Your 2-2 Dallas Cowboys host the 3-1 Green Bay Packers Sunday at 3:25 CDT, and it feels as if the Cowboys’ entire season hinges on this one NFC game. There’s certainly precedent as the Packers have made a habit of sending the Cowboys home early the last three years, but this isn’t the post-season. The Cowboys will survive the Packers and enjoy a week off afterward.
Perhaps the best thing about this week is that it’s followed by a bye week for Dallas. The team is in growing need of some time off for injuries to heal.
Left tackle Tyron Smith has been added to the injury report with a sore back—an area of concern for him last season as well—and while it looks as though he’ll be ready to play Sunday, the same can’t be said for Sean Lee.
The Cowboys defense looked flat against the Rams in Lee’s absence. Though the team struggled in almost every area of the defense last week, Lee’s sure tackling and quickness to the ball was sorely missed.
While listed as questionable on the team's injury report Friday, I suspect Sean Lee will be held out of this game in order to give his hamstring time to heal fully through the bye week.
The Packers aren’t without injuries off their own, as Davante Adams is questionable after a brutal blow to the head against NFC North division rivals, the Chicago Bears in week three. Additionally, the team’s primary running back—a wide receiver turned running back last season—Ty Montgomery is listed as doubtful this week.
On offense, the Cowboys are mostly whole. The battle for left guard is still brewing between Chaz Green and Jonathan Cooper, and that adds instability to what should be the best offensive line in the NFL. Hopefully, these guys find a rhythm, and fast.
Dak Prescott left many fans groaning about missed opportunities last week, and really, this whole season. His accuracy has come into question and like never before too. Head coach Jason Garrett said in a presser this week that Dak’s accuracy isn’t a concern. He said every throw is different and that they are reviewing each situation independently to address the issues.
Ezekiel Elliott has improved since his 8-yard outing in Denver, but still lacks the consistency we enjoyed in 2016. It’s tough to filter the offensive line’s issues from Elliott’s, but it seems like he could be more involved in the game plan.
Running backs in the NFL are increasingly relied on in the passing game and there’s merit to the argument that Zeke doesn’t get enough targets. He’s our most dangerous weapon with the ball in his hands, after all, so why not work harder to get him the ball in space and let him do his thing?
A nice side benefit of Elliott catching more passes is added dimension, giving opposing defenses more pre-snap confusion.
The Cowboys have slowly started to utilize rookie wide out Ryan Switzer of late, but his lone target through the air was flagged as defensive pass interference, against Denver. Instead, he’s begun to take over plays previously run by Lucky Whitehead, and had marginal success so far.
Cole Beasley is another player who fans are desperate to see more involved. After leading the team in 2016, he’s all but been phased out in 2017. Cole recorded his lowest numbers of the year in weeks three and four with one for four yards and three for 17 yards, respectively. This is down from seven catches for 65 yards the first two weeks.
In 2016, Cole never recorded less than two catches in a game, and that was only in week 13 against the Vikings.
Beasley is a game-changer when he’s getting targets and must be included more in the passing game. Against Green Bay in week six last season, Beasley hauled in six passes for 58 yards and two touchdowns.
Jason Witten has also been underutilized these last two weeks. Through week two, Witten had 17 catches for 156 yards and scored two touchdowns. But since then, he has just two receptions, 12 yards, and no scores.
It’s fair to say that this team just hasn’t been the same since being routed by the Broncos.
In some ways that’s a good thing.
We all saw the Cowboys basically abandon their running game against the Broncos; they just weren’t able to move the ball on the ground. But after Prescott threw the ball 50 times in week two alone, he’s only thrown the ball 54 times in the two weeks since. His passer rating has been higher the last two weeks, and his completion percentage has climbed slightly to 63.9% these last two games, up from 60.75% the first two weeks of the season.
But while Dallas has regained some of their focus on the ground attack, Elliott is averaging just 3.8 yards per game over the last two weeks, for a total of 165 yards on 43 carries.
The plan of attack is slowly getting on track but the Cowboys still need some work to find a groove anywhere near that of 2016.
In my opinion, the offensive woes begin and end with the offensive line. If they can be better, this team can be better, and that is exactly what we need if our defense continues to play as badly as they have.
Regarding our defense, I have just one word for you: tackling.
Tackling, or the lack thereof, seems to be plaguing this defense right now. Coverage hasn’t been great, and stopping the run has been hit or miss, but the tackling has been atrocious. These guys have to improve their tackling.
David Irving’s return this week should help the pass rush, as he’s been a key factor against the Packers for us before. With the way DeMarcus Lawrence is playing this year—a contract year for him—an extra threat on the defensive line could be just what cracks this defense’s potential wide open.
In addition, while I think Sean Lee sits this one out, Anthony Hitchens has been cleared from the injury report and looks like a lock to suit up against the Packers. Good thing too.
As always, I encourage you to add your own predictions for the game in our comments section below.
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Dallas' Defensive Reinforcements Not Enough
The Dallas Cowboys aren't able to rebound defensively after a poor second half against the Los Angeles Rams and Dallas suffers its first two-game losing streak since 2015. John Williams – @john9williams
Cowboys 23 – Packers 27
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Green Bay Might Just Have Their Number
Both the Packers and Cowboys enter this game with pretty prolific offenses, and not much to write home about on the defensive side of things. Aaron Rodgers has made a habit of crushing the Cowboys' back-seven due to a lack of pass rush up front, and to be honest, I can't see why that shouldn't happen on Sunday. I still like Dak and company to put up some points, but they fall short in a shootout this week. Kevin Brady – @KevinBrady88
Cowboys 28 – Packers 34
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Cowboys Pull Off an Upset Over the Packers
I know I'm going to be in the minority here, but I'm going to go with the Dallas Cowboys in a close win over the Packers. This isn't the same Green Bay team we have seen dominate the past several years. They have several injuries at key positions and I think the Cowboys can take advantage of that. I'm expecting Ezekiel Elliott to have a big game on the ground and the Cowboys defense to do just enough to secure the victory. Brian Martin – @bmart0204
Cowboys 37 – Packers 34
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A Defense Without Sean Lee
I think the Cowboys offense will put a lot of points on the board. However, with Sean Lee missing practices, I'm not sure that this defense will be able to stop Aaron Rodgers. Without Lee, this defense is far from good. I'm not proud of my pick... sorry, Cowboys Nation. Mauricio Rodriguez – @PepoR99
Cowboys 31 – Packers 35
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Aaron Rodgers Again and Again
Just feeling out the mood around Cowboys Nation this week off of the home loss to the Rams, it feels that even picking the Cowboys to lose this game at the very end is optimistic. This is exactly what I have happening though, as the offense gets on track and provides hope for what's ahead...preparing for week six at 2-3 after Aaron Rodgers leads another game-winning drive. Sean Martin – @ShoreSportsNJ
Cowboys 31 – Packers 34
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Cowboys Stay Above Water as Packers Fall Short
Nothing would make me happier right now than seeing the Cowboys whoop Aaron Rodgers and the Packers. It will be a hard-fought game, through and through, but with Hitchens and Irving back for the D, even without expecting Lee to play, the Cowboys upset Green Bay to stay above .500 going into the bye. Bryson Treece – @BrysonTreece
Cowboys 34 – Packers 27
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The Packers lead the all time series against the Cowboys by one game. Here's to tying up that score Sunday! Share your game picks below and, as always, 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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