Just a few days ago, the Cowboys were looking at the prospect of picking third overall in the upcoming draft. Then, on Sunday in Minneapolis, they earned their first win since Dak Prescott went out for the year, and now they’re suddenly a win away from claiming first place in the division and the right to host a playoff game.
Such is the state of the NFC East this year. That is intensified by the fact that their opponent this Thursday, the Washington Football Team, would also take first place in the division if they can beat Dallas on Thanksgiving. Both teams are coming off wins from Sunday, both will be playing on Thursday without the guy who started under center for them in Week 1, and both are led by new head coaches from previously successful teams looking to make the playoffs in their first year. But with a Wild Card berth all but eliminated for any NFC East team, only one can reach the postseason.
When Washington has the ball
Make Alex Smith beat you
The last time these two teams faced off, it was Kyle Allen under center. This time, it’s Alex Smith, making his third start this year after a miraculous recovery from a gruesome injury suffered all the way back in 2018. And while Smith didn’t start in Week 9, he effectively did by throwing 32 passes. Counting that game, Smith has thrown for 881 yards on a 70.5% completion rate, but with two touchdowns to four interceptions.
In other words, Smith has been effective at moving the ball but doesn’t do a good job of scoring or avoiding mistakes. The former is due in part to offensive coordinator Scott Turner’s run-first mentality, and rookie Antonio Gibson has emerged as the top running back the last two weeks, where he’s turned 29 carries into 139 rushing yards and three touchdowns. He had 128 yards on 20 carries against Dallas as well. This Football Team offense is a lot like the Vikings offense: they make their living off the run, and while they have efficient quarterbacks, they prefer not to ask the passers to play hero ball. If Dallas can force Smith to try and play hero ball, they’ll likely have a good day.
When Dallas has the ball
Get Andy Dalton in a rhythm
The Cowboys offense will probably look to run the ball against this defense, as they should; while Washington ranks fourth in pass defense DVOA, they’re 13th in run defense DVOA. Playing on short notice after a game in which Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard dominated should help that translate as well.
But there will still be a need for Andy Dalton to throw the ball if this offense wants to succeed. Against a top five pass defense, largely due to their defensive line that’s sixth in pass rush win rate and third in sacks, Dalton needs to get into a rhythm early against this unit. He was never really given an opportunity to do that last time these teams met - his first offensive drive started on Dallas’ own one-yard line - so getting him some easy completions out of the gate can both help his confidence and keep the defense honest.
Now onto the predictions from your BTB writers...
The Cowboys are coming off their best game of the year and have shown improvement in each of the last three games. Washington, on the other hand, is pretty much what they’ve always been - a good defensive team with a terrible offense. With an improved offensive line, the Cowboys offense should be able to find the end zone against Washington this time around.
And with Van Jaylon actually looking better these days, it could be the Cowboys defense doing the havoc wreaking this week. Look for the Cowboys defense and special teams to get the limited capacity AT&T crowd excited and I’m calling a CeeDee TeeDee on a punt return to jazz up our Turkey Day. I’m back on the wagon, baby!
Give me the Cowboys 31-20.
I was worried I was falling for the cheese again last week, but it turned out that I was pretty accurate. The Cowboys played their best game of the entire year, Andy Dalton was mostly solid, and got away with one or two mistakes, the defense came through in the end, and both Donovan Wilson and CeeDee Lamb were standouts. Now the Football Team is coming to town for the annual Thanksgiving game, with at least a temporary claim on first place in the NFC East at stake.
The Zack Martin experiment at RT was a great success, Ezekiel Elliott had his best game rushing, Tony Pollard did too, Amari Cooper was the quiet killer offensively, and Leighton Vander Esch had a good game as well. I think Dallas is more than ready for this one, and is going to be fired up to prove last Sunday was no fluke.
Cowboys 34, Team 23.
It’s the battle of the back ups on Thanksgiving between the Dallas Cowboys and the Washington Football Team for the lead in the NFC East. Who would have thought the Cowboys would be in this position a few weeks ago when may thought the season was over; don’t look know but they have a very good chance of winning this game. Last time the pass rush of Washington, thanks to a beat up and pieced together offensive line, we’re able to bully the Cowboys and eventually knock quarterback Andy Dalton out of the game.
Well this time around the Cowboys offensive line has gotten better since their last meeting and Dalton is looking for revenge. Look for him to pick apart a tough secondary after effectively running the ball with Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard. While the Cowboys defense locks down their receivers and play maker Antonio Gibson.
Cowboys 27, Washington 20
I might be drinking the Kool-Aid after their victory on Sunday, but I believe Dallas is going to dominate this game. The Washington offense, led by Alex Smith, is not dynamic enough to cause huge problems for the Cowboys on defense. I think the Dallas defense is able to force Washington into some turnovers. On offense, Ezekiel Elliott goes for over 100 yards on the ground, and Andy Dalton gets some revenge on the Football Team.
Give me Dallas big, 28-14
Okay, the Cowboys made believers of me with the win in Minnesota. The Zack Martin/Connor McGovern experiment was a huge success, solidifying a problem offensive line. Andy Dalton looked much better than his previous games, and the Cowboys defense continues its improvement after a disastrous start to the season. Let’s go out on a limb and give this one to Dallas 23-20.
Everyone seems sold on these Cowboys being back in it after the Vikings game, and that’s understandable. For what it’s worth, I don’t expect another 25-3 drubbing like the last time Dallas played Washington. But I also can’t see the Cowboys pulling this one out. This Fightin’ Football pass rush is just too good, even with Zack Martin at right tackle, and Andy Dalton doesn’t have the mobility to counter it.
Alex Smith is also a better quarterback than Kyle Allen, and Antonio Gibson is a better running back now than when this defense last saw him. Gibson ate this defense up last time too, so we’ll see what he does for his second helping. I want to believe in this Cowboys team, but I fear there’s just too much of a talent deficiency right now to pull this win out.
Footballers 20, Cowboys 16