There is exactly one day, three hours, 42 min and 56 seconds before kickoff. I can't hardly contain myself.
That said, it's about damn time I did some previews of the game.
Let's first take a look at what Jacksonville's offense will look to do against the Cowboys defense.
Commanding the field for the Jags is obviously Byron Leftwich. Missing 5 games due to injury last year and then a much criticized off-season has raised the pressure on this 4th year quarterback. This preseason Byron didn't show much offense but he did avert a quarterback controversy by outplaying backup David Gerrard in every meaningful way. Fundamental to Bryon's success is the performance of the offensive line. If 2nd year Left Tackle Khalif Banes can continue his improvement he should be able to hold off the Cowboys defensive line. Of course, Dallas has now switched to the 3-4 scheme preferred by Parcells which means that the Jags line will try to wear out the nose tackle position held by Jason Ferguson. The big battle will be containing DeMarcus Ware who's shown that he can get after the quarterback while displaying serious weakness against the run. If Jacksonville is going to establish a solid run game, I think it's gonna be while attacking Ware.
Beyond the trench fight, the obvious concern for Jacksonville is in the passing game. TE Marcades Lewis is questionable with a high ankle sprain and looks to receive little action in Sundays game. If Jacksonville cannot use a two TE set, look for them to put Reggie Williams in the slot with Jones and Wilford to spread out the Dallas Defense. By forcing a Dallas linebacker Blogging the Boys says it will be OLB Greg Ellis to drop into pass coverage and challenge the CB's with Matt Jones's speed, Jacksonville can use their physical advantages to offset the Boys' monster D-line. The Cowboys DB's have some match up problems with Jacksonville's tall wide receivers, though Roy Williams is always happy to make a big hit.
If Jacksonville establishes a consistent run game early AND make the critical passes (3rd down, etc) they should water down the pass rush on Byron. A Byron with time in the pocket is a Byron that can win games.
Defensively, it's a whole different story.
Jacksonville looks like it's been bit by the injury bug in the last two weeks on the defensive side of the ball. Marcus Stroud has his foot in a boot and is unlikely to get any playing time. If he can't plant his feet and contain the running attack of Julius Barber Thompson III, he might as well stay home. Look for DT Rob Meier to step up and fill the space next to John Henderson. Little known fact about Rob Meier, he led the AFC in Sacks by Defensive Tackles with six last season. Del Rio rotates Meier in with Henderson and Stroud far more frequently than anyone notices. DE Paul Spicer will also see time at DT as the afternoon heat wears on. Jacksonville is deep on defensive line talent and should create some matcup problems with the questionable Dallas O-line. I don't think that Reggie Haywood will have any problems around the outside on RT Marc Colombo. Dallas is likely to use a two TE set to help provide more protection for Drew Ledslow and to confuse the D-line. This is where this game is won. If Jacksonville keeps the running game contained and Drew under pressure, it's game over for America's team. Mike Peterson will have to show that he's back and ready to play in order to keep Dallas from pounding the middle the whole game.
Let's not forget that Jacksonville had 47 sacks last season and our DE's combined for 16 sacks. Our pass rush is something to be scared of. We all know how to beat the Cowboys, you gotta play chicken with Bledsoe and make him throw under pressure. It's not the most sophisticated strategy in the world, but it works.
The reason the Jags have to rely on the 7 men in the box to contain the RB's is that should Donovan Darius start diving to stop the run then the Dallas WR's of Owens and Glenn start to see single coverage, and that can be dangerous. Mathis at CB is itching to prove that he's a big time player, there ain't nothing bigger than containing TO in a big game. I imagine Dallas will try and challenge the DB's and keep Jacksonville cheating toward pass coverage to set up the RB's and TE's to move the chains. Parcells is a smart coach and shouldn't be underestimated. He's not gonna go deep ball crazy just because TO is on the field.
My prediction: It's gonna be one of those games that looks boring on TV. You'll see each coach test the other's O-line for weaknesses. Lots of trench fights, lots of running, with the runs setting up the pass. I expect a close game with special teams and field position being critical.
Jacksonville 17, Dallas 14.