PFF Preview: Colts @ Cowboys, Week 16

In one of the best matchups of Week 16, the Colts must find a way to deal with the Cowboys' offensive line, one of the best lines in the league.

| 3 years ago

PFF Preview: Colts @ Cowboys, Week 16

2014-Prev-WK16-IND@DALJerry World and AT&T Stadium host a late-afternoon Week 16 matchup between the AFC South champion Indianapolis Colts (10-4) and the NFC East-leading Dallas Cowboys (10-4). With each team uncertain of a star player’s status for Sunday, this game could look drastically different than what we’re accustomed to seeing.

DeMarco Murray’s broken left hand has been an almost-hourly saga this week as the league’s leading rusher (1,687 yards) had surgery on Monday while T.Y. Hilton hasn’t practiced at all this week (as of 12/18) due to a hamstring injury. Hilton is fourth in the NFL with 1,345 receiving yards and is Andrew Luck’s go-to machine.

Whether or not Murray plays on Sunday, the Dallas’ rushing attack is the key to this game. The Cowboys’ offensive line is arguably the best in the NFL and not a single OL starter has a negative grade. Lead by rookie guard Zack Martin (+19.5, +4.6 run) and center Travis Frederick (+14.7, +14.6 run), the men up front pave the way for the Dallas backs. While Murray is having a potential franchise-record-breaking year, his +14.7 run grade and 2.63 yards after contact per attempt suggests (while both numbers are great) that he has truly benefited from his offensive line play. To compare Murray to the most recent player to crack 2,000 yards (which looked very likely four weeks ago), Adrian Peterson averaged 3.93 yards after contact per attempt and had a +28.7 run grade in 2012. So while Murray is putting up great statistics, he should be buying his offensive line dinner after games with the way they dominate opposing defensive lines.

The Colts’ run defense gives up 110.4 yards per game, which is 16th in the NFL. While Andrew Luck solves a lot of defensive issues the Colts have, he isn’t going to be stuffing the run. That task is up to ILB D’Qwell Jackson. jackso was 58th of 59 ILBs with a -16.1 following a disastrous game against the Patriots, but since that Week 11 debacle, Jackson has been our third-best ILB at +8.0 with a league-best +6.8 against the run. Looking at our Signature Stats, Jackson’s Tackling Efficiency has drastically improved over the past four weeks. Weeks 1 through 11 saw him at 10.6, while his play during Weeks 12 through 15 is almost double at 19.5.

Jackson is going to need to keep up this recent surge in order to keep the Cowboys’ running attack in check.

Three things to watch for:

Indianapolis Colts

Andrew Luck – So many things could be said about Luck. He gets compared to Peyton Manning as Luck is a year removed from being his predecessor. While Manning spends the least amount of time in the pocket, Luck hangs onto the football much longer as his 2.70 seconds to attempt is fifth-slowest in the NFL.

Anthony Castonzo – Protecting Luck’s blind side, the fourth-year Castonzo has improved every year in increments until this year which has seen him take a big leap forward. In 2013, Castonzo gave up four sacks, 12 hits, and 46 hurries en route to a +3.9 overall and -8.7 pass block grade. In 2014: two sacks, nine hits, and 20 hurries with a +13.6 overall and +11.5 pass block grade.

Vontae Davis – Our third-ranked cornerback at +19.0 but in only 730 snaps (vs. 938 for Darrelle Revis at +19.1). At 0.86 yards per cover snap (sixth in NFL) and 35.5 QB rating when targeted, Davis is a shoo-in for the Pro Bowl.

Dallas Cowboys

Tony Romo – Keeping with the lesser known stats for QBs, Romo ranks seventh in accuracy Under Pressure at 66.7%. He is pressured on 29.2% of his drop-backs which ranks in the bottom third of the NFL.

Tyrone Crawford – The Cowboys’ top-rated defensive player is at his best when rushing the passer. With a +17.5 pass rush grade, Crawford has four sacks, 11 hits, and 22 hurries.

Orlando Scandrick – The Cowboys’ best DB is giving up just 1.12 yards per cover snap while not giving up a single TD this season.

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| Analyst

John is an analyst for Pro Football Focus and former safety for the University of Kansas Jayhawks (2004–2006).

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