If you were like me as a child, you dreamed of playing in the NFL for hours on end. As a young boy, I would stage games with my friends in my parent’s backyard where I would pretend I was playing for the Cowboys at home. The 50-yard line was the middle of the grass and the long strip of sidewalk on either side was the end zone. Many times in my young life, I threw game-winning touchdowns, as Troy Aikman, in the “Cowboys” end zone.
I wonder where the end zone was for Arlington native and Buffalo Bills running back Fred Jackson.
According to BuffaloBills.com, Owner Jerry Jones and the Dallas Cowboys organization tore down Jackson’s childhood neighborhood to build Cowboys Stadium. If you look at the above picture, it appears as though his neighborhood was close to the South end zone. Jackson played with his cousins and friends in his backyard, pretending to be #22 Emmitt Smith (a number he still wears today). Pretty cool story for all of us that dreamed of Cowboys glory in our spare time. Fred Jackson has a job to do on Sunday, but it is going to be a pretty neat site to see him in the pre-game warm-ups where he is sure to be a bit nostalgic.
“Definitely during pre-game,” Jackson said, “when I’m out there getting loose, trying to figure out, piece it together, you know, ‘This is my friend Jason’s house, would be right here where I am now.’ Things like that, I’m sure, will be going through my head during pre-game, and I’ll definitely be looking for stuff like that.”
After the sentimental time is through, it will be up to the Dallas Cowboys declining rush defense to stop one of the best running backs in the NFL. After starting the season with the #1 rush defense in the league, the Cowboys have dropped significantly in the past two weeks, falling to #10 overall in that category. This week, they face this year’s most versatile back in Buffalo’s Fred Jackson. In his homecoming, Jackson will attempt to make the city of Buffalo forget about a brutal home loss to the Jets last weekend by adding to his astounding 800 yards rushing and 400 yards receiving against a struggling Cowboys run defense.
I really believe that Dallas will try to focus on stopping Jackson through the air more so than the ground. Rob Ryan will have the Cowboys defense prepared to stop the Bills run game, especially if Sean Lee is able to play. The way that Bills Coach Chan Gailey has used Jackson to hurt teams this year is through his versatility. Jackson is going to get his yards on the ground, and the Cowboys are going to get their tackles for loss as in any game. What has set Jackson apart from others at his position this season has been his ability to sell the run fakes and get out into the flats and set up screens. Particularly against the other NFC East teams, Jackson has had huge receiving numbers out of the backfield. Against the Eagles, Jackson had 85 yards receiving in a big win for Buffalo. Those yards were made in screen plays and shovel passes. The same thing happened in the Bills’ upset of the New England Patriots where Jackson had 87 yards receiving. If Dallas can find a way to keep Fred Jackson from catching passes, I believe they can ruin Jackson’s homecoming.
This is a big game for our 4-4 Cowboys. This team is at a crossroads and this game will tell us a lot about who they really are and who they are going to be for the rest of the season. I believe Rob Ryan will have something that seems fairly obvious planned to stop these screens. I do not think Ryan is particularly worried about any Bills wide receivers, so my “guestimate” is that he will have DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer easing up on the pass rush and staying home to prevent the screen set-up while having one of the inside linebackers blitz to help the defensive lineman in the attack. This is not something that you can do if the opposing team has a great receiving core, but again, I believe that the Bills do not. If the Cowboys do this, I believe it will work. What this means is that the Cowboys secondary will most likely have to go man-to-man for the majority of the game. If Orlando Scandrick, Abe Elam, Gerald Sensabaugh and Terrence Newman can break up a few passes, the Cowboys will have a chance to win.
Obviously, Fred Jackson cannot have too good of a game on the ground if the Cowboys expect to win, but I do not believe the Cowboys will have an issue with stopping the Bills running attack. Although they have struggled recently, I still believe that their run defense is a good one. The keys will be keeping the ball out of Jackson’s hand by getting in Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick’s face, keeping the outside linebackers home and keeping the ball in DeMarco Murray’s hand.
The Dallas Cowboys will win if they can stop “Emmitt Smith” from scoring in his own backyard. Let me know if we need a “Troy Aikman.”