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Keys to victory: Cowboys look to bounce back against Bengals in Week 2

The Dallas Cowboys have the challenge of trying to avoid an 0-2 start to their season with a matchup against the reigning AFC champion Cincinnati Bengals.

DALLAS — Week 1 was less than stellar for the Dallas Cowboys, who were the only team in the NFL to fail to score a touchdown. The loss was tough to bear, but now the team will have to go on for at least the next several weeks without quarterback Dak Prescott.

That journey begins this Sunday when the current AFC champion Cincinnati Bengals come to town. The Bengals didn’t earn a win in their first try either, so both teams are trying to avoid the dreaded 0-2 start. It would look much worse for the Cowboys if they were to lose since they’d be 0-2 at home and down their QB while trying to stay relevant. 

Here are the keys for the Cowboys to beat the Bengals and gain back some measure of respectability in Week 2:

Pressure quarterback Joe Burrow

The offense for the Bengals is an explosive one, led by one of the league’s best young quarterbacks in Joe Burrow. In the season opener, Burrow didn’t perform his best, throwing a career-high four interceptions. Burrow also lost a fumble to account for five turnovers, but the Cowboys can’t expect the same performance again this week. 

Burrow has shown a knack for coming back strong after an off week. 

The key to forcing a poor week from Burrow is to pressure him with the pass rush. Burrow took 51 sacks last season and was taken down seven times in the loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. He’s athletic and talented, but Burrow does tend to hold onto the ball for too long trying to make plays, which results in sacks. 

If the Cowboys can attack the Bengals’ mediocre offense line and pressure Burrow, they can throw off the rhythm of the offense.

Slow down wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase

Burrow’s favorite target is former LSU teammate Ja’Marr Chase, who is already one of the best receivers in the league in his second year. Chase got off to a hot start in Week 1, catching 10 passes for 129 yards and the game-tying touchdown in the fourth quarter.

In his rookie season, Chase collected 81 receptions for 1,455 yards and 13 scores on his way to winning Offensive Rookie of the Year. The Cowboys are going to have to slow down Chase to stop him from taking over the game.

That task will fall on Dallas’ secondary, including All-Pro cornerback Trevon Diggs. When Diggs is lined up with Chase, he’ll need to win his share of matchups. Chase is one of the best run-after-the-catch WRs in the game, so Diggs and company will have to make sure that they limit the damage. 

Protect quarterback Cooper Rush

No one wanted to hear it this early in the season but, if the Cowboys want to win this game, the offensive line needs to protect Cooper Rush. The stand-in QB in Dallas can win games, but he doesn’t have the athleticism that Prescott does and won’t be able to escape the pocket if things break down. 

Rush threw for 325 yards and two scores when he filled in for Prescott last season and he’s capable of helping the Cowboys defeat the Bengals. There’s also a solid rapport with WR CeeDee Lamb, who had his last 100-yard game with Rush under center.

There’s a deep group of pass rushers for Cincinnati, led by Trey Hendrickson, who had 14 sacks last season. The Bengals picked up two sacks in last week's season opener and the Cowboys’ offensive line remains a work in progress.

Win the ground game

The NFL is a passing league these days, but with a lack of weapons on the outside, the Cowboys will need to run the ball effectively. Starting running back Ezekiel Elliott was efficient in Week 1, but the offense was forced to abandon the run. Backup runner Tony Pollard didn’t get as many opportunities but that is expected to change with the running game taking priority. 

Dallas doesn’t need to rush for 150 yards, but they need to keep the Bengals honest on defense. Cincinnati allowed 75 yards on the ground on opening weekend, but just 30 of those yards came from running backs. If the Cowboys can run it successfully, they’ll stand a better chance of unlocking Rush and the pass game which is an apparent path to victory.

Conversely, the Cowboys need to keep Bengals’ running back Joe Mixon in check. Mixon is one of the better backs in the league and is tough to bring down with just one defender. Dan Quinn’s group will need to rally to the ball and make sure Mixon doesn’t run all over them like Leonard Fournette did in the Week 1 loss. 

The biggest weakness for the Dallas defense has been stopping the run and they’ll be tested against the Bengals. If the Cowboys can limit Mixon’s rushing yards, they’ll improve their odds of coming away with the win.

Do you think the Cowboys will be able to avoid an 0-2 start? Share your predictions with Ben on Twitter @BenGrimaldi.

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