Cowboys run defense vs. Bills RB Fred Jackson: After leading the league in rush defense through the first six weeks of the season, the Cowboys have done a poor job of playing the run the last two weeks.
In those first six games, the front seven was rock solid in getting off blocks and tackling. Last week against the Seahawks, the linebackers were better, but still the biggest problem was how defensive ends Marcus Spears and Kenyon Coleman continued to struggle to get off blocks and play with a physical nature at the point of attack. When Spears and Coleman struggle in the running game, there are going to be problems because they set the edge by holding up blockers and allowing the linebackers to make plays.
Jackson presents a new challenge for the Cowboys’ defensive front. When you study Jackson, you see a slasher that is able to make quick, explosive cuts. Jackson has the size to be physical finishing runs and can be dangerous when he takes the ball inside, then quickly bounces it outside. Jackson also shows the ability to run the ball inside with toughness.
The Bills’ offensive staff will line him up all over the formation. There have been several plays where Jackson lined up at wide receiver, caught the ball cleanly, then made the defense have to make a tackle in space. Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan also has to be careful if the Bills spread his defense out and run the ball inside out of the shotgun with Jackson. Last week, Barry Church was used as a nickel linebacker and played well in that role, so this could be the answer that Ryan has for when the Bills try to spread out.
The Bills are not a physical offensive line and will struggle with consistent movement up front. If the Bills do have success running the ball, the focus will once again turn to the Cowboys’ defensive ends.
Cowboys WRs vs. Bills CB Drayton Florence: Last week against the Jets, Bills cornerback Terrence McGee went all over the field in coverage against Santonio Holmes. McGee is the best secondary player the Bills have. The defensive back that struggles the most is Florence, the starter on the right side.
The Cowboys need to try to stay away from McGee, who does a really nice job of running with his man, playing the ball in the air and tackling. Florence is the opposite player of McGee. He doesn’t play with the same passion or intensity of McGee.
There is some softness in his game when it comes to defending the pass. Florence tends to give up slants or inside breaking routes. In both the Giants and Jets games he allowed easy access inside.
At one time, Florence had outstanding timed speed, but in the games I studied, players were able to run by him without much effort. Receivers were able to take him on vertical routes.
McGee is a good tackler, but Florence really struggles. Against the Eagles, he really had a problem with bringing ball carriers down in space.
The Bills will play press man, and Dez Bryant did a much better job fighting of that coverage last week. I look for the Cowboys to try and attack that side of the field with Bryant and the other receivers against Florence if a play needs to be made.
Cowboys OLB DeMarcus Ware vs. Bills LT Andy Levitre: Levitre is normally the starter at left guard, but he has had to make the move to left tackle because of the injury to Demetrius Bell (shoulder).
This will be Levitre’s third start at tackle and probably his most difficult assignment. Levitre likes to use his hands more as placement than as a puncher. The way tackles have had success against Ware is by making him have to restart his rush. Levitre really doesn’t have the upper body strength to do that to Ware, but he does have good enough feet to work against him if Ware tries to take him wide.
There are two ways the Bills will try and help Levitre. The first would be what Seattle did — keep extra blockers in on Ware’s side. If that’s the case, then Anthony Spencer will have to make plays like he did last week. The second and most effective way will be for quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick to continue to get rid of the football quickly.
One of the best traits that Fitzpatrick has is taking the football and quickly firing it to the receiver. There are times where you do see pressure from the defense, but getting Fitzpatrick on the ground has been difficult. The Bills are first in the league when it comes to sacks per attempt.
Levitre is a much better guard than he is a tackle. If the Cowboys are able to get pressure on the Bills, it will most likely come from that left side of the line.