As I mentioned in my previous column, the Dallas Cowboys have entered a game with Peyton Manning with their backs against the wall. They will need another inspired performance if they wish to get their season back on track as Manning leads his undefeated Denver Broncos (4-0) into AT&T Stadium (4:25, CBS) for a tilt against the 2-2 Cowboys.
In what turned out to be a very sour Southern California vacation for the Kiffin family, son Lane saw his tenure at USC come to an end in the most humiliating way possible (left behind at LAX after a 62-41 loss to Arizona State) and patriarch Monte saw his defense, which posted admirable results in the first three weeks of the season, get torched for 506 yards by the San Diego Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium en route to a 30-21 defeat in the lovely city discovered by the Germans in 1904.
401 of those yards came from the arm of Philip Rivers, who, other than a 2nd quarter interception that LB Sean Lee returned for a touchdown, was magnificent on Sunday, completing 35-of-42 passes, three of which ended in touchdowns. The final one was the nail in Dallas's coffin, a 56 yard strike to Antonio Gates.
If Dallas thought Rivers was bad, Halloween has come several weeks early for the defense, who must deal with Manning and his merry receivers. The Broncos are coming off a 52-20 destruction of the Philadelphia Eagles, a game that saw Manning throw for 327 yards and 4 touchdowns, adding to his already impressive total of 1,470 yards and 16 touchdown throws. Needless to say, Manning, who has yet to throw an interception this season, leads the league in both categories, in addition to topping the charts in completion percentage (75.0%) and passer rating (138.0). The numbers might've been even more inflated had John Fox not call off the dogs (or horses, in this case) and stick Brock Osweiler in.
Obviously, Dallas is not favored in this game by anyone who doesn't bleed Cowboys blue and silver. Manning brings in his talented receiving arsenal to Dallas as well, headline by the fearsome trio of Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, and the newly acquired Wes Welker. If the Cowboys want to win, they will need to not only shut down this powerful receiving corps but win the turnover battle. That may be stating the obvious, but when you consider that Manning has not thrown an interception this season, it's imperative to force Denver into uncomfortable situations. If the Cowboys can force Manning into a sense of discomfort, they can force the Broncos to beat them with their underdeveloped run game.
As for the offense, it would not hurt to see QB Tony Romo return to his gunslinger ways, even if ever so briefly. Romo's new conservative approach to the offense has helped in several ways (for example, he's turning the ball over a lot less often), but one cannot win on screen passes and five-yard-outs alone. Of course, Dez Bryant is the perfect option, but the Cowboys need variety if they're going to pull off the upset. You know how Manning was able to make guys like Austin Collie and Brandon Stokley look like superstars in Indianapolis? Romo has to do the same here. With Miles Austin's status still in doubt for this week, Romo will have to get his lesser known targets involved in the offense more. Enter Terrence Williams, a rookie receiver out of Baylor who really has to start redeeming himself. A blown route in the Week 1 game against the Giants led to Romo's only interception this season, and his fumble at the San Diego 1 yard line ended any hopes of a Dallas comeback last week.
Dallas also must not abandon the run game when things don't start to go their way. When it became apparent that the momentum was turning in San Diego's direction, the offense panicked and totally forgot they had DeMarco Murray in the backfield. Murray finished the game with a solid 5 yards a carry, but he only had 14 of them for a total of 70 yards. Denver does have a great run defense, allowing just 74.0 yards on the ground per game (tops in the NFL) but Dallas must let the Broncos know that the passing game is not the only thing they have to fear. The run game will also allow the Cowboys to run play action, which could open the path Romo needs to toss a long ball downfield.
I do believe the Cowboys have a better shot in this game than most, but to predict a win at this point is simply too much wishful thinking. Denver has looked like absolute world-beaters and the Manning that we see on Sunday could be better than any version of Peyton Manning that we've ever seen. So while I think the Cowboys will keep pace slightly with the Broncos for a bit and that the game will serve as a good learning experience, Denver is too good to blow a game like this. Pulling off an upset is not out of the question, but sometimes you just have to take the moral victory. Of course, though, if moral victories counted, everybody would be undefeated
Prediction: Broncos 38, Cowboys 27
DAL 27, PHI 7: Cowboys Winning Every Phase, Build Big Halftime Lead
The Dallas Cowboys certainly heard about Doug Pederson's win guarantee, but did anyone tell Pederson's team? The Philadelphia Eagles have fumbled and flopped their way into a 24-7 halftime deficit in this pivotal Week 7 rivalry game.
Two early fumbles by Dallas Goedert and Carson Wentz helped set up the Cowboys for short fields and touchdowns. Dallas has scored points on all but one of their drives in the first half.
Ezekiel Elliott is on pace for his best game of 2019 so far. He has 65 rushing yards and another 25 through the air, with one touchdown coming on the ground.
Dak Prescott has been sharp with 161 passing yards on 15-of-20 passing. He connected with Blake Jarwin on the team's second touchdown of the night.
Dallas' other touchdown came on a pretty toss play to Tavon Austin, who used his athletic skills to juke one Eagle and then outrace the rest to the endzone.
