It’s Week 5, the Cowboys are currently 2-2 and in first place in the NFC East. Yet, despite all the chances they’ve been given they’ve watched their seemingly firm grip on that position slip with every passing second.
Now queue Sunday’s game, the first “must-win” of the season. If the Cowboys win they walk into two upcoming divisional games with a strong hold on first place in the division and a “control your own destiny” scenario already in their grasp. If they lose? They'll find themselves in the thick of a muddied NFC East in which they’ve squandered opportunities to control.
No Pressure right?
So, with odds stacked against them, the Cowboys must find a way to do the almost impossible… Defeat the 2013 version of Peyton Manning.
Here’s how they can do that:
Control the Ball
Simple enough right? If you don’t want Manning to beat you, keep the ball out of his hands. The Cowboys have the talent to run the ball effectively for 60 minutes as long as Bill Callahan can commit to it. DeMarco Murray and Lance Dunbar can exhaust this defense and dominate the time of possession.
Now, I know what you’re thinking: “The Broncos have the #1 rush defense.” While that’s true, that’s really a testament to teams playing from behind. The Broncos have only played against one elite running back (LeSean McCoy) and surrendered over 4 yards a carry to him. I recognize that Murray isn’t McCoy but his overall skill set makes him a formidable task for this Broncos defense.
Typically, I’m a defer kind of guy. I think there is a psychological advantage to getting the ball at the beginning of the second half. However, in this situation, I think there is a supreme advantage to scoring first.
Look, Peyton is one of the most clutch closers in the game. If he gets a lead on you, it’s over. However, if the Cowboys can get in front first and force the Broncos to play from behind, controlling the time of possession becomes the only thing between the Cowboys and victory.
Hit Peyton Early and Often
You want to rattle a quarterback in the NFL, knock him around a little. I don’t care who you are, how great your skillset is, or how tough you believe your self to be… If a 250+ lb man hits you at 4.6 speed, it’s gonna hurt.
Peyton is a player who thrives from early comfort. He’s a psychological player. He’s no longer beating people with raw skill, he outsmarts players, he gets in the heads of defenders. When Peyton knows he has you, he wins.
The other side of that is when Peyton is rattled early, he’s erratic. It will be Monte Kiffin’s job to dial up the pressure early and for the defense to get hits, if not sacks, on the opposing quarterback. Even if that means an accidental roughing the passer.
Peyton has extremely limited mobility and his accuracy is awful when he’s forced to be outside of the pocket. If you disrupt the pocket and force Peyton to move from it, you’re chances of victory improve exponentially.
Disguise Coverages, Create Turnovers
The Cover 2 has been a tough transition for the Dallas defense. While sometimes it looks virtually unstoppable, others it looks like a pee wee football team. One of the benefits of the Cover 2 is that it’s disguisable.
The base 4-3 and nickel packages the Cowboys run are so basic that it’s hard to read. Monte Kiffin’s defensive genius is about to be tested as he tries and concoct new ways to bring pressure and adjust coverages without tipping off Peyton. The best way to do that, bring in new wrinkles.
Peyton knows this defense like the back of his hand, he practiced against it for seven years in Indy. Kiffin will have the opportunity to add in never-before-seen looks that could cause Manning to make a few early mistakes.
Early mistakes equal opportunities for turnovers. Peyton won’t make many and he’ll adjust quickly, so it’s up to the Cowboys to capitalize on every situation.