Although they still sit atop the NFC East, there are plenty of reasons to be concerned about the 2013 Cowboys. They have struggled at times and showed the same mediocrity that has surrounded this team for multiple seasons.
In order for Dallas to right the ship, it will have to become more consistent on both sides of the ball.
The Broncos are a different story. So far this year, they look completely unstoppable thanks to the incredible play of Peyton Manning. Their offense has been able to score at will and is the main reason they’re 4-0 and look like the best team in the NFL.
The two teams will get together this Sunday in Dallas for what will surely be an exciting showdown. Like so many other games, individual matchups will be crucial in determining the winner. Let’s take a look at some of the more intriguing ones.
CBs Brandon Carr, Morris Claiborne, Orlando Scandrick vs. QB Peyton Manning
If you’ve watched any Cowboys or Broncos game this year, two things are evident. Dallas has difficulties defending the pass, while Manning and his dynamic receivers excel in this area. This is exactly why the matchup between Manning and the Cowboys’ cornerbacks is the most important battle to watch.
Coming into the year, Dallas was very optimistic about its secondary. After four games, it isn’t looking so good.
The defense has already conceded two 400-yard passers. Eli Manning reached that mark in Week 1, along with Philip Rivers last week.
The biggest issue the unit has is the play from second-year corner Morris Claiborne. After missing most of training camp, it appears the former LSU Tiger is still playing like it’s August. He simply looks awful on the field, always several yards out of position and in no place to create turnovers.
Scandrick and Carr have performed better than their teammate but haven’t done anything spectacular either. That will have to change this week.
The Broncos' passing attack is one of the best in the history of the league. Through four games, Manning has passed for more than 1,400 yards and 16 touchdowns with zero interceptions.
It doesn’t seem incredibly likely, but for the Cowboys to have a chance they are going to have to contain Denver’s passing attack. The cornerbacks are very capable of doing so, albeit a very tough task against the future Hall of Famer in Manning.
DE DeMarcus Ware vs. LT Chris Clark
The other way to disrupt a passing game besides quality coverage is to get after the quarterback. Since blitzing someone like Manning is an easy way to get beat for big plays, Dallas will have to rely on its front four to generate pressure.
This assignment lies on the shoulders of defensive end DeMarcus Ware.
Ware is off to another hot start this year, tallying his team-leading four sacks in as many games. Despite being double-teamed on most plays, he still finds ways to be productive.
This week he’ll be going against tackle Chris Clark after the Broncos’ All-Pro Ryan Clady went down with a season-ending Lisfranc injury.
For the Cowboys to compete Sunday, they will need Ware to dominate and create problems for 60 minutes. Otherwise, this game will be over before you know it.
If Ware can beat Clark consistently, he should be able to get to Manning enough to ruin the timing on passing routes.
Another key is to actually hit the quarterback. Denver has kept Manning upright for the most part this year so we don’t actually know how he’ll react to being hit more than a few times.
If Ware and the rest of the defensive front can cause Manning problems without the use of a blitz, he could potentially become anxious in the pocket and force throws.
RB DeMarco Murray vs. LB Wesley Woodyard
The final way to contain Manning and the incredible Broncos offense is to control the ball and the time of possession. The only way to do this is to be successful in the ground game.
After an awful showing in Kansas City, running back DeMarco Murray has been outstanding. The last two weeks he’s combined to rush 40 times for 245 yards and a score. If he can continue to average around six yards per carry, the Cowboys have a real shot to pull the upset.
Murray’s biggest opponent will be linebacker Wesley Woodyard. The sixth-year man out of Kentucky is playing fantastic this year. The Broncos defense hasn’t skipped a beat with the absences of people like Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil because of Woodyard.
Every game Woodyard is always flying around the ball and has seemingly taken over the role of defensive captain. He currently leads the team in tackles with 33 thus far.
The Cowboys desperately need to win this competition and have the ability to move the sticks by running the football. This will allow for an easier time for Tony Romo to manage the game, while keeping Manning on the sideline for as long as possible.
All statistics via Pro-Football-Reference.com unless indicated otherwise.