Back in Tony Romo's first season as a starter, Romo helped the Dallas Cowboys slay Peyton Manning and the 9-0 Colts. Three years later, they took down the 13-0 Saints in New Orleans. Now, they have a chance to defeat another undefeated team when they host Manning and his Denver Broncos.
Denver's only 4-0, but the Broncos have been about as dominant as any team in history over the last four weeks. They're outscoring their opponents by an average tally of 45-23 and Manning is putting up video game numbers.
The Cowboys are thus pretty clear underdogs Sunday, which means they have little to lose. That gives a talented and relatively healthy team a chance to send a message by spoiling Denver's party. Here's a final preview of the matchup from Dallas' perspective, along with a prediction...
What Dallas must do to win, offensive edition
Shorten the game and keep a good but shorthanded defense guessing by establishing the running game with DeMarco Murray early. That'll open things up for play action and the passing game later.
What Dallas must do to win, defensive edition
Trust DeMarcus Ware and Jason Hatcher to get organic pressure on Manning, who doesn't have his Pro Bowl left tackle, Ryan Clady. Manning is lights-out against the blitz and Dallas can't afford to lose players in coverage, especially with Morris Claiborne and Bruce Carter struggling.
Five most important non-quarterbacks
Ware: He absolutely has to be on fire. He won't have a lot of support without Anthony Spencer and with the Cowboys probably focusing on multi-receiver sets.
Brandon Carr, Orlando Scandrick and J.J. Wilcox: These three defensive backs will likely be responsible for covering Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker and Eric Decker. Denver has the deepest receiving corps in the league.
Dez Bryant: He and Murray have to take advantage of a defense that is still without Von Miller. Plus, Champ Bailey and Danny Trevathan aren't 100 percent.
Injury analysis, Cowboys edition
It doesn't look as though Dallas will have Miles Austin back. He's listed as doubtful with that hamstring injury. On defense, Justin Durant (groin) is also doubtful, which doesn't bode well considering Carter's struggles, and George Selvie (concussion) is questionable. With Spencer already gone, that's worrisome against an offense as dangerous as this one.
Injury analysis, Broncos edition
Miller is still suspended, which is a bonus. Without Miller and Elvis Dumervil, the Broncos are without their top two pass-rushers from last season. Bailey will be a game-time decision, and Clady is on injured reserve.
Those are some very important cogs, which makes you wonder how Denver has been so dominant. They've still given up 20-plus points in all four of their games, though, and that line had it easier with Oakland and Philly in its first two games without Clady. This will be their biggest challenge yet.
B/R NFC East blog prediction: Broncos 35, Cowboys 31
The Cowboys will keep this close. They're 2-0 at home this year and have generally played well on defense. Plus, Romo is off to a great start and the Broncos are still shorthanded on D. Still, we can't pick against Peyton Manning right now.
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