It feels like yesterday that this glorious 2023 season was getting started, but the football season flies by. On Sunday, the Dallas Cowboys will play their final regular-season game, and for the second straight season, it will be against the Washington Commanders at FedEx Field.
The Cowboys have a lot to play for as they need one more win to ensure they take down the NFC East. Failure to do so opens the door for the Philadelphia Eagles to win the division if they beat the New York Giants. The Commanders have lost seven straight games and have nothing to play for. All signs point to a Cowboys cakewalk, but as we’ve seen before in these crazy divisional games, nothing is promised. Here are five things to watch when these two rivals square off in the regular-season finale.
1. PASS THE TORCH TO 18
It’s been a rough season for Michael Gallup. Despite playing in all 16 games so far this season, he still has lower numbers than his pitiful season last year. If he doesn’t gain six yards receiving, he’ll finish with his lowest yardage total throughout his six-year career. And that is entirely possible considering he didn’t get any targets last week. Whether it’s a deteriorating skillset or just falling out of favor with Dak Prescott, Gallup’s usage has been reduced to almost nothing. It feels like this could be the last regular-season game we see Gallup play in a Cowboys uniform.
The Commanders have the second-worst pass defense in the NFL so there shouldn’t be much resistance through the air for Prescott and his receivers. It should be the usual dose of CeeDee Lamb and Brandin Cooks early, but look for the depth guys to get some looks in the second half. This would be a perfect time for Gallup to go out with a bang but don’t be surprised if his eventual successor, Jalen Tolbert, has the best game of his young career. Let’s have a big game from 18 in Week 18.
2. THE RUN-RIGHT GAME
Last week, we mentioned that the Lions’ pass defense could be just what the doctor ordered to get the Cowboys passing game back on track. And sure enough, things were improved as Prescott had his first 300+ yard game since Thanksgiving and CeeDee Lamb had over 200 of them. And while we already mentioned that Washington is bad against the pass, they aren’t good against the run either. They allow 4.5 yards per attempt which is in the bottom 10.
Tony Pollard needs 65 more yards to reach back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons. And the last time he faced Washington, he went for 6.1 yards per rush, his most efficient outing of the year. The Cowboys have been absolutely horrible running the ball in recent weeks and they need to have a better showing in the run game so they can enter the playoffs with a little optimism, and the Commanders could be the right team to help them work out the bugs.
3. SAM “I SLAM”
The Cowboys’ defense has gone five consecutive contests without a multiple-sack game. That’s odd considering they have one of the best pass rushes in the league led by the guy with the highest pass-rush win rate in Micah Parsons. The last time the Cowboys had multiple sacks in a game it was against these same Washington Commanders. And that shouldn’t be surprising as Washington has allowed 61 sacks on the year, the fifth-worst in the league.
With poor pass protection and a favorable game script, look for the Cowboys pass rushers to eat. Parsons should be his usual disruptive self, but look for a big game from another second-year player, Sam “I slam” Williams.
4. THE IMMACULATE KICKER
Do you remember what you were thinking when rookie kicker Brandon Aubrey shanked his first-ever kick attempt on the extra point following the blocked field returned for a touchdown in the season opener? Man, what was the Cowboys’ front office thinking?
Well, 16 games have come and gone, and during that time we’ve watched the now Pro Bowl kicker Brandon Aubrey make all 35 of his field goal attempts. He has a chance to make it through the entire season without missing a field goal and be the first kicker to do so in a 17-game season. Let’s hope the weather isn’t too bad in Maryland so this perfect season doesn’t slip out from underneath him.
5. GET IN, AND GET OUT
Winning is the priority, but we would love to see them take care of business early so they can rest some key starters in the second half. The last thing we want to see if for Washington to give us all a sweat because the Cowboys are in a dogfight until the end. Not only would that not be ideal from a performance standpoint as they should win this game handily, but forcing veterans to put in extra work is not the best way to set yourself up for wild card weekend. Mike McCarthy has been known to play Dak and company a little longer than some of us would desire, so please, just put this game out of reach so we can all relax a bit.