IRVING, Texas – For the first time since Sept. 18, I get to break down a matchup that's going to include Tony Romo.
Now, given some of the struggles we've seen from the Cowboys this season, there's no guarantee that Romo alone will be the difference between a win and a loss in Miami this weekend. But it's certainly fair to say the Cowboys' starting signal-caller should give them a much better chance to win than what they've been dealing with.
As usual, here's my final scouting notebook for this weekend's matchup. What hasn't been usual is that it lays out a look at a full-strength Cowboys team – or at least, much closer to full strength than what we've been watching during this seven-game losing streak.
Let's get into it:
- All four of the running backs got work with the first offense in practice this week, but the Cowboys will likely only carry three to the game. Coaches have been impressed with how quickly Robert Turbin has come in and picked up the playbook. I would not be surprised if Darren McFadden, Robert Turbin and Rod Smith would be the three that are active against the Dolphins with Trey Williams once again sitting out.
- Keep an eye on Jason Witten in this game. The Dolphins have issues dealing with tight ends that can get up the field. I was not impressed with their safeties' athletic ability at all. Last week the Eagles were able to get Brent Celek and Zach Ertz in space for some chunk plays that hurt this defense. I believe that Witten and Gavin Escobar can do some serious damage and it will hard for them to adjust.
- I noticed on tape that the Dolphins are such an aggressive defensive front that they tend to jump when opponents use hard counts against them. Don't be surprised if, in a short yardage situation, Tony Romo doesn't see if he can get a free first down.
- It's rare in this day in age to face an opponent that has two starting cornerbacks that are 5-9 in height, but that's the case with the Dolphins. Both Brent Grimes and Brice McCain measure in at that height. Grimes is clearly the better of the two and has to be attacked with caution. My feeling is that Grimes will likely travel with Dez Bryant in this game, which leaves McCain to deal with Terrance Williams and Cole Beasley. McCain will give up some plays as will Bobby McCain and if they are both on the field – then that's the direction that Romo needs to be looking.
- Just going off what I saw last week, Byron Jones will start at left corner and Brandon Carr will move to the right side. I asked Jason Garrett if they had a preference of which side they would like to play Jones and he said it really didn't matter and was comfortable wherever he lined up. When he first arrived with the Cowboys, they played him more on the left side -- which is where he played in college at UConn. Moving Carr to the right side will not be that big of an adjustment, but his line of sight and footwork will be a little different. Carr is a veteran player and he will be able to handle the transition. Look for Tyler Patmon to play out of the slot.
- Of the Dolphins pass catchers, Lamar Miller catches 87 percent of his targets, Rishard Matthews is at 74 percent and Jarvis Landry comes in at 67 percent. The Dolphins will line Miller up wide and throw him the ball from that spot. Last week he had a big reception on a vertical "9" route where he went straight up the field and caught the ball going down the sidelines. Landry is still their big play guy. The Cowboys have to get him on the ground, because he can make yards after the catch. He is not looking to go out of bounds and can make defenders miss with quickness. They want to get the ball to him as often as possible.
- I would not be surprised to see that, with Tony Romo back in the lineup, this Dallas offense plays with a little tempo in the game. In studying the Philadelphia game, the Eagles' pace gave the Dolphins trouble. It was clear that it worked in slowing their rush down and they got worn down. The longer that Ndamukong Suh has to go, the more he slows down. We have all seen Romo in those two-minute situations where he is firing off plays at a nice clip and the offense is having success. Might be a different wrinkle for this week.
- I mentioned that this Dolphins front seven on defense has movement in the front. When you get a defense that works to get bodies to the ball, you have to find ways to keep them at home. Scott Linehan's answer to this has been the use of Lucky Whitehead and the motions. I expect that we will see several little wrinkles where they get this Dolphins defense going one way and bring the ball back the other way in order to help set up some easy blocks. This is the best way to handle guys like Suh and Vernon that really like to get up the field.
- Looks like another week where we will see more of David Irving playing as that under-tackle. He has shown that every time that he has been given an opportunity in a game, he has done well. The Dolphins are similar to the Eagles in the way they play with athletic guards, and he was able to handle those types of blockers well. Irving has been mainly working with Nick Hayden and Tyrone Crawford opposite him, but another guy that we might see him paired with is Jack Crawford. Crawford really isn't an ideal nose, but in passing situations for three or four plays it's not too taxing for the defense. Regardless of who he might be paired with, I expect him to continue to make plays – he has a knack for that.
- The Dolphins have struggled at linebacker this week with injuries and they have some players that might be game time decisions. If all of their linebackers are able to make it to the game – one you need to keep an eye on is Chris McCain. McCain is listed as a linebacker but really plays more like a defensive end in nickel situations. You can at times find him playing on either side, but I think he is better suited on the right side. He has an explosive first step and can really get around the corner to capture it. If a guy like Koa Misi – who has been out all week -- can't go, he could see more of a role as a linebacker. But in those passing down he can take Misi's spot full time as that rusher. McCain has those traits that a good edge rusher possesses.