Dallas Cowboys

November 23, 2013

As Giants talk, Cowboys quietly work toward getting job done

Dallas looks to Tony Romo to lead the drive to a playoff berth.

There wasn’t a lot of trash talk and boasts from the Dallas Cowboys last week.

That’s only being done from the New York side in advance of Sunday’s crucial NFC East showdown between the Cowboys (5-5) and the New York Giants (4-6).

Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul started it last Sunday by saying they were going to put it on the Cowboys and blood would be spilled.

He continued a few days later saying: “It’s like a Super Bowl to us, we need it badly, and we gotta get it.”

Giants safety Antrel Rolle echoed those thoughts: “Personally, I feel like this game is going to determine the outcome of the season. We can’t walk away with a loss.”

The Cowboys, led by process-oriented coach Jason Garrett, are making no such proclamations.

The Cowboys respect the Giants and understand the New York confidence is boosted by a four-game winning streak, which followed six consecutive losses to open the season.

“This Giants team is a good football team that’s playing really good right now,” quarterback Tony Romo said. “We hear about all the stuff they’re saying [last] week. I think it will be a great test, and we’ll be ready to go. We’re just going to put our head down and go to work and let everybody else out there talk.”

Now you might question whether the Cowboys are heading to New York with a quiet confidence or silent trepidation — considering the team’s recent history of late-season collapses.

The Cowboys know what’s at stake with six games to go in what has been a disappointing season so far.

They squandered numerous opportunities to distance themselves in what has been a down year in the NFC East.

After losing two of their past three games, including a 49-17 blowout at the New Orleans Saints on Nov. 10 before last week’s bye, it’s now or never for the Cowboys.

The Cowboys, who are tied with the Philadelphia Eagles atop the NFC East, control their own destiny for the playoffs and the division title.

There is no denying a second consecutive loss would hurt their chances of ending a string of three consecutive seasons without reaching the playoffs because of the life it would give the surging Giants, as well as the Eagles.

Tight end Jason Witten said the Giants game is the start of what will be six consecutive one-game seasons for the Cowboys.

“People always say you got to have a tunnel vision with your approach,” Witten said. “I agree with that 100 percent. But there is a big picture; you have to understand that and where you are at.

“There is a mentality that says we have to play our best football and here is what it comes down to. These next six games are going to determine a lot of stuff.”

Owner Jerry Jones is certainly one who believes the Cowboys are ready to play their best football because of the return of several injured players following the bye, the tinkering they did to improve the problems on offense and the presence and play of Romo.

Jones — a noted trash talker who has taken dead aim at the Giants in the past — declined to get into the fray last week. But it’s definitely not because of a lack of confidence.

“There’s an old adage that once you’ve seen players do it, then you know they can do it,” Jones said. “Will they do it again? Or can they do it again? Or how often do they do it again? That’s the question. But they can do it. And Tony can do what we want him to do. And do what it takes to win this ballgame.

“That’s where I am. I am not concerned. As a matter of fact, we’re going into the game, Tony’s one of, if not the strength, one of the most important strengths of our entire team.”

Even Jones, however, acknowledges the Cowboys need more from Romo over the last six games if they are to reach their goals.

Romo has had a solid season. He is ranked seventh in NFL passer rating and has 21 touchdown passes to just six interceptions.

But Romo and the Cowboys’ offense have struggled over the past five games, during which he has completed less than 60 percent of his passes. Romo has had two games in that stretch of fewer than 200 yards passing, including completing only 10 of 24 passes for 128 yards against the Saints.

“You just have to figure out why and make sure it doesn’t happen again,” Romo said of the Saints game. “That’s our goal and objective going forward, and you probably won’t see another game like that for a while. I think we do need more. I don’t think that’s going to get the job done. We just need to play better, and we will.”

According to offensive coordinator Bill Callahan, the Cowboys’ struggles on offense are rooted in their woes on third down.

The Cowboys rank 30th in the league in third-down efficiency, including a paltry eight completions on their last 36 third-down pass attempts. They were 0 for 9 on third down against the Saints.

“I keep going back to third downs and those are crucial downs, and if you’re going to have success there, you will have another opportunity to extend drives,” Callahan said. “So I would say that we haven’t had as many sustainable drives and opportunities, which keeps your numbers down. If you’re not, then your numbers are not going to be up. That’s my job to make sure those numbers need to be up.”

They used the bye week to self-scout and make some adjustments to free Witten and receiver Dez Bryant from double teams so they can be better on third downs.

“It’s almost like starting a new season right now,” Romo said. “Now you have to go get the job done.”

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