The undefeated Denver Broncos are coming to town to play the Dallas Cowboys, and the Broncos are the heavy favorites to win, with good reason. Peyton Manning is absolutely on fire coming into the game, leading the league in virtually every passing statistic. The Broncos have a well-defined team identity, something the Cowboys will need to find in a hurry if they want any chance of winning.
The Broncos use their run game to set up their passing game for Manning. They will get a bit of traction running the ball, then destroy the defense with a play-action pass or a quick screen. They have a set game plan, and it works fantastically for them.
The Cowboys are a very different story, however. They have been a pass-first team since Tony Romo took over as quarterback in 2006, and have been in the top 10 in passing yards every year since. Most of the criticisms with the team have been directed at the defense or the lack of a running game.
For whatever reason, the Cowboys seem unwilling to choose an offensive identity, even though they have the talent to go a number of different directions with it. They are throwing the ball as frequently as a passing team, but are calling the conservative type of pass plays that a run-first team would use. It makes for an offense that is unable to move much at all.
Last week against the San Diego Chargers is a great example. Romo threw the ball 37 times, but only gained 246 yards. That’s an average of 6.6 yards per attempt, which is almost perfectly in line with their season average of 6.7 yards per attempt, which is tied for 21st in the league. What this means is that they are settling for safe passes, instead of aggressively pushing the ball downfield the way other passing teams do.
On the ground, the Cowboys gained an average of 5.8 yards per carry, but only ran the ball 16 times total. For the season, the Cowboys are averaging 4.6 yards per carry, good for seventh in the league, but only average 22.2 carries per game, tied for 23rd in the league. They are running the ball well, but aren’t running much.
This leads to having the 19th-ranked total offense, which is just not going to cut it against decent teams, as evidenced by the Cowboys’ 2-2 record. They finally have a decent defense for the first time in years, but now the offense is sputtering, despite having the same talented core of Romo, DeMarco Murray, Jason Witten and Dez Bryant.
With that kind of talent, the Cowboys could easily be more aggressive in the passing game. Granted, it will lead to more mistakes, but it could lead to more wins. On the other hand, they are also running well enough to focus on the running game and keep Romo as the conservative, mistake-free type of passer he’s been so far this year. Either way, it’s time to choose.
Even with having a clear focus on offense, it may not be even close to enough to hang with the Broncos, especially given how they’re simply steamrolling the opposition through the first four weeks of the season. But if they Cowboys don’t pick an identity soon, they won’t have a chance in this game, or many others this year.