Having extended their winning streak to four games against the San Diego Chargers last Sunday, the Cincinnati Bengals face a tough test against Tony Romo‘s Dallas Cowboys this Sunday. The Cowboys may not be having the best of seasons, but, just like the Bengals, they are embroiled in a race for one of the final playoff spots within their conference. In fact, the Bengals, 7-5, are just one game ahead of the Cowboys who have a 6-6 record.
More importantly for the Cowboys, they are coming off of a good victory over the Philadelphia Eagles. In that game, their offense scored 38 points as a result of excellent execution. They likely won’t be able to replicate that level of production this Sunday, but they will need to execute just as efficiently. The Bengals’ defense has combined a knack for turnovers with the ability to shut down offenses in recent weeks, so the Cowboys can’t expect to win a shoot-out they way they did last time out.
That said, the Cowboys should feel very confident entering this game. Romo isn’t having his best season, but he has shown an uncanny ability to consistently make plays despite the failings of those around him. Unlike Philip Rivers, who was a sitting duck to the Bengals’ pass rush last week, Romo will be able to extend plays and avoid pass rushers consistently before testing the Bengals’ secondary down the field. The Bengals haven’t played anyone like Romo since Ben Roethlisberger guided the Pittsburgh Steelers to victory in Week 7. That day Roethlisberger threw for 278 yards with one touchdown and one interception. Most importantly however, Roethlisberger was able to sustain drives and consistently move the ball down the field. The Steelers had over 37 minutes of possession that day as they controlled the game for a seven point victory.
If the Cowboys are to beat the Bengals, their offensive production will be dependent on Romo and his receivers. DeMarco Murray returned to the field after a lengthy absence through injury last week, but he was limited to just 83 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries. Murray will likely be better with an added week away from his injury, but the Bengals figure to be a tougher task than the Eagles were on the ground. Instead, the Bengals will face a lot of Dez Bryant, Jason Witten and Miles Austin. Bryant in particular offers a potent threat for the defense to quell, as he is in a very rich vane of form. Bryant offers big plays while Witten will consistently move the chains and provide matchup problems all over the field. As the Bengals look to shut down Romo’s two primary threats, they must not lose sight of Austin or even Kevin Ogletree who have both proven themselves capable game-changers at times during the season.
On the other side of the ball, there should be a lot of pressure on Andy Dalton. That is, not pressure in the pocket, but instead pressure to perform without relying on AJ Green. Green will see a lot of attention from the Cowboys’ defense while having to overcome the physical presences of Morris Claiborne and Brandon Carr underneath. Both are very talented press man cornerbacks who should be able to take away underneath routes, with a safety over the top helping them negate his big play ability. Dalton will have to rely on Andrew Hawkins, Jermaine Gresham and Marvin Jones to make plays instead. Hawkins and Gresham are both inconsistent, while Jones is very inexperienced.
At the very least, the Bengals should be able to run the ball and keep the pass rush away from their quarterback from play-to-play. Despite facing off against DeMarcus Ware, the Bengals are playing against a team who don’t have a consistent pass rush or that many threats. Outside of Ware, only Anthony Spencer, Jason Hatcher and Josh Brent have registered sacks this season. Ware has 10, while the others have accounted for just 11. Considering how well the Bengals’ offensive line has performed this season, they should have no problems controlling the trenches to create gaps in the running game, while neutralizing the little threat that exists in the passing game. What will make a difference is if the five offensive linemen can contain their opposition without any help at all, something that is typically not even considered at this level, but the matchup dictates that it is at least a possibility.
Both teams are desperate to win this game and kick on towards the playoffs. While the Bengals are likely entering the game as home-favorites, they’d be foolish to overlook the talent at the Cowboys’ disposal.