Beware the Ides of March. And matchups that look like one-sided blowouts on paper.
That's what the Cowboys find themselves staring at as they prepare for Sunday's game with the Titans at JerryWorld. It's not that the Titans aren't a decent team, it's just that, like all teams in the NFL, the Titans have holes and those holes play right into the Cowboys' hands.
We'll start right in the middle. The Titans decided to save some cash and potential labor headaches by letting perennial Pro Bowl center/NFLPA president Kevin Mawae walk away after last season. They replaced him with Eugene Amano, who may be a very nice man but he isn't a particularly good center. Jay Ratliff is a very good nose tackle, however, and that matchup figures to help negate some of the value provided by Chris Johnson. The Titans will have to conjure up double or triple-teams to stop Ratliff and that's going to leave others free to swarm to Johnson before he can let loose his cop speed.
It will also throw off the Titans passing game. Vince Young is dangerous with his leags when he feels the rush coming from the outside, but his ability against a rush coming right into his face is far less pronounced. Left in a solo matchup with Amano, Ratliff will be coming right up the middle all day and, just as in the running game, attempts to double him will leave other rush lanes open against a quarterback who hasn't done much damage through the air when he's under pressure.
The Cowboys can bring that heat because the Titans aren't very good at wide receiver. That means Mike Jenkins and Terrence Newman will be left to do battle on their islands without much help and there's a pretty good bet that they'll be up to the task. Young loves to throw the ball to the outside, where the Cowboys are at their best, and he isn't the quarterback to exploit their weakness in the deep and intermediate middle.
Even some of the Cowboys weaknesses are strengths this week. Jason Garrett's penchant for abandoning the run could come in handy against a Titans defense that was strafed by Kyle Orton last week. That's not because the Broncos have a good running game, because they don't seem to enjoy running the ball in the least, it's because the Titans are extremely vulnerable through the air. No one wants to encourage Garrett's worst instincts, but there are worse weeks for him to indulge his dark side.
Along the same lines, everyone would like to see the Cowboys stop being one of the league's most penalized teams, but if they commit fouls on Sunday there's a good chance that they'll be offsetting. The Titans have lost 344 yards to penalties this season and can't seem to help shooting themselves in the foot on a semi-regular basis. So long as the Cowboys avoid the mental meltdown the Giants suffered against the Titans earlier this year, they should benefit from such thuggery.
That's pretty compelling stuff, but the pure weight of it doesn't wind up making you feel as good as it probably should. The NFL is notorious for having games like this turn into contests that are too close for comfort or even outright upsets that make your heart burn for weeks. Throw in the fact that the Cowboys are all too fond of believing their own hype and you've got a situation that produces more worry than confidence.
Which, when you think about it, feels a lot more natural a couple of days before an NFL Sunday.
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