Cowboys have extra incentive to get to Super Bowl - homefield advantage

Tony Romo finally won a playoff game last season.
Tony Romo finally won a playoff game last season.
Posted: July 20, 2010

About the only good thing Eagles fans can take from last year's humbling playoff loss to the Cowboys is that it probably kept Dallas coach Wade Phillips employed.

What's scary for NFC East opponents, though, is that Dallas might be even better now that it has had a taste of playoff success. The Cowboys are not whispering about their desire to become the first team to play in a Super Bowl on their home field. They are saying it loud and clear. Wonder how Eagles fans would react to that happening. As you hide the sharp instruments, here's a closer look at the Cowboys:

Coach: Wade Phillips (81-54 in 10 seasons overall; 33-15 in 3 years with Dallas; 1-5 in career playoff games; 1-2 in postseason with Dallas).

Training camp locations: July 24-Aug. 6 in San Antonio; Aug. 7-13 in Irving, Texas; Aug. 14-27 in Oxnard, Calif. (www.dallascowboys.com/fans/camp.cfm for practice schedule).

Training camp reporting dates: Rookies and veterans report on Saturday, July 24.

Preseason schedule:

*Sunday, Aug. 8: vs. Cincinnati, 8

Thursday, Aug. 12: vs. Oakland, 9

Saturday, Aug. 21: at San Diego, 9

Saturday, Aug. 28: at Houston, 8

Thursday, Sept. 2: vs. Miami, 8

*Hall of Fame game in Canton, Ohio

2009 record: 11-5, won NFC East. Beat the Eagles, 34-14, in the wild-card playoffs; lost at Minnesota, 34-3, in the divisional round.

2009 vs. Eagles: 3-0. Won in Philadelphia in Week 9, 20-16; routed the Birds at Dallas, 24-0, in Week 17; followed that with the playoff win the following week.

Key additions (former team):

T Alex Barron (Rams).

Key losses (new team): S Ken Hamlin (Ravens), T Flozell Adams (free agent), LB Bobby Carpenter (Rams).

Draft picks (round/school): WR Dez Bryant (1st/Oklahoma State), LB Sean Lee (2nd/Penn State), CB Akwasi Owusu-Ansah (4th/Indiana-Pa.), T Sam Young (6th/Notre Dame), CB Jamar Wall (6th/Texas Tech), DT Sean Lissemore (7th/William & Mary).

Camp battle to watch: WRs Dez Bryant vs. Patrick Crayton. Even though the Cowboys are relatively deep at the position, Bryant's potential at wide receiver was too good to pass up in the draft. If Bryant picks up the offense enough to become a reliable No. 3 option, Crayton - who has expressed a desire to be moved - would be expendable.

Other rookie to watch: Penn State LB Sean Lee, acquired when the Cowboys traded two picks to the Eagles to move up four spots in the second round, is expected to get most of his early playing time on passing downs.

Numbers game: 0. Career field- goal attempts by kicker David Buehler, a second-year pro out of USC who last year was a kickoff specialist for the Cowboys

Developing story lines: The Cowboys released longtime left tackle Flozell Adams and replaced him with 26-year-old Doug Free to handle protecting Tony Romo's blind side. Free is in his fourth season out of Northern Illinois. He started seven games last year on the other side when right tackle Marc Colombo was hurt. Dallas traded with St. Louis for Alex Barron, a first-round bust out of Florida State in 2005, for insurance against Free . . . Owner Jerry Jones, who has been great on Entourage, makes sure his players are aware this year's Super Bowl will be played at Cowboys Stadium. "He lets us know where it is every time he talks to us. Every single time," linebacker DeMarcus Ware said during minicamp. "It's a big thing and it's going to motivate us all season. If you are hosting a Super Bowl at home, why not play in it?" . . . Alan Ball, a converted cornerback who has worked his way up from the practice squad, gets his first crack as starting free safety. He replaces Ken Hamlin, a starter for the last 3 years . . . The traveling circus that is this year's training camp is done for marketing purposes, of course. By the end of it, some of the equipment guys will give new meaning to the condition "sports hernia."

What to expect: The Cowboys, as noted above, are thinking nothing less than Super Bowl. While they should be the class of the division, winning the conference is a different story. Tony Romo took another step forward with a playoff win in 2009, but the Cowboys were so badly outclassed by the Vikings in the second round that Minnesota actually ran up the score. Developing stability along the offensive line should be a focus at camp. If that happens, then they can talk Super Bowl.

REGULAR-SEASON SCHEDULE

Sunday, Sept. 12: at Washington, 8:20

Sunday, Sept. 19: vs. Chicago, 1

Sunday, Sept. 26: at Houston, 1

Week 4: BYE

Sunday, Oct. 10: vs. Tennessee, 4:15

Sunday, Oct. 17: at Minnesota, 4:15

Monday, Oct. 25: vs. N.Y. Giants,

8:30

Sunday, Oct. 31: vs. Jacksonville, 1

Sunday, Nov. 7: at Green Bay, 8:20

Sunday, Nov. 14: at N.Y. Giants, 4:15

Sunday, Nov. 21: vs. Detroit, 1

Thursday, Nov. 25: vs. New Orleans, 4:15

Sunday, Dec. 5: at Indianapolis, 4:15

x-Sunday, Dec. 12: vs. Eagles, 8:20

Sunday, Dec. 19: Washington, 1

Saturday, Dec. 25: at Arizona, 7:30

Sunday, Jan. 2: at Eagles, 1

x - Sunday night game, subject to change

Notes: Schedule is the NFL's third most difficult, based on opponents' 2009 records . . . Open at Washington in Donovan McNabb's regular-season debut as Redskins quarterback . . . They'd probably prefer a bye later than Week 4 . . . Run defense gets a pair of tests in Week 5 (Chris Johnson) and Week 6 (Adrian Peterson) . . . Week 9 starts a rugged stretch where they are at Green Bay, at the Giants, home to the Saints and at the Colts. A visit from Detroit is mixed in there as well . . . Assuming he is still under center (gulp, if not), the Dec. 12 game will be a homecoming for Eagles quarterback Kevin Kolb, who went to Stephenville High School, about 90 miles from Dallas . . . Game on Christmas will be the fifth for Dallas, the most of any franchise. The Cowboys' last Xmas game was in 2006, when they lost at home to the Eagles . . . Dallas plays the Eagles in the season finale for the third consecutive year.

- Ed Barkowitz

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