Print and Go Back ESPN.com: Dallas Cowboys [Print without images]

Tuesday, October 1, 2013
Five wonders: How many 400-yard games?

By Todd Archer

IRVING, Texas – It’s time for Five Wonders while wondering just how many yards Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning will throw for Sunday at AT&T Stadium.

Peyton Manning
Stopping Peyton Manning is going to be a tall task for a Dallas defense that has already allowed two 400-yard passers this season.
1. We’ll keep it with the Manning theme with the first wonder. The Cowboys have allowed two 400-yard passing games in a season for the first time in team history. That they came in the first four games is troubling with Eli Manning throwing for 450 yards and Philip Rivers throwing for 401 yards. I wonder how many 400-yard games they will allow this season. This Sunday they see Peyton Manning. In the future they get New Orleans’ Drew Brees, who threw for 446 yards against them last season, Detroit’s Matthew Stafford, Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers, Philadelphia’s Michael Vick and Chicago’s Jay Cutler. Vick and Rodgers already have 400-yard games this season. Washington’s Robert Griffin III has the capability of a 400-yard game. And then there’s a rematch with Eli Manning and the Giants. I wonder if the total will be four or five. What do you think?

2. I wonder if the Cowboys need to take shots down the field offensively. It’s not about throwing go routes all of the time, but the field shrinks when the Cowboys don’t take shots. So far this season Tony Romo has completed 72.4 percent of his passes, but he has only three completions of 25 yards or more. In 2012 he had 34. In 2011 he had 35. In 2009 he had 39. The offense has changed, and I don’t believe it’s Bill Callahan’s West Coast philosophy. I believe it’s Romo being more sure with the ball and getting rid of it quicker. Manning is the best quarterback in the world right now and he has 11 passes of at least 25 yards. Vick leads the NFL with 15. Romo is on pace for 12 this season. He is in a tough spot because if he throws it up for Dez Bryant or Miles Austin to make a play and the pass is intercepted he has to hear how he’s forcing the ball too much. That shouldn’t dictate his thought process and I don’t believe it does, but did anybody see Atlanta’s Matt Ryan just throw it up to Julio Jones on Sunday night? At some point you have to take chances.

3. I wonder how Orlando Scandrick will do against Wes Welker. He fared pretty well against him when the Cowboys played at the New England Patriots in 2011. Welker had a touchdown, but caught six passes for 45 yards. Leading into that game Welker had at least 81 yards in every game. He had only three games with fewer than 45 yards the rest of the season on his way to a 122-catch, 1,569-yard season. Scandrick’s quickness helps in his matchup with Welker, but so does his aggressiveness. He can play as well as he possibly can against Welker, but the Broncos have Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker and Julius Thomas that will cause the Cowboys issues.

4. I wonder when the Cowboys realize their running game is at its best when they run out of three-wide receiver formations. They want to be as 12 personnel team and run two-tight end formations as much as possible, but it’s just not sticking so far. The Cowboys like it because they feel like they can dictate to the defense because 12 personnel does not allow the defense to determine the strength of the formation. By my count, DeMarco Murray has 152 yards on 25 carries out of 11 personnel in the last two games. He has 83 yards on 15 carries out of 12 or 13 personnel. Both are good, but 41 of those 83 yards came on one play against St. Louis. When the field is spread, Murray is a better runner and the Cowboys are able to block it better. This running game is not about overpowering defenses. It’s about angles. With more room, Murray looks like he can get to the angles better.

5.  The Cowboys have shown nothing has changed from the last two years with their win-one, lose-one start to the first quarter of the season. I picked them to go 10-6 at the start of the season and to be a wild-card team. Clearly the NFC East will not get a wild-card spot, so the Cowboys will have to win the division. Getting off to a 3-1 start was a must, in my view, and they are 2-2. So now I wonder where they will steal a win later in the season to make up for it. This week against Denver? Hard to be confident in that one. At Detroit later in the year? Stafford is playing well. At Chicago? Winning in December at Soldier Field is tough. At New Orleans? Yikes. Winning their division games is even more important now and they might have to win five of their six games inside the NFC, so they have to sweep the Giants and sweep either the Philadelphia Eagles or Washington Redskins. Garrett does not look at it like this. He’s a one-game-at-a-time kind of guy, but that doesn’t mean the guys in the locker room are thinking that way too.