ARLINGTON, Texas — Sean Lee figures just one turnover from the Dallas defense would have kept the Cowboys out of another .500 rut.
Instead, the Cowboys didn’t get any takeaways in a 17-16 loss to Kansas City a week after forcing six to beat the New York Giants in the opener. Even worse, the Cowboys let the Chiefs run out most of the clock to drop Dallas to 1-1 for the third straight year — and 129-129 since the start of 1997.
“That was depressing for us not to have a turnover and losing by one point and not being able to get off the field there,” said Lee, the middle linebacker in Dallas’ new four-man front. “That hit our pride pretty hard.”
Dallas looks to get a turnover count between zero and six when the St. Louis Rams visit Sunday with former No. 1 overall pick Sam Bradford off to the fastest start of his career.
If turnovers are what the Cowboys stress most on defense, sacks are a close second. DeMarcus Ware is one shy of a 30-year-old franchise record after getting to Alex Smith twice last week in Kansas City, and fellow end Anthony Spencer is rounding into game shape after missing the preseason following left knee surgery.
Ware, Spencer and others will be trying to end Bradford’s four-game streak without being sacked, dating to last season. It’s the longest sack-free stretch for the Rams since 1973, when John Hadl was sacked just 17 times for a division champion.
“I think my guys up front played really well these first two weeks in keeping me clean,” said Bradford, who has thrown for 651 yards and five touchdowns. “We’re very aware how talented Dallas is up front on defense. It falls on everyone and not just our offensive line, but our wide receivers have got to be able to create separation.”
Three Dallas takeaways in the opener were interceptions of Eli Manning, but the Cowboys still gave up 450 yards passing and rank 24th in pass defense through two weeks. The Rams haven’t stopped opposing quarterbacks, either. Arizona’s Carson Palmer threw for 327 yards and two touchdowns, and Matt Ryan had 374 yards and two more scores, including an 81-yarder to Jacoby Jones.
Running on empty: DeMarco Murray altered the future of the Dallas running game against the Rams two years ago when he set a franchise record with 253 yards rushing in his first start. His first carry was a 91-yard touchdown, the longest first career TD since the merger in 1970. But the Cowboys are coming off one of the worst rushing seasons in franchise history and haven’t been any better through two games this year. Murray had just 25 yards on 12 carries against the Chiefs. The Rams have mostly been playing from behind and are averaging 3.2 yards per carry with second-year man Daryl Richardson trying to replace Stephen Jackson.
“I haven’t been able to determine whether our run game, the actual execution part of it, is struggling just because of the lack of carries,” coach Jeff Fisher said.
Run-and-shoot: Bradford has thrived in a no-huddle offense and taking advantage of soft coverage with the Rams trailing. Concern that quick three-and-outs could wear out their own defense makes it likely they’ll pick up the tempo only when needed. Tight end Jared Cook had a quiet Week 2, attracting extra attention from Atlanta and getting just one catch for 10 yards after grabbing seven passes for 141 yards and two TDs in a breakout opener.
Ailing Cowboys: Tony Romo took a pain-relief injection in Kansas City for his bruised ribs, and says he will probably have another one before facing the Rams. Dez Bryant had back spasms for the second time in three games dating to last season’s finale against Washington. He was limited in practice, but says he’s going to play.