It's Monday. It's Monday in Western New York, and we're talking about an upcoming game, rather than recapping one. Not since 1994 has that happened - for the first time in 13 years, the Buffalo Bills will be hosting a Monday Night football game. Their opponent: the undefeated Dallas Cowboys, who as it stands now are the only unbeaten team left in the NFC and who sport the league's highest-scoring offense.
As exciting as the prospects of a Monday Night game are, "experts" from around the league are not giving the Bills much of a chance to pull the upset in this one. That's to be expected - Cowboys QB Tony Romo is the new national media darling, wideout Terrell Owens will always have cameras following him, and Dallas plays an exciting brand of football. But the cliche "Any Given Sunday" was developed for a reason; it would be a bad move to count the Bills out of this contest. Mark my words: if the Bills are able to do the following three things, they will have a fighting chance in this game:
Offense: Move Them Chains
Rookie quarterback Trent Edwards will get his second straight start for the Bills after leading the team to their first win of the season last week in his first NFL start against the Jets. Edwards' job this week will be very similar to what it was last week - move the chains and sustain drives. The Bills need to control the ball as often as possible, keeping Romo and the Cowboys offense on the sidelines. Edwards will need to be sharp, as will offensive coordinator Steve Fairchild.
Look for the Bills to attack Dallas through the air early - corner Terence Newman has been injured, fellow starter Anthony Henry is out and strong safety Roy Williams looks like a defensive end in coverage. I expect the Bills to get a few quick first downs, get Edwards into a rhythm and then try to establish running back Marshawn Lynch. If the Bills can do that, they could have offensive success similar to what they had last week. But beware: one turnover or a couple of three-and-outs are all Dallas' offense needs to put this game out of reach.
Players to Watch: QB Trent Edwards, RB Marshawn Lynch, WR Josh Reed
Defense: Wrap Up
With a dominant passing attack featuring Romo, Owens, Patrick Crayton and the current best tight end in football, Jason Witten, the Cowboys are going to pick up yards and a handful of points Monday Night. Buffalo's defense is too banged up for that not to happen. But there are a few things that can easily happen defensively for the Bills that can keep the team in the game.
First thing's first: tackling will be huge tonight. Owens is the game's best receiver when it comes to ability after the catch; Crayton and Witten are particularly difficult to bring down as well. The Cowboys get the vast majority of their big plays on intermediate throws that are turned upfield for long touchdowns. If the Bills don't wrap up, you'll see that happen tonight. If they do, Dallas will have to earn every yard and point they accumulate.
Second: get a turnover or two. The Bills got two picks off of Chad Pennington last week, and they'll need to do something similar to beat Dallas. That could mean picks, it could mean recovered fumbles, it could mean picking up a muffed punt - regardless of how it happens, it just needs to happen. But care is needed - cornerback Jabari Greer likes to jump routes; look for Dallas to try to exploit his aggressiveness for some long gains.
Players to Watch: DE Aaron Schobel, LB Angelo Crowell, CB Jabari Greer
Special Teams: Be the X-Factor
We've been calling for it for a few weeks now and it hasn't happened - the Bills special teams, long regarded as one of the top units in the league, needs to be an X-Factor for the Bills tonight. They have an opportunity to be, as well - Dallas has a strong O and an aggressive D, but their special teams leave something to be desired.
Return specialist Dante Hall of the St. Louis Rams gave the Cowboys fits last week, scoring the Rams' only points of the game on a punt return. With special teams ace Keith Davis sidelined, the opportunity is great for return men Terrence McGee and Roscoe Parrish (if we can get Dallas to punt, that is) to have big impacts on this game. These return men have been explosive at points this season; they will need to create short fields for Edwards and the offense tonight if the Bills hope to keep up with the Cowboys' high-powered attack. This is perhaps the biggest advantage the Bills hold going into tonight's contest.
One last note: keep an eye on Cowboys K Nick Folk. The rookie has been solid for the Cowboys to date, but he hasn't had to make any high-pressure kicks yet, as Dallas has steamrolled each team they've faced. If push comes to shove and Folk has to make a big kick, rest assured that his heart will be pounding a little harder than normal - Monday Night will do that to you.
Players to Watch: KR Terrence McGee, PR Roscoe Parrish, P Brian Moorman