Dec 24, 2011; Dallas, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys cornerback Terence Newman (41) prior to the game against the Philadelphia Eagles at Cowboys Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

First Of The Final Four For Dallas: At Cincinnati

Sitting at a 6-6 record is not the ideal situation for a team that is notorious for their late-season struggles in past years. But regardless of record, the Dallas Cowboys are still alive in the playoff hunt and, more specifically, the NFC East Crown. Thanks to the Washington Redskins defeating the New York Giants last night, both Dallas and Washington trail the Giants by only one game with four left. As far as remaining schedules go, that advantage goes to the Redskins who play: Baltimore, at Cleveland, at Philly and close in Washington against Dallas. The Cowboys have a tougher road to traverse in this final quarter of the season: at Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, New Orleans and at Washington.

Cincinnati Bengals

Cincy is a young team led by second-year quarterback –and TCU graduate– Andy Dalton. The Bengals currently sit at 7-5 and are in a fight with Pittsburgh and Indianapolis in the AFC for the two wild card spots up for grabs. Besides Dalton –who is having a very productive season, 24 TD’s, 13 int’s, 91.3 qbr–the Bengals possess one of the most dangerous offensive weapons in the NFL only in his second year as well, wide receiver A.J Green.

Dec 2, 2012; San Diego, CA, USA; Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green (18) runs after making a third quarter catch while defended by San Diego Chargers inside linebacker Donald Butler (56) at Qualcomm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Green is a nightmare matchup for any defense because of his tremendously long, slim frame at 6″4 and 207 pounds. He is sixth in the NFL in receiving yards at 1,107, but tied for first for receiving touchdowns with 10. He has had at least 85 yards receiving in his last five games and has three touchdowns in that span. Cowboys cornerback Brandon Carr will be hard-pressed to keep Green under control for 60 minutes. Carr has been solid this year, but receivers like Brandon Marshall and Roddy White have given him issues in the secondary; that could pose a problem for the Cowboys. Expect safeties Gerald Sensabaugh and Danny McCray to shadow Green and not hesitate to double-team him in coverage. The Georgia receiver gets off the line extremely quick, so Carr will have to decide if jamming him at the line of scrimmage will keep him from burning the Cowboys secondary on deep routes like posts, slant-and-go’s and corners. Carr is a strong dude in his own right, so he will be up to the challenge.

The Bengals are an above average offensive team, ranking 10th in ppg (25.2), but they have put up at least 30 points in half of their home games. Cincy averages 356.8 yds/g so that indicates that their offense is not filled with as many weapons as Dallas’ is, but can still be dangerous against the right opponent. After a top five start in total defense throughout the first part of the season, the Cowboys have dropped to 11th in the NFL in that category. Losing linebacker Sean Lee has attributed to the fall, as Cowboy opponents have torched them through the air and on the ground in the last few games. Dallas has also allowed at least 30 points to their opponents in two straight games for the first time since weeks four and six (bye week on week 5) against the Bears and Ravens.

Defensively, the Bengals are top ten, ranking eighth in total defense. They allow only 331 yds/g and only 221 of those through the air. Third-year defensive tackle Geno Atkins has 9.5 sacks on the season, third most by a defensive tackle or end behind John Abraham of the Falcons who has 10 and defensive stud J.J Watt of the Texans who has 15.5.

In the secondary, the Bengals have two familiar faces to Cowboy fans, cornerbacks Terence Newman and Adam “Pacman” Jones. Both players donned the silver and blue recently. The much-maligned Newman was released by Dallas after the 2011 season and signed with the Bengals, while Jones signed in 2010. Pacman has been the Bengals most consistent corner and dynamic punt returner. Jones has been able to blanket receivers with his quickness and instinct to make it very hard for receivers to get open, he could give receiver Dez Bryant problems if he gets into his head early in the game.  Newman has been his typical inconsistent self, but has had flashes of his pro-bowl caliber that he showed while in Dallas. Overall, the Bengals defense has been effective at home and the cold weather will make it a challenge for the Cowboys to establish consistency early, which has been an issue all year for Dallas.

The first of four games to determine if the Cowboys have what it takes to be a playoff team begins this weekend in Cincinnati. It won’t be easy.

Then again, nothing has been easy for the Dallas Cowboys this season.

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