Welcome everyone. It's another beautiful Sunday afternoon in Dallas, with clear skies and a very nice temp in the mid-70s. It's perfect for some NFL football. The Cincinnati Bengals have traveled to town to meet the Dallas Cowboys for their 11th game against each other.
I'm sure you all know exactly where things stand this week, from Jeff Heath being added as the backup kicker to A.J. Green and the challenge he presents for Morris Claiborne and the Dallas secondary.
The Cowboys are currently 3-1, having won their last three games after a rough outing and close loss to the Giants on opening day. Rookies Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott have looked better each game they've played and are starting to look like the real deals. Elliott is even the NFL's leading rusher coming into this week. Dez Bryant will likely miss another game, Tyron Smith is still having issues, and Dan Bailey seems to be pushing through his issues enough to kick a few this afternoon.
The Bengals are currently sitting at 2-2 on the season and haven't played the Cowboys since 2012, when they lost 20 to 19. In a rare matchup today, the Bengals are looking to walk away with their third win of the year and have unfamiliarity on their side. The Bengals aren't the same team we played in 2012.
But enough with the stuff you already know. Today's game is going to be interesting, we get that. So let's get to the picks.
Ian Koplowitz | @BleedingTheStar
I'd love to be wrong here. But this is the first opponent on our schedule that actually has a very solid team. The banged up left side of the line may show a little too much against this high powered Bengals defensive line. I'm not sure we'll be able to do what we need to do on the ground to pull out the win.
Cowboys 17 – Bengals 27
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Brian Martin | @Bmart0204
The Cincinnati Bengals might just be the most complete team the Dallas Cowboys have played thus far in 2016. I think we will finally get the first glimpse of what this year's squad is made of in all three phases of the game. I expect a close game but I think the Cowboys can squeak by and come away with a victory in their last home game before the bye.
Cowboys 24 – Bengals 21
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Kevin Brady | @Kevinbrady88
This is going to be a tough one. Defensively, the Cowboys have to deal with A.J. Green, but I expect their improved secondary to play better than most do. The return of DeMarcus Lawrence results in some increased pressure on Andy Dalton, and the Cowboys offensive line wins at the line of scrimmage despite the tough match up. Dan Bailey wins it, bad back and all, to get the Cowboys to 4-1.
Cowboys 26 – Bengals 23
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Sean Martin | @ShoreSportsNJ
The Ezekiel Elliott hype train is about to take off and never look back, as the Cowboys will outscore the Bengals with their rookie RB and rookie QB Dak Prescott. I see Dallas sustaining long drives, and finishing them off with touchdowns, allowing the defense to do just enough late in this game to secure the win. DeMarcus Lawrence forces a fumble at some point in the win.
Cowboys 31 – Bengals 21
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John Williams | @John9williams
The Cincinnati Bengals continue to struggle scoring touchdowns and the Dallas Cowboys rushing attack leads the way to their fourth straight victory.
Cowboys 24 – Bengals 20
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Justin Grohowski | @Grohowknowhow
It's time to finally see if the 2016 Dallas Cowboys are for real as they face off against a truly complete team. Dallas' offensive line has gotten better with each passing week, and so has Ezekiel Elliott. This group alone allows the team to dictate games on their own terms, and they continue that trend again today against Cincinnati. DeMarcus Lawrence is back, and the pass rush shows some signs of improvement here. For as good as Morris Claiborne has been, A.J. Green gets the better of him in this one. Dak Prescott makes just enough plays in the passing game, and the team pulls out a close one down the stretch. Brice Butler has a big game here, and Dan Bailey sinks the game winner.
Cowboys 27 – Bengals 26
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RJ Ochoa | @RJOchoa
This is a great litmus test for the 2016 Cowboys. The Bengals are unarguably the best team they'll have faced this season, but with an offense that can move the ball slowly and methodically - taking time off the clock - it's hard to bet against Siegfried and Roy, aka Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott.
Cowboys 27 – Bengals 23
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Bryson Treece | @BrysonTreece
The Bengals are a team we rarely face, who have improved greatly since we last faced them, and who happen to be the best team we've played this year, so far. Their defense and offense pack some punches these Cowboys haven't yet gone up against, and I expect some struggles early. I expect some struggles middle and late, too. But in the end, I've got the 'Boys coming away with the W. Continued clock management with Zeke Elliott and decisive play by Dak Prescott to go on the run and spread the ball around. Brice Butler will score today.
