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Cowboys vs. Bills: A Week 13 primer for the 2019 regular season

Can Dallas get their first win over a team with a winning record?

Denver Broncos v Buffalo Bills Photo by Bryan M. Bennett/Getty Images

These are dark days for the Dallas Cowboys. Most teams wouldn’t be sent into full-blown panic mode after narrowly losing to the Patriots in Gillette Stadium, but most teams aren’t as talented as the Cowboys are this year but struggling at the same time.

Now, on a short week, the Cowboys are trying to score their first win over a team with a winning record as they face the Buffalo Bills on Thursday in the annual Thanksgiving classic. But all that anyone has been talking about around Dallas since the most recent loss is Jason Garrett’s job security. Jerry Jones was very critical in the moments right after the Patriots game, and unlike in times past, he hasn’t let up as the days have gone by.

All of this culminated in a report by Mike Freeman of Bleacher Report saying that Garrett needs to win the Super Bowl in order to keep his job. Yet, amid all of this very public bashing of the coaching staff, the Cowboys are getting ready to face the team that came very close themselves to beating the Patriots earlier this year.

The Bills find themselves sitting at 8-3 and in good position to snag a Wild Card berth this year. Things are really looking good for the once-dysfunctional franchise that was known for four consecutive Super Bowl losses and a league-record playoff drought. But new head coach Sean McDermott snapped that unfortunate streak in his first year on the job, and while they regressed in 2018, it was due to the expected growing pains that came with rookie Josh Allen embracing his role as the new franchise quarterback.

This year, Allen has seen a dramatic improvement in nearly every facet of his game. Coming into the 2018 draft he was billed as an athletic guy with a cannon for an arm, and not much else. But this year, he’s been more selective with his passes and shown some touch on occasion. Allen is very clearly still growing, but he’s taken steps forward, aided by a revamped kit of skill players that includes running backs Devin Singletary and Frank Gore, wide receivers John Brown and Cole Beasley, and rookie tight end Dawson Knox.

Allen’s biggest knock is still his turnover prone style of play, and while he’s cut down significantly on his interceptions (he has eight on the year), he has also fumbled 11 times. However, Allen has been on a tear the past six games, with only two turnovers against 14 touchdowns. Over that span, Allen has completed 58% of his passes for 1,238 yards and ten touchdowns with just one pick, in addition to running for 229 yards and four scores with only one fumble lost.

While Allen has been hitting his stride of late, the big reason the Bills are as good as they are is their defense, which ranks third in the league in total yards, passing yards, and points allowed while ranking ninth in defensive DVOA. Much like the Vikings’ defense, Buffalo features a powerful pass rush from their defensive line and a stout secondary.

Five of their defensive linemen - Jordan Phillips, Shaq Lawson, Jerry Hughes, Star Lotulelei, and rookie Ed Oliver - have two sacks or more, and Buffalo has gotten sack production from 11 other plays from all three levels of the defense. The unit, led by McDermott and defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier, is exceptionally good at getting to the quarterback.

In pass defense, the Bills have one of the league’s best young cornerbacks in Tre’Davious White. Quarterbacks are only completing 52.1% of their passes against him, he has yet to allow a touchdown, and he leads the team with 13 passes defensed. Their other three corners - Levi Wallace, Taron Johnson, and Kevin Johnson - aren’t as effective but still pose problems in coverage.

But what catches the eyes of anyone facing this Bills defense is their at-times porous run defense, which ranks 14th in yards allowed and 26th in run defense DVOA. In two of Buffalo’s three losses this year, the opponent gashed them in the ground game: Cleveland’s Nick Chubb put up 116 yards on 20 carries, while the Eagles combined Miles Sanders, Jordan Howard, and Carson Wentz for 205 yards on 34 carries.

Similar to the Patriots on Sunday, the Bills are a team led by a strong defense that’s susceptible to the running attack and led by an offense that’s usually just good enough to put up enough points. It shouldn’t be a surprise if the Cowboys roll out a fairly similar game plan to what they used in Foxborough, and with homefield advantage and preferable weather conditions this time around, the odds seem to be in their favor.

And the final score better reflect that, too, or else an already uncomfortable situation in Dallas could get worse. Jones has already said he definitely won’t fire Garrett before the season is over, but he famously said the same thing about Wade Phillips three weeks before canning the coach. If Dallas falls to .500 after all the anger Jones has expressed already, he may not be able to contain himself.