The Dallas Cowboys head north to Ohio this week to play the Cincinnati Bengals. The Cowboys look to keep their playoff hopes alive, while the Bengals seek to extend their four game wining streak. Like most years, the NFC East is a division muddled in inconsistency and mediocrity; three of the four teams in the East are within one game of .500 on the season. As per usual, the NFC East Champion will probably not be determined until week 17. At 7-5, the Bengals are two games behind the AFC North leading Baltimore Ravens and tied with the Pittsburgh Steelers, so this game against the Cowboys have playoff implications for them too. The following is a list, in no particular order, of things that I will be watching for as I watch the game, and a list of questions I will be seeking to answer:
Oct 7, 2012; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green (18) pulls in a touchdown pass against Miami Dolphins cornerback Sean Smith (24) during the second half at Paul Brown Stadium. The Dolphins won 17-13. Mandatory Credit: David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports
1. Just how good is the Bengals 2nd year WR (drafted 4th overall) A.J. Green?
The Bengals wideout is averaging over 92 yards a game, he is sixth in the NFL with 76 receptions, he has over 1100 yards, and he his tied for the league lead with 10 touchdowns. He is big and powerful at 6’4” and 207 pounds, he has soft hands, he is not afraid to make tough catches over the middle, and when he goes up to get a football, he almost always comes down with it despite which NFL DB is trying to cover him. Defenders say he is deceptively fast for a man his size, he is incredibly strong, he is quick off the line, and he is extremely agile. In short, Bengals WR Green is the prototypical widereceiver.
Will Dallas Cowboys Defensive Coordinator Rob Ryan trust any of his cornerbacks to cover A.J Green one-on-one, or will there always be safety help on that side of the field?
If the Cowboys devote a safety to giving deep help to whoever covers Green, will the Bengals be able to exploit the short and medium length routes over the middle where they have always been weak, but recently got much weaker with the losses of ILB Sean Lee and Bruce Carter?
December 2, 2012; San Diego, CA, USA; Cincinnati Bengals running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis (42) runs for a short gain during the fourth quarter against the San Diego Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
If the Cowboys devote a safety to help cover Green,will the front seven of the defense be able to contain the Bengals recently improved rushing attack?
The Bengals have a very good offensive line, so QB Andy Dalton usually has plenty of time to survey the field and progress through his reads, and Green has time to shake his defenders and get downfield.
Will the Dallas Cowboys pass-rush be able to get any significant pressure on Dalton?
Will we ever see the famed pre-snap motion and unsual formations by Rob Ryan’s defense that were supposed to confuse opposing quarterbacks?
Will we be fortunate to witness the often talked about, but rarely seen, exotic blitzes from Rob Ryan’s Dallas Cowboys?
Will we finally see the Dallas Cowboys use press coverage on a frequent basis? Wasn’t the whole point of paying such a large price for free agent CB Brandon because he was so effective at press-coverage?
How often will we get to see the 4th overall draft pick from the 2011 NFL Draft, A.J. Green, go up against the 6th overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, Morris Claiborne? Will the rookie be able to hold his own?
Oct 28, 2012; Arlington, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo (9) is sacked by New York Giants defensive tackle Linval Joseph (97) in the third quarter at Cowboys Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports
2. Will Dallas Cowboys QB Tony Romo survive this game uninjured?
The Cincinnati Bengals lead the NFL in sacks (Denver also has39 sacks). Most people would guess that the Chicago or Pittsburgh or San Francisco or Houston would have the most sacks, but it is Cincinnati. Way back in September, Cowgirl wrote an article arguing that Tony Romo would be wise to test the free agent market before making a decision to re-sign with the Dallas Cowboys. Her argument was premised on the fact that Cowboys’ General Manager Jerry Jones had been neglecting the offensive line for years, and the failure to protect Romo demonstrated that he was not appreciated by the brass in Dallas, so he could obviously receive better treatment elsewhere. At the time, I was still drinking my daily dose of kool-aid, so I was offended by the idea that any player would not be anxious to re-sign with the Cowboys.
The many injuries to Dallas Cowboys offensive lineman, especially the loss of LT Tyron Smith (which leaves a totally inexperienced Jeremy Parnell to try and step in), has caused me to reconsider CowgirlCas’ basic point. Other than drafting Tyron Smith, the Dallas Cowboys have not made a concerted effort to improve their offensive line since that playoff loss to Minnesota that should have made it clear that the line was the problem with the team. Tony Romo has been running for his life and taking big hits all season; with the absence of Tyron Smith to protect his blindside, Romo is risking his body and ability to continue earning an NFL income on every snap.
Remember, he has already sustained a broken collar bone and punctured lung.
If Tony Romo is the best player on the Dallas Cowboys and their fate is so intimately connected with his success (which requires him being healthy), why haven’t they made more of an effort to protect him?
Dec 24, 2011; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Bengals defensive tackle Geno Atkins (97) and defensive end Jonathan Fanene (68) tackle Arizona Cardinals quarterback John Skelton (19) during the second half half at Paul Brown Stadium. The Bengals defeated the Cardinals 23-16. Mandatory Credit: Frank Victores-USA TODAY Sports
How many times will Tony Romo have to begin his escape from a pass-rusher before he has even had time to properly secure the ball?
When Dallas Cowboys QB Tony Romo is under pressure before he has the opportunity to survey the field, why is that happening?
Are individual Cowboys’ lineman just unable to hold their blocks or are blitzers and pas-rushers simply coming free at Romo without any attempt to be blocked?
The pass-rushers who are able to pressure Romo without being blocked, are they ‘coming free’ because of clever and unusual blitz packages, or is the Dallas Cowboys’ offensive line that poor that they frequently miss assignments?
Why does it seem so easy for speed-rushers to blow by RT Doug Free? What is he doing wrong?
As Greyson explained in a post earlier this week, the Cowboys are unlikely to claim a wildcard spot in the NFC if they lose this game, and a loss would put them two games behind the NFC East leading Giants. The Cincinnati Bengals are two games behind their division leader and therefore also need a win to stay in the wildcard race.
If NFL football games are won and lost in the trenches, then the Bengals would appear to have a pretty big advantage. Their offensive line has been playing well all year and giving their QB lots of time to throw the ball; the Dallas Cowboys have not being able to mount a consistent pass-rush yet this season. The Bengals lead the NFL in sacks, the Cowboys offensive line is in shambles and there is no one reliable to protect Tony Romo’s blindside.