From the Jet’s base camp, three matchups to watch, including how the Cowboys linebacker tandem better deliver a better performance this week against the Jet’s star running back.
Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch vs. Le’Veon Bell
The Dallas front seven is highlighted by a pair of linebackers under 25 years old. Jaylon Smith, 24, and Leighton Vander Esch, 23, rank first and second on the Cowboys in tackles and have combined for 86 stops. Last year as a rookie, Vander Esch finished third in the NFL with 140 tackles and Smith finished 13th with 121. This season, Dallas has the sixth-ranked defense, allowing an average of 321.3 yards per game, and the No. 2 third-down defense, holding opponents to converting on 26%.
“That linebacking corps is legit, man,” Adam Gase said. “They can run sideline to sideline, they’re physical downhill. When you run the ball downhill, those guys come up and you see linemen, they pop them. Those guys thud it up.” Despite elite personnel, the ‘Boys have allowed a combined 237 rushing yards in their last two games. Even though Le’Veon Bell hasn’t eclipsed more than 68 rushing yards in 2019, he’s still an elite playmaker in the NFL and will be more effective with Sam Darnold’s return.
Beat writer breakdown: What to expect from battle between the Jets and Cowboys - Jon Machota, The Athletic
The Athletic’s beat writers from each team discuss the state of their teams and what to expect on Sunday, with Jon Machota providing insight from the Cowboys side.
Matchup you’re watching
Machota: The Cowboys run defense against Bell. The run defense was terrible against the Packers, allowing Aaron Jones to rush for 107 yards and four touchdowns after he rushed for just a combined 40 yards in Green Bay’s previous two games. (Jones was also the Packers’ leading receiver last Sunday with seven catches for 75 years.) The Cowboys defense hasn’t met expectations through the five games. On paper, this is the most talented defensive group of Garrett’s tenure. But you wouldn’t know it by the way the unit has played so far.
Five categories where the Cowboys must win on Sunday.
5) Stop Le’Veon Bell and .. Well, you oughta win.
The Dallas defense has in five games permitted 431 rushing yards (4.59 per carry) and the league’s fifth-most receiving yards to enemy backs (56.4 per game). But ... maybe some of that is situational; I still think Aaron Jones did his damage for Green Bay last week because of Dallas’ concerns over the other Aaron. How this translates to Dallas: The point is: Of all the things the Jets will try to do, the least surprising should be feeding Bell. Le’Veon is on pace for career-highs in targets (128) and catches (108). ... and the Cowboys, if they can’t see this coming, are blind. (Or sick with the vertigo, as it Leighton Vander Esch this week.)
In case you missed it...
Stopping the run was once a strength of this Cowboys defense, but they appear to be trending in the wrong direction. Our own front page writers explain.
There’s been three reliable constants for the Dallas Cowboys defense the last several years:
Turnovers are few and far between
Defensive scores might as well be unicorns
The run defense is reliably solid
Well, we can officially eliminate the reliably solid run defense. Six of the Cowboys’ last nine opponents have rushed for more than 100 yards. Included were games of 178 (Colts), 143 (Giants), 151 (Giants), 117 (NO) and 120 (Packers).
While New Orleans and Green Bay didn’t put up huge numbers they both ran effectively when they needed to; New Orleans played keep-away most of the second half and Green Bay scored all four of their touchdowns on the ground.
Fixing egregious mistakes is relatively easy; fixing a fundamental, systemic problem is relatively harder. The Cowboys run defense is currently a fundamental, systemic problem. I did not think I’d be writing those words at this point in the season.
Cowboys injury report vs. Jets: Leighton Vander Esch, Antwaun Woods to play; Tyron Smith game-time decision - Patrik Walker, CBS Sports
Who’s playing and who’s not? The latest injury updates for the Cowboys.
