Looking For Protection

disrupt us enough to throw our timing off," Bledsoe said.

He means blitzing, as Philadelphia tried to do, or just pressuring with the front seven - blitzing linebackers - as Detroit did. And the combination of the Lions playing their safeties deep and the Cowboys' inability to consistently provide Bledsoe protection against the Lions' front seven made for what appeared to be an uneven offensive performance.

The problems against the Lions seemed to be on the edges. Inexperienced tackles Rob Petitti and Torrin Tucker had their hands full, especially with the Lions defensive linemen relentlessly trying to jump the snap count, and possibly even getting away with a few premature starts. Plus the Cowboys tried to play this one in standard offense - two backs, two wide receivers, one tight end - instead of their more usual two-tight end sets to help protect the edges.

Sure, Bledsoe only was sacked one time. But of the 23 passes he threw, which was one less than the 24 he had attempted in each of the previous three games if you are a believer in symmetry, bet he was hurried at least 10 times. Maybe even more. That is no way to do business in the passing game.

The Cowboys can count on more of the same coming from the Broncos on Thursday. Bledsoe said, of what he's seen so far of the Broncos, they line up defensively as if they are getting ready to block a punt. Meaning everyone up close, and they're coming.

Now you can't always block 'em all, but you can make teams pay, as the Cowboys did against Philadelphia with that 58-yard completion to Peerless Price to set up one touchdown and the 20-yard touchdown pass to Terry Glenn.

"I thought we picked up the blitz pretty well against Philadelphia," wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson said.

And when asked what happened against Detroit, Johnson said, knowing Detroit didn't blitz safeties, "We probably just didn't protect well."

Probably so.

But if the Cowboys do pick up the blitz and just protect Bledsoe, this can be a lethal offense, especially if Sunday's game is any indication of their ability to run the football. They can make teams pay.

"The worst thing you can do is take your chances against our receivers," Johnson said, meaning he likes the Cowboys receivers' chances of beating one-on-one coverage if the safeties are vacating.

That's how you stop the blitzing. Make 'em pay, not only by hitting hot receivers, but also by hitting some big runs. Three of the team's longest four runs of the season have occurred in the past three games. One was for a touchdown. Another helped set up a touchdown. And the third set the running tone for the Detroit game, Jones going for 18 on the very first play, and then 12 more on the next play against the blitzing Lions.

Now the Cowboys only have to play three more Top 20 defenses when it comes to total yards: No. 17 Denver, No. 10 Washington and No. 7 Carolina. And they will not play a team which has given up any fewer than their 164 points, although Denver, uh, is close at 169.

This is not to say the Cowboys must put up gaudy passing numbers to be successful in these final six games. They just need to be efficient, especially if they continue to play the type of defense they have been playing ever since the San Francisco game - the Eagles' 20 points were the most in the past seven games, and seven of those points were about gift-wrapped by an interception.

And the Cowboys haven't been overly efficient passing in three of the past four games.

Oh they've won all but one of these four games, and that's good, including the past three straight, causing Keyshawn to say, "Style points, that's for television man. That's for you guys. Style points aren't for us." We know, wins are.

But he also knows down this stretch run the Cowboys will be playing "teams that like to play pressure defense." Meaning sell out against the run, and the pass, too.

And for the Cowboys to clean up their act, they need to do a better job up front offensively. They need to be able to score from one yard out. And they need to protect their quarterback.

Pass out the shirts. Continue reading: Page 1 Page 3

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cellpadding=0 cellspacing=0>    Keyshawn knows the fate of the Cowboys these final six games will rest largely in the hands of a bunch of rookies who contribute heavily to this team. "I trust our young guys, I trust our young guys a lot," he said. And why is that? "Because they're his players," said Keyshawn, meaning Parcells'.        Everyone seems to think Parcells is this guy who can't be pleased, saying the club has not yet played up to his standards on a consistent basis. Well, when confronted with the question if that would ever be possible, Bledsoe said, "Bill's standards? I don't know we have played up to my standards." Good answer.      There are 11 teams now in the NFL with 7-3 records or better. Eight of them have to play one another this week, starting with Denver vs. Dallas, Chicago vs. Tampa Bay, Giants vs. Seattle and Pittsburgh vs. Indianapolis. Delicious.

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