3 Keys Against the Bengals

IRVING, Tex. -- I suppose when you're good – Dallas Cowboys-good, Super Bowl-talk good – every game is a "trap'' game. Every game features the quicksand of "distractions.''

Every game is about "defending the star'' and "keeping T.O. happy'' and, of course, simply making certain you have at least one point more than the other guy. With those thoughts in mind, my Top Three Keys To Dallas 35, Cincinnati 17 on Sunday:

1. EMBRACE THE DISTRACTIONS: If the Cowboys are a "circus,'' the Bengals are an assortment of broke-down carnies stumbling drunkenly down the midway. Between Dallas receiver Terrell Owens and Bengals receiver Chad Johnson, the NFL will on Sunday have a huge percentage of the league's loon factor caged in one loony bin.

So why fight it? Ocho Cinco says he's going to "kiss the star.'' Last week, the Redskins' Rock Cartwright took claim of it. The opponent who celebrated on foreign soil most infamously was then-49er Terrell Owens himself.

This is part of the show. Embrace it – while all along understanding that such celebrations are actually honorable tip-of-caps. Do you think if the Cowboys ever played at Cincinnati that, say, Patrick Crayton would ever say, "I'm going to score a touchdown and then go kiss the Halloween stripes?''

Note one other thing Chad Johnson said in his week-long monologue: "This week, to show my respect for Dallas and its owner, Jerry Jones, I'm going to score and I'm going to kiss the star. … Tell Jerry Jones I said hello, and give me a call some time.''

You think that's DISrespecting the star? I'll tell you what it is: One of the NFL's premier stars (having an admittedly awful season) auditioning for a future job interview, that's what it is.

Enjoy it. Embrace it. Get TWO bags of popcorn ready.

2. WHO'LL STOP THE RUN?: The Cowboys were 3-0 before last week's 26-24 loss to the Washington Redskins. But even with all the feel-good, there have been nattering concerns about dominating an opponent's running game. It's all interconnected, of course; now there are also concerns about what the Cowboys are capable of in the secondary, where poor play, injuries and the astounding lack of ANY interceptions suggests that Johnson and Housh could put up some numbers here.

But it still comes down to ball control, to attempting to continue to average 4.9 yards per rush, to what Bengals coach and his defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer, -- who spent more than a decade with the Cowboys as an assistant coach and coordinator – can conjure up to chase down and keep up with MB3 and Felix Jones.

The first time Felix touches the ball as a running back this week, it will be the first time he's done so in 13 days. That's ridiculous. The first time MB3 carries the ball this week, it will be the ninth time he's done so in 13 days. Again, ridiculous.

Again, there are only so many balls to go around, and Terrell Owens – especially when attempting to wrestle the klieg lights back from Chad – will want his. But amid all the potential showboating and selfishness, the team that runs the ball wins this game. You can say I'm oversimplifying, but. … if it's so simple, why didn't Dallas do it last week?

While Dallas is at 4.9 per, Cincy is averaging 3.5 yards per rush. The 0-4 Bengals are reliant on running back Chris Perry, who at 2.9 yards per rush hasn't yet gotten into a groove – and has already fumbled the ball four times this year.

Two teams that need to control the ball. One team averaging a full yard-and-a-half more per rush than the other. A Cowboys defense starved for turnovers against a Bengals team with butterfingers. Something's gotta give.

3. PASS PROTECTION: Veteran QB star Carson Palmer wants to be ready. If not, the Bengals once again go with Ryan Fitzpatrick – the Bengals line must provide top-notch protection. Cincinnati is on pace to yield 48 sacks this year – especially notable because in 2007, despite Cincy's drop from contention, the Bengals line allowed just 17 in 2007.

Beat up Palmer. Confuse Fitzpatrick. Put DeMarcus Ware in position to succeed. Blitz Cowboys defenders in order to help the battered secondary. Coach Wade Phillips' playbook included long chapters on the advantage of taking calculated gambles. It's time for that. Force turnovers. Make an early statement that you know to avoid the trap. Make an early statement that deflates the visitors' slim hopes – essentially putting the Bengals out of their misery.


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