Bills vs. Cowboys: Week 10 Preview and Keys to the Game

Dan Van Wie@@DanVanWieContributor IIINovember 11, 2011

Bills vs. Cowboys: Week 10 Preview and Keys to the Game

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    This coming Sunday, November 13, the Buffalo Bills (5-2) travel to Texas to face the Dallas Cowboys (4-4) in a key Week 10 contest. The kickoff is scheduled for 1:00 p.m. ET and the game will be broadcast by CBS. 

    The Bills are in a three-way tie for first place in the AFC East, while the Cowboys are trailing the New York Giants in the NFC East by two games. Neither team can afford a loss if they want to stay in the playoff picture. Since this game represents the start of the second half of the season for both teams, every game from here on out starts to take on a greater level of importance.

    Each team is dealing with some major injury issues, and they will play a role in how this game turns out. We will detail all those injuries and analyze how this game will break down in today's article.

Bills Have Been Able To Bounce Back from Every Loss so Far

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    After each of the Bills' prior losses, they have followed that up with a win. After they lost to the Bengals, the Bills beat the Eagles. After they lost to the Giants, they beat the Redskins. They just lost to the Jets, so hopefully they are able to stop the slide at one game and beat the Cowboys to stay in at least a tie with either the Jets or Patriots.

    Bills fans should be aware that the Patriots and Jets will be squaring off in Sunday Night Football, so that outcome will have a direct bearing on the AFC East playoff picture. If the Bills want to stay in the playoff race, they need a victory in Dallas, as they will then have back-to-back AFC East games on the road against the Miami Dolphins and the New York Jets.

    The Bills have demonstrated the ability to have a short memory, and not let a loss linger with the team and then carry over to the following week of play.

    The Cowboys, on the other hand, are playing catch up to the New York Giants and may find it very difficult to reach the playoffs unless they win the NFC East division. They trail Atlanta, New Orleans, Chicago and Detroit in the NFC, and only two of those teams will qualify for a wild-card berth.

The Unique Relationship Between the Bills and Cowboys

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    There were several nice videos produced this week on about this being a homecoming weekend for both David Nelson and Fred Jackson.

    It turns out that Jackson grew up in a house that was ultimately torn down so that the Cowboys could build their current stadium in his old neighborhood. He will have his parents at the game and is fielding many ticket requests. You can find a link to that video here.

    David Nelson was born in Dallas and also is filling many ticket requests from old family and friends that will be attending the game. The other unique thing is that his girlfriend is a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader, so you will probably see some mention of that during the telecast on Sunday. You can find a link to that video here.

    Then there is the Chan Gailey connection to the Dallas Cowboys, as he used to coach the Cowboys for Jerry Jones from 1998 through the 1999 seasons. Gailey guided the Cowboys to the playoffs both years, but when he went 0-2 in the playoffs, Jones fired him, but has since called the move one of his big regrets. You can imagine that Gailey will not be sorry if he can defeat his old boss.

    The Bills exacted some revenge on Todd Haley and the Kansas City Chiefs earlier this season for Gailey. Then they broke the long streak of defeats by New England and finally won in Toronto. It would be nice to end the string of losses to the Cowboys. We recall the close loss on Monday Night Football in 2007 and of course the two Super Bowl losses. So Bills fans would really like to see a win on Sunday, which would be extra special in erasing some of those bitter losses.

Bills vs. Rob and Rex Ryan

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    While the NFL labor lockout was going on, there were doubts if the entire season would play out. The schedule-maker had his hands full trying to determine which contingency schedule to go forward with. Thursday Night Football begins in Week 10 and as a result the San Diego Chargers are playing their third game in 11 days.

    The Bills are on the start of a three-game road trip, but their complaints about the schedule are nothing compared to the Chargers' beef. But it is unique that the Bills will be facing the brothers Ryan (Rex and Rob) in consecutive weeks.

    It is said in Dallas that Rex and Rob are on the phone with each other often. You can be sure that dialogue this week between the pair centers around what the Jets did to stop the Bills last Sunday and it would not be a surprise to see some of the same elements incorporated in the Cowboys defense this Sunday.

    For the Bills, they should expect to see some similarities, so if they are thinking of countering what the Jets did, it will be good practice for when they face the Jets again in just two more weeks. But, the thought of facing the Ryan masterminds of defense three times in a four-week period makes it clear that it could have been better spaced out by the NFL schedule-maker, if you ask me.

Dallas Run Defense Should Allow Big Game for Fred Jackson

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    In the early part of the season, the Dallas Cowboys run defense was ranked as high as No. 1. But, that is no longer the case, as teams have been able to find some big holes and exploit them time and again lately. The Seattle Seahawks picked up 162 rushing yards against the Cowboys, running for an average of 5.4 yards per rush last Sunday. The week before that, Philadelphia rushed for 239 yards, averaging 6.3 yards per rush. The recently porous run defense has dropped Dallas down to No. 10 in the league.

