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Five things to watch when the Cowboys host Washington on Thanksgiving

Here are some things to keep an eye out for on Turkey Day!

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at Minnesota Vikings Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Happy Thanksgiving!

Sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in the rat race that is life, and let’s face it, 2020 has been no picnic. But even as challenging as things are, it’s always been such a treat to turn on our television sets on Thanksgiving Day to enjoy the Dallas Cowboys.

This season has been rocky to say the least, and it’s hard to believe this but a win over the Washington Football Team will put Dallas at the top of the NFC East. This time last week, that didn’t seem like a prize anyone cared to have, but this Cowboys team is gradually starting to play better football and if things keep trending in this direction, this is a team we could get a little excited about come playoff time.

But hey, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. For now, let’s focus on today and beating those dreaded Washington Football guys. Here are five things to watch when these two division rivals face off.

1. Protect Andy Dalton and everything else is gravy

The Cowboys offensive line had their best game of the season on Sunday after they finally found an arrangement that worked well. Zack Martin will have his hands full against Montez Sweat, and Washington has several interior linemen like Jonathan Allen, DaRon Payne, and Tim Settle that will be a challenge for Joe Looney and the two Connors.

While those battles will be tough, one that could be particularly concerning is on the edge between Cameron Erving and the rookie Chase Young. So far, Erving has held up well. The last time these teams met, Washington sacked the Cowboys quarterbacks six times, including once that resulted in a safety.

The Cowboys offense got worked that day as they only mustered up three points. Kellen Moore has done a great job utilizing his offensive assets as of late, but the offensive line must come through to keep the offense firing.

2. Feast on soft coverage

Washington has a top 10 defense, both in points scored and yards allowed, so it won’t be easy for Dallas to put up points. The Cowboys are getting their ground game back on track with three straight 130+ games, including a 180-yard performance against the Vikings. It will be interesting to see how effective and committed they are against Washington’s front. Falling behind in down and distance will make things difficult to sustain drives.

Where the Cowboys should be able to have success against Washington’s defense is finding creases over the middle. Whether it’s in the form of Amari Cooper slants or Dalton Schultz curls, they should look to attack quickly in open space.

3. Stuffing Washington’s running game

Third-round draft pick Antonio Gibson is having a good year. He trails only James Robinson for most rushing yards for rookies this year. And only four other running backs in the league have more rushing touchdowns than Gibson this year. Last time these teams met, he racked up a career-high 128 rushing yards, and as a team Washington put over 200 rushing yards against this Cowboys defense.

The Dallas defense has shown a lot of improvement against the run as of late, and Gibson doesn’t posses the talent Dalvin Cook does, but don’t overlook the craftiness of Washington’s run blocking schemes. They do a great job getting their offensive linemen into the second level. If Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch get washed out in the blocking, Washington’s running game will could be a problem.

4. Don’t let the no-name receivers gobble up extra yards

It’s unclear if Washington’s top receiver Terry McLaurin will be available today as he is dealing with an ankle injury. If they are without him, that will be a big blow to their passing game.

But don’t sleep on Washington’s ability to get some of their lesser known receiving targets involved. Logan Thomas had a nice game last time these teams met as he hauled in four catches for 60 yards and a touchdown. Players like Cam Sims and Isaiah Wright haven’t done much all year, but the Cowboys secondary has a tendency at times to let all these no-name receivers make plays.

5. Be thankful for the big plays

The Cowboys have played Washington on Thursday three times over the last four seasons. In each of those games, Dallas has scored at least 31 points. These big games came with some big plays from Cowboys receivers.

As the team looks for more and more ways to get their rookie star receiver more involved, this has the making for a big game from CeeDee Lamb. Don’t be surprised if he finds the end zone twice, including the team’s first punt return touchdown since Ryan Switzer in 2017. In could end up being a compilation of Thursday’s past.