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Leaning on defense


Yogi Berra once said, "It's like deja-vu all over again." The Jaguars may be able to relate this week when they go to Dallas to play the Cowboys.

For the second consecutive week, Jacksonville travels to Texas to play a team with a strong defense, but a rookie quarterback at the helms of a struggling offense. Dallas, much like Houston, ranks at or near the bottom of every major offensive statistical category. They are dead last in scoring, averaging just 11.8 points a game.

Jaguars coach Tom Coughlin, however, doesn't consider the teams linked.

"I look at it as a completely different football team. Some of the statistical data is the same, the individuals are totally different, the style of play is different," Coughlin said. "I look at it that way. I don't see a whole lot of comparisons, I try to deal with them as individual teams, and as we go through our research and search we don't make those kinds of comparisons."

In the past four games, the Cowboys defense is giving up less than 14 points per game. Unfortunately for Dallas fans, their offense has scored a grand total of 30 points during that same time. The Cowboys lost all four of those games.

"It's just the same thing every week now," Cowboys coach Dave Campo said following their 20-3 loss in Indianapolis Sunday. "It's a reoccurring theme that we can't get away from. We're just not executing like we should on offense, for whatever reason."

Rookie Chad Hutchinson has started the last three games at quarterback for the Cowboys. Hutchinson has thrown just one touchdown pass in three games and is averaging just over 161 yards passing during that span. The Cowboys are currently ranked 30th in the NFL in passing offense.

Hutchinson took the job over from second-year quarterback Quincy Carter after Carter threw eight interceptions and just seven touchdowns in eight games. Hutchinson has yet to throw an interception this season, but he has lost four fumbles.

The offensive line, which has two rookie starters, has also been an area for concern. The Cowboys have surrendered 32 sacks this season, 30th in the NFL. It won't help that seven-time All-Pro selection Larry Allen was put on injured reserve this week with bone spurs in his left ankle. The guard had already missed four games before being placed on the IR.

To add to the problems on offense, the Cowboys have a situation brewing at the running back position, once one of the surest areas of the team. Since breaking the NFL's all-time rushing record, Emmitt Smith has seen his number of carries fall off, and the team has stated that they want to evaluate third-year backup Troy Hambrick.

Hambrick added fuel to the fire when statements that he made the previous week were aired on the radio during Dallas' game in Indianapolis. Hambrick let it be known that he thought it was time for Smith to move to greener pastures, and that he should be given his shot as the starting running back.

"If I've accomplished the things Emmitt has accomplished over the years, I would've retired," Hambrick said. "What else are you playing for? I understand he wanted the record and he didn't feel like his career was over, but three Super Bowl rings and all of the great things he's done. You know, this is like Michael Jordan still in the league tarnishing his name, and he can't make an easy dunk?"

Sunday versus Indianapolis, Smith remained the starter, but received only eight carries versus Hambrick's seven. Coughlin stated earlier this week that the Jaguars would prepare for both running backs, but he was not willing to say that he saw a decline in Smith's skills.

"He still has outstanding ability. I looked at a bunch of his plays, going back, even back to the beginning of the year this year, and he's done some outstanding things this year, so there isn't any question about it, he still has ability to play," Coughlin said.

Despite their lack of offensive productivity, the Cowboys have remained close in all but one game, a 44-13 beating week three in Philadelphia. That is due to a strong, young defensive unit. Dallas is ranked fifth in the NFL in scoring defense, allowing just 17.5 points per game. They are 10th in total defense.

That defense was hit with some bad news, however, this week when the Cowboys announced that 11-year safety Darren Woodson would undergo surgery for a "sports hernia", and subsequently placed on the IR. Second-year safety Tony Dixon from the University of Alabama is expected to fill in for Woodson.

The front seven, however, remains healthy. A solid unit for the Cowboys last year, this group was bolstered by the free agent acquisitions of La'Roi Glover and Kevin Hardy. Hardy, an outside linebacker with the Jacksonville Jaguars from 1996-2001, turned the spotlight on himself earlier this week, saying that this game had special meaning to him.

"This one means a little bit more to me, just because of the history I have with those guys," Hardy said. "I still know a lot of them and I want to beat them bad. Just like they want to beat me. But anytime you face people you know, it adds to it and you want to go out there and prove yourself even more."

While he said he had no hard feelings for the Jaguars, he wouldn't mind leaving a sour taste in their mouth.

"We're sitting here at 3-7 and they're over there at 5-5 and still in the playoff race," Hardy said. "So for me, what better way than to play well, and come away with a victory, kind of knock them into the area that we're in."

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