No matter how poor of a year it is, the Cowboys Thanksgiving Day game is always a bright spot of the season. The tradition that dates back to 1966 is one of the best in football.
This year, the outcomes from last Sunday made this a much more intriguing game. Despite Dallas and Washington both coming in with identical 3-7 records, the winner of Thursday’s game will walk away as the leader of the NFC East.
Dallas is looking to build off an extremely impressive performance in Minnesota last Sunday, in which they played their best game of the season. Washington is coming off a win over Cincinnati, in which their defense dominated the game.
Before both teams take the field on turkey day, here’s what we know, don’t know, and will find out in this matchup.
We know the Dallas defense should be much better against the run
The Washington offense has struggled to run the football all season long. Despite one outstanding effort against you guessed it, Dallas, they’ve only eclipsed the 100-yard rushing mark as a team four times. In their last two losses at the hands of New York and Detroit, Washington rushed for less than 90 yards in both games.
Washington’s best runner, Antonio Gibson, who dominated Dallas in their first matchup, has not reached the 100-yard mark since that game. In the two before mentioned losses to the Lions and Giants, Gibson recorded 65 rushing yards combined.
Coming into the first Washington game, Dallas was really struggling stopping the run. But since that game, the Cowboys have limited their three opponents to an average of 96 yards a game. Their run defense, still ranked as the fifth worst in football according to PFF, has not been great by any means, but they’ve been able to prevent teams from running all over them.
Last week, Dallas did allow Dalvin Cook to surpass the 100-yard mark, but he averaged just 4.3 yards per carry, a full yard less than his average for the season. For Dallas, this was a huge improvement, and the Washington run game all together is not close to as talented as Cook.
After parting ways with Dontari Poe, Neville Gallimore has stepped in at the defensive tackle spot and helped improve the Dallas run defense in a big way. PFF even gave Gallimore an 80 run grade in his great effort against Pittsburgh. His teammate at defensive tackle. Tyrone Crawford, also received a score of 80 in last weeks game against the Vikings.
Neville Gallimore had a fantastic game on Sunday. He was shoving guys around and was just straight-up overpowering blockers. pic.twitter.com/rueXtgwaau— Dan Rogers (@DannyPhantom24) November 10, 2020
By no means is the Dallas run defense a strength, but they should put forth a much better effort against it than they did back in October. They’ll be able to force Washington to throw the ball more, which really works in their favor.
We don’t know if the offensive line changes will be enough to stop Washington’s impressive defensive front
After finally putting Zack Martin at right tackle, the Dallas offensive line had one of their best games of the season last Sunday. Dallas allowed just one sack, and allowed just four pressures as a team, according to PFF. Second-year man Connor McGovern, who replaced Martin at guard, had a very nice day, allowing no pressures and earning a 74 offensive grade from PFF.
It was a very encouraging effort, but the Washington front is a much different animal than what they faced last Sunday. In the first matchup back in October, Dallas allowed 14 QB pressures, nine QB hurries, and four sacks. Not a single Cowboys’ lineman recorded a blocking grade above 65, and they virtually lost Dallas the game.
Top 3 pressure percentage among edge rushers with at least 100 snaps:— Nick Akridge (@PFF_NickAkridge) October 26, 2020
1. Joey Bosa: 17.4%
2. Montez Sweat: 17.3%
3. TJ Watt: 16.9% pic.twitter.com/mbIE5UnbPC
Washington built their team to have a dominant defensive front, and they showed that again last Sunday. They recorded five sacks in their victory over Cincinnati, and pressured the quarterback eight times, according to PFF. Washington has eight defenders with at least two sacks, including Ryan Kerrigan’s 5.5 and Montez Sweat’s six.
Montez Sweat able to grab Hakeem Adeniji's outside hand and use it to free himself up for a sack pic.twitter.com/lTycP8trs1— Sans (@bengals_sans) November 24, 2020
We saw last Sunday how much good offensive line play can help the Dallas team as a whole. They were able to control the game by running the football, something they will want to do again this week. With Martin at tackle, things shouldn’t be nearly as bad as they were in October, but Washington has such a good defensive front they still likely will put pressure on Dallas all day long.
We’re about to find out who the frontrunner in the NFC East is
As bad as these two teams have been, whoever wins this game walks away with a decent shot at making the playoffs. Dallas, in particular, can really improve their chances with a victory. If you take out the Baltimore game, it’s pretty reasonable to say Dallas should have a pretty good chance at competing in all their remaining games.
Washington still has to face the Steelers and Seahawks, but another win over Dallas would give them the tie-breaker if the teams finish with the same record. That could loom very large, as both teams could easily finish 6-10 or 7-9.
Someone’s gotta make the playoffs in this awful division, and there’s a real good shot whoever wins Thursday will be the one who host a playoff game in January.