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Cowboys at Bengals: What we know, don’t know, and will find out

Getting you ready for Sunday in Cincinnati.

Dallas Cowboys v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

We continue down the miserable road of the 2020 regular season this Sunday, as the Dallas Cowboys travel to Cincinnati to take on the Bengals. It’s not often Dallas is featured in the worst matchup of the week, but this battle of 3-9 vs 2-9-1 is by far the worst game this weekend.

Dallas is coming off yet another beatdown, this time courtesy of Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens. Baltimore ran the ball down the Cowboys' throat, rushing for 294 yards as a team in the 34-17 victory.

Cincinnati comes into this game looking to avoid losing their fifth game in a row. After rookie quarterback Joe Burrow went out two weeks ago, the Bengals have really struggled to move the football.

Before this riveting matchup kicks off, here’s what we know, don’t know, and will find out in Cincinnati.

We know the Cowboys’ defensive line should be able to create constant pressure throughout this game

Coming into the season, the Cowboys’ defensive line was supposed to be one of their strongest position groups. Dallas added Aldon Smith and Everson Griffen in the offseason and paired them with two solid pass-rushers in DeMarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory. As we now know, Griffen was shipped to Detroit at the trade deadline, and the Dallas pass-rush has been underwhelming and inconsistent all year.

Last week against Baltimore, the Dallas pass rush really struggled. They were unable to record a sack or even a quarterback hit on Lamar Jackson, and no Dallas defensive player recorded a PFF pass-rush grade higher than 63. As a team, the Cowboys have recorded 22 sacks on the season, tied for the eighth fewest in all of football. Despite all the bad, there is some good news for Dallas. This week they get to face the Bengals who have given up 44 sacks, the second-most in the entire NFL.

Last week was another disastrous one for Cincinnati protecting their quarterback. The Bengals allowed six sacks on the day, and three of their offensive linemen had PFF pass-block grades below 51. Michael Jordan, no, not the basketball player, the Bengals’ guard, played so poorly he was benched mid-game. Jordan received a PFF pass-block grade of 7.1. Yes, you read that right. Jordan was replaced by former Cowboy, Xavier Su’a-Filo.

The Bengals' inability to neutralize an opponent’s pass-rush has been a season-long struggle. PFF ranks the Bengals as the fifth-worst pass-blocking team in football. Cincinnati has given up at least three sacks in eight of their 12 games this season. In the two games they have won, they gave up just one sack against Jacksonville and not a single one against Tennessee.

Dallas has some studs on their defensive line, and this is a game they need to take over. DeMarcus Lawrence, Aldon Smith, and Randy Gregory all should be able to make a big impact in this game. Look for them to wreak havoc in the backfield all day long, and for Lawrence to come out of the game with at least two sacks.

We don’t know if the Bengals can stop the duo of Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard

If you just look at the score from Tuesday night, you’d think Dallas once again struggled to run the football. But if you take a real look at how they performed, they actually ran the ball fairly well. Ezekiel Elliott averaged 4.3 yards per attempt, his fifth-best mark of the season. Elliott also ran the ball three times for gains over ten yards, something he had not done since Week 2 against Atlanta.

This week, they should be able to have even more success against the Bengals’ rush defense. Cincinnati has surrendered 140 plus rushing yards seven times this season. They also have really struggled to stop explosive runs. According to Sharp Football Stats, the Bengals have given up 50 explosive runs on the season, tied for the most in Football. Their defense holds a 15% average explosive run percentage, the highest in the NFL.

This sets up very well for Dallas, especially Tony Pollard. We saw just a few weeks ago Pollard was able to break a 42-yard run for a touchdown against the Vikings. This week he should break an even bigger one against this Bengals’ defense, who PFF ranks as the eighth-worst rush defense in the league.

Look for Zeke to consistently rack up four- or five-yard runs all game long, and Pollard to come in and break the big one.

We’re about to find out who’s going to have a higher pick in the 2021 NFL Draft

Obviously, no one is going to actively root against their team, but if you are on team tank, this is a game you don’t want Dallas to win. Currently, the Bengals hold the third overall pick in the 2021 draft while Dallas sits right behind them at fourth. The winner of this game could potentially see themselves go all the way down to the seven spot in the draft order.

The Bengals having a tie on their record plays a big role in their potential draft spot. If they lose this game and move to 2-10-1, it will be really hard for Dallas to leap them in the draft order. Cincinnati would hold the tie-breaker over Dallas, virtually holding a two-game lead on them in regards to draft positioning.

Dallas or Cincinnati both will pretty much guarantee themselves a pick in the top five if they lose this game. Whoever walks away as the loser on Sunday, may be the real winner in the end.