Most of the focus going into Sunday’s matchup with the Chiefs will center on tight end Travis Kelce and receiver Tyreek Hill, and for good reason. Kelce is probably the best tight end in the league right now and Hill may be the fastest, most explosive player at any position in the league. Kelce is Alex Smith’s ever-reliable safety blanket across the middle on third down who can also create explosive vertical plays, while Hill can beat you in a multitude of ways, as a receiver, on jet sweeps out of the backfield, and of course in the return game.
As of right now Kelce ranks sixth in the league in receiving yards while Hill is right behind him at seventh. The Cowboys defense will clearly have their hands full with these two on Sunday, and if that wasn’t enough you can throw in the league’s fifth leading rusher in Kareem Hunt. I could’ve easily written this article about any of those three dynamic offensive players but I’m choosing to go in a different direction.
Sure, if the Cowboys want to keep the Kansas City offense under wraps they will have to contain at least one or two, if not all three of those players. But what is the best strategy for truly slowing down this offense?
A strong pass rush would certainly help, but with this much talent at the skill positions you feel like it’s inevitable that they’ll make a few plays. So what must the Cowboys do?
Most of you out there know where I’m going with this, and that’s with the Cowboys tried and true method over the last few seasons of using their offense to protect their defense and keep them off the field by extending drives and dominating the time of possession.
This Sunday will be no different.
Kansas City ranks fifth worst in the league in rushing yards allowed per game, giving up just over 131 per contest. The team behind ranked just in front of them?
The Green Bay Packers.
And the team right behind them?
The San Francisco 49ers.
Those would be two of the Cowboys last three opponents, each of whom were tuned up by the Dallas ground game, with the Packers giving up over 150 yards and the 49ers giving up over 200.
The Chiefs will obviously have opportunities with the ball and when they do the defense must do everything they can to contain Kelce, Hill, and Hunt, but if the Cowboys truly want to stop this offense they will have to do with it their own offense, just like they have so many times in their recent history.
And the key to that Chiefs defense?
None other than outside linebacker/edge rusher Justin Houston.
A powerful presence off the edge, Houston combines excellent technique and a variety of pass-rush moves with very strong hands and good, if not great, speed and burst. With Dee Ford out Houston will be the only credible edge rusher on the field, and when you consider that his 7.5 sacks on the season is only 3.5 behind his teammates’ combined total of 10.5 (2 of which are from Ford) you begin to understand how important he is to their defense. Throw in the fact that he has a ridiculous 11 TFL, with nobody else on the team having more than four, and it becomes obvious how reliant the Chiefs are on his play.
He’s basically their Demarcus Lawrence, if there was no David Irving.
Of course Houston isn’t only an excellent pass-rusher but he is also a presence against the run with the ability to set the edge with power at the point of attack. If the Chiefs have any hope of slowing down the Dallas offense they will need a huge game from Houston, and conversely, if the Cowboys are able to limit his impact they should be able to move the ball consistently and of course keep the Kansas City offense on the sideline.
It’s now en vogue around the league to put your best pass-rusher on the left side of the formation to go against the opponent's right tackle and that’s exactly what the Chiefs do with Houston, which means he will mostly be matched up with La’el Collins. This isn’t the first huge test Collins has faced this year, having gone up against Jason Pierre-Paul in Week 1, Von Miller in Week 2, Chandler Jones and Markus Golden in Week 3, and Ryan Kerrigan last week.
It’s been a mixed bag with Collins, for the most part it seems like he’s held his own, certainly in the run game, but he has also given up plenty of splash plays in the form of pressures and sacks, usually due to sloppy technique and poor hand use. This will be yet another momentous test for the new right tackle and if he can win his individual matchup it may very well mean that the Cowboys win the game.
The good thing, as mentioned previously, is that Houston’s bookend in Ford is out, which means that the Cowboys can slide protections towards Houston and give Collins help in the form of a tight end or chipping running back. He shouldn’t be out on an island against Houston for 50+ snaps and it’ll be interesting to keep an eye on how Dallas looks to attack him.
Either way, this is a matchup Cowboys fans must keep an eye on once Sunday rolls around. It’ll be yet another step in the education of Collins at right tackle, and hopefully one that he will be able to draw on battles from the last month or two in order to win.