Week Four Gameplan: Denver Broncos vs. Dallas Cowboys

PunkusAnalyst IOctober 3, 2009

DENVER - AUGUST 16:  Center Andre Gurode #65 of the Dallas Cowboy prepares to snap the ball against the Denver Broncos during preseason NFL action at Invesco Field at Mile High on August 16, 2008 in Denver, Colorado. The Broncos defeated the Cowboys 23-13.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
The Denver Broncos are 3-0 going into week four and the question fans around the league are asking is "Are the Broncos for real?"
Broncos fans may feel slighted by this, but we have to admit that this question is a legitimate one.  Though a team has no control over who they play, and as a Broncos fan I will take the wins anyway we can get them, I realize that the Broncos, though much improved from last year, have not played anyone yet. 
The Broncos barely beat the Bengals on a last minute play that has been dubbed the "immaculate deflection."  In week two, Denver claimed victory over a Cleveland team that is shaping up to be worst team in the NFL this year.  Then last week the Broncos beat the laughing stock of the NFL over the past decade in the Oakland Raiders.
There is no doubt that the Broncos are much better than the sports pundits and gurus predicted before the season began, but Denver still has much to prove.  People want to know if the Broncos are contenders this year or if they are just another middle-of-the-pack team.
Luckily Denver will get a chance to show what they are made of this week as they face off against a team that is widely considered a legitimate contender in the NFL, the Dallas Cowboys
Dallas is 2-1 so far this season, but "America's Team" is far from the powerhouse that Jerry Jones perpetually wishes they would be.  The Cowboys took out Tampa Bay in week one putting on a passing clinic against a struggling secondary, but still gave up 150 yards rushing.

In week two, Dallas couldn't stop the pass and the Giants couldn't stop the run.  Dallas was handed a loss in this close one to the New York Giants with a last minute field goal.  And last week the Cowboys shut the Panthers offense down, and were able to run the ball all day long despite Marion Barber being inactive.
The good news though is that Dallas is coming off a short week after playing Monday night, and the Cowboys have shown that though they are a very formidable opponent, they are a beatable team.
The Cowboys Offense
Dallas both has the tools and has shown the ability to beat you on the ground or through the air.
No. 9 Tony Romo  6'2" 226 lbs
Romo was not a first round pick pedigree quarterback.  Romo actually came to the Cowboys after going undrafted out of Eastern Illinois.  Romo didn't start right away either, but spent a good few years riding the pine and learning from some veterans (Testeverde and Bledsoe) before breaking out in 2006 and taking the starting job.
Romo has a strong arm and though he has developed a reputation of choking in the playoffs when the game is on the line, he has developed in to a top tier QB in the NFL.
Running backs
No. 24 Marion Barber 6'0" 222 lbs
Barber is a punishing downhill runner with decent speed who is hard to bring down.  Barber missed last week with an injured quadriceps, but should be ready to go this week against Denver.
No. 28 Felix Jones 6'0" 218 lbs
Felix "the Cat" has speed galore, but will be out this week with a PCL strain.  This is good news for the Broncos as Jones' quickness won't be available for Dallas in the return game.
No. 23 Tashard Choice 5'10" 212 lbs
Dallas' third string back is just as capable running their scheme as their starter.  Choice is a little bit smaller, but is that much more elusive.  Choice had had to play more than expected with the injuries to his teammates, and Dallas has not missed a beat with him in the game. 
Tight Ends
No. 82 Jason Witten 6'5" 263 lbs
Witten is the X-Factor for the Cowboys.  Romo's favorite target is a mismatch all over the field.  Not only is Witten big and tall, he runs good clean routes and has great hands.  Oh, yeah he can block too.
No. 80 Martellus Bennet 6'6" 266 lbs
Bennet is a very good player.  In fact I think he could be a top ten tight end in football if he was on another team where he could get more catches.  Though Bennet is overshadowed by Witten he is still a great blocker with sure hands.  He allows the Cowboys to put a big set on the field to help the run and still have viable receivers on the field.

Wide Receivers
No. 11 Roy Williams 6'3" 215 lbs
Williams has shown flashes of greatness in the NFL, but has yet to step his game up to another level in the past few years.  It is to early this year to know how well Williams will do as the number one receiver for Dallas. 
That being said Williams has all the physical gifts you look for in a receiver who can take over games.  Now it is up to him to make things happen. 
No. 84 Patrick Crayton 6'0" 204 lbs
Crayton has quietly become a great number two receiver in this league.  He has a good report with Romo and needs to be accounted for. 

