The Bengals will travel to Dallas to face a Cowboys team that is currently on a three game win streak and is looking impressive with rookies Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott.
Cincinnati’s schedule is arguably one of the hardest in the league and it does not get any easier Sunday in AT&T Stadium at 4:25 pm. The Bengals now 2-2 will look to get on the right side of .500 with a win against the 3-1 Cowboys. Here are four keys to the game.
Cowboys offensive line vs. Bengals defensive line
The Cowboys have a had ton of success running the ball so far this season. Currently they rank second in the league in yards rushed with 149 yards per game. Last week against the 49ers, Ezekiel Elliott had 23 carries for 138 yards and a touchdown. Alfred Morris added 34 yards and Dak Prescott had 32 pass attempts with 23 completions for 245 yards and two touchdowns. This was against the 49ers defense that ranks 13th in pass yards but dead last at 32nd against the rush. They also won against the Redskins who rank 30th against the rush and 29th overall. Their other win was against a Bears team that ranks 26th against the rush.
In the season the Cowboys have not faced a defense that can produce much pressure on the quarterback or the run game. The Bengals defense has had solid performances this year, ranking 9th overall, 14th against the rush only allowing 97.5 yards per game. The Bengals defense has looked better every game and against the Dolphins the defensive line hit Ryan Tannehill seven times, sacked him four, had two pass deflections and forced a fumble.
The outcome of the game could hinge on which line wins this battle.
The play calling of Ken Zampese
First year offensive coordinator Ken Zampese has faced a ton of criticism so far in this year. The play calling has looked one dimensional, lacking creativity and has been unable to get a run game going with Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill. The Bengals have given up 13 sacks of Andy Dalton already this year. The Bengals are the fourth worst in the NFL in the redzone. Converting just 30.1 percent of their red zone trips into touchdowns. Zampese needs to find play calls that will protect Dalton, get the ball in space to players like Bernard and Green and find a way to convert redzone opportunities.
The return of Vontaze Burfict
The Bengals linebacker returned from suspension last week and made his debut against the Dolphins on Thursday. The short week of practice and the fact the Burfict had missed considerable practice time in the offseason limited Burfict’s play. He played 76 percent of the snaps and recorded two tackles, one assist and a deflected pass. Burfict, however, is a leader on and off the field and his return is a boost for the defense.
Andy Dalton against the Dallas defense
Andy Dalton has had an up and down season. After being sacked 8 times against the Jets but getting a win he struggled against the Steelers and the Broncos. He completed just 57.4 percent of his passes against the Steelers and 67.7 percent against the Broncos with no touchdowns and one interception for the two games. Dalton bounced back against the Dolphins with completion percentage of 71.1 with one touchdown versus no interceptions. The Dallas defense ranks 19th against the pass but has not played very elite or experienced quarterbacks. Dalton will need to have a good game against a Cowboys defense that has yet to be tested.
The Cowboys come into the game favored at home by 1.5. If these four keys to the game go in a positive direction for the Bengals they should get the road victory.