Final Thoughts: The Gameplan If McClain Can't Go

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IRVING, Texas – As usual, here's my final list of notes on this road trip to St. Louis.

My big points this weekend involve how the Cowboys plan to deal with their injury issues heading into the weekend, as well as what type of gameplan I think you can expect when these teams take the field inside the Edward Jones Dome on Sunday.

  • I do not have a good feeling that Rolando McClain will be playing in this game, which means rookie Anthony Hitchens will get the start at middle linebacker, along with veterans Bruce Carter and Kyle


Wilber. Something else to keep an eye on is the depth at the linebacker spot with McClain and Justin Durant being out. As a group they are light in numbers, so I would expect Keith Smith to be called up from the practice squad to help with depth and take some snaps on the special teams, as well.

  • I would not be one bit surprised if Morris Claiborne, after his performance last week against the Titans, once again gets the start at right corner even though Orlando Scandrick was reinstated this week from the suspended list. Scandrick said during the week that he hoped that Jason Garrett would play his two best corners -- which is a fair point. But I could see Garrett working to help Claiborne's confidence and give him this chance to see how he would respond. This doesn't mean that Scandrick will not see the field, because the Rams like to have multiple receivers on the field. Rod Marinelli will need Scandrick in those situations, playing out of the slot to match. What is also good about Scandrick is that he can also play on either side of the field, which means that these coaches can rotate Carr and Scandrick, as well.
  • If you are asking me what Cowboys offensive player I feel is going to have a big game against the Rams, my selection would be Jason Witten. Rams defensive coordinator Gregg Williams is going to be forced to play his safeties down in the box to help defend the Dallas running game. If you look at the defensive numbers for the Rams, both Rodney McLeod and TJ McDonald are in the top three in tackles through two games. If the Cowboys are able to get the running game going well, then the play action game becomes a factor. Witten is a large part of that, because of his ability to quickly get up the field and find space. I am expecting Witten to not only have a hand in this running game and its potential success, but for him to get six to eight targets that will be easy throws for Tony Romo. Witten has that ability to make a defense pay when they don't focus on him.  [embedded_ad]
  • Try and keep an eye on the matchup inside with Henry Melton working against Rams center Scott Wells. There are a couple of soft spots in this offensive line, especially with Wells -- who tends to struggle with rushers that play with quickness. Melton is starting to play with more confidence in that repaired knee, and this defense could use that disruptive upfield pressure that he can provide. We have yet to see Melton really cut it loose, but this week against the Rams is a great opportunity to take advantage of a center that doesn't match up well with him.
  • Here is something to think about as you view the game on Sunday – this is the second week in a row where the Cowboys are playing an opponent where their first-round selection at offensive tackle is not in the starting lineup. Last week it was Taylor Lewan, who was the 11th overall selection in the 2014 NFL Draft for the Titans. This week the No. 2 overall selection, Greg Robinson, finds himself waiting for an opportunity to play behind Jake Long and Joe Barksdale. When you look at those situations, you have to be impressed how this Cowboys front office and coaching staff has been able to identify linemen like Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick and now Zack Martin, who they just plug in and go right to work from Day 1. You always worry about the learning curve for offensive linemen, and where others have struggled, Smith, Frederick, Martin and even Ronald Leary have adjusted quickly and that has made a significant difference in this offense.
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