Cowboys have talent, but team concept is still missing in Dallas

Leading up to Tennessee's 34-27 victory over Dallas, I had a conversation with someone with the Titans, who had done extensive film study on the Cowboys. He told me that, individually, Dallas is frighteningly gifted and that on nearly every down, players show their superior individual skill.

Collectively, though. It's a different story.

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The Cowboys were inconsistent functioning as a unit -- and if you are able to get one player off kilter, a domino effect could take place, I was told. Dallas has the individual talent to keep itself in any game, but it also has self-destructive tendencies.

The scouting report was unbelievably spot-on.

Quarterback Tony Romo threw for 406 yards and three touchdowns against Tennessee. Felix Jones rushed for 109 yards. Wide receiver Miles Austin punctured the Titans for 166 yards and a touchdown. Wide out Roy Williams, who is making me a believer, had six catches for 87 yards and a touchdown. Outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware had two sacks and two hurries.

Dallas also had 12 penalties for 133 yards, one tipped pass by tight end Martellus Bennett in the end zone that Tennessee picked off and two other interceptions. The Cowboys pulled normally reliable guard Leonard Davis because he played poorly. David Buehler missed another field goal. The list goes on -- and Romo, who threw three interceptions, is on it. Though I've always thought he was a good player, he doesn't seem to inspire guys like so many other quarterbacks.

Most telling, Dallas is now recognizing that this assemblage of talent doesn't make a good team. Although there is a lot of season left, players are aware that the problems they're experiencing now might not go away.

"We're going to be digging out of this all season," Romo said. "It's going to be a long process, stacking together wins."

The Cowboys are making the same mistakes they made in a Week 1 loss at Washington. They've talked about urgency and accountability for weeks, they held a players-only meeting but the same things keep happening.

"We're just playing undisciplined football right now," linebacker Keith Brooking said. "We're not bringing our preparation to the table when the opportunity comes to go out there and perform on Sunday."

I asked nose tackle Jay Ratliff, one of the most stand-up players in the NFL, if Dallas really is a good team that makes mistakes or not a good team because it makes mistakes. He paused, collected his thoughts and said, "I'm not going to sit here and say we're a bad team because I don't believe that."

"We still got time to turn things around but we got to execute. It ain't about saying we need to do this or do that. We just need to fix it. I don't care what any of us have to do."

For months, the Cowboys have talked about getting revenge against the Vikings, Sunday's opponent, for scoring late in Minnesota's 34-3 victory in last season's divisional round. The motivation is vastly different now. Dallas is playing for its survival.

On the flip side

Tennessee opened up the game throwing deep. They drew two pass interference calls on the opening drive that led to a touchdown and caught the Cowboys off guard.

"We didn't adjust early," Dallas coach Wade Phillips said.

When they did, the field opened up and running back Chris Johnson ran for 131 yards. Though that was the prescribed remedy to softening up the eight- and nine-man fronts opponents used to stuff Johnson in two of the first four weeks, Johnson told me there was something else.

"We stayed with it," he said. "We stayed aggressive. Instead of getting conservative, we didn't back down."

Young only threw the ball 25 times, completing 12, but the Titans took shots down the field and enigmatic wideout Kenny Britt made plays. He was targeted six times, catching four passes for 86 yards and a touchdown.

On a different note, Johnson said he was thrilled that both of his touchdowns came on 1-yard runs.

"They used to give those to LenDale (White)," Johnson said of his former backfield mate.

Inside Cincinnati's defense

Tampa Bay (3-1) totaled nearly 400 yards of offense in its 24-21 upset of Cincinnati and quarterback Josh Freeman (20 of 33 for 280 yards, a touchdown and an interception) was adept at recognizing the Bengals' blitz packages. There was a reason why.

"We studied that blitz package a lot this offseason," Buccaneers coach Raheem Morris told me. "They have a very creative blitz package and we wanted to see if we could use some of the things that they do."

Tampa Bay applied some of the nuances of Cincinnati's defense into its scheme, so the Buccaneers' offense was well versed. The Bengals still got three sacks on Freeman and he took some shots, but he knew where to go with a lot of throws after certain spots had been vacated by blitzing defenders.

As for his team's early success, Morris, in a nutshell, said it's a case of players buying in and trusting one another.

"We're a young team, we're hungry, we've preached about playing fast and hard and we believe we have a chance to beat everybody we play," Morris said. "I'm not saying we're going to win the Super Bowl, but we think we can win every game we play."

Rugged Redskins

The Indianapolis Colts, already thinned by injuries, might want to stock up on medical supplies and get some reserves ready to play. They face the Redskins this week and Washington is making a habit of busting up opposing players.

Eagles quarterback Michael Vick missed the game with the 49ers (ribs) and could be out this week after getting mashed by Washington in Week 4. Running back LeSean McCoy also suffered rib damage too. The Redskins then systematically tore up key members of Green Bay's offense, knocking tight ends Jermichael Finley and Donald Lee out of the game and leaving quarterback Aaron Rodgers with a concussion.

Safety LaRon Landry is leading the charge and players seem to be taking cues from him. If Washington's defense remains healthy, it could quickly become one of those units you don't want anything to do with.

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