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Scout's Eye: Third Down Defense, Running The Ball Are Cowboys' Keys

IRVING, Texas – The keys to this game no doubt change a little bit with Tony Romo back in the lineup. So let's break down the big points that I think need to happen for each team to win this game.

Cowboys Win If:

The Dolphins are one of the worst offenses in the league when it comes to converting on third down -- no matter the distance. For them to win this game, they are going to have to make it like a CFL game and convert first downs in two downs.

Where the Dolphins struggle in this area is with their quarterback, Ryan Tannehill. His biggest issue is when the game gets to third down – he doesn't play fast, and when that happens he makes mistakes. For as athletic as Tannehill is, he likes to sit in the middle of the pocket and attempt to throw the ball from there instead of trying to buy more chances with his legs. There have been plenty of snaps where things are breaking down around him, but he will hold the ball -- either taking a sack or forcing it into coverage.

The Dolphins will also struggle with their protection along the offensive line. They are ranked 28th in the league when it comes to sacks per attack. For Dallas to win this game, they are going to need to be able to play well on first and second downs then attack Ryan Tannehill and this Dolphins offensive line. How well this Cowboys secondary covers Jarvis Landry, Rishard Matthews, Jordan Cameron and even Lamar Miller on third down will be vital.

The Cowboys are in a situation with Tony Romo back in the lineup where third-down stops are likely to result in longer drives that finish with points --which hasn't happened in this seven-game losing streak.

Dolphins Win If:

When asked to describe the Dolphins scheme, Jason Garrett said that they just line up and play.

With Tony Romo back in the lineup, the plan will be offensive balance. Offensive coordinator Scott Linehan is going to attempt to run the ball first to put Romo in some manageable down-and-distance situations.  It is going to be critical for the Dolphins not to let the Cowboys have that balance with Romo. The numbers say that if there is a weakness to their defense, it's defending the run. Opponents have had success attacking the edges of this defense by averaging an alarming 6.3 yards per carry off either side.

Another issue for the Dolphins is that several of their linebackers missed practice time this week with various injuries – so playing better run defense might be even more of an issue.  I believe that the Dolphins want to turn this into a passing game, because their strength is rushing the quarterback -- even if that guy might be Romo. Their feeling has to be that it's his first start in eight weeks and there is going to be some rust there. His pocket awareness and timing will likely be off and they can take advantage of that with Ndamukong Suh, Olivier Vernon and Koa Misi.

Miami wins this game if they can control the line of scrimmage on defense and make this Dallas offense strictly rely on the pass, which plays right into their hands.


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