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Cowboys vs Broncos: Week 9 primer

Can Dallas build on its hot start by snapping a losing streak and avenging that 2017 loss?

Dallas Cowboys v Denver Broncos Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

Dak Prescott has only played the Denver Broncos once, and it ended with a 42-17 loss in which he threw two picks. With the MVP contender expected to return to the field this week after letting Cooper Rush get a win last week, Prescott will be looking for an opportunity to avenge that loss.

But it’s not just about that one loss. The Cowboys have lost their last six games against this team, with their last win going all the way back to 1995. The last time Prescott played this year, he broke a similar streak by knocking off the Patriots. And the last time the Cowboys beat the Broncos, they won the Super Bowl that year. Perhaps history can repeat itself doubly this week.

Either way, this week’s matchup against Denver isn’t expected to be nearly as close as that Patriots game was. Head coach Vic Fangio entered his third season in Denver with relatively mild expectations after passing on a quarterback in the draft in favor of cornerback Patrick Surtain II, stealing him out of the Cowboys’ clutches. Instead, Denver held a competition between Teddy Bridgewater and Drew Lock. Bridgewater won and went on to play like one of the league’s best quarterbacks as the Broncos jumped out to a 3-0 start.

Reality, and injuries, have since set in for Fangio’s group. They currently have 14 players on the injured reserve and are missing five more via the PUP, NFI, and COVID-19 reserve lists. They also lost four in a row against the Ravens, Steelers, Raiders, and Browns before improving to 4-4 with a win over the spiraling Washington Football Team last week.

It’s quickly become evident that these Broncos are good enough to beat bad teams, but not good enough to beat anyone else. First-year general manager George Paton admitted as much by trading away star pass rusher Von Miller for draft capital earlier in the week. It’s a bit of a death blow to a struggling defense, as Denver currently ranks 25th in defense DVOA.

As has been the case for the Broncos in each of Fangio’s first two years at the helm, injuries have derailed what could have been a promising defense. Fangio is one of the greatest defensive minds in the NFL, and Denver has plenty of pieces, but they just can’t stay healthy. Edge rusher Bradley Chubb is on the injured reserve, alongside slot corner Bryce Callahan and linebackers Josey Jewell, Micah Kiser, AJ Johnson, and Natrez Patrick. On top of that, nose tackle Mike Purcell missed last week’s game and could miss this week, too.

On offense, it’s been a different type of problem. After a hot start against the likes of the Giants, Jaguars, and Jets, Denver’s offense has cooled down and now ranks at 13th in offense DVOA. That’s not bad, but it’s a big dropoff from what they were at. Bridgewater’s conservative play hasn’t gotten it done against better defenses, and the offensive line has started to crack. Left tackle Garret Bolles has already been ruled out for this game as well.

All of this plays nicely into the Cowboys’ hands. Dallas will likely be without their own left tackle, Tyron Smith, and could prompt a move to the left side for Terence Steele. Many people have been impressed by Steele’s improved play, but the position switch has made some nervous. Not having to go up against Miller or Chubb helps a ton, though.

What also helps is that Fangio’s defense is very similar to what Dallas saw - and exploited - against the likes of the Chargers, Eagles, and Panthers. That is, a lot of split safety looks that effectively dare the offense to run. The Cowboys have been doing so at an incredibly high level this year, and both Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard are among the most efficient runners in the league. It also plays to Steele’s strength, run blocking.

As for the Dallas defense, they just faced a similarly conservative quarterback in Kirk Cousins and completely shut him down. Bridgewater has been a bit more willing to test defenses and significantly more accurate, but their play styles are similar. More than that, only five quarterbacks are holding the ball longer than Bridgewater, and that won’t work against Randy Gregory and a defense that ranks ninth in pass rush win rate, especially with Bolles out.

In short, there’s a reason the Cowboys are favored by 10 points, and it’s not entirely because they’ll be sporting a red stripe on their helmets this week. The Cowboys just beat a solid Vikings team on the road with a backup quarterback, so getting Dak Prescott back and playing at home - where they’ve won by a point margin of 121-69 this year - bodes extremely well against a team that’s seemingly given up on the season already.

The Dallas Cowboys should win on Sunday, but if they are going to then they need to take care of business in a couple of certain ways. We discussed them in our official Dallas Cowboys Preview Show on the Blogging The Boys YouTube Channel. Make sure to subscribe to our YouTube Channel (which you can do right here) so you don’t miss any of our videos!


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