Cowboys-Cardinals Preview

Published Nov. 30, 2011 6:24 p.m. EST

While it hasn't always been pretty, the Dallas Cowboys have climbed their way to the top of the NFC East behind a softer slate of games.

They get one more such matchup before the schedule gets more difficult.

The Cowboys look to win five straight for the first time in nearly four years when they visit the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday.

The only loss during Dallas' disappointing 3-4 start that didn't come against a team which currently has a winning record was to archrival Philadelphia. The Cowboys (7-4) have bounced back thanks in part to a favorable schedule, winning four in a row while outscoring opponents 114-63.


"The teams that play in the playoffs and win in the playoffs are the teams that get better," coach Jason Garrett said. "We believe that if you improve over the course of the season, week-to-week, you are going to be playing well when you need to be playing really well, and that's the end of the year."

Since a 44-7 rout of Buffalo on Nov. 13, though, the Cowboys have played two tight contests against inferior competition.

Four days after going to overtime to beat a Washington team which had lost five straight, Dallas hosted AFC East-worst Miami on Thanksgiving Day but needed Dan Bailey's 28-yard field goal as time expired to win 20-19.

"We needed to get going," said Tony Romo, whose 113.0 passer rating in November ranked second in the league. "We had some tough losses earlier in the year, and we were in position to win some games. At some point you've got to get on a roll and stack the wins together. Getting these four wins was very big."

The Cowboys haven't won five in a row since a seven-game run Oct. 21-Dec. 9, 2007.

The current winning streak has come against opponents which entered Week 13 with a combined 16-28 record. Only six teams in the league have fewer victories than Arizona (4-7).

However, the Cardinals have won three of four and could certainly pose a challenge Sunday. Dallas has dropped six of seven in Arizona, including a 27-26 defeat last Christmas.

The Cowboys sit one game ahead of the New York Giants in the division and face them next week as well as in the season finale, sandwiching a visit to Tampa Bay and a rematch with the Eagles.

"You're in a situation now where you control our own destiny," defensive end Marcus Spears said. "If you go 4-0 in December, that doesn't matter.

"It's like when I was in high school. My coach used to tell me, 'A lot of teams put district championship banners up.' We didn't because we expected to win state. I think that's how it should go here."

Solid run defense has keyed the Cowboys' last two wins, allowing an average of 74.5 rushing yards and 3.0 per carry. They're surrendering 100.3 per game to rank fifth in the conference.

They might have their hands full with Arizona's Beanie Wells, who ran for a franchise-record 228 yards and a touchdown on 27 carries during last Sunday's 23-20 win at St. Louis. Wells has been dealing with a nagging right knee injury and was sore after the game but is expected to suit up Sunday.

"Records can be important, especially for a struggling offense like we have had," center Lyle Sendlein told the team's official website. "Maybe doing something like that will help us spring forward. Anything positive is going to be good for us as an offense for us right now."

Quarterback Kevin Kolb's return also could provide a boost. He's missed the last four games with turf toe and a bruise to his right foot but went through a full workout Wednesday, an indication he'll likely start.

The Cardinals are surely eager to get Kolb back under center after watching John Skelton struggle. Over the last two games, Skelton has five interceptions, zero touchdowns and a quarterback rating of 19.3.

While its offense has sputtered, Arizona has received plenty of production from Patrick Peterson in the return game. The prized rookie cornerback returned a punt for a touchdown for the fourth time last Sunday to tie an NFL single-season record. He's the only one to have four punt return TDs of 80 yards or more in one year.

On defense, Peterson probably won't have to worry about covering Pro Bowl wideout Miles Austin (strained hamstring), likely to miss a fourth straight game. However, the Cowboys passing game hasn't missed a beat due in part to the emergence of Laurent Robinson, who has 24 receptions for 321 yards and seven TDs over the last five contests.