As much as the 2020 season feels like a lost cause for the Dallas Cowboys after a horrific 2-5 start, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a player in that locker room who is going to “tank” for draft position. That coaching staff isn’t going to stop doing everything they can to get the best effort out of their team and attempt to win games.
Players and coaches are built to try and win games, no matter the record, no matter the circumstances. They won’t go out there and purposefully lose. It’s not in their nature.
Now, that doesn’t mean they will win, because we’ve seen enough of this team to know that that’s not very likely. The reality remains that they’re just a half-game out of first place in the NFC East. You and I may not feel optimistic about their chances this Sunday, but still, let’s look at what they need to do to come out with a victory on Sunday.
1. Protect Nucci Mane
Seventh-round pick Ben DiNucci will be making the first start of his NFL career this Sunday night against the Philadelphia Eagles after Andy Dalton was officially ruled out due to the concussion he suffered last Sunday against the Washington Football Team. It’s a tough task for any quarterback, let alone a rookie to make their first start on the road against the Cowboys’ biggest rivals, the Philadelphia Eagles. The Cowboys coaching staff, offensive line, and skill players have to do what they can to protect DiNucci.
The coaching staff has had a week to come up with a game plan to accentuate DiNucci’s strengths and to attempt to shore up the Cowboys’ weaknesses along the offensive line. The Eagles front four is still really good, led by Fletcher Cox. The Eagles rank 10th in the NFL in quarterback pressures per dropback and third in the NFL in sacks per Pro Football Reference. And they do so by blitzing at the sixth-lowest rate in the NFL at just 21.9%. For reference, the Baltimore Ravens lead the league in blitz rate at 46.1%.
The Eagles are rushing for nearly 80% of the time and they’re having success. The Cowboys offensive line has to win their matchups in order to give DiNucci time to survey the landscape.
Much like we’ve talked about when Andy Dalton took over, the Cowboys offensive engineers have to create a plan that will get the ball out of DiNucci’s hands quickly so that he isn’t forced to sit in the pocket for 3-4 seconds waiting for route concepts to develop. When they do want to dial up a deep shot, they need to roll him out or use max protection to give him an opportunity and the time to get the ball down the field.
2. Pressure, Contain, and Create Against Carson Wentz
Though the Philadelphia Eagles record isn’t that much better than the Dallas Cowboys at this point in the season, they’re a team that’s been playing better football lately. Even in their loss to the Baltimore Ravens a couple of weeks ago, they were able to storm back and have a shot to win that game late, but were unable to make enough plays to complete the comeback.
No quarterback has been pressured more than Carson Wentz in 2020. Per Pro Football Focus, Wentz has the highest sack rate in the NFL among quarterbacks with at least 191 dropbacks on the season. Wentz’s 28 sacks are tied for the most in the NFL with Joe Burrow of the Cinncinati Bengals. Carson Wentz is also tied for the league lead in interceptions in 2020 with Kirk Cousins at 10.
When pressured Wentz is completing just 40% of his passes and his adjusted completion percentage when under pressure is just 59.7%, good for 23rd in the NFL among quarterbacks with 191 dropbacks.
Wentz is also tied for second in the NFL with four interceptions while under pressure.
This feels like a great week for the Dallas Cowboys to get a turnover or two and wreak havoc on a quarterback who’s been under fire quite a bit this season.
3. Ezekiel Elliott Needs to Be Better
The Dallas Cowboys need their stars to play better football this season, including Ezekiel Elliott. Now, it shouldn’t be expected that the Cowboys will be able to get a similar running game out of this team that they have in previous years due to the offensive line overhaul, but they need Ezekiel Elliott to protect the football and do the little things well.
Elliott has long been one of the best pass blocking running backs in the game and there have been times this year where he hasn’t held up. Ben DiNucci is going to need Zeke to be at his best Sunday night to help DiNucci against the Eagles pass rush.
There’s also a good chance that the Kellen Moore, Mike McCarthy game plan is going to ask a lot of the running game this week and Elliott needs to hold onto the football. Elliott leads the NFL in fumbles with five per Pro Football Focus and for a player that is often considered one of the best running backs in the NFL, he can’t put the ball on the ground that often.
According to Pro Football Focus, Elliott is tied for the league lead in drops by a running back with four with Ronald Jones and Devin Singletary.
The Cowboys need Elliott to be the leader on the field that he is in the locker room. They need him to grind out the tough yardage in this game. They need him to make big plays in the run and pass game when he does happen to get an opening.
Elliott’s a player that’s come under fire this season and rightfully so. He needs to flip the script on his 2020 and can’t let the offensive line be the excuse for everything that’s going poorly. It’s time for Elliott to rise above the challenges that face this offense and control the things that he can control.