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Cowboys run defense in question

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OK, this article asks a good question: Can the Cowboys stop the run this year? Last year the Cowboys defense wasn't very good against the run giving up 108 yds/game. The common way to attack a 3-4 defense is to try and run straight at it. The thought is that with only three down linemen a good push up the middle will create space to run, and once you can get your guards to the second-level of linebackers the offense will win the battle.

The Cowboys had to make a move at inside linebacker with the retirement of Dat Nguyen. The absence of Nguyen last year - and Al Singleton - meant the Cowboys struggled to contain the run. While Singleton will be back and will be challenged by rookie Bobby Carpenter for the outside job, the Cowboys signed FA Akin Ayodele to handle Dat's old position.

But with the retirement of Dat Nguyen, the Cowboys have a huge void to fill to complement James.

Enter free agent acquisition Akin Ayodele, an outside linebacker from the Jacksonville Jaguars . Although Ayodele has exclusively played outside, the Cowboys signed him to play inside.

Ayodele has recorded 349 tackles in his four-year career, including 116 in 2003. Although his tackles have gone down the last two years, his numbers were still respectable considering he played outside. Now, with Carpenter added to the mix to complement DeMarcus Ware at the outside position, Bill Parcells is counting on Ayodele to stop the run.

At the other inside linebacker position Bradie James returns to prove that last year's giant leap forward was no aberration.

Returning inside linebacker Bradie James has seen his tackle totals gradually increase over the course of his three-year career, from 13 in 2003, to 46 in 2004, to 93 last year.

But for any of this to work, if the Cowboys want to truly clamp down on the opposing team's running game, Jason Ferguson has got to play better than last year. The rotation of Ferguson and Glover is now down to a rotation of Ferguson and unproven talent. For Dallas to become another doomsday defense, Ferguson has got to control his two-gaps and force the guards to stay at home on running plays instead of moving to the linebacker level.

Billy Cundiff is working out in Cheese-head land, trying to follow Ryan Longwell who was one of the best in the NFL. Cundiff makes it sound so easy:

"If you look at any sport, anybody who comes in and replaces a guy that's great, if they step up their game, they have a chance to continue what that player did," Cundiff said. "I look at it saying, 'Look, I have big shoes to fill, but obviously there's a tradition here of consistent kicking. If I do my job, everybody's going to think that we didn't skip a beat and we're going to keep moving forward."

Packers fans beware. My advice: Invest in Pepto-Bismol and blindfolds.