(Eds: Updates. With AP Photos.)By SCHUYLER DIXONAP Sports Writer
Dallas cornerback Morris Claiborne probably figured his first NFL touchdown would come on an interception. The rookie had to settle for a fumble return because the picks have been hard to come by for the Cowboys.
After trading up eight spots to take Claiborne at No. 6 in this year’s draft and committing at least $26 million to free agent Brandon Carr, Dallas is last in the league with five interceptions and the only team without a player who has at least two heading into Sunday’s game at Cincinnati.
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”We certainly want to create more takeaways,” coach Jason Garrett said. ”There’s no question about that.”
Dallas scored three defensive touchdowns in two games against the Eagles, including Claiborne’s 50-yard fumble return in Sunday’s 38-33 win. In the first meeting, Carr had a 47-yard interception return and Jason Hatcher recovered a fumble at the goal line after a sack in a 38-23 Dallas win.
”We believe that turnovers and takeaways are a team thing,” Garrett said. ”So everybody’s involved, pressuring the quarterback, tipping the ball, all of those things come into play. And certainly when you have a chance to make them, you’ve got to make them.”
Dallas had to make them, actually. The Cowboys had allowed four straight scoring drives by Philadelphia before Morris’ fumble return. The previous game against Washington, the Cowboys watched the Redskins score four touchdowns in a quarter for the first time in 13 years.
Four starters are out for the year, and Dallas’ defense slipped out of the top 10 after the Eagles gained 423 yards with rookies at quarterback and running back. Improving the minus-10 turnover ratio might be the only way for the Cowboys (6-6) to stay in the playoff race – or more games where the Dallas offense matches all the scoring drives, like it did against Philadelphia.
”We can’t use (injuries) as an excuse, but I feel like that plays a big part in it,” Claiborne said. ”We just have to count on those guys to come in and get the job done. And … we’ve been compensating for each other all year, from the offense to the defense. Every time we gave up a touchdown, they came back and scored a touchdown to keep us in the game.”
The Cowboys aren’t anywhere close to the bottom of the league in turnover ratio – that would be Kansas City at minus-21 – but only three players expected to suit up against the Bengals have an interception.
Danny McCray, who was supposed to be a backup safety while focusing on special teams, has one along with Carr and Claiborne. The others belong to linebacker Sean Lee – out for the year with a toe injury – and safety Charlie Peprah, a midseason injury replacement who might not make it back this season because of a foot injury.
The turnover ratio for Dallas might be worse if not for eight fumbles, about in the middle of the NFL pack.
”We just have to stop them from scoring,” linebacker Anthony Spencer said. ”Any way we can do it – interceptions, fumbles, three-and-outs, six plays and out. Any way we can get off the field, that’s how we’ve got to get it done.”
In the first game against the Eagles, Claiborne was beaten on a highlight-reel touchdown catch by Riley Cooper and penalized five times, including twice for offsides, rare for a defensive back.
”I’ve been a cornerback for quite a while and I learned in college that things are going to happen and you have to move on from it,” Claiborne said. ”But that game was a big teaching game for me. I felt like it was just growing pains for me, just growing up and learning everything in the NFL.”
The two Philadelphia games were the opposite for Carr. His biggest moment in Dallas was the interception return for a score last month, whereas he hardly wanted to be on the field Sunday night against the Eagles because of the murder-suicide in Kansas City involving Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher, his teammate just a year ago. Carr knew Belcher and his girlfriend well.
Carr, who signed a $50 million deal over five years, was beaten by Cooper for a touchdown early, just as Claiborne was three weeks earlier. He finished with just one tackle.
”I can handle the scrutiny,” Carr said. ”I’m in a position where I’m fair game to everybody. I can handle whatever they have to say. All I can do is come every day, keep getting better and keep working.”
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