The Nemesis: Brandon Carr
There is no player on this current Cowboys roster that has faced the Denver Broncos more than Brandon Carr. In eight meetings, Carr owns four wins but more impressively, two of his twelve career interceptions have come against the Broncos. For this Cowboys defense to have any success, it is going to need Carr at his best against a Denver attack that is the best in the league at passing. There will be tremendous pressure on Carr to match up with receivers Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker, who are dynamic in the way they not only run routes underneath coverage, but down the field as well. Where Carr has an advantage is in his ability to play press coverage on the outside and use his technique try and physically beat up on Thomas and Decker when he gets the chance. There have been games throughout his career, even before he came to Dallas, where he battled the best receivers all day. I remember studying him against the Packers two seasons ago, and against their trio of receivers, he and Brandon Flowers were outstanding that day. This Cowboys defense will need that same kind of skill that he played with that day to get a handle on this Broncos offense, but, as we have all seen, the ability is there.
The Weapon: Sean Lee
As important as execution for a game is each week, preparation in my view is right up there with it. It is legendary around the league what Peyton Manning does each week to get ready for an opponent. But the Cowboys defense has a player with similar traits. When Sean Lee first stepped foot in Valley Ranch it was clear that he had the talent to play at a high level, but what many people around here did not know was how he went about his business like Manning to get ready for a game. Lee is a football junkie who cannot do enough to
prepare for an opponent. He is one of those rare players who takes his level of understanding to another level. With Manning and this Broncos offense, there are plenty of ways to try and break them down to get a read. What Lee is looking for is anything that he can use to his advantage -- it can be simple things like how Manning takes the snap in the shotgun, or does he tend to go to the same target on a certain down and distance? Sean Lee has only faced Peyton Manning one time, and it was a career game for him with two big interceptions -- the final one sealed a victory for his team that day. Lee's preparation will be like studying for a test that he will either pass or fail. Like Peyton Manning, Sean Lee does not view failing as an option.
Under The Radar: Cole Beasley
With the health questions for Miles Austin and Dwayne Harris, this contest against the Broncos presents a huge opportunity for a guy like Cole Beasley to step up and make some big time plays. It's a given that this Cowboys offense is going to have to score points and most likely in bunches. What can't happen to them that happened last week was their inability to continue drives. I understand that third down offense and defense is vitally important, but when you play a team like the Broncos, you have to keep drives going to score points. There are going to be two or three situations in this game on Sunday where this Cowboys offense is going to need to convert on third down, and this is where I would look to put the ball in Beasley's hands because I trust him to get the job done. I do not see Jack Del Rio allowing Dez Bryant or Jason Witten to make those catches on third down, and I expect the coverage to dictate that. Beasley has the ability to defeat coverage one-on-one out of the slot regardless of who Del Rio puts over the top of him. Cole Beasley finds ways to get open and Tony Romo and this coaching staff know that. When we look back at the end of this game, those four or five catches that Cole Beasley makes could very well be the plays of the game.
The Nemesis: Peyton Manning
There was a time two years ago where I believed we had seen Peyton Manning play his last games in the National Football League. The Indianapolis Colts made a very difficult decision to part ways with the future Hall of Fame quarterback, but it a decision they had to make due to his medical condition. When John Elway and the Broncos came into the picture, I remember thinking that the potential was there for a great fit with the way their roster was built. There was offensive talent at all levels, but what Manning does when he is on your team, is he raises the level of play all around him. Demaryius Thomas had the skill to be an elite player in this league but now working with Manning, he is certainly on that level. Eric Decker was a solid college football player out of Minnesota, but put him with Manning, and he looks like one of the best third round selections in the history of the league. How do defenses stop him? Teams that have had success in the past have been able to knock Manning around or make him have to throw the ball on the move. If you can move him out of the pocket, he tends to struggle with those throws. Like his brother Eli, sacks are hard but pressure is the key.
The Weapon: Demaryius Thomas
When I study Demaryius Thomas on tape, I see a receiver that has the same type of game as Dez Bryant. He is a big, physical target who will take his route anywhere on the field to get the ball. I have seen him go inside, outside and down the field with an ease of movement. I have seen him catch simple screens and blast up the field breaking tackles along the way. He is an outstanding fit in this offensive scheme, because he can line up at any position. There are really no limitations to his game. His hands and body control are outstanding. It doesn't matter, high, low or in between, he is going to have a good chance to make the play. Where [embedded_ad]
Brandon Carr, Morris Claiborne and Orlando Scandrick are going to have to be at their best is, when he does get his hands on the ball, to get on him quickly so he will not have the opportunity to get going. Again, this is very similar in what you see with Bryant after the catch, by taking the ball and attacking the defender up the field. These Cowboys corners have to be ready for a physical game with this guy. He has the size and strength to battle you in the air. He did not have great timed speed coming out of Georgia Tech, but he will get by you if you are not careful. He can reach up and make the adjusting catch, and he is a weapon for the Broncos in every sense of the word.
Under The Radar: Duke Ihenacho
Ihenacho is a second year player out of San Jose State, and I had no idea who he was until I saw him play against the Eagles last Sunday. Physically, he is an outstanding-looking player who has a rangy build and long arms. He is extremely active in run support and is not afraid to hit anything that moves. If he sees it, he is coming after it. Ihenacho plays with a great deal of confidence and toughness. He is aggressive and competitive. He had a history of playing as a linebacker before moving to safety his junior year, but he doesn't move like a linebacker in coverage. I did not see the hip tightness usually associated with linebackers. I thought he showed outstanding awareness in playing coverage. In the games I studied, he was all over the field. He can play down in the box as the extra man with no issues at all. He will step up at the point of attack and be a dependable wrap-up tackler. I have also seen him play single high or off the hash and help in coverage. He is very active and is a difficult player to fool. He has really nice instincts for the position. Receivers and tight ends need to have an idea where he is in coverage when going toward the middle of the field, because he does have the ability to make plays. Ihenacho is one of those defensive players that gets your attention quickly.