Bengals to face explosive Cowboys offense

Bengals cornerbacks Terence Newman and Adam Jones both played for Dallas before signing with Cincinnati. And Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer spent 13 years as an assistant coach with the Cowboys.

“No different than San Diego, Philadelphia, the Giants or anyone else,” Zimmer said when asked about facing his former team for the second time since coming to Cincinnati in 2008. “I’m not playing (Dallas owner Jerry Jones), I’m playing those guys over there.

“I still have friends there. I have several friends there. People in the training room, front office. Lots of friends.”

Like the Bengals (7-5), Dallas (6-6) is on the outside looking in at the playoff picture and needs a strong finish over the final four weeks to reach the postseason.

Here is an early look at this year’s Cowboys team:

OFFENSE

The Cowboys have weapons at every position, which is a big reason why they rank No. 8 in the league in total offense (379.1 yards per game) and No. 2 in passing (296.7).

Only Matthew Stafford and Drew Brees have thrown for more yards this season than Dallas quarterback Tony Romo, who has completed 324-of-483 passes for 3,660 yards. But while he also is among the league leaders with a 67.1 completion percentage, Romo has thrown 15 interceptions, a number just one shy of being the most in the NFL.

Tight end Jason Witten is Romo’s top target with 88 catches for 818 yards and one touchdown, while wide receiver Dez Bryant is an explosive threat with 71 receptions for 978 yards and eight TDs. Wide receiver Miles Austin also is on pace for a 1,000-yard season with 51 catches for 773 yards and five scores.

The Cowboys rank 30th in rush offense (82.4), but a big reason for that is the fact that starting tailback DeMarco Murray missed six games with an ankle injury. Murray, who averages 4.1 yards per rush, returned to action Sunday and ran for 83 yards and a touchdown against Philadelphia.

DEFENSE

Dallas ranks 11th in total defense, allowing 336.7 yards per game, but the Cowboys have surrendered at least 423 yards in three of their last five games.

Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan employs a 3-4 set that is led by linebackers Demarcus Ware, whose 10.5 sacks rank fourth in the league, and Anthony Spencer (6.5 sacks). Linebacker Bruce Carter was leading the team in tackles before suffering a season-ending elbow injury on Thanksgiving Day against the Redskins.

The Cowboys rank 17th against the run (116.5) and 10th against the pass (220.2), but they have forced only 13 turnovers this year and as a result have a minus-10 margin that ranks 26th in the league.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Kicker Dan Bailey is 23-of-25 on field goals with a long 51. Punter Chris Jones ranks 23rd in the league with a 45.2 average, and 17th in net average (40.0).

Punt returner Dwayne Harris averages 15.0 yards per return, which ranks fourth in the league among players with at least 10 attempts.

SERIES

Dallas leads 6-4, but the Bengals are 3-1 in games played in Cincinnati.

X