There’s never a dull moment being a fan of the Dallas Cowboys. Think about the spectrum of emotions you’ve experienced as a Cowboys fan in the past two weeks. First is outrage and possible despair after seeing the team dismantled by a hated rival on national television, many were ready to write the team off entirely as a contender. Then, on Monday, we saw the Cowboys win a nail-biter on the road in Los Angeles on the strength of their defense and timely improvisation by Dak Prescott.
The Cowboys are on a bye this weekend, sitting in a good spot at 4-2 and one game back of the best record in the NFC. Some fans will take the bye week and take a break from football, much like the team. However, I’d be willing to wager if you’re reading this, you’re a fan who consumes not only Cowboys football but also football as a whole. This weekend has a lot of important games on the slate as it pertains to the Cowboys that could have immediate and future implications. Here are six important games to watch with the Cowboys on a bye week.
Saturday at noon, Penn State at Ohio State
From a college football sense, this game is a big one. Both teams are ranked in the top ten, with several players who are sure to be on an NFL roster this time next year. While most of the media will focus on the passing games led by Penn State quarterback Drew Allar and Ohio State receiver Marvin Harrison Jr., the reason you should be watching this game as a Cowboys fan is what’s happening in the trenches. The Penn State offense is a terrific rushing attack that features a two-headed monster in running backs Kaytron Allen and Nick Singleton. They are averaging over 200 yards rushing per game.
Ohio State linebacker Tommy Eichenberg is the answer to slowing down the rushing attack. Eichenberg had an excellent 2022 season, with 120 tackles and 2.5 sacks. He is a big, strong interior linebacker the Cowboys could look to add in this year’s draft. Leighton Vander Esch has struggled with injuries, and DeMarvion Overshown will be recovering from an ACL tear.
Penn State head coach James Franklin has spoken highly of the All-American defender.
“A guy that I’ve got like a coach crush on, is No. 35, Tommy Eichenberg,” Franklin said. “Just a really good football player. He’s fun to watch. Physically he can make the plays. He’s obviously the quarterback of the defense. Everything goes through him. You pick up a lot of stuff off tape watching him as well as TV copies. Just a really smart, instinctive, athletic linebacker who we have a ton of respect for.”
Saturday in this Big Ten showdown will be the chance to get an up-close look at Eichenberg.
Saturday at 3:30 PM, Washington St. at Oregon
Aside from the PAC 12 having a lot of entertaining games in what essentially is the last season of its existence, you should watch this for Oregon running back Bucky Irving. Last week, in a thrilling game against Washington, Irving went over 120 yards rushing on 22 carries. Irving, a junior, has a combination of speed and underrated physicality despite being an undersized runner (5’10”, 195 lbs.)
Oregon RB Bucky Irving had an impressive day vs Washington. Two traits stood out.— Brandon Lejeune (@DevyDeepDive) October 17, 2023
1. Footwork and stop/start ability.
2. Balance and competitive toughness.
He is a riser for me in the 2024 RB draft class. It's average at best. ️ pic.twitter.com/X4Fp8OnzZh
Irving has flown under the radar as one of the nation’s most intriguing prospects at the position, not often mentioned in the same breath as Trey Benson and Audric Estime. Beyond this season, the Cowboys have a lot of uncertainty at running back. Tony Pollard is playing on the franchise tag. Meanwhile, Deuce Vaughn, another undersized runner like Irving, is still a developing project. Irving is a player who could provide value as both a runner and a pass catcher out of the backfield.
Saturday at 10:30 PM, Arizona State at Washington
In the extra late slate of Saturday’s NCAA games, you get a good look at the high-flying Washington Huskies offense taking on Arizona State. The Washington offense is one of the best in the nation, with quarterback Michael Penix Jr. at the controls. However, he’s got a terrific supporting cast of explosive talent. Perhaps none more explosive than wide receiver Rome Odunze. Odunze has ideal size, at 6’3”, 215 lbs. and can play on the outside or in the slot. Currently, he’s fourth in the nation with 736 receiving yards. Odunze can take it the distance in space and has the long speed to separate from cornerbacks. The Cowboys could be looking to add a wide receiver this offseason, and Odunze would be a great complement to the team.
