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Five things to watch when the Cowboys head out to play the Jets

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There will be plenty of things to keep an eye on Sunday.

Buffalo Bills v New York Jets Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Okay, so the two-game experiment against winning teams didn’t go so well. We can sit here and sulk about it, or we can take comfort that the Dallas Cowboys get a week reprieve from a difficult game, and instead have a date with the winless New York Jets. Sure, it’s nowhere near as satisfying beating up on a bad team, but right now - beggars can’t be choosers and we need this team to go out and be better than somebody; even if it is just the Jets.

I can say that now, because the game hasn’t started yet, so disappointment hasn’t had a chance to set in. If the Cowboys go out and struggle against the Jets on Sunday, it’s going to rock the perspective of Cowboys Nation pretty hard. That’s because the Jets have no business being in this game. Anything can happen on Sunday, but it’s going to take some pretty bad football to lose to this Jets team. New York’s offense is just straight-up dreadful. They are dead last in first downs and in total yards. So, it should come as no surprise that they’re also last in touchdowns.

It might not be a that fun of a game for the innocent bystander, but for Cowboys fans starving for a little dominance - there’s a lot to be hopeful for. It could be a day of big plays for our team, and here are five things to watch this week.

1. Darnold makes his return

Things haven’t gone so well for the Jets over the last three weeks as they have been outscored by an average of over 20 points a game. Their offense has done next to nothing this year. In fact, the Jets defense has actually put up more points (22) than their own offense (17) this season. Last week against the Philadelphia Eagles, their offense was so bad that they were personally responsible for surrendering more points than they scored. That’s never a good formula for winning.

The Jets are hoping to get a spark from their third-overall pick from last year’s draft as Sam Darnold will be making his return after missing the last three games with mononucleosis. If there is any chance of jump-starting this Jets team, getting their young pass thrower back has to be their best bet. Aren’t the Cowboys the lucky ones?

The return of Darnold opens the door for a more competitive game as the Cowboys won’t be so lucky to face the ineptness of a Luke Falk-led offense. How much of a difference Darnold makes remains to be seen, but he still has to lead a Jets offense that is starving for playmakers.

2. Linebackers should rebound

It was hard to sit and watch the Cowboys linebackers struggle as much as they did against the Green Bay Packers running game. Aaron Jones is a good player, but he’s not 182 scrimmage yards and four touchdowns good. The Cowboys linebackers had problems as both Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch did not play well. There were many times that they were overly aggressive and taking bad angles in pursuit. They constantly were getting taken out of plays by offensive linemen who got into the second level. The Cowboys stud linebackers had problems shedding blocks, leading to several big holes for Jones last week.

Things won’t get any easier for them on Sunday as they will face the Jets best offensive weapon, Le’Veon Bell. The Jets lean heavily on Bell as he is top 10 in total touches this season with 98. That’s the same amount that Ezekiel Elliott has. The good news for the Cowboys is that despite the large volume of touches, Bell’s highest rushing total this season is just 68 yards. The bad news for Dallas is that the run defense has been vulnerable over the last two games as they’ve given up 237 yards in that span.

Smith and Vander Esch are great players, and it would be surprising to see them to continue to have problems. Look for the Cowboys to shut down Bell and put the onus on Darnold to make plays.

3. No worry at the tackle position

The Cowboys have a some great depth along the interior offensive line as some of last year’s starters - Joe Looney and Xavier Su’a-Filo - are just chilling on the bench. The team felt they were prepared to handle adversity at the position should something bad happen.

What was a little more uncertain though was their depth at the tackle position. Swing tackle Cameron Fleming has been okay in the past, but what kind of drop off would they experience should something happen to their starters? As it turned it, both Tyron Smith and La’el Collins have been hit with injuries and missed action last week. On the surface, that just seems like a recipe for disaster.

Fleming started last week, and undrafted rookie Brandon Knight was called into action in the third quarter when LC hurt his knee. Knight played well; Fleming had his issues. But the Cowboys offense scored all three of their touchdowns with those two on the field.

It’s unclear if the Cowboys starting tackles will be available for Sunday’s game, but it feels good to know that all is not lost if they can’t make it.

4. Watch out for some soul-snatching

One of the reasons the Jets offense struggles so much is that they have a terrible offensive line. They allow a league high 5.8 sacks per game, and are fresh off giving up 10 sacks to the Eagles on Sunday.

While they have issues all along the offensive line, they are particularly susceptible at right tackle. Last week, their normal starter Brandon Shell was benched, forcing the team to resort to call upon rookie Chuma Edoga on the edge. That didn’t work out so well as Brandon Graham had a field day.

This should have Cowboys defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence chomping at the bit to give Darnold a nice warm welcome back. Tank has yet to get going this season as he’s been relatively quiet. Most of the work he puts in isn’t always apparent in the box score, but that could change if Lawrence is able to exploit this weak Jets offensive line.

5. Fresh hot turnovers at MetLife, but who’s serving them?

The Jets gave the ball away three times last game. It’s hard to win games when you’re that sloppy. The Cowboys know all about that because they are coming off of two straight games with three turnovers. Clearly, that has to stop.

Four of those turnovers over the last two games have come from Dak Prescott interceptions. This year’s version of Prescott features a quarterback who is cutting it loose. Despite the picks, Prescott is coming off a career-high 463 yards. With weapons like Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, and Randall Cobb - the Cowboys already have 10 passing plays of at least 20 yards. Now, if he could channel those big plays and cut back on the interceptions, the offense may be able turn more of that great offense into points.

Hopefully, it’s the Jets who are giving the ball away as it would be nice to see the Cowboys be on the positive side of the turnover differential.