Cowboys 24 – Bengals 21
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I don't think anyone really knows what to expect today. The Bengals are capable of being 3-1 and the Cowboys are just as capable of being 2-2, if not for luck of the draw. So we'll just have to wait and see how Dallas handles the stiffer competition.
As always, stay safe, drink responsibly, and LET'S GO COWBOYS!!!
Cowboys, Falcons Week 11 Injury Report
The Dallas Cowboys and Atlanta Falcons are both 4-5 and playing to keep their seasons alive. It's a mutual must-win game, and both will have to try to win it without some key players. Once again, we look at this week's injury reports.
Let's begin with your Cowboys, whose report is getting longer as the season wears on:
- WR Tavon Austin (groin) - OUT
- DE Taco Charlton (shoulder) - OUT
- DT David Irving (ankle) - OUT
- DT Daniel Ross (calf) - OUT
- LB Sean Lee (hamstring) - OUT
- DT Antwaun Woods (concussion) - Doubtful
- G Zack Martin (knee) - Questionable
- G Connor Williams (knee) - Questionable
- DT Maliek Collins (knee) - Questionable
- LB Joe Thomas (foot) - Questionable
The biggest news is the guy who won't miss tomorrow's game; All-Pro guard Zack Martin is expected to play despite his knee injury from last Sunday night. The Cowboys, already dealing with Travis Frederick's absence and now health issues at left guard, could ill afford to go without Martin in such a pivotal game.
Even if he was healthy, rookie Connor Williams might have a hard time getting in the game. Backup Xavier Su'a-Filo looked like an experienced former second-round pick last week, and he may be the better player for now.
The defensive line has been hit hard, particularly in the middle. With Irving and Ross out, Woods doubtful, and Collins uncertain, Dallas called up DT Christian Ringo from the practice squad. They will also be without Taco Charlton, who could play inside some. Veteran Caraun Reid will be seeing a lot of playing time.
Sean Lee's ongoing absence has become almost an afterthought now with the stellar play of Leighton Vander Esch. We've seen in the past when missing Lee meant disaster on defense, but Dallas' first-round rookie has helped mitigate the damage.
- LB Deion Jones (foot) - OUT
It's a short list for Atlanta, but the one name on it is a big one. Arguably the team's best defensive player, Deion Jones will miss the game with a foot injury.
The Falcons' injury issues have been more in players suffering season-ending injuries. Both starting guards, Andy Levitre and Brandon Fusco, are on injured reserve. Star running back Devonta Freeman is also there, and those losses help explain Atlanta's 30th-ranked rushing offense.
Both starting safeties are also on IR; Ricardo Allen and Keanu Neal. Atlanta has one of the league's worst passing defense this year without them, ranking 30th in yards allowed and 28th in opponent passer rating.
So yes, the Falcons injury report compared to the Cowboys' may raise some eyebrows. But in terms of who has most of their key guys, Dallas is arguably still better off.
Cowboys Have Already Corrected Biggest Mistake From 2017 Loss in Atlanta
The Dallas Cowboys play their next three games in 13 days, all critical to their hopes of winning the NFC East despite alternating wins and losses since week one. For the Cowboys to earn consecutive road wins, their first coming on Sunday night at the Eagles, they'll have to come out of Atlanta in much better shape than they did just a year ago.
As expected in the NFL, a lot has changed in this year. The Cowboys 27-7 loss at the Falcons in their first game without Running Back Ezekiel Elliott was the beginning of the end on a season that forced a multitude of coaching changes in Dallas.
The Cowboys stubbornness in allowing Falcons DE Adrian Clayborn to sack Dak Prescott six times by beating Chaz Green and Byron Bell is something they hoped to move past when new positional coaches were brought in at OL, TE, QB, and WR.
It took the team admitting that these moves below Offensive Coordinator Scot Linehan were not all correct two weeks ago for the Cowboys to see any real progress, but with their win last week there's hope that the Cowboys are the improved team expected weeks ago - arrived just in time for Thanksgiving.
