Does this season feel familiar yet? Through four weeks, the Cowboys have followed up a home win with a road loss on two occasions, continuing the roller coaster ride the team has been on the past several years. In 2012, the Cowboys broke that up-and-down trend in Week 5 with a road loss to a Super Bowl contender – Baltimore – to fall to 2-3.
This year, the Super Bowl contender comes to Texas, as the red hot Denver Broncos will pose a serious challenge if the Cowboys are to stay above .500.
Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray is the No. 3 rusher in the NFL after a month with 356 yards, but the Cowboys have only rushed for 100 yards as a team once this season. In the same vein, quarterback Tony Romo has been efficient as any signal-caller in the league, with eight touchdowns and just one interception. But the Cowboys' passing offense is ranked 21st in the league.
The Dallas defense took a step or two backward from its budding reputation in the Sept. 29 loss to San Diego, as well. The Cowboys gave up 500 yards of offense, including 400 through the air, despite scoring a defensive touchdown. San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers threw for 401 yards and three touchdowns while completing 83 percent of his passes. What's even more troubling is that the Dallas pass rush – an early success story – was rendered virtually silent in the second half after causing a sack and several pressures before halftime.
The defensive line would be bolstered if defensive ends DeMarcus Ware and George Selvie are healthy when the Broncos get to town. Ware strained his back in San Diego, but has said he is fine, while Selvie appeared to suffer a concussion and. His status is unknown as of yet.
Wide receiver Miles Austin is another unknown. Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said the veteran has been doing some running in hopes of returning from a hamstring injury. His status will become clearer later this week. [embedded_ad]
As Garrett said himself Monday evening, Denver quarterback Peyton Manning just might be playing the quarterback position better than it has ever been played. Manning was a guaranteed Hall of Famer before this season even started, but he is putting up unprecedented numbers in the early going of 2013 with 1,470 yards, 16 touchdowns and no interceptions through four games.
Manning makes the offense hum, but the weapons around him are nothing to scoff at. The Broncos have four different 200-yard receivers to this point in Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, Wes Welker and Julius Thomas. Three of those four – everyone except Decker – have at least four touchdown catches, as well. Lest anyone forget about the ground game, Denver has 481 combined rushing yards between tailbacks Knowshon Moreno, Ronnie Hillman and Montee Ball.
The Broncos are without starting left tackle Ryan Clady, who was lost for the season during the Week 2 win against the New York Giants. Denver allowed two combined sacks in its wins against Oakland and Philadelphia, and Manning is among the least-sacked starting quarterbacks in the league so far with five on the year.
Much was made in the offseason of the Broncos' loss of linebacker Von Miller to a six-game suspension, which will keep him off the field this weekend. It hasn't mattered to this point, as Denver has won all four games by at least 16 points. But the Broncos are tied for 14th in the league in sacks with just 11 – seven of those coming from pass rushers Robert Ayers and Shaun Phillips.
Denver has also been without Pro Bowl cornerback Champ Bailey, which may be part of the reason the Broncos are 30th in the league in pass defense, with 1,265 yards allowed through the air. A bigger reason might be the large leads Denver has held in the second half of all of its games, thereby forcing the opposition to air it out. Further corroborating that point: the Broncos boast the No. 3 rush defense in the league with 296 yards allowed on the ground – the fewest among teams to have played four games. However, opponents have only attempted to run 92 times in four games – again, the lowest total among teams to have played four games -- largely thanks to second half deficits.