The Cowboys are making the trek over to Duval to take on the Jacksonville Jaguars and looking to wash out the bitter taste of narrowly beating the lowly Texans at home a week ago. They would surely like to have a game’s worth of good play under their belts before returning home to face the Eagles on Christmas Eve.
But the Jaguars are no pushover. They’ve won three of their last five and appear to be putting it all together in their first year under new head coach Doug Pederson, who was 4-6 against the Cowboys back when he coached the Eagles. There is a worry that these Jaguars will represent a trap game even after Dallas survived a scare a week ago. How worried are our writers?
When Jacksonville has the ball
Don’t let Trevor Lawrence get comfortable
Trevor Lawrence is starting to thrive now that he doesn’t have Urban Meyer around. Over the last six weeks, Lawrence is 11th in EPA/play and fifth in CPOE. But Lawrence has still had issues when defenses get pressure on him: his completion rate drops from 70.7% to 50.5% and his passer rating from 104.3 to 65.2 when pressured. And while Lawrence has only thrown three interceptions under pressure, his rate of turnover worthy throws jumps from 1.3% to 8.2% when pressured.
Here’s the problem though: only seven starting quarterbacks are being pressured less than Lawrence. He’s throwing the ball at the second fastest rate in the NFL to counteract an offensive line that’s 30th in pass block win rate. Dallas is one of the best pass rushing teams in the league, so they’ll need to be relentless on Sunday. It will be hard to consistently get to Lawrence, but Dan Quinn can keep him uncomfortable with disguised coverages on the back end, something this defense has succeeded in doing in previous matchups this season. One thing is for sure: if Lawrence has a clean pocket, he’ll be hard to stop.
When Dallas has the ball
Just hold on to the ball
Guys, seriously, these turnovers are getting ridiculous. The Cowboys have turned it over at least once in all but one game since Dak Prescott returned from injury. When discounting the turnovers, this offense is third in EPA/play and fourth in success rate over that span. In other words, the only thing stopping this offense is their lack of ball security.
Jacksonville’s defense isn’t that good, so you’d think this should be easy for Prescott and company. The Jaguars are 16th in run defense DVOA and 30th in pass defense DVOA, but their 20 takeaways also rank eighth in the league; they’ve forced at least one takeaway in five of their last six games. If the Cowboys can cure their turnover disease that’s currently plaguing them - which is a big if - then they should be able to have their way with this defense.
Now onto the predictions from your BTB writers...
Tom Ryle (9-4):
Last Sunday was an object lesson in how a handful of mistakes can drastically alter the course of a football game. I expect this to be one where the Cowboys really try to get their running game cranking again after it was rather moribund against the Texans.
If they can do that, despite the unsettled situation at RT, then they also need to make sure Trevor Lawrence does not have the kind of game he did against the Tennessee Titans. I think this will be a good bounceback for them, although not a blowout.
I think Dallas wins by a couple of scores, 30-20.
Tony Catalina (8-5):
Last week will serve the Cowboys well going forward. They can say anything they want but ultimately they came out flat against an opponent they thought they were inferior against. It is another reminder that you can’t take any game or week for granted. The Cowboys understand that now and as they head to Jacksonville, this is certainly a team that can beat you if you mess around.
I think the Cowboys don’t mess around and find a way to get their 11th win of the season 27-17.
Matt Holleran (7-6):
This has all the makings of a trap game for the Cowboys. With a short week ahead and their showdown with the Eagles looming, it will be interesting to see what kind of energy Dallas comes out with in this game. I think we see another sloppy first half, just like we have the last three games.
Dallas’ defense gives up two touchdowns early and Trevor Lawrence and the Jags hold a lead heading into the fourth quarter. Dallas gets the ball back with a little over four minutes remaining in the game, and Dak Prescott and the offense are once again at their best in crunch time. Dallas drives down and scores a go-ahead touchdown leading them to a win.
Give me the Cowboys, 24-23.
Brandon Loree (9-4):
The AFC South Classic comes to a close on Sunday in Jacksonville. We always knew this would be the most difficult matchup of the three, and nothing has changed. With the Jags winning last weekend in Tennessee, it keeps their playoff hopes alive for the final stretch of the season. I’m sure they know it will be a road game for them, with Cowboys fans flooding the stadium, so Trevor Lawrence and company have something to prove.
The x-factor for both teams will be health. We saw the Cowboys lose important pieces last week against the Texans. The Jaguars are a physical team, so playing them could cause some bruises. If Dallas can get up 14-0 early, they can play their style of running the football the rest of the way.
I think Dallas wins a really close one, 27-24.
Matthew Arizzi (9-4):
Dak Prescott’s recent performances are definitely a cause for a bit of concern. The Jaguars sacked Ryan Tannehill four times last week and intercepted him once. They also forced three fumbles in the game. For an offense and a QB that has a lot of trust in seemingly untrustworthy plays, it is definitely a cause for concern as mid January is peeking it’s head. They need to get right and get right fast. Can they do that here?
Here’s how I look at it: The Jaguars went on the road last week as 3.5 point underdogs and beat the AFC South leading Titans. The Cowboys barley beat the NFL’s worst Houston Texans at home last week as 17-point favorites. Give me the Cowboys. Big.
Cowboys 30, Jaguars 14.
Mike Poland (10-2):
This game is actually a closer matchup than most would give credit for. I expect this one to come down to special teams contributions to break the standoff. A couple of Brett Maher field goals help keep the Jaguars out of the win column. Zeke and Pollard need to run big again, but the Cowboys offensive line comes in this week with a huge question mark. Hopefully the Houston game last week has lit a fire on this Cowboys roster.
Cowboys win 27-23.
The Dallas Cowboys win their first ever game in Jacksonville on Sunday on the shoulders of the run game. Tony Pollard and Ezekiel Elliott rush for a combined 200+ rushing yards, and keep the Jaguars defense on their heels the entire game. Trevor Lawrence plays well, throws for 3 touchdowns against the Cowboys secondary, but it isn’t enough, as Dallas wins in convincing fashion.
Brian Martin (10-3):
The AFC South has given the Dallas Cowboys problems this year. If not for some fourth-quarter magic, they may not have escaped the Colts and Texans the last two weeks. Despite that though, I believe the Cowboys will come out and take care of business this week against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Cowboys win 27-16.
RJ Ochoa (9-4):
If it had not been for last week I would be very worried about the potential of this being a trap game for the Dallas Cowboys. Generally speaking this group has been great at responding when the going has gotten tough and while the Jaguars have been cute as of late, they got blown out by the Lions just two weeks ago.
Give me the Cowboys with confidence.
David Howman (10-3):
I haven’t been this nervous about a Cowboys game (prior to kickoff, that is) since the Packers. Jacksonville is a really well coached team and they have some extremely talented young pieces on offense and defense that are starting to gel. That’s a recipe for an upset on any given week, and the Cowboys just gave us all a very good reason to worry last week.
To me, this will be a very good test of this team’s resolve. If they come out and play like they have most of the year, Dallas will win this easily. But if they play like they did for 58 minutes against the Texans, they’ll lose and that Christmas Eve game will suddenly mean a lot less. Personally, I believe in Mike McCarthy and his grip on this team, but a loss this week would shake my faith. Until then, though, I’m staying true to blue.
Cowboys win 28-20.