The Indianapolis Colts will travel to “Jerry World” this weekend to face the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium. The Cowboys (10-4) will look to stay a game ahead of the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC East, while the Colts (also 10-4) are simply looking to stay healthy and keep alive their slim chances of obtaining a first round bye.
The Colts are currently only a game behind both New England (11-3) and Denver (11-3), but both have a tie-breaker on the Colts, having already beaten the Colts head-to-head this year in the regular season. Either one would theoretically have to lose their remaining 2 games for the Colts to have a chance (and the Colts conversely win-out), which seems pretty unrealistic.
Sep 22, 2013; Arlington, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant (88) and running back DeMarco Murray (29) celebrate a touchdown in the first quarter against the St. Louis Rams at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports
On offense, the Cowboys are led by 12-year veteran Tony Romo, who is 264 for 381 (69.3%) for 28 touchdowns and 8 interceptions, featuring a quarterback rating of 110.4. His favorite target is superstar wideout, Dez Bryant, who is one of the best wide receivers in the National Football League. At a physically imposing 6’2″, 220 pounds, Bryant provides a big target for Romo, and he has 79 receptions for 1,148 receiving yards and 13 touchdowns on the season to show for it.
However, having invested heavily into a big and powerful offensive line, the Cowboys have shifted gears from recent seasons. Instead of a high profile passing attack, the offense has been centered around the legs of running back DeMarco Murray. The 4th-year running back not only leads the league in rushing yards by a wide margin with 1,687 rushing yards (in 2nd is the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Le’Veon Bell with 1,278), but he also leads in rushing attempts with 351 on the season (in 2nd is the Philadelphia Eagles’ LeSean McCoy with 274).
Murray also leads the league in rushing touchdowns on the season with 11, and if the Colts aren’t careful, he could easily make that 12 or 13 touchdowns. While Murray is battling a broken hand, the Colts should still expect to see a plenty effective running back, even if the opportunity for turnovers may increase.
Nov 9, 2014; London, UNITED KINGDOM; Dallas Cowboys cornerback Orlando Scandrick (32) against the Jacksonville Jaguars in the NFL International Series game at Wembley Stadium. The Cowboys defeated the Jaguars 31-17. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Defensively, the Dallas Cowboys feature Orlando Scandrick at cornerback, who’s among the best in the game. Now playing a 4-3 defensive alignment under defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli, the team plays a bit differently than in prior years past when these two teams would meet.
They’ve found some success in the middle of their defense with reclamation project Rolando McClain, who’s 2nd on the team in tackles with 77 on the season. The 8th overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft of the Oakland Raiders, McClain has shed his “draft bust” label and become a solidifying presence for the Cowboys’ defense. The Cowboys are respectable against the run, but have struggled a bit in pass defense. They’re allowing 249.6 passing yards per game, which is ranked 23rd worst in the NFL.
Dec 14, 2014; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Indianapolis Colts quaterback Andrew Luck (12) drops back to pass against the Houston Texans at Lucas Oil Stadium. The Indianapolis Colts won, 17-10 to clinch the AFC South Division. Mandatory Credit: Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports
Offensively, the Indianapolis Colts will likely have to score more points than they did last weekend against the Houston Texans, when they won with just 17 points. Instead of game management mode, the Colts will have to duel with an equally prolific offense in the Dallas Cowboys. Unfortunately, the team may be without its top playmaker in wideout T.Y. Hilton. The Colts’ 3rd-year wideout leads the Colts in receptions with 82 and receiving yards 1,345.
In his absence, look for wideouts Donte Moncrief and Hakeem Nicks to assume a larger role within the offense; with “old reliable” Reggie Wayne also featuring as more of a go-to target. I’d also expect to see more heavy usage of the Colts’ tight ends, specifically with Coby Fleener lined up on the outside as a wide receiver. QB Andrew Luck will enter a bit under-manned, but the Colts still have the offensive personnel to give him plenty of weapons.
Defensively, the Colts will get a huge boost if shutdown cornerback Vontae Davis (“questionable”) is able to go on Sunday. He’s the Colts’ best player in the secondary, and he’d play a big role in limiting Dez Bryant in the Cowboys’ passing attack. Otherwise, the Colts’ run defense has to be ready to expect a heavy dosage of DeMarco Murray. If last weekend’s performance against the Houston Texans is any indication, in which they held Arian Foster to 26 rushes for 99 rushing yards, they should be just fine.
This has all the makings of an offensive shoot-out in Texas. They say, “Everything is BIGGER in Texas,” well…so is Andrew Luck’s play. He puts the team on his back, and the Colts narrowly win in a 31-24 offensive showcase, completing the “Texas Two step” of beating two consecutive Texas’ teams.