The Indianapolis Colts are on the road for their final two games of the season. Their first stop will be in Texas to face the Dallas Cowboys.
The Colts haven’t faced Dallas since Peyton Manning was still in Indy. Little did we know that would be his last season in Colts’ blues. That games featured four interceptions from Manning, two of which went for touchdowns.
Oddly enough, the Colts current QB knows a little something about turnovers going for touchdowns lately. Thankfully, the Cowboys defense isn’t nearly as good as it was back then.
The Colts sit at 10-4 with playoff seeding in the AFC very much in play. The Colt would need some help to get a better spot, but its still possible. The Cowboys are 10-4 and currently lead the NFC East, but the Eagles are lurking right behind them waiting for a slip up.
If Dallas loses, and the Eagles win, it would effectively knock the Cowboys out of the playoffs.
The Cowboys on Offense
Dallas’ offense runs through DeMarco Murray, but his status for Sunday could be in question. He accounts for 38-percent of the team’s yards from scrimmage and is rated as the top running back by Football Outsiders. The Cowboys rank third in rushing yards per game, with Murray leading the NFL by a wide margin.
DVOA has the Cowboys with the fifth most efficient offense, and they’re seventh in passing and second on the ground. Their success all starts with the offensive line. While Murray is a talented running back, he owes his success to what has become the best run blocking line in the league. The lines best player? Rookie guard Zach Martin with a +19.5 overall grad from PFF.
Dallas has built a prototypical power offensive line, but they lack in finesse and are just 17th when it comes to protecting Tony Romo. The success of the run game has led to one of the best seasons in his career from Romo.
He hasn’t been asked to do nearly as much and is completing nearly 70-percent of his passes and has an 80.2 QBR, the highest of his career. Football Outsiders has him ninth in DYAR and fifth in DVOA. PFF has him 10th with a +9.8 grade.
In turn, Romo also owes a fair amount of his success to the brilliance of Dez Bryant. He’s 10th in receiving yards and already has 13 touchdowns, which leads the NFL. Football Outsiders has him sixth in DYAR and 11th in DVOA while PFF has Bryant as the fourth best receiver in the NFL.
What This Means for the Colts on Defense
Discipline is the name of the game for the Colts this week. We’ve seen a renewed effort in terms of run defense over the past couple weeks, but this is a different animal altogether. Dallas can easily pound away on the ground and then hit you with a play action that shatters dreams (even if the pass isn’t on target, Bryant will probably haul it in).
The Colts pass defense has been very good this season, but they’re still susceptible to a tough ground attack. You can bet that the Cowboys watched film of the Patriots at Colts game and will try to emulate that style of running game.
The Pats didn’t do anything special, and neither do the Cowboys. With the stout run blocking it could be a long day and the offense might not have very many possession to get the job done.
The Cowboys on Defense
While the offense has been very good this season, the Cowboys defense has struggled. Like Romo, much of their success is owed to Murray due to his ability to keep the defense on the sideline and fresh for most of the game.
The Cowboys are giving up nearly 250 yards passing per game, 23rd in the NFL, and 110 yards rushing, 17th in the league. Putting them at 22nd in the league in yards. Opponents also score 23 points per game, which is 19th in the NFL.
Football Outsiders isn’t very hot on this team either. They’re 26th in overall efficiency, 22nd against the pass and 27th versus the run.
Much of this starts with the defensive line. They are dismal 30th when it comes to rushing the passer and have 23 sacks this season. They also can’t get any push on run plays and are dismal when runners get into the open field.
In terms of coverage, the Cowboys really struggle against the number two receiver and particularly on passes thrown to the left side of the field. Brandon Carr has been atrocious in coverage this season (a -14.1 overall grade).
What This Means for the Colts on Offense
A lot of Sunday’s game plan will depend on the availability of T.Y. Hilton. With Hilton dealing with a sore hamstring, the Colts could end up relying heavily on Hakeem Nicks, who’s been a disappointment this season, and rookie Donte Moncrief.
Coach Chuck Pagano also alluded to the fact that Reggie Wayne could rest on Sunday as well. That said, Andrew Luck could simply target whoever Carr is guarding all afternoon and likely have a great deal of success.
The Colts will want to use a nice mix of pass and run to keep the Cowboys guessing. Dan Herron is obviously the back with more value, but his elusiveness will be particularly valuable against a team that struggles to tackle at times.
I expect a lot of two tight end sets from the Colts as they might not have the receivers to spread the field effectively.