FRISCO, Texas – For all the storylines about how much better the Cowboys are than the Dolphins, there are going to be some challenges on Sunday.
This roster is pretty banged up heading into Week 3, particularly at the receiver and safety positions. There's also some work to do on the defensive line with several pass rushers projected to miss time.
It'll be interesting to see how the Cowboys work through those problems. Here are my notes on what to expect against the Miami Dolphins:
- There are a couple of ways the staff can go in replacing Tyrone Crawford, who won't play due to his hip injury. They could start Dorance Armstrong or go with Robert Quinn. I was hearing that Quinn received the majority of the first team snaps, but that could have been a plan to give him more work in order to allow him to catch up with his conditioning. My gut feeling is that Quinn will be the starter and the staff will be keeping an eye on him, using Armstrong and Joe Jackson when needed.
- Look for Christian Covington to start for Antwaun Woods at nose tackle. I believe that, when Kris Richard goes with his nickel package, Covington will come off the field. That means Maliek Collins should slide to his spot and rookie Trysten Hill will see his first action of the season. Hill has had a nice couple weeks of practice and is ready to show the staff what he has to offer. This is a big opportunity for him.
- I believe this will be the only game Xavier Woods misses after it was nationally reported that he would likely be out four-to-six weeks with a high ankle sprain. Woods has already spent two productive days with Britt Brown in his rehab and is making good progress. In Woods' spot will be veteran Darian Thompson, who the staff trusts to a fault. Where Thompson is going to need to show up is when DeVante Parker runs those vertical routes down the field and the Dolphins just throw up a 50/50 ball for him. Thompson needs to help Chidobe Awuzie and Byron Jones fight off Parker in those situations.
- I wonder how much the game plan for the Dolphins is going to change with Josh Rosen at quarterback instead of Ryan Fitzpatrick. It was going to be a long shot for the Dolphins to win even with Fitzpatrick, but I felt like he would give them the best chance. I was concerned that Fitzpatrick was going to come out and throw the ball 45-to-50 times and attack the defense that way -- especially with the Cowboys' lack of a pass rush these first two weeks. With Rosen, I don't believe the ball is going down the field. He tends to work those underneath routes where he's not going to turn the ball over. Fitzpatrick goes for the chunk plays while Rosen plays more in control to move the sticks.
- It is likely that the Cowboys will only dress four receivers for this game. Amari Cooper, Randall Cobb and Devin Smith will be the starters when Kellen Moore goes with "11" personnel, which has been their best group. That means Cedrick Wilson will be the only other substitute if needed. Where Moore could switch things up is going with more "12" personnel, putting Jason Witten and Blake Jarwin on the field. When I studied the Dolphins this week, they had a problem with the Baltimore Ravens' tight ends. Miami safety Reshad Jones has been banged up and has missed practice time this week and that could put them in a bigger bind in dealing with Witten and Jarwin. I am feeling a big game from these Cowboys tight ends.
- With no Michael Gallup in the lineup, Brian Flores might decide to put Xavien Howard -- his best defender -- on Amari Cooper, thus forcing Randall Cobb and Devin Smith to beat him. This is the Bill Belichick approach of defense. Take the opponent's best player out and take your chances with the others. We might also see Flores go with some "clog and cover," which he did to Tom Brady last week. That's the scheme where the defense rushes three and drops eight. It forces the quarterback to check the ball down instead of driving it down the field.
- Keep an eye on the middle of this Dolphins offensive line with Dan Kilgore at center. Kilgore has had some problems when opponents have run the twist stunt on him. He hasn't done a good job of handling the movement of the defenders in front of him and the executions of those blocks haven't been clean enough. The Cowboys' only sack last week came off a twist stunt where Tyrone Crawford got home clean. I have a feeling we are going to see Kris Richard attack the middle of the Dolphins' pocket to see if they've corrected those issues.
- We have yet to see Keith O'Quinn's group really go after a punt block, but this might be the week to do that. Taking a peek at the Dolphins' unit, they had trouble picking up the Ravens' middle rush. Minkah Fitzpatrick was their personal protector and he since has been traded to the Steelers, so there will be a new guy there on Sunday. There were also some issues with a high snap from Taybor Pepper where Jason Sanders had to go up high to bring it down. If their timing gets thrown off, it could help create a block.