The Dallas Cowboys are headed to Landover to play the Washington Football Team in a divisional matchup that has regained some of the luster of this long-standing rivalry. While this game won’t determine who winds up winning the NFC East, it will be a major step. If the Cowboys win, they will have a three-game lead. Should the Football Team prevail, they will have cut that to a one-game edge for Dallas, and will hold a key tie breaker for having won the first head to head matchup between the two. Washington is on a hot streak, with four consecutive wins. The Cowboys are struggling a bit after going 1-3 in November. They did win a big game against the New Orleans Saints, but there were still warts and concerns aplenty that need to be addressed. With so much riding on the upcoming contest, Dallas understandably is looking for every advantage it can muster.
They have a big one right now. The roster is as healthy and intact as it has ever been under Mike McCarthy. Amari Cooper and DeMarcus Lawrence returned for the Saints win, and both played noticeable roles. This week should see Randy Gregory, Trysten Hill, and Neville Gallimore back from injury and suspension. That should have Dan Quinn drooling in anticipation of what he is about to throw at Tyler Heinicke.
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Injuries are largely a result of chance. And while steps can be taken to mitigate COVID, it still is happening all over the league. The Cowboys have not exactly been the luckiest team in the league in either category so far this season, with so many players already having missed games. Suspensions have also hurt. But they may have been extremely fortunate in the timing. They went through most of those problems early in the season, and somehow managed to put together a six-game winning streak that kept the November slump from ruining their chances at the division crown. Now, almost all the key players are ready to go. That means that Dallas is in the extremely rare position of being at their best health in December with only one position group, the running backs, having any significant issues. Most of the time this is when teams are at their most banged up.
Against Washington, it should be a clear advantage. They lost Chase Young earlier in the season. Ryan Fitzpatrick also went down, but that may have actually helped them, as Heinicke has done an excellent job filling in. Logan Thomas was lost in their last game. And now Montez Sweat will miss this game.
The Cowboys still have to fix a lot of the issues we witnessed against the Saints. The offensive line is just not right, Dak Prescott seems to be trying to recover his rhythm, the running game is really struggling as Ezekiel Elliott is playing with his own injury while Tony Pollard has just cropped up on the injury report and is now a game time decision, and the defense keeps giving up big plays. But the way Cooper and Lawrence were able to have such positive impacts despite being on a bit of a pitch count, Cooper was especially limited, offers real hope that Gregory and Gallimore can do the same. Cooper should be more available this week, which really helps the offense. Hill should be more ready as he had three games already under his belt before his one-game suspension. The defense already has real firepower in Micah Parsons, Trevon Diggs, and Jayron Kearse. Now there is just more ammo to try and shut down the Football Team’s attack.
Getting the coaching staff back in the building should also be a boost. All that missed the Saints game are back, including McCarthy’s return on Thursday. With the ten day break after the Thursday night game, there are no excuses for not making major strides in correcting their problems.
Most importantly, the injury report this week should be a very short one. Dallas has not had any significant new additions except for the plantar fascia injury Tony Pollard is dealing with. If their luck holds out just a few more weeks, they could play out the season and go into the playoffs in better health than anyone they face. Of course, it always can change in a single snap or rep. We have to hope the trend continues. If it does, it could mean this season will end on a high note.