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Cowboys vs. Dolphins: A Week 3 (trap game) primer for the 2019 regular season

Don’t let the huge spread fool you, this won’t be an easy game.

NFL: AUG 19 Preseason - Dolphins at Cowboys Photo by Andrew Dieb/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

No one could blame you for thinking the Cowboys have already won their next game. Through two weeks, Dallas has played two of their division rivals - one at home and one on the road - and won both in convincing fashion. The new look offense has scored 66 points and put up 968 total yards of offense, while the defense has been effective despite not yet reaching their full potential.

The Dolphins, on the other hand, have been terrible. There’s an argument to be made that this might actually be the worst team professional football has ever seen, with their one redeeming quality being that unlike the 2008 Lions or 2017 Browns, this team was built to go 0-16. Miami is officially unofficially tanking this year, and the on-field results reflect that. A 59-10 demolition at the hands of the Ravens was followed up with a 43-0 blow out from the Patriots.

It’s no wonder that the Cowboys opened up at an insane 21.5 point favorite for this game, which will be the Dolphins’ first road game. If the Dolphins are getting outscored 102-10 at their own stadium, it should be pretty tough sailing to play against sudden MVP contender Dak Prescott, who is 18-7 in AT&T Stadium for his career.

But as the great Lee Corso might say, not so fast my friend. This Dolphins game has all the makings of a perfect trap game scenario. Nearly everyone in the media is acting like Dallas has already won this game, with some even suggesting that the Cowboys should treat it like a preseason game and rest some of their banged up starters. And that’s precisely why Miami could very well come in and surprise everyone.

Against the Patriots, Miami played deceptively well on defense. They sacked Tom Brady twice, recovered a fumble, and limited the future Hall of Fame quarterback to 121 yards in the first half. In fact, the Patriots were only up 16-0 with nearly two minutes left in the third quarter. But three interceptions, two of them returned for touchdowns, helped the Pats throttle the Fins for a terrible final score.

And that brings us to the biggest issue for Miami: Ryan Fitzpatrick, starting quarterback. We know from history that Fitzpatrick is not a guy you want to pin your hopes and dreams on. His 191 career touchdowns are offset by his 152 career interceptions. But every now and then Fitzpatrick will go off in a monstrous way. His entire 2015 season with the Jets was one such instance, and last season the Amish Rifle completed 72.3% of his passes, averaged 410 yards per game, and threw 11 touchdowns to just four interceptions over the course of three games he played for the suspended Jameis Winston.

Perhaps Fitzpatrick is overdue for his big game? That might be Dolphins head coach Brian Flores’ thinking, especially against a defense that’s allowed both Eli Manning and Case Keenum to make some throws and put up points. That highlights a potentially big issue for Dallas: their defense hasn’t yet met their expectations.

The Dallas defense was darn near elite last year, often keeping the Cowboys in games while their inconsistent offense figured things out. So far, it’s been the exact opposite this year. The Cowboys have started both games by being down 7-0 before their offense kicked things into gear. Their secondary has allowed too much room for wide receivers to get open, and now Xavier Woods is expected to miss this week’s game. More troubling is that linebackers Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch haven’t looked like the world-beaters they were last year.

But perhaps most troubling is the pass rush, or lack thereof. Dallas has managed two sacks in two games against two mediocre offensive lines. DeMarcus Lawrence has been double-teamed and the rest of the defensive line has been unable to pick up the slack. Furthermore, Dallas has only two tackles for loss through two games, showing this defensive line’s inability to break through the offensive line. In Miami, they’ll be facing the league’s worst offensive line and will be getting Robert Quinn back from suspension, so the hope is they can finally generate pressure at the rate they did last year.

On offense, the Cowboys will also be forced to adjust to life without leading receiver Michael Gallup. Devin Smith, who had a big game against the Redskins, should see more action but it remains to be seen just how Dak and company will fare without his favorite receiver. It’ll be the first real test for Kellen Moore in seeing how he’s able to adjust to that change in personnel.

All in all, this should be a cakewalk for the Cowboys. But whether it was the Broncos in 2017 or any number of teams last year, the Cowboys have a history of falling in trap games. Perhaps this is the year that changes, or maybe the Dolphins really are that bad. Either way, the Cowboys can’t afford to overlook this game, and nobody should be surprised if it ends up being closer than the points spread thinks it will be.

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