The Dallas Cowboys get a break from the tougher part of their schedule and face off against the Detroit Lions this week, a team they have beaten four-straight times. In fact, you have to go all the way back to Matthew Stafford’s fake spike game in 2013 to see the Lions beat Dallas.
The Lions are in an elongated rough patch as they haven’t had a double-digit win season since 2014. Coincidentally enough, the Lions were bounced from the Wild Card round by the Cowboys that year when a controversial pass interference no-call and a Tony Romo-led comeback ended their season.
But that was then, this is now. What can we expect from this game on Sunday? Here are five things to look for when the Cowboys host the Lions in the early game on CBS.
4 your eyes only
It’s finally here. After five weeks of
agonizing defeats mostly winning, the Cowboys will get their star quarterback back. Cooper Rush has been admirable in relief, but having Dak Prescott being back on the field will be a sight for sore eyes. Of course, the last time we saw Dak, it wasn’t pretty. He completed just 14 of 29 passes for 134 yards, didn’t throw a touchdown, and made an errant throw right into the hands of a Bucs defender. He finished with a QB rating of just 48.3 in one of the worst games of his career.
The Cowboys are hoping to see an immediate uptick in the capacity of their offense, but Prescott’s return offers no guarantee. We all know that better days are coming, but will they come as soon as Sunday? Will Dak have a little rust in his first game back? Will he trust that grip and let loose? These are real questions worth asking as we don’t know how things will be right out of the gate. And you better believe if Prescott struggles in his return, the media will have a field day with it. Just that reason alone is enough to root extra hard that no. 4 puts together a quality performance.
Two-headed ground attacks
One thing that Prescott has going for him on Sunday is that he’ll return to action against a Lions defense that has allowed on average 34 points a game. That is the worst in the NFL. Additionally, the Lions have also surrendered an average of 168 rushing yards per game, also an NFL worst.
During Prescott’s absence, the Cowboys have found something that works with Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard as they have been producing in the running games in recent weeks. Against a suspect Lions run defense, expect more of the same as they attempt to keep Prescott in manageable down and distances.
The Cowboys aren’t the only team that will be running the ball a lot on Sunday. The Lions also have a fantastic duo of running backs, DeAndre Swift and Jamaal Williams. Swift has big play ability and Williams is a physical short-yard runner, and collectively they wear defenses down. It’s worth noting that Swift has been ailing as of late. After not practicing at all these past two weeks, he was limited in practice this week, but his availability on Sunday is still up in the air. The Lions average 5.4 yards per rushing attempt which is second-best in the NFL, trailing only the Baltimore Ravens.
For the second-straight game, the Cowboys will face a dangerous wide receiver with the last name Brown. Last week, it was A.J. Brown who made some crucial plays against the Cowboys' defense. This week, they’ll go against the Lions' biggest playmaker, Amon-Ra St. Brown.
St. Brown started the season red-hot as he scored three touchdowns in his first two games. He’s missed action with an ankle injury and was held to just 18 yards on four catches last week against New England. If the Cowboys can take away Detroit's biggest offensive threat, then their chances of winning increase quite a bit.
Making it count
It’s hard to know what type of game script this will turn out to be as there’s evidence to support each case. The Lions' offense is the third-highest-scoring team in the NFL; however, the Cowboys' defense is the third-stingiest. Conversely, the Cowboys offense has been stagnant, but they’ll face a red-carpet Lions’ defense.
This could come down to how teams perform in the red zone. The Lions convert 75% of their red zone opportunities which is third-best in the NFL, but the Cowboys defense only allows a 46% conversion rate (sixth-best). Conversely, the Lions’ defense is sixth-worst in the red zone, but the Cowboys' offense is in the bottom half in the red zone with a 50% conversion rate. The flow of this game could come down to how these teams are finishing drives.
The Lion is gonna eat
The Cowboys have done a great job protecting their quarterback as they have only allowed nine sacks on the year. Only two teams have allowed fewer sacks, but the Lions are one of those teams.
While both offensive lines have been effective, it’s quite a different story on the other side. The Lions' defense has only recorded seven sacks on the year, which is the worst in the NFL. The Cowboys' defense has sacked the quarterback a league-most 24 times. This gives Dallas a distinct advantage in the pass-rushing department and could be a huge difference-maker. If they can put Goff in tough spots and force him to make mistakes, it could be a fun day for this Cowboys defense.