WHEN THE CHIEFS PASS
Fans shouldn't confuse the Cowboys' pass rush with the attacks the Chiefs faced the last two weeks against the Eagles and Giants. Because the Cowboys traded Greg Ellis in the offseason, they left themselves with only one experienced, accomplished pass rusher – DeMarcus Ware – and it shows. Dallas has only six sacks in four games, well off the pace that saw them finish with 59 a year ago.
Ellis' replacement, Anthony Spencer, is talented, but simply hasn't gotten to the quarterback the way Ellis did. The Cowboys move Spencer and Ware around quite a bit, flip-flopping them, standing them up in the 3-4 and featuring both as hand-on-the-ground pass rushers in a 4-3 front. But so far it hasn't produced great results.
The Cowboys' talented and athletic cornerback tandem – Mike Jenkins and Terence Newman – has been hamstrung by the lack of pass rush, and Dallas has been sliced up through the air all year. But because the Chiefs' receivers all lack speed and have struggled to get separation this year, Jenkins and Newman represent a tough matchup. Dwayne Bowe will have to win with his size advantage.
The way to attack Dallas may come against their linebackers. Spencer is not great in coverage and the Cowboys' middle linebackers, Bradie James and the aging Keith Brooking, are liabilities, too. The Broncos took advantage of Spencer by matching him up with running backs on several occasions.
If Branden Albert can contain DeMarcus Ware, the Chiefs might actually provide decent pass protection for Matt Cassel this week. But considering Albert's struggles this year, that may be a tall order. Chiefs' right guard Mike Goff, who has struggled in pass protection this season, also may find himself at a disadvantage against the Cowboys' left end, Marcus Spears. And don't sleep on the rush from Jay Ratliff, Dallas' nose tackle, who is quick beyond the norms of his position and had eight sacks last season.
WHEN THE COWBOYS PASS
The Cowboys wanted to improve their locker room chemistry and team morale by dumping Terrell Owens this offseason. Perhaps that move worked. But on the field, the results without Owens have been underwhelming.
Dallas is a team that does not have much explosion in their passing game. Roy Williams is supposed to be a deep threat, but so far this year he has just 11 catches and has been a disappointment. He plays soft at times despite his size and is a question mark to even play this Sunday due to sore ribs.
The Cowboys' other receivers lack speed, save Miles Austin. The Chiefs cannot sleep on Austin because he has provided Dallas with big plays in the past. Curiously, he is buried down the depth chart behind slower receivers like Patrick Crayton and Sam Hurd, who blew two chances at grabbing a game-tying touchdown last week against the Broncos.
Because of the lack of speed in Dallas' receiving corps, Tony Romo has been forced to hold the ball. This resulted in five sacks allowed in Denver a week ago, including three by left tackle Flozell Adams. It appears age may be catching up with Adams, who was beaten by three different players – Elvis Dumervil, Robert Ayers and even the decrepit Vonnie Holliday.
Because the Cowboys run the ball so well, play-action is featured heavily in their passing game. The Chiefs have done a good job of not biting on play fakes this year but haven't faced a running attack quite as good as the one Dallas features. The Cowboys, because of their lacking wide receivers, also get their backs involved in the passing game quite a bit with screens and dumpoffs. That presents a problem for all of KC's linebackers, who are not good in coverage.
This matchup really boils down to Romo, however. Last week against the Broncos he practically gave Denver a touchdown with a fumble and later threw an interception on a drive that could have culminated in a Dallas score. Romo has just one touchdown pass in three weeks and is struggling with his accuracy right now. Even on short throws, he's inconsistent, and his downfield tosses have hung his receivers out to dry at times.
The Cowboys will likely feature their All-Pro tight end this week – Jason Witten – but if Jarrad Page can contain him (Page played well against New York's Kevin Boss last week) there may be hope for the Chiefs to contain the Dallas passing attack. The Cowboys don't have explosion at receiver like the Eagles and don't protect like the Giants.
WHEN THE CHIEFS RUN
The Chiefs made some headway in their ground game last week despite the fact Larry Johnson averaged under three yards per carry. At one point in the fourth quarter against the Giants, Johnson had 84 yards rushing. A series of blown draw plays destroyed a nice statistical outing, but Todd Haley noted this week that his ground game had been somewhat productive.
Can Kansas City replicate that against the Cowboys? The key man to block will be Dallas' Pro Bowl nose tackle, Jay Ratliff, who is undersized by the NFL standard but a handful nonetheless. Ratliff plays with great leverage, has a stout lower body and is so quick that a double-team is definitely required. Asking Rudy Niswanger to block him alone is asking for play-killing penetration.
The Cowboys are big and tough against the run almost everywhere else. Brooking has been a clear upgrade over the ancient Zach Thomas in the middle. Former Charger Igor Olshansky has been a nice offseason addition at right defensive end. Even the Broncos, owners of one of the league's best offensive lines, barely hit 100 yards rushing last week against Dallas.
Kansas City may have opened a few holes against the Giants last week. But facing a 3-4 that features an elite nose tackle and two extremely competent middle linebackers is another challenge altogether. The Cowboys don't miss tackles, either.
WHEN THE COWBOYS RUN
Dallas has the third-ranked running attack for one reason, and it isn't a running back. It's their offensive line, which is huge, experienced and has played together for several seasons now. The Cowboys move people up front so well, they slapped over 200 yards rushing on the Giants a few weeks ago.
Right guard Leonard Davis is the biggest of Dallas' linemen and rookie end Tyson Jackson may be at a disadvantage. It's really asking too much of Jackson, in his first year, to have a good game against such a seasoned, physical giant like Davis. That means Glenn Dorsey and Ron Edwards have to win their battles against Kyle Kosier and Andre Gurode.
If those battles are lost, Marion Barber will feast. Barber has a strained quadriceps muscle, but speed has never been his game. He's not a huge running back but breaks tackles like one. He will test the Chiefs' ability to wrap up like no other player they've faced so far this season, and that includes New York's Brandon Jacobs, who runs a little soft at times for such a big back. Pound for pound, Barber might be the toughest running back in the league.
Tashard Choice may be Barber's top backup again if speedster Felix Jones can't play. Choice is basically a Barber clone. Jones, who has world-class sprinter speed is a much bigger threat and could give a gassed Chiefs' defense problems late in the game should he return from his knee injury.
The Cowboys have stopped using their Pro Bowl corner, Terence Newman, as a punt returner, so they lack explosion with Patrick Crayton filling the spot. Austin is a dangerous kick returner, but KC's top-ranked coverage units have been impressive this year. Dallas kicker Nick Folk is six for seven this season but give the Chiefs the edge overall with Dustin Colquitt as the superior punter. The Cowboys employ David Buehler as a strong-legged kickoff specialist so don't expect much from Jamaal Charles or Dantrell Savage this week.
The Cowboys are coming off a deflating loss in Denver and have not beaten a team with a winning record this year. That has to count for something, especially since their trip to Kansas City is their second straight road game. The Chiefs are hyped up for their throwback weekend and definitely have something to prove.
It's difficult to pick the Chiefs this week considering a superior Broncos team was outgained by Dallas 124-23 through one quarter last Sunday. The Broncos beat Dallas because they weathered that fast start and capitalized on Tony Romo's mistakes. The Chiefs may be able to do the same if they can replicate their success on the ground against the Giants and find some life in the passing game. Hey, Kansas City has to improve at some point, right?
Chiefs 20, Cowboys 17
The Matchups - Chiefs vs Cowboys
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