Cowboys Countdown to Bengals

The Cowboys host the Bengals at 3:25 p.m. CT at AT&T Stadium. Dallas sits at 3-1 for the second time since 2009 while Cincinnati tries to stave off a 2-3 start for the second time in the Marvin Lewis era (2003). Keys that may factor into this inter-conference game, inside:

WHEN: 3:25 p.m. Central Time

WATCH: CBS (Jim Nantz & Phil Simms)

LISTEN: Dallas Cowboys Radio Network; Sirius 82, XM 82; Cowboys app

FOLLOW: @fishsports, @postinspostcards, @chq_jordan, @therealmarklane, @kristicowboy, @1053thefan




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10: Amount of passing TD's the Bengals defense has surrendered -- The Bengals are assuredly stingy against scoring rushing offenses as they have yet to surrender a rushing touchdown through four games. Even in the red zone, teams have tried to rush against Cincinnati inside the 5-yard line and have been turned away six times. There is an area where the Bengals defense is vulnerable and it is their passing defense, specifically passing touchdowns. Opposing offenses have thrown 10 touchdowns against Cincinnati, and those weren't exactly a cluster of 50-yard bombs. 7/10 of those touchdowns were thrown inside the red zone. While the Dallas red zone offense will be limited again since Dez Bryant ate an egg and tuna sandwich this week, a sign he doesn't expect to play but is still trying to keep his weight down, they must still find ways to get the ball into their receivers' hands inside the red zone.

Dez Bryant won't be part of today's passing attack against Cincy.

But Dak Prescott has some weaponry here.

9: Number of sacks the Bengals have -- The total is tied with the Lions for the 12th-most in the NFL. And here's the catch: Dallas has not faced any of the teams in the top-12 in sacks this season; they have faced two teams in the bottom-10 and two hovering in the middle-5. Defensive end Carlos Dunlap has three sacks by himself, which is half of what the Cowboys team has put together through four games. While the Bengals are not the toughest pass rush in the league, they are certainly the toughest that rookie Dak Prescott will face in his short tenure in the NFL. The gravity of this fact is amplified given that tackles Doug Free, Tyron Smith, and Chaz Green are all battling injuries.



8: Ezekiel Elliott's rank for yards per carry among starting running backs -- At 4.4 yards per carry, Elliott has been as close to a sure thing as the Cowboys can get in the running game. Elliott will face a formidable challenge with the Bengals defense as they surrender 3.8 yards per carry and have not given up a rushing touchdown in 2016. While Pacman Jones may think that his daughter could get good yardage with the holes the Cowboys offensive line is creating, chances are she wouldn't lead the NFL in yards after contact as does the fourth overall pick. Either the Cowboys or the rookie have to be careful when he approaches the 20-carry threshold: Cincinnati has forced and recovered two fumbles through four games. Ball security is key.


7: Number of October "sun games" in AT&T Stadium since its opening -- Since its days as Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, the $1.2 billion house that Jerry Jones built has seen seven afternoon games where the sun has glared through the west windows, causing problems for quarterbacks throwing into it or receivers looking back into it trying to catch passes. The Cowboys have have a 3-4 record when in such conditions. Rather than put up blackout curtains, Jerry would rather his team learn how to play in such conditions after claiming the stadium as home since 2009. "We should really know that as opposed to our opponents," said the owner back on Sept. 13 after the 20-19 loss to the Giants where the sun played a factor. "We used to at Texas Stadium have an 18-inch drop off from the corner of the end zone to the crest of the field. In other words, it dropped off 18 inches, a foot and a half. Boy, did we play that in making pass completions right and left. And that was an important thing for us. It caught your guys, especially those that don't come in here often. I'm talking about the opposing team. It caught them off balance. So, all of that is in play here. You got to know your stadium. You've got to know how to play certain conditions of the stadium."



