If the Dallas Cowboys are to stay within striking distance of the Philadelphia Eagles, then they are going to have to keep stacking wins on top of each other. After two straight wins, the team has built up a little momentum, but are now looking at a tough Week 9 matchup against the Kansas City Chiefs. If the Cowboys beat the Chiefs, not only would that help them stay close to the Eagles, but it would perk up the ears of those around the league who are skeptical of whether Dallas is a legit threat in the division. The Chiefs are the only team to beat Philadelphia this year.
It’s a big game with some big playmakers that should feature a lot of scoring. Here are five things I’ll be keeping an eye out for on Sunday.
Zeke ALF, DMC, or Hot Rod
It looks like the day has come where the Cowboys will have to rely heavily on a running back not named Ezekiel Elliott. With the All-Pro RB set to serve the first game of his recently reinstated six-game suspension, the offense will now look to its assortment of backups to supplement the ground game. Between Alfred Morris, Darren McFadden, and fan favorite, Rod Smith, how will the carries be distributed?
While many are just assuming it will be a three-way committee, the Cowboys have typically employed a bell cow type running attack under Jason Garrett. For this reason, Morris should be first in line to get a lion’s share of the touches. While his receiving ability and effectiveness as a pass protector may be a concern, the Cowboys can easily plug in McFadden or Smith in those situations. Not being a complete back isn’t a requirement for being the workhorse RB on first and second downs. Plus, Morris has worked on those aspects of his game and that should enable him to stay on the field in some of those situations.
McFadden should see his first regular season action this year as the team has left him inactive for every game thus far. He has fresh legs and many are presuming the team was saving him for this exact situation and should even be the starting running back in Zeke’s absence. I’m not really buying into that as you don’t suddenly jump others on the depth chart and go from inactive to RB1 just like that. McFadden will have a role in the offense, but it’s likely going to be a lot smaller than people expect. Look for him to spell Morris on a few series throughout the game or come in mid-series when the Cowboys are putting together a longer-play drive.
Then, there is Smith who is a hybrid of both the other backs as he has Morris’ stuttering feet and McFadden’s pass catching ability. Smith is a utility-knife type player who can handle a wide facet of roles on the team. He can essentially come in on any down and distance situation and fit right in. The way he’s been running the ball, there isn’t any reason to not think he couldn’t be effective in an expanded role on the team.
Talkin’ Cowboys recently discussed the RB situation and asked the fans who they think should be the featured RB. I offered up my two cents and they mentioned it on the show.
Morris' ability to "get skinny" and vision to get through the creases will keep Dak in 3rd in manageable situations. 46 is the answer.— Dan Rogers (@DannyPhantom24) November 1, 2017
While there is plenty of uncertainty as to how this will play out, one thing is known - the Cowboys have some good pieces in place. Whether it’s one guy, two guys, or all three, the Cowboys should be able to get some good use out of this group.
2. Need to be red-hot in the red zone
All the Cowboys need to do is score a touchdown every time they have the ball and boom - just like that, they’ll will be 5-3 and all us will rejoice. Okay, maybe that’s a little unreasonable to expect, but that needs to be the mindset of offensive coordinator, Scott Linehan and company. The Cowboys offense is ranked fifth in the league in scoring with 28.3 points a game so we know they have it in them. The Chiefs offense is ranked third in scoring themselves, with 29.5 points per game. And both teams are ranked in the bottom half in defensive points allowed so this has the making of a high scoring affair.
Dallas has been hit or miss with red zone efficiency this season. Some games they struggle, like against their NFC East foes, Washington and New York where they kicked four field goals each in those games. But then other times they’ll be rolling right along. Prior to last week, they had quite a streak inside the red zone.
The Cowboys defense will have their hands full, so it is imperative that the offense makes the most of their drives. An efficient running game must be present and they need to limit negative plays. Taking care of the ball is critical and they can’t be committing penalties that get them behind the chains. And during the times they do have to settle for a field goal, let’s hope Mike Nugent can keep knocking them through.
3. Don’t get Kareem’d in the running game
The Chiefs founds themselves a gem when the selected Kareem Hunt in the third round of this year’s draft. The rookie running back is the only player who to break the 1,000-yard mark in scrimmage yards this season and we’re only half way through. The electric back managed to hit the 100 mark in total yards in each of his first seven games in the league which is an NFL rookie record. That is pretty astonishing.
Hunt is an instinctive runner that uses his blocks well. He keeps his feet moving and will often dance around trying to find space. He has a deadly jump cut and the elusiveness to leave defenders off balance. Hunt has piled on some large gains by using these tools and the Cowboys cannot fail victim to these plays.
The Cowboys run defense has been Jekyll and Hyde this year with Sean Lee being an integral difference maker. If Dallas cannot stay disciplined and cover the gaps, they are going to be vulnerable to a beat down in the running game. They must wrap up and not give Hunt extra chances to escape. Sometimes he likes to spin and shuffle around as he attempts to break loose, but all the dancing takes extra time and in those moments the Cowboys linebacker group needs to pounce.
4. Kelce Lately
Travis Kelce is more than just an excellent dancer. His athleticism makes him a match-up nightmare for defenses around the league. While Rob Gronkowski has typically been all alone in the top tier of tight ends, Kelce has proven to be every bit of a threat as the original 87. He currently has more receptions (44) and yards (556) than any tight end in the league. In half his games this season, he’s had a minimum of seven catches for at least 98 yards. Make no mistake about it - Kelce is a problem.
But like all problems, there usually is a solution. Twice over the last five games, the Chiefs All-Pro tight end has been held under 40 yards. It just so happens to also be the only two games the Chiefs have lost all season. Stopping Kelce will be key for the Cowboys on Sunday. Fresh off his pick-six, Byron Jones will now try to carry some of that momentum as he prepares to go step-for-step with Kelce. The Cowboys third-year safety has been quiet for parts of the season, but one thing he excels at is smothering tight ends. Even as a rookie, he held Gronkowski to 67 yards and the bulk of that came on one play down the sideline where Jones had outstanding coverage. With the explosive burst of Kelce and his ability to make contested catches, Jones is going to have his work cut out for him this week. Hopefully he has the answer or else prepare yourself for some dancing.
Travis Kelce touchdown celebration pic.twitter.com/zodzaFNKeI— Steve Noah (@Steve_OS) October 31, 2017
5. Reid’em and weep
One of the things that Chiefs head coach Andy Reid does so well is utilizing the tools around him. With players like Hunt, Kelce, and Tyreek Hill - he certainly has some talented play-makers at his disposal. Reid is crafty and will do all kinds of odd alignments and misdirection plays. The Cowboys defense needs to be careful and not bite on these fake outs. Look how many things are going on in this play. You have Hill going in motion, Alex Smith faking a read-option hand-off to De’Anthony Thomas, and then ultimately shovel passing it to Kelce who takes off flying for the touchdown.
With the versatility of players, a lot of different guys can do different thing. Hill can run, catch, and even pass (or at least try). Hunt is a great receiving back and can hurt you in the middle of the field. Here is Smith hitting Hunt on a wheel route where once again, Hill goes in motion.
And sometimes they keep it simple and just try to out-run you. Speed kills.
Tyreek Hill turned on the burners and Alex Smith hit him in stride for a 64-yard TD. ✌️pic.twitter.com/MO5bFRDkzu— Sporting News (@sportingnews) October 20, 2017
Just as Byron Jones will need to keep up with Kelce, Anthony Brown will need to have a strong game in order to hang with Hill.
These are some things I will be watching on Sunday. What will you be looking for when the Cowboys square off against the Chiefs?