Week Eleven Preview: Stats, Predictions, & Matchups for Dolphins VS. Cowboys

The Narrative:

History. These two teams do not meet regularly, as they exist in separate conferences. However, every four years they come together and face off, producing some of the NFL’s most historic games. The Dallas Cowboys won their first Super Bowl by defeating the Miami Dolphins at Tulane Stadium on January 16th, 1972. The series also includes the infamous Leon Lett game.

This game represents an interesting storyline for Dan Campbell. Much of his career was spent in Dallas, playing alongside Tony Romo and Jason Witten. It is very rare for a coach to face off against players who he once played with. It could be relatively unprecedented for a head coach to attempt to slow down the quarterback he once caught passes from. It will certainly be an emotional day for coach Campbell.

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This is also Tony Romo’s first game back from injury. After breaking his collarbone in Week Two, Romo and his team have lost every game since, unable to produce consistent offense while he was off of the field. The question still remaining is whether or not Romo will be able to jump right back in, or if there will be an acclimation period for the quarterback returning to the field. How much pain is he still in? Is his injury 100% healed?

These questions will all be answered on Sunday, as one of the most historic matchups in NFL history is renewed for a 14th meeting.

By The Numbers: Breaking Down the Dallas Offense

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Statistics for the Cowboys’ offense will obviously be skewed, given Romo’s absence. That being said, the numbers in this article are pulled from the weeks he played; One and Two. They will in all likelihood not be accurate given the certain acclimation he will have to make to return to the field. However, there can be some conclusions drawn from the first few weeks of play.

Despite the Cowboys’ efficiency running the football in 2014, they have decided to return to an aerial assault in 2015. In the first two weeks of the season, they ranked 2nd in passing yards per game (356), and 21st in rushing yards per game (80). This leads us to the obvious conclusion that they will look to throw the ball heavily against Miami. Surprise? Not at all.

The area that Miami will have to be cautious of is 3rd down offense. Dallas was 5th in the first two weeks of the season, converting on 54.55% of attempts. Miami will have to be aware of Jason Witten and Dez Bryant in these situations if they want to avoid being burnt in key situations.

By The Numbers: Breaking Down the Dallas Defense

*30 for 30 voice*

What if I told you that there was a defense, perfectly average in every single category?

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Well that is what I’m telling you. The Dallas Cowboys have the NFL’s 18th ranked defense in points per game, the 16th ranked defense in yards per game, the 15th ranked rush defense, and the 14th ranked passing defense. They are the epitome of average, ranked 14th-18th in every single category.

Even on third downs, they rank 14th in the NFL, allowing 37.61% of attempts to be converted.

Perfectly. Average.

By The Numbers: Quarter-By-Quarter Stats

Dallas Cowboys’ Offense By Quarter:

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The Dallas Cowboys are a fourth quarter team. It seems that every time the team plays there is a huge spike in passing in the fourth quarter, as Romo attempts to lead his team back from a deficit. This was enforced earlier in the season with scoring statistics. Dallas had the 4th ranked fourth quarter offense, averaging 14 points during that period. Their worst quarter was the second, only scoring 3 points on average with Romo during that time (ranking 28th).

Basically, Miami cannot leave this game up to the fourth quarter, because they cannot win a shootout against Tony Romo and the Cowboys.

Dallas Cowboys’ Defense By Quarter:

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The Dallas Cowboys’ defense does very well at the beginning of games, and gradually worsens throughout. The team has the 4th ranked first quarter defense, the 12th ranked second quarter defense, and the 19th ranked third quarter defense. That trend continues into the final period of the game, where Dallas is ranked 28th. Their defense struggles late in games, which can explain the increase in offense during that period.

Despite this, Miami cannot afford to make this a shootout. They need to control the clock and make sure that they score in the 2nd and 3rd quarters, when Dallas is weak.

Keys to Victory:

Control Jason Witten and Dez Bryant

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This is a pipe dream. With the Dolphins’ injuries on defense, I do not believe that the team will be able to lock down either of these targets. However, they can work to control them in key situations.

