The Cincinnati Bengals welcome The Dallas Cowboys into Paul Brown Stadium on a wet and rainy Sunday. The Bengals come into this contest tied for the final wildcard playoff spot, and need a win to keep pace with the Steelers and Colts for a chance at the payoffs. While the Cowboys are facing a must win, behind the Giants by one game, and looking at winning the NFC East as their most likely playoff scenario.
Dalton vs. the secondary
Andy Dalton has been arguably the best quarterback in the AFC North this year. Working with fellow second-year player AJ Green, and standout tight end Jemaine Gresham, the Bengals has established a potent passing game. Using the double coverage Green is now used to seeing, Dalton has time after time used Green to extend the defense deep, and hit Gresham or wide receiver Andrew Hawkins on deep under routes. The Cowboys are a little thin in the secondary, and have struggled all season.
The Dallas secondary is the worst in the NFL in takeaways, and their minus 10 turnover differential is 26th in the league. Rookie Morris Claiborne and free agent Chris Carr were added to shore up this unit. While Carr and Claiborne have been average, the loss of nickel corner Orlando Scandrick, and the poor play of their safeties, have kept the Cowboy’s secondary on its heels all season. Rob Ryan will have quite a task, trying to get pressure on Dalton in the rain, while maintaining coverage to keep his secondary from getting burned.
The Lawfirm vs. linebackers and safeties
BenJarvus Green-Ellis has 348 yards and 2 touchdowns in the last 3 games, going over 100 yards in each game. The Cowboys have allowed 100-yard rushers in 6 of the last 7 games. To make matters worse, the Cowboys defense will be without nose tackle Jay Ratliff. Their backup nose tackle, Josh Brent, was involved in a tragic car accident in which teammate Jerry Brown Jr. died. Charged with intoxication manslaughter, Brent will be held until a hearing Sunday morning. Obviously, Brent will be unavailable for this game. Moving on from this terrible note will be important for Dallas as a team, and the performance of fill in nose tackle Sean Lissemore will set a tone for this defense. Green-Ellis will look for large holes on the inside, trying to take advantage of a Dallas front seven without their nose tackle and both of their starting inside linebackers, Sean Lee and Bruce Carter. Safeties Danny McCray and Gerald Sensebagh will be stretched, playing double duty defending Green deep, and keeping Green-Ellis from running all over them.
The offensive line vs. Demarcus Ware
Demarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer are the entire pass rush for the Cowboys, and part of Dallas struggles lately have been because of nagging injuries to Spencer and Ware. Ware has not recorded a sack in the last two games, but Spencer has been exceptional, recording 28 tackles and 3.5 sacks over the last 4 games. One of the more interesting matches is Ware facing left tackle Andrew Whitworth. Whitworth and Ware are good friends, going back to their days in college, Whitworth at LSU and Ware at Troy.
Whitworth is one of the better tackles in the NFL this year, and Ware is a specialized left side pass rusher. Rob Ryan has been trying stunts and switching attack spots for Ware lately, trying to manufacture pressure, but it has resulted in failed blitzes and big plays. With Spencer playing well, and the match up against right tackle Andre Smith not nearly as intimidating, look for Ryan to match Ware against Whitworth all night, and use Spencer with an added blitz to attack the right side of the Bengal’s line.