The Cowboys’ Week 4 matchup with the San Diego Chargers was so important because of this week’s game against the Denver Broncos. To give you an idea of the difference between a potential Cowboys win versus a loss, consider last night’s Bills-Browns game. Buffalo lost and fell to 2-3, giving them just a 14 percent chance to make the postseason. Meanwhile, Cleveland’s playoff chances soared to 44 percent just from a single victory that propelled them to 3-2.
The Cowboys are in a superior position in the NFC East just because they’re still going to be at least tied for first in the division even if they lose. But at some point, they’ll obviously need to play better football. Here are a couple key matchups against Denver that could dictate the game’s outcome.
RB DeMarco Murray vs. QB Peyton Manning
Murray versus Manning? You bet. The Cowboys are big underdogs in this contest, and it’s pretty clear they are indeed the inferior team. Consider that the Broncos have scored 179 points this year—52 more than anyone else.
If the Cowboys are going to win, they basically need to get a little lucky. The easiest way to increase the role luck can play in a game is to shorten it, i.e. reduce the number of drives and plays. There’s a big difference between 100 total plays and 150 plays in terms of the expectation for the underdog. Dallas needs to put themselves in a position in which a fluky play—a punt return for a score, for example—can help them win the game.
By keeping it on the ground, the Cowboys can keep the clock running and reduce the number of total plays, thus keeping Manning from running too many plays and maximizing the odds of randomness dictating the final outcome.
Interior Line vs. LB Wesley Woodyard
Through four games, linebacker Wesley Woodyard might be the Broncos’ defensive MVP. He’s already racked up 33 tackles—one in every 8.5 snaps
—while missing three. The Cowboys’ interior line will need to use their size to get on the 227-pound linebacker before he can make plays.
It’s Woodyard’s ability to rush the passer from an inside position that could really hurt Dallas, though. Amazingly, he’s third on the team in pressures with nine, despite rushing the passer only 29 times. That’s a 31.0 percent pressure rate, which is incredible even over a small sample.
We know that Tony Romo can really struggle with pressure in his face, so the ‘Boys will need to control Woodyard when the Broncos blitz in order for Romo to finally throw downfield.
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