Let’s set the stage. The Dallas Cowboys are 5-3 after a somewhat bitter loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, who lead the whole league at 8-1. While it is still mathematically possible for Dallas to overtake their beloved rivals, the most likely way for them to get into the playoffs is as a wild card, and to hope to emulate that baseball team just down the street in the postseason. They are currently in the sixth seed for the NFC. Ten wins will probably get them to the playoffs, and eleven seems a certain ticket. So they need to do at least as well in the remaining nine games as they did in the first eight. The next game against the New York Giants seems a great place to start. The Cowboys are overwhelming favorites to win this game - but as we know all too well, there are times this team just finds a way to lose those kinds of matchups.
That has our David Howman and Tom Ryle thinking, something they seem to enjoy.
Tom: Before I jump in, I want to compliment you on your excellent article about why CeeDee Lamb is catching so many passes. That calms me a bit about the wide receiver situation.
But on the subject of the New York Football Giants, let’s kick around an obvious question first: Is this a trap game?
David: Don’t make me blush, Tom, especially if you follow it up right away with putting the evils of a trap game on me. To be honest, I hadn’t even entertained the idea that this could be a trap game. The Giants are a mess, and they were a mess even before Daniel Jones tore his ACL. Tommy DeVito getting his first career start against a dangerous Dallas defense in two situations where the Cowboys tend to dominate (at home, and after a loss)? How could this even be close?
Of course, that’s exactly how a game becomes a trap game. I’m not taking the Giants seriously, so could the Cowboys be in the same position? You’re starting to make me worried now.
Tom: I think it’s a mix of the loss to the Arizona Cardinals and my personal recurring nightmares about the game a while back where Matt Flynn basically made millions off the best game of his brief career by beating the Cowboys when filling in for Aaron Rodgers that brings the thought to mind. And this is a game where just getting the win is not really enough. Sure, that would get them one step closer and having a chance to go on a bit of a roll in a soft spot in the schedule before they hit a tougher looking December slate of games. But if it is close, like a one-score win, it will cast doubt on just how good this team is. They pretty much need to cover the spread, which is currently 17 points. That’s huge. And this game might be one where they get a two-score lead and just milk that to the end.
David: I think everything we’ve come to know about this Cowboys team under Mike McCarthy says it can’t be a trap game. In the last three years, they’ve lost consecutive games just once, and it was against two teams (Chiefs and Raiders) who went on to make the playoffs. Plus, those games were played on a short week with it being Thanksgiving.
We know this team does well at home. We know this team likes to blow other teams out after a loss. And we know they tend to take their divisional opponents seriously. All three of those things have been a point of emphasis for McCarthy, and the Giants are just so very bad right now. I mean, they beat this team 40-0 on the road in a torrential downpour when the Giants were healthy. If anything, I’d think this team is champing at the bit to repeat that score instead of overlooking this one.
Tom: I almost think they have to. This is not just about winning a game that is almost a must win given the overall situation, they need to make a statement about just how good they can be. Dak Prescott is playing very well, Lamb, as you mentioned, is on fire, and that defense should make DeVito’s debut a miserable experience.
But Dallas has some issues they need to work on. One is getting the situation with Terence Steele resolved. Prescott was under constant assault from his side. New York has not gotten much pressure on the opposing quarterbacks this year, ahead of only the dismal Chicago Bears in sacks after nine weeks. If they do not find a way to protect Prescott a lot better this week, it is a troubling sign for when better defenses come along.
The run game is another thing that has just not been producing for the Cowboys. Tony Pollard needs to have a good day, and it would be nice to see if Rico Dowdle can get going as well.
If those don’t get better, my anxiety about the rest of the season will go up. A lot.
David: Yeah, this can be a great “get right” game, which feels weird given how well the team played the last two weeks despite the loss. Next week against the Panthers figures to be much of the same vibe. It’s a good time to kind of re-calibrate and figure out the problems they’re having right now.
Of course, even if they do come out against the Giants and mollywhop them - if Steele gives up zero pressures and Pollard hits 100 rushing yards and Jourdan Lewis gets a pick six - the only refrain we’ll hear is that it was just the Giants. Using a “get right” game to get right only goes so far in the national media, but I’d still happily take another blowout win.
Tom: That “get right” thing might lead to McCarthy doing some things that won’t look so good, like trying to get the rest of the receiving corps more involved, or taking another shot at the Deuce Vaughn experiment. That may make some come away with a less favorable view, but it could pay dividends. I’m like you, I think it would take a huge and inexplicable collapse of the team. I will also refrain from mentioning the dreaded “i” word here. Frankly, keeping the team healthy may be the biggest goal for this game, which could hold the score down.
This could be a game that leaves us feeling better about the Cowboys if they just look completely in control. It is kind of the inverse of last week, where there were some positive things despite it being a loss. This could be one where we judge them more on just the feel of things rather than the numbers at the end. That takes a bit of subtlety in evaluating them, and it could well be a positive for the team while a lot of casual watchers think they didn’t do as well as expected, if that makes sense. Hopefully, all will go as well as we hope, and these worries will just look a bit foolish after the game.