GAME SETWHAT: Miami Dolphins (3-7) at Dallas Cowboys (6-4)
WHEN: Thursday, Thanksgiving Day, 3:15 p.m. (CT)
WHERE: Cowboys Stadium, Arlington, Texas
TELEVISION: CBS (Jim Nantz and Phil Simms)
Josh: I'll be interested to see the Dolphins' Brandon Marshall going up against a group of Cowboys cornerbacks who had their trouble on Sunday in Washington. Marshall is much better than anyone the Redskins have, and has burned the Cowboys before, back in the 2009 matchup at Denver, when he caught the game-winning touchdown pass late.
Nick: They've seen each other in practice many times. Let's see how Marc Colombo and DeMarcus Ware match up against each other when they square off for real. Ware will also line up opposite left tackle Jake Long, but we've see Ware switch sides a little more this year in Rob Ryan's scheme. If it means facing Long or Colombo, I'd think the Cowboys will try to get Ware on the older, less-athletic Colombo, although he's a scrapper and won't give up anything without a fight.
Rob: Two really stand out: Brandon Marshall vs. the Cowboys' cornerbacks and Marc Colombo vs. Anthony Spencer and DeMarcus Ware. Only Wes Welker has more catches since 2007 than Marshall. He has a size advantage most weeks – same against Terence Newman and Orlando Scandrick – along with the strength and athleticism to get where he wants on the field. The Cowboys released Colombo, a true warrior and line leader, in the offseason after his battles with creaky knees. Now he is Miami's starting right tackle. Can he handle the Cowboys' outside linebackers on the edge?
- Don't Forget...
Rob: In three career games against Dallas, Reggie Bush has nine catches for 154 yards and one touchdown. Head coach Tony Sparano is using Bush in the backfield more than Sean Payton ever did in New Orleans – he already has 117 carries, approaching a career high – but he's still a dangerous receiver. The Cowboys can't let Miami isolate Bush on a linebacker the way Buffalo did last week.
Josh: The Dolphins have been playing well recently against some bad teams, but they came close to winning several games earlier this year and aren't really any worse than most of the league's middle-rung squads. Between Week 3 and Week 8, three of their five losses came by a combined eight points. They were pretty similar to the Cowboys, actually, finding themselves in position to win, but not closing the deal.
Nick: The Cowboys were a 3-7 team last year on Thanksgiving Day, but were playing much better than their record and nearly beat the defending-champion Saints. Something about this game and the national spotlight can bring out the best in teams. Now even though Tony Romo has never lost on Thanksgiving and the Cowboys are 4-1 in their last five Turkey Day games, simply looking at the two records won't be good enough. The Cowboys have to play sound to win this one.
- Cowboys Win If:
Nick: If the Cowboys can apply heavy pressure on Miami quarterback Matt Moore and make him look like the guy they decided to cut four years ago instead of the guy who led Miami to three straight wins, it should be a good day for the Cowboys. Not exactly a bus driver, Moore does have some ability, but he'll struggle if the Dolphins are counting on him solely to go win the game. The Cowboys are playing well enough in the secondary to apply heavy blitzing on Moore to force bad decisions.
Rob: Romo gets adequate protection and better third-down situations that come with a more consistent run game. Too many times last week he bailed out the offense on third-and-long. And again, the red zone on both sides is critical. Rob Ryan wasn't happy with the way his defense allowed two touchdowns to Washington in the final four minutes of the first half. Offensively, the Cowboys still rank among the lowest in red zone touchdown percentage, and the Dolphins rank second in red zone defense. They give up chunks of yards but not many points.
Josh: We haven't seen the Cowboys run the ball well without their fullback Tony Fiammetta this year, and he will again be gone on Thursday because of that mysterious illness. DeMarco Murray and Felix Jones don't have to run wild for the ground game to be effective, however. Running behind John Phillips, if the Cowboys can average about 4.0 yards per carry it will allow them to stick with the run, stay balanced and keep the Dolphins honest, which should open the door for a red hot Tony Romo.
- Dolphins Win If:
Josh: While Rex Grossman was sacked three times on Sunday, he had decent time to throw for the most part, as the Cowboys were typically content to only send a four-man rush. If they deploy the same strategy against another average quarterback this week, Matt Moore, and still don't get there, the Cowboys will again be in danger of giving up a lot of yards and some points. In a game like that, one false move such as a turnover could tip the balance in Miami's favor.
Nick: Reggie Bush has given the Cowboys problems in the past, mainly in his rookie season in 2006 at Texas Stadium. But lately, he's giving everyone fits and is one of the biggest reasons for Miami's turnaround. Bush obviously isn't your conventional back but is dynamic as both a runner and pass-catcher. If the Dolphins can establish some continuity on offense, and keep the Cowboys on their heels with Bush, it should take the pressure off of Moore and keep the Dolphins in the game. In this league, that's all any team needs as we saw last week.
Rob: Quarterback Matt Moore continues his efficient play. The Dolphins' defense has driven their three-game win streak (6.7-point average allowed), but Moore has been much more consistent with more reps. His touchdown/interception ratio was 0/3 in his first two starts and 7/2 in his last five. Miami can't afford mistakes against a Cowboys defense that has forced 15 turnovers in the last six games.
- Gut Feeling
Rob: This is the problem with saying, "The Cowboys have three straight games against teams with losing records." Well, the Dolphins haven't been a bad team for weeks. They should have beaten the Giants on the road before winning three straight. This should be a competitive game, and Miami's athletic pressure defense might give Dallas some problems. But Tony Romo has never lost a start on Thanksgiving (4-0), and with the way he's playing, I expect his streak to continue Thursday.
Josh: The Cowboys win these Thanksgiving Day games against the teams they're supposed to beat, and usually with some ease. They have outscored opponents 130-29 with Romo as their quarterback on Thanksgiving Day. I don't know if it'll be a huge blowout like the Buccaneers, Jets or Seahawks were, but I see the Cowboys being in control for most of the day. The turkey leg goes to ... Laurent Robinson.
Nick: Although it's Thanksgiving and everyone typically watches anyway, I'm thinking CBS was worried about this game a few weeks ago. At least now both teams enter with three-game winning streaks. Clearly Miami is playing better, but there's something about Thanksgiving – when the Cowboys are supposed to win, they usually do. I see a close game in the first half and the Cowboys pull away late. Adding on last week's nice game, I smell a TD catch for one Martellus Bennett this week.