The Cowboys come to town Sunday in yet another critical game for the Colts. Their margin for error is exactly nil and the Cowboys are on a 5 game winning streak. This game will present a lot of the same difficulties that the Colts faced from the Texans, and the Colts will need a similar team effort to come out with a win. As far as the Colts are concerned, their playoffs started last week and they can’t afford to lose another game. Here are some of the matchups to keep an eye on Sunday.
Pierre Desir vs Amari Cooper
This might seem like a laughable matchup to some, but after Desir trailed DeAndre Hopkins last week and did a pretty solid job limiting his impact on the game, it isn’t so ridiculous to think about him. Hopkins is one of the best receivers in the league, and limiting his production is no small feat.
The question is, can Desir do the same to Cooper? The Cowboys’ offense has been more effective since Cooper arrived, and if Desir can keep him from gashing the Colts with big plays, and a ton of yards after the catch, it will force the game into the hands of Zeke Elliott and put him up against a run defense for the Colts that has been stout.
If Desir can cover Cooper well and let the pass rush get to Dak Prescott, it will go a long way toward getting the ball as often as possible into the hands of Andrew Luck and the offense.
Colts Defensive line vs Cowboys Offensive line
The Cowboys offensive line is almost a modern legend in terms of its ability. However, this unit simply isn’t the same as some in the past. They’ve missed their All-Pro center Travis Frederick, and both Tyron Smith and Zack Martin are playing hurt if they are able to play at all.
What that means is that the Colts have an opportunity to get after Dak Prescott early and often against a significantly less dangerous offensive line than what this unit is when they are whole. Dak Prescott struggles with ball security and the Colts have the king of the strip-sack, Robert Mathis, coaching up their young defensive linemen.
If Denico Autry can continue his stretch of excellent play and we get the next step for a guy like Tyquan Lewis on the edge, this game could get ugly for the Cowboys’ offense. Expect DC Matt Eberflus to dial up pressure and test this offensive line early in the game.
T.Y. Hilton vs Byron Jones
Byron Jones is a very good cornerback. He essentially shut down Zach Ertz in the Cowboys’ most recent meeting with the Eagles, and has shown a prodigious ability to play all over the field. It stands to reason that we should expect him to follow T.Y. Hilton a good bit during this coming game. After all, Hilton just put up 199 yards and was a big play machine last week.
As I have said all season long, if T.Y. Hilton is a factor early and often, it bodes very well for the Colts. When Hilton plays well, the team generally wins games. His success creates opportunity for other pieces of the offense to get involved as well. In other words, this might be the matchup that decides the game.
Having said that, I don’t know that Jones will trail Hilton all game. As I pointed out above, he was used to play Zach Ertz, the Eagles’ tight end in 3rd and long frequently per Jeff Cavanaugh of the Athletic, and so they might choose to use him as a way to deal with Eric Ebron. It doesn’t take much film study to know that Ebron is a dangerous red zone weapon. Regardless, if the Colts want to successfully move the ball against this defense, they’ll have to do it by at least occasionally beating Jones, or at least scheming around him, and my hunch is that Hilton will be the guy most often tasked with that job.
Eric Ebron vs Cowboys linebackers
Speaking of Ebron, if he isn’t covered by Byron Jones, he’ll likely see coverage from a pretty solid group of linebackers. Jaylon Smith, Leighton Vander Esch, and Sean Lee are a part of what has to be considered one of the strongest linebacker groups in the NFL. They’ll be tested this week by the Colts’ use of both their tight ends and running backs in the passing game.
In his first meeting with Jacksonville, Eric Ebron put up 3 scores and ran wild on a very talented defense because Frank Reich’s play calling had them so turned around that they seemed to keep losing him. This was indicative of how well Reich is able to scheme against familiar defenses and put his guys in position to win their matchups.
While I don’t expect anything as crazy as that to happen, I think Reich will definitely have a plan in place to try to wrong-foot the Cowboys’ linebackers to give them 1-on-1’s with Eric Ebron. That isn’t a matchup you ever want for your defense, regardless of the quality of linebacker.
As another note on this matchup, Ebron currently sits at 13 touchdowns on the season, just 4 shy of the record set by Rob Gronkowski for the most by a tight end in NFL history.
Frank Reich vs Jason Garrett
This is the most important matchup of the day. Frank Reich will make his debut against the Cowboys as a head coach, though he has faced them several times before. These two coaches are quite familiar with one another from Reich’s time with the Eagles.
Given that his defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus was coaching for the Cowboys last season it is safe to say that this Colts team should be as well prepared for the Cowboys as any team they’ve faced all season long. They know what will be thrown at them from two different angles.
Reich’s play calling on offense has been great at getting guys open and quickly getting the ball in their hands. His misdirection and pre-snap movement have been problematic for undisciplined defenses, and he will throw a lot at this Cowboys to try to keep them on their toes.
How the Colts offense starts will be critical. Flat starts to their last few games have nearly been disastrous for them, and it puts a lot of pressure on a young Colts defense that plays best with a lead. If Reich has a solid script to start the game and can keep pressure on from ahead, it will be tough for Dallas to catch them, and force them into situations where the defense gets a chance to create turnovers.
What matchup are you looking forward to?