Week 14: Cowboys-Bengals preview

The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

Dallas at Cincinnati
Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET, at Paul Brown Stadium, Cincinnati, Ohio - TV: FOX; DirecTV: 706
*TV announcers: Thom Brennaman, Brian Billick, Laura Okmin
*Keys to the game: The Bengals have found an excellent mix of hard-running BenJarvus Green-Ellis complementing highly-accurate QB Andy Dalton. After his early-season struggles, Dalton has discovered a tick more patience and the result has been putting the ball in position for his receivers to make plays. WR A.J. Green will stretch the field, making the middle of the field TE Jermaine Gresham's to own. That combination of a leaping wideout and a seam-busting tight end has made Cincinnati particularly difficult to defend inside the red zone. Gresham enjoys mismatches over the middle with Dallas depleted by injuries. Offensively, Dallas' biggest concern has been a largely ineffective ground game, although the return of RB DeMarco Murray last week did provide a spark. The offensive line doesn't protect well when the Cowboys fall behind and become one dimensional, and Cincinnati can get after the quarterback. QB Tony Romo needs to use TE Jason Witten heavily to avoid third-and-long. His wideouts can win their one-on-one matchups, but Cincinnati also has an opportunistic secondary that pounces on poor throws created by the pass rush.
*Matchup to watch - Cowboys CB Morris Claiborne vs. Green: The best way to defend Green is to challenge him at the line, give him different looks and not let him get behind the defense. Claiborne has the ability to be physical with Green and has continued to be a presence as he matures through his rookie season. The real show will come inside the red zone, where Dalton loves to let Green use his elevation to rise above defenders.
*Player spotlight - Cowboys WR Cole Beasley: The undrafted rookie out of SMU impressed over the offseason before leaving the team early in training camp. The rollercoaster ride is now back in ascent, as Beasley continues to have an increasing role in the intermediate passing game.
*Fast facts: The Bengals have allowed an average of 10.5 points during their four-game winning streak. ... This is only the fourth meeting in Cincinnati, where Dallas is 1-3.
The Bengals have kept themselves in the thick of the AFC playoff picture on the strength of outstanding defense. Cincinnati should be able to control the line of scrimmage by pushing Dallas' offensive line around, leading to momentum-shifting turnovers.
*Our pick: Bengals 24-16

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