Offensive Line
Flozell Adams, Kyle Kosier, Andre Gurode, Leonard Davis, and Mark Colombo
These guys are the reason that Dallas is successful.  These guys are maulers who just get the job done.  Dallas is number one as a team in rushing behind these guys and they give Romo time in the passing game as well.  Because of their success in both the passing and the running games, you can make an argument that this is one of the best O-line's in football.

Denver's Defensive Strategy
This a tough week for Denver's defense because of how good the Cowboys offense is all around.  They don't do one thing really good and not others.  So taking one aspect of their game away still leaves them with other options where they are still going to be really good. 
In the end though I think you need to take away the things they are best at first and make them beat you with the things they still do well, but are not necessarily their bread and butter. 
With that in mind, Denver needs to stop the running game and make Dallas beat them through the air.  The success of Dallas' running game sets them up to have success with the pass.  If Denver can limit their running game and force them to pass more to move the ball against Denver's strong secondary I think Denver can gain the upper hand. 
Next Denver needs to remove Jason Witten as a receiving option.  Now honestly this guys is so skilled that this is going to be a near impossible task, but Denver still needs to try. 

I look for Denver to play a lot of Nickle coverage against Dallas with Wesley Woodyard in the game as the hybrid linebacker/safety to shadow Witten in the passing game, and when Denver mixes it up and Woodyard isn't out there B-Dawk will need to make Romo think twice about hitting Witten.  
Denver has also had success each week by getting pressure on the quarterback.  Romo is definitely a guy who can be rattled so getting a sack or two on him early would go a long way to help mess with head. 

Dumervil has shown he can bring the pain, and will need to find a way to do so this week too.  Dumervil does need to watch out for Flozell though, because he will play dirty and leg whip you if you get by him.

The Cowboys Defense
The Cowboys defense, just like their offense is just solidly good all the way around, and they play a patient good football.  
In addition to the all around good players they have on this defense, the Cowboys also have some pro-bowl caliber players who are worthy of note.
OLB DeMarcus Ware
Ware led the NFL in sacks last year, but has struggled with a neck injury this season and as a result he has yet to record a sack.  Though he will be ready and set to play this week he may not have much success against the Broncos Left Tackle Ryan Clady.
ILB Keith Brooking
Brooking is a vetran who simply as a nose for the football.  You watch film on him playing and he is either the guy making the tackle or he is right there around where the tackle is taking place.  He is a machine who just loves playing the game.
CB Terence Newman
Newman is an underrated cover corner in the NFL.  He plays smart football and is ready and able to pounce on ay mistake a quarterback or receiver may make.
This defense is equally strong against the run and the pass and will be a true test for Denver this week.

Denver's Offensive Strategy
There is a saying that everyone knows, "The best offense is a good defense."  And Denver has finally come to realize that statement this year, as their defense has played impeccable well and kept them in games. 
But I would also contend, as many other before me have as well, that 'the best defense is a good offense.'  By this I mean that a team can increase their chances of winning against a very good offense by keeping their offensive drives alive and winning the time of possession battle. 
So if Denver can sustain drives with a good mix of running and short passing to methodically move the ball down the field and eating up the clock than it will limit the opportunities that Dallas' offense has to score points. 
Denver showed last week that hey have two capable running backs in Buckhalter and Moreno who can both rush the ball very well inside and outside.

Mix this with Orton, who has yet to throw a pick this year (knocking on wood as I type this with one hand) and has made smart decisions spreading the football around, and you can see that Denver has the ability to move the ball they way they will need to in this game to sustain drives. 
I think this week Denver is going to mix things around a bit more offensively too.  Now that Marshall has better acclimated himself to the offense I think coach McDaniels is going to keep Marshall on the outside with Gaffney opposite him and put Royal in the slot.  
I also look for Denver to test Dallas' inside linebackers and safeties by bringing Scheffler into the mix a little more.  Fighting tight ends with tight ends so to speak. 
In the end most NFL fans who looked at this game before the season and said that this is a game that Denver should lose.  Every year every team in the NFL wins a game they are not supposed to win and they lose a game they are not supposed to lose.  If Denver wins this game, than they take one they were not supposed to and if they lose, it was to be expected.  
Denver has the chance to make a statement with this game, because it is no cake walk.  Dallas is a beatable team, but it will take a lot to accomplish such a task.  Like it or not though Broncos' fans this week we find out if Denver is a contender right now, or if they are just a really good team. 
This one is to close to call, but I will be a homer and make a prediction of:
Denver wins 23-21.
The story may not change for the Broncos with a win over Dallas, as the Headline will probably focus on the Cowboys loss over a Broncos victory, but it still could answer that one pressing question everyone seems to be asking with a yes, the Broncos are for real.  
We will find out Sunday for sure.  This should be a really interesting game to watch.