Dallas travels to Cincinnati in hopes of prolonging the meaningful part of their 2012 season. They're still in the hunt for the playoffs and they need this game to stay within striking distance of the rest of the NFC playoff-hopefuls. The Bengals are in their own playoff hunt so they'll be plenty ready to receive the visitors from Big D. Cincinnati has won four straight, although some of that has come at the expense of bad teams. Still, they look to be markedly improving as the season wears on and they have the home-field advantage. How does Dallas pull out a win?
1. Negate The Bengals Pass Rush - This battle between the Cowboys pass protection and the Bengals pass rush is likely to be the determinate factor in the game. On the surface, the Cowboys are at a decided disadvantage. Dallas has struggled with protection while the Bengals lead the league in sacks. The Cowboys will need to rely on slowing down the pass rush through means other than winning straight-up blocking matchups - although that would help. The return of DeMarco Murray is crucial for this game, Dallas must establish a credible running threat so they don't have to drop Tony Romo back 70 times. A run game will also slow down the pass rush, forcing the defenders to hold to their run-stuffing responsibilities. The three-step drop is another weapon they can use: slants, bubble screens, crossing patterns, anything to get the ball out of Romo's hands quickly. If Dallas is forced to rely on a vertical passing game to win this week, they will be in big trouble.
2. Jason Witten - Earlier this week Witten said he may have to stay in to help with pass protection more than usual. I hope this is just a fake-out for the Bengals. Tight ends have worked over the Bengals defense and Witten is one of the best to ever play. Dallas has to get him out into patterns. Use a fullback or two-tight end sets with Witten as a receiver to help with pass protection. Do whatever it takes to get Witten heavily involved in the passing game.
3. Don't Let A.J. Green Go Wild - The Cowboys aren't going to stop A.J. Green, but they just can't let him win the game on his own. No slight to the rest of the Bengals offense, and their run game has been improving, but I'll take my chances with anyone else on that offense besides Green. Safety help over the top to his side is a necessity. Take a penalty or two if you're getting beat by him. Bracket him with a linebacker over the middle. Basically, wherever he is, there has to be two Cowboys around him.
Oh yeah, and get off to a fast start this week!