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Titans vs. Cowboys: Dallas' Game Plan and the Urgent Need to Stop the Run

Published by Bleacher Report on Thu, 11 Sep 2014

Outside of protecting the ballwhich will be theirtop priority after the four-turnover meltdown in the 28-17 season-opener loss to the San Francisco 49ersstopping the run will be the primary focus of the Dallas Cowboys heading into Sunday's matchup against the Tennessee Titans.The Titans ran it 38 times for 162 yards in a surprisingly dominant victory against the Kansas City Chiefs in their season opener.And unlike the Cowboys, who handed the ball off only to running back DeMarco Murray in their loss to the 49ers, the Titans used a wave of runners. Four different running backs carried the ball in addition to quarterback Jake Locker.Shonn Greene led the way with 15 carries for 71 yards. Dexter McCluster had nine for 29. Bishop Sankey had 25 yards on six carries and Leon Washington had 23 yards on two carries in what was a deep and diverse ground attack that featured power as well as speed and quickness.As Cowboys coach Jason Garrett noted, the Titans also do a lot of their running of 11 personnel to keep defenses spread out.Locker took advantage of the ground success with a very strong game through air, completing 22 of 33 passes for 266 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. Few of the passes traveled more than 10 yards in the air, as Locker was able to be conservative and efficient, all set up by the Titans' success on the ground.So it will be a tough task for a questionable Cowboys run defense that gave up 127 yards on the ground in the season opener.Remember, the Cowboys gave up some easy first downs in the passing game because they played a lot of zone defense out of concern for quarterback Colin Kaepernick taking off from the pocket against man coverage.Look for a similar game plan against an athletic Locker. He is not as explosive as Kaepernick, but he knows how to make plays with his feet.The good news for Dallas is it will have reinforcements on the ready for Sundays game against the Titans.Veterandefensive tackle Terrell McClain will be back after missing Week 1 because of a sprained ankle that kept him out the entire preseason.He won't get a full load but will be part of the Cowboys eight-man rotation up front.Well mix it up and see how I react, said McClain, who signed with the Cowboys as a free agent in the offseason after two seasons with the HoustonTexans. It doesnt matter, I just want to play. If I get five reps, I get five reps. If I get 20 reps, Ill get 20 reps.Also, former Pro Bowldefensive tackle Henry Melton is ready to take on a larger role after playing sparingly against the 49ers because of his own injury issues in the preseason. Melton was impressive in 26 snaps in the season opener.He just needed to play more,Garrett said. He didnt play in the preseason, as weve talked about a number of times. So you have to be mindful of that when youre deciding how much he plays in the opening game. We have a good rotation up there. Some of the younger guys took some of those snaps.But I thought he responded well. His conditioning has to get much better. Maybe as much as anything else, its just playing and making sure that leg is underneath him and hes just playing instinctively and naturally, and I think we saw some of that during the game.The Cowboys' much-maligned defense is actually coming into the Titans game with a little optimism and some momentum from what was a solid second-half performance against the 49ers.After giving up 28 points in the first half, largely due to the four turnovers on offense, the defense held the 49ers scoreless over the final two quarters.For a defense that finished last in the league a season ago, while giving up the most yards in team history and the third-most yards in league history as well as having to hear about how bad it was for much of the offseason and training camp, it was definitely an effort to build on.It was definitely a good game to learn from, good game to grow." defensive end Jeremy Mincey said. "What I love the most about our team is we came out in the second half, and we fought all the way till the end. A lot of people let the levee break and it couldve got real ugly, and we didnt allow that. That second half, weve got to take that effort and build off that and re-evaluate some things and come back even stronger this week.All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise noted.
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