IRVING, Texas – This might be the largest amount of injury concerns we've seen heading into a game – for both teams.
Questions surround the Cowboy's top running back, as well as two of their starting offensive linemen. The Colts might be without their top receiver and their best corner. It makes for a bit of a challenge about what we might see Sunday afternoon.
With just one day left until kickoff, though, it's a little easier to make some educated guesses. Here are my five final thoughts for Colts-Cowboys:
- To win this game I believe the Cowboys are going to have to run the football and run it with purpose. The strength of this Colts defense lies with its secondary and its ability to cover. As a unit they are a little banged up with Vontae Davis nursing a groin injury, and his status is listed as questionable for the game.
If Davis cannot go I expect that we will see defensive coordinator Greg Manusky make the same he did when he played without Davis against the Steelers and Browns: put Greg Toler on the best receiver and carry that man all over the field. This is Manusky's way of not allowing the offense to just take their star and match him up against his third corner. If Davis does in fact play, then you will see him line up entirely on that right side. It is rare that he will flip sides, and Scott Linehan knows this.
Where the Colts can also hurt you matchup-wise in the secondary is with their safety, Mike Adams, who is not only a dependable tackler in the open field but an accomplished cover man as well. There is no question that Manusky will use Adams to carry Jason Witten the majority of the game but will also use him over the top in handling Bryant.
- There is no question in my mind that DeMarco Murray is going to play in this game. The minute he walked out of that operating room in his mind he was planning on how he was going to make that happen.
In talking with folks around the team, they felt that Murray was comfortable with the work he received during the week, and they were also confident they would be able to protect his hand and allow him to function like he normally does. As a side note Joseph Randle did receive a few more snaps in practice, especially during the blitz period.
For Randle it has never been a physical question, but those mental ones that have held him back. It was a good week of practice for him on that mental side in his understanding of where he needed to fit scheme-wise. How he protects Tony Romo on the field, in my opinion, will be more important than how he runs the ball.
- Keep an eye on DeMarcus Lawrence this week, and what his responsibilities will be along this defensive line. There are members of the front office and coaching staff who feel it is time for him to have one of those types of games that we have all expected him to have.
They feel like his understanding of what he has to do technique-wise has improved the last several weeks, and now it's just about him now going out and making plays. I expect we will see these coaches moving him around, much like they have Anthony Spencer, to try and find him some favorable match ups. Lawrence might even be ready to take some snaps inside on the nickel to get him some looks against guards to take advantage of his quickness. Regardless of where he plays, he will be getting more opportunities and I see that as a positive sign.
- I will be very interested to see how the Colts decide to shuffle their offensive line around to make up for the injuries they are suffering with starters Gosder Cherilus and Joe Reitz missing this game, along with Hugh Thornton.
I have seen them play with Lance Lewis at one of the guard spots for Reitz, which is most likely what they will do again. For Cherilus, I am not so sure what direction they might go. Xavier Nixon hurt his knee early in September and went on short-term injured reserve – so he was just brought back on Nov. 1. Nixon made one start for the Colts in 2013 and has appeared in two games in 2014.
The Colts might also think about moving starting guard Jack Mewhort out to tackle -- which is where he played at Ohio State, on the left side, if they are worried that Nixon might not be the answer.
The Cowboys have had their share of games where they have played against offensive lines that have shuffled personnel around and only managed limited pressure. Let's see if this time around that changes.
- We have all heard the news about Colts wide receiver T.Y. Hilton missing practice all week with a hamstring injury that he suffered last week against the Texans. In listening to Hilton talk and the guys that cover the Colts on a daily basis, I believe that he will not be suiting up this weekend.
The Colts have a playoff spot clinched, and there is no reason to risk him when they are likely to have a home playoff game in two weeks. If Hilton would have played, I believe the Cowboys would have approached this game much like they did when they faced the Giants, when they matched speed with speed. I believe they would have put Orlando Scandrick on Hilton and have Brandon Carr on Reggie Wayne and Sterling Moore on Hakeem Nicks.
We could still see these matchups, but instead of Scandrick going with Hilton, he switches over to Donte Moncrief, who then would become the Colts' best deep threat. Also look for this Cowboys secondary to play more man coverage, where they have had their most success.