The game we have all been waiting for is finally here. The Tony Romo-led Dallas Cowboys will take the field for the first time since week two. Fun little fact, the Cowboys haven't lost a regular season game with Romo as the starting quarterback in almost a year (last Thanksgiving against Philadelphia). Granted, he's missed a game or two during that span and things got a little lousy during his absence, but that's all in the past. And just like Troy Aikman, I don't dwell in the past.
So let's focus on the here and the now, which means beating the Miami Dolphins. Here's what needs to happen to pull out the win on Sunday.
When the Cowboys have the ball...
Back to the running game
With the team's franchise QB back under center, many people are looking forward to the resurgence of the passing game. However, it could be the running game that helps get this team back on track. That might seem like a tall order considering the recent chain of events. Last week against Tampa Bay, the Cowboys rushed for a season low 42 yards. The team's leading rusher, Darren McFadden is questionable for Sunday with a groin injury and they just recently cut backup running back, Christine Michael.
But there are a few good reasons that the running game could still come up big for Dallas. First off, the Dolphins defense gives up the second most yards on the ground with 135.6 yards per game. They're a good pass rushing group so it will be extra beneficial to keep Romo in manageable third down situations. While McFadden's injury means the team will have to divvy up touches for others, the recent addition of Robert Turbin could be a good option. He has picked things up quick this week in practice. And finally, the wet and windy weather conditions are more conducive for a ground attack.
And if the Dolphins defense tries to get cute and stack the box, at least the Cowboys now have a quarterback that can make them pay the price.
The Dolphins defense hasn't been very good defending tight ends this season as they have given up 581 yards to TEs this year. With Romo trying to ease himself back into action, it wouldn't be very surprising to look to his BFF to help get him warmed up. Jason Witten has been such a tough cover his entire career and should give the Dolphins defense trouble on Sunday.
As reliable as the Romo-to-Witten connection has been, it could be another tight end that resurfaces this week. Gavin Escobar only caught nine passes last year, however four of them were for touchdowns. He only has one TD catch this season, but can you guess when it was? Yep, week one when Romo was out there. While there will be many pass catchers who will be glad to see Tony back in action, this could be a time that Gavin Escobar reminds everyone that he's still on the team.
When the Dolphins have the ball...
Another assignment for the rookie
Despite losing Orlando Scandrick for the season, the Cowboys have been able to maintain solid depth at the cornerback position. In fact, they've even had the luxury of alternating back and forth between Tyler Patmon and Corey White based on the matchup, leaving the odd man out inactive. One of the reasons for the team's depth has been the good play of Morris Claiborne. He's started all nine games for the Cowboys this season and has done an admirable job in coverage. But the good health he has experienced all season finally caught up to him as he is out with a hamstring injury. Not only that, but the Cowboys just cut Corey White. So just like that, the team is looking a little thin at the cornerback position.
But the Cowboys will deal with this by asking their young first-round defensive back to put on a different hat this week. Byron Jones, who has served as the team's starting safety over the last few weeks, will be asked to play cornerback again. Whatever the team asks of him, Jones has delivered so this shouldn't be an issue.
The Dolphins have a good duo of wide receivers. While Jarvis Landry is the player most people know about, Miami has another guy who can really hurt you. Rishard Matthews is having a good year. He leads the team in yards (647) and touchdown catches (4) and has given Ryan Tannehill another option. The Dolphins 2012 seventh round gem has done a great job helping the offense stretch the field. The Cowboys will need to be careful with Matthews because his big playmaking ability can flip the field in a hurry.
Defense needs to wait out the grind
While the Dolphins offense puts up 350 yards a game, they struggle to move the chains. Miami ranks second to last in 3rd down percentage, only converting 29.52% of their attempts. Tannehill and company rely on the big play to thrust their offense, but the Cowboys defense could make things difficult for them if they force the Dolphins to sustain drives. Dallas has fallen victim to some big drives that have gone the length of the field this season, but the bend-but-don't-break could pay dividends against the Dolphins.
What do you think needs to happen for Dallas to win on Sunday?