Cow­boys take bye-week changes into matchup against Ten­nessee

The Sun Herald (Sunday) - - Sports - BY SCHUYLER DIXON

Dak Prescott has a new No. 1 re­ceiver and there’s a fresh lead­ing voice for the Dal­las quar­ter­back’s block­ers af­ter the Cow­boys traded for Amari Cooper and fired of­fen­sive line coach Paul Alexan­der dur­ing an open week that was much busier than nor­mal.

And there’s lit­tle ques­tion about the mes­sage owner and gen­eral man­ager Jerry Jones is send­ing as the Cow­boys try to keep a per­fect home sea­son in­tact to off­set their win­less road mark in a Mon­day night visit from the Ten­nessee Ti­tans, who share the same record (3-4) and sense of ur­gency be­cause of a three-game los­ing streak.

“We’re more ur­gent be­cause we’ve dug a hole here,” Jones said on his ra­dio show. “In or­der to re­ally be where we want to be, which that (is) in the play­offs, then we’ve got to be pretty strong in our suc­cess here. We don’t have time here. We don’t have the room to wig­gle here.”

The Cow­boys gave Oak­land their up­com­ing firstround draft pick for Cooper be­cause the re­ceivers sim­ply have not made the big plays the coach­ing staff and front of­fice hoped would still be there de­spite the off­sea­son re­lease of Dez Bryant in a cost-cut­ting move.

Dal­las dumped Alexan­der in the mid­dle of his first sea­son and pro­moted for­mer Cow­boys line­man Marc Colombo be­cause a front that has been among the NFL’s best for sev­eral years sim­ply hasn’t been as good, with or with­out Travis Fred­er­ick. The four-time Pro Bowl cen­ter hasn’t played and re­mains out in­def­i­nitely with a nerve dis­or­der.

Now it’s time to see how some mid­sea­son up­heaval, which in­cluded bring­ing re­tired for­mer of­fen­sive line coach Hud­son Houck out of re­tire­ment to help Colombo, trans­lates to the field.

“I don’t think it'll be that much of a change,” right tackle La'el Collins said. “It’s more so just us be­ing able to do a lot of dif­fer­ent things that we’ve done in the past, just kind of get­ting back to us play­ing at a high level and be­ing more ef­fec­tive.”

The Ti­tans are also com­ing off the bye week , pre­ceded by a solid bounce-back game for Mar­cus Mar­i­ota af­ter he was sacked 11 times – one shy of the NFL record – in a shutout loss to Bal­ti­more.

Mar­i­ota had a sea­sonbest 75 per­cent com­ple­tion per­cent­age (24 of 32) for 237 yards with a touch- down and an in­ter­cep­tion in a 20-19 loss to the Los An­ge­les Charg­ers – the sec­ond one-point loss on the cur­rent skid.

Still, the Ti­tans have the 30th-ranked of­fense and pass­ing game in the NFL. And the Cow­boys aren’t much bet­ter at 28th and 29th.

“I think ev­ery­body across the of­fense has a sense of ur­gency,” said Mar­i­ota, who turned 25 this week. “If we can carry that through­out the en­tirety of a game, I think we can be ef­fi­cient. We can do well on third downs. We can score touch­downs.”

Some other things to know with the Ti­tans and Cow­boys set for a Mon­day night show­down:

Still in the hunt: Both teams have been for­tu­nate not to lose touch with the top of their di­vi­sions.

The Ti­tans have been over­taken by Hous­ton’s five-game win­ning streak in the AFC South, but are just one loss be­hind the Tex­ans (5-3) in the loss col­umn. The Cow­boys have the same num­ber of losses as Su­per Bowl cham­pion Philadel­phia (4-4) and can pull back even with the idle Ea­gles in the NFC East. Wash­ing­ton has a shot at a two-game cush­ion in a visit to At­lanta.

The run­down: The Ti­tans are 19th in the NFL run­ning the ball even with Der­rick Henry, the 2015 Heis­man Tro­phy win­ner, and Dion Lewis in the back­field.

The Ti­tans signed full­back Jal­ston Fowler to the ros­ter af­ter re­turn­ing from their bye, and coach Mike Vra­bel made it clear they want to run the ball bet­ter. Dal­las star Ezekiel El­liott is com­ing off the sec­ond­worst game of his ca­reer, a 33-yard show­ing in a 20-17 loss to Wash­ing­ton.

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