Although early bye weeks aren’t preferred by many teams, the Dallas Cowboys may be happy to have had theirs already.
The Cowboys, winners of their last five games following the annual week off, will try to end the visiting Tennessee Titans’ 10-game win streak against NFC opponents Sunday.
Dallas (1-2) avoided its first 0-3 start since 2001 with a 27-13 win at Houston on Sept. 26. That took the Cowboys into their bye, a week that has guaranteed them success when resuming play in recent years.
Dallas’ last defeat after a bye was a 26-10 home loss to the New York Giants in 2004. The Cowboys have enjoyed winning streaks of at least three straight after the bye week in each of coach Wade Phillips’ first three seasons.
“It’s a little bit of a fresh start,” tight end Jason Witten(notes) said. “That doesn’t neglect what we’ve done in the past. I think we have to look at that with a critical eye, and we did. I think this team is moving forward.”
The Cowboys, though, will have to overcome some daunting numbers to continue their post-bye run. The Titans (2-2) have won 10 in a row and 15 of 16 against NFC foes, with the 15-1 run following a 45-14 loss to Dallas in 2006.
This year, the Titans’ success has been correlated to the production of Chris Johnson, who has topped 100 yards in his last six road games.
Johnson proclaimed before the season that his goal was to rush for 2,500 yards, and he averaged 133.5 in Tennessee’s wins. He totaled 87 yards in the losses, gaining 53 on 19 carries in a 26-20 home defeat to Denver last week.
“It will come, I have confidence in our offensive players and our backs and our staff that we’ll get it turned around,” coach Jeff Fisher said. “We still ran for 122 yards.”
It’s probably not a coincidence that Johnson’s 100-yard efforts this year came against the 4-3 defenses of the Giants and Oakland. Fisher cited the effectiveness of 3-4 schemes employed by the Broncos and Pittsburgh in his team’s losses.
Johnson will try again for a breakout game against that defense, as the Cowboys play a 3-4.
Johnson ranks sixth in the league with 354 yards on the ground. The Titans need him to get untracked since their conservative passing attack is fourth worst in the league.
Former University of Texas star Vince Young(notes) is 2-0 in his home state with wins over the Texans. Young has posted a career-high 66.2 completion percentage this season by using mostly short throws, but his 71 pass attempts are the fewest of any quarterback who has started four games.
“We’ve got to improve. We’ve got to improve everywhere,” Johnson said. “I feel like there’s things in the running game we can get better. … This team’s a running team, so they know we’re going to run the ball.”
While the Cowboys are happy with their first victory, they realize there is still plenty of work to do since they are in last place in the NFC East. The other three teams are 2-2.
“Ultimately, it’s what we do from now on,” Phillips said. “We’ve won one in a row. We’re going for two, that’s where we’re going.”
One of the adjustments the Cowboys appear to have made is using Marion Barber(notes) as the featured running back after starting the year with Barber, Felix Jones(notes) and Tashard Choice(notes) sharing the load. Barber had 17 rushes while Choice and Jones combined for nine against the Texans.
The Cowboys are looking to get more balance in their attack after Tony Romo(notes) had a league-high 98 pass attempts during the 0-2 start. Romo went 23 of 30 for 284 yards and two touchdowns two weeks ago.
The Cowboys could benefit from the Titans’ lack of discipline. Tennessee is tied with Detroit as the league’s most penalized team, with 37 for a league-high 344 yards.