The Dallas Cowboys returned home from a loss probably not feeling nearly as bad as their previous failed road trips. They went into Lincoln Financial Field and played nearly equal to the Philadelphia Eagles, the best team in the NFC. Dak Prescott was a wizard, running away from the Philadelphia pass rush and throwing for 374 yards and three touchdowns without a turnover. The defense held the two MVP candidates, Jalen Hurts and A.J. Brown, to just average games overall.
That being said, the team still lost, and they have now put themselves two games behind the Eagles over halfway through the season. On paper, they have a chance to make up ground before the Week 14 rematch. It all starts with them doing their jobs.
The team needs to bounce back and beat the New York Giants to start a long winning streak, and beating the Giants is something Prescott has become exceedingly efficient at. The Cowboys QB has won his last 11 games against the Gotham Knights by an average score of 31.5 to 16. Dallas will need to accomplish some goals to get past the Giants though, it is the NFL, and it is an “any given Sunday” league if a team doesn’t stay focused.
How they win: Cement Jake Ferguson as the top option behind Lamb
Most believe the key to the offense taking the next step is getting Brandin Cooks more involved. He is an offensive threat who has put up 1,000 yards with every team he has played on regardless of the quarterback but has only managed 165 yards total this season. That makes a lot of sense, until tight end Jake Ferguson is put in the spotlight.
Ferguson doesn’t have the numbers of a Travis Kelce or T. J. Hockenson, he doesn’t even have the numbers of the Dallas tight end from last season, Dalton Schultz. His 32 receptions for 328 yards and three touchdowns place him 14th in the league overall but his PFF grades tell a different story. He ranks ninth in receiving, fifth in run blocking, second in pass protection, and fourth overall.
Ferguson doesn’t have the recognizable name, but he does hav elite metrics within this Dallas offense. When Ferguson is on the field, the team has a success rate 16 points higher than when he isn’t. The offense averages four more yards per reception with Ferguson on the field and Prescott throws 16% more completions. The Dallas offense has 13 touchdowns to only three interceptions on his snaps but without him have two picks and no scores.
Play Ferguson, target him, and run to his side. The more involved he is in the offense, the better the offense runs.
How they Lose: Take Tommy Devito lightly
It happens nearly every week; a team takes its opponent for granted and get upset. The Pittsburgh Steelers beat the Baltimore Ravens in Week 5. In Week 6 the San Francisco 49ers were upset by the Cleveland Browns’ third-string QB, and the Eagles lost to the New York Jets. The New England Patriots upset the Buffalo Bills this year, the Denver Broncos beat the Chiefs, and even the Cowboys were beaten by the Arizona Cardinals.
Tommy Devito is an unknown, is behind a really poor offensive line, and doesn’t have a team full of talented skill players surrounding him, but he is in the league for a reason and will make plays if he is put in situations where he is allowed to.
Jalin Hyatt has tremendous speed, Daniel Bellinger is a good young tight end, and Saquon Barkley is possibly the best running back talent in the game. If Dallas doesn’t take the team serious, an upset is possible.
Last week is a perfect example of the weirdness of the NFL. The 4-4 Atlanta Falcons had a home game against the Minnesota Vikings, who had lost Kirk Cousins to a season ending injury the prior game. They made a trade for quarterback Joshua Dobbs, but Dobbs didn’t have time to take a single snap in practice. An injury to backup Jaren Hill put him in the game, and even though the team around him hadn’t even heard his cadence, he led three touchdown drives and and an upset of the Falcons.
Be prepared, and play hard, or anything can happen in the NFL.
How they win: Put Dak on the move
The Cowboys have the lowest graded qualifying offensive tackle according to PFF, so the Dallas QB has been forced to be more mobile to keep the offense from falling apart. The Giants have Azeez Ojulari and Kayvon Thibodeaux rushing from the edge, so Prescott being on the move is going to continue to be important.
Scrambling away from pressure is one thing, but in these next few games it might be smart to throw in some play calls where the pocket is designed to be moved. The run game numbers are down across the board; less efficiency and less big plays. It might be time to make opponents start to think about Prescott’s running. If the defensive end has to worry about a play action rollout, or Prescott occupies a defender with the threat of holding on to the ball and running it himself, it couldn’t hurt.
Also, Prescott is at his best when not stationary. He is leading the league in completion percentage while on the move, completing 73% of his passes, up from 70.2 percent overall. Dallas needs to use the mobility of their QB to protect him, to help him throwing the ball, and open up the rushing game, which will help them win Sunday and into the future this season.
How they lose: Let Thibodeaux make game changing plays
Kayvon Thibodeaux was seen as the best overall player in his draft class, but fell to the Giants at fifth.
He didn’t have an instant impact of the Eagles’ Jalen Carter, a similar unlikely draft slide to an NFC East foe, but has had an enormous jump in Year 2. He has already more than doubled his sack totals and already has more tackles for loss midway through this year. He is the most impactful defender on their team.
He hasn’t had much impact in his three games against the Cowboys; six total tackles, none for a loss, and all five of his QB hits came in one game. For his team though, he is the obvious playmaker. He has 8.5 of the 15 sacks the team has accumulated, and he is second on the defense in tackles for a loss. For New York to upset Dallas, Thibodeaux might need to cause a couple turnovers himself. If the Cowboys contain him, they should be able to handle this defense easily.