Six Points: Cowboys vs. Dolphins
The Dallas Cowboys (2-7) get a much-needed boost this week with the return of Tony Romo after a seven-game absence due to a broken clavicle. The Cowboys lost all seven games without their star quarterback, but things are expected to change drastically with Romo on the field.
The Miami Dolphins (4-5) will be Romo's first challenge, with guys like Ndamukong Suh and Olivier Vernon attempting to get pressure on him throughout the game. The Dolphins will likely need to put up points in bunches to keep pace with Dallas, but they've showed the ability to do just that.
Here are three keys to the game for both the Cowboys and the Dolphins.
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1. Quick-developing pass plays for Romo
According to Jerry Jones, Romo has looked "razor sharp" at practice, but the Cowboys would be wise to ease him back into action after he missed seven and a half games with a fractured collarbone. To do this, the Cowboys should use a lot of 11-personnel packages that feature three wide receivers, one tight end and a running back. With this grouping, Romo can work the underneath routes with slot receiver Cole Beasley and tight end Jason Witten.
2. Bring pressure off the edge
The Dolphins have struggled to protect the edges due to injuries and inconsistent play from their offensive tackles. Left tackle Branden Albert has not been the same player in 2015 since returning from major offseason knee surgery. Right tackle Jason Fox has really struggled over the last three weeks starting in place of an injured Ja'Wuan James. He has allowed 13 quarterback pressures in just three games and he is a liability for the passing game. The Cowboys blitz less than almost any team in the NFL, but defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli should add a new wrinkle to this game plan. Sending his outside linebackers and safeties as blitzers could force the Dolphins into some bad situations.
3. Continue to lean on Darren McFadden
Just because Romo is back doesn't mean the Cowboys have to change their entire offensive philosophy. When the Cowboys were dominating in 2014, they leaned on a single running back and used the running game to open up the pass. Aside from a hiccup in Week 10, McFadden has been very productive since taking over as the lead back. In Week 11, the Cowboys should lean on him in the run game and use him more as a receiver out of the backfield.
1. Make Tony Romo uncomfortable in the pocket
Sunday is expected to be Romo's highly-anticipated return to the field, and the Dolphins are the lucky team who get to face the motivated quarterback. Some rust is to be expected, so the Dolphins need to pressure him and make him uncomfortable in the pocket. He likely won't want to take big hits after breaking his collarbone earlier in the season, so the more pressure the better for Miami.
2. Give Jay Ajayi more carries
Lamar Miller has been great for the Dolphins this season, but Ajayi has showed big flashes of immense talent. He's averaging more than eight yards per carry in his first two games and has broken long runs consistently. He can keep Miller fresh throughout the game, especially for the fourth quarter if the Dolphins are able to grab the lead early. It's hard to go away from a guy playing as well as Ajayi is right now.
3. Solve the kick return woes
The Dolphins allowed a safety in their third consecutive game last week, largely due to a horrendous kick return by Damien Williams. Williams slipped in the end zone and attempted to run it out anyway, falling at the one-yard line. Special teams -- kick returns in particular -- have been a big problem for Miami this season, and while the coaches may not want to put Jarvis Landry back to return kicks, it might be necessary.