    The Cowboys were really hurt when they lost ILB Sean Lee to a dislocated wrist. The Cowboys tried to make up for Lee with the combination of Bradie James and Keith Brooking, but they were dreadful. So, Lee is going to attempt to play by putting a club over his dislocated wrist. It should make wrapping up the ball-carrier a chore, and trying to intercept passes like the Jets linebackers did almost impossible.

    With Donald Jones seemingly healthy, expect to see Fred Jackson get at least 20 carries, and it would not surprise to see C.J. Spiller get some more touches as well out of the backfield. The Bills did not run the ball enough against the Jets, and should rectify that mistake this coming Sunday.

    It appears that Andy Levitre will man the left tackle slot for the third straight game, with Chad Rinehart playing left guard. If there are any issues during the game, Chris Hairston is close to being able to play so he might be asked to rotate in at some point. DeMarcus Ware is somebody that you have to account for all the time, so the Bills will be sure to keep at least one hat on him at all times.

Injury Reports and Roster Moves

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    The Bills have now officially lost All-Pro nose tackle Kyle Williams for the season, and he has been placed on the IR list. Williams took the doctor's advice and had surgery on his foot, which means that he is gone for the rest of the year. The inability for Williams to push off his foot and generate his usual power hampered his game all year and was one of the main reasons that the Bills pass rush was so poor in the early stages of the season.

    In other roster moves, the Bills promoted tight end Mike Caussin from the practice squad and signed free-agent kicker Dave Rainer to replace Rian Lindell. They released CB Terrence Wheatley from the team, and also gave 2010 draft pick Ed Wang his release from IR, which means he can sign with another team now. The Bills filled their practice squad opening with DB Mana Silva.

    Also out for this Sunday are Demetrius Bell, Rian Lindell and Chris Kelsay. Bell still needs to rehab his shoulder, while Rian Lindell has a broken bone in his shoulder that will probably keep him out for at least four weeks. Kelsay still hasn't been able to get over his calf injury, but hopes to play next week.

    Another Bills player trying to come back is Aaron Williams. The second-round draft pick, who played for the Texas Longhorns, would dearly love to play in Dallas. Probably will be a decision they make at game time.

    For the Cowboys, they will probably be without wide receiver Miles Austin, running back Felix Jones and corner Mike Jenkins. The other Cowboys that are questionable are the guys that were limited in practice this week, which included: G Kyle Kosier, T Jermey Parnell, LB Sean Lee and P Mat McBriar.

Several Bills Are Appearing on Midseason All-Pro Teams

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    It is nice to see that the Buffalo Bills' positive start this year has not been lost around the league when it comes time for considering which players deserve consideration for All-Pro teams. Here are the latest results of Bills being named to All-Pro teams, as reported originally by Chris Brown at Buffalo

    From Pro Football Weekly: RB Fred Jackson and C Eric Wood. Complete All-Pro team link found here.

    From Pro Football Focus: RB Fred Jackson and G Andy Levitre. Complete All-Pro team link found here.

    From Pete Prisco of CBS Sports: G Andy Levitre and Safety George Wilson. Complete All-Pro team link found here.

    We have three items to share with you from Clark Judge, CBS Sports:

    1) On NFL Coach of the Year:

    Second runner-up: Chan Gailey, Buffalo: He passes on quarterbacks in the draft because he believes in Ryan Fitzpatrick, then he goes out and beats New England and Philadelphia and Kansas City -- all division winners. I still think the Bills are a year away, but that they're in the picture at all is a testament to Gailey.

    2) On NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year. Second runner-up: Marcel Dareus, DL, Buffalo:

    Buffalo can thank Denver for Dareus being there with the third pick. Some considered him the best player in the draft. The Bills saw someone who could rescue the league's 32nd-ranked defense. They were right.

    3) On most surprising NFL team. Second runner-up: Buffalo.

    The Bills have been a last-place fixture in the AFC East, but not now. Now they're in a three-way tie for first, and I don't care that it lasts. I just care that it happened.

    Seems like these analysts got it right, recognizing Jackson, Wood and Levitre for a strong year to date. Like that Prisco singled out George Wilson and stated that he believes Wilson is outperforming Troy Polamalu. Chan Gailey is deserving of Coach of the Year consideration, so kudos for Judge to recognize him, Marcell Dareus and the team's surprising season.

    It hurts to lose our Pro-Bowl player in Kyle Williams, but it seems like as long as they continue to perform, the Bills should have new additions to the Pro Bowl squad this year, which bodes well for the near-term future of the team.

Keys to the Game

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    For the Bills to win on Sunday, they have to do a solid job on DeMarcus Ware, who is second in the NFL with 12 sacks already on the season. They have to keep him away from Ryan Fitzpatrick, and that will probably fall to Andy Levitre to make sure that doesn't happen.

    In addition, the Bills need to test the Dallas run defense and find the same openings that Philadelphia and Seattle did. They need to find out how effective linebacker Sean Lee is with that club on his hand. Does it limit his tackling and effectiveness in pass coverage? If so, exploit that by isolating him against C.J. Spiller or Fred Jackson out in the flat and let them run past him.

