Like any defense in the NFL, the Dallas Cowboys have their strengths and weaknesses. The Bengals will have to counter their strengths to expose the weaknesses.
The Cincinnati Bengals sport the league's 15th-ranked offense. The Cowboys defense is ranked 11th. On the other side of the football, Cincinnati's eighth-ranked defense will square off against Dallas' eighth-ranked offense this Sunday (1 PM, FOX). Call it the collision of like-ranked units, where mathematics dictates a process of elimination for those prognosticating patterns.
According to NFL Films producer and league expert Greg Cosell, the Bengals defense has allowed the least amount of points in the NFL over the span of eight weeks, whereas the team's offense has found their stride with an efficient Dalton and effective rushing offense. Following their loss to the Denver Broncos, the Bengals rushing offense ranked 26th in the NFL averaging 95.9 yards per game. Heading into this weekend's game with postseason implications against the Dallas Cowboys, the Bengals rank 13th, averaging 115.1 yards rushing.
Since November 11 against the New York Giants, Dalton has thrown for 10 touchdowns and rushed for two more giving him 12 touchdowns in the past 16 quarters. With the upcoming game against the Dallas Cowboys, we should point out that Dalton is 2-0 against the NFC this year, throwing seven touchdowns and only one interception.
|Bengals Defense In Last Four||Points||T. Yards||Pass||Rush||3rd Downs|
|New York Giants||13||318||189||129||35.7%|
|Kansas City Chiefs||6||284||171||113||9.1%|
|San Diego Chargers||13||297||251||46||33.3%|
One of the biggest reasons for Cincinnati's sustained offense is their offensive line, already rated as good, leaping into a categorically greater assessment. Over the last three games the Bengals rushing offense have generated 538 yards rushing and a 5.2 yard per rush average. The reasons range from improved performance, play-calling and cohesive timing during zone blocking schemes.
Additionally, Dalton has been sacked only five times in the past four games -- generating a passer rating of over 100 in three of those four. During the previous eight games, Dalton was dropped 22 times.
This weekend the Bengals face one of the league's best pass rushers in DeMarcus Ware, who has generated 18.5 quarterback sacks in his past 18 games against AFC teams, 35.5 quarterback sacks in his past 31 games and an NFL-best 101.5 sacks dating back to 2006.
Yet with the respective seasons that J.J. Watts, Aldon Smith and Von Miller are having leading conversions for defensive player of the year, Ware seems to have become a forgotten man.
"I'm not sure about getting the press," said Dave Halprin with Blogging the Boys, SB Nation's Dallas Cowboys site. "I don't see that because I'm on the inside and we, and the Dallas media, talk about Ware all the time. I think he gets a lot of recognition, but it's hard for me to tell."
Ware ranks No. 5 this season with 10.0 sacks, a far-cry from the next generation of pass rushers dominating the league. Yet Ware has more quarterback pressures and forced fumbles than Smith and Watt. Sleep on him? Never.
"I wouldn't say it was one of his best years," said Halprin. "He certainly doing the job, but he's had a couple of years where he's put up bigger numbers and had more of an impact. But make no mistake, he can take over a game at any time."
Cincinnati Bengals starting left tackle Andrew Whitworth no doubt has his work cutout for himself this weekend, who has allowed four quarterback sacks but only 10 pressures -- and none over the last two games -- this season. Mini-note: Whitworth didn't allow one of Von Miller's quarterbacks sacks earlier this year.
However don't expect the Cowboys to blitz much, thanks to the loss of Sean Lee and Barry Church this year. It will be a philosophy of four and five-man pass rushes.
"(Church) was our starting strong safety at the beginning of the year, and had solidified that unit with FS Gerald Sensabaugh," said Halprin. "Then he went down early in the season and Dallas has not been able to replace him. That has caused Rob Ryan to shift his defensive philosophy, playing less press coverage where safeties have to cover for any mistakes, and has become less-aggressive with sending pressure. Church isn't the player Lee is, but his absence, and lack of a good replacement, has caused a shift in the defensive scheme."
If Cincinnati's offensive line contains the Cowboys pass rush, who will be without Jay Ratliff's 27 career quarterback sacks this weekend, there could be vulnerabilities with an exposed secondary. Adding talent like Morris Claiborne through the draft and Brandon Carr through free agency have no doubt helped, but that's not where A.J. Green will find relative success.
"They have definitely made an impact, although they've both had games where they stumbled, surprisingly Carr more than Claiborne," said Halprin. "The real problem is at safety, Dallas is very thin at the position and Danny McCray is struggling. This has caused Rob Ryan to back off from using a lot of press coverage, something both players are good at. Dallas doesn't really match a corner on a specific receiver, they stay on their side of the field."
It's the old axiom. Contain the pass rush, find opportunities downfield.
The fight kicks off at 1 PM on Sunday in a game that both teams desperately need to win, holding onto their postseason threads.