A few thoughts on the Week 4 game between the Dallas Cowboys and the Tennessee Titans, both from an on-field perspective and a fantasy football perspective. Denver won the game 17-10.
*The Cowboys have a lot of quality offensive weapons. In fact, with their offensive line and their stable of backs, Dallas should be a run-first juggernaut, much like the Panthers were last year. But you have to wonder whether coordinator Jason Garrett is willing to move that way as a play-caller. But a run-first approach would feature Marion Barber and Tashard Choice (as well as Felix Jones, when he gets healthy again) and allow Roy Williams to be a down-field threat and Jason Witten and Martellus Bennett to be mid-field threats via play-action. This kind of approach best fits the Cowboys’ offensive line as well, because they would be able to use their size to their advantage. It would also cover up the lack of depth Dallas has at wide receiver behind Williams.
*Moreover, leaning into their running strengths would allow the Cowboys to take pressure off of Tony Romo, who isn’t playing up to his physical gifts right now. He made killer mistakes that cost the Cowboys a Denver touchdown and a scoring chance of their own, but Romo was precise throwing the ball most of the time. He’s good with no pressure on him but seems to wilt under the pressure too often. If the Cowboys ran more, it would take some pressure off Romo and perhaps let him get his feet back under him.
*This is my first extended look at the Broncos’ defense, and I’m more impressed than I thought I’d be. OLB-DE Elvis Dumervil, who had his seventh and eighth sacks of the season, is quick and determined on the pass rush. The one thing the Broncos’ front seven has is speed, and that made for a bad matchup in pass protection for Dallas’ huge but slow offensive line in pass-rush situation. But Dallas’ line did a good job on several screen passes of making outside blocks to spring big plays.
*Rookie OLB Robert Ayers, one of Denver’s first-round picks this year who plays beside Dumervil on many passing downs, is downright tiny and will have to put on weight to be a force, but he is quick off the edge.
*The play Knowshon Moreno made on his second-quarter touchdown catch shows why the Broncos wanted to draft him even though he didn’t fit a need. Moreno is extremely talented, and Denver could build its offense around him if it wanted. It just doesn’t seem as though Josh McDaniels wants a run-first team revolving around a bell-cow back. Of course, Correll Buckhalter is a good player as well, so using both guys makes sense. But Denver could and should get more out of Moreno.
*Denver’s passing game, though, is less than the sum of its parts. Part of that is because Kyle Orton is OK but not special as a quarterback. He’s not able to utilize WRs Brandon Marshall and Eddie Royal the way strong-armed Jay Cutler was last year.
*Brandon Marshall can cause his share of trouble, but you saw at the end of the game why the Broncos haven’t cut the cord. Marshall’s leaping catch and then double-cutback run for the game-winning touchdown was a jaw-dropping play, and it indicates just how talented Marshall is.
*It’s not fair that Denver’s Matt Prater gets to kick off at altitude eight times a year. Combine his strong leg with the Mile High altitude, and you get the strange sight of Dallas RS Miles Austin standing five yards deep (in the stranger sight – the diamond-patterned end zone) to receive the kick. Prater becomes a field-position weapon for the Broncos on kickoffs in home games like this one.
Fantasy Football thoughts
*There are few things better as a fantasy owner than watching Marion Barber run as hard as he did and push the pile into the end zone as he did on his first-quarter touchdown. He’s a hard-nosed runner who’s a sure-fire starter as long as he’s healthy. The problem with his running style is that it keeps him from being healthy all the time.
*I like the skill set of both Broncos RBs, Knowshon Moreno and Correll Buckhalter, but neither seems to be enough of a focal point to make them fantasy starters week to week. But both are good players, and they’re worth having on your roster because they’re decent options if you get in a bye-week or injury-caused pinch.
*I wouldn’t want to have to rely on any of the receivers from this game. For Dallas, Roy Williams simply isn’t a true go-to guy, which means Dallas won’t rely on him. And the other receivers – Patrick Crayton, Miles Austin, and Sam Hurd – are as unimpressive as any 2-3-4 combo in the league. Even Jason Witten, a terrific player, is losing numbers because defenses can focus on him – to the point that I might start looking for a replacement if I owned him. For Denver, Orton’s not able to make full use of Brandon Marshall and Eddie Royal, and so their numbers suffer as well. None of these receivers, as talented as Williams or Marshall or Royal are, are among the top 20 fantasy wideouts, and only Marshall can make an argument to be in the top 25. He’s worth a shot in most leagues because he can break a big play, but I wouldn’t center my team around him.