6: A.J. Green's ranking in targets in 2016 -- The sixth-year receiver out of Georgia has been targeted 44 times this season and has come up with 32 catches for 468 yards and two touchdowns. With tight end Tyler Eifert set to miss his fifth straight game this year, Green is expected to see a lot more targets from quarterback Andy Dalton. Offensive coordinator Ken Zampese (yes, former Cowboys offensive coordinator Ernie's son) likes to move Green around, so Morris Claiborne, Brandon Carr, and Orlando Scandrick, if able, will draw a tough assignment. With Eifert sidelined, the Cowboys could use safety Byron Jones to help provide double coverage on the five-time Pro Bowler.


5: Andy Dalton's rank for passer rating inside the red zone -- The Red Rifle and his 76.7 passer rating inside the red zone is a 50-50 proposition given their past opponents -- Washington and the Giants -- also ranking in the bottom-5 and Dallas having gone 1-1 against such opponents. Nonetheless, the Bengals on the road have the second-worst red zone conversion rate at 16.7 percent. Unless Dalton's fans from his TCU stands pack the stands and make AT&T Stadium feel like Amon Carter, the Bengals have to overcome these challenges. The Cowboys defense is 14th-best in the NFL at 53.3 percent. Forcing Cincinnati into field goal tries is one way Dallas could win a shootout with the Bengals offense.



4: Number of false starts by opponents at AT&T Stadium -- Much is made of how opposing fans buy tickets and go to games at AT&T Stadium and cheer on their teams, and also how the Cowboys have two wins at home since 2015. The Cowboys have no home field advantage, so the narrative goes. However, away teams at AT&T Stadium have four false starts this season, tied for the third-most in the NFL. And that's not a quaint factoid like the Cowboys' win-loss record during waxing crescent moons. Since 2012, AT&T Stadium has consistently ranked in the top-10 in opponent false starts. Compare that to a venue like CenturyLink Field, a stadium renowned for its home crowd, and it has only cracked the top-10 twice in that same span, and the Seahawks have actually had more to cheer for than the Cowboys! Don't take the media's sports soma: AT&T Stadium has a home field advantage and they need their fans cheering loudly on Bengals third downs today.


3: Andy Dalton's rank for net yards per pass attempt -- Though Dalton is limited with Eifert missing the game for the fifth straight week, the second-rounder out of TCU has found a way to make it work with a 7.3 net yards per pass attempt. The six-year pro is coming into his prime and, despite Zampese being his third offensive coordinator, Dalton has been in the same offensive system his entire career. While it is at its lowest since 2013 when he had a 6.2 net yards per pass attempt through four games, Dalton has found where to put the football. 


2: Cincinnati's rank for sacks surrendered -- The Bengals are tied with the Cardinals for the second-most sacks given up with 13 apiece. Now, the last time Dallas faced a team in the top-3 was Week 3 against Chicago on Sunday Night Football. The Cowboys' only sack came from Brian Hoyer tripping over his own feet, fumbling the ball, and defensive end Benson Mayowa recovering the loose ball. In all practical aspects, the Cowboys did not register a sack. Dalton won't overthrow targets or trip over himself if he has extra time thanks to an ineffective pass rush. If Rod Marinelli's rushmen aren't getting to Dalton, the pride of TCU will carve them up.


1: The Cowboys offense's rank on third-down conversions -- Led by a fourth-round rookie out of Mississippi State, the Cowboys are 28/57 (49.1 percent) on third downs, tied with the New York Jets for the best in the NFL. Among starting quarterbacks who have played all four games to this point, Prescott's passer rating on third down is 104.9, the fourth-best in the NFL. Among such quarterbacks, his completion percentage is the best in the NFL at 73.7 percent. Receiver Cole Beasley has caught the most first-down passes on third-down with nine and is a perfect 11/11 on targets and catches on the pivotal down. Elliott has four first downs rushing, the fourth-best among running backs. Even though Dallas is rolling right now, they have to keep on rolling in this area to beat the Bengals.


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