Cowboys Looking for First Sack, Turnover Against Panthers

By Stephen Hawkins
|  Saturday, Sep 26, 2009  |  Updated 1:15 PM CDT
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Cowboys Looking for First Sack, Turnover Against Panthers

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Marion Barber of the Dallas Cowboys fumbles the ball after a tackle.

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Zip sacks and no turnovers are a big and unprecedented concern for the Dallas Cowboys.

"We've got to reinvent some stuff, play a little bit better, get some pressure," linebacker Bradie James said. "We've been on (quarterbacks), we just haven't been able to sack them."

Not even Eli Manning of the New York Giants, who was sacked 12 times in two games against Dallas last season, but last weekend escaped pretty much unscathed in a last-play victory.

The same defense that led the NFL with 59 sacks last season and still has individual leader DeMarcus Ware rushing from end is now the only team that heads into Week 3 without a sack or a forced turnover.

Maybe that finally changes when the Cowboys (1-1) play Monday night against Carolina (0-2), which has an NFL-high nine turnovers (three fumbles, six interceptions). The Panthers have also given up six sacks, a total surpassed by only four other teams.

"It'll be two teams who are licking their wounds trying to get a way to get a win," Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme said.

Never since sacks became an official NFL stat in 1982 had the Cowboys gone consecutive games without a sack or a turnover. The last time they had been blanked in both categories even in a single game was nearly five years ago, in November 2004.

Making that even more confusing is that coach Wade Phillips, whose strength is defense, added the role of coordinator this season. There were only six games in the previous 27 seasons he was head coach or coordinator that his team didn't have a sack or a takeaway, and 1994 was the last time one of his teams went consecutive games without sacking a quarterback.

"If you're aggressive, like we are, things will turn out fine. We're working at it," Phillips said. "The most important thing is winning the game, whether you get 10 turnovers or none."

Especially for a team whose last playoff victory was in the 1996 NFC wild-card game before losing to Carolina the following week, and a coach in the final season of his three-year contract.

To be fair, the Cowboys had an interception in the season opener that was wiped out by an illegal contact penalty against another defender away from the ball.

Mike Jenkins, who had the pick that was taken away in Tampa Bay, gets his turn as the starting cornerback Monday instead of Orlando Scandrick, who had a poor performance and was repeatedly beaten by the Giants. The Cowboys plan to keep alternating the second-year cornerbacks as starters so far opposite Terence Newman.

"I remember 32 (Scandrick) because they've been playing him on ESPN pretty frequently," Panthers receiver Steve Smith said, followed by a laugh. "By the scouting report we got, he probably won't be in because he's been playing continually on the rotation on ESPN."

The Giants' Steve Smith had 10 catches for 134 yards against the Cowboys last week, while Mario Manningham also had 10 catches for 150 yards. New York had gone 13 games with a 100-yard receiver, then had two against the Cowboys.

When Carolina's Smith last played against the Cowboys in 2007, he had nine catches for 137 yards and a touchdown. Most of the time, no matter which side he lines up on, Smith will be going against Newman, who is coming off an admittedly poor performance of his own.

"He's a competitor like the rest of our team and I think his attitude was great," Phillips said. "He's challenged like everybody else is."

The 877 yards allowed by the Cowboys rank 30th in the NFL. That is also a yard more than they gave up in their first three games a year ago.

Linebacker Keith Brooking spent the last 11 seasons in Atlanta, where he was part of a Super Bowl team as a rookie in 1998, and played under Phillips in 2002 and 2003. He came to Dallas during the offseason to be with Phillips again, replacing Zach Thomas in the middle with James.

"I am very confident that this can be an elite defense," Brooking said. "We are not very consistent right now. ... (The Giants) had a couple of explosive runs where they got on the edge of our defense. Great defenses don't allow that to take place once in a game. Great defenses don't allow the ball to be thrown over your heard. We have to put a stop to that immediately."

And get a sack or a turnover while they're at it.

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