Jussel: Honest, Dallas will be a test for Manning & Co.
The Denver Broncos have been tested this season. Really, they have.
Results have been smashing, to the tune of a 16-point margin of victory over four games.
The federal government, if it were working, would be proud and the Broncos would be rated as better than proficient at the required tasks. Superior even.
Today, the Broncos are going to be tested again, and it will be the toughest test yet.
Ah, but it’s just the Dallas Cowboys, you say, a 2-2 team that has already lost to Denver’s AFC West rivals the Chiefs (17-16 in Kansas City) and Chargers (30-21 in San Diego). True enough.
But, and this is another one of those BIG buts, if things had proceeded according to Hoyle, the Cowboys would be 4-0 and this matchup would have been one of those marquee matchups all of NFL nation would be looking forward to.
The Cowboys lost to the Chiefs because they couldn’t finish off drives, being forced into a late-game field goal after QB Tony Romo went zip for three from the Chiefs’ 35 with 3 minutes left in the game. A pass interference call allowed the Chiefs to retain possession and run out all but a couple of seconds off the clock.
Romo, who was stellar until the end, finished 32 of 40 for 298 yards, but missed his final five passes.
Against the Chargers, the Cowboys took a 21-10 lead, but had only seven offensive plays in the third quarter as Charger QB Philip Rivers relied on the short stuff. The Cowboys had chances to take the lead in the final quarter, but had two drives stopped deep in Charger territory with fumbles.
Coulda been, shoulda been for the ‘Boys.
Two losses, too many mistakes in the late going.
That’s the way things have been in recent years for the Dallas squad.
Romo is infamous for messing up.
Still ... there is talent, especially on the offensive side.
Romo hasn’t messed up much this season, completing 110 of 152 passes for 1,017 yards. He has eight TD passes and only one INT and his passer rating of 105.1 is one of the best in the league.
Romo has three cohorts that he utilizes the vast majority of the time, three studs the Bronco D are going to have to slow: Dez Bryant, the monster wideout (6-foot-2, 222 pounds), has caught 23 passes for 282 yards and has four TDs; tight end Jason Witten, climbing the all-time receptions list with 827, has 21 catches for 192 yards and two TDs; and running back DeMarco Murray has 356 yards rushing (4.9 yard average) and another 21 receptions for 138 yards.
That’s Denver’s test today — keep up with and surpass the Cowboys’ four-star offense.
Let’s see, Denver has scored 49, 41, 37 and 52 points in its four games, averaging nearly 500 yards per game.
Dallas has allowed 5.9 yards per play and 304 yards per game passing, ranking only 27th in the NFL in that department.
Peyton Manning will eat this up — if the Broncos can keep him standing.
Dallas has a more-than respectable pass rush with 14 sacks on the season with defensive end DeMarcus Ware the best with four.
Pro Football Focus, the NFL stats experts who grade every player’s performance on every play, has Ware as the fourth-best defensive end in the league at this point, with his partner George Selvie, who has three sacks of his own, rated as 13th best.
Manning & Co. are going to have to hurry-hurry right off the bat. That will mean lots of quick stuff to Wes Welker and Demaryius Thomas near the line of scrimmage, perhaps a few short pass routes to running backs Knowshon Moreno and Ronnie Hillman.
I have seen nothing this season that suggests Manning & Co. won’t be able to solve these problems and score often.
The key matchup of the day, also a relatively easy one to watch, will be Chris Clark on Denver’s left side, trying to slow Ware. He will have plenty of help with Manning’s play calls and maybe a stray blocking tight end or two.
The Broncos will figure out a way and we’ll all stay unbeaten for yet another week.
I’ll take my 4-0 record picking with or against Denver and say the beat goes on: The Broncos pass their toughest test yet, 34-28.