Firing Offensive Line Coach Paul Alexander was the first move, as the Cowboys named Marc Colombo OL Coach and Hudson Houck his assistant. Colombo told 105.3 The Fan in Dallas this week that he has injured Center Travis Frederick on a headset during games as well.
Colombo, Houck, and Frederick have the Cowboys offensive line confident in their ability to play to their strengths, rewarded with a renewed faith in the zone blocking scheme that was forgotten under Alexander.
If the Cowboys offensive line was their first problem in last year's Falcons loss (it was), it's becoming their biggest strength at the right time in the season.
The Cowboys necessary changes didn't stop here though.
In desperate need of a play maker on the outside, the Cowboys are seeing their investment into Wide Receiver Amari Cooper pay off so far. Cooper is averaging 3.2 yards of separation on his routes this season, ahead of Cole Beasley's 2.6 yards as the next closest pass catcher.
Cooper's presence was a big part of Ezekiel Elliott's 151 yard rushing performance at the Eagles. A player that can win on the outside with ease and dictate coverage has benefited Prescott and the Cowboys game plan on offense enough to send away a first round pick.
It will be up to this "rebuilt" Cowboys offense to match the Falcons on Sunday. Atlanta is averaging 27.1 points per game this season, but a much more dangerous 32.2 at home. After a 1-4 start, the 4-5 Falcons are playing in front of their home fans for the first time in two weeks, losing at the Browns in week ten.
The Cowboys felt they'd be prepared for games like this after their offseason moves, instead needing to show the type of in-season urgency that's been rare for Jason Garrett's team. The same can be said about a Falcons team that's experienced playing with their backs to the wall much sooner than the Cowboys have this season, setting up a big NFC match up in the early slot Sunday.
Dak Prescott will be thankful that Chaz Green nor Byron Bell are protecting him, wanting nothing more than to deliver another win for the Cowboys to take into Thanksgiving against the division-leading Washington Redskins. Not all of the coaches responsible for the lack of adjustment in last year's game are gone. What the Cowboys do have are tangible new ideas from coaches that understand they need more than a win at the defending Super Bowl champions to call this Cowboys season a success.
Do Or Die: Chidobe Awuzie Must Improve Sunday, Or Cowboys Season Could End
Coming into the season there was a lot of hype surrounding the Dallas Cowboys' cornerbacks. With Byron Jones moving from safety full time, and now second year player Chidobe Awuzie playing opposite Jones after a promising rookie season, there was a lot for Cowboys fans to be excited about.
Through the first 10 weeks of the year, though, only one of those two has maintained fans' excitement. While Byron Jones has been arguably the best cornerback in all of football, Chidobe Awuzie has been damn-near an automatic completion when thrown at.
Awuzie has a -5.8 coverage rating this season, 65th among cornerbacks in the NFL. Coverage rating is a metric which factors in how often a cornerback is targeted as well as how many passes they've defensed per target. Quarterbacks also have a 116.6 passer rating when targeting Awuzie, compared to just 64.5 when targeting Byron Jones. For comparisons sake, Jones' coverage rating is a +45! So you can see why "cornerback opposite of Jones" is becoming a need for the Cowboys.
What's perplexing about Awuzie's season, though, is that he is only giving up an average 0.95 yards of separation, 27th in the league (courtesy of playerprofiler.com). So while Awuzie is playing relatively sticky coverage, he's still being targeted often, and he's still allowing completions way too often.
This week, Chidobe Awuzie will be tested once again, this time by the dynamic passing game of the Atlanta Falcons. The match-up many fans are focusing on is that between Byron Jones and Julio Jones, but how Awuzie does against Calvin Ridley and Mohamed Sanu may play a bigger factor in the result.
Both Ridley and Sanu are solid supporting receivers, and considering how much attention the defense typically has to pay to Julio Jones, they tend to get man coverage often. This allows for a precise route runner like Ridley to take advantage of opportunities, and come away with the types of big plays we've seen from him this year.
When matched up with either of these weapons, Awuzie will need to continue to stay close, but play and defense the ball better. He must continue to make it hard on these receivers and force them into contested catches, but hopefully he can improve on his play when the ball gets to the catch point.
Sunday will be another big test for the Cowboys' young defense. And as well as they have played most weeks, this game has the potential to be a season ender if certain guys do not step up. One of those guys who will certainly play a key role in influencing the result in Chidobe Awuzie.
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