DALLAS — November has been a good month to be a fan of the Dallas Cowboys, so far. Dallas won a big game on the road with a backup quarterback in their final game in October and they return home with the starting QB looking ready to roll for the next game.
Cooper Rush was a great story for the first place squad, but the Cowboys are now going back to the capable right arm of MVP candidate Dak Prescott.
There is now a new month and a new task at hand for the Cowboys in Week 9. The 4-4 Denver Broncos come to town and, despite going 1-3 over the last four weeks, the AFC West team can pull an upset if 6-1 Dallas doesn’t take things seriously as a streaking favorite.
Here are four keys for the Cowboys to hold serve and beat the Broncos in Week 9:
Terrorize Teddy Bridgewater
The Broncos are in the bottom half of the league offensively, averaging just 338.3 yards and 19.6 points per game. However, one category where they’re near the top is in sacks allowed, a place you don’t want to be.
Denver quarterbacks, which includes starter Teddy Bridgewater and backup Drew Lock, have taken 25 sacks so far this season, which is third worst in the league. Bridgewater especially has an issue with waiting too long to throw and that has resulted in 22 of those takedowns.
The Broncos will also be without starting left tackle Garett Bolles, who will miss the game with an ankle injury. Bolles is regarded as the best offensive linemen on the Broncos and his absence represents a frightening loss for Denver up front.
That’s a big advantage for the Cowboys, who are near the bottom of the NFL in team sacks, with only 12 on the year. If there was ever a time to get the pass rush to put up numbers in the box score, it would be this matchup against the Broncos.
Keep the ground game in check
The Broncos don’t create many explosive plays on offense. Alternatively, they try to move the ball with balanced play calling and via pounding the rock to wear down defenses. Their offense also has a two-headed monster at running back with veteran Melvin Gordon and rookie Javonte Williams.
Combined, the duo has 752 yards rushing and four touchdowns and they’re both averaging over 4.5 yards per carry. The Broncos could employ the same strategy as the New England Patriots from Week 6. Look for Denver to run it early and often.
It’ll be a challenge for the Dallas defense to slow the Broncos’ run game, but they will need to do so to prevent the strategy of keeping the Cowboys’ high-powered offense off the field.
Contain Courtland Sutton
The passing game for the Broncos has struggled at times this year, but Sutton remains one of the top young wide receivers in the league. Sutton leads the Broncos in receptions (40), yards (579) and yards per catch (14.2) despite coming off a torn ACL in 2020.
The fourth-year receiver out of SMU has rounded back into form and has the size, 6’4”, 216 lbs, to make for a long day in the Dallas secondary. The Cowboys need to be aware of where Sutton is so he doesn’t take over the game.
Challenge the Denver secondary
The secondary for the Broncos looks like one of the best in the league. They rank in the top 10 in yards allowed per game – under 225 yards – and have given up the second fewest passing touchdowns, with just nine allowed.
However, the Broncos’ passing defense hasn’t held up well when tested by some of the better passing offenses. Derek Carr and the Las Vegas Raiders threw for 341 yards and two scores, Lamar Jackson of the Baltimore Ravens threw for 316 yards and a touchdown, and even Pittsburgh Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger had an efficient game, throwing for 253 yards and two touchdowns on just 25 attempts. Those are the only three passing offenses that the Broncos have faced that are in the top 17 in the league, and they didn’t have issues throwing on Denver.
The Cowboys will get to see rookie cornerback Patrick Surtain II, who they were targeting as an option in the draft, on Sunday. Surtain has been impressive through the season’s first eight weeks, but he and the rest of the Denver passing defense have a big challenge ahead of them.
Let’s see if the Broncos’ secondary is as good as the numbers say, or if the Cowboys and Prescott can continue to move the ball through the air.
What is your best guess for the final score of the Week 9 matchup between the Cowboys and Broncos? Share your predictions with Ben on Twitter @BenGrimaldi.