Relieved to be 3-2, Cowboys aiming to improve

BY foxsports • October 13, 2009

In one play, Miles Austin won a game, possibly salvaged a season and spared coach Wade Phillips from either being fired or spending the next two weeks hearing why he should be. No wonder teammates mobbed Austin as if he'd just won the Super Bowl. Yet the thrill of beating Kansas City had worn off by the time the Dallas Cowboys showed up to work Monday. The reality is, they needed overtime to beat a lousy team, playing so badly that even ever-optimistic owner Jerry Jones said, "We stunk." Everyone understands that if they keep playing like that there won't be many more celebrations this season. "You tell them that," Phillips said. "You go to them and point out the things we need to do better and work on those things and attack those things, especially this week." That's because the Cowboys are off this week, making for a perfect time for evaluations. Dallas is 3-2. All the wins were against teams that were winless at the time (those clubs are now a combined 1-13) and all the losses were to teams that are still unbeaten. The range of competition makes it harder to get a read on Dallas. Still, it's easy to see they've yet to have a game where the offense and defense were clicking. The last four games have been decided in the closing minutes, with two decided on the last play. Taking the New York Giants and Denver Broncos down to the wire was one thing. But having also done so against the Carolina Panthers and then, knowing they needed a breakout game, letting it happen against the Chiefs raises more eyebrows. "I won't deny that we want to go out and really impose our will on somebody," linebacker Bradie James said. "We haven't done that yet. But I'd rather impose our will on somebody and win than impose our will and play on one side of the ball good and still lose. So we still need to put it all together. That's why we've got plenty more games to come." Phillips isn't the critical type. In fact, he spent the first six minutes of his news conference Monday praising the individual efforts of various players, giving out so many kudos it was hard to remember the offense didn't a score a touchdown in the first half and the defense gave up a touchdown with 24 seconds left to send the game into overtime. Yet he also voluntarily pointed out the two things he plans to work on most this week: defending a two-minute drill and the offense inside the 20-yard line. The defense has been pushed around at the end of games, which baffles Phillips because they basically use their third-down defense. And their third-down defense is fourth-best in the league, behind only a trio of unbeaten teams. "The only thing you can do about it is keep working," said Phillips, who also is the defensive coordinator. Dallas' offense actually is the most productive in the NFL - in yards, that is. They average 420.4, but their 24.4 points are only good for 11th best. Bill Parcells used to say a club should have a touchdown for every 100 yards it gains. Using that rule of thumb, the Cowboys should be around 30 points per game. They're not because of turnovers, penalties and their problems inside the 20. In the last two games, Dallas has one touchdown and two field goals after getting that close to the opponent's end zone. The big news on offense is Austin's breakout game. Making his first career start, the fourth-year receiver had 10 receptions for a club-record 250 yards. He scored on a 59-yard tackle-breaking play, then won the game with a similar play that covered 60 yards. However, Austin also dropped two would-be touchdowns - one in the first quarter that might've helped break things open early and another just before halftime, when the Cowboys settled for a field goal that pulled them to 10-3. Austin started in place of Roy Williams, who is expected to be back from a rib injury to play a week from Sunday against Atlanta. Considering his performance Sunday, he's got to get another start - right? "Well, we are going to play him as much as he played last game, I'll say that," Phillips said, either not wanting to reveal too much information or not hurt the feelings of Williams and fellow starter Patrick Crayton. "We're going to get him on the field," Phillips said. "He's got to get his touches in the ball game. That's just the bottom line. Give him a chance to do it again. He's not going to make 250, but give him a chance to make big plays again." Running back Felix Jones and safety Gerald Sensabaugh also should return after the bye. Running back Marion Barber also is likely to get plenty of rest this week to get over a lingering thigh problem. The most serious new injury is right guard Leonard Davis breaking a thumb. Davis showed up at headquarters Monday saying it was jammed. X-rays revealed it actually was cracked.

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