This Sunday, Dak Prescott is going to run out to lead the Dallas Cowboys to an easy victory over the Detroit Lions and start an inevitable run to the playoffs.
Well, that’s the theory. There are a whole ton of assumptions in that statement, and you know what they say about those. Despite our high hopes, the Cowboys still face a lot of questions that must be answered. Here are some of the most important.
How ready is Dak?
One of the biggest assumptions this week is that Prescott is going to play at or near his best. That seems a bit odd. Before he was injured in the season opener, he was clearly struggling. His accuracy and timing were way off. The supposition is that he was still knocking off rust after the very cautious approach the Dallas staff took during preseason.
There is no reason to think that he won’t still have to get back into game shape, both physically and mentally. With just a week to practice, there may still be a lack of timing and being on the same page with his receivers. He may not have his security blanket, Dalton Schultz, and will have to get more used to working with Jake Ferguson and Peyton Hendershot as his tight ends. He’s had little work with Michael Gallup recently. It will be interesting to see if his return will help get rookie Jalen Tolbert more involved in the offense, as the connection between the two looked good in camp.
We may well have a period of getting things working. That means some other aspects of the team are still going to be very important.
Is the running game starting to find it’s own rhythm?
One of the positive signs from the loss to the Philadelphia Eagles was that Ezekiel Elliott had a very good game, averaging 6.2 yards a carry and looking very good on his touchdown run. The team as a whole, which is to say Elliott, Tony Pollard, and CeeDee Lamb, averaged 5.2 yards a carry. That is very good for the NFL.
This should be a good game to rely on the rush to help carry the offense, as the Lions are dead last in yards allowed per game. And Prescott is far more dangerous with his legs than Cooper Rush, which could add another element to things. If the Cowboys can exploit that, it will mean that Prescott doesn’t have to be at the top of his game to get a win. He can work his way back into things, and as long as he takes care of the ball, the offense should be able to get the job done.
Will the offensive line continue to hold up?
Another thing that Dallas did very well against Philadelphia was protect Rush. He was not sacked and there were only four hits credited to the Eagles defense. That is outstanding. At least one of the interceptions that helped lose the game was due to pressure, but overall that was a great performance by the line. And when your running backs are consistently getting five yards or more per carry, something is going right for the line as well.
We discussed all of these ideas in more detail on the latest episode of Ryled Up on the Blogging The Boys podcast network. Make sure to subscribe to the Blogging The Boys network wherever you get your podcasts so you don’t miss any of our shows! Apple devices can subscribe here and Spotify users can subscribe here.
We really are not talking enough about how what was seen as a real issue coming into the season has actually turned out to be a relative strength for the team. They shifted Tyler Smith over to tackle after Tyron Smith was injured, and while the former has not been perfect, he has been more than serviceable. The left guard position has not been a bright spot, but it has not been a complete disaster, either. Connor McGovern is managing to hold things down. We still are waiting on Jason Peters to make a significant contribution and might never see that. Meanwhile they still expect Tyron Smith to make it back, and if he does, we will have to see what they do with the line.
We also aren’t discussing Terence Steele enough, although our Paul Stewart is trying to remedy that. Steele is usually not mentioned during games except to point out some really good blocks, and that is what you want from a starting right tackle. He has become a very reliable part of the line and deserves credit.
Overall, can the offense exploit a weak Detroit defense?
This could be an ideal matchup for the return of QB1, because the Lions are dead last in both overall yards and rushing yards allowed, and give up the seventh most through the air. That adds up to surrendering the most points per game. Scoring has been a real weakness for the Cowboys in Prescott’s absence. Even without him being at the top of his game, this is a real opportunity to put more points up. If the running game is starting to cook, that should be a way to control the game and get another win.
It is still a bit of an if. We just can’t be sure that the offense is not going to have some struggles until we know that Prescott is playing efficiently. That remains the biggest question of all.
Can they still lean on the defense?
OK, this one is perhaps a softball, because there is every reason to think that Dan Quinn’s bunch will be very strong and continue to terrorize opposing quarterbacks. However, Detroit may be more of a challenge than most expect, because they have surrendered the fewest sacks in the league, tied with the Los Angeles Chargers. Meanwhile, Jared Goff has been surprisingly good throwing the ball, averaging 271 yards per game. He has only been intercepted four times and has eleven TD throws.
Even more concerning is that they also average 151 yards per game running. That has been the weaker part of the Dallas defense. The Cowboys have to put pressure on Goff and hopefully raise that sack total while not letting them gash them on the ground. This is a bigger issue than most realize. Dallas must not let the Lions get rolling on offense, especially if things are a bit rocky in Prescott’s first game back.
Dallas is a big favorite in the game, but that is also based largely on the assumption that QB1 is going to make a real difference. This is a crucial game for them.