With the departure of future hall of fame wide receiver Calvin Johnson this offseason, nobody expected the Detroit Lions to be anywhere near the top of the NFC North. Somehow, someway they have done it, en route to a 9-5 record.
Currently sitting as the number 3 seed in the NFC, the Lions have a huge divisional match up with the second place Green bay Packers looming next week. While Monday night's game might not mean a whole lot in the standings for Dallas, it is still important to learn everything possible about your next opponent.
So, who are these Lions?
The Lions offense is known for their passing game, with quarterback Matt Stafford playing himself into the league MVP discussion. Wide-out Golden Tate poses a big play threat every time he is targeted, and tight end Eric Ebron has developed into a solid receiver this year.
On the ground, however, they Lions have not found the same success.
The team's leading rusher, Theo Riddick, has totaled just 357 yards this year, while rookie running back Dwayne Washington led the team last week with 31 yards rushing. Riddick is more known for his pass catching abilities, and is a threat coming out of the backfield on pass plays.
The Cowboys run defense has become the best in the league, allowing just 80.9 yards per game. The Lions, well, they have only been able to rush for 81.7 yards per game, 30th in the league. Simply put, the advantage goes to the Cowboys on the ground.
Don't call it a comeback.
The Detroit Lions have set an NFL record this season with eight fourth-quarter comebacks. While owning this record is impressive, and obviously means you've won a lot of games, it also means that you haven't been able to dominate a single opponent yet this season.
On the other hand, the Cowboys ran through most of their opponents this year, including a dominating win over the Lions' bitter rival, the Green Bay Packers, earlier in the season.
The Cowboys are known for getting up on their opponents early, and then trying to simply preserve the lead throughout the rest of the game with their prolific running game. The Lions, however, will pose a threat to their lead at all times.
Middle of the road
Defensively, the Lions fall into the middle of the pack in most categories. Ranking 14th in total yards against, 15th in pass yards against, and 11th in rush yards against, Detroit is not exactly the '85 Bears.
With that being said, they are still formidable defensively, and have some playmakers that can change any game.
Middle linebacker Tahir Whitehead leads the team in tackles with 119, and has become a solid defender and general of the Detroit defense.
In his fourth season out of Mississippi State, cornerback Darius Slay has become a solid player as well. So far, Slay has tallied 2 interceptions and a forced fumble on the season. Up front, the Lions best pass rusher is still Ezekiel Ansah, despite missing multiple games due to injury in 2016.
The final word
When you look at the numbers, it doesn't seem like the Detroit Lions should be a 9-5 team fighting for a first round bye. And yet, here they are.
They are a team which will hang around for three and a half quarters, and then rely on one Matthew Stafford drive or Golden Tate big play to steal them the game. So far, this formula has been successful. But against a better team like the Dallas Cowboys, I don't expect the Lions to find much success.
NFC East Showdown: Cowboys Offense Primed to Dominate Redskins
The Dallas Cowboys are probably as confident as they have been all season as an offense after completely manhandling the Jacksonville Jaguars defense last week. They were able to put up 40 points on the Jaguar's top-ranked defense and now have to do the same against their division rival, the Washington Redskins.
I don't think there would be any argument if I were to say the Washington Redskins defense isn't nearly as talented as the Cowboys faced last week with the Jaguars. In fact, the Redskins are ranked near the bottom of the league in almost every defensive category, which should have Dallas' offensive players primed for this matchup.
As things stand right now, the Washington Redskins are giving up 21.2 points per game which ranks 24th in the NFL. They are also giving up 344 total yards (25th in the NFL) and 227.2 passing yards a game (24th). The lone bright spot of their defense is stopping the run, where they are currently ranked 12th in the NFL and are only allowing 116.8 rushing yards to opposing running backs.
Luckily, the Dallas Cowboys and Quarterback Dak Prescott looked to have found a groove with their passing game last week against the Jaguars top-ranked passing defense. With the Redskins ranked near the bottom of the league in passing defense, I think the Cowboys should and probably will build upon the success they had last week.
Now, I fully expect the Cowboys passing game to find success once again against the Redskins, but I also believe Running Back Ezekiel Elliott to dominate on the ground like he has in the past against Washington.
Zeke only played in one game against the Redskins last season, but absolutely dominated in that contest. He rushed for 150 yards and two touchdowns a year ago and I wouldn't be surprised if he is close to that milestone this week as well, even if it is against the strength of Washington's defense.
I'm really hoping I'm not a being a little overconfident here, but I guess I'm just buying into the success the Cowboys had on the offensive side of the ball last week. The offense finally started to do the things that have made them successful in the past and I'm expecting that to carry over into this week.
I believe we will see Prescott using his mobility once again, although I don't know if he will rush for 83 yards. I'm also expecting to see Wide Receiver Cole Beasley heavily involved in the passing game again because Washington doesn't have a defensive back who can cover him. Of course, let's not forget Ezekiel Elliott. I'm expecting him have a big game as well.
Overall, I really don't see the Washington Redskins defense giving the Dallas Cowboys any problems on the offensive side of the ball as long as they execute the way they did last week. I know when these two teams square off against one another it's usually a slobber knocker, but I think the Cowboys are the better team and is the one that comes away with the victory.
