The Dallas Cowboys finish off their little two-game AFC East road trip against the Miami Dolphins on Sunday. Hopefully, things go better than they did last week after a 21-point loss to the Buffalo Bills. The Dolphins haven’t beaten the Cowboys in 20 years as you’d have to go all the way to November of 2003 for their win. A lot’s changed since then.
It's been 20 years since the Miami Dolphins have beaten the Dallas Cowboys. The last time it happened, one Mike Mc was the offensive coordinator of the Saints and the other Mike Mc was partying it up at Yale. pic.twitter.com/ck1DGgcTI7— Dan Rogers (@DannyPhantom24) December 21, 2023
The Dolphins are one of the league’s top teams and this will be a touch challenge for the Cowboys. Here are five things to keep an eye out for when these two teams square off on Sunday.
1. SOUTH BEACH, BRINGING THE HEAT
South Beach, bringing the heat. That’s the beginning of Will Smith’s Miami song back in the ‘90s, but it also describes the Dolphins insanely good offense. Mike McDaniel’s offense is tops in the league in scoring, tops in the league in yards gained. They are very good at a lot of things. The running back tandem of Raheem Mostert and De’Von Achane have a collective total of 1,905 scrimmage yards and 29 touchdowns. The wide receiver duo of Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle have a collective total of 2,506 receiving yards and 16 touchdowns. That is 45 touchdowns between the Dolphins' top four offensive weapons. 45 touchdowns! As a reference, that is 20 more touchdowns than the Cowboys' top four offensive weapons (CeeDee Lamb, Brandin Cooks, Tony Pollard, and Jake Ferguson).
This Dolphins offense is crazy good. This became apparent to us all when they put up 70 points in Week 3 against the Denver Broncos. The Cowboys' defense must have some answers to avoid being slapped in the face on Sunday.
2. AN UPHILL BATTLE FOR THE SECONDARY
Tyreek Hill missed last week’s game with an ankle injury, but they didn’t need him as they blew out the Jets 30-0. While his status remains a question, his return would be paramount to what this Dolphins offense can do. Hill is over 1,500 yards receiving and takes the top off of opposing defenses. The Cowboys have done a solid job putting Stephon Gilmore on the opposing team’s top receiver, but the Dolphins have two big-play threats.
This means DaRond Bland is going to be challenged in a big way this week if Hill is on the field. We’ve seen the Cowboys pass defense struggle in recent games against Washington and Seattle, and while they’ve gotten better the last two games, this will be a huge test for their defensive backs.
3. DON’T GET SHELLED ON OFFENSE
Speaking of the Broncos, do you remember back in 2021 when the Broncos came into Dallas and put a whooping on them, ending their six-game winning streak? Denver led 30-0 in the fourth quarter because the Cowboys snaked out a couple of garbage-time touchdowns. Dallas went on to lose two of their next three and some said that Broncos head coach at the time, Vic Fangio, had laid the blueprint for stopping the Cowboys' offense.
Fangio spent last season as the Eagles defensive consultant, where they were tops in the league in passing yards per attempt. He’s not in Philly anymore, and as we all know that squad is struggling defensively. Who’s not struggling defensively though, is the Dolphins because Fangio took over as their defensive coordinator this year. Miami’s defense is ranked fourth in the league in yards/play, slightly better than the Cowboys defense. While Miami’s success is predicated on their explosive offense, this defense can make plays.
The Cowboys are coming off a game where Buffalo’s defensive scheme stymied their passing attack. Against the Bills, they only had 106 passing yards, the lowest total of a Dak Prescott-led Cowboys team since November of 2017. You better believe that Fangio is going to have a good plan to challenge Dak Prescott and the Cowboys passing attack.
4. FANGIO IS COMING FOR YOU
There is a lot of talent on the Dolphins defense. They have two All-Pro corners in Jalen Ramsey and Xavien Howard as well as a rising star safety in Jevon Holland. The secondary is even better when you consider the fantastic pass rush this team has. They have three former top 20 overall picks in Bradley Chubb (5th overall), Christian Wilkins (13th), and Jaelan Phillips (18th) and 24 sacks collectively. As a team, they have 48 total sacks which is second-most in the NFL, trailing only the Baltimore Ravens.
Expect Fangio to dial up the pressure against an offense that has shown moments of disarray when they get rattled. Prescott has been sacked 10 times over the last three games after not being sacked at all over the previous three games. With a strong interior presence, this will put a strain on the two Tylers and an ailing Zack Martin if he’s able to go.
5. THE GRASS AINT ALWAYS GREENER
We already know that the Cowboys are a better home team than they are a road team. That’s not ground-breaking information. They average almost twice as many points at AT&T Stadium than they do when they travel (39.9 points per game vs. 21.7 ppg). They are undefeated at home (7-0) and have a losing record on the road (3-4). While the Cowboys can win on the road, they do struggle a bit on natural grass.
Over the past two seasons, the Cowboys have played 10 games on grass and have lost all but two. The Cowboys are good when they can come out and do what they plan to do, but they struggle at when they have to improvise. We’ve seen them have footing issues in the past. While natural grass is safer in terms of preventing injuries because it provides more give, it also hinders cutting and slows players down.
Sunday’s loss to the Bills ended a 21-game winning streak the Cowboys had on turf. For what it’s worth, it was wet and windy in Buffalo. The grass/turf splits shouldn’t be overlooked.
Miami plays at Hard Rock Stadium which is on grass. Beating a good team on the road on natural grass would be something they haven’t done in a while, and likely something they’d have to do if they are to advance in the postseason.