The Detroit Lions and the Dallas Cowboys come into week four with identical 1-2 records to start the season and are looking up in their respective divisions. The Cowboys are coming off of a disheartening loss to the Seattle Seahawks, 24-13, while the Detroit Lions got a big win at home against the New England Patriots, 26-10.
If these two teams results from week three could be represented as a romantic comedy, the Detroit Lions are the guy who got the girl at the end of the movie. America's Team, however, is heading back to their studio apartment rejected and dejected. If this were Bridget Jones' Diary, the Dallas Cowboys would be Hugh Grant and the Detroit Lions Colin Firth.
Basically, the two teams are in very different places emotionally as we head into week four. The Lions are riding high with a ton of confidence after beating the Patriots by more than two touchdowns. The Dallas Cowboys are down in the dumps, failing take advantage of a Seahawks team that was struggling itself.
This matchup could certainly send one team toward a magical ending in 2018, or it could cement 2018 as a looking to the future type of season.
The Detroit Lions though have a bit more hope, as they're starting a new era with a new head coach in former New England Patriots Defensive Coordinator Matt Patricia. The Dallas Cowboys on the other hand are in the eighth season of the Jason Garrett era. Unlike Patricia, Garrett seems to be coaching for his job in 2018 and the way this week's matchup turns out is going to go along way toward Garrett's future with the Dallas Cowboys. Many in Cowboys Nation are ready to move on.
The Dallas Cowboys and the Detroit Lions have faced off 27 times in their history with the Dallas Cowboys holding a 15-12 edge in the all-time series. Under Jason Garrett, the Dallas Cowboys are 3-2, against Detroit, including the Wild Card playoff win in January of 2015.
Only once in the series since Garrett took over in 2010, has one of the teams failed to score at least 20 points. The Dallas Cowboys are averaging 32.6 points per game in the last five matchups, including a win in 2016 where they scored 42 points. The Detroit Lions are averaging 25 points per game in that same time span.
That game was much closer at half than the final score indicated with Detroit leading 21-14 in the second quarter before the Dallas Cowboys went on to score the final 28 points for the win.
In that game, Dak Prescott was 15 of 20 for 212 yards and three touchdowns through the air. Ezekiel Elliott and Darren McFadden combined for 129 yards on 26 carries and two touchdowns, both by Elliott.
Reviewing the Stats
- You don't have to look long at the chart above to notice that the Detroit Lions, statistically, are a better offense than the Dallas Cowboys. Between Matthew Stafford and their trio of wide receivers, Golden Tate, Marvin Jones, and Kenny Golladay, the Detroit Lions boast a very strong passing attack.
- Quarterback Matthew Stafford is a better passer than Cowboys Quarterback Dak Prescott and as such, the Lions passing offense is going to put up better numbers than the Cowboys.
- If there's an area where the Cowboys can make their mark this week it's in the red zone where the Detroit Lions rank 32nd in red zone scoring. Dallas will have to look out for the big plays that Detroit can muster, but if they can prevent the Lions from hitting any big plays, they should be able to hang around and could win the game.
- Golden Tate is the player to watch in the Detroit Lions passing game. He's one of the best wide receivers in the NFL when operating out of the slot, which is where he's ran 71% of his routes. From the slot, Golden Tate has 21.5% of the time and has averaged 2 yards per route run through three games this season, ranking fifth in the NFL. Anthony Brown will have quite a challenge on his hands come Sunday.
- The Dallas Cowboys are one of only two teams in the NFL who haven't intercepted a pass in the first three games of 2018. The other team is the San Francisco 49ers. Kris Richard's group has a chance to get their first one of the season this week as Stafford's thrown the most interceptions in the league in 2018.
- The Lions at 23.3 points per game have scored nearly 10 more points per game than the Dallas Cowboys 13.7 points per game.
- Where the Dallas Cowboys have to take advantage of the Detroit Lions this week is in the running game. The Lions have allowed the most rushing yards per game this season. They've allowed 149.3 yards per game. The Dallas Cowboys have rushed for the 7th most yards this season and have the highest yards per attempt. Ezekiel Elliott is the NFL's leading rusher so far and he's only receiving 16 carries a game.
- If the Dallas Cowboys can keep the game within a score, they'll have a chance to put up some big numbers on the ground.
- One of the other key matchups will be the Dallas pass rush against the Lions passing offense. The Lions have allowed the fewest sacks in the NFL this season; only one a game.
- As I noted previously, Golden Tate ranks fifth in the NFL in yards per route run. Cole Beasley is ninth in that category. Tate ranks third in the NFL in receiving yards from the slot and Cole is 12th.
- Matthew Stafford has thrown six touchdowns and five interceptions on the season. His 6.6 yards per attempt is only a few spots better than Dak Prescott's 5.7.
- Per Pro Football Focus, Stafford has only thrown a pass further than 20 yards down the field on 10.4% of his attempts. Dak Prescott has only thrown deep on 5.7% of his throws, which is down from his 2017 number that was 8.8%.
- Stafford's quarterback rating of 76.7 ranks ninth in the NFL in passer rating while under pressure.
- In total drop backs not under pressure, Matthew Stafford ranks second. Could be a tough task getting to him this week.
- DeMarcus Lawrence is 20th in the NFL with 2.5 sacks. Detroit has two players with three sacks a piece in Linebackers Devon Kennard and Eli Harold.
- Rookie Linebacker Leighton Vander Esch leads the Dallas Cowboys in tackles in 2018 and hasn't missed a tackle yet, according to Pro Football Focus.
Just in looking at the statistics from the first three weeks of the season, it's easy to see that the defense is going to be tested. In particular the secondary. The Lions don't give up a lot of pressure to Stafford and he hasn't been put on the ground much this season and so the secondary is going to be under siege.
The Cowboys secondary has to play well this week to come away with a victory. The three-headed monster of Golden Tate, Marvin Jones, and Kenny Golladay is going to be tough to deal with.
Week four is going to be a heartbreaker for one team. Hopefully it's your Dallas Cowboys that are riding on high at the end of this story.