Kevin Kugler on the Cowboys, 49ers-Giants and Texans-Packers

10/12/2012

Welcome to Week 6 of the National Football League! Sunday is a day filled with choices… what kind of sauce to have on my wings from Buffalo Wild Wings? What game should I enjoy first? Who starts at QB for me with Drew Brees on bye this week? I’ll leave the sauce and the starter to you, but let’s talk about the games of the week this week in the NFL

First up, the Cowboys and the Ravens. Remember the last time we saw the Cowboys? Tony Romo had just thrown 5 picks in the 34-18 loss to the Bears in Dallas. Chicago took two of those INTs to the house, and Dallas seemed in disarray. Things looked bleak. But, they rest up. They refocus, and lo and behold, the Cowboys are still just one-half game behind the Eagles and the Giants in the division. In other words, all is certainly not lost. But, a tough task awaits as they travel to M&T Bank Stadium to meet up with the Ravens, who haven’t lost a game at home in the regular season in almost two years.

This Ravens team isn’t exactly coming off a Picasso-style performance either. That 9-6 win over Kansas City was ugly, and Baltimore didn’t score a TD for the first time in 43 regular season games. The Ravens defense, for years the strength of the team, gave up over 200 yards rushing to the Chiefs, as Jamaal Charles had a big day. But, they kept the Chiefs out of the end zone, and got the win. It’s a game where home-field advantage might make all the difference. The Ravens average over 32 points per game at home, while averaging just 16 points per game on the road. And that ground game of the Cowboys doesn’t even appear to be that of the Chiefs, ranking 29th in the NFL in rushing this year. This is a big game for the Cowboys as they try to turn the 2nd quarter of the season into a much better story than the first.

Secondly, the Giants and the 49ers meet in a rematch of last year’s NFC Championship Game. Normally, these games don’t live up to all the advance hype, but this one has better potential than most, because both teams are playing at a pretty high level again, at least on the offensive side of the ball. The Niners are especially hot, having dispatched their last two foes by a combined 79-3 score. You have to assume there’s a little bit of revenge on the minds of the Niners, having lost that heartbreaker to the Giants last season with the Super Bowl on the line.

One way they will get that revenge is if Alex Smith can continue his hot play and exploit the Giants’ injury-plagued secondary. Smith says his middle finger, sprained last week in the crushing defeat of the Buffalo Bills, is good to go on Sunday, and you know he wants to go in this one. The Giants are a big play waiting to happen… at least for the opposing quarterback. They’ve allowed 24 plays of 20 yards or more this year, and when you are manning an offense that rushed and passed for over 300 yards last week, as the Niners did, you’re not missing this game with a sprained finger.

So how do the Giants win this one? Eli Manning has been terrific to start the year…and has gotten great protection from his offensive line this season. Just five sacks allowed by the guys up front, and Manning has taken advantage, throwing for over 1,500 yards. He may also get Hakeem Nicks back after missing the last three games, adding another weapon to that offensive attack.

Finally, the end of your day comes on Westwood One Sports with Sunday Night Football and the Packers meeting up with the Houston Texans. It’s the first opportunity for the Texans to show that life without All-Pro linebacker Brian Cushing will be okay. Cushing will be out for the year after suffering a knee injury on Monday night against the Jets and it’s a big loss, as the star LB leads the team in tackles this season on a defense that has been among the best in the league in the early going. The Texans are 4th overall in points allowed this season.

But Houston still has J.J. Watt, who’s in the midst of a wonderful season. Watt, just one-half sack behind NFL leader and Packer Clay Matthews in sacks this year, will be a guy that the Texans hope can handle even more of the defensive workload with the injury to Cushing. It’s not a bad offense to get well against, at least from a pass rush standpoint. The Packers, who boasted the best record in the NFL last year at 15-1, have had a hard time getting on track this year, and are 2-3 coming off a surprising loss to the Indianapolis Colts last week. The run game was hit hard this week as Cedric Benson was placed on IR. Greg Jennings and Jermichael Finley are also banged up, and of course, Aaron Rodgers has had major protection issues, having been sacked 21 times in just five games this year.

The balance of the Houston offense has been the key to the Texans success. Arian Foster is 2nd in the NFL in rushing yards this year, while Matt Schaub is 7th in the league in passer rating this year. Combined with that excellent early defense, and the Texans are getting the early tag by some as the “best team in the league.” Sunday night will be a great test of that title for sure.

Enjoy the games….enjoy the wings from Buffalo Wild Wings…and good luck finding somebody to fill in for Brees in your starting lineup this week!

— Kevin Kugler

Westwood One NFL play-by-play announcer Kevin Kugler tackles subjects that are interesting to him each week in his blog. The Football Insider Report is brought to you by Buffalo Wild Wings. Protect the Football. This weekend, Kevin and Mark Malone will be in Arizona as the 4-1 Cardinals host the Buffalo Bills. Coverage begins at 3:30 PM Eastern Sunday on Westwood One Sports.

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