It’s week 12 of the NFL season and the 3-7 Washington Football Team will be facing a 3-7 Cowboys team at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, TX on Thanksgiving Day. Continuing a bizarre and terrible season for the division, all four NFC East teams currently have 3 wins, though the Eagles are 1st in divisional rankings due to a tie game against the Bengals. A win tomorrow would briefly catapult the winner to 1st place in the divisional rankings.
The Cowboys looked like the worst team in the NFL after Dak Prescott suffered a season-ending injury week 5. However, it’s been a different Cowboys team playing the last couple of weeks. The Cowboys played a very close game against an undefeated Steelers team, then followed up by beating a Vikings team that would easily be atop the NFCE if they were a part of this division. Part of this was likely the return of Andy Dalton after injury and COVID kept him out for several games, but part of it was a seeming resurgence of the defense. This is not the same Cowboys team we played in week 7.
To learn more about these and other issues, I asked Dave Halprin of Blogging the Boys five questions about the state of the Cowboys and what to look for in this game.
1) The Cowboys looked absolutely terrible after Dak got injured, but have seemed to rally in the last couple of weeks, playing a close game against the undefeated Steelers and beating a 4-6 Vikings team that seems much better than its record. Does it seem that way to you too and if so, what’s behind the Cowboys improved play?
Yes, the Cowboys are absolutely playing much better over the last few games. There are a couple of main issues that I think have turned things around. On offense, they are starting to get better play from an offensive line that was just decimated by injury. They could never get the same set of five linemen on the field each week and were constantly shuffling things. They made a decision to move Zack Martin out to right tackle last week and insert Connor McGovern in at Martin’s right guard spot and it really paid off. Andy Dalton had a lot more time to throw the ball and the running lanes were much bigger.
On defense, they are finally getting more comfortable with the new scheme and are reacting instead of thinking. The changeover to a new, more complicated scheme on defense with no OTAs or preseason games proved to be a problem early on. Players were out of position a lot and they were not playing in sync with the other players. It was a mess. But they are starting to get it now and are showing up much better. They also put in some different players at defensive tackle and that has greatly helped control the opposition’s run game. It’s not perfect on that side of the ball by any means, but it is greatly improved over earlier in the year.
2) Who are 2 under-the-radar players on the Cowboys who have really emerged over the course of the season and what have you seen from them?
Tight end Dalton Schultz has really come on as a weapon in the passing game and he has improved his blocking. He was supposed to be the backup tight end but Blake Jarwin went down with a season-ending injury in the first game. Schultz has really stepped up and is a very valuable safety valve for the quarterbacks and even scores every once in a while, like the game-winner on Sunday.
On defense, safety Donovan Wilson is starting to make his presence known. He created two turnovers against the Vikings including a crushing hit on Dalvin Cook. He can be bad in pass coverage at times, but as a tackler and a blitzer, he can produce some memorable plays.
3) Who are some notable Cowboys players who you think are destined to leave in FA or be cut for cap relief in the offseason? How will this impact the team?
I really had to think about this and look some stuff up since I hadn’t really been concentrating on that aspect of the team yet. The Cowboys have two corners (Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis) and a safety (Xavier Woods) that are free agents this offseason and none of them are locks to return. Woods and Awuzie have the best chance, but they haven’t really produced as hoped. Veteran Tyrone Crawford is likely playing his last season with Dallas, Sean Lee might be too.
Dak Prescott is a free agent but the Cowboys can tag him again if they can’t reach a long-term deal. Although the team won’t do it, some fans have wanted the team to take the hit and release Jaylon Smith, who has had a really rough season, although he has a lot of tackles.
4) It’s still early, but are there any players in the upcoming draft that Cowboys fans would be especially excited to draft if they get a top 5 pick? Would you consider a QB with a top 5 pick?
Cowboys management has said that they will not be taking a QB with a high pick in the draft. The team says they are committed to Dak Prescott and that he is their QB of the future. Obviously things can change between now and then, but that is the direction they are going. I would not draft a QB either, I would get Prescott signed to a long-term deal and put that to bed. As for players in the draft, I’d like to see them finish the season and then see some workouts and numbers before getting too invested.
5) What do you think is the percent chance for each NFC East team to win the division and why?
I think it’s about the same odds for any team to win this division. There are pros and cons each way. The Eagles have that half-game edge, but they also have a brutal schedule and Carson Wentz. Washington still has a few more tough games but getting Alex Smith settled in might pay off down the stretch. The Giants are a real wildcard especially with Daniel Jones as QB. And the Cowboys are playing better and have the easiest schedule left, but they still have quite a few flaws. It’s really hard to make the case for one team having a significantly better chance than the others.
Thanks again to Dave Halprin for taking time out of his day to answer our questions about the Cowboys. I want to give extra props to Dave for giving me great answers very quickly on a short week. And Happy Thanksgiving to everyone, even the Cowboys fans in our lives.
As of right now, Vegas has Dallas as 3 point favorites over Washington. How would you bet?
This poll is closed
Dallas wins by more than 3 points
Dallas wins by 3 points or less or it’s a tie
Washington wins outright
As of now, Vegas has the over/under for this game at 46 points. Which would you bet?
This poll is closed
46 or more total points are scored (both sides combined)
Fewer than 46 total points are scored (both sides combined)
Which outcome would you prefer for Washington?
This poll is closed
We beat the Cowboys on Thanksgiving, win the division, but end up with a pick well outside the top 10 in next year’s draft
We lose to the Cowboys on Thanksgiving, lose the division, but have a top 3 pick in next year’s draft