With a Thanksgiving matchup against the Redskins on tap just four days after Sunday’s tilt with the Browns, the Cowboys could actually pull within one-half of a game of the NFC East lead before the Giants (Week 11 bye) even play again. With that sort of motivation, it’s important for Dallas to do what they can to avoid looking ahead to Washington on Thursday.
OLB DeMarcus Ware vs LT Joe Thomas
I normally forgo listing Ware as being in a “key matchup” because it’s generally assumed he’s going to either beat the man blocking him, get double-teamed, or both. If there’s one offensive tackle who can at least control Ware, though, it’s Thomas. Thomas has allowed pressure on 2.2 percent of his pass snaps this year—about one-quarter the rate of Doug Free. He’s so good that Ware could go without seeing a double-team for a few snaps in a row, which is rare. Remember, Ware has rushed from the left side of the Cowboys’ defense on just 19.8 percent of his pass-rush snaps this season, so he’s going to work on Thomas for the majority of the game. If he can find a way to beat Thomas in what is probably a battle of the game’s two best players, it will go a long way in allowing Rob Ryan flexibility in attacking Brandon Weeden.
CB Morris Claiborne vs WR Josh Gordon
Claiborne turned in his worst performance of the year last week in Philadelphia, allowing four receptions and a touchdown while committing five untimely penalties. He’s talented enough to bounce back, but Browns rookie receiver Josh Gordon presents an interesting challenge. Averaging 21.9 yards-per-reception in 2012, Gordon is a true big-play threat. Again, it all relates back to the pass rush. If the Cowboys can get pressure on Weeden without blitzing, they can play with a safety over top of Claiborne. If they need to blitz, Claiborne will really be tested in man coverage.
WR Miles Austin vs CB Buster Skrine
Much like last week in Philadelphia, Austin will face an undersized nickel cornerback when he moves into the slot in the Cowboys’ three-receiver sets. At 5’9’’, 186 pounds, Skrine doesn’t match up well with Austin’s size. Skrine has been targeted more than any Browns cornerback this season, allowing 40 catches on 55 targets. Of the cornerbacks who have been targeted as much as Skrine, none has given up more receptions. On top of that, opposing quarterbacks have a 106.9 passer rating when throwing the cornerback’s way in 2012. With Joe Haden likely playing Dez Bryant on the majority of snaps, look for Austin to erupt in Week 11, especially when he’s in the slot.