Fred Jackson and the Buffalo Bills have a tough task ahead of them this Sunday as they travel to Dallas to take on DeMarcus Ware and the Cowboys. The Bills are coming off a devastating loss to the New York Jets and are hoping to regain their No. 1 spot in the AFC East, while the Cowboys are struggling to keep pace in the tight NFC East division race.
The Bills and Cowboys haven't played since 2007, and the Cowboys are 7-3 against Buffalo, including the Super Bowl losses in the early 1990s.
Both teams have been in the spotlight all season long, as the Bills went from a pushover franchise to a potential contender, while the Cowboys are looking to live up to the hype they so often receive.
This game is stockpiled with playmakers, and this slideshow take a look at how some of the key individual matchups could pan out.
DeMarcus Ware has been one of the most feared pass-rushers in the NFL for quite some time, but this season, he is having a year to remember. Ware will present a major challenge for left tackle Andy Levitre, who has slid outside from the guard position because of injuries to Demetrius Bell and rookie Chris Hairston.
While Levitre has played solid football thus far, he hasn't played against somebody of are's ability yet. On the year, Ware has racked up 34 tackles, 12 sacks, four tackles for a loss and forced two forced fumbles.
Levitre had some struggles with former Bills defensive end/linebacker, Aaron Maybin, last week, so it will be interesting to see how he rebounds against Ware.
The Dallas Cowboys got a steal when they selected DeMarco Murray in the third round of the 2011 NFL Draft. When Felix Jones was sidelined with a high ankle sprain, Murray quickly took the reins and was leading all rookies in rushing yards after two weeks. Averaging 6.7 yards per carry, Murray has rushed 80 times for 539 yards, while scoring a touchdown.
With Jones expected to return this week, the Bills, who rank 19th in the league in rush defense, need to be ready for the strong one-two punch that the Cowboys will present.
This means the Bills front seven needs to stick to their assignments and have strong defensive line play. With nose tackle Kyle Williams sent to injured reserve, rookie Marcell Dareus has taken over and has played unbelievably well.
He had a great game against one of the best centers in the game last week in Nick Mangold, and he will need to do the same against Cowboys center, Phil Costa. Dareus has 24 tackles and 3.5 sacks this year.
The Bills' inside linebackers—consisting of Nick Barnett, Kirk Morrison and rookie Kelvin Sheppard—have played lights out, but they really need to penetrate their gaps and limit Murray and Jones to under four yards per carry in order to keep that running attack in check.
The Dallas Cowboys are ranked 16th in the league in pass defense, allowing roughly 230 yards per game through the air. However, Bills Coach Chan Gailey knows how to exploit defenses with his spread offense, often creating mismatches for opposing secondaries. Gailey's style of offense often forces defenses into their nickel and dime packages, which in turn helps the running game.
Ryan Fitzpatrick has been a bright spot in the Bills passing game, completing 65.4 percent of his passes for 1,930 yards, throwing 15 touchdowns and nine interceptions. The Bills spread the ball around, which will keep the Cowboys defense on its toes, as Fitz has completed a pass to nine different receivers this year.
Stevie Johnson is the Bills' leading receiver, having caught 42 passes for 523 yards and four touchdowns. Last week against the Jets, he gained 83 yards on three receptions against Darrelle Revis, the most yardage he has allowed to a receiver in three years.
Terrence Newman is decent in his coverage, but Johnson should be able to expose him deep at least once or twice. Newman has deflected just one pass on the year and has two interceptions.
David Nelson is another receiver the Cowboys must keep an eye on at all times, as the second-year player has been a threat in the red zone and has caught 35 passes for 402 yards and three scores. Donald Jones, who returns to the lineup after suffering a high ankle sprain, provides the deep threat the Bills need to open up the underneath passes to Stevie and Nelson.
Bills tight end Scott Chandler is another potential threat that will require the Cowboys safeties to stay honest in their coverage. While he has only caught 18 passes, six of them have been for scores. Gerald Sensabaugh has two interceptions and three pass deflections on the year, but if he gets caught cheating up to the line of scrimmage, don't be surprised to see Chandler spiking the ball in the end zone.
The Bills' struggles against opposing tight ends have continued, as the defensive unit has given up 37 receptions for 396 yards and three touchdowns to the position through the first half of the season.
This week, the Bills face a top-tier tight end in Jason Witten, who is the Cowboys' leading receiver with 44 catches for 548 yards and four touchdowns.
Nick Barnett needs to continue his sideline-to-sideline play in order to take away Witten, who will surely be targeted early and often with wide receiver Miles Austin sidelined with a hamstring injury.
Running back Fred Jackson has had a year to remember thus far, rushing for 803 yards and six touchdowns through just eight games. He has provided a spark in the Bills offense that they haven't had in years and already has over 1,000 yards from scrimmage if you factor in his 30 receptions for 391 yards.
However, he will face a stifling Cowboys defense that is ranked 10th in the league in rushing, allowing just 102.4 yards per game. With linebacker Sean Lee expected to make his return after a wrist injury, Jackson's assignment may be a bit more difficult. Lee is the Cowboys' leading tackler with 51, six of which were for a loss, and he has deflected five passes while intercepting three passes.
Jay Ratliff is one of the most dominant and versatile nose tackles in the league and will present a strong challenge for the Bills' interior line, especially with Chad Rinehart playing at left guard.
The Dallas Cowboys have one of the most potent passing attacks in the league, averaging over 270 yards per game through the air. However, quarterback Tony Romo will be without one of his favorite targets in Miles Austin, leaving Laurent Robinson to take his place. Romo is near the top of the league in passing, completing over 60 percent of his passes for 2,238 yards, 13 touchdowns and seven interceptions.
Dez Bryant is a huge, physical receiver, who will be a huge challenge for the smaller Terrence McGee. Bryant has 26 catches for 443 yards and four touchdowns on the year and is always a threat to make a big play.
Laurent Robinson has 24 receptions for 368 yards and two touchdowns and will likely be matched up with Drayton Florence or Leodis McKelvin.
The Bills need to continue their strong secondary play that has recorded 15 interceptions on the season, as Romo can usually have some reckless moments.