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Five-star answer: Hinges on Jay Ratliff

9/9/2011

This week's question: Can Dallas hold the Jets under their 2010 rushing average per game?

Jay Ratliff was on the field for 733 plays last season, and did not record a tackle for loss.

Actually, he hasn’t had one in 19 games.

If that trend doesn’t end Sunday against the Jets, then the Cowboys have no chance to control the Jets’ running game. Ratliff is an undersized nose guard at 285 pounds, so the Cowboys often align him so he can use his quickness and agility to beat blocks at the line of scrimmage.

When the scheme works, Ratliff is a disruptive force. When it doesn’t, the Cowboys get gashed.

But the run defense begins and ends with Ratliff, who will be going against Pro Bowl center Nick Mangold. If Ratliff doesn’t play well, the Cowboys have no shot to beat the Jets.

The Cowboys are still learning the nuances of Rob Ryan’s schemes, which prefers not to use a safety as an eighth defender to stop the run. They will make some mental errors against the run and Shonn Greene and LaDainian Tomlinson will take advantage of them.

The Jets should hit their average, if not more.