The Dallas Cowboys are gearing up for a crucial game that will have major implications on the rest of the season and, maybe, beyond. Dallas, 1-2, will look to rebound offensively after mediocre showings in two of the Cowboys’ first three games; but a Detroit Lions team, also 1-2, is led by a strong secondary and they are hungry to carry over the momentum that they gained with a win over the New England Patriots.
Dallas will likely want to rely on their workhorse running back, Ezekiel Elliott, in the critical week four battle as the Lions are not exactly strong against the run. Detroit is giving up an average of 149.3 rushing yards per game thus far this season — which is the worst in the entire league.
The Lions are also giving up the most yards per carry (5.4 Y/A) in addition to giving up the two longest carries of the NFL season through three games — a 66-yard touchdown by Matt Brieda in the week two loss to the 49ers and a 61-yard score from Isaiah Crowell in the team’s week one defeat versus the Jets.
Needless to say, Zeke should have plenty of opportunities to feast this Sunday.
Knowing their own weaknesses of stopping the run — in addition to the Cowboys’ struggles in the passing game — expect the Lions to make some adjustments and commit eight or nine defenders in the box in an effort to make Dallas one-dimensional. So far, it appears to be questionable to not make Dak Prescott and the Cowboys receivers to beat you — albeit, the Giants came out on the wrong end of that equation in week two.
This brings us to our opposing player of the week: Detroit cornerback Darius Slay.
Darius Slay has gradually developed into one of the most elite cornerbacks in all of the NFL. The Mississippi State product used a stellar combine performance to make a rise in the 2013 NFL Draft. From there, the Lions have seen their former second-round pick get better each and every season.
Slay reached Pro Bowl status for the first time last season after recording a league-high eight interceptions in 2017. The speedy, ball-hawking defensive back added 54 tackles, 26 passes defended, and a fumble recovery during his Pro Bowl season.
Slay has a league-high 70 passes defended since 2014 to go along with the 15 interceptions that he has snatched in that time frame. It’s not like Slay is not guarding top competition, either; rather, the stud corner is locking down some of the league’s best receivers. Take a look for yourself:
How will the Cowboys attack the Pro Bowl defender this Sunday in AT&T Stadium? Perhaps the smart move will be for Dak to avoid testing his former college teammate and instead look for more favorable matchups.
However, as bad as the Lions are at defending the run, the Cowboys’ week four opponent has been good at defending the pass. Detroit, as mentioned previously, are the worst in the league when it comes to stopping opposing ball carriers; however, the same team has been among the best — through three games — at stopping the pass.
Matt Patricia’s secondary is only allowing 152 yards through the air per contest this season, which is the least by any team thus far. The Lions have given up five scores through the air, but they have also forced two interceptions. Tom Brady had one of his worst performances of his legendary career last week versus Detroit, completing 53% of his passes for 133 yards with one touchdown and one interception — to, you guessed it:
Brady tested Slay on three occasions last Sunday, failing to hit on any of the three pass attempts, including the interception above.
Jason Garrett, Scott Linehan, and Dak Prescott have a difficult challenge on their hands when it comes to attacking a Lions defense that features one of the best cornerbacks in all of football. Dak seems excited for the challenge:
Since 2017, no player has more INTs than Lions All-Pro CB Darius Slay (via @pfref). Dak’s former college teammate was out injured when Dallas played Detroit in 2016.— Jon Machota (@jonmachota) September 28, 2018
“I know Slay well,” Dak said. “We’ve talked this week. Excited to see each other and play against each other.” pic.twitter.com/5GWWxeIh5B
Darius Slay is legit. Fortunately, the Cowboys should have success exploiting Detroit’s troubles in stopping the run. Will that be enough in getting a win and turning the season around? We will see.