Game-time decisions: Smith, Collins, Cobb
They’d like to also have both of their starting offensive tackles for those same reasons, but both Tyron Smith and La’El Collins remain game-time decisions -- as does wide receiver Randall Cobb. Of the three, the least likely to take the field would be Collins, with the right tackle having not practiced or done much of anything at all Wednesday through Friday. Smith fared a bit better, as he is out of the walking boot he initially wore to protect him after suffering a high ankle sprain and is moving well. The All-Pro left tackle didn’t formally participate in practice, but he did a good bit of individual work on the side.
Owner Jerry Jones is confident the Cowboys will have either Smith or Collins against the Jets -- if not both -- but the team will make the decision closer to game time. It’s expected Smith gets the green light, but time will tell.
The final practice report of the week:
Not only is the game televised throughout most of the nation, but we will be treated to the colorful commentary of Mr. Tony Romo. Here is this week’s TV coverage map courtesy of 506 Sports.
While stopping Bell is all the talk this week, don’t forget about that other All-Pro running back who will also be on the field. Somebody better plan on stopping him as well.
The 2019 season has been up and down so far for Elliott. After his usual slow start in the season opener, he had back to back 100-yard performances against the Washington Redskins and Miami Dolphins. The previous two weeks haven’t been as productive due in large part to Elliott only having 30 total carries over that span. Against the Saints, he only managed to gain 35 yards on 18 carries as the Cowboys offensive line got bullied from start to finish. He started off very well against the Packers with 60 yards on 10 carries in the first half, but multiple turnovers put the Cowboys down several scores forcing them to abandon the run game as Elliott only had two carries in the second half.
On the road, the goal is to take the crowd out of the game as early as possible and the best way to do that is by physically dominating the line of scrimmage with the run game and methodically moving the chains. It won’t be easy against a tough Jets defensive front seven but establishing Elliott early and often will set a tone and could very well lead the Cowboys to a much-needed road victory.
Going bold with some predictions, including a big game for Elliott.
1. Zeke finds pay dirt twice
Week 4 was a nightmare of a game for running back Ezekiel Elliott. The Cowboys star runner had 18 attempts but never got anything going for himself. He finished with just 35 yards on those carries, which was an average of 1.9 per attempt. He followed that up with a much-more effective game against the Packers. In the team’s loss, he had 62 yards on 12 carries and a touchdown but due to their deficit, he didn’t receive his normal number of carries.
Facing a New York team that lacks explosion, there’s no reason to believe Zeke won’t get upwards of 20 rushing attempts. Dallas should have no problem getting a lead over the Jets and when that happens, they’ll start to lean heavily on Elliott to keep the chains moving and the clock ticking — and they should lean on him more with Tony Pollard missing practice time during the week.
We check in our our sister site Gang Green Nation as they identify some key matchups to keep an eye on, including what should be a pretty good battle in the trenches when the Cowboys have the ball.
Cowboys offensive line vs. Jets defensive front
This is a pretty general matchup, but the Cowboys offensive line has been so good for so long that they just have to be grouped together. The Dallas offensive line has spearheaded some tremendous numbers yet again. Dak Prescott has taken a sack rate of just 3.4 percent, tied for the third-lowest among qualified quarterbacks. The Cowboys are third in rush offense DVOA and EPA, and sixth in rushing yards per game (140.8). In Football Outsiders’ adjusted line yards per carry, Dallas is ranked fourth. Pro Football Focus has the Cowboys ranked fourth in both pass blocking grade and run blocking grade. So, yes, it appears the Cowboys still have arguably the best offensive line in football.
Travis Frederick is back at center and slowly returning to form. The tackle duo of La’el Collins and Tyron Smith has been incredible. Zack Martin continues to play well, although young left guard Connor Williams has had some bumps. In Week 6, that group will be going up against a fledgling Jets defensive front that may be without Henry Anderson and features a brutally struggling Leonard Williams. Great offensive line play is perhaps the most essential key to winning on the road. Since the trio of Smith, Martin, and Frederick was formed in 2014, the Cowboys have the second-best road record in the NFL (27-15, .643), behind only the Patriots. With everything going on around him, this would be a great time for Quinnen Williams to step up. My goal for this matchup: at least five pressures for the No. 3 pick, against one of the NFL’s best offensive lines.
