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FRISCO, Texas -- Week 16's showdown of the 10-4 Dallas Cowboys at the 10-4 Miami Dolphins is historic. It's tied as the matchup coming latest in a season in NFL history between two teams averaging 30 or more points per game, with Dallas ranking as the NFL's No. 2 scoring offense (30.8 points per game) and Miami leading the league (31.5 points per game). 

Both offenses are loaded with playmakers. The Cowboys are stocked with Pro Bowl running back Tony Pollard, Pro Bowl wide receiver CeeDee Lamb, sage veteran Brandin Cooks and emerging second-year tight end Jake Ferguson. The Dolphins have perhaps the fastest group of skill positions players in the NFL, including the 2023 league leader in receiving yards (1,542) and receiving touchdowns (Tyreek Hill), the 2022 league leader in yards per catch (Jaylen Waddle, 18.1), the 2023 co-leader in scrimmage touchdowns (Raheem Mostert)  and the 2023 league co-leader in scrimmage touchdowns by rookies (De'Von Achane). 

"Yeah, it's very fun, different ways of moving players," Cowboys wide receiver CeeDee Lamb said Thursday when asked about the high-powered matchup. "A lot of playmakers, a lot of speed. We have speed, they have track runners. Very excited. Looking forward to it."

Lamb's 25 plays of 20 or more yards this season ranks as the second-most in the NFL behind only Hill's 26. A high school track athlete himself, Lamb is naturally excited about the race to light up the scoreboard with Hill and the Dolphins. However, Dallas' fifth-ranked scoring defense that allows an average of 18.9 points per game, isn't as thrilled to be to go up against Miami's turbo-charged offense. All-Pro edge rusher Micah Parsons, who leads the NFL in quarterback pressures (89) and quarterback pressure rate (20.9%), was clocked at an average pass rush get-off time time of 0.57 seconds in Week 2 against the Jets, the fastest of any player in a game across the last two seasons. He knows he'll likely have to top that effort on Sunday. 

"It's not fun at all when you're getting ready to go up against someone like Tyreek Hill because I know I have to run faster than I ever have all year," Parsons said Thursday. "I might hit a Mach speed chasing someone like him. Your conditioning has to be a little bit higher, especially with him, Waddle and all of the dynamic players and running backs they have. So it's never really fun, but it's always fun watching. When I'm watching him going from 1,600 yards in the regular season I'm like 'man this guy is nuts.' Like it's fascinating to watch it, but when you're actually playing in it, 'ahh damn I got to deal with this shit now, man.' But it's cool."

The internal clock for Parsons, Pro Bowl defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence and the rest of the Cowboys' NFL-best pass rush -- they lead the NFL with a 47.1% quarterback pressure rate -- needs to speed up this week in order for them to keep up. Head coach and offensive play-caller Mike McDaniel's offense leads the NFL in motion rate (77.8%) with almost the same rate of plays having a league-high motion rate at the snap (77.2%). 

What that does schematically is spring open Miami's speed at a much quicker rate, playing into the fast processing of quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, whose 2.47 seconds for his average time to throw is the fastest in the NFL this season. Not so coincidentally, he also leads the NFL in completion percentage (71%) and passing yards (3,921) in 2023, and if that holds, Tagovailoa would be first the quarterback to do so in a season since future Hall of Famer Drew Brees did it in 2011.  

"Yeah, he's having a great year," Cowboys cornerback Stephon Gilmore said Wednesday. "He has great guys around him. They have a great running game. They have two elite receivers. So, it's not just him. It's just everybody he has around him. So, it's going to take all of us to play our best football."

McDaniel's Dolphins success with a particular type of motion, dubbed "cheat motion" by his former boss and San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan, is high up on the Cowboys' scouting report. 

"I feel like everybody is doing it now," Gilmore said. "We're playing the same offense every week now. They [Miami] just have different guys. It makes it easier, but they just have different guys in different positions."

The "cheat motion" is where McDaniel has Hill or Waddle sprint laterally in a short motion either to or away from the football before immediately turning upfield upon the snap into more vertical, down the field routes. 

"Mike's a very creative guy … you could see that coming through [then] of how to feature players and how to use them," Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn said Monday of McDaniel, the 40-year-old head coach who spent two seasons on his Atlanta Falcons coaching staffs in 2015 and 2016. "It even started back with Deebo [Samuel] in San Francisco and he played different running back positions.… Mike was a big part of that. He's got a big, creative brain to use that and they have a lot of speed, so we'll have our hands full."