Do you think the Dallas Cowboys offense will dominate the Redskins defense?
Can Dak Prescott Continue His Washington Domination On Sunday?
There has been a lot of change within the Dallas Cowboys since 2016.
One thing hasn't changed these past two years, however, and that is the Cowboys beating the Washington Redskins. In fact, since Dak Prescott took over as the starting quarterback in Dallas the Cowboys are 4-0 against Washington. Even as the sky was falling in Dallas a year ago, and the Cowboys offense looked like the worst in football, they still found a way to dominate Washington 38-14 and snap their then-three game losing streak.
In his four career games against Washington, Dak Prescott has quarterback ratings of 103.7, 108.9, 82.2, and 93.4. To put this into context, Prescott's average quarterback rating this season is 85.5 and that is really driven by his outlier positive rating of 118.6 against the Detroit Lions. To be fair, however, his 54.5 rating against Seattle was also a heavy outlier.
Prescott isn't the only Cowboy who has exercised this dominance over Washington, though. As Staff Writer John Williams has pointed out, Jason Garrett is 11-4 against the Redskins since becoming the Cowboys head coach, and Dallas has won six of their last eight against Washington since 2014.
So heading into Sunday's rematch with their division foe, history says the Cowboys should be feeling rather confident, right?
Well there's another streak occurring the Cowboys will actually be looking to break on Sunday. That, of course, is their winless start on the road this season.
Ironically the Dak Prescott-led Cowboys have actually been a good road team until now, going a combined 12-4 the past two seasons. And, since the new stadium opened in 2009, the Cowboys have been historically better on the road than at home, making this year's 3-3 start even more bizarre.
To put it simply, "somethings gotta give" on Sunday. Either Dak Prescott and the Cowboys will continue to beat up on the Redskins and get a leg up in the NFC East, or this horrendous road start will continue for another week.
Either way, I'm sure the takes will be hot on Monday morning.
Cowboys Defense Getting Players Back at the Right Time
The Dallas Cowboys have played really well on defense this season allowing the seventh fewest rushing yards per game, the third lowest yards per carry, and the eighth fewest passing yards per game this season. They've done it for most of the 2018 season without Defensive Tackles Maliek Collins and David Irving, and Linebacker Sean Lee, who's missed the last three games with a strained hamstring.
This week the Cowboys play the NFC East leading Washington Redskins, making this a very important matchup for the Cowboys playoff chances. The Dallas Cowboys are 2-2 in the NFC in 2018, so a win against the Washington Redskins on Sunday carries much more importance. If the Cowboys have hopes of making the playoffs, they're going to have to improve their record against the NFC and they can on Sunday with their defense getting back to (nearly) full health.
Still awaiting word on Chidobe Awuzie's availability for this week.
Antwaun Woods, Tyrone Crawford, and David Ross have held up really well on the Cowboys defensive interior without Irving and Collins, which makes their return even more important. Better depth along the defensive interior is only going to help those guys have more productive snaps. Both Collins and Irving are explosive penetrating defensive tackles that give interior offensive lineman fits with their combination of strength and quickness. They play the run and pass with equal effectiveness and make life a lot easier for the linebackers and the defensive ends.
In their first game back in week six, Irving and Collins combined for two quarterback pressures, a quarterback hit (Irving) and a sack (Collins). Irving also drew a holding call on a punt.
Getting them back takes so much pressure off the defensive ends to generate pressure in passing situations. With better pressure from the interior of the defense, DeMarcus Lawrence and the other defensive ends will have better opportunities for sacks because opposing quarterbacks won't be able to step up in the pocket with as much ease as they have through the first five games of the season.
The linebacker duo of Jaylon Smith, and Leighton Vander Esch have been one of the best position groups for the Cowboys this season. As good as they've been, Sean Lee is still one of the better linebackers in the NFL. Though he's leading the Cowboys in solo tackles with 43, Leighton Vander Esch probably sees a decrease in his snaps with Lee returning. They'll all play, however, and the Cowboys will look for ways to have them all on the field together.
Getting Lee, Irving, and Collins on the field at the same time with the defensive parts that the Cowboys already boast in Vander Esch, Jaylon Smith, DeMarcus Lawrence, and Byron Jones is going to make playing offense nearly impossible.
How do you attack these guys?
The Washington Redskins rank in the bottom third in passing yards, yards per attempt, and are 18th in the NFL in passer rating. Washington ranks in the top half of the league in rushing yards per game, but rank 23rd in yards per attempt.
If there's an area where the Dallas Cowboys defense has been susceptible this season it's against the pass and having all of their best defensive players available for this week seven NFC East matchup is going to make all the difference. They'll be able to generate pressure with fewer blitzes because of the ability of Irving and Collins to generate pressure from the interior.
Though the Redskins have had some success on the ground in 2018, it's going to be tough sledding for Adrian Peterson and the Redskins run game. Lee, Vander Esch, and Smith all play the run extremely well and with the improved talent at defensive tackle, Peterson is going to find very few open lanes against the Dallas Cowboys defense.
The elite defense that we imagined this team could be may be right around the corner. Having everyone healthy and on the field together as the Dallas Cowboys get ready for the stretch run of the NFL season is huge.
Get ready NFL. Points are going to be really hard to come by.
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