In­ter­cep­tions few and far be­tween

Austin American-Statesman - - C SPORTS - As­so­ci­ated press Hous­ton Tex­ans quar­ter­back Matt Schaub and coach Gary Ku­biak have teamed to win 15 of their last 16 games to­gether. david J. phillip / as­so­ci­ated press

IRV­ING, Texas — Dal­las cor­ner­back Mor­ris Clai­borne prob­a­bly fig­ured his first NFL touch­down would come on an in­ter­cep­tion. The rookie had to set­tle for a fum­ble re­turn be­cause the picks have been a lit­tle hard to come by for the Cow­boys.

Af­ter trad­ing up eight spots to take Clai­borne at No. 6 in this year’s draft and com­mit­ting at least $26 mil­lion to free agent Bran­don Carr, Dal­las is last in the league with five in­ter­cep­tions and the only team with­out a player who has at least two head­ing into Sun­day’s game at Cincin­nati.

“We cer­tainly want to cre­ate more take­aways,” coach Ja­son Gar­rett said. “There’s no ques­tion about that.”

Dal­las scored three de­fen­sive touch­downs in two games against the Ea­gles, in­clud­ing Clai­borne’s 50-yard fum­ble re­turn in Sun­day’s 38-33 win. In the first meet­ing, Carr had a 47-yard in­ter­cep­tion re­turn and Ja­son Hatcher re­cov­ered a fum­ble at the goal line af­ter a sack in a 38-23 Dal­las win.

“We be­lieve that turnovers and take­aways are a team thing,” Gar­rett said. “So ev­ery­body’s in­volved, pres­sur­ing the quar­ter­back, tip­ping the ball, all of those things come into play.”

Four starters are out for the year, and the Dal­las de­fense slipped out of the top 10 af­ter the Ea­gles gained 423 yards with rook­ies at quar­ter­back and run­ning back. Im­prov­ing the mi­nus-10 turnover ra­tio might be the only way for the Cow­boys (6-6) to stay in the play­off race — or more games where the Dal­las of­fense matches all the scor­ing drives, like it did against Philadel­phia.

“We can’t use (in­juries) as an ex­cuse, but I feel like that plays a big part in it,” Clai­borne said. “We just have to count on those guys to come in and get the job done. And ... we’ve been com­pen­sat­ing for each other all year, from the of­fense to the de­fense. Ev­ery time we gave up a touch­down, they came back and scored a touch­down to keep us in the game.”

Dal­las isn’t any­where close to the bot­tom of the league in turnover ra­tio — that would be Kansas City at mi­nus-21 — but only three play­ers ex­pected to play Sun­day have an in­ter­cep­tion.

Danny McCray, who was sup­posed to be a backup safety, has one along with Carr and Clai­borne. The oth­ers be­long to line­backer Sean Lee — out for the year with a toe in­jury — and safety Char­lie Peprah, who might not make it back this sea­son be­cause of a foot in­jury.

The turnover ra­tio for Dal­las might be worse if not for eight fum­bles, about in the mid­dle of the NFL pack.

“We just have to stop them from scor­ing,” line­backer An­thony Spencer said. “Any way we can do it — in­ter­cep­tions, fum­bles, three-and-outs, six plays and out. Any way we can get off the field, that’s how we’ve got to get it done.” a cou­ple sea­sons with im­pres­sive num­bers, but when it comes to what most coaches and quar­ter­backs are mea­sured by — wins and Su­per Bowls — the Ku­biak-Schaub team is lack­ing.

The two have yet to even make a play­off ap­pear­ance to­gether. Bar­ring an in­jury, that should fi­nally hap­pen in Jan­uary, since the Tex­ans clinched their sec­ond play­off berth this past Sun­day.

On the same day, the Pa­tri­ots, who host Hous­ton on Mon­day night, clinched their 10th di­vi­sion ti­tle in 12 sea­sons, and in one of those non­ti­tle years, Brady suf­fered a sea­son-end­ing knee in­jury in the first game.

Belichick and Brady, who last year passed Don Shula and Dan Marino’s 116 wins to be­come the win­ningest duo in the Su­per Bowl era, have ap­peared in five Su­per Bowls and are the run­away lead­ers among ac­tives tandems with 133 wins (38 losses). Tom Cough­lin and Eli Man­ning are a dis­tant sec­ond with 76.

The Schaub-Ku­biak combo is 43-33, trail­ing the likes of Matt RyanMike Smith (54-20), Joe Flacco-John Har­baugh (53-23) and Aaron Rodgers-Mike McCarthy (4925), in wins and win­ning per­cent­age, though each of those quar­ter­backs be­came starters a year af­ter Schaub.

Schaub-Ku­biak may never be talked about like Brady-Belichick, but it ap­pears that over the next few years the two­some is set up to do well.

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