In preparation for the Cowboys Monday night game against the Buffalo Bills I watched their game against the New York Jets from last weekend. With their record at 0-3 going into the game and their stats at the bottom of the league, I expected to witness a train-wreck of a team. But in reality they looked decent, but a lot of that may have to do with the Jets being a bad team, too.
Bills offense vs. Cowboys defense
J.P. Losman’s injury the previous week meant that the Bills had to start rookie QB Trent Edwards. I’m not sure what was going on with the Bills under Losman this year, but Edwards showed a lot of skill in the Jets game and shouldn’t be taken lightly. He is a rookie QB, so that means you can force him to make mistakes, but overall he was very poised in the pocket and was accurate with his passes. He throws a very catchable ball and didn’t seem to be confused or overwhelmed. The Jets defense got to him a couple of times in the pass rush, but they were unable to create sustained pressure and this allowed Edwards time to make proper reads and deliver the ball. The Dallas defense has been able to generate pressure in the past weeks and will concentrate on doing it even more this week. You have to make a rookie uncomfortable in the pocket and force him to make mistakes. The Bills were not afraid to let Edwards pass; they started out the game throwing the ball.
The Bills have faced three straight opponents who run the 3-4 defense and will face a fourth on Monday night. Most teams don’t face Dallas with that much experience in playing against the 3-4, so that is going to help their offense. The other thing that helped their offense was Edwards getting the ball to their number one receiving threat, Lee Evans. For whatever reason, Losman wasn’t utilizing Evans this year but Edwards threw to him early and often. He also spread the ball around to other receivers and if it wasn’t for a few unfortunate turnovers they could have done more damage on the Jets defense.
While Edwards was impressive in his first start and the Bills finally got Lee Evans going, the linchpin of the Bills offense is Marshawn Lynch. He’s a do-it-all back who can run inside or outside. He has amazing leg strength and incredible balance that lets him bounce off of tackles and continue moving forward. Buffalo likes to feed him the ball regularly and he makes the most of his opportunities. He runs behind a massive offensive line that did a good job of protecting QB Edwards, but really didn’t create a whole lot of running room for Lynch. Marshawn had to work very hard for almost every yard he got but he is a very capable back and did a nice job with what he had to work with.
Summary: Dallas should be very aggressive on defense this game and try to make a rookie QB look like a rookie. The Bills offensive line had some problems with stunts so the Cowboys should use a lot of twists and zone blitzes to throw the protection off and force Trent Edwards into quick decisions that can lead to turnovers. Pressing the line of scrimmage will also help keep Marshawn Lynch in check and force the Bills to get out of the running game. The Cowboys’ defenders must wrap-up while tackling because Lynch is the type of back who will punish a sloppy tackling defense.
Bills defense vs. Cowboys offense
The Bills play a standard 4-3 alignment on defense and were not particularly aggressive. They didn’t blitz that often and they weren’t stacking the box. Instead, they tended toward a bend-don’t-break defensive philosophy. The Jets were unable to exploit this alignment in the running game and ended up passing much more than they ran the ball. The Cowboys might be able to do a better job in the running game especially if the Bills choose to play back with their linebackers and don’t stack the box.
Overall the Bills defense is very good at pursuit and was able to run down plays to the outside and plays like reverses that are intended to fool an aggressive defense. The Bills were not aggressive so they didn’t over-commit to the plays and were smart in their pursuit to the ball.
In the pass rush they were able to get some pressure early on but as the game progressed the pressure became less and less. Part of this was due to the Jets QB Chad Pennington getting the ball out quickly for short gains on dump passes and quick plays to the flats. The Bills back off in coverage with their corners and linebackers so underneath patterns are there for the taking. It looked like the Bills were protecting a weak secondary by not exposing them to press coverage and aggressive blitzing.
Summary: The Cowboys should be able to run the ball on the Bills and they should also be able to pass the ball. Due to injuries and lack of top-flight talent on the defense, the Cowboys offense shouldn’t have problems moving the ball on Buffalo.
As long as Dallas stays away from self-inflicted wounds like turnovers and penalties, they will put up points against a very suspect defense. The Bills offense, while looking better with Edwards last week, is not a powerhouse that can outscore other teams. This is an extremely difficult match-up for the Bills and they will need some help to pull off an upset. Roscoe Parrish on special teams could be a spark for them and they will need that to stay in the game. Dallas will be focused on stopping him as they did against Devin Hester, and less successfully against Dante Hall. In the end though, Dallas will probably have to beat themselves to lose this game.