Posted Fri Oct 2nd by Monty
The Denver Broncos can beat the Dallas Cowboys.
I said weeks ago in my 2009 season preview (which has been very wrong to date, thankfully) that I feared the Broncos would have extreme highs and lows defensively. I cited the learning curve in this explanation — very wrong there — along with the quality of each opponent’s offensive line.
So far the Broncos defense, including its defensive line, has been dominant. Call that a “high.” But how will it hold up against more talented offensive lines? Everything starts up front, and the Cowboys present a new challenge, particularly in their size advantage. Are the Broncos about to face one of those “lows?”
I don’t believe so. The offensive lines they’ve faced are better than advertised, and the Broncos dominated to an extent more than I could have expected. The Cincinnati Bengals came into the season with a maligned offensive line, but they have far exceeded expectations. I’d go so far as to call their offensive line the most underrated in the league. (Have you seen the holes Cedric Benson has been running through?! You could lead a marching band through there). Likewise, the Browns have a talented group, particularly on the left side, and they were ultimately defeated by Dumervil and company. And Oakland had been using the zone blocking system well before the Broncos came to town.
Credit Ronald Fields and company. I wasn’t too impressed with our starting NT after Week One, but I’ve been enlightened by the way Cincy has played since then. Fields wore out near the end, but he hasn’t since. Ryan McBean and Kenny Peterson have also played well, and Marcus Thomas brings a more disruptive element when he rotates in for Fields.
Against the Cowboys, Fields will line up against C Andre Gurode, who went to two straight Pro Bowls in 2007 and 2008. I was less than impressed watching tape of Gurode and thought that was mismatch in our favor (I don’t follow the NFC East well enough to keep up with all their OL starters; suffice it to say, I was quite surprised when I read Gurode was a recent Pro Bowler) (sorry Buffs fans). He has good size but no motor — and Fields is definitely bringing the motor.
For that reason I don’t see the Cowboys having as much success running the football in the second half as they have so far. This Broncos defense just doesn’t quit, and I saw the ‘Boys get tired.
The Cowboy will want to out-physical the Broncos, and part of that game plan will be frequent use of the two tight end set. With Jason Witten available, who wouldn’t line up in the formation often?
#82 presents several problems, most of all his explosiveness. I watched his 2nd quarter touchdown against the New York Giants in Week 2 about 10 times, trying to figure out how New York could have done anything better. The simple answer is they couldn’t.
On third and goal, Cowboys lined up in an I-formation with two tight ends. If you do the math, that leaves one wide receiver — Roy Williams — and basically screams “we’re running the football.” They’ll line up that way a lot. Then they’ll throw it anyway. This play was no different.
Witten engages Giants linebacker Chase Blackburn, and then, in the blink of an eye, he cuts to the outside. The speed at which he disengaged from his block, turned his body and hit his stride was something to behold. Blackburn was a good step and a half behind, but he had help in Antonio Pierce, seemingly prepared for the play. It didn’t matter. Witten was able to make the tough, diving catch between two defenders for the touchdown.
If football had an equivalent of baseball’s five-tool player, Witten might be it. He’s a good blocker, has good speed, is explosive in his breaks, and makes tough catches. He isn’t afraid to sacrifice his body for the play, either.
Going back to the touchdown play, I will say this — what a horrible play. Yeah, it worked, but talk about putting all of your eggs in one basket. Roy Williams didn’t even run a route; he blocked the safety behind Witten so the tight end was “only” double-teamed instead of triple-teamed. Marion Barber, there to sell the play action, didn’t even follow through with a route! He half-assed his way into the hole then sort of stopped. The play was all or nothing, Tony Romo to Witten, Plan B be damned, and if that portion of the play broke down the Cowboys would have been stumped. Odd play.
If the Cowboys want to sell the farm for a quick out route to the tight end, I’m okay with that 9 times out of 10.
Cowboys offense vs. Broncos defense
- Stopping the run will be priority #1, and I believe the Broncos can win this battle on the inside. The Broncos defense hasn’t shown quit in them yet, while the Cowboys (particularly the offensive line) are a big hulking group who, in my opinion, lack the athleticism to keep up. They might dominate in the early goings, but the thin mountain air combined with the disruptive defense will wear them out by the second half (especially in the middle with Gurode and company). Runs to the outside worry me, though. I haven’t seen enough from Elvis Dumervil to be convinced he can disengage and make a tackle in the running game with consistency.
- First tackles will be key. Cowboys running backs repeatedly gained extra yards after initial contact.
- Witten will be tricky to handle, because our linebackers aren’t athletic enough to cover him one-on-one and we can’t spare Brian Dawkins in run support. Zoning him off will be key, along with smart, disciplined reactions to play action and draw plays, which seem to set up the entire Dallas offense.
- Romo is dangerous on the move, but he’s dangerous to his own team, too. The Broncos should be able to get some pressure on him, and they should want to.
- Hope Elvis doesn’t get knocked out for the season by OT Flozell Adams‘ irresponsible, unsportsmanlike tripping. I’m dead serious. It’s deliberate, illegal (unlike the Broncos’ blocking over the years, Cowboys fans) and just crappy all around, and he’s been doing it for years. He was called on this penalty in both games I watched, and he hopefully/probably got fined for it.
Broncos offense vs. Cowboys defense
- I’m more comfortable with the Broncos OL this week than I was heading into Oakland last week, and Clady and company handled the Raiders with relative ease. DeMarcus Ware is another battle of one of the NFL’s best pass rushers against its best pass protector; Clady’s won that battle every time, but it should still be fun to watch.
- If the Broncos can keep Kyle Orton protected (and they should; the Cowboys barely registered a sack last week), Denver’s quarterback should be able to find success in the air. The Cowboys are very vulnerable against the pass. If the Broncos do what they did last week — lining up Brandon Marshall in the slot and creating WR-on-LB mismatches — I don’t see any way Bobby Carpenter remains in stride for more than two seconds.
- Speaking of Bobby Carpenter — attack his side in the running game, a lot. The Panthers successfully converted a 3rd and 16 on a draw play after Carpenter completely whiffed on Deangelo Williams. He’s slow and an obvious weakness in the middle of that Cowboys defense, and Dallas fans will be the first to tell you.
- Side note: what’s up with Daniel Graham? He got blown up on a few plays last week.
- The Broncos offense has scored 12, 27 and 23 points this season, while the Cowboys have scored 34, 31, 21. If the Cowboys can clean up their mistakes (and I don’t think the Broncos D will let them completely), they’ll put some points on the board. Can Orton, glove and all, outscore the ‘Boys if he needs to? I didn’t see enough last week not to be worried about winning a shootout.
The Prediction: I probably come into this game a bit more confident than I did last week (believe it or not). I don’t see the Cowboys having a lot of success moving the ball against us, and I don’t see the Broncos having a lot of trouble moving it against them. The Broncos take better care of the football, too.
They’ll put up more points than anyone else that’s faced Denver, but it won’t be enough.