IRVING, Texas – Aside from a couple of broken plays, the Dallas secondary we saw in Philadelphia the other night was one that can help this team into the playoffs.
The Cowboys allowed neither 300 passing yards nor a passing touchdown when they downed the Eagles in Sunday night's rematch. That's going to be a much tougher ask against Andrew Luck, especially inside of a closed stadium. Still, I think the play of this secondary against the Colts is the Cowboys' biggest key.
It's just the opposite for Indianapolis. If the Colts are going to steal a road win at AT&T Stadium, I think it depends on how they handle the Cowboys' ground game – and a significant part of that depends on DeMarco Murray's health.
Cowboys Win If:
When trying to decide the best plan of action for a Cowboys victory, the first area I tend to focus on is the offense and what they have to do to score enough points to win the game. I have to admit that all season I have not given this defense nearly the credit they deserve, but that is about to change this week against the Colts.
The Cowboys will get this victory, not because of how well the offense is going to play, but what Rod Marinelli and this defense will do Sunday. It is likely that the Colts will be without T.Y. Hilton, and that will be a huge loss because it takes the element of that "home run" threat away from their offense. It will be a much easier task for the Cowboys secondary to deal with Reggie Wayne and Hakeem Nicks than having to chase Hilton all over the field – but if Hilton does play, they have a plan for him.
Look for the Cowboys to roll with what we saw in Philadelphia, playing more man coverage and choking off these receivers and also mixing some coverage on tight ends Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen to not allow them down the field. The Cowboys should be able to control the run with their front seven, then go to work against this Colts offensive line that has allowed five sacks in the last two games. It will be the way that this secondary plays that will win them this game.
Colts Win If:
As important as it is for the Cowboys defensively to have success, the Colts are right there with them. The Colts, scheme-wise, are a 3-4 front, which has been the recipe in all four of their defeats.
Where the Colts are different from the other odd fronts that the Cowboys have faced this season is along the front seven. If you just go through the list of teams: New Orleans, Houston, Washington, Arizona and Philadelphia -- all of these teams had better fronts, but only the Cardinals had a better secondary, which gave these Cowboys receivers fits.
The Colts have to feel good that they can match up well in that regard. It's also important that the Colts could catch a break with a less-than-healthy DeMarco Murray and Zack Martin starting, but also Doug Free out of the lineup at right tackle.
Where this game will hinge for them is if they can handle the combination of DeMarco Murray, Joseph Randle and Lance Dunbar running the ball. The Colts have had six games this season where the opponent has averaged 5.4 yards per carry, including a game where the Patriots hit them for 246 yards on the ground.
The Colts will win this game if they are able to shut down this Cowboys rushing attack and play to their strength of pressuring the quarterback and playing tight coverage in the secondary.