There are only four more football games left in the 2020 NFL season. Usually, that starts to bring out a little bit of doom and gloom as we anticipate what always feel like an eternity of the football offseason. However, this year is different. With as bad as things are going, some of us are just wanting this thing to get over with as quickly as possible.
For that happen, the Dallas Cowboys have to play a game against the Cincinnati Bengals. The Bengals are one of the few teams with a worse record than Dallas, and as it stands right now, this is the most winnable game left on the Cowboys schedule. Of course, winning games are not really the Cowboys things this year, and this one might be a little more challenging than we’d hope.
Here are five things to keep an eye out for when the Cowboys play the Bengals on Sunday.
1. Bengals backups just aren’t getting it done
The Cowboys aren’t the only team to watch their offense completely flame out after losing their star quarterback. With 2020 no. 1 overall pick Joe Burrow at the helm, the Bengals offense showed moments of potency as they had five games of 27 or more points through the first eight weeks of the season. Since losing Burrow, the team has struggled to move the ball as they haven’t reached 200 yards of offense in each of the last two games.
The Bengals have gone back and forth between Ryan Finley and Brandon Allen as both have replaced the other as Cincinnati scrambles to find viable quarterback play. It’s not clear who will see most of the snaps under center for the Bengals, but whomever it is, it won’t be anyone who’s very good.
2. Andy faces his old team
Andy Dalton compiled quite the history during his nine seasons in Cincinnati. Despite the Bengals having some long-tenured quarterbacks like Kenny Anderson (14 seasons) and Boomer Esiason (12 seasons), Dalton holds the franchise record for completions and touchdown passes. He’s also the franchise leader in QB Rating (87.5) for any quarterback with at least 500 passing attempts, slightly surpassing Carson Palmer.
When the Cowboys signed Dalton this offseason, we knew they’d face his former team, but we weren’t expecting him to be the guy starting at quarterback. But with Dak Prescott lost early in the season, Dalton’s been that guy. Will he be able to come through against his former team?
3. Let Pollard loose!
Any time the Cowboys take the field, you can expect a big game on the ground. In six of their last nine games, one team has showed up to rush for at least 180 yards. Unfortunately, five of those times have been their opponents as the Cowboys defense has been torched in the running game. Dallas fans should be glad to hear that this week there’s a good chance they’ll get a little reprieve from the onslaught of rushing abuse as the Bengals offense is the third-worst rushing offense in the league. And it’s gotten worse since their star running back Joe Mixon went out with an injury. In fact, the Bengals have only rushed for 40 yards in each of their last two games.
Not only does Cincy not run it well, but they’re not very good at stopping it either as the Bengals are fourth-worst in rushing yards allowed. Sure, the Cowboys defense is the absolute worst, but Giovani Bernard is averaging just 3.3 yards per carry and shouldn’t pose much of a threat. The Cowboys do have a couple runners who pose a threat. Ezekiel Elliott is as tough as they come, and even though he’s dealing with a calf injury, it would be shocking to see him not on the field. But regardless of how much Zeke we’ll see, this still presents a great opportunity to let Tony Pollard run loose. Don’t be surprised if Pollard averages over seven yards a carry and posts a new career high in rushing yards.
4. Low-scoring affair
Underwhelming backup quarterbacks, clock-chewing ground attack, and two of the worst red zone offenses in the league all don’t bode very well if you’re hoping to see a lot of scoring. With the Bengals having problems at quarterback combined with problems with their ability to protect them, this has all the makings for one of those games where the Cowboys defense creates the illusion that they’re pretty good. Trust me, it’s just an illusion.
And on the other side of the ball, the Bengals defense is actually not terrible. They’re only ranked 20th in points allowed, and they’ve allowed 20 or fewer points in four of their last five games. In contrast, the Cowboys defense has not held an opponent to less than 20 points all year. But this could be the one, folks as this slop fest is not likely to feature too many touchdown celebrations.
5. Big implications in the draft order
Wouldn’t it be just like the Cowboys to ruin a perfectly orchestrated “tank” season by getting a very unfulfilling win against the Bengals. Dallas has lost six of their last seven games and as of now they hold the no. 4 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft as the current draft order looks like this:
As you can see, one of the team’s ahead of them in the draft order is the Bengals, but that can all change if the Cowboys lose on Sunday. The New York Jets and Jacksonville Jaguars already have their sights set on a new franchise quarterback, so don’t expect them to do much winning from here on out, but jumping the Bengals is a possibility. The no. 3 spot is about as good as it gets for best possible draft position, but losing on Sunday plays a key part of making that happen.
What will you be watching on Sunday?