Dallas Cowboys vs. Cincinnati Bengals: Sketching out a Game Plan for Dallas

Brad Gagnon NFL National ColumnistDecember 6, 2012

ARLINGTON, TX - DECEMBER 02:   Jason Witten #82 of the Dallas Cowboys makes a pass reception against the Philadelphia Eagles at Cowboys Stadium on December 2, 2012 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

It isn't often the Dallas Cowboys are getting less attention than they deserve, but that's close to being the case right now. The Cowboys are very much alive in the playoff race, but the focus in the NFC is instead on Hall of Fame rookie Robert Griffin III and the Washington Redskins as well as the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants

Maybe a convincing victory over a difficult opponent on the road will finally get people talking about the Cowboys again, for better or for worse. Here are some suggestions as to how Dallas can make that happen by taking care of the Cincinnati Bengals.


Run It Early and Often

The Bengals lead the NFL with 39 sacks. The Cowboys have played only one team in the top 10 in that category, and they were destroyed by the Bears in that game. The offensive line is a mess, and Cincinnati's awesome pass rush will be coming at the less-than-100-percent Tyron Smith and the terrible Doug Free from all angles. 

What's tricky about Cincinnati is that it brings pressure from so many spots. Obviously the ends are great, but Geno Atkins is dominant inside, and all three of their starting linebackers are quality blitzers. Same for cornerback Leon Hall and free safety Reggie Nelson. That means that the Cowboys can't just give support to the tackles and hope for the best. Instead, they have to ensure that they keep the Bengals honest by running it a lot.

They would have been screwed under these circumstances a few weeks ago, but DeMarco Murray's return to health makes this possible. The Bengals have given up a mediocre 4.4 yards per carry this season, so Murray can be the star while also taking heat off of Tony Romo. That'll give Romo chances to take shots as the game progresses.


Use All of Your Tight Ends

Of course, that doesn't mean the 'Boys should abandon the idea of giving those tackles as much support as possible. The beautiful thing about Jason Witten, John Phillips and James Hanna is that all three tight ends are capable pass-catchers, so if you utilize all three with lots of mixed two-tight end sets early, you'll have the Bengals guessing on defense throughout the game.

Cincinnati's defense is great in coverage, but they often have to stick linebackers on tight ends. If the Cowboys have Witten and either Phillips or Hanna running routes, that'll cause major matchup issues for Vontaze Burfict, Manny Lawson and Rey Maualuga, all of whom have been terrible in coverage this year. 

Against a defense like this, Romo simply has to take what's there. Hall's been great in slot coverage, so move Miles Austin outside more often, forget Kevin Ogletree and hope that Austin and Bryant can make plays. But first, focus on the box with Murray and those tight ends. 


Hold Back on the Blitz

Eight of Andy Dalton's 13 interceptions have come in non-pressure situations, and Dalton's been sacked 27 times despite having a very good line. That indicates that the second-year quarterback is still prone to his own mistakes, as we saw with those two picks in San Diego last week. 

With the Cowboys defense depleted, they have to let Dalton make those mistakes without selling out. They can't spare too many linebackers or any defensive backs, so it's gotta be natural pressure from the line with the expected help from DeMarcus Ware.

With Sean Lee and Bruce Carter both hurt, they'll need their best run defender, Anthony Spencer, taking care of business as a natural linebacker against a running game that has been very good the last few weeks. 


Don't Get Caught Up on A.J. Green

Yes, the Cowboys should cover Green, but Dalton has proven this year that he has the ability to find second and third options and make defenses pay. The Cowboys have the secondary to split their coverages up nicely, but they're also without top slot corner Orlando Sandrick, meaning there's an opportunity for Andrew Hawkins to have a field day against Mike Jenkins. 

Jenkins will need safety help whenever Brandon Tate comes into the game and pushes Hawkins inside to create that advantageous matchup. And beyond that, because they can't afford to use more than five defensive backs, they have to hope that guys like Brandon Carr, Morris Claiborne and Danny McCray can hold it down against Green, Jermaine Gresham and whomever else the Bengals throw at them. 

Trust your corners, because you really don't have an alternative.