After reeling off three straight wins, the Dallas Cowboys head on the road to face the defending NFC Champs. Here’s what to watch for…
Three straight wins.
I don’t care who your opponents were. Winning three straight games in this week-to-week league is an accomplishment.
For the Dallas Cowboys to make it four straight, the degree of the difficulty will certainly be a key component.
Going on the road is hard enough. Facing the defending NFC Champions in their building is even harder. Doing so missing your All-Pro left tackle and All-Pro running back borders on ridiculous.
Unfortunately, that’s exactly the sort of task that the Dallas Cowboys will face later this afternoon. Missing is Tyron Smith (groin) and Ezekiel Elliott (suspension) are huge losses for a team with a slippery grip on a playoff spot.
There is no doubt the Cowboys would have preferred to use Elliott to keep the ball away from Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons offense. The game plan likely will not change, just who will be asked to execute it.
That, however, is not what to watch for today. Usually, I will give you guys a couple of keys that I feel the game will center around. Today, there is really just one thing to truly watch for in this pivotal NFC clash.
Not just today. For the next six weeks, this is now, unequivocally, Dak Prescott’s team.
Prescott has had the luxury of an elite running game behind him while he has navigated his way through rookie and sophomore campaigns. The quality of the rushing attack will dissipate. You cannot just plug in a few guys in place of Elliott and prosper accordingly. You certainly cannot do so missing your All-World left tackle.
How Prescott reacts to the drop off will be a huge sign, not only for the team, but also for his overall growth. If Prescott keeps things afloat and Dallas wins three or four of the next six, you’ll know everything you need to know about him. If Dallas falters during this stretch, it will likely be Prescott doing too much.
Even though Elliott and Smith are missing today, the cupboard is not void of talent. There is still an upper echelon wide receiver, a future Hall of Fame tight end and two other perennial Pro-Bowler’s along the offensive line. There is also what is becoming somewhat of a dominant defensive front seven.
I know. I know. The thought of that seems preposterous as best given the history here but this front seven is really clicking. DeMarcus Lawrence, David Irving and Sean Lee are leading a defense that has turned things around since the bye week.
In three games, Dallas has not allowed 20+ points to a single opponent. They would have held all three under 300 total yards if not for that end of half debacle last week. To put that in perspective, only five teams in the NFL average less than 300 yards each game. None of those five were recent Cowboys’ opponents.
This defense is putting in work.
It’s not just those three guys either. Tyrone Crawford is flourishing in his role at defensive end. Jaylon Smith is playing better given less of a workload while Maliek Collins manages his way each week despite a sore foot.
All in all, the Cowboys have 11 sacks and seven forced turnovers during this three game win streak. If this can continue today (Atlanta has a -4 turnover differential – sixth worst in the league), that would go a long way towards keeping Dak within himself.
For the Dallas Cowboys to win, they will need to win the turnover battle, control time of possession and have their other stars play like stars.