This game against the Los Angeles Chargers will mark the 50th time the Cowboys have played on Thanksgiving. It’s always a fun time to enjoy great food, great company, and the greatest team on the planet. After an 0-4 start, the Chargers have started to play good football, winning four of their last six games. This includes a 54-24 route of the Buffalo Bills. The Cowboys will have a tough match against an offense that features Philip Rivers, Melvin Gordon, and Keenan Allen and a defense that has two of the better pass rushers in the league. Dallas needs to come away with a win if they are to keep their playoff hopes alive. Here are five things to keep an eye out for.
1. Big game from Alf
Alfred Morris actually did pretty well against the Philadelphia Eagles top-ranked run defense. Morris finished with 91 yards on 17 carries. The Cowboys did a good job with their blocking schemes and pulling guards to engage defenders and free up space. Morris would make good use of the running lanes and put together some nice runs. People talk about the explosiveness of Ezekiel Elliott, but you have to give Morris credit for churning out some nice gains.
Crazy stat of the day: Alfred Morris has the same number of 20+ yard rushes as Ezekiel Elliott this year (4). However, he's had 149 fewer rush attempts.— Jordan Ross (@CHQ_Jordan) November 21, 2017
The Cowboys ability to win this game hinges on their ability to run the ball. If they run well, Dak Prescott will be put in better situations. If he’s put in better situations, the offense can find the end zone. If they find the end zone, the defense will get better opportunities to make plays. It’s a chain-link reaction that all starts with the ability to run the football.
The Chargers run defense is nothing like the Eagles. They are the second-worst run stopping team in the league. The Cowboys need to have all hands on deck and exploit this weakness. Doing so will help keep Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram off of Prescott and allow the offense to get back on track.
Morris is such a rhythm runner. He needs carries, but once he gets in rhythm he's very good.— Jason Thomas (@neithan2000) November 20, 2017
Today is that day for Alfred. The rhythm is gonna get’cha.
2. Battle of the Red Zone
It won’t be enough to just move the chains. The Cowboys need to rediscover their red zone magic. It’s been synonymous with winning recently. When they’re winning games, they’re red-zone-scoring fools, but when they are losing - they can’ t see to cross the goal line.
Unfortunately, this is the wrong defense to try to right this ship against. If a team gets into the red zone against the Chargers, more times than not - they’re not scoring a touchdown. The Chargers have the best red zone defense in the league, only allowing a 40% success rate. And for a Cowboys offense that has had red zone struggles in recent games, this is going to present a challenge.
The Cowboys could circumvent this issue by skipping the red zone completely and come up with a big scoring play. That would be nice. Maybe one of those comeback routes where Terrance Williams takes it to the house? Or what about airing it out to Brice Butler. Who wouldn’t love to see Dez Bryant throw up the X on a 50+ touchdown catch? Those plays always bring us smiles. Scott Linehan needs to rely heavily on a power run game and use his quarterbacks mobility to turn red zone opportunities into seven points. Let’s ease Dan Bailey back into action by just having him kick extra points. Sound reasonable?
3. Just say No-sa to Bosa
This section is usually reserved for the right defensive end that is expected to face off against the Cowboys vulnerable left tackle. And for Sunday, that player is Melvin Ingram. But great news - Tyron Smith will be playing. Strangely, La’el Collins has been dealing with back issues which has given Byron Bell some reps on the right side. If Collins was unable to go, that would just shift the Cowboys pass protection issues from one side to another. Fortunately, Collins being limited is more of a precautionary and he’s likely to play against the Chargers. The bad news though - he’ll be going against one of the best pass rushers in the game.
We have all been excited about the production of DeMarcus Lawrence and David Irving who are essentially putting up a sack per game this season (17.5 sacks distributed over 16 games combined). That is certainly an impressive run, right? Well, that is what the Chargers have been getting from Joey Bosa so far in his career. In 22 games, Bosa already has 21 sacks. Collins has faced some difficult edge rushers this season, but Bosa will be right up there with the best of them. The Cowboys tackles are going to have their hands full and they must contain the Bosa/Ingram duo if Prescott is going to have a fight chance to make plays.
4. Stay disciplined in the running game
Sean Lee will not be playing, but that doesn’t mean the Cowboys are toast against the run. Granted, I don’t have much of a leg to stand on to make such a claim, but what I do have is one half of really good run defense. The Cowboys defense held the Eagles to 35 rushing yards in the first half. It was impressive. What wasn’t impressive however is what happened in the second half. Philadelphia would torch the Cowboys for 180 rushing yards. Anthony Hitchens was asked about what changed between the first half and the second half for the Eagles to really get the running game going. Here is what he had to say:
“Honestly, they ran the same plays and we just didn’t execute. They ran the same plays from the first quarter all the way until the fourth. We seen earlier on when we stopped them and we played the same call, but one guys did this or one guy did that and we were just out of our gaps. It was more on us.”
While Melvin Gordon has a nose for the end zone (nine TDs, rushing + receiving), his rushing output hasn’t been very impressive. He’s averaging about 16 carries a game with only a 3.8 yards per carry average. And that is pretty standard for Gordon as his 3.8 ypc is also his career average.
The Cowboys run defense must stay disciplined. Players must stay in their gaps. They cannot over pursue and take themselves out of the play. Both Hitchens, Jaylon Smith, and Byron Jones must play physical make good tackles.
5. Dak Attack, Friends Forever
If the song “Friends Forever” by the music group Zack Attack (from Saved by the Bell) isn’t one of your favorite all-time songs, then that’s probably because you have great taste in music. Here’s a little memory jog in case you need some help.
That was nauseating, and so was last week’s performance from the Cowboys new franchise quarterback, Dak Prescott. This is an important game for Dallas, but also for Prescott. He needs to rebound and have a good game against the Chargers. He’s got a lot of weapons at his disposal and he needs to rely on all his friends to get this offense rolling again.
There will be no Ezekiel Elliott jumping in the Salvation Army kettle in this game, but that doesn’t mean someone else won’t. This is Dak’s team now and it’s his time to put the offense on his shoulders and bring us some delicious goodness on Thanksgiving Day.
Those are the things I will be looking for on Thursday. What things have your attention as the Cowboys square off against the Chargers?