Shock Treatment


he's right, the Cowboys rushing for a season-high 144 yards against the Saints. But a lot of that had to do with Miles Austin's 60-yard end-around gotcha-play for a touchdown against the Saints and quarterback Jon Kitna's 29-yard throwback scramble for a touchdown against the Lions, the only touchdown runs longer than a yard this season for the Cowboys. 

So Garrett knows how important controlling the ball will be against the Colts, saying, "You want to control the football, execute in the run game and execute in the passing game" if you hope to keep Peyton Manning off the field. 

We'll see. 

Now for this third-down defense stuff. Opposing offenses are converting third downs into firsts 42.4 percent of the time. That ranks the Cowboys 26th in the NFL. Last year they were seventh. Again, and to put this in historical context, you have to go back to 1989 to find the worst percentage since Cowboys owner Jerry Jones came aboard, 46.3 percent. After that, it's 44.9 in 1995, strangely enough during the 12-4, Super Bowl season, and then 43.9 in 2006, Bill's final season. And those years account for three of the five seasons the conversion rate rose into the 40-percentile the past 22 years. 

So the Cowboys are dangerously close to those low points. 

Worse, this number has been trending upward. Over the past five games, here are the opponents' third-down conversion percentages: Jacksonville 50 percent, Green Bay 66.7 percent, the Giants 40 percent, Detroit 55.6 percent and New Orleans 46.7 percent. 

If you add 'em up, those five opponents have converted at a grand total of 59 percent (44 of 74), which is ridiculously high if you consider like 35 percent is acceptable for a defense, 30 is good and anything under is really good. 

Plus, get this: Of those 44 third-down conversions over the past five games, 23 of those plays have gone for at least 10 yards, and that includes pass completions of 33 yards, 58 yards and Thanksgiving Day's backbreaking 55-yarder to Robert Meacham on the Saints' winning touchdown drive late in the fourth quarter. In fact, of the 74 third-down plays over the past five games, the Cowboys have yielded 529 yards, or 7.2 yards per play. 

Way too much. 

And now they have to face the other Manning, or maybe that should be the Manning. 

"You don't want to give the Indianapolis Colts too many opportunities," Cowboys defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni says. "You've got to be good on third down." 

No kidding, and by the way, don't be breathing too big a sigh of relief knowing tight end Dallas Clark is on injured reserve. The guy taking his place, Jacob Tamme, in five starts has caught 38 passes for 369 yards and three touchdowns. Not a good time for linebacker Keith Brooking to be questionable with a sprained foot, heading to Indy questionable and still in a walking boot for relief. 

So Pasqualoni says the Cowboys must be "good on third down" and Garrett knows the Cowboys must control the ball to keep Manning off the field, which means throwing out an effective running game, if they are to have a chance of keeping a potential .500 season alive and avoiding another "worst since 1989." 

Trouble is, the Cowboys, especially when compared to last season, have been shockingly bad at both.                 

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