The NFL season is a long one. This Sunday, the red-hot Green Bay Packers will travel to AT&T Stadium to face the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC Divisional playoff. Months ago, during week 6 of the 2016 season, these Cowboys traveled to Green Bay and laid a beat down on the Packers, 30-16.
October 16th, 2016 feels like a lifetime ago. And because it was so early in the season, and because things tend to change every week in the NFL, I am inclined to believe you can toss that game out the window when trying to forecast what will happen this Sunday.
There are some things which happened at Lambeau back in week 6 that I think will be carried over however, as they have remained constant during the entirety of the Cowboys' magical season.
Run Zeke Run
Whether the Cowboys were set to play Green Bay, New York. Detroit, or the '72 Dolphins, their formula for victory would be the same. Get Ezekiel Elliott his carries, yards, and touchdowns.
The league's leading rusher trampled over the Packers back in week 6, running for 157 yards on 28 attempts, and adding another highlight to his "Zeke Leap" reel. Before these two teams played, all the hype centered around the Packers number one rush defense trying to be the first to stop Zeke and the Cowboys. Obviously, they failed.
But the Packers run defense did continue to remain in the top ten throughout the season, finishing 8th in the league. While their run defense is no joke, they are also not as good as the ranking indicates, considering their secondary has provided lay-up lines for opposing wide receivers all season (credit to Bomani Jones for the basketball analogy).
David Irving, Still a beast
The regular season match up with Green Bay was actually the first David Irving breakout game of the season. He simply could not be blocked, tallying 4 tackles, 1 sack, and 3 forced fumbles. It was the first taste of the beast we now know as David Irving, and it was amazing to see.
After a few weeks without much playing time, Irving finally got another shot against Tampa Bay, and since that game, he has been playing out of his mind.
The Packers offensive line is actually very good, especially their tackles, Bryan Bulaga and David Bakhtiari. Against the vaunted Giants pass rush on Sunday, Bakhtiari held their highest paid pass rusher Oliver Vernon to just two quarterback pressures. According to Pro Football Focus, it was the first time Vernon has had less than three pressures in 25 games.
Most of the havoc Irving caused in the week 6 meeting came from the interior of the line, but now that he has moved out to defensive end full time, he will need to get the best of some of the better tackles in football on Sunday.
We all know why the Packers are here
Without any bias I can say definitively that the Dallas Cowboys are a better football team than the Green Bay Packers. Seriously, I can say that.
But the Packers have a guy at quarterback who is unlike anything most of us has ever seen. The way Aaron Rodgers can buy time in the pocket, slide around, and throw receivers open time and time again is incredible. To be honest, he's got a little bit of Tony Romo in him, just a little more risk averse than old-school Romo. (No, I'm not saying Romo is better than Rodgers put down the pitch forks).
Back in October, Rodgers was not on his game. He completed 31 passes and threw for a touchdown, but he only threw for 294 yards on those 31 completions. He also fumbled twice, lost it once, and threw a key interception early in the second half.
The Cowboys must create pressure on Rodgers, make him uncomfortable, and make him throw the ball before he is ready to do so. They did a decent job of this in the second half earlier this year once they grabbed the lead, even getting some hits and sacks on him, but they must be better all around this week.
Getting Morris Claiborne back will help, as this secondary handled the Packers wide receivers rather easily in the first match up with Mo in the line-up.
The Packers have improved, but so have the Cowboys
Yes, the Packers are playing much better team football at this point than they have all season. But so are the Cowboys.
Since Thanksgiving, the Cowboys defense has been downright incredible, holding their final four opponents under 21 points (before the meaningless Philly game). Offensively, Dak Prescott has shown improvement every week, Zeke still looks fresh and ready to go, and Dez Bryant is back in a big way. Oh, and that offensive line still exists.
Both the national media and fans of other teams are acting as if Rodgers is whistling his way through town like Omar Little ready to bring the Cowboys their death wish already. These Cowboys are still damn good, don't forget it.
The Cowboys have improved since the first game just like the Packers have. And to be honest, Dallas has no reason to fear Green Bay or anyone else in the league.
Could OC Kellen Moore Be More “Vanilla” Against Dolphins This Week?
The Cowboys are sort of in a no-win situation this Sunday.
If they come out and dominate the openly tanking Miami Dolphins, they'll have done exactly what they should do. But, if they lose to this putrid roster or lose one of their key players to injury, then this week three game would be considered a disaster.
So how should the Cowboys approach the Miami Dolphins?
Something tells me that new offensive coordinator Kellen Moore may look more "basic" than usual this week. Heralded for his creativity over the first two games, Moore may not want to show too much against the lowly Dolphins. Especially if the Cowboys can simply impose their will, a la the 2016 offensive gameplan.
Running backs Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard should expect a lot of inside and outside zone opportunities this week, with each having a chance to have their best individual performances of the season. Tight end Blake Jarwin and wide receiver Devin Smith could see a lot of opportunities through the air as well, as the Cowboys may want to avoid putting Amari Cooper in situations which could cause injury.
Kellen Moore may want to come out firing with Dak Prescott and this dynamic passing game at first to get a quick lead, and then look to shorten the game as much as possible with his running game.
Honestly, as much as Cowboys Nation may not like it, I wouldn't be shocked if Miami covered this lofty 23 point spread. Dallas could look to get up a couple touchdowns, then proceed to sit on the ball and just look to get out of the stadium alive. Especially considering that the schedule gets much more difficult in the weeks following this Miami game.
With key NFC matchups against the New Orleans Saints, Green Bay Packers, and Philadelphia Eagles looming large, health is the most important factor this week against the Dolphins.
Well, health and winning, of course.
