Don't blink, but the NFL is pushing towards the halfway point for 2013 this week in a big way for both the Detroit Lions and Dallas Cowboys. Two NFC teams with identical records and playoff hopes jockey for positioning and try to place a critical loss on one another. In many ways, it's an ideal mid-season clash.
Detroit needs a victory to shake off last weekend's major disappointment, while Dallas wants to take control of the NFC East with a second consecutive win. Two high powered offenses are matched against two suspect secondaries, meaning the scoreboard could be lighting up this week. What will be the most important things to watch? Here's five thoughts.
1. Which Secondary Can Get More Stops? Detroit and Dallas rank 29th and 30th respectively with regards to passing defense. Which defensive backfield can get a stop, and which one will force Matthew Stafford or Tony Romo into more mistakes? Any stop in this game could prove critical if points start flowing, so whichever secondary finds a way to best get the job done will likely help his team become victorious by late Sunday afternoon.
2. Travis Frederick Against Ndamukong Suh And Nick Fairley. Back a few weeks ago, Suh introduced rookie Kyle Long to the league in a big way, dominating the Chicago Bears' top rookie. Prior to that game, Long was generating tons of positive press, much like the impressive Frederick has been. Can Suh and Fairley take Frederick to school and fracture Dallas's protection of Romo? They've only allowed five sacks this season, and Detroit will have to get pressure to help their cornerbacks and safeties thrive.
3. Major Dallas Injuries On Defense, Namely DeMarcus Ware. If Ware is absent, how will the Cowboys respond? Will George Selvie be able to shake off a shoulder injury to play and generate pressure, and if Ware can play, how much of an impact will he have rushing the passer? The Cowboys need to pressure Stafford just as much to help their defensive backfield, but the task might be considerably more difficult for the road team given the injuries they're facing. If Ware and Selvie play and play well, though, it will be a big help
4. Kevin Ogletree's Impact. Since joining the Lions after being cut by the Buccaneers, Ogletree made himself useful to Stafford last week, snagging two passes for 50 yards. With attention on Calvin Johnson, Joseph Fauria, Brandon Pettigrew and others, this could be the week for Ogletree to break out against his former team from last season. Additionally, will Ogletree be able to help Detroit's defense out with any insider information? A early season addition could play a huge role this week if the Cowboys aren't careful with their former teammate.
5. Detroit's Ground Game. One particular stat from earlier this week was very telling. In victories, Reggie Bush is averaging 5.5 yards per-rush, and in losses, only a lousy 2.8. Can the Lions get Bush and perhaps even Joique Bell going after an off week against the Cincinnati Bengals? The Lions will need much more than 77 yards on the ground to beat Dallas and achieve balance. The bad news? It's not easy to run on the Cowboys, either, as they've only yielded three rushing touchdowns and have given up 29 more yards than the Bengals. If the Lions manage to get Bush going, it could be a major difference maker Sunday towards controlling the clock and keeping offensive balance.
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