Could the Jets defense be a problem for the Cowboys interior offensive line?
3. Will Quinnen Williams take the next step?
One player who could make life for Prescott more difficult is Williams. The No. 3 pick out of Alabama is a potential terror getting after quarterbacks, but a calf strain followed by a sprained ankle caused him to miss action to start the season. In his first game back last Sunday, Williams racked up five tackles, which is a great stat line for a guy who hadn’t been able to do a whole lot for several weeks prior.
Now, it’s time for Williams to turn things up a notch, as the team is still waiting for the return of star free agent acquisition C.J. Mosley at middle linebacker. Yes, there are still plenty of playmakers on that side of the football (Jamal Adams, Leonard Williams, etc.) but the younger Williams is one of the few players who can truly take over a game.
Film room: 3 bold predictions for Cowboys-Jets, including a big performance from the defensive line - John Owning, Dallas Morning News
DMN’s film guru John Owning offers up his bold predictions with some nice video clips supporting his case. He’s calling for a big day for Tank and the defensive line, and why it makes perfect sense.
Cowboys defense generates five sacks, DeMarcus Lawrence gets two
While the Cowboys defensive line has struggled against the run, it’s actually done a good job rushing the passer, as the team ranks third in ESPN’s Pass Rush Win Rate metric. After facing one of the best offensive lines in football last week, the Cowboys defensive line should feast on the Jets upfront. The Jets offensive line may be even worse in pass protection than it is run blocking, as they rank dead-last in adjusted sack rate, per Football Outsiders. All in all, the New York line has given up 11 sacks, seven QB hits and 32 hurries on just 146 dropbacks, which is good for the third-worst pass-blocking efficiency in the NFL, per PFF. Like most below-average offensive lines, the Jets struggle to pass off stunts and twists upfront, which plays right into the Cowboys’ hand, as they use stunts at the second-highest rate in the NFL, per PFF. Rod Marinelli loves to create pressure using the movement, angles and timing of stunts and twists.
The Mothership offer up their predictions for the Jets game, and it’s sad to say - nobody is calling for a blowout.
David Helman: Outside of the quarterback, I’m not sure if there’s a position on a football team that’s scarier to lose than the offensive tackle. The Cowboys are clearly a better team than the Jets on paper, but it might be hard to execute a game plan if their No. 3 and No. 4 offensive tackles are forced to start. Of course, we don’t know that yet. It’s entirely possible Tyron Smith or La’el Collins will play this game. But even if they play, they won’t be 100 percent, and it does make you wonder just how pretty this is going to look. Fortunately, I think the talent edge is significant enough to carry the day. The Jets don’t employ many good blockers of their own, and I think that should help Dallas do a much better job of limiting the run game. If the Jets can’t score points, then the offense doesn’t need to do a ton. I don’t think this game is going to make anyone feel great, but it’ll be enough. I look for Dak Prescott to throw three touchdowns, and the Cowboys will pull away in a 27-13 win.
Expert predictions for Cowboys-Jets: Can Dallas put an end to its two-game losing streak? - Staff, Dallas Morning News
The DMN staff feels the same way as we see a lot of similar score predictions, but a couple writers are starting to show a little more confidence that the Cowboys will win in a more convincing fashion.
This is a game the Cowboys can’t afford to lose. Seasons aren’t determined in Week 6. But if Dallas follows losses to New Orleans and Green Bay by falling to the winless Jets just days before its first division showdown with Philadelphia, well, that could start a downward spiral that would be difficult to reverse. The Cowboys need to start fast, limit turnovers and rebound defensively to feel good about themselves heading into the game with the Eagles.
Cowboys 34, Jets 13