Don’t look now, but the Cowboys have a chance to move to within one game of the NFC East lead by beating the Cleveland Browns in Week 11. With the NFL’s easiest remaining schedule, Dallas could potentially go on a run. To accomplish that, though, the ‘Boys will need to refrain from doing something that has haunted them in the past—playing down to their competition.
How will the Browns play coming off of their bye?
One of the oft-overlooked aspects of NFL matchups is preparation. Teams design their entire game plan specifically to take advantage of their opponent’s weaknesses, so even a day or two of extra prep time can be valuable. It isn’t a myth, either; I recently broke down how well teams perform coming off of their byes. Since 1990, teams with an extra week of preparation have won 54.2 percent of their games; when you consider that the sample was over 700 games and the average winning percentage is obviously .500, that’s a fairly substantial jump.
Look, the Browns aren’t a great football team, but the added week of preparation (and rest) will help them. As an AFC team, they probably knew very little about Dallas prior to last week. And now, they likely know a whole lot.
Will Cleveland disguise their looks against Tony Romo?
Yesterday, I analyzed Romo’s stats against various defensive looks in 2012. As has been the case throughout his career, Romo thrives against the blitz when teams show it. It’s when defenses sit back in a base alignment and then send extra rushers that Romo struggles—even more so than the average NFL quarterback. Actually, Romo hasn’t thrown a touchdown all season when the defense hides their intentions.
Thus, look for the Browns—a team with a very underrated defense—to try to confuse Romo at the line. Ultimately, I don’t think you’ll see them blitz too often, but they could certainly help themselves by at least acting like they will.
Will Brandon Weeden beat the Cowboys’ blitzes?
Weeden has been poor against the blitz in his rookie season, compiling one touchdown, three interceptions, 5.4 yards-per-attempt, and a passer rating of only 56.4. Defenses have blitzed Weeden on just 29.7 percent of his dropbacks, though. In comparison, I’ve counted defenses as sending pressure after Romo on 26.3 percent of his dropbacks.
Rob Ryan has quietly scaled back his blitzes in 2012, playing a lot of two-deep looks and zone blitzing when appropriate. On Sunday, though, I’m sure you’ll see Ryan come after Weeden, and I think that’s the right move. Without a significant chance of Weeden beating the blitz, the Cowboys should be able to harass the rookie quarterback and even create some big plays of their own while on defense.