After back-to-back demoralizing defeats, the Dallas Cowboys are looking to get back on track today against the Los Angeles Chargers. Make no mistake, this is probably a must win game for the Cowboys if they want to keep their playoff hopes alive this season. But, don't expect the Chargers to rollover and hand the Cowboys the victory.
I believe this will be a hard-fought game by both teams, because each organization is basically in the same situation. The Cowboys, like the Chargers, are still mathematically in the playoff race. But, both teams have to continue to win games and receive a little bit of help around the league in order to earn one of those coveted playoff spots.
Fortunately, I believe this is a game the Dallas Cowboys should and probably will win. Continue reading below to find out the five reasons I believe the Cowboys will be victorious on Thanksgiving against the Chargers.
Dak on Attack
I don't expect Dak Prescott to sit in the pocket this week and allow the Chargers talented pass rushers to tee off on him. I think both he and the Cowboys coaching staff have had enough of seeing him under direst these last two weeks to allow that to happen.
I fully expect to see Prescott working outside the pocket more today. That means more misdirection plays and bootlegs to help combat the Chargers defense from pinning their ears back on obvious passing downs. Luckily, this is where Prescott is at his best.
I would be extremely surprised if the Dallas Cowboys don't have Prescott in attack mode later today. They are playing for their playoff lives and have to try and dictate how the game goes from the very beginning.
Heavy Dose of Alfred Morris
Without Ezekiel Elliott in the lineup, Alfred Morris has been the top dog in the Cowboys backfield. Surprisingly enough, he hasn't looked all that bad these last two games against Atlanta Falcons and Philadelphia Eagles, despite how poorly the Cowboys have played overall.
Alfred Morris is averaging 6.2 yards per carry this season and rushed for 91 yards on just 17 carries last week against a talented Eagles defensive front. The Cowboys will need much more this from Morris against a Chargers defense that is giving up nearly 140 rushing yards a game.
I expect to see a heavy dose of Alfred Morris in the running game in order to win the time of possession and control the tempo. I wouldn't be surprised if this is Morris' first 100 yard rushing game with the Dallas Cowboys.
The Return of Tyron Smith
The importance of Tyron Smith returning to the starting lineup can't be stated enough. We have seen these last two games exactly how important he is to this team, which is why I expect the Cowboys offense to get back on track against the Chargers.
Tyron Smith is arguably the best left tackle in the entire NFL and Dak Prescott couldn't be happier that he is back protecting his blind side. Prescott should have much more time to find the open receiver in the passing game, hopefully exploiting the Chargers defensive backfield.
Of course, Smith's return doesn't just help the passing game. His athleticism is equally important in the running game, which is another reason why I think we will see a heavy dose of Alfred Morris. We just have to hope that he doesn't suffer any setbacks and not only finishes this game, but the rest of the season healthy.
Pass rush harasses Philip Rivers
One of the most surprising things to happen this season has to be that the Dallas Cowboys have finally found players to get after the opposing quarterback. Even more surprising is that two of their defensive players are sitting atop their respective positions in quarterback sacks.
I'm pretty sure Philip Rivers is fully aware how dominant DeMarcus Lawrence and David Irving have been this season. He will absolutely know where they're lined up play after play, but that might not make much of a difference.
I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if the Cowboys pass rush harasses Philip Rivers for the majority of the game. Hopefully they can cause him to give up a turnover or two and help get the ball back to the offense. Rivers has after all thrown seven interceptions already this season. Let's just hope he adds to his INT total on Thanksgiving day.
Ryan Switzer proves value
It took 10 regular-season games, but we finally saw what a confident Ryan Switzer looks like the return game. Despite the Philadelphia Eagles dominating the game last week, Switzer was one of the few bright spots and continuously set the Cowboys offense up in good field position. I expect more of the same today.
The Chargers special teams units have struggled this season, which is why I believe Ryan Switzer will be a difference maker. Like last week, I think he will put the Cowboys offense in good field position once again with good returns and hopefully break one for a touchdown.
