Friday, March 19, 2010
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Cowboys bothered by D in debut -- but not worried

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[March 19, 2010]  IRVING, Texas (AP) -- Bradie James and Ken Hamlin were so upset with the way the Dallas Cowboys' defense played in the opener against Tampa Bay that they had trouble sleeping.

Keith Brooking was so angry that he showed up to work early Monday and watched the game film by himself to get a head-start on cleaning up the problems, many of which were self-inflicted.

"It wasn't anything they were doing to us," Brooking said. "We just have to be more disciplined."

Instead of lining up in their base defense and daring the Buccaneers to beat them, the Cowboys came out trying to force big plays -- and wound up preventing themselves from making the routine ones.

Tampa Bay ran right through some gaping holes, piling up the yards while keeping the score tight most of the first half. Then Dallas went back to basics and slowed the Buccaneers long enough for Tony Romo and the offense to send the Cowboys rolling toward a 34-21 victory.

Winning made the defensive lapses easier to tolerate. Still, veterans like James, Hamlin and Brooking realize Dallas got away with one this time.


Consider: Dallas allowed 450 yards, its most in 36 games and the most the Cowboys gave up and still won in 52 games, according to STATS Inc. They didn't have a sack, despite having led the league last season. They didn't have a turnover, despite lots of extra work this summer to create more fumbles and interceptions. And, perhaps most damning, it all came against an offense breaking in a new quarterback and a coordinator on the job only 10 days.

In his first game since adding defensive coordinator duties to his role as head coach, Wade Phillips opened the game with a lot of movement and shifting by defensive linemen and by calling a lot of run blitzes. He didn't want to merely stop the Bucs, he wanted to slam them.

"We wanted to be aggressive," Phillips said.

But the plan backfired.

Sometimes it was because the plays were poorly executed. Sometimes it was because the Bucs' offense called the perfect play to beat it. And, sometimes, both things happened.

Byron Leftwich, Cadillac Williams and the Bucs went 60 yards in nine plays on their first series, then had a field goal try blocked. They were even better on their next drive, covering 78 yards in 11 plays to score a touchdown and go ahead.

"We were like, `Wow, what's going on?'" James said.

After Tampa Bay covered 34 yards on its next drive, James and Brooking realized something had to change.

"Bradie and Keith, veteran linebackers, they notice things real fast, and as soon as we got to the sideline they were letting the coaches know, `Listen, we just need to line up head-to-head,'" defensive lineman Marcus Spears said. "And when we made that adjustment it was a good thing for us."

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The Bucs had just two first downs on their next five series. The Cowboys came out of that stretch leading 20-7.

"We just played ball and we were able to kind of control the run again," James said. "We made the plays when it counted."

Although this is a new season, some of these concerns aren't all that new.

In the final two games of last season, Dallas allowed 265 yards rushing and 388 total yards in a loss against Baltimore, then allowed 137 yards rushing and 303 total yards in a loss at Philadelphia.

Tampa Bay kept the trend going with 174 yards rushing. And, up next, the Cowboys will have to face the New York Giants and a running game led by burly back Brandon Jacobs.

James is looking forward to the challenge -- and the lack of surprises. After all, Jacobs and the Giants are familiar foes so, unlike the Bucs, they have a better idea of what is coming and how to stop it.

"We won't reinvent the wheel," James said. "We've just got to go out and play good defense, corral and populate the ball. ... This is a copycat league. I'm sure they will try to do a couple of things the Bucs did. But the Giants are the Giants. They're going to do what they know how to do, and they're going to do it real well. It's up to us to match their intensity and outplay them."

[Associated Press; By JAIME ARON]

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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