Brett Maher finished the half with an amazing 63-yard field goal. He also made one from 26 yards earlier.
Standouts on defense so far include DeMarcus Lawrence, who is playing up to his verbal response to the Eagles' head coach earlier this week. We've also some big plays from Maliek Collins, Jourdan Lewis, and Robert Quinn.
Leighton Vander Esch had to leave the game with a neck injury and is questionable to return. Hopefully, the Cowboys won't need him.
Great start by the good guys! Let's keep it going!
Eagles @ Cowboys 2019: Gameday Inactives for Both Teams
Kickoff between the Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles in Week 7 of the 2019 season is almost upon us. The teams have now officially declared their inactive players for tonight, and the Cowboys' list comes with many sighs of relief.
After a week of worrying that several starters and other key players could miss this pivotal game, Dallas should have most of them on hand.
Cowboys inactives: Devin Smith, Anthony Brown, Luke Gifford, Adam Redmond, Brandon Knight, Justin Hamilton, Dorance Armstrong.
Losing Anthony Brown, who is essentially a starter as the nickel corner, isn't great. But it will mean more playing time for Jourdan Lewis, and to some that could be a blessing in disguise.
As for Philadelphia, their inactive list features several key names
Ronald Darby is active for the #Eagles. Rookie Shareef Miller active for the first time. The inactives for tonight's game against the Cowboys: DeSean Jackson, Avonte Maddox, Darren Sproles, Nigel Bradham, Nate Herbig, Jason Peters, Tim Jernigan.
You can read more analysis of the Eagles' missing players here. But just to summarize, that's two offensive starters(Jackson, Peters) and three from the defense (Jernigan, Bradham, Maddox) who won't be playing in Dallas tonight.
Will these injuries decide the game? Will Dallas take advantage or will Philly overcome?
We're about to find out!
Cowboys Wishlist: Let Tony Pollard and Blake Jarwin Play
Welcome to primetime. Tonight, the Philadelphia Eagles will play the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium for an exciting NFC East matchup. The Cowboys are slightly favored for this one, but it will not be an easy game. Both teams sit at 3-3 and will fight for the division lead. It'll be an exciting night for Cowboys Nation.
Without further ado, let's get to this week's Cowboys Wishlist!
Wish #1: Everyone Plays
After a week of uncertainty regarding the health of several key players, the Cowboys are expected to play with both their staring offensive tackles, Tyron Smith and La'el Collins, WR Amari Cooper and CB Byron Jones. That's certainly surprising, but it's great news to hear ahead of such an important game for the Cowboys.
On the other hand, the Philadelphia Eagles will miss plenty of starters including OT Jason Peters. Of course, nothing will be official for Dallas until the inactives are announced. I wish the inactives list matches early reports of these key players being expected to play.
Wish #2: Return to Exploiting Play-Action
There's no way around it. The Cowboys were being very successful using play-action during the first three weeks of the season, being among the NFL teams to use it the most. For some reason, though, they seem to have walked away from it. Somehow, they figured out what was working and stopped doing it. Many have argued about how play-action works and whether or not the run must be established for it to work. Analytics suggest it doesn't work that way.
Anyway, the trend is pretty clear. Throughout the first three weeks, the Cowboys averaged play-action plays on 39.56% of their drop-backs. The last three weeks that average has been 17.3%.
It's hard to find an answer as to why this has happened to Kellen Moore's offense, but I wish they go back to what was working so effectively at the beginning of the season.
Wish #3: Let Dak Prescott Win The Game
Speaking of play-action, I truly believe Dak Prescott is the least of the Cowboys' problems right now. He's played pretty well and has shown how much of a warrior he is, specially last week when he took a beating from the New York Jets' defensive front.
I love what RB Ezekiel Elliott brings to the table, but the offense should rely on the passing game. Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup are a very solid duo of wide receivers and Dak Prescott has proven he can handle the job. I'd like to see the Cowboys putting the offense on Dak's back.
The Eagles secondary has been far from decent this season, with plenty of teams airing out against them. The key to this game is the passing game.
Wish #4: First Cowboys Drive Ends in TD
The Cowboys' slow starts have really been one of the biggest issues for this football team this season. Even when they were on a win streak and faced weak opponents, Jason Garrett's team started slow on both offense and defense. That could be the difference in such an important game for the Cowboys. It's time for them to start fast, and score fast.
The Cowboys' offense has been pretty good. In fact, they rank second in offensive DVOA on Football Outsiders. If they figure out how to score early - when game scripts matter the most - this unit could be special.
Wish #5: Let Tony Pollard and Blake Jarwin Play
The Cowboys have chosen to give Jason Witten the vast majority of the offensive snaps at TE this season. As a consequence, Blake Jarwin has seen the field less than he should. Through six weeks, he's only played in 38.1% of the offensive snaps. Jarwin is young and talented and has been good when given the chance. I hope his snap count increases today.
Similarly, I wish the Cowboys' give Tony Pollard a more important role. Instead of using him as much as they did in the first three weeks, his snap count percentage has dropped all the way down to 17.68%.
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