Estimated reading time: 7 minute(s)
At first glance it seems unlikely if not impossible for the 1-3 Bills to upset the 4-0 Cowboys on Monday night. The Buffalo Bills have had a string of bad luck on the injury front and are decimated on defense. They are also starting a rookie quarterback. The Cowboys on the other hand have teh number one offense in the league and are racking up nearly 38 points per game. Their defense seems stout as well. Dallas ranks 7th against the run, and Buffalo’s success depends on Marshawn Lynch running the ball.
But if we look a little deeper into the numbers we start to see that things may not be as bright as they seem in Dallas. Tony Romo is definitely playing well and there’s no arguing that point. However, you may have noticed that many of the highlight reels involve Romo eluding several would be tacklers, often on horribly broken plays. Romo is standing out because his line is doing a poor job blocking and Romo is being forced to rescue plays. He’s been successful but things are bound to not go his way at some point if this continues. This would be less of a concern for the cowboys if not for the fact that Romo has been harassed by some very mediocre if not awful football teams. The Cowboys’ opponents to date have a combined record of 3-13 and have been outscored 417 to 265. While during the off-season teams like Chicago, NY Giants, Miami and St. Louis may have seemed like strong contenders, it is pretty clear now that all of them are not. Neither Miami or St Louis has won a game yet. Chicago has only won 1. The Giants are split 2-2 but have looked pretty bad, especially early in the season when they faced the Cowboys.
On the other hand, the Bills have had to face some of the best teams in the league. Their opponents have a combined record of 10-6. Three of those losses belong to the Jets. (I think Mangini proved he is not the football coach he has been made out to be when his team could only put up 60 yards on the ground against a team that had been allowing nearly 150 per game.) The Bills first three opponents were against top defenses in games where the Bills lost many starters to injuries. Despite all that the Bills were seconds away from beating the Broncos. They got handled by the Patriots but so has everyone else. Despite playing a rotating cast of backups on defense, the Bills have only allowed 93 points and were surprisingly solid against the Jets.
The Cowboys’ passing attack is solid and the Bills secondary is extremely thin. The Bills’ secondary will struggle against the pass unless they can get consistent pass rush. The return of Anthony Hargrove will help quite a bit in this area. Not only will this give Kelsay and Schobel more opportunities to catch their breath, but Hargrove had a strong preseason and has a lot to prove to his teammates coming off the suspension. If the Bills can force Romo to scramble and get some sacks, it will take some of the burden off the depleted secondary. Jabari Greer played a great game last week and was recognized for it. Some people are giving him a hard time for the catches Randy Moss made in the Patriots game, but his coverage was solid on those plays. Moss is just good enough to make the catch anyway.
Speaking of Randy Moss, the reason he is a Pro Bowl receiver is his ability to bring the ball down even when it looks like the defense has him covered and/or beat. Lee Evans has shown the ability to do this in the past but has not shown much at all this season. The Bills’ quarterbacks (especially Losman) have been criticized for not throwing the ball to Lee Evans enough. The criticism is misdirected though because Evans has not made the plays when the ball was thrown his way in the first three weeks. Even against the Jets in week 4, Evans was good at times but failed to help his quarterback at others. The end zone interception should have never happened. Evans, had he been playing the way he is supposed to and can, should have broken the play up at a minimum and made the reception if possible. He wasn’t even paying attention. He made no effort to even try to catch the ball and just watched it get intercepted. If Lee plays with heart (which he has started to) and gives a 100% effort, the Bills offense can be difficult to stop.
Marshawn Lynch has been running well and will get 100 yards if the passing game can gain yards more consistently. The offensive line has looked a little better each week and is starting to give the quarterback time and provide holes for Lynch to run through. Based on performance so far, I’d like to see less Anthony Thomas and more Dwayne Wright spelling for Lynch. Lynch needs to be involved in the passing game as well, so they need to leave him in on third downs. Dallas has a high ranked rushing defense at 8 but the ranking is deceptive because the team has played with large leads so much that opponents have mostly been forced to pass to play catch up. Dallas also hasn’t really faced any significant running back threats. Ronnie Brown in Miami was probably the most skilled but he is on a miserable team.
The Bills took another blow this week when Peerless Price was put on IR. This may actually help the Bills because he has not been as productive as Josh Reed and Roscoe Parrish. Peerless Price’s departure will force the coaching staff to keep Reed and Parrish on the field. I think this will actually result in more success for the team. Dallas has a mediocre pass defense as it is and has injuries on top of that. The Bills need to pick on the injured secondary by spreading the ball around to all three top receivers and the Tightends and backs as well.
Trent Edwards has come in for Losman and looked like a natural in the NFL game. He just looks comfortable in there in a way that Losman rarely does. Even when he was getting mugged by the Patriots, he seemed to keep his head and try to make a realistic play. He’s made a few rookie read mistakes and underthrew a few receivers, but he still has been more consistent than Losman. I am not against Losman coming back after the BYE because he brings a level of athleticism that Edwards lacks, but if Edwards plays really well and beats the Cowboys, I think the coaches will have to make the switch. This is Monday Night Football at Ralph Wilson Stadium for the first time in 13 years against an undefeated team. There is no greater regular season pressure. If Edwards handles it in stride, the starting job will be his. We have seen what Losman can do in 26 games, if Edwards can play in primetime and win, it will be hard to go back to Losman’s long growth period.
Its hard to criticize the coaching staff to severely on the Bills considering the number of injuries. If anything, Perry Fewell is doing a pretty amazing job of holding his squad together. The offensive coaching has to be questioned until they can find success on a regular basis. If the Offense comes alive under Edwards and the team improves, they can blame it on Losman. For the Cowboys, Wade Phillips is no stranger to Buffalo. He is getting a lot of props for his hot start with the well loaded teams he inherited from Bill Parcels. Wade makes really bad decisions at clutch times and thats why he has lost his job more than once.
I think the Cowboys are over-rated and have been fortunate to play a soft schedule. The Bills are a big wild card and have to be seen as an easy match-up based on their current standings. The Cowboys will certainly have to stay focused considering New England is next week. There are a bunch of weird voo-doo statistics in the Bills favor like: Last time the Bills hosted MNF they faced Wade Phillips as the coach of the Broncos and beat him. Dallas has not started a season 5-0 since 1984 (not once with Troy Aikman). The Bills also have a really impressive record against undefeated teams with 4 wins or more 9-2. Hard to believe. Its hard to string together 5 wins no matter how good a team you are. The Patriots almost slipped today against the Browns but fought through it. Dallas is not nearly as good on defense as the Patriots.
Dallas gets caught looking to next week, Bills 28 Dallas 17