There's not much of a difference defending the "cheat motion" from team to team around the NFL, but the personnel running on Sunday is the most dangerous the Cowboys will have faced all season. 

"Not really because everybody is doing it, they just have Tyreek Hill doing it," Gilmore said when asked how much different the Dolphins' utilization of the technique is compared to the rest of the league. "It's a little bit different speed. So, we've seen it all year. We just have to communicate and be aggressive.... Everybody has different players in different positions, and if you have a great player in the position doing it a certain type of way, you're going to be more successful. So that's what it comes down to."

In order to attempt to negate that speed and the edge their motion can provide, it's likely the officials on Sunday will be watching the line of scrimmage carefully as the Cowboys plan to get quite handsy within the first five yards off the line, something they are legally allowed to do. 

"Play with great technique, trust your teammates and be physical," Gilmore said when asked about the keys to combatting the Dolphins' team speed. "That's really what it comes down to, winning at the line of scrimmage and playing physically. If we can care of that, we'll take care of the game.... You have to be smart. These guys [the Tennessee Titans, the last team to beat the Dolphins back in Week 14] got their hands on him [Hill] and played great against him, but you have to be smart obviously because he's super fast. You have to have a good game plan."

Setting the edge

While keeping Hill and the Dolphins' passing game under wraps is critical, that's an area the Cowboys specialize in between their pass rush and the outside cornerback duo of Gilmore and second-year corner DaRon Bland, whose eight interceptions lead the league and whose five pick-sixes are the most in a single season in NFL history. Limiting the damage on the ground is a different story. 

Dallas entered Week 15 at the Buffalo Bills with an 8.3% missed tackle rate, the lowest in the NFL. Following their 31-10 debacle of a defeat in Buffalo that included a whopping 17 missed tackles, according to Pro Football Focus, that percentage jumped to 9.3%, pushing their rank to second place behind the New England Patriots' 8.9% rate for the entire season.   

"Our tackling wasn't up to the standard we've set," Quinn said. "That is our secret sauce, our tackling and our ball-hawking, and we didn't have it. That has nothing to do with home or away, turf or grass, open air or dome, east or west, night or day, Saturn or Mars, you got to have those two things down."

Those missed tackles, most of which occurred on the edge of the line of scrimmage according to Quinn, played a massive role in the Bills' 49 carries going for Cowboys' defensive season high of 266 rushing yards, an average of 5.4 yards a rush and three touchdowns. Given the team's strong performance in wrapping up opposing ball-carriers overall this season, Dallas believes they can turn their tackling efforts around in a week's time.

"Just out on the practice field, we got a good day today [Wednesday] to just go through great tackling techniques and carry it over to the game," Gilmore said. "Just like we were a great tackling team the week before. You have to do it each week or it doesn't matter. We have a big challenge this week to do it."

The biggest area of conflict between these two units in the run game won't happen up the middle through the A or B gaps, where the Bills repeatedly bludgeoned the Cowboys in Week 15. Rather, most of the action on the ground for Miami will occur in the C gaps against defensive ends and outside linebackers reside, the part of the formation where Parsons and Lawrence reside. The Dolphins 139.6 rushing yards per game ranks as the fourth-most in the NFL while their 63.9 rushing yards per game on outside zone runs is the second-most in the league, trailing only the 49ers' figure of 69.3 per game. 

"They have so many different combinations of people crack blocking, it's not just set for one person," Parsons said. "I think Mike McDaniel is up there with Kyle Shanahann when it comes to scheme and getting his best guys in the open space and doing dynamic things like that. I think he's just a terrific OC [offensive coordinator]....Each week there's an emphasis on certain things and this week, there's an emphasis on setting the edge. So I just got to let my play do it for itself. People always play the Cowboys different. There might be some things we haven't seen, no one has seen Josh Allen hand the ball off 39 times. This is a common thing, I just got to be ready to see what I see when I get out on the field."

The way the Dolphins pound the outside part of the formation is unlike anything Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy has seen in his 30 years as an NFL coach, which means his players' belief in their ability to tackle needs to be at an all-time high despite coming off their worst tackling performance of 2023 in Week 15. 

"They're [the Dolphins] going to run the ball," McCarthy said Thursday. "I think their ability to … I'm just trying to think back through the years of a team that gets the ball on the edge as much as they do. I think their ability to attack the C gap and wider is extensive. So that'll be the starting point. Both guys can really haul it.... "I think it's [tackling] a lot like believing in the Christmas spirit. If you believe it, it happens. So just keep believing."