FRISCO, Texas – As you might have guessed from following our site this week, Sunday's matchup against Cincinnati is as much about injuries as anything else.
For all the other storylines surrounding this game, they all seem to pale compared to the sheer number of injury problems on these rosters. The Bengals have already ruled out Pro Bowl tight end Tyler Eifert, and the Cowboys are faced with the possibility of playing without Pro Bowlers like Tyron Smith, Dez Bryant and Dan Bailey – among others.
In my final notebook of the week, I'm going to get into all of those issues, as well as take a look at some others things worth looking at before kickoff.
Here we go:
- The last thing a team needs is to have offensive line issues when dealing with this Cincinnati Bengals front seven. It appears that, despite going through the week with a shuffled lineup of starters practicing in different positions, things were able to return to normal on Friday. Look for Tyron Smith to be back in the lineup after missing two games. I can't say the same for backup Chaz Green, who is dealing with a foot sprain and will likely sit out this week. Without Green, if something were to happen to Smith, then we could see Emmett Cleary or Doug Free slide over to that spot and Zack Martin -- who has been working some at right tackle -- fill in for Free.
- I don't believe we will see Morris Claiborne travel with A.J. Green in this game for a large number of snaps. I will say that I would not be surprised, though -- because we have seen Rod Marinelli do this before. He could possibly have Claiborne carry Green in certain down and distances as a changeup in coverage.
- I asked Jason Garrett earlier in the week about DeMarcus Lawrence and his role in the scheme against the Bengals. Garrett said that Lawrence could line up at either end and maybe some as a nickel tackle. I don't believe that Lawrence would be able to play a majority of the snaps in the game, but there is no question that rushing him in passing situations -- especially against an offensive line that struggles to protect -- could be a big part of the game plan.
- I wrote last week in my final notebook that I thought Orlando Scandrick would have had a chance to play against the 49ers after hearing some positive reports about him late in the week. There is nothing this week that leads me to believe Scandrick has a chance of playing this week. Like for the 49ers game, I expect Anthony Brown to once again get the majority of the snaps in the nickel.
- How he feels by the end of the day Friday will be important for Dez Bryant on whether he will go or not in the game. I never want to rule him OUT due to his ability to tolerate pain, but as I type these words, I just don't see him playing on Sunday. Look for him to get another week off that injured leg in order to heal a little more.
- The Bengals are ultra-aggressive when it comes to chasing the football with their front seven. As a group they tackle very well when in position to do so. I expect that we will see Scott Linehan take advantage of that aggressiveness by trying to use misdirection in order to get the Bengals out of position. Linehan has an outstanding ball handler in Dak Prescott and there is no reason not to try and work that in his favor. Also look for Ezekiel Elliott to try and cut behind his blocks -- especially if the defense is flying quickly to the front side of the play.
- One way Scott Linehan has protected Dak Prescott through these first four games of the season has been with the use of "max" protection, or keeping a tight end in to help block. Linehan is smart enough to know that he has a little problem at tackle, especially on the right side with Doug Free. Linehan can get in "12" personnel in certain situations and keep either Jason Witten or Geoff Swaim in to help Free with Carlos Dunlap. Like I said, we've seen him do it before and it's a nice adjustment that will buy his rookie quarterback some time to make throws down the field – plus, it helps his tackle as well.
- My weekly shot at the Cowboys inactives: QB Tony Romo, RB Lance Dunbar, CB Orlando Scandrick, RB Darius Jackson, OT Chaz Green, WR Dez Bryant, DE David Irving.