FRISCO, Texas – Something is going to have to give this week.
Through five weeks this season, we know the Cowboys play better at home than on the road. We also know that this Jacksonville defense is the best they have faced all year, given that the Jaguars currently rank No. 1 in the NFL.
So what's going to hold true: the Cowboys' improved performances in AT&T Stadium, or their offense's struggles to move the ball in score points? It's going to be fascinating to find out.
Given that this is a cross-conference game, it's been a while since we've seen the Jaguars at AT&T Stadium. The Jacksonville team that beat Dallas, 35-17, in 2010 had David Garrard at quarterback and Maurice Jones-Drew in the backfield.
Suffice to say it's a new look, as this talented young defense comes to town against this young Cowboys roster. Here are my notes about what to watch for:
· Chidobe Awuzie has proven to be one of the toughest players on this squad. He has practiced and played through knee problems in the past. This week he's been dealing with an ankle issue that has cut down on his practice time. In his place, Anthony Brown has stepped into that role while Jourdan Lewis has filled in as the nickel. If Awuzie can't go, that means the group is down a player and we will likely see newly-added C.J. Goodwin on the game day roster. Kris Richard has thrown him into the mix to get him ready. Keep an eye on Goodwin on special teams. Talking to scouts around the league, they say he's an outstanding cover man on the punt team.
· The defensive line rotation at tackle will be interesting this week. I'm getting the feeling that Malik Collins is ready to go at the under-tackle spot behind Tyrone Crawford. David Irving is also getting work inside, but a decision will need to be made on his status for the game. Against the Texans, I thought Antwaun Woods, Tyrone Crawford, Daniel Ross and Caraun Reid were outstanding. As much as we all want to believe they'll be putting Irving in the game, he just might not be ready to give you as much as the combination of Crawford and Collins. I believe Irving missing practice on Wednesday hurt him for this week.
· Randy Gregory popped up on the injury report this week with a knee injury. Gregory was able to fight through it on Wednesday, but he was listed as limited. To me that says a lot, and my gut feeling is that Gregory wasn't able to do much of anything on Thursday. Taco Charlton is the starter at right end, but with the staff nursing DeMarcus Lawrence through practice this week, Charlton shifts to the opposite side. Now, with Gregory limited, Tyrone Crawford and Dorance Armstrong man that right side. I don't believe the staff wants to move Crawford back over there, so keep an eye on Armstrong in this game and the number of snaps he gets -- especially if Gregory can't go.
· My experience of facing aggressive opposing defenses is to try and use that aggressiveness against them. The Jaguars' approach is to get as many bodies to the ball as possible. As a unit they can really run, and by taking this approach they will over-run plays. I believe the Cowboys will try to take advantage of that. It helps that the Cowboys can run the ball, so plays that go one way and break back can work due to the defense trying to get in position for a tackle. This would be the type of opponent that Travis Frederick would thrive against, because of his athletic ability to play on the second level. If Joe Looney, Zack Martin and Connor Williams can get up the field, it will allow Ezekiel Elliott a cut back lane where the Jaguars will be soft defensively. How well the Cowboys move the Jaguars will determine how well they move the ball Sunday.
· Jason Garrett doesn't believe that he will see Jalen Ramsey move around in the Jaguars' secondary -- but I disagree with him. Maybe I misunderstood Garrett, but I thought I heard him correctly. Or maybe Garrett didn't want to acknowledge to the media that he knows that Ramsey moves? I have seen Ramsey play both left and right corner in all the games I have studied, and I don't expect it to be any different in this game. I would expect him to also line up in the slot if Cole Beasley starts to have success against Tyler Patmon. One of the best traits about Ramsey is that where he plays doesn't both him. He is comfortable lining up and just locking his man down. As I mentioned before, I will be interested to see if Scott Linehan challenges Ramsey's aggressiveness with a route or two to see if they can pull him out of position.
· Call this a hunch, but I would expect some type of special teams fake from Joe DeCamillis of the Jaguars. Nobody loves to pull off trick plays more than DeCamillis, especially on nationally televised games. I can remember from my time working in Pro Scouting, advancing the next opponent, DeCamillis coming up with creative special teams plays at just the perfect moment to turn a game around. He is one of the few coaches in the league that has the green light to call for those types of plays regardless of the situation. DeCamillis has always had the ear and trust the head coach during all his stops around the league.
· I have a concern that the Jaguars are going to try and protect Blake Bortles by running the ball with T.J. Yeldon, much like Seattle did to help Russell Wilson. The Seahawks had the right game plan because they didn't respect the Cowboys' offense and their ability to sustain drives or score points. The Jaguars know defensively they're better than the Seahawks, and by taking that same approach they can make this an ugly, low scoring game. The last thing Doug Marrone wants is Bortles throwing the ball 42 times and exposing him to this Cowboys pass rush with the potential of turnovers. I see this Jaguars offensive attack being very patient in their approach.
· My weekly guess at the Cowboys inactives: QB Mike White, CB Chidobe Awuzie, LB Joe Thomas, LB Sean Lee, DT Caraun Reid, OG Xavier Su'a-Filo, TE Dalton Schultz.