Jerry Jones and Mike Brown represent opposite ends in the football-owner spectrum. Jones is all glamour, thrusting himself in front of the cameras and throwing vaults of money at every new problem. Brown is all miser, preferring to own a mom-and-pop operation and staying out of the limelight. Their organizations reflect their personality and also the way each build their team.
The Cowboys are sparkly with all of their expensive skill positions. Their offense was made to zing with all that speed and with Tony Romo behind the wheel, but the talent of the line was misread and hasn't lived up to its price tag. Now they find themselves winning again and keeping the season meaningful despite really not playing that well.
They face a Bengals team on a four game high, beating the crap out of teams and even overcoming the California Curse last week in San Diego. It certainly is nowhere near a perfect team, but it is one that is solidly built for the future, and even the present. Brown scrimps where he can and always will. He will not be remembered as a friend to the community. His general management skills will always be vilified, fairly or not. Yet this team is a highly talented group of really young guys and he should get some credit for putting it together. Throw in an additional second-rounder next year, an astounding amount of cap space and a collective bargaining agreement that forces him to use it up and you have yourself exciting things to come, my friend.
The Bengals have minimal excitement in their skill positions. Of course there is the crown jewel of the entire team, A.J. Green, and Jermaine Gresham has finally elevated his game this year, but outside of that, no one cares about the rest of the names on that list. We Bengal fans know the other guys and what they can do, but for the most part, they are an unknown commodity.
Especially Marvin Jones. What does he bring to the table? We know he's fast and that he's a deep threat, but that is one small dimension in being a receiver. Last week he dropped a ball on a crossing route that was intercepted and really never did much in his first real chance to make a difference in the game. Losing Mohamed Sanu hurts more than we would like to admit. The reason the offense became so effective after the bye week was both the consistency of Trevor Robinson at center and the emergence of Sanu in a variety of ways. With Sanu out, Jones has to make an impact. Armon Binns flamed out really early in the season. Brandon Tate hasn't looked like much of a wide receiver. They both missed their chance to become starters. Jones is the last unknown experiment and the pressure is on him to perform well this Sunday.
As for the aforementioned center position, there is a rather vital decision to be made there for Marvin Lewis. Robinson has brought stability to the line, and the results—especially in the run game—speak for themselves. Now Kyle Cook is healthy again, has practiced all week, and probably wants his job back. A lot is made of left tackle, but center is such an underrated position for the offensive line. Robinson didn't just keep things afloat during his time as starter, he made the team better. Jeff Faine showed what happens with poor play at the position. Kyle Cook is way, way better than Faine and is without a doubt starting material in this league, but why mess with success?
The Bengals take on a Cowboys defense riddled with injury. Beginning the year, they had maybe the fastest linebackers in the league. Now they play without Sean Lee or Bruce Carter and things have slowed down a bit as a result. They are also without Jay Ratliff or Orlando Scandrick this week and only have a few difference-makers left.
The main difference maker is DeMarcus Ware—nicknamed Shark Week for his prolonged intensity and violence (D.O.)—and he will somehow find Andy Dalton know matter how much the Bengals emphasize stopping him. The attention he draws usually leads to more space for Anthony Spencer and a player that has caught my attention of late, Jason Hatcher. These guys are going to get a sack or two, Cincinnati just has to minimize the damage.
The Bengals can throw on these guys, though. The Dallas safety play is vulnerable. The corners are good, but the youngster Morris Claiborne is prone to drawing flags. Gresham and Hawkins can beat the intermediate defenders and should be important on third and mediums. Green really isn't all that guardable and defenses will continue to give help to whomever has that unfortunate task of going up against him. As long as Dalton isn't being devoured by Shark Week and his shiver (a group of sharks), he should be able to move the ball in the air well enough to win.
Thing is, the Bengals offense may be immaterial. This Mike Zimmer defense is back to its bare knuckle brawling days, now leading the league in sacks. Geno Atkins is the best pass-rushing tackle in the league, Carlos Dunlap is a growing force of quarterback evil, Michael Johnson is playing for a new giant contract and even Wallace Gilberry has become an effective contributor. These guys quietly get it done and lately they have been the difference from a mediocre team to a playoff-caliber one. The underwhelming Cowboys protection should fold like a wet napkin against this fearsome foursome. While Romo is shifty and slippery in the pocket, unlike Ben Roethlisberger, he goes down when you touch him. The Boys offense want to go vertical and use their speed and explosion, so it's important for Zimmer's gang to disrupt the timing and not allow Dez Bryant and Miles Austin to go deep. Jason Whiten is going to get his catches and the Bengals will just have to live with that, but they cannot allow the long pass over their heads. Take that away, mixed with heavy doses of pressure, and Romo will have to dink and dunk his way downfield and settle for three instead of seven.
The scariest matchup of the day for Zimmer is stopping DeMarco Murray. This guy is strong, fast and runs hard. He can tear off large chunks of yardage regularly when he's in there. Staying healthy has proven difficult for the young man, inhibiting his production and ultimately his value, but he is plenty scary once suited up. Cincinnati has been terrific against the run recently. They are disciplined about staying in their run gaps and the secondary has tackled well of late. Rey Maualuga was thrashed earlier this year for his sloppy technique and a multitude of mistakes, but his lost weight has seemingly revived him into becoming a capable middle linebacker again and he deserves some love. Also coming back to life has been Manny Lawson. While Rey took a lot of the heat, Lawson practically disappeared from my television while watching the games in the first half of the season. Now he's getting after the quarterback again and he adds yet another element to the pass rush. Murray is going to run like a wild horse this weekend and the linebackers must continue their workmanlike approach to contain him.
Ultimately, the Bengals pass rush makes the difference in this game. Cowboys right tackle, Doug Free, seems extra weak in protection and I have a feeling he will be mauled by Dunlap all day. This forced chaos by the defensive line will be enough to get some turnovers and win the game.
Bengals 23, Cowboys 13
Mojokong—ignoring the pressures of a win streak.