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Can the Cowboys defense get going against a banged up Cincinnati offense?

The Cowboys defense desperately needs a bounce-back game.

NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at Dallas Cowboys Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been a historically bad year for the Dallas Cowboys defense. For their struggling units, it’s nice to get a week or two throughout the year where you should have the upper-hand in a matchup. That week should be this week for the Cowboys defense as they’ll be taking on a Cincinnati offense that is missing their starting running back, stud left tackle, and could potentially be on their third-string quarterback when this game kicks off on Sunday.

Heading into the week 14 matchup, the Cowboys defense currently ranks 32nd in points, 24th in yards, 29th in turnovers, 31st in passing touchdowns given up, 32nd in rush attempts given up, 32nd in rushing yards given up, and 29th in rushing touchdowns given up. Yikes..

But that Bengals offense is also not very good. The Bengals offense currently ranks 29th in points scored, 27th in yards, 25th in turnovers, 26th in passing touchdowns, 26th in rush attempts, 30th in rushing yards, and 25th in rushing touchdowns. From an advanced metric perspective, the Bengals offense ranks 26th in offensive EPA/play, 24th in success rate, 24th in dropback EPA, and 18th in rushing EPA. Something’s got to give, and for the first time this season it shouldn’t shock anyone if the Cowboys defense does find some success against a terrible offensive line, a terrible quarterback, Gio Bernard, and a solid receiving corps that has no one to get them the football.

What you should expect to see from the Bengals offense on Sunday is them run the football more than they’ve done all year. Coming off a game in which the Cowboys defense allowed 294 rushing yards, the Bengals offense will look to protect their bad quarterback (Ryan Finley or Brandon Allen), by running the football a ton against a defense that has struggled to stop the run all year. While the Bengals will be without starting running back Joe Mixon, Giovani Bernard and Samaje Perine will get plenty of touches on the ground, and in the quick passing game. While the receiving unit of Tyler Boyd, Tee Higgins, and A.J. Green has been pretty good this year, it’s hard to imagine any of them doing much without having quality quarterback play. That being said, this will be one of the best matchups this offense will see this year, playing against a poor Cowboys secondary that struggles in the limited amount they get thrown at in 2020.

If you’re hoping for a Cowboys victory, this defense will also be facing one of their best matchups this year. Zac Taylor has been very disappointing in his short tenure as the Bengals head coach, and their offense has lacked creativity in both the running and passing game. The Bengals are in the bottom half of the league in motion used before and at the snap. The less motion the Cowboys defense has to react too, the better they seem to play. For Cincinnati, they do do a nice job of moving their receivers around and giving them multiple opportunities and looks from both the boundary and the slot. Bengals’ rookie wideout Tee Higgins has been playing in the slot a lot here recently, giving A.J. Green and Tyler Boyd reps on the outside. While Higgins has played above expectations in 2020, Tyler Boyd is the real threat to worry about with his quickness and ability to win from inside and out, and to win after the catch, making him a dangerous matchup for the Cowboys cornerbacks.

The Bengals offensive line has been an issue all year, and it got even worse in week 13 as they saw their best one, Jonah Williams, go down with a knee injury that has landed him on the injured reserve list. The Bengals center, Trey Hopkins, is the 22nd ranked center by Pro Football Focus, and they’ve had a mess at their guard spots with former Cowboys Alex Redmond and Xaiver Su’a-filo, along with Quinton Spain and Michael Jordan splitting time at guard. While Jonah Williams was playing well, tackle Bobby Hart has struggled and is graded out as the leagues 45th ranked offensive tackle, and with Williams now on IR, rookie left tackle Hakeem Adeniji will get the start in place of him. Any way you look at it, the Cowboys defensive line will face one of the weaker offensive lines in the NFL, and have no excuses not to win at the point of attack in the run game, as well as winning their pass rush opportunities.

We’ve seen this Cowboys defense struggle all year, but there’s really no excuses in week 14. The Bengals have no threat on their offense, outside of their top two receivers, but there’s no quarterback to consistently get them the football. If the Cowboys defense struggles yet again, either on the ground or through the air, even more criticism will come for the coaching staff and front office, which is more than fair.

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