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Cowboys vs. Bengals: A tough challenge

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Let's take a closer look at the matchup and analyze who the Cowboys will be facing and what they'll need to do to stay alive in the playoff race.

Andy Dalton and A.J. Green are going to be a very difficult tandem for the Cowboys to take down.
Andy Dalton and A.J. Green are going to be a very difficult tandem for the Cowboys to take down.

After defeating the Eagles for the season sweep, the Cowboys are sitting firm at 6-6. Dallas is still in playoff contention, but they probably have to win each of their last four games to sneak into the playoffs.

That mission starts this Sunday when the Cowboys take on the 7-5 Bengals. Cincinnati has been a surprise team the past two seasons. There weren't too many people who expected them to compete for the playoffs, but they continue to overachieve. The additions of Andy Dalton and A.J. Green has transformed them into a contender.

Dalton and Green present the biggest challenge for the Dallas defense. Dalton is more of a game manager type of quarterback, but he has the arm to make any throw on the field. He's a very smart quarterback who does his best to eliminate mistakes while still testing opposing defenses deep.

Green entered the league with a lot of hype and he hasn't disappointed on his pre-draft status. His rookie season was phenomenal, but in his sophomore season Green has entered the discussion as one of the best wide receivers in football. Stopping him has to be the first priority for the Cowboys.

The only way for the Cowboys to limit Green is by putting a safety over the top and blanketing him with coverage. Watching Morris Claiborne or Brandon Carr going up against Green is something that I circled on my calendar a long time ago.

Not only do the Bengals have a great arial attack with Green, they also have begun to run the ball with success. BenJarvus Green-Ellis is turning out to be a great free agent signing for the Bengals. The Cowboys have been gashed by the run the past few weeks, and Green-Ellis is coming off three straight 100-yard performances. They need to stop Green-Ellis and force the Bengals into playing one-dimensional football on offense.

Mike Zimmer coached in Dallas under Bill Parcells. Zimmer is one of the best coaches in the league and probably deserves to be a head coach somewhere in the NFL. His 4-3 defense features dynamic defensive tackle Geno Atkins. Atkins uses his smaller stature in height to his advantage. He gets tremendous leverage and then uses his athleticism and speed to abuse offensive lineman. Atkins could have a monster game against the weak Cowboys' offensive line.

Zimmer isn't the only former Cowboys on the Cincinnati sideline. Terence Newman and Adam Jones will be looking for some revenge. Newman played like an old man the past two years in Dallas, but since he has been reunited with Zimmer, he is playing at a high level again. Zimmer has totally changed the way Newman plays the game. Newman is no longer hesitant and is willing to attack the ball carrier in the running game, but his coverage skills have peaked back into his game.

Whether it's Dez Bryant or Miles Austin, Newman is in for a difficult challenge. Bryant has been on a tear the past month and looks like he is finally living up to his potential. Newman is familiar with Tony Romo, but I believe that Romo is also familiar with Newman's tendencies and physical limitations. Regardless, this should be an interesting matchup to watch for.

Zimmer was recently asked about Dez Bryant and he compared him to former Cowboys great Michael Irvin.

"He really reminds me in a lot of ways of Michael Irvin. The way he can go get the football, his acceleration, his run after catch, his strength, you know Michael was great. He used to push guys off. Dez seems like he has great strength when running routes in press. He’s made some unbelievable catches on back shoulder fades that (Tony) Romo has thrown to him. In the Redskins game, he caught that ball and ran about 65 yards. He turned on the jets on that one. I think he’s a tremendous football player. They have a lot of talent there."

On the Dallas side of things, guard Nate Livings will be returning to Cincinnati. Livings signed with the Cowboys this summer after spending his career as a Bengal. Bengals fans were happy to see Livings go, just as Cowboys fans were glad to see Newman go. Livings has easily been the most consistent offensive lineman on the Cowboys. While that may not be saying much, each signing has worked out for both sides.

This is going to be a difficult game for the Dallas Cowboys to win. They are banged up on defense and are missing a lot of important pieces. Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan has been limited in what he can call because of all the injuries on the defense.

The return of DeMarco Murray sparked the Dallas running game and allowed Tony Romo to play a more balanced game. If Dallas is going to be successful in this game, then they must stay balanced on offense. That starts with getting Murray involved and then having Romo open things up with the passing game. When both phases of the offense are clicking, then the Cowboys can put a lot of points on the board.

Photographs by jamesbrandon, jdtornow, phlezk, flygraphix, mcdlttx, tomasland, and literalbarrage used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.