Although the Cowboys rose to a record of 1-2 with their dominating victory over the Houston Texans, they still remain in a must-win situation as they prepare to face the Tennessee Titans. The Cowboys are a half behind the rest of the NFC East. And while the division, as a whole, is not the powerhouse it once was, inter-division games will still be just as intense and hard fought. Hence, winning games outside of the division is a must for teams with playoff aspirations like the Cowboys.
The Titans are coming off a tough loss to the Denver Broncos and will be looking to bounce back with a big win on the road against the Cowboys.
Offensively, the Titans are going to pound the rock, and with good reason. Chris Johnson, one of the best tail backs in the league - and definitely the most explosive - sets up in the backfield for the Titans. Everyone knows about Johnson's blazing 4.24 speed and how he is a threat to score every time he touches the ball. What some people don't know, however, is what great vision Johnson has and how quick he is moving laterally. He is by far the best back in the league at realizing the initial hole isn't there and bouncing the run to the outside.
The Cowboys outside linebackers - DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer - will have to set the edge on every play and hold their ground. If either of them tries to jump inside to make a play, Johnson will bounce to the outside and tear off a big gainer.
Titans quarterback Vince Young has a strong arm and is athletic enough to make plays with his legs. However, he makes questionable decisions throwing the ball and chooses to tuck and run, on an almost consistent basis. If the Cowboys can disguise their coverage's efficiently, Young will make mistakes. Yet, it will be up to the Cowboys to take advantage of them.
What to watch for: The downfield threat of receiver Kenny Britt. Britt is the X-factor, offensively, for the Titans. With the Cowboys devoting an extra player or two to stopping Johnson, Britt will be left in a lot of single-coverage. If he can get open down the field, Young has the arm to deliver the ball.
Defensively, the Titans secondary is impressive. Cornerback Cortland Finnegan and free safety Michael Griffin are very talented players. Both players are extremely aggressive, which can be a hindrance to the defense at times. Finnegan will play very close to line of scrimmage on most plays; preferring to be able to get his hands on the receiver he is facing, and push them off their route. As Finnegan only stands at 5-10, 186lbs, this preference could backfire against him vs. the Cowboys, as he will be facing an array of receivers over 6-2: Roy Williams (6-3), Miles Austin (6-3), Dez Bryant (6-2) and Sam Hurd (6-2).
Griffin is a devout run defender. And will not hesitate to move down towards the line of scrimmage if he believes the opposing offense is going to run the ball. Establishing a healthy running game and following it up with play-action, will be especially advantageous to the Cowboys this Sunday.
What to watch: How the Cowboys respond to the Titans baiting. A lot has been made of how Titans players - especially on the defense - pride themselves on provoking opposing players into reacting violently, and in the process garner a personal foul penalty. The Cowboys must keep their cool, or will ultimately kill drives and swing momentum with unnecessary penalties.