Top 3 Individual Matchups
1 – Andy Levitre vs. DeMarcus Ware –Buffalo's guard turned left tackle held his own at left tackle the past two games. Levitre effectively neutralized Brian Orakpo two weeks ago and handled Calvin Pace last Sunday. He'll need to be even better against Ware, who is on pace to set the single-season league sack record with 12 in eight games.
2 – George Wilson vs. Jason Witten –Witten is Tony Romo's go-to guy in the passing game, especially when he needs a third-down conversion. With Miles Austin out he'll be an even great focus. Wilson has fared better against the athletic, pass-catching tight ends this season than his predecessor and has shown if thrown at often enough he'll come up with a takeaway.
3 – Drayton Florence vs. Dez Bryant –It's another physical matchup for Buffalo's most physical corner. Bryant's size alone presents problems as the young receiver is adept at pulling in jump balls. Tied for the team lead with four touchdown receptions, Bryant is also tied with Witten for most third down catches on the team with 11, three of which have resulted in touchdowns.
Bills Top 2 Advantages
Good advantage – Third down offense –The Bills attack had a bit of a lull with their third down conversions last week, but they still rank in the top half of the league when it comes to converting (13th – 40%). The Cowboys defense is allowing even a better success rate than that as opposing offenses are converting almost 42 percent of the time (41.7%) with Dallas' third down defense ranking 22nd in the league.
Best advantage – Red zone offense –Buffalo has had one of the top two red zone offenses in terms of touchdown percentage all season. They come into Sunday's game ranked second in the NFL turning red zone possessions into touchdowns almost two-thirds of the time (64.3%). Meanwhile the Cowboys' red zone defense has been in the bottom half of the league ranking 21st. Dallas has allowed 13 touchdowns on 23 possessions inside their 20-yard line.
Bills Number 1 Must
Slow Murray –Buffalo has to slow down DeMarco Murray if the Bills are to have a chance in this one. The Jets showed that the Bills can still be outmuscled up front, and Murray has been a big help in keeping the Dallas offense balanced. If Buffalo can put forth one of their better run defending efforts they might be able to put Tony Romo in an air it out situation allowing their opportunistic defense to create turnovers.
Big 'D's run 'D' slippingFor almost the entire month of October the Dallas Cowboys had the number one ranked run defense. They had allowed just one opponent to total more than 100 rushing yards in a game when New England just barely cracked the century mark with 101 in a hard-fought 20-16 win over the Cowboys in Week 5. Since then the Dallas defense has slipped to 10th in the league in run defense.
After giving up just under 70 rushing yards per game in the first six games (69.7) they've surrendered a stunning 200 per game the last two weeks. The yards per carry average on the season ballooned almost a full yard from 3.3 up to 4.2. Dallas gave up a total of 21 first downs rushing in the first six games. They've matched that in their last two. Philadelphia's LeSean McCoy rolled up 185 himself in Week 8 and Seattle's Marshawn Lynch followed with 135 of his own in Week 9.
So what's happened? The Cowboys have been particularly susceptible to stretch plays and counter runs. The result is twice as many 10-plus yard runs the past two weeks (12) than there had been in the first six games (5). Whether Dallas can correct their recent shortcomings remains to be seen on Sunday.
Austin sittingCowboys top wideout Miles Austin is not expected to play Sunday due to a hamstring pull suffered last week against Seattle. Austin is tied for the team lead in touchdown catches (4), stands second on the team in receptions and third in receiving yardage. Among the club's receivers Austin is widely considered the sharpest route runner and will be missed by Romo, who relies on him and Jason Witten the most when making anticipation throws. Laurent Robinson will replace Austin in the Cowboys lineup.
Be-WareDeMarcus Ware is already known as a pass rushing terror, but with the emergence of Anthony Spencer as a pass rushing threat on the opposite side, Ware is off to the fastest sack start of his career. The Troy State product has 12 sacks in the first eight games putting him on pace to set the NFL single-season record of 24, which would eclipse Michael Strahan's current mark of 22.5. Bills head coach Chan Gailey has already promised that there will be help given to Andy Levitre at left tackle on Sunday.
Murray RacerCowboys third-round pick DeMarco Murray literally exploded onto the scene three weeks ago for the Cowboys. With starting RB Felix Jones sidelined with a high-ankle sprain, Murray was thrust into the starting lineup against the Rams in Week 6. On his very first carry he raced 91 yards for a touchdown and hasn't looked back since. After rushing for 253 yards in his debut, Murray managed just 74 yards against Philadelphia in a lopsided result that forced the Cowboys to throw with Murray getting just eight carries in the game. Against Seattle last week, Murray rolled up 139 rushing yards in a 23-13 victory. After just three starts Murray already leads all rookie running backs with 539 yards and is averaging an eye-popping 8.5 yards per carry.
Lee-ding tackler nickedDallas LB Sean Lee is the team's leading tackler despite appearing in just seven of the Cowboys eight games. Lee missed last week's game due to a dislocated wrist. Limited in practice this week Lee fully intends to play Sunday with a giant club on his left hand. Lee also leads the Cowboys in interceptions with three on the season, but acknowledges that the chance for more INTs will be hindered with the use of just one hand.
One kickerFor most of the season the Cowboys had a pair of kickers on their roster. Rookie Dan Bailey was the place kicker while David Buehler was the kickoff specialist. But Buelher was placed on injured reserve Thursday with a recurring groin injury. So Bailey it's presumed will handle kickoffs as well. He doesn't have as strong a leg as Buehler with just six touchbacks in the four games he's kicked off. Buehler meanwhile had nine touchbacks in the four games he's kicked. It could mean more return opportunities for Brad Smith and C.J. Spiller. That being said Bailey has been the model of consistency on field goals hitting 19 straight.
The Romo you don't knowDue to the coverage he receives as the quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys, most NFL fans are more than aware of some of Tony Romo's fourth quarter meltdowns. What they may not know is Romo has more positive fourth quarters than negative ones. Yes, his gaffes late against the Jets and the Lions this season were ugly, but he also had comeback wins against San Francisco in overtime and against Washington. It might be shocking to know that among active NFL quarterbacks Romo possesses the highest fourth quarter quarterback rating with a mark of 99.4. That's higher than Philip Rivers (97.4), Aaron Rodgers (94.7), Tom Brady (90.4) and Peyton Manning (89.6).
Quote of the Week"Turnovers are my biggest concern. We can't turn the ball over. We were on a great pace for red zone. I'd like to stay at the top there. Anytime you can score seven instead of three it helps your football team. I think we've had a couple of bad games against a couple of good defenses. We've got to go have better games against those good defenses, and I think we're capable of doing that."
--Head coach Chan Gailey
Stat of the WeekRyan Fitzpatrick has a 75 percent completion percentage in three games against the NFC East this season (77.8, 70, 77.8).
Milestones in reachJairus Byrd needs one interception to post an INT in three consecutive games.
Scott Chandler (6) needs one touchdown reception to set the team record for touchdown catches by a tight end in a single season.
Ryan Fitzpatrick needs one touchdown pass to break a tie with Doug Flutie (47) for fifth most in team history.
Stevie Johnson needs eight catches to post his second straight 50-catch season.
Final NoteFred Jackson is averaging 117 rushing yards per game against the NFC East in 2011 (111, 121, 120).