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What A Win Against Denver Would Mean For Dallas

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Peyton Manning is on pace for one of the best statistical seasons in NFL history. How would impact would beating him and the surging Broncos have on the Cowboys' season? Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images.
Peyton Manning is on pace for one of the best statistical seasons in NFL history. How would impact would beating him and the surging Broncos have on the Cowboys' season? Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images.

In Week 11 of 2006, the Dallas Cowboys dealt Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts a 21-14 upset that ended their bid for a perfect season. Though Manning would eventually hoist the Lombardi trophy that year, the loss to Dallas remained a memorable blemish for its David-and-Goliath setting and outcome, and is surely percolating in the minds of Cowboys fans right now.

Coming off a lackluster loss to San Diego, the Cowboys (2-2) head to Denver with dim prospects. But in some bizarre, twisted way, you can’t help but think a similar kind of repeat to 2006 would be in order. Playing the league’s best team and arguablythe game’s greatest quarterback is incentive enough, but the Jekyll-Hyde act is due for a good performance this week.

The game falls somewhere in between slightly important and meaningless. Lose and expectations are met without ground being lost in the division. With a win, however, confidence soars and the arc of mediocrity could finally be redirected.

Easier said than done.

The Broncos (4-0) have surrounded Manning with an endless supply of receiving weapons and running help. Injuries along the offensive line haven’t affected his reads and delivery; consequently, the offense’s scoring average leads the league by nearly 15 points.

Without veteran CB Champ Bailey, Denver’s passing defense ranks 30th. But as this article points out, that’s largely attributable to passing yards gained in garbage time with the Broncos sitting on huge leads. With glaring secondary concerns of its own, Dallas should be aiming to simply keep pace with Denver, and especially to improve upon the zero second-half points scored last week.

So, how can the Cowboys win? In two words: pass rush.

If the D-line can get to Manning early and throw off his rhythm, his drops will get shorter and his throws more hurried. Morris Claiborne and Brandon Carr can then play Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker more tightly and physically within 10-15 yards and disrupt their routes. If that happens and the safeties cover well on vertical routes, the defense will have done its job. 

Wes Welker is a huge problem, as is TE Julius Thomas, considering how shaky Bruce Carter’s pass coverage has been. But that’s why coaches get paid the big bucks.

Abandon the run if it’s not working early, and keep the possession battle atop the priorities list. Let it become a shootout, and let the mile-high air save the day with a last-minute field goal. Throw every kind of razzle-dazzle play in the book at them, and get enough stops to keep No. 18 from settling into a serious groove.

Psychologically speaking, what would a victory mean?

Without a doubt, this would be the ultimate statement win. It would send shock waves through newsrooms, alter pundits’ opinions and engender enough player confidence to halt the roller coaster — at least for a couple weeks. It’s a season-changing win if it happens and one that makes everyone, from Jerry Jones to the ball boys, look good. Most teams play better when they’re looking good.

Since Day 1, 2013 has been a topsy-turvy year in Dallas. We’ve seen all three phases run the spectrum of play from exceptional to awful. But until they limped out of San Diego last weekend, the Cowboys didn’t need to beat Denver to disprove the idea that they’re a vanilla team that poses no real threat. Now, they do.

We’ve been given ample reason to believe a third 8-8 season — or a final record that reflects overwhelming inconsistency — is in the works. If that happens, no amount of divisional crappiness can save Jason Garrett’s job. Beating the Broncos would pay infinite dividends in the short run, and right now, the Cowboys have no business looking further than that.