We’ve seen this kind of 3-0 start before only to have the rest of the season crumble before our eyes. Something tells me that this year is different for the Broncos. A true test comes into town from the Big D. “America’s Team” may have a venue that belongs on MTVs Cribs: Stadium Edition, but the Broncos have rocky mountain thunder and the mile high air on their side. The Cowboys (2-1) only loss comes from NFC East divisional rival, the NY Giants. Great things are expected out of the Cowboys this season. With the release of T.O., the team became a more cohesive unit. However, all attention (and pressure) is on the Tony Romo Show now that the circus has left town. Sunday’s matchup will be very physical and feature two great rushing teams. The only question is how healthy will those backs be? Right now, the Broncos are flying under the radar as a top team in the NFL. With their low profile dominance, they should get a couple of more wins against last years’ playoff contenders. My Prediction: Broncos 28 Cowboys 21.
Broncos - With a turnover ratio of +6, Kyle Orton and the Broncos keep themselves in games just by holding onto the ball. Dallas’ pass rush is horrible despite having DeMarcus Ware. They are better at stopping the run, but the Broncos, who are averaging 158.7 rushing yards per game, can take advantage of that. Knowshon Moreno is a little battered, but he will suit up on Sunday. Look for Correll Buckhalter to take a lot of the carries though. Eddie Royal needs to get involved in the offense more. So far this season, Jabar Gaffney and Brandon Stokley have been Orton’s main targets because they run drag patterns across the middle, and the offense is set up for the short easy pass. Royal runs the outside routes where he is covered most of the time. I’d like to see Royal take the inside slots a little more because he’s so deadly after the catch. Ryan Harris and Ben Hamilton were held out of practice on Wednesday putting a major dent into an offensive line that hasn’t allowed a sack in the last 2 games. We will definitely need them in action for the offense to remain balanced.
Cowboys- They can get you on the ground or in the air. When both Marion Barber and Felix Jones are healthy, the Cowboys have favored the run. Last week, against the Panthers, Barber was out, but Tashard Choice complimented Jones (8 carries for 94 yards) with 18 carries for 82 yards and a TD. This week, it’s Barber who is expected back while Jones may be out with a sprained knee. Even with one of them missing, the rush attack will be a challenge for the Broncos defense. Patrick Crayton, Jason Whitten, and Roy Williams lead the team in receiving yards with Whitten coming through in the clutch and getting most of the first downs. Tony Romo is having a subpar season with 4 TDs and 3 INTs, but he’s capable of putting together a nice air attack and racking up 250 yards passing. The Cowboys are 1st in the league in rushing, 14th in passing, and 5th in points per game. Credit their success on the ground to their big veterans on the offensive line.
Broncos - Currently, the Broncos are 7th in rush defense and 2nd in pass defense. With 5 INTs already under their belt, this secondary is good enough to pick Romo off especially if Elvis Dumervil and others are pressuring him in the pocket. Besides avoiding Flozell Adams kicks, this defense must get past a giant offensive line. The listed weights of their linemen are 338, 307, 318, 353, and 318 lbs. Our defensive line did get bigger in the off season, and we’ve got guys on the outside that can sneak in there to put some pressure on, but this will be one of the most intriguing matchups of the game. Now that the Broncos are facing the #1 rushing offense, we can see what this new 3-4 is capable of. Don’t expect the near perfect game that they played against the Raiders, but if they can create a turnover (and get points off of it), and force the Cowboys into 3 and outs, Josh McDaniels’ offense can get into some kind of rhythm. Should the Broncos continue their defensive uprising, maybe “Hard Knocks” is an appropriate nickname for this squad.
Cowboys- Until last week, the Cowboys didn’t create any turnovers. Against the Panthers, they had 2 INTs. Their pass rush is the issue right now. They rank 27th in the league in pass defense and 17th in rush defense. With Orton being mistake free and throwing more conservative passes thus far, the Cowboys will have trouble getting anything off of him. I don’t want to jinx it, though. Ken Hamlin, Terence Newman, and Bradie James are leading the team in tackles while Victor Butler is leading the team in sacks (2). If this defense gets going, they are capable of disrupting the offense’s rhythm because of their size (everything really is bigger in Texas) and activity. The Cowboys have five new starters on defense, so they may have just needed the first two games to adjust to different coverages and fronts. Don’t underestimate this defense because of their stats. Something better may be in store.
Broncos - Matt Prater is back on track and actually just got named the AFC Special Teams Player of the Month. He’s made 3 field goals from 40 yards or more and he’s 7 for 9 on the season. His kickoffs have helped the Denver special teams rank #1 in the league in opponents’ starting field position (20.6 yard line). He started strong last year as well, but crumbled at the end of the season. Hopefully, with maturity comes consistency. The Broncos’ return game has been uneventful, but the key is they’re not giving up any long returns.
Cowboys- As a whole, the Cowboys’ special teams is above average. They’re 13th in kick return average with Felix Jones and Miles Austin handling most of the kicks. Nick Folk is 5-6 on field goals for the year and punter Matt McBriar is proving that his large contract was worth it. He’s averaging 46.2 yards per punt with 8 of his 13 kicks landing inside the 20 yard line. It looks like the Broncos will have a long field to work on offense.
Broncos - Josh McDaniels has done a great job preparing his team each week. He says that he prepares the same way each week, considering every opponent a huge threat despite their win-loss record. He knows what kind of QB he has, so he’s developed his play calling to be conservative yet effective for Orton to complete short passes. He’s also got a great blocking scheme for his backs which enables the team to control the clock and give the defense a longer breather. With a Belichick approach, I don’t think McD will be that intimidated by America’s Team.
Cowboys- Wade Phillips has heard it all. He’s heard that he’s not a good enough coach considering the amount of talent he’s had on his teams since taking over the Dallas Cowboys. He’s also heard that he knows defense, but doesn’t know offense. Jerry Jones is sticking behind his man (for now). I could see that loyalty fade just like the nightly sunset on the Texas horizon if the Cowboys are one and done in the playoffs or if they don’t make the post season at all. Phillips makes some questionable decisions that usually make or completely break his team. Hopefully the latter happens on Sunday.
Tags: Ben Hamilton Bradie James Brandon Stokley Correll Buckhalter Dallas Cowboys Preview Demarcus Ware Denver Broncos Eddie Royal Elvis Dumervil Felix Jones Flozell Adams Jabar Gaffney Jason Whitten Jerry Jones Josh Mcdaniels Ken Hamlin Knowshon Moreno Kyle Orton Marion Barber Matt Mcbriar Matt Prater Miles Austin Nick Folk Patrick Crayton Roy Williams Ryan Harris Tashard Choice Terence Newman Tony Romo Victor Butler Wade Phillips