By Matthew Postins
The Dallas Cowboys (2-2) host the Denver Broncos on Sunday. Wednesday marks the traditional start to the NFL work week. So here are the five stories you should follow leading up to the game:
Stopping Peyton: What’s the old Dan Patrick line? “You can’t stop him. You can only hope to contain him?” The Dallas Cowboys have the misfortune of running into Denver quarterback Peyton Manning while he’s on a world-class tear to start the season. He’s thrown 16 touchdown passes in four games with no interceptions, and shows no signs of tailing off. Put that in perspective. That’s nearly four touchdown passes per game. His fantasy owners are thrilled. Defensive coordinators are pulling their hair out. And Cowboys defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin doesn’t have much hair to begin with. Expect a lot of talk about what Dallas’ revamped defense can do to limit Manning’s effectiveness. Some of that talk will revolve around how the Dallas Cowboys have been vulnerable in the deep middle of their defense. Just what Manning loves – vulnerabilities.
The running game: Yes, we’ll talk about the running game again this week. This time the talk will revolve around the fact that a successful running game could be the best defense against Manning and his cadre of receivers. If they can’t get on the field, they can’t score. Theoretically. The Dallas Cowboys had an underappreciated rushing performance against San Diego last week because they were unable to run the ball much in the second half. That’s because San Diego possessed the football for so long and scored when they had it. But the Cowboys rushed for a robust 5.8 yards per carry. If they can do that more often against Denver they can move the chains, swallow up time of possession and limit Manning’s opportunities. Running back DeMarco Murray and his offensive linemen will be in high demand this week.
Terrance Williams: I had one non-Cowboys fan stick up for Williams, saying that “He’s just a rookie and you can’t blame him for trying to make a play. I guess everyone just needs a scapegoat.” There is some logic to that, but I stand by what I wrote earlier this week. Every player has to know the situation and that situation at that time didn’t demand that Williams get that extra yard. So how does Williams react this week? Will he play as much as he did a week ago if Miles Austin returns? Williams clearly has talent, but he’s made two major gaffes in four games and the Dallas Cowboys must take that into account. There will be some “How is Williams responding to last week’s fumble?” stories, to be sure.
Knowshon Moreno: For the most part the Cowboys have faced rather middling rushing attacks. The Broncos aren’t world-beaters when it comes to running the football, but Moreno is having a real good start to the season. He’s become the Broncos’ go-to back and is benefiting greatly from Manning’s productivity. He’s drawn so much attention from defenses that it allows Moreno to burn them when they least expect it. The Dallas Cowboys will have to find a healthy balance between limiting Manning and paying attention to Moreno, because if they pay too much attention to Manning then Moreno will make them pay.
Secondary a primary concern: There will be questions about the Cowboys secondary this week. After giving up 401 yards to San Diego quarterback Phillip Rivers, how could it not? This is not the first time this season the Dallas Cowboys have given up large chunks of yardage to a quarterback, and one has to wonder if there are issues on that final level of defense that aren’t readily apparent. Is Morris Claiborne all the way back? Is Brandon Carr making enough splash plays? Are the safeties – Will Allen, Barry Church and J.J. Wilcox – out of position too often? Do the Cowboys need to use third corner Orlando Scandrick more? Expect Kiffin to get peppered with plenty of secondary questions this week. What was looked upon as the deepest and most talented position entering training camp has, thus far, been the most vulnerable.