    The offense has to stop turning the ball over. The offense has turned it over now in four straight games. The Bills had one turnover against the Eagles, two turnovers against both the Redskins and Giants, and then three last week against the Jets. That has to stop immediately.

    The Bills went from 10 sacks in Week 8 to just one sack last week. They need to put some heat on Tony Romo and coming up three sacks and forcing him into an interception and fumble would give a great boost to the Bills' chances of winning this game.

    On defense, the Bills will have to limit DeMarco Murray to an average much closer to four yards per carry than his gaudy eight yards per rush over the last three games. With Miles Austin out of this game, and Felix Jones being doubtful, the Bills will need to focus on stopping Murray, tight end Jason Witten and wide receiver Dez Bryant. Those are the main Cowboys weapons that can hurt you, but that seems like a reasonable game plan that the Bills defense should be able to execute.

    Arthur Moats and Danny Batten need to produce some pressure, as does defensive end Alex Carrington, who will see more reps while Marcell Dareus mans the nose tackle spot. Some further production from Torell Troup, Kellen Heard, Dwan Edwards and Spencer Johnson would always be welcomed as well.

Inside the Numbers: When the Bills Have the Ball

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    The Buffalo Bills offense is ranked No. 12 overall in the NFL, averaging 368.5 yards per game. The Cowboys defense is ranked No. 11 overall, allowing 334.9 yards per game. The Bills pass offense is No. 15 in the league, averaging 233.5 yards per game, while the Cowboys pass defense is No. 16, allowing 232 yards per game. The Bills rush offense is No. 7, averaging 135.0 yards per game, while the Cowboys run defense is No. 10, allowing 102.4 yards per game.

    The Bills need to get their red-zone offense back into gear. What was once the No. 1-ranked red-zone offense has been slipping badly lately. The Bills are now tied for No. 2 with Atlanta, as their overall percentage is 64.2. In the last three games, however, it has dropped to 37.5 percent, which helps to explain why they have lost two of the last three games.

    The Bills offense has been converting 40 percent of their third-down opportunities, which is No. 13 in the NFL. The Cowboys defense is No. 22 in the NFL, allowing third downs to be converted 41.7 percent of the time.

    The Bills have turned the ball over 12 times on the year, while the Cowboys defense has forced 15 turnovers.

    The Bills have allowed the fewest sacks in the NFL with just nine allowed on the year. The Cowboys defense is No. 9 in the NFL with 22 sacks.

Inside the Numbers: When Dallas Has the Ball

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    The Dallas Cowboys offense is ranked No. 6 overall, averaging 400.3 yards per game. The Bills overall defense is ranked No. 27, allowing 381.1 yards per game. The Cowboys pass offense is ranked No. 7, averaging 279.5 yards per game, while the Bills pass defense is ranked No. 16, allowing 232 yards per game. The Cowboys rush offense is No. 12, averaging 120 yards per game, while the Bills run defense is No. 20, allowing the same 120.8 yards per game.

    Looks like the Cowboys will run for 120 yards, eh?

    One of the main problems for the Cowboys this year has been down in the red zone, where Dallas ranks next to last in the league, as they convert only 38.4 percent of the time.

    The Bills defense is No. 2 in the NFL with 15 interceptions, and the Cowboys offense has turned the ball over 15 times this year. The Cowboys offensive line has allowed 15 sacks, No. 7 in the NFL, while the Bills defense has also come up with 15 sacks, ranking them No. 25 in that category.

    The Cowboys offense converts 35.4 percent of their third-down opportunities, and are No. 20 in the NFL in that stat. The Bills defense is No. 17, allowing 39.6 percent of third downs to be converted.

Final Thoughts and Prediction

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    The Buffalo Bills need to win this game to have a realistic prayer at staying in the AFC East race. The Bills team would love to win this game for Chan Gailey, and I suspect they will be playing hard for him as usual.

    If this game comes down to a field-goal affair, it will be interesting to see how new free-agent Dave Rayner is able to step up to the challenge. The Bills won't have to worry about the elements, so it should be a day filled with lots of rushes from Fred Jackson and DeMarco Murray and passes from Ryan Fitzpatrick and Tony Romo.

    The Bills lead the AFC with a turnover ratio of plus-eight, while the Cowboys are a net zero. The Cowboys have struggled all year in the red zone, while the Bills have struggled in the last three weeks.

    The Bills will need to make adjustments on the fly to whatever Rob Ryan is throwing at them on defense, and it should be no surprise whatsoever to Ryan Fitzpatrick if he sees the linebackers dropping back into pass routes.

    If the Bills allow Tony Romo all day to throw the ball, this will be a long day for the Bills. I think their pass rush will be able to step up against the Cowboys, who have a couple banged-up guys on the offensive line. Ryan Fitzpatrick will bounce back with a better game than he had against the Jets. I see this as a close game going down to the final minutes.

    Final score prediction: Buffalo Bills 27 Dallas Cowboys 24