COW­BOYS (1-0) VS. BRON­COS (0-0)


USA TODAY Sports Weekly - - WEEK 2 MATCH UP - DeMar­cus Lawrence Jay­lon Smith Joseph mian Vance Em­manuel SandPlayer to watch: Cow­boys RB Ezekiel El­liott. Or­lando Scan­drick Brown Mene­lik Wat­son Garett Bolles An­thony Ron Leary C.J. Anderson, Ja­maal Charles

An­nounc­ers: Joe Buck, Troy Aik­man, Erin An­drews

About the Cow­boys: Dal­las’ loaded of­fense gets the head­lines, but the de­fense was a sur­pris­ing star of last week’s sea­son-open­ing 19-3 vic­tory. The Cow­boys em­phat­i­cally slammed the door on the on the Odell Beck­ham-less Gi­ants, holding them to a mere 233 to­tal yards while sack­ing Eli Man­ning three times and turn­ing him into a dink-and-dunker by mak­ing him get rid of the ball in a hurry. DE

stood out with two sacks and three tack­les for loss, and MLB

was im­pres­sive in his first game since suf­fer­ing a se­vere knee in­jury in Jan­uary 2016.

About the Bron­cos: Den­ver is at­tempt­ing to get its groove back un­der new coach

fol­low­ing an un­der­whelm­ing 2016 sea­son. The Bron­cos, ranked fourth in the league in to­tal de­fense and No. 1 against the pass last sea­son. The of­fense is very much a con­struc­tion project, with QB

main­tain­ing a ten­u­ous hold on the start­ing job, but he has 1,000-yard WRs De­mariyus Thomas and ers with whom to work.

Matchup to watch: Cow­boys LT Ty­ron Smith vs. Bron­cos OLB Von Miller. Miller is an un­de­ni­able force on the pass rush, hav­ing rung up double-digit sacks in five of his six NFL sea­sons. His pres­sure is a huge part of a pass de­fense that al­lowed a league-low passer rat­ing of 69.7 in 2016. Smith is a four-time Pro Bowl se­lec­tion whose power and mo­bil­ity led Pro Football Fo­cus to rank him as the league’s sec­ond-best of­fen­sive line­man. Bron­cos coach Vance Joseph is charged with mak­ing Den­ver a con­tender again.

El­liott was suspended by the NFL for six games be­cause of al­le­ga­tions of do­mes­tic abuse. El­liott got on the field last week fol­low­ing an in­junc­tion that will likely keep him play­ing for the fore­see­able fu­ture, and he looked like the same guy who rushed for 1,631 yards last sea­son, run­ning for 104 yards and adding a 30-yard re­cep­tion.

Num­ber crunch­ing: The Cow­boys like to con­trol the ball and the clock with El­liott, but


have added more of a pass­ing el­e­ment. They held the ball for 34:14 against the Gi­ants, in­clud­ing a stun­ning 20:33-9:27 ad­van­tage in the first half. That’s a prob­lem for the Bron­cos, who last sea­son ranked and 28th in rush­ing de­fense, al­low­ing 130.3 yards per game.


1. Keep Dak clean: Dal­las QB Dak Prescott was named 2016’s Of­fen­sive Rookie of the Year thanks to his be­yond-his-years poise, but that com­po­sure can still be rat­tled by strong, con­sis­tent pres­sure. The Cow­boys’ ac­claimed of­fen­sive line will have to keep the dis­rup­tion of Miller and his co­horts to a min­i­mum.

2. Sec­ondary con­cerns: The Cow­boys lost an­other key piece to their de­fense when top CB broke his hand in the opener. That puts backup

in the un­fa­mil­iar slot cor­ner po­si­tion and thins out the po­si­tion con­sid­er­ably.

3. Line ‘em up: For the sec­ond con­sec­u­tive sea­son, the Bron­cos have re­built their of­fen­sive line, adding vet­er­ans like RG and RT to shore up a shaky front. But it’s a rookie — first-round draft choice — who was handed the crit­i­cal left tackle spot.

4. Run the ball: Den­ver’s got weapons at wide re­ceiver, but the run­ning game has been ques­tion­able at best. Last sea­son the Bron­cos av­er­aged 3.6 yards per rush, rank­ing 28th in the league. Their hope is the re­vamped line will help RB and if for­mer Kansas City star can stay healthy, he could be a valu­able ad­di­tion.

Andy Fried­lan­der


Trevor Sie-

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