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.
Cowboys, Redskins Week 7 Injury Report
Though it's still early in the 2018 season, the lead in the NFC East is up for grabs when the Dallas Cowboys and Washington Redskins meet this Sunday. Both teams would like their full roster available for the game, but the Week 7 injury reports indicate that won't be the case.
Here are the players either confirmed to be out of action tomorrow or are otherwise listed by Dallas and Washington:
- WR Tavon Austin (groin) - OUT
- LB Joe Thomas (foot) - OUT
- CB Chidobe Awuzie (ankle) - Questionable
The Cowboys are getting healthier, with Sean Lee finally off the injury report and set to return to action. Not only will Dallas get their elite linebacker back, but it means a deeper rotation while the team remains without Joe Thomas.
Tavon Austin elected to skip season-ending surgery on his injured groin, but his should be out a few weeks. That will put Cole Beasley on punt returns and perhaps create more offensive opportunities for Deonte Thompson and Brice Butler.
Awuzie remains limited in practice but has played the last few weeks despite the ankle injury. There is no reason to think he won't suit up in Washington.
- WR Jamison Crowder (ankle) - OUT
- WR Paul Richardson (shoulder, knee) - Doubtful
- S Troy Apke (hamstring) - Doubtful
- RB Adrian Peterson (ankle, shoulder) - Questionable
- RB Chris Thompson (rib, knee) - Questionable
- G Shawn Lauvao (calf) - Questionable
- CB Quinton Dunbar (shin) - Questionable
- CB Danny Johnson (forearm) - Questionable
It's a rough time for Washington's offensive weapons. They will definitely be without slot receiver Jamison Crowder and likely starter Paul Richardson, who current lead all WRs in receptions. Josh Doctson will put into a major role, as will veteran Brian Quick off the bench.
Peterson and Thompson both practiced this week and should play, but have nagging injuries that could slow them down. Washington is already missing Rob Kelley and rookie Derrius Guice, who are both on injured reserve.
Starting left guard Shawn Lauvao is also nursing a lower leg injury, but practiced in a limited capacity all week. His backup is undrafted rookie Casey Dunn out of Auburn.
In the defensive backfield, starting CB Quinton Dunbar was a Friday addition to the injury report with a shin injury. He did practice with it, though, so will likely play. Backup safety Troy Apke is doubtful with a hamstring issue.
Cowboys Focused on Improved Communication to Solve Road Woes at Redskins
The Dallas Cowboys are 0-3 on the road this season. Not only do you already know this, but they do as well, needing to build off a 40-7 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars in week 6 at AT&T Stadium to claim first place in the NFC East at the Washington Redskins.
Although the Cowboys were given Monday and Tuesday off, they are focused on addressing one alarming reason why the team has struggled so much on the road -- particularly on offense.
Running Back Ezekiel Elliott pointed out the Cowboys lack of communication in early season losses at Carolina, Seattle, and Houston. "Seeing the same thing," was the issue Elliott addressed when discussing the Cowboys knowing their assignments in hostile territory.
Yesterday, Quarterback Dak Prescott told the media of a meeting between players and coaches that addressed this specifically.
Dak Prescott said players & coaches held a meeting before today's practice to "address the elephant in the room," which is poor communication among the offense on the road. "I know we'll take a lot from that conversation," The QB said.
Unlike Prescott's remarks about new "wrinkles" in the Cowboys offense prior to a 26-24 home win over the Lions, this has a tangible sign of progress for an offense that made scoring 40 on the Jaguars look impossibly easy. The Cowboys season high in total yards remains the 414 amassed against Detroit, after which Prescott confessed that he simply tells the media "things" that aren't necessarily true.
The Cowboys didn't necessarily do anything new against the Lions, but they most assuredly will this week against the Redskins, at least by way of signaling and remaining in sync on offense.
Prescott and Elliott's leadership is on full display here, and their on-field impact can be attributed as closely to the Cowboys successes or failures as any duo in the NFL.
Missing is a similar impact from Center Travis Frederick, who remains sidelined as he deals with GSB.
Joe Looney's play at center has been good enough to pave the way for Elliott's 586 rushing yards so far, second to Todd Gurley at 623 yards, but his ability to call checks for the offense is understandably much more limited.
Looney deserves all the credit in the world for his strong play in place of Frederick. The Cowboys have never asked for him to be anything he isn't, a reliable depth option that earned a second contract and with it the starting center job for the time being in Dallas.
He has the full support of his teammates, Frederick included. All of this is lovely to put down in writing until Looney and the Cowboys have been forced to step on the field with the crowd against them and attempt to sustain a drive, something Frederick will unfortunately not be a part of for a long while.
If the Cowboys offense isn't going to unveil new wrinkles in the scheme, there is one wrinkle worth mentioning that's new to the team's communication on offense this season. With Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan up in the box, his play calls are sent down to first-year Quarterback Coach Kellen Moore, who has been in the ear of Prescott ever since playing with him from 2016-17.
Sure, these are things that could've been addressed before the Cowboys managed only eight points in week one, turned the ball over three times in week three, or punted away their best chance at victory in week five. The best teams in the league likely already have these things down to routine, and few would consider the Cowboys anywhere near the upper echelon of the NFL.
Following sixty minutes of football at a division rival they've won four in a row against, with an even more impressive five game win streak at the Redskins, the Cowboys could control their own path atop the NFC East.
That feels truly incredible for such a young team faced with a steep learning curve early in the season, adjusting to it on the fly as they prepare to leave everything on the field before a bye week.
#WASvsDAL: Why This Game Holds Increased Importance
It feels incredibly cliche to call the week 7 match-up between the Dallas Cowboys and Washington Redskins a "must win." Especially for someone like me who values statistics, logic, and analytics in sports.
But when the analytics agree with the narratives, those narratives do tend to get my attention. And this week that would appear to be the case.
According to Brian Burke of ESPN, the Cowboys's week 7 game has the highest playoff probability leverage in the entire NFC, and is second to only the Houston Texans' big game with Jacksonville around the entire league.
Playoff leverage for week 7. DAL, WAS, PHI, CAR, MIN, CHI with a lot on the line in the NFC. HOU, CIN, and JAX in the AFC.
What does this mean? Well playoff probability leverage is pretty intuitive. Basically it is the difference between a win this week and a loss this week in terms of probability to make the playoffs.
For the Cowboys that number is at 27%, with a win over Washington catapulting their playoff probability over 50%. On the other hand, a loss would take a big hit to their playoff hopes just 7 games into the NFL season.
As you might expect, this game means a lot to the Redskins' playoff probability as well. Their playoff leverage this week is at 14%, but a win would mean "more" to Dallas than Washington based on the probabilities.
Fellow NFC East foe, the Philadelphia Eagles, also have a lot to gain/lose this Sunday, with their leverage sitting at 22%. According to Burke's model, the Eagles and Cowboys have the best chances of making the playoffs at this point, but if each team wins Sunday the Eagles will still have a higher percentage.
Of course a lot can and will change week to week, despite what the metrics say. The Cowboys still have two games remaining with the NFC East favorite Eagles this year, and will get another crack at Washington at home later in the season. Plus the Cowboys have a few NFC wild card and playoff contenders remaining on their schedule, such as the New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons. (Yes, the 2-4 Falcons are very much alive in this crazy conference).
Still, the difference between 4-3 (2-0 in the division) and 3-4 (1-1 in the division) is huge, as is shown by Brian Burke's playoff probability leverage metric.
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