1. It pains me to ask this given the Lions' struggle on offense this season, but just how big of an impact has Scott Linehan made on Dallas' offense?
Linehan's impact has been huge but in a way we really didn't see coming. One of our biggest complaints about the offense before this season was the fact that Dallas would not stick with the run. If it was working, they would still go to the pass. If they fell behind in a game they would immediately abandon the run. If they needed to melt the clock at the end of the game with a lead, they still would forget about the run. It drove the Cowboys fan base insane. Then when they hired Linehan, we saw what he had done with the Lions and noticed he sure seemed to like to pass the ball. So we figured nothing would change that much even though coach Jason Garrett said they wanted to be a more balanced offense. But to everybody's surprise they have changed and Linehan has kept the faith in the running game even when things are not going great. Running the ball sets up everything else about the Cowboys offense, and it helps protect the defense by controlling the time of possession. Linehan has been calling great games from the sidelines and has really helped Dallas turn things around.
2. Which player on offense for Dallas should the Lions be most concerned about: Tony Romo, DeMarco Murray, Dez Bryant or someone else?
Tony Romo. The Cowboys offense is a run-oriented offense, but it only works when teams fear the pass. Otherwise, they would stack the box and dare Dallas to throw the ball. When Romo is in the game and when his health is right, he is throwing the ball better than he has at any time in his career. He leads the NFL in completion percentage, yards per attempt, QB rating, total QBR, etc. The reason for that is teams eventually have to commit defenders to the running game and Romo then shreds the coverage. He's got plenty of weapons around him and a strong offensive line, so he's not doing it alone. But consider that the four games the Cowboys lost, he was limited in some way by injury or was just out of the game. Murray and the run game get a lot of attention, and rightly so, but Romo is having an unbelievable season.
3. What are the Cowboys' biggest strengths and weaknesses on defense right now?
The biggest strength of the defense is their ability to generate turnovers. Especially down the stretch of the season. The Cowboys rank second in getting turnovers (31), and they have been very good about the timing of those when they really matter in the flow of the game. They are also a hustle, gang-tackling team that has improved as the season has rolled on; even their pass rush is getting better. Their weaknesses are they don't have a dominant pass-rusher, so they must trick you with stunts or blitzing to get pressure. They also give up a lot of yards in the passing game, so if a team doesn't turn the ball over, they can put a lot of pressure on the defense.
4. What one matchup must the Cowboys win in order to be victorious on Sunday?
They must control the line of scrimmage on offense. That's almost always what they need to do. If they can run the ball, and keep Romo from getting beat up, their offense will put points on the board. They will also control the clock, limiting the amount of time the opposition has to keep up with them. If the opposition cannot break down the Cowboys offensive line, then it's very hard to beat Dallas.
5. Why have the Cowboys seemingly played so much better on the road than at home this season?
That is a question that people give a lot of different answers to, including the team itself. If you ask them, they say their focus is better on the road, it feels more like a business trip to them and they really concentrate on the task at hand. Others on the team say they get fired up when they hear the opposing fans boo and hurl insults. But, I think that's all just window dressing. The real answer? Tony Romo's health. The Cowboys' first game of the season was at home and Romo just didn't look right in that game; he was physically limited and Dallas lost. He started to look better the next week once he took some time off during the week, something he continues to do. He then got hurt during the first Washington game and didn't play the next week against Arizona, both home games and both losses. And they lost to Philly on Thanksgiving Day, a game played only four days after a Sunday night game (not much recovery time for Romo), and a game in which Romo did not take a pain-killing shot beforehand, something he admits was a huge mistake. So that's four losses at home, and all four had Romo's health somewhat compromised. I think that's the real answer.