'NO AUTOMATIC WINS'

The Colts on Sunday will play host to the Dallas Cowboys, a team Colts players, coaches and officials say is better than their 3-8 record. 'There are no 'gimme' games or automatic wins in this league,' Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney says.

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Dallas Much Better Than 3-8 Record, Colts Players and Officials Say
INDIANAPOLIS – Dwight Freeney said in this case what is said is true.

Because while it often has been said in recent weeks that the Dallas Cowboys are better than their record might indicate, and while such things are often said of teams with sub-.500 records entering December, Freeney – the Colts' five-time Pro Bowl defensive end – said in this case, it couldn't be more right.

Yes, the Cowboys are 3-8.

And yes, they are in last place in the NFC East.

But while that's not where the Cowboys expected to be, Freeney said the Cowboys' talent and ability makes them much more dangerous than a normal team five games under .500.

"They're very talented," Freeney said as the Colts (6-5) prepared to play Dallas at Lucas Oil Stadium in downtown Indianapolis Sunday at 4:15 p.m.

"Defensively, they apply a lot of pressure. (Outside linebacker DeMarcus) Ware does a great job, and they do a great job on offense of what they do. It's going to be a challenge like every week.

"There are no 'gimme' games or automatic wins in this league."

The Cowboys, selected by many to contend for the NFC East title and a push deep into the playoffs, instead began the season 1-7, a start that led to the much-publicized firing of then-head coach Wade Phillips. He was replaced by offensive coordinator Jason Garrett, now the interim coach.

"I've known Jason a long time and have high regard for him," Colts President Bill Polian said. "I know he'll do a great job there. He already has them focused and energized and playing really sound football. . . . This (playing Dalllas) is not an easy task.

"They're very different than the team that was playing in fits and starts before Jason took over."

The Cowboys since Garrett took over have won two games, beating the New York Giants and Detroit Lions, then rallying from a 17-point halftime deficit on Thanksgiving Day before allowing a late touchdown in a 30-27 loss to defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans.

Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell, discussing the Cowboys in the first eight games compared to the last three, held his thumb and index finger just apart.

"It is one of those things where there is about that much difference between winning and losing," Caldwell said. "You will see spurts where they play very, very well all throughout the year when you look back from the first game on.

"It is just different things that happened where it was a miscue or turnovers or whatever it might have been, because those things just cloud the issue because of the games that they ended up losing. They have talent coming out of their ears now. The thing that you see in obviously the two wins that they had was that they played consistently well and they have simplified a bit on defense.

"That is one area I can tell you where you see a difference. They are simpler. They are not as multiple as to what they do. They let their guys line up and play, and they have done a really good job in that area."

A key difference, Polian and Colts quarterback Peyton Manning each said, goes beyond Garrett.

The Cowboys upon firing Phillips also moved former Miami Dolphins defensive coordinator and Syracuse University Head Coach Paul Pasqualoni into the defensive coordinator role. Pasqualoni, Polian said, "is much more in the style of (longtime NFL Head Coach) Bill Parcells," running a "big, physical 3-4 that relies on the outside linebackers to create the rush.

"They can get up the field, and they can get after you," Polian said. "They have a big front three and big, big inside linebackers who just step up there and take you on and take away the run. This is a team that has had a complete changeover."

Manning said the change in coordinators makes the week particularly challenging.

"It's definitely an unknown because of the coaching change and a different defensive coordinator," Manning said. "You just don't see that very often. I'm not really sure if it is a different scheme or not and how much they've continued from the old scheme. It's a very talented team.

"They have a lot of players; big, strong, athletic guys all across the field. I think it will be a tremendous challenge going against their defense because of all the talent they have."

Key to that defense is Ware, who Polian said is a pass-rusher capable of disrupting offenses in the same fashion as Freeney, long one of the NFL's top pass rushers.

Ware, a six-year veteran, has 74 sacks and 24 forced fumbles in his career, including 9.5 sacks this season. He had 20 sacks in 2008 and has had double-digit sacks each of the last four seasons.

"He is just an excellent pass-rusher, a guy that you have to factor in every play," Manning said. "They have a number of guys (that are talented). (Nose tackle Jay) Ratliff, in the middle, is a disruptive guy as well. I think their (defensive) line is excellent, their linebackers are very experienced with (Bradie) James and (Keith) Brooking, and two first-round corners (Terence Newman and Mike Jenkins) outside.

"Just a lot of talent, really, all across the field."

That's also true of the Cowboys' offense, which is not only ranked No. 9 in the NFL in total yardage, but features Pro Bowl tight end Jason Witten, as well rookie wide receiver Dez Bryant, who has caught 44 passes for 547 yards and six touchdowns. He also has returned two punts for touchdowns.

Jon Kitna, a 14-year veteran who has spent time with four teams, took over at quarterback when Tony Romo sustained a broken collarbone on October 25. He has completed 130 of 200 passes for 1,536 yards and 10 touchdowns with eight interceptions in five games as a starter.

Dallas has scored 20 or more points in eight of 11 games, including each of the three since Garrett took over as head coach.

"No one has ever doubted the fact that these guys have a talented team," Caldwell said. "It's certainly one that almost at every position they have a real formidable guy who can play the game.

"Physically you are going to see one of the best looking teams you have seen in a long time. They are big and fast and they are playing some inspired ball right now. They are playing well. So, we have our work cut out for us. I think both teams obviously have a lot to play for and we'll see who can play more consistently.

"All you do is look at them. They are playing better. They are playing well. Who knows what the reason may be, but they look like a better football team playing more consistently well. I don't think there is any question about that."

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