IRVING, Texas – A look at two of the most important matchups in this Week 16 contest between the Cowboys and Bills.
Buffalo's pass rush has not been the force it was in 2014, but one guy in particular has the skillset to give the Cowboys' Pro Bowl tackle some headaches. On the other side of the ball, the Bills have a fantastic young receiver with the potential to give the Dallas secondary headaches.
Let's take a look:
Dallas Cowboys OT Tyron Smith against Buffalo Bills DE Jerry Hughes
The best pass rusher on the Bills is Jerry Hughes, and the majority of this game he will line up over the top of Tyron Smith.
In this matchup Hughes is more speed than he is power, and the last time Smith faced a guy like this was Olivier Vernon with the Dolphins. Vernon did a nice job of keeping Smith off balance all day, putting him in several bad blocking positions. Smith was never comfortable in that matchup and Hughes has similar abilities. His playing speed and quickness are outstanding. He can capture the edge within his first two steps.
Smith is going to have to get his hands on him quickly before he has a chance to get up the field. In this game you might even see Smith short set him a couple of times in order to prevent this. You often hear me talk about those reactionary athletes – Hughes is one of those players. His pursuit speed, lateral agility and range also put him in positions to make plays. His hips, body control and balance are good as well. He will be able to fight Smith with his hands, but he has to do it quickly because he doesn't have the upper body power or strength to just go toe-to-toe and win many of those battles.
For Hughes to win, he is going to have to be on the move much like Vernon was in that Dolphins game. As a whole, this Bills defensive line hasn't provided the pass rush that we saw from them in 2014, but the threat is still available with Jerry Hughes as that rusher off the edge. Tyron Smith is going to need to be on the screws this game.
Dallas Cowboys CB Brandon Carr against Buffalo Bills WR Sammy Watkins
With the health status of Morris Claiborne in question, Rod Marinelli might be forced to have Brandon Carr travel with Sammy Watkins and take his chances that a combination of Byron Jones, Deji Olatoye and Terrance Mitchell can handle the other responsibilities.
What concerns me most about this matchup is whether Carr can stay with Watkins. Smaller, quicker receivers tend to give Carr the most problems, and that is what he is going to get from Watkins. His playing speed and quickness are outstanding, He is one of those receivers that can cover a great deal of ground quickly. There were plenty of snaps on tape where he was able to get separation and build on it as he worked up the field. Watkins is a home run hitter in every sense of the word. He plays with very good body control and balance. He is not afraid to take his route anywhere to make a catch. He shows courage in a crowd and will make the contested catch, and he uses his quickness to get away from press coverage.
If up tight, Carr needs to make sure he gets his hands on Watkins -- because if he misses, there is little chance for him being able to catch up. What could help Carr in this game is that Watkins' quarterback, Tyrod Taylor, will struggle with his accuracy and will miss some passes where Watkins is wide open. Three of the previous four games, Watkins has averaged double digit targets and I expect this week that will also be the case.