For example, they cannot allow Dez Bryant to make plays outside of the numbers on early downs. If they do, Dallas will be able to drive down the field effectively and Miami will be forced into uncomfortable situations.

Jason Witten will be the go to target for Dallas on third down. Last week, Miami was gashed by Philadelphia’s tight ends. The Cowboys will study this film and know that they must create mismatches with Witten over the middle of the field in crucial situations. Given Miami’s shortage of linebackers, it will be a long day if they cannot commit resources to stopping Witten on third down and in red zone situations.

Rattle Tony Romo:

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Coming off of a significant injury, Tony Romo will not be 100% on his first game. He will be able to play very well, but there will be lingering affects of missing many weeks of play. That being said, the Dolphins’ defense cannot allow him to ease back into the game.

If Ndamukong Suh can replicate last week’s performance, this team will have a chance. If he struggles to make an impact, things will be very difficult for Miami. Romo is known to struggle against pass rush, especially when it assaults him early in the game. The Dolphins will need to rattle his cage, and force him into making bad decisions. And which player on this team capitalizes on mistakes by the quarterback?

Reshad Jones:

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Brent Grimes cannot cover Dez Bryant one-on-one. Linebackers cannot defend Jason Witten by themselves. Someone will have to capitalize on errant throws made by Romo in his return to the field.

Plenty of responsibility will fall on Reshad Jones this Sunday.

Miami will have to utilize him both in coverage and against the run if they want to notch a victory against a loaded Dallas offense. Jones has been their best player on defense this season, and it goes without saying that they will need to heavily employ his abilities this Sunday.

Running the Football to Keep Defense Fresh:

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If the offense can run the ball, the defense can stay fresh. If the defense can stay fresh, they might be able to avoid some of the big plays that Dallas feasts upon.

The Dolphins also need to control the clock if they want to make the offense more dynamic. Last week we saw what can happen when there is a solid running attack behind Ryan Tannehill. The team did not have to throw 40 passes, and was able to notch a victory because of it.

The combination of a multi-dimensional offense and a fresh defense will be key for Miami, both of which must be achieved through a tenacious attack with Lamar Miller and Jay Ajayi.

Avoid a Shootout:

If this game ends up a high scoring affair, the Dolphins are dead in the water. Their offense will not be able to keep up with the Cowboys’ attack, and would fall behind rather quickly.

The Miami needs to make sure to milk the clock and have long drives to run down time. If they can do this, they will limit the number of possessions that Dallas is given.

We have seen Romo throw for 400 yards and several touchdowns, as well as win 40+ point games at many points times in his career. However, I do not think Ryan Tannehill is capable of this due to his offensive line’s inability to give him enough time to throw the ball deep, and his own struggles when asked to shoulder a greater load. Off of play action, they can generate a more consistent pocket for him to work in. However they will be no match for the Cowboys if the score gets out of hand.

The Skinny:

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It isn’t going to be easy, but it is far from impossible.

The Dallas Cowboys will not be the best team that the Miami Dolphins have faced this season, but they could be one of the most dangerous. Outside of the Patriots, the Cowboys will be the most explosive offense Miami has played, with more weapons than our defense can account for. That being said, the team will have to hope that Romo still has to re-acclimate to playing if they want a chance.

It is highly unlikely that Romo will be at 100%. Regardless of how he plays, Miami needs to generate pressure to disrupt him early, and prevent that offense from gashing them for big plays with the likes of Dez Bryant and Jason Witten.

The Dolphins’ offense will have to continue their winning ways from last week, and establish a solid ground attack to prevent the Cowboys from winning time of possession.

Final Prediction: 

I am very skeptical of Miami’s linebackers for this week. With both Koa Misi and Jelani Jenkins potentially out, a clear solution does not exist for Jason Witten. Brent Grimes has also struggled this year, and will be tasked with slowing down Dez Bryant.

If Ndamukong Suh can take over the game as he did last week, we will have a shot. If not, it could be a long afternoon for Miami. I don’t think we have enough offensive firepower to truly compete with the Cowboy, and, unfortunately, I predict Sunday will be a rough day for Dolphins fans.

27-20, Dallas* 

*As always, I would love nothing more than to be wrong.

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