If the Dallas Cowboys finish the month out strong and win the next three games, they will be NFC East Champions, have the number one seed in the NFC, and finish the season with a franchise best record of 14-2. It would be a great way to enter the playoffs with the feeling that this team can do something special this season. But before that can happen, the Cowboys need to end their one-game skid and get back to their winning ways by beating the red hot, Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Here are five things to keep an eye out for on Sunday night.
Get Dak On Track
Everyone knows that Dak Prescott had a terrible game last week against the New York Giants. The kid was 17 for 37 with two interceptions and struggled all game to find open receivers. The Giants get a pat on the head for such a great defensive effort, but the rookie quarterback didn’t play well and needs to dust himself off and get back to making plays again. This is an important game for him. Rookie, smookie – he’s the quarterback of the top team in the NFC so the standards are high. While it’s easy to meander into the aura that Dak could be coming back down to reality, it’s more sensible to expect his play to resemble that of what we’ve seen most of the entire season. One bad game doesn’t make all the good plays he’s made this season suddenly vanish.
So the big question is was last week an outlier or can the kid respond and get back on track? The kid has answered so many questions this season with great quarterback play throughout the year, so it only seems fitting that he answers one more question.
Rebound Game For Dez
If there is anyone that is chomping at the bit to get the taste of last week’s game out of his mouth, it would be Dez Bryant. A lot is made about Prescott’s struggles, but Bryant had his worst games of the season. You can’t be too critical of him when he slipped and fell down which led to Dak’s first pick, but then you have Dez being taken off course during the second one. Bryant could’ve had a say in the outcome of that play. Of course, the most damaging one was where he fumbled the ball late in the fourth quarter that squashed any chances the Cowboys had to make a comeback.
The Cowboys have pulled some great dagger plays out of their hat in some of the resiliency games they’ve had with both the Philadelphia Eagles and Pittsburgh Steelers and each time it has included big touchdown strikes to Dez Bryant. Prescott knew that Bryant was his biggest receiving playmaker and he took his shots, but against the Giants they came up empty. The Dak-to-Dez tandem needs to show everyone watching that it’s still alive and well in big D.
The Emerging Defense
Don’t look now, but the Cowboys have a top five defense. Dallas currently ranks fifth in the league with 18.3 points allowed. That is super amazing considering they aren’t sacking the quarterback (ranks 20th with only 26) and struggles taking the ball away (ranks 23rd with 14). But what this team lacks on one hand, they make up for it with many other hands as the improvement on defense is a total team effort. From strong coverage in the secondary to many hats around the ball when tackling, they are a ferocious group and they are getting the job done.
So while many of us are anxiously awaiting to see if the offense gets out of their funk, many inquiring minds want to know if this defense is for real. This is very important because a good defense can step in and pick up their teammates when the offense struggles. And that’s exactly what they’ve done at different points in the season.
Contain Mike Evans
The Tampa Bay offense is a lot more balanced than a lot of teams as they are third in the league with 29.8 rushing attempts per game (Dallas is first). While they can use the running game to move the sticks, the real threat to put points on the board comes from star wide receiver, Mike Evans. The third-year receiver possess a big play threat as well as a premiere red zone target. He is having another great season and ranks third in both catches and in touchdowns.
Evans can be a problem because Jameis Winston doesn’t hesitate to look his way. Currently, Evans is the most targeted receiver in the league. He’s big, he’s strong, and he’s improved his route-running repertoire to where he’s one of the most dangerous receivers in the game. And it doesn’t seem to matter if Evans is covered as he has a tendency to just go up and get the ball.
It is no secret that the Cowboys will need to contain the Bucs star receiver and limiting the splash plays will be the key.
Feed The Zeke
This is not a ground breaking statement. It is the simple formula that goes with any Cowboys game and it won’t be any different against the Bucs. While Tampa has come on strong defensively over the last five games, teams can still run on them. The Bucs rank 21st in the league, giving up 110.7 yards a game.
The key for the Cowboys offense will be to keep the chains moving by converting third downs. This means they’ll need to do a better job on earlier downs with productive runs. Look for the Cowboys to feed their star running back with a 25+ carry effort.
These are the things I will be watching. What about you?