I also wouldn't be surprised if Switzer adds a spark to the offense. Teams have been bracketing Cole Beasley to take him out of the game and Switzer would probably stop that from happening. Giving Dak Prescott another reliable target on short to intermediate routes would help him get back his confidence and be an extension of the running game.
Do you think the Cowboys beat the Chargers?
Cowboys, Colts Week 15 Injury Report
The Dallas Cowboys can clinch the NFC East with a win this week, while the Indianapolis Colts are fighting to stay alive in the AFC wild card race. Only one team can accomplish their goal, and both have some big names on the Week 15 injury report.
We'll begin with the visiting Cowboys, who could be getting at least one star player back while another is already confirmed to miss the game.
- TE Geoff Swaim (wrist) - OUT
- G Zack Martin (knee) - OUT
- DL David Irving (ankle) - OUT
- WR Tavon Austin (groin) - Questionable
- WR Lance Lenoir (illness) - Questionable
- OT Tyron Smith (neck) - Questionable
- DE Randy Gregory (personal) - Questionable
- LB Sean Lee (hamstring) - Questionable
Yes, sadly, Zack Martin will be out tomorrow. The good news is that Connor Williams got the entire week to practice with the starters at right guard. You can read much more about this situation and it's impact on the game here, courtesy of our own Sean Martin.
Also ruled out, as they have been for a while now, are TE Geoff Swaim and DL David Irving. Swaim is still recovering from wrist surgery but has not been placed on injured reserve, so the team must feel he could be back for the playoffs. Irving could return as soon as next week.
Speaking of returns, Sean Lee may be back on the field this Sunday. It's unknown yet how he'll rotate with Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith, but Dallas has the luxury of working him in slowly thanks to the play of their young duo.
Tavon Austin could also return this week, creating another new offensive wrinkle. Austin has been injured since the Jacksonville game and has yet to play since the Cowboys acquired Amari Cooper. Not only could Tavon do some interesting things in the offense, but he should bring some additional sizzle to special teams.
While appearing on the injury report, Randy Gregory missed practice this week for "family reasons" according to Jason Garrett. He could still play tomorrow.
- G Mark Glowinski (ankle) - OUT
- LB Skai Moore (neck) - OUT
- S Mike Mitchell (calf) - OUT
- WR T.Y. Hilton (ankle) - Questionable
- TE Ryan Hewitt (ribs) - Questionable
- S Clayton Geathers (knee) - Questionable
The big name here is Hilton, the star receiver who missed all practice this week with an ankle injury. Indianapolis has not ruled him out, wanting to give Andrew Luck's favorite target every opportunity to play. But it's not looking good, and a bad ankle could limit Hilton's effectiveness even if he goes.
Also hurt among the passing options is starting TE Ryan Hewitt, but he did practice full on Friday and should go. Not playing, however, is starting right guard Mark Glowinski. That means third-year player Evan Boehm should start, who just joined the team in October.
Indy's hurting at safety this week. Not only did starter Clayton Geathers miss the whole week of practice, but veteran backup Mike Mitchell is already ruled out. The Colts would have to rely on undrafted rookie George Odum if neither plays.
Fun fact before we go; former Cowboy Jihad Ward was picked up by the Colts after Dallas included him in their roster cuts to start the season. However, he landed on injured reserve back in October so won't get a chance at revenge.
Zack Martin Out, Connor Williams In at Right Guard for Cowboys at Colts
The Dallas Cowboys offensive line depth will be tested as they play for a chance to clinch the NFC East on Sunday at the Indianapolis Colts. Suffering a knee injury last week against the Eagles, Right Guard Zack Martin will not be able to play. In missing his first career start, rookie Connor Williams rightfully returns to the starting lineup as Martin's replacement.
The 50th overall pick from this year's AT&T Stadium hosted Draft has started eight games this season at left guard. Williams' last start happens to be in the last game Dallas lost, a week nine defeat to the Tennessee Titans. This opened the door for Xavier Su'a-Filo to become something of a sensation for Cowboys Nation as the starting left guard throughout the team's current five game win streak.
Pro Bowl guard Zack Martin has been ruled out of Sunday's game with a sprained knee. Rookie Connor Williams will start in his place.
