Cowboys Offense vs. Titans Defense
The Dallas Cowboys have started the first two games of this season going to their strength, the passing game. The Cowboys offense has three top-line options to choose from this year, Terry Glenn, Terrell Owens and Jason Witten. So far, Bill Parcells and the play-callers-by-committee have used the passing game to put defenses on notice on the first drive. We'll see if that trend continues tomorrow. The Titans secondary doesn't have the talent to shut down all those options - not many teams in the NFL do - so the best defense against Dallas early is to get to Drew Bledsoe. The Titans want to get the early momentum and bring the crowd into the game. Winless teams are dangerous; they get desperate and are more willing to take chances.
The strength of the Titans defense is up front. Kyle Vanden Bosch is a good defensive end and DT Albert Haynesworth also has talent. Marc Colombo against Vanden Bosch will be an important matchup. The Titans defense is similar to the Redskins, as noted by Bill Parcells in a press conference. They're aggressive; they play their linebackers close to the line and will shoot them into the line to stop the run. The Cowboys need to rely on the same things they did against Washington, lots of play-action, varying the formations, pass or run out of any formation, and throw in some misdirection plays.
If Dallas is going to run, they are going to need to get blocking at the second level against LB's Keith Bulluck and David Thornton. Safety Chris Hope is also an active defender in the run game who is second on the team in tackles. Julius Jones doesn't need to dominate the game, but he needs to be effective enough that the Titans can't depend on just getting to Drew Bledsoe as a defensive strategy. If Dallas can make them worry about the run and keep the linebackers guessing instead of reacting, then the passing game should take over if they can provide Bledsoe protection.
The Titans will try to bring pressure in blitz packages. Last week against Miami they sent CB's and safeties playing at the line of scrimmage on blitzes. Julius Jones and Marion Barber have to be aware of this and pick up those defensive backs. Dallas has had success running hitches and quick slants along with the deeper skinny post. These patterns should work very well if the Titans send the corners on blitzes, provided the blockers give Bledsoe a little bit of time. The Titans defense isn't good enough to handle the Cowboys weapons without putting pressure on Bledsoe. The offensive line must communicate like they did last week where they excelled at picking up the blitz and providing Drew a clean pocket.
I expect Dallas to come out passing using multiple formations to give an aggressive Titans defense a reason to think instead of attacking. If the Titans blitz and shoot the linebackers into the gaps, Dallas will shorten the passing game and make them pay in small chunks of yardage until they can set up the big play deep. Julius Jones and Marion Barber must be sharp in their pass blocking, and Bledsoe needs to carry out good fakes on play-action passes, something he normally does well. Eventually, the Titans will have to back off and respect the passing game, giving Julius room to run.
Cowboys Defense vs. Titans Offense
Depending on the QB that is playing, Dallas will have two different defensive mind-sets. With Kerry Collins in the game, Dallas will want to pressure him up the middle where his lack of mobility will be an issue. The Titans are beat up in the middle of their line, with both guards being game-time decisions. Last week, blitzing Bradie James and Roy Williams up the middle was very effective; expect more blitzes like that tomorrow. But the Cowboys defensive front seven is good enough to disrupt the Titans defense without resorting to a heavy diet of blitzes. Dallas will probably see if they can get pressure from their base defense first. The Titans are better at protecting the QB than they are run blocking, but expect Dallas to get pressure anyway.
The Titans aren't very good at running the ball, and will have problems containing Jason Ferguson in the middle. Travis Henry is a serviceable back if given room to run, but poor blocking by the Titans offensive line has limited his effectiveness. Chris Brown has more talent, but is coming off injury. If the Dallas line plays to its potential, they should be able to limit the Titan's running game.
Vince Young would add a new dimension for the Titans if he plays. When he's on the field, Dallas will concentrate on containing him and not letting him get out to the edges. If they run the option-read, OLB's Greg Ellis and DeMarcus Ware must keep containment. The Cowboys will have to pay attention to their rushing lanes on pass plays, and not give up big lanes for Young to run through.
The Titans have some good receivers in Drew Bennett and David Givens, plus TE duo Bo Scaife and Ben Troupe, but none of them are playmakers that can take over a game. Bennett looks to be their most dangerous weapon, but the Cowboys corners are good enough to handle the WR's in single coverage, freeing up the safeties to help cover the TE's or pay close attention to the running game. If Collins is in the game, the object is to make him uncomfortable in the pocket and to make mistakes. He will throw the interception when bothered. If Young is at QB, keep him contained and confuse him with multiple defensive looks, forcing him to make bad reads.
Expect Dallas to come out in the base defense, and see if they can hold the Titans without taking too many chances. If the Titans can't run the ball, that puts the game on Kerry Collins' arm, a scenario the Cowboys would welcome. Collins has experience and a big arm, but is prone to mistakes and is an easy target in the pocket. With a banged up Titans line, Dallas should be able to get to him. The Titans may be forced to counter with the more mobile Young. Then Dallas will need to hold contain and confuse the rookie QB into an ineffective game.