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17

NFL Preview - Dallas (6-3) at Jacksonville (1-8)



By Lyle Fitzsimmons, Contributing NFL Editor

(SportsNetwork.com) - You may not have heard, but there will be another NFL team in London this weekend alongside the Dallas Cowboys. Of course, based on the way the Jacksonville Jaguars have played for the majority of their initial nine games of 2014, they're not difficult to forget.

The Cowboys head to merry old England in possession of the league's leading rusher in DeMarco Murray, who's gone for triple-digit yardage in all but one game and is on a pace that would get him into the rarified air of 2,000-plus yards by the time the season ends in late December.

Meanwhile, the Jaguars have allowed 339 ground yards across their last two games - losses to Miami and Cincinnati - with 154 of those yards coming via the legs of rookie Jeremy Hill in a 10-point loss to the Bengals last weekend. Jacksonville is third from the bottom of the NFL in scoring defense as well, allowing 27.9 points per game, and will go through the final seven games without linebacker Paul Posluszny and cornerbacks Will Blackmon and Alan Ball thanks to injuries.

Not the mention the special teams had a punt deflected, another blocked for a safety and a kickoff out of bounds for a penalty in the Cincinnati game.

It's enough to get a coach - even a forever ebullient coach - a little closer to blowing his top.

"Be upset, be angry and be determined to come back even stronger is our mentality in the locker room," Jaguars coach Gus Bradley said.

It gets little better on the offensive side of the ledger, when Jacksonville is last in the league with a per-week average of just 15.7 points. Still, the Jaguars have eclipsed 20 twice in the last three weeks, which could be an indication - albeit a slight one - of progress in the still-fledging Blake Bortles Era.

The rookie threw two second-half TD passes to Allen Hurns against the Bengals.

He's got eight scoring passes against 13 interceptions, which is good for a 72.1 passer rating since he took over for Chad Henne. Another emerging weapon comes in the form of running back Denard Robinson, the former University of Michigan quarterback who's averaged nearly 110 ground yards in the last three games, scored twice and gone for 5.8 yards per carry in that stretch.

"He's been running really well and the offensive line has been blocking really well," Bortles said. "He's been hot, and we've been riding him. He's been able to produce and run confidently. It's been really good for our offense to run the ball like that."

And, by the way, the Cowboys are in town, too.

Quarterback Tony Romo and his ailing back have become an international story now that Jerry Jones and Co. have arrived, though Romo remains in doubt for Sunday after not practicing Wednesday.

He fractured two small bones in his back during the Cowboys' prime time loss to Washington two weeks ago, then did not play in last week's loss to Arizona. The back was not impacted by the prolonged flight over the Atlantic Ocean, however, so coach Jason Garrett hasn't ruled his gunslinger out just yet and Romo was able to practice by Thursday.

If he can't go, Brandon Weeden gets a second straight start.

"All these things are medical decisions," Garrett said. "Really important for our medical team to weigh in on what our players have. Getting feedback from the player, as to how they feel, how they handle the workload, is really, really important. We as coaches, the football people, we're most interested in function, how is the player functioning. He might say 'this,' the doctor may say 'this,' but what we see is 'this.' We have to make the best decision during the week to get him ready to play on Sunday."

Garrett can be lip service to the doctors but owner Jerry Jones said Romo will play.

"I'm anticipating him playing, have no reason to think that he won't," Jones said. "But my expectations are for him to play."

Romo is the best in the league this season in both completion percentage and passer rating, and he's just two yards shy of 2,000 along with 15 touchdowns. He had three interceptions in the team's Week 1 loss to San Francisco, but has thrown just three more in seven games since.

The Cowboys sputtered to a season-low 266 total yards against the Cardinals. Weeden was picked off twice while completing 18-of-33 passes for 183 yards and a touchdown. Murray finished with 79 yards - the first time he wound up with less than 100 this season - and Dez Bryant had just two catches for 15 yards from his former college teammate at Oklahoma State.

And, naturally, being the Cowboys means the quarterback dramas are played out in public.

"There's a lot of media attention on the NFL, on the Cowboys, and certainly if you're the quarterback of the Cowboys, there's a lot of media attention that comes with that," Garrett said. "If you're that guy, or someone around that guy, it's just part of the deal. It comes with the dinner, as they say, and you get yourself ready to go."

Bryant is also toeing the company line and professing faith in the second- string signal-caller.

"Without question I missed (Romo), but I believe in Weeden, too," he said. "We've got to go back to the drawing board and try to fix what we need to fix."

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

Weathering the Storm

The Jaguars have allowed 30 or more points in five of nine games, and it doesn't help matters in the least that Mssrs. Posluszny, Blackmon and Ball are down for the remaining seven-game count. Defensive end Andre Branch and middle linebacker Jeremiah George will also be absent this week, which won't be bad news for either Romo or Weeden, Bryant and Murray.

Give it Away Now

The young Bortles has been a turnover machine in his stint as the Jaguars' quarterback, throwing 13 interceptions in seven games - including at least one each time out. Dallas has been optimistic on the other side, too, registering nine interceptions and forcing seven fumbles in its nine games. Unless

Jacksonville can suddenly limit its giveaways, it could be an especially unsatisfying road trip.

OVERALL ANALYSIS

Last week's matchup with the Cardinals showed that the Cowboys are a far different team with Romo that they are without him. But these are the Jaguars, after all, and Dallas has enough firepower in Murray, Jason Witten and Bryant - and a sound enough defense -- to presumably get themselves through even if it's Weeden calling the shots instead of their inured starter.

Sports Network predicted outcome: Cowboys 24, Jaguars 13

11/09 10:57:24 ET

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