DALLAS - The Dallas Cowboys finally came out in a game and looked like the team of last year. A bend but don’t break defense, timely turnovers and Ezekiel Elliott looked like the 2016 NFL rushing champion. While some may say “it was just San Francisco," the 49ers were a team that gave other teams fits with five straight games before losing by nothing more than three points. Dallas bested them by 30 points.
Fast forward one week and the Cowboys are set to take on their long-time rivals from Washington. Dallas has won four of the last five games dating back to the 2014 season. The last time that Washington beat Dallas in their house was on December 30, 2012. The Cowboys are looking to keep that streak going.
These five players should be watched closely on Sunday.
- The term sophomore slump has been used quite frequently to describe Dak’s season and quite inaccurately as well. Prescott has thrown more interceptions through six games than a year ago but he also has become more of a weapon by doubling his passing touchdowns through the first six games compared to last year.
- A season ago Prescott scored three touchdowns in two meetings in his first taste of the rivalry. Only one of those three scores came through the air, however. This season Washington has given up 14 touchdowns in six games.
- Lawrence has really transformed into the pass rusher that the Dallas Cowboys have needed since DeMarcus Ware was released over three seasons ago. Through just six games, Lawrence is currently the second leading pass rusher in the NFL with 9.5 sacks which exceeds his career-high of eight in 2015.
- Lawrence's career year is bad news for a Washington offensive line that is beat up and coming off short rest following their Monday Night loss to Philadelphia. Their line has also averaged two sacks allowed per game this season. With the injuries, it could be one of those special days for Lawrence.
- The team and fans finally saw the Ezekiel Elliott that struck fear in the hearts of opposing teams against San Francisco as Elliott scored three total touchdowns and garnered 216 all-purpose yards. Elliott's performance that was all too reminiscent of his performance against the Pittsburgh Steelers last season in what was the signature game of his rookie campaign.
- Washington is allowing 94.5 yards per game on the ground at an average of four yards per carry. In last Sunday's game, Elliott rushed for 5.5 yards per carry which was his highest mark thus far in 2017. Elliott will be looking for a measure of vindication against Washington as he didn’t surpass 100 yards in either games last season, though he did find the end zone three times.
- A big part of the reason for why it's become a safe bet to assume DeMarcus Lawrence will have a big day is because David Irving's return has given Dallas a solid one-two punch on the defensive line. In his two games so far since rejoining the team following a four-game suspension to open the season, Irving has recorded three sacks.
- In two games against Washington last season, Irving didn’t record a sack or tackle. However, since he was added to the roster in 2015, the Cowboys have yet to lose to Washington. Brandon Scherff was injured in the last game, if he is unable to go look for Irving to take full advantage inside. Should Irving sack Washington QB Kirk Cousins just once, he will tie his career high of four sacks that he set in 2016.
- Butler has become the big play receiver for the Dallas Cowboys so far in 2017. Though he only has eight receptions, Butler is averaging 25 yards per catch with two touchdowns. Butler didn’t record a reception against the 49ers, but he should be a focal point to help jumpstart the offense come Sunday.
- Brice Butler didn’t record a single reception on three targets in 2016 against Washington but he did have four receptions for 60 yards in 2015. If Terrance Williams isn’t able to provide some help on the other side of Dez Bryant, Butler may need to be the guy that steps up and opens up the playbook with his ability to take the top off of the defense.
Which Cowboys players do you believe will be the key performers on Sunday? Share your picks with Patrick on Twitter @DraftCowboys.
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