Sunday at 1 PM, Las Vegas Raiders at Chicago Bears
From an on-field entertainment value, this game could be better. The starting quarterbacks for both teams are unlikely to play. Justin Fields has been ruled out with a thumb injury, and Jimmy Garoppolo is doubtful to play on Sunday. Yet, why this game bears (no pun intended) monitoring is the status of Raiders receiver Davante Adams. Adams has expressed his frustration with his current role on the team and has this to say:
“I’m sure people are thinking, ‘They won the game, why is there an issue?’ I mean, you see why it’s an issue,” Adams said, via ESPN. “Y’all should know who I am, know what I’m about at this point ... when you’re a player like me, mentally, my benchmark is not wins and losses — it’s greatness. So when I go out there, I expect to be able to have that ability to put that on tape and have an influence on the game. That’s my purpose for being here. I’m not here just to hang out; I came here to win and to do it the right way.”
Another outing from Adams on Sunday, where he is a bit player in a floundering offense, could be the last straw. There has yet to be any reported news regarding the Cowboys’ interest in Adams, but there are reasons to believe Dallas would be interested.
Head coach Mike McCarthy has a former relationship with Adams dating back to their time in Green Bay when McCarthy was coaching the Packers and drafted Adams in 2014. Adding Adams would be in direct response to Michael Gallup, who has not been consistent this season and struggled to recapture his form pre-injury. The Cowboys and Raiders are no strangers to conducting business with one another. The Raiders traded defensive tackle Jonathan Hankins and a 2023 seventh-round draft to Dallas last season in exchange for a 2023-sixth-round pick.
Sunday at 4:25 PM, Green Bay Packers at Denver Broncos,
Much like monitoring the Devante Adams situation, the reason to watch the Denver Broncos against the Green Bay Packers is to note players who are inactive or inactive in the game plan. To say the Denver Broncos, since the arrival of Russell Wilson, has been a disappointment is an understatement. When Wilson joined the team, Denver was considered one of the league’s best rosters and ready to compete in the AFC. One year later, under Sean Payton, things are as bleak as they were throughout last season.
The Broncos have seemingly understood this and have started to part with veterans on their roster. The team abruptly released former Dallas Cowboys defensive end Randy Gregory a few weeks ago. Then, hours before a Thursday night game against the Kansas City Chiefs, the team announced Frank Clark would be inactive and released him last week. The Denver Broncos aren’t in a fire sale. They are practically a donation bin with teams lining up to get their piece of what was a roster expected to do more.
The most popular names being discussed as trade assets are Jerry Jeudy and cornerback Patrick Surtain. Jeudy was taken a few spots ahead of CeeDee Lamb in the 2020 NFL draft, and due to a combination of inconsistent quarterback play and injuries, Jeudy has been a disappointment. Jeudy has been in recent news due to a feud with NFL Network analyst Steve Smith.
That said, it could be a matter of Jeudy needing a fresh start somewhere else to realize the potential several scouts raved about. Surtain is the more attractive piece for the Cowboys. He was elected to a Pro Bowl and named an All-Pro last season. The Cowboys could add another cornerback, especially one of Surtain’s caliber. Trevon Diggs was lost for the season, and the team has no assurances beyond this season with Stephon Gilmore. If the Cowboys could acquire Surtain, it would significantly impact their chances as a contender for this season and beyond.
Sunday 8:20 PM, Miami Dolphins at Philadelphia Eagles
If for nothing else, watch this game because of a deep-rooted disdain for the Philadelphia Eagles. The Eagles are favored to win against the Miami Dolphins, but they have shown they are susceptible to the passing game, as they are in the bottom half of the league in terms of passing yards per game allowed. The Dolphins boast a lot of speed at wide receiver and running back, turning a football game into a track meet. The Eagles will be without cornerback Bradley Roby, and Darius Slay will play but is dealing with a knee injury. As for the Miami defense, they are tied for fourth in the NFL with 66 quarterback pressures.
Meanwhile, the external pressure Jalen Hurts faces is greater than the on-field pressure should he have another turnover-prone performance like he did against the New York Jets last week. That said, both teams can score a lot of points and should be the marquee game of the weekend. Get your popcorn (and memes) ready should the Eagles lose to Miami on Sunday night.