brent was fined $7,875 on Friday for his unnecessary roughness penalty against Seattle.

Jimmy Burch, 817-390-7760

Twitter: @Jimmy_Burch

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