We've heard a lot of talk about the Cowboys' easy remaining schedule, but traveling to Cincinnati is going to be a major challenge for Dallas. Outside of A.J. Green, the Bengals don't possess much star quality, but they do have something more vital: elite offensive and defensive lines. The Bengals are built around their behemoths up front, so the Cowboys will need to find a way to win in the trenches if they want to escape Cincinnati with a victory.
1.23:Pressure rateallowed by Bengals' starting linemen.
Offensive tackles Andrew Whitworth and Andre Smith are sensational, as are interior linemen Kevin Zeitler, Clint Boling and Trevor Robinson. As a unit, the Bengals may very well have the league's best pass-protecting offensive line. In comparison, the Cowboys' starting linemen have a combined 2.63 percent pressure rate, greater than twice that of the Bengals. Whitworth is particularly impressive at left tackle, allowing a lower rate of pressure than every offensive tackle other than Joe Thomas and Duane Brown.
5.5: Yards per carry behind right tackle Andre Smith.
Smith is very good in pass protection, but his bread-and-butter is in the running game. Although the Bengals rank in the middle of the pack in rushing efficiency, they're dangerous when running behind Smith. His battle with outside linebacker Anthony Spencer will be an exciting one.
12: Cincinnati's rank in passing efficiency.
The Bengals' offense is built around their elite offensive line and wide receiver A.J. Green. Leading the league in touchdowns, Green is one of the league's most dynamic players. He can run the entire route tree, possessing the size to win inside and the speed to beat defenses deep; his 29 targets of at least 20 yards rank fourth in the NFL.
The Bengals are just 12th in net yards per attempt (YPA) at 6.6, however, because they don't have anyone to truly take the pressure off of Green. The Bengals know that and quarterback Andy Dalton often forces the ball to his talented wide receiver. Green already has 120 targets, 24 more than Dez Bryant, and Dalton has tossed five interceptions when throwing to Green.
91.5: Dalton's passer rating when blitzed.
Dalton has been just as efficient against the blitz as when defenses rush four or fewer defenders, thanks in large part to his offensive line's ability to pick up extra rushers. Nonetheless, Dalton is prone to making mistakes when defenses blitz; his interception rate doubles from 2.4 percent to 4.8 percent when defenses send the heat. With 24 passing touchdowns and 13 interceptions, Cincinnati has a surprisingly high-risk/high-reward offense.
1,323: Rushing yards allowed by the Bengals.
Cincinnati has allowed only the 22nd-most rushing yards in 2012, suggesting they have an above average run defense. Bulk stats rarely tell the whole story, however; the Bengals actually rank 30th in the league in defensive rush success rate, i.e. only two teams have had a greater percentage of rushes that hurt their ability to stop a drive. In comparison, the Bengals rank 10th in the NFL in defensive pass success rate and sixth in efficiency with only 5.7 net YPA allowed. If the Cowboys are going to continue to rehabilitate their running game, the Bengals are as good of an opponent as any to do it against.
8.4: Cincinnati's sack rate – first in the NFL
With one of the best defensive lines in the league, the Bengals have reached the passer more than any other team. With the way the Cowboys have struggled to protect Tony Romo in the past month, all signs point to a long day for the offensive line.
1: Geno Atkins' rank in sacks among interior defensive linemen.
With 9.5 sacks, Atkins leads all defensive tackles in that category. He's also first in pressures, second in quarterback hits and fifth in tackles. To get a sense of Atkins' ability to dominate this year, consider that his pressure rate of 9.2 percent is higher than DeMarcus Ware's 7.7 percent pressure rate. Atkins is simply the top 4-3 defensive tackle in the league right now, hands down.
6'6": Height of the Bengals' shortest defensive end, Carlos Dunlap.
Cincinnati's defensive ends are enormous, with Charles Johnson checking in at 6'7'' opposite Dunlap. The duo has combined for 12 sacks this year, although Dunlap has played just over half of the team's snaps. Johnson lines up on the right side of the defense over 93 percent of the time (and the same for Dunlap on the left side). Thus, we're going to see Tyron Smith work primarily against Johnson and Free versus Dunlap.
5'11", 199: Height and weight of Cincinnati's largest defensive back, Leon Hall.
While the Bengals possess size up front, they're extremely undersized in the secondary. At 5'11'' and 199 pounds, Hall is larger than former Cowboys and fellow starting cornerbacks Terence Newman (5'10'', 195 pounds) and Pacman Jones (5'9'', 189 pounds). Actually, Hall is even larger than starting safeties Reggie Nelson and Chris Crocker, both of whom stand at 5'11'', 194 pounds. Thus, if there's one area in which the Cowboys possess an advantage over the Bengals' defense, it's their size on the outside. Look for multiple jump balls on which Dez Bryant and Miles Austin can overpower and out-jump the Bengals' defensive backs.
7.18: YPA allowed by Hall, the worst mark of any Cincinnati cornerback.
Despite being undersized, the Bengals' cornerbacks have been remarkable in coverage this year, due in large part to their league-leading pass rush. Hall is probably the team's best cornerback, yet both Newman (7.15 YPA) and Jones (5.50 YPA) have been more efficient this year. At 7.18 YPA, though, Hall has still been very good; in comparison, Brandon Carr has yielded 8.28 YPA and Morris Claiborne checks in at 8.49 YPA.