Zack Martin being unavailable is hardly how Marc Colombo wants to prepare for the Cowboys first road game since week 11. Having both Su'a-Filo and Williams in the lineup will be valuable for the Cowboys moving forward though, as Williams could earn his job at left guard back from the right side.
While he won't nearly be expected to play at the level of Martin, Williams looked poised coming off the bench against the Eagles and helping the Cowboys offense score their final three touchdowns. Williams was on the field for all three of Amari Cooper's scores, as Dallas rushed for 34 yards on 11 carries with him in the game.
Williams flashed some of the traits that made him a top left tackle prospect out of college, flowing to the second level with ease and creating movement with quick feet at the point of attack. The Cowboys have forced him to remain game ready despite losing his starting position by finding a few emergency snaps for him in recent weeks, as well as special teams looks. The team has every reason to believe Williams is an ascending young player still.
The same cannot be said of Su'a-Filo, who simply has to focus on continuing to hold up at left guard again this week. With each passing win, Su'a-Filo's LG spot has become more of a liability in a Cowboys offense in need of a jump-start late in this 2018 season.
Consistent offensive line play is one of the few things that's clearly hurting the Cowboys as contenders in the NFC behind a stellar defense and game breaking wide receiver.
The Cowboys won't be at full strength against the eighth best rushing defense and 15th ranked passing defense in yards per game. With three separate chances to clinch the NFC East starting at the Colts and extending until the end of the regular season, the Cowboys stand to learn all they need to know about the offensive line that will start in the playoffs.
Martin, who's elevated his game to a new level this season despite this lingering knee injury, should be on track to return when the Cowboys come home to play the Buccaneers in week 16.
#INDvsDAL: How The Game May Be Decided In The Red Zone
In many ways the Dallas Cowboys offense has found their stride in recent weeks. Over this five game win streak they have "found their identity" playing ball control offense and trusting their quarterback to make big throws when needed most. Of course the defense has been the star most weeks, but this offense should not be slept on either.
This doesn't mean the offense has been without their fair share of struggles, however, particularly in the red zone. Struggles that the numbers say could cost the Cowboys this weeks' game in Indianapolis if they don't get it cleaned up.
In terms of red zone offensive efficiency the Cowboys have been downright horrendous. In fact, they are dead-last in the league in success rate inside the 10 yard line, last in first-and-goal success rate, and 21st in success rate between the 11 and 20 yard lines.
There's no sugar-coating those numbers, they are bad. Especially when you consider that this team has arguably the league's best running back and a quarterback with the size and athleticism you might expect from a linebacker.
For as bad as the Cowboys are inside the red zone, the Colts are equally as good. Indianapolis is top 10 in terms of success rate inside the 10, at the goal line, and in first-and-goal success rate. They are also 11th in success rate between the 11 and 20 yard lines.
Despite not having the individual running back the Cowboys have, the Colts offensive line and skill players as a whole set them up a bit better when the field is shortened. Tight end Eric Ebron has been rather incredible in terms of production this season, catching 12 touchdowns on 58 receptions. Andrew Luck is also a more accurate quarterback than Dak Prescott, though Prescott should be a much more dangerous red zone threat than he currently is.
I am working on the Cowboys 32nd ranked Goal-to-Go offensive numbers. They have run 35 of their 59 total plays out of Shotgun-11 Personnel. In those 35 plays, the average gain per snap is....12 INCHES. I am not kidding. They could out-gain that by running QB sneaks. I am amazed.
Of course, some of the Cowboys red zone struggles can be pinned on offensive coordinator Scott Linehan. Linehan has failed to scheme open the "easy" red zone touchdowns we see so often around the league. As pointed out by Bob Sturm on Twitter this week, the Cowboys' personnel groupings and play calls when in goal-to-go situations have been questionable to say the least. But while blame does fall on the coaches' shoulders, the players need to execute better as well.
Games in the NFL often come down to just a handful of plays, and red zone efficiency plays a key role in deciding the outcome of close games every week. If this is once again the case on Sunday, based on past performance, the Dallas Cowboys could be in trouble against the efficient Colts.
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