Cowboys-Bengals Preview

Associated Press  |  Last updated December 05, 2012
Cincinnati Bengals running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis has helped the team get back into the AFC North race. The return of running back DeMarco Murray could be the lift the Dallas Cowboys need to challenge for the NFC East title. Cincinnati will try to win its fifth straight Sunday when the visiting Cowboys go for their fourth victory in five tries. Held to 69 yards or fewer in six of the first nine games, Green-Ellis has run for 348 and two scores in the last three weeks, becoming the first Bengal with three consecutive 100-yard games since Corey Dillon in 1999. Cincinnati (7-5) is averaging 179.3 yards on the ground during that stretch. "It was his first time with a new line and a new system and terminology and all that stuff,'' offensive coordinator Jay Gruden said of Green-Ellis' early struggles. "A lot of the runs were the same he's used to, but still you've got to get used to your linemen and our aiming points and all that. "He's done a great job being patient, but making his decisions and getting up the field have been outstanding. That's the big thing.'' Gruden could lean on Green-Ellis even more on Sunday with Cedric Peerman questionable with an ankle injury. Green-Ellis' second-half surge has surely taken some of the pressure off of quarterback Andy Dalton, who has completed 62.5 percent of his passes during the winning streak with 10 touchdowns and two interceptions - both coming during last Sunday's 20-13 victory at San Diego. Dalton, though, had a go-ahead 6-yard scoring run with 4:11 left that kept the Bengals even with Pittsburgh for the AFC's second wild-card spot, and two games back of division-leading Baltimore. Cincinnati, which last won five straight from Oct. 2-Nov. 6, 2011, faces struggling Philadelphia next Thursday before closing the season on the road against the Steelers and home versus the Ravens. "We're obviously in the hunt for this thing,'' Dalton said. The Cowboys (6-6) have won three of four since a 1-4 skid and are now tied with Washington - which owns the tiebreaker - and one game behind the division-leading New York Giants. Dallas may have saved its season last Sunday, outscoring the Eagles 21-9 in the fourth quarter en route to a 38-33 victory. "Each game, obviously, we're playing for our playoff lives,'' said Tony Romo, who tossed three TDs - all in the second half - to break Troy Aikman's franchise record (165). "We put ourselves here. We've got to figure out a way to play better ball. Some ways, we did that tonight and other ways, we've got to continue to get better.'' The Cowboys' running attack has plenty of room for improvement - they're ranked 30th with 82.4 yards per game - but having Murray back last Sunday following a six-game absence with a sprained right foot gave Dallas a much-needed backfield boost. The return of center Ryan Cook and right tackle Tyron Smith from injury also helped as Murray carried 23 times for 83 yards and a TD in his first action since Oct. 14. "I wasn't expecting to get that much work," he said. Even though Murray's back, tight end Jason Witten and wide receiver Dez Bryant can expect plenty of balls thrown their way, as they're among the league leaders in targets with 120 and 103, respectively. Witten has a team-best 30 receptions over the last four games, while Bryant leads the Cowboys during this run with 475 yards and six TDs. Romo has nine TDs, two INTs and a 104.3 rating in those contests. "Tony Romo, is as good as there is right now," Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said. Cincinnati, though, is holding opponents to an average of 279.3 yards and 10.5 points since its last defeat. "This team is getting better each week,'' receiver A.J. Green said. "A lot of people said it was out of our reach to make the playoffs, but I feel like we have momentum on our side coming down the home stretch of the season.'' The Bengals have dropped four of six to Dallas, but they've won in each of the Cowboys' last two visits.
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