The Bengals are headed to Jerry World, and they’re looking to get back over .500 before an insanely difficult matchup in Foxborough where they will face the Patriots next week. Dallas has looked good so far, generating a 3-1 record behind a rookie quarterback, rookie running back and stout offensive line. Will the Bengals be able to slow down the Cowboys? We talked to Dave Halprin of Blogging the Boys to get a closer look at America’s team.
Connor Howe: Ezekiel Elliott is looking great behind the Cowboys' highly touted offensive line, as expected, but he's going up against a Bengals run defense which has allowed just 57 rushing yards per game over the past two weeks. With Vontaze Burfict back in control and Tyron Smith's availability in question, how confident are you that the rookie will continue his success this Sunday?
Dave Halprin: There is a high level of confidence that the Cowboys can run the ball, at least somewhat effectively, on any team. Dallas has built its offense around one of the best offensive lines in the league, and they do not abandon the run game easily. So the volume of runs will almost always be there, it's the efficiency of those runs that are the question. The first couple of games of the season the running game wasn't clicking like it usually does, some of that was because Elliott was being too impatient and ramming into the line instead of setting up his block and waiting for the holes to form. Now that he's gotten more used the speed and rhythm of the game, things are opening up for the Cowboys. Also, Dak Prescott is proving that he can help win games with his arm, so defenses have to respect both aspects of the Cowboys offense. I'm sure Dallas will struggle more against the Bengals defense than they did against their last few opponents, but running the ball is what Dallas does and they always believe that they can do it effectively.
CH: No disrespect to the Cowboys, who have taken advantage of a relatively easy four-game stretch to start the season (and looked great in doing so), but Dallas is facing its first true test in the Bengals, who have a stingy defense and an offense which, though inconsistent, has the personnel to be dominant in any given week. What's the confidence level Cowboys fans have of their team winning this game?
DH: I can't speak for all fans, but I'm pretty confident they can win. Just like the Cowboys, the Bengals are working through some issues on their team and have shown some good things and some bad things. I respect the Bengals as a team, but the Cowboys are not in fear, they are playing good football right now.
CH: The Bengals are the only team in the NFL to not have given up a rushing touchdown through the first four weeks of the season. Does that change in Week 5?
DH: If it doesn't change then the Cowboys are likely in big trouble and probably lose the game. The Cowboys have scored eight rushing touchdowns on the season to only three through the air. Those eight rushing touchdowns lead the league, it is very much the Cowboys offensive identity to be able to run the ball, and do it effectively in the red zone. Running the ball has obviously helped keep Dak Prescott in manageable
CH: Give me two players -- one on offense and one on defense -- who have surpassed fans' wildest expectations this year. Do you think they'll have a significant impact on Sunday?
DH: Offense is easy, it's Prescott and he will definitely have a huge impact on the game. Nobody really expected much out Prescott in the offseason, at least not for a couple of years. So when he had to step up from third string to first string via injuries, there was plenty of worry. I guess we were all wrong on that one. He looks like he's been playing in the NFL for five years. He's poised in the huddle and in the pocket, he never gets happy feet, he is generally an accurate passer, and he's getting much better at reading defense and calling audibles. The fans have gotten so much more than they expected out of Prescott.
On defense, I'd say it’s cornerback Morris Claiborne. The Cowboys drafted him sixth-overall in 2012 and he never lived up to the hype. He had injury after injury and generally looked like he had lost his confidence. The Cowboys didn't pick up his fifth-year option and only re-signed him on a bargain one-year deal. But he has been the Cowboys best secondary player this year. He's covering receivers much more tightly than he has in the past, and his tackling has been solid. Basically he's playing like the player the Cowboys drafted so high, not like the bust that he became over the years.
CH: What in the world are the Cowboys going to do to try and stop A.J. Green?
DH: The Cowboys will probably roll a safety over to his side as often as they can. They will probably be cautious about letting him get deep, so they will try to keep him in front of the secondary and make sure tackles when he catches the ball. They will also try to control the clock through their running game on offense and limit the Bengals opportunities on offense.
CH: And finally, what's your final score prediction?
DH: Cowboys 24 - Bengals 20. The Cowboys offense has been getting better and better at running the ball, even with the injuries along the offensive line, they will try to continue that in this game and control the clock. Prescott is good enough in the passing game to keep defenses honest, so the Cowboys can put some points on the board, even against quality defenses. The Cowboys defense specializes in bend-don't-break defense, they don't give up a lot of points (10th in the league). The Bengals will probably be able to move the ball pretty well on the defense, but points are not that easy to come by. Dallas wins a close one.