Cowboys look to work on victory formation

BY foxsports • September 22, 2012

In the aftermath of that debacle in Seattle, it seems like the Dallas Cowboys should be the last team working on their "victory formation." But with new Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Greg Schiano, you never know what he might do at the end of a game.
Giants coach Tom Coughlin gave Schiano an earful after the former Rutgers coach ordered his defense to attack the line of scrimmage when it was clear that quarterback Eli Manning was about to kneel at the end of a 41-34 victory. In fact, Manning even told the young Bucs that's what he intended to do.
Manning took a knee, and the Bucs fired off the ball anyway. But whether or not you think it was a bush-league decision by Schiano (it was), it's clear that he's in the process of changing the culture in this organization. Former coach Raheem Morris led the Bucs to a 10-6 record two years ago, but the team regressed badly in 2011.
The word around the league is that Morris ran a loose program, which may have something to do with starting quarterback Josh Freeman ballooning to somewhere in the neighborhood of 265 pounds last season. The former Kansas State player lost some of his quickness and he saw his numbers take a nosedive. He's since lost at least 25 pounds and is believed to be playing at about 240 at this point. Freeman only threw six interceptions against 25 touchdowns during his breakout rookie campaign. But he threw 22 interceptions last season and had nine fewer TDs. The Bucs had one of the worst running teams in the league, in part because they fell behind early in games.
The Buccaneers insist they didn't order Freeman to lose weight and that he arrived at the decision alone. But at just a hair under 6-6, Freeman's still a difficult player to bring down. He's been compared to Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger when it comes to being able to shake off defenders while making strong throws downfield. And with Vincent Jackson arriving via free agency, Freeman has a legitimate big-play threat at wide receiver. Jackson will provide a great challenge for Cowboys cornerbacks Brandon Carr and Mo Claiborne. He's a physical receiver who can defeat press coverage and use his size downfield to catch the ball at its highest point. In short, he's the type of receiver who used to give Terence Newman fits.
Mike Williams will start opposite Jackson. The former Syracuse player had 65 catches for 964 yards and 11 touchdowns during his 2010 rookie season. But he only had 771 yards and three TDs last season. Williams has scored a touchdown in each game so far and it appears that he's about to return to his rookie form. After that, it's a crapshoot for the Bucs. They re-signed former Texas wide receiver Jordan Shipley after releasing him at the end of the preseason. Former second-round pick Arrelious Benn will serve as the third wide receiver, but he's had a non-descript career to this point.
It's likely the Cowboys will have to play without starting safety Gerald Sensabaugh, who suffered a calf injury against the Seahawks. A source with the Cowboys told me Friday that Sensabaugh was campaigning hard to play Sunday, but that the team feared him suffering a setback and then missing several more games. If Sensabaugh can't go, Danny McCray will take his place. Starter Barry Church and McCray entered the league together as undrafted rookies. Church is the more accomplished position player, but McCray has excelled on special teams. You have to wonder if the Cowboys' already shaky special teams will suffer with McCray seeing a lot more snaps this week.
Starting defensive end Kenyon Coleman has been ruled out of the game with a knee injury, which will allow Sean Lissemore to make his first career start. Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan has been effusive in his praise of Lissemore, a former seventh-round pick who is an extremely active player. Ryan's hoping to be a little more accurate with his forecast of what the Bucs will do than he was with the Seahawks. During his weekly session with the media Friday, he had an interesting take on why the Cowboys struggled to get off the field against the Seahawks. Apparently the Seahawks had the gall to change their game plan from the previous week against Arizona.
"We never got the same game that the Cardinals did," Ryan told reporters. "If we did, that kid would have woke up missing."
So as long as the Bucs don't change anything about their approach Sunday, the Cowboys should be in good shape. It's more likely the Bucs will install some new wrinkles, and it's incumbent on Ryan and his defense to come up with answers.
Then maybe the Cowboys can give Schiano another chance to work on his "victory formation" defense.