The season is obviously still young, but it’s never a good time to lose consecutive games. In order to avoid just that, Dallas will need solid performances from several individuals.
The St. Louis Rams enter their date with the Cowboys with an identical 1-1 record. Less than eight points have decided each of their first two games.
Both organizations have reasons to be optimistic about the season as they try to rejoin the playoff picture for the first time in several years.
In games that seem fairly even on paper, certain individual matchups can prove to be the difference. With these two teams on the same level, we’re going to take a look at the best matchups to watch that will have a direct impact on Sunday’s outcome.
LB Bruce Carter vs. TE Jared Cook
The weakest part of the Cowboys defense is their pass coverage. Whether it‘s the cornerbacks, safeties or linebackers, Dallas has had issues containing opponents in the air.
This week against Sam Bradford and the Rams, coverage will be key.
Even though there will be difficult matchups for the Cowboys corners, the most interesting matchup is between St. Louis tight end Jared Cook and Dallas linebacker Bruce Carter.
Carter is a phenomenal young talent but has had his share of problems so far in 2013. Last week against the Chiefs, he struggled to cover tight ends and running backs at times.
Against the Rams, his most difficult opponent will be Cook. Although the tight end was quiet last week, he caught seven passes for 141 yards and two scores in Week 1.
Cook is a great target for Bradford because of his large frame (6’ 5”, 254 lbs) and athleticism. He is a mismatch for just about any linebacker or safety.
Carter will have to step up to the occasion and play better than he has thus far. He’s absolutely capable of being one of the better linebackers in the NFL; he just needs to show it.
If Carter can win this matchup with Cook, Dallas will be in a great spot defensively this week.
OT Tyron Smith vs. DE Robert Quinn
Another key matchup on Sunday will take place in the trenches. When Dallas has the ball, the battle between defensive end Robert Quinn and tackle Tyron Smith is the one to watch. Each player is the best on their respective lines and is a major factor in their team’s success.
Dallas’ offensive line has looked decent so far this season. They are giving quarterback Tony Romo noticeably more time to pass, in spite of not being able to run effectively. Tyron Smith is one of the better tackles in the league and is continuing to improve with more experience.
This week, he’ll face one of his toughest tests all year. The former first-round pick Quinn had double-digit sacks in 2012 and already has four through two weeks. He also leads the NFL in quarterback pressures with 16 this season.
The winner of this matchup will most likely be on the winning side of the game.
If Smith can dominate, Dallas will potentially be able to run the ball better and keep Romo upright. Successful line play usually translates into overall team success. When Romo has time to make decisions, he’s able to get the ball to his playmakers and can avoid poor decisions.
The opposite holds true as well. If Quinn can continue to get to the quarterback, he can force Romo into tough situations and generate turnovers.
This clash among big men will be critical.
WR Dez Bryant vs. CB Cortland Finnegan
The final matchup to watch in Week 3 is between two of the louder and more exciting players in the game. Wide receiver Dez Bryant will take on St. Louis’ Cortland Finnegan for most of the game.
Bryant had a disappointing first week against New York but played very well against Kansas City. He was seemingly the only successful option for Dallas on the offensive side. Dez finished the game with nine catches for 141 yards and a touchdown.
The eighth-year Finnegan is still regarded as a very solid cornerback. He’s a feisty player who enjoys trash talking as much as anyone in the league. In the opening week, he tallied seven total tackles in the Rams victory over Arizona.
The matchup between these two stars will play a big role in who wins the game as well. Dallas needs to get the ball to their best playmaker as often as possible, and St. Louis will try to do everything it can to prevent that.
If Finnegan can contain Bryant by himself, it will leave St. Louis in great shape. However, if the Rams are forced to put multiple guys on No. 88, it will open up plenty of opportunities for players like Miles Austin and Jason Witten.
All statistics via Pro-Football-Reference.com unless indicated otherwise.