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Three Keys: Broncos at Cowboys

Posted Oct 6, 2013

Independent Analyst Andrew Mason breaks down three keys to Sunday's game with the Cowboys.

DALLAS -- There are few downsides to starting a season 4–0 and winning each game by a minimum of 16 points. One is that the questions during open locker-room periods have a tendency to become more insipid as the similar results pile up.

The topic of the week that repeatedly arose: the massive high-definition screens that dangle above the field at the equally overwhelming AT&T Stadium, home venue of the Dallas Cowboys. Yes, it's impressive -- so much, that if you're sitting in the upper level, your eyes are more likely to turn to the board at eye level than the action down below.

But to think that the maze of wires and bulbs will actually affect the game and its players — beyond a wayward punt that might slam into it? Come on. It's a four-sided TV, like the ones that have been hanging from stadium and arena roofs and support cables for decades.. Proportional to the cubic footage of its building, the new one at downtown Denver's Pepsi Center is just about as big.

When the results from week to week are similar, this is the irrelevant direction in which questions go. It's no wonder players and coaches internally roll their eyes. But it's a problem the Broncos hope they continue to have, as they attempt to continue collecting wins. 

If the Broncos take care of these three keys, they can increase their road winning streak against the Cowboys to three and their overall streak in the series to five -- and let the piffle queries continue unabated, which would be a small price to pay.

1. Prevent advancement to the second level.

Dallas running back DeMarco Murray is particularly effective in space, and has been at his most dominant when given the chance to make a move at least five yards beyond the line of scrimmage. Even though the Cowboys' overall offensive scheme has little in common with the Eagles, the Broncos' work in containing Philadelphia running back LeSean McCoy last week should come in handy. Both runners are explosive; McCoy leads the league with 13 runs of 10 yards or more; Murray is tied with Detroit's Reggie Bush for second in that statistic. A combination of sound tackling and push from the defensive tackles that forced McCoy outside and to the linebackers worked last week; the Broncos will need this again.

2. Keep the QB upright.

This hasn't been much of a problem for the Broncos this season; the integration of two new NFL starters at their respective positions (Manny Ramirez at center; Chris Clark at left tackle) has been as seamless as possible. Ramirez has looked steadier with each game; Clark allowed just one sack in his first two starts. But Clark's challenge will be stiff when he faces DeMarcus Ware, who has averaged one sack per game the last four weeks.

Dealing with Ware is the task of everyone blocking on the outside, because he'll line up at left defensive end and right defensive end, in both stand-up and down positions. He's complimented by George Selvie, who doesn't have Ware's array of moves but is good enough to take advantage of mistakes in the blocking scheme.

3. Don't force it.

This is usually of little worry with Peyton Manning at the controls, but it's crucial nonetheless. Monte Kiffin's defenses have evolved since the salad days of the “Tampa Two” in the late 1990's and early 2000's, but there will be gaps that, if Manning can find them, will allow him to maintain his lofty completion percentage and uber-efficient performance. Dallas' defense has enjoyed some fits of brilliance in four games under Kiffin -- particularly in forcing turnovers against the Giants in Week 1, but Sunday will be, by some distance, their greatest challenge.