The Dallas Cowboys (6-5) are set to take on the Buffalo Bills (8-3) on Thanksgiving Day in a game that is as close to a must-win as you can imagine. The Dallas Cowboys have had opportunities to extend their lead in the NFC East throughout the season, but find themselves only a game up in the division with five games remaining. Facing a Bills team at home today, the Cowboys have an opportunity to get back in the win column and reestablish themselves as the frontrunners in the division.
There have been a lot of discussions this week about Jason Garrett's future with the organization, but if we've learned anything about Jason Garrett's teams throughout his tenure, is that they generally rise to the occasion when their backs are against the wall. After a disappointing loss on Sunday to the New England Patriots, the Cowboys have an opportunity to turn the narrative on their heads if they can come out victorious against the Bills.
To do so, they'll have to accomplish these three keys to the game.
Can't Allow Josh Allen, Bills Runners to Run the Ball
In 2019, the Dallas Cowboys defense has had their struggles. In particular, they've struggled against the opposing run games at times and have had a hard time containing quarterbacks who can run the ball.
Against Daniel Jones of the New York Giants and Jeff Driskel of the Detroit Lions, the Cowboys allowed them to run the ball 14 times for 105 yards and a touchdown. Though those two struggled to throw the ball, their ability to get outside the pocket on designed runs and scrambling, the Cowboys had a hard time containing these quarterbacks on the run.
Josh Allen of the Buffalo Bills is one of the better running quarterbacks in the NFL. Among quarterbacks in 2019, Allen is third in the NFL in rushing yards behind Lamar Jackson and Kyler Murray and he's first among quarterbacks with seven rushing touchdowns. Including running backs, Josh Allen ranks sixth in the NFL in rushing touchdowns.
As a team, the Buffalo Bills are fifth in the NFL in rushing total rushing yards and seventh in the league in rushing Expected Points Added (EPA). Between Josh Allen and running backs Frank Gore and Devin Singletary, the Bills have three players with more than 380 yards rushing this season. Between the three of them, they're averaging 145.7 yards rushing per game this season and are averaging 4.6 yards per carry.
As a team, they've gone over 100 yards rushing in nine of their 11 games this season and over 150 yards rushing in four contests in 2019.
The Dallas Cowboys will need to figure out a way to slow down the Buffalo Bills rushing attack and they'll have to do it without Defensive Tackle Antwaun Woods and Linebacker Leighton Vander Esch. As we saw in the Green Bay Packers game, the Cowboys defense is susceptible to the run game.
Maliek Collins, Christian Covington, Trysten Hill, and Michael Bennett are going to have to step up and fill the void left by Woods at defensive tackle. The linebackers are going to have to play their best game of the season to limit running lanes for one of the league's best rushing attacks. If the Bills are able to get the ground game going, it'll make life much more difficult for the Dallas Cowboys.
Cowboys Must Show Up from the Opening Kickoff
Slow starts have become the defining characteristic of the 2019 Dallas Cowboys this season. In pretty much every game in 2019, the Eagles game aside, the Cowboys have struggled in the first quarter. Coming off a short week after playing a game in intense rain, is a prime recipe for a sluggish start yet again.
The Cowboys need to get off to a good start in the opening quarter so as not to allow the Bills running game to take over the football game.
On offense, the Cowboys need to establish a balanced attack. The Bills defense is third in the NFL in passer rating allowed and yards per attempt. They're seventh in the NFL in sacks. They're middle of the pack against the run, but they've played with a lot of leads this season making it difficult for the opposing offenses to establish the run.
It's hard to gauge the Bills because their schedule hasn't necessarily been the toughest in the NFL this season. Their opponents have a combined record fo 41-75 for a .353 winning. The only team they've played this season is the New England Patriots.
The Cowboys can win this game, but they can't afford a first and second quarter lul like they've experienced for much of this season. To get back in the win column and put themselves back in the driver's seat for the NFC East, they need to come away with a win.
Win on 3rd Down
The story of last Sunday's loss to the New England Patriots was the Cowboys' inability to convert on third down consistently. The game was a matchup of the league's best third-down offense and third-down defense and the Patriots came away victorious because they were able to keep the Cowboys from extending drives on third downs.
The Bills come into this game with the fifth-ranked defense and the 16th ranked offense when facing a third down. The Dallas Cowboys rank second on offense and third on defense in third-down conversions in the NFL.
Because the Cowboys are the fifth-most penalized offense in terms of yardage, they find themselves behind the chains a lot, which has required the passing game to overcome a lot of long third downs. The Cowboys will have to find a way to continue to be efficient on third down this season in order to find a way into the end zone. They can't settle for field goals.
On defense, they have a significant advantage on third down with their pass rush against Josh Allen. If they can force the Bills to play from unfavorable down and distances and can keep Allen contained s a runner, they should be able to win a majority of the Bills' third-down attempts on offense.
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The Dallas Cowboys still control their own destiny, but that control only lasts as long as they keep winning. They have very little margin for error moving forward after dropping winnable games earlier in the season. As the Cowboys get set to host the Bills today, Dallas must find a way to win. Much like every other game this year, they can win this game, but they'll have to play four quarters to do so.