The Dallas Cowboys (1-2) and the Cleveland Browns (2-1) enter their week four matchup in the same, yet very different positions in their respective divisions. Both the Cowboys and Browns sit at or near the top of the standings, but both teams have very different expectations for the rest of the season based on what we’ve seen thus far.
While the Cowboys sit at just 1-2 through their first three weeks of the season, the play of the NFC East has left the division ripe for the Cowboys taking if they can start to string some wins together. Additionally, they’ve played a difficult first three games of the season with the Los Angeles Rams, Atlanta Falcons, and Seattle Seahawks.
On the other side of the field stand the Browns, who are 2-1, with their one loss coming in week one at the hands of the Baltimore Ravens. Their two wins have been over the Cincinnati Bengals and the Washington Football Team who are a combined 1-5. The Browns are one game back of the postponed Pittsburgh Steelers and are tied with the Baltimore Ravens, but the sense is that the Steelers and Ravens will pull away from the Browns in the AFC North over the rest of the year.
At quarterback, Dak Prescott and Baker Mayfield enter in two different positions as well. Prescott is leading the NFL in passing yards, pass attempts, and completions, while Mayfield is 28th in passing yards. Prescott is being asked and has had to do much more in the passing game through the first three weeks of the season than his Cleveland Browns' counterpart, and while their records are a game apart, Prescott has played much better football against much better competition.
What's interesting is that the two starting quarterbacks for today's matchup have each thrown five touchdowns and two interceptions. The difference in their stat lines has been Dak Prescott's rushing ability. He had three rushing touchdowns to Baker Mayfield's zero.
Along the offensive line, the Dallas Cowboys are getting healthier with the expected return of Left Tackle Tyron Smith. With Myles Garrett coming to town, it's imperative that the Cowboys prevent him from getting to Dak Prescott with any regularity. It's expected that Brandon Knight flips to the right tackle spot, though they could leave him as the swing tackle for insurance purposes if Smith is limited in the game at all. If that is how the Cowboys handle it, Terrance Steele would be making his fourth NFL start at right tackle for the Cowboys.
The Browns offensive line is coming in, in a much better position. They've helped pave the way for one of the NFL's best rushing attacks led by Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. Currently, the Browns are fourth in the NFL in rushing yards as a team averaging 5.2 yards per attempt. The Cowboys are 23rd in the league in team rushing yards and are averaging just 4.1 yards per attempt.
Ezekiel Elliott and the Cowboys offensive line have struggled to find any consistency in the running game and game scripts that have required more passing over the last two weeks have limited Ezekiel Elliott's touches, though not his impact. He was incredibly important last week against the Seattle Seahawks in pass protection.
The two teams feature a couple of the best wide receiver groups in the NFL. Though the Browns wide receiver depth chart might not be as talented as the Cowboys, with Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry, they boast one of the top duos in the NFL. Both players will cause problems for the Cowboys secondary today. Preventing Baker Mayfield from getting in a rhythm and finding his two playmakers on the outside will be pivotal for the Cowboys to come out on top.
The Cowboys wide receiver trio of Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, and CeeDee Lamb have each had excellent starts to the 2020 season. Through three games they're each on pace for more than 1,200 yards receiving this year. In the preseason, it seemed unlikely that the Cowboys could produce three 1,000 yard receivers in the same season and now that seems like a near certainty if they're all healthy.
The offenses for both teams have been pretty good this year, though they've done it a bit different through the first three weeks of the season. Cleveland has run the ball more, while the Cowboys have thrown it more, but again, opponent and game script have led to the focus each team has taken with their offense through the first three weeks.
Where this game will be decided is by the defenses for both teams, which have been bad in the early going of 2020. Both teams are in the top 10 in points allowed in 2020 and both teams are in the top half of the league in opponent scoring percentage.
While the Browns defense has been the slightly better defense overall, they allowed 30 points to Joe Burrow and the Bengals in week two and 20 points to Dwayne Haskins and Washington in week three. The Cowboys defense has faced a tough slate of offenses in the early part of the season.
Both teams struggle a bit in the secondary due to injuries and a lack of depth. Both teams struggle to get consistency from their linebackers. The strength of both teams lies with their defensive line and pass rushers. The Cowboys feature the league leader in sacks with Aldon Smith and the Browns feature the league leader in pressures in Myles Garrett.
This game is going to come down to how well the Dallas Cowboys start. If they can start fast and avoid turnovers in the first half and put some touchdowns on the board early, then it's going to be difficult for Baker Mayfield and the Browns to keep pace.
Dak Prescott has been really good to start this season, but he's turned the ball over. The defense for the Cowboys isn't good enough to overcome poor starting field position provided by the offense. Prescott has to find a way to balance his aggression and ball security.
The Cowboys must slow down the Browns screen and play-action game. The book is out on how to beat the Cowboys defense and if they're unable to limit Kevin Stefanski's misdirection and screen game offense, it's going to be another long day for the defense.
Ultimately, I think the Dallas Cowboys offense is too much for the Browns defense. The Cowboys will put up 30 points yet again and Baker Mayfield and the Browns will have a difficult time keeping pace.
Cowboys 30 – Browns 20
Brian Martin, InsideTheStar.com Staff Writer
Defensively the Dallas Cowboys game plan should be to put the ball in Baker Mayfield's hands and neutralizing both Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. Offensively they'll stick to their strengths by airing it out, but also try to establish Ezekiel Elliott in the running game. I'm predicting a two-score victory for the Cowboys.
Cowboys 34 – Browns 17