#DALvsMIA: Betting Preview, Trends, And Prediction
Dallas and Miami could not be in more different modes heading into this week's game.
At 2-0 the Cowboys are looking to take the next step and earn themselves a Super Bowl ring. At a historically bad 0-2, the Dolphins are looking to go 0-16 and get a shot at drafting the top quarterback in next year's draft.
Vegas has this game at a ridiculous 21 point spread, which should rightfully scare gamblers away. But, both the Ravens and Patriots have beaten the brakes off Miami already this year, and Dallas seems primed to do so as well.
Cowboys -21. O/U 47.5 Points
The Cowboys are off to their best start since 2015, and they certainly expect their next 14 games to go much better than they did during that 2015 season. Dallas' offense is as dynamic as any in the league through two weeks, and quarterback Dak Prescott is playing like a legit MVP candidate.
Defensively, the Cowboys have been a bit disappointing thus far, but they have to be feeling like Sunday is the perfect opportunity for a "get right game." Defensive end Robert Quinn returns from suspension to take on his former team, and DeMarcus Lawrence looks to be getting his legs under him after missing all of training camp.
Prescott's favorite target during the opening victories, Michael Gallup, is set to miss this game with an injury, but I don't expect it to matter much against the Dolphins.
Where to even begin with the Miami Dolphins.
After trading for former first round pick Josh Rosen this offseason, the Dolphins decided to start journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick at quarterback. Then they traded their own former first round left tackle Laremy Tunsil for a slew of high draft picks. Then, most recently, they traded another former first rounder in Minkah Fitzpatrick for even more picks.
Miami is doing everything they can do to hoard draft picks, ensuring they'll have their pick of the top quarterbacks over the next two draft classes. In the end, this tanking strategy could very well work for the Dolphins, but in 2019 they are going to look really bad.
They've been dominated and embarrassed both weeks thus far, and most expect that embarrassment to continue Sunday against the Cowboys. Operation Fish Tank is in full effect.
- The Dolphins are 0-5 against the spread their last 5 games.
- The score total has gone over in 4 of Miami's last 6 games.
- The Cowboys are 6-0 outright their last 6 home games.
- The score total has gone over in each of the Cowboys' last 5 games.
If it were to happen, this would be one of the worst losses I could ever remember in Cowboys history. Luckily, I highly doubt the Cowboys don't take care of business on Sunday.
Miami is downright trying to lose football games, and it's hard to imagine this group coming into Dallas and beating such a talented bunch. I'll take the Cowboys big, but I don't have the guts to bet any team -21 in the NFL.
Takeaway Tuesday: Zeke Had The Exact Kind of Game Cowboys Need
It's pretty difficult to deal with the hype of being 2-0 to open a 2019 NFL season. The Dallas Cowboys have done just that with a revamped offense and a quarterback that's thrown seven touchdowns in the process. They currently sit alone atop of the NFC East and although it's too early to know what kind of team this will be when it's all said alone, we're excited.
Let's dive into this week's takeaways!
We Need Robert Quinn Back
The Dallas Cowboys defense hasn't been as bad as many would think. They've had a few bad moments but the talent is still there and should be improving as the season goes on. Last Sunday, what was most frustrating to me was the lack of a pass rush. DeMarcus Lawrence had a pretty good game, even though his stat line doesn't look very pretty. The pressure was there constantly and he forced a handful of bad plays from Case Keenum. Tyrone Crawford managed to sack him once.
Other than that, for most of the game the pressure was scarce. Fortunately, the Cowboys are getting Robert Quinn back from suspension this week. Having two quality edge rushers will boost a defense that has the potential to be great, but has only been "good" two weeks into the season.
Ezekiel Elliott Had The Kind of Game The Cowboys Need
Zeke was back for a heavier workload in week 2 after having a snap count in the season opener. It may have not felt like it, but the Cowboys' star running back had a pretty good game versus the Redskins. On 23 carries he had 111 yards and a touchdown, averaging 4.8 yards per carry.
In contrast of recent years, Elliott had a great game without the team heavily leaning on the running game. Dak Prescott threw the ball 30 times and Zeke still had a great game. This is what Cowboys Nation should want out of Kellen Moore's offense.
Elliott has two rushing touchdowns in the season, compared to six in all of last year. This is a product of an offense that's now dangerous in many ways, specially in the red zone. You gotta love what Moore is accomplishing so far.
Slow Starts Can't Continue to Happen
The biggest issue with the Cowboys in the first two weeks of the season has been their slow openings. In both games they've started trailing early. The worst thing about it is that it's been due to giving up big plays (like Saquon Barkley's big run in week 1) and quick, unsuccessful drives on offense (like a three-and-out drive followed by a drive that ended in an interception last Sunday).
Fortunately for the Cowboys, the Giants and Redskins didn't pose much of a problem. But when we reach the tougher stretches of the schedule, we know how quickly a game can turn south. Not every rival will be as unforgiving as the 0-2 foes they've faced so far.
Dak Prescott Continues to Prove He's It
Last but not least, we'll talk about Dak Prescott. Once again, he looked great. He finished the day with 269 yards, three touchdowns and an interception that came on a tipped ball from Randall Cobb's hand. He threw an absolute dime to WR Devin Smith, giving him his ninth 50+ yard touchdown pass of his career (ranking third in the NFL since 2016 behind Tom Brady and Philip Rivers).
All game long, he was precise against Washington's defense. He dealt three touchdowns to three different players and was making throws with anticipation and poise. If you're not sold on Dak Prescott yet, I don't know if you'll ever be.
He also looked well as a runner, specially on that 42-yard run where he stiffed arm Josh Norman. I hope the Cowboys continue to use him in the running game.
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