On the morning of each Cowboys game, you'll get a chance to take a sip of Joe's gridiron insights with our 'Morning Cup of Joe.' He'll offer five storylines to follow when the Cowboys take the field and his thoughts on what to expect.
Denver -- The Cowboys look to snap a five-game losing streak to the Broncos that dates back to 1995. Playing in the not-so-friendly confines of Mile High field, it will be difficult, but efficient and smart play from the Cowboys could be the difference.
1. More Dak being Dak
Dak Prescott is two pass attempts away from becoming the first NFL quarterback to have less than five interceptions in his first 500 attempts. The stat not only underscores Prescott's greatness, but it'll take more of the same great decision making to have a chance at Mile High.
I don't expect anything similar to the 28 passes Prescott threw in the first half against the Giants. Instead, the Cowboys sophomore signal caller will have to make the most of his opportunities through the air, and avoid making an uncharacteristic mistake against the Broncos excellent secondary. Prescott ran three times for 24 yards in the opener, including a scramble that set up a field goal just before the half. Look for Prescott to extend drives with his legs and protect the football.
2. Feed Zeke
Zeke Elliott surpassed the century mark in rushing in the opener, but his longest run was just 10 yards. Expect him to find more running lines against the Broncos. Their top-flight defense ranked just 28th against the run last season. That rarely hurt them because they're so good against the pass and at pressuring the quarterback.
That's why I expect the Cowboys to employ the formula they used so effectively last season - control the line of scrimmage with Elliott and dictate the tempo of the game. It's essential that Elliott propel the Cowboys to wins on first and second down because too many third and longs against Denver plays right into their hands. I look for Elliott to have a big day and that will go a long way in the Cowboys finding a way to win.
3. Dez vs "no-fly zone"
Dez Bryant and Prescott weren't nearly as effective as many thought they'd be in the opener. A lot of the credit goes to the Giants secondary led by cornerback Janoris Jenkins, and it doesn't figure to get any easier this week against the likes of Chris Harris and Richardson Berkner's Aquib Talib. They're arguably the best cornerback tandem in the league and it will be tough for Dez Bryant to flourish in their so-called "no-fly zone."
Bryant was targeted nine times against New York, but had just two catches for 43 yards. He told me afterward it may have been a case of he and Prescott being a little too hyped for the opener, and he's confident they'll get in sync. The reasonable expectation is for Bryant to make a big play or two that could have a big impact; anything more is unlikely.
4. Collins thrown into the fire
In his second career start at right tackle, second-year lineman La'el Collins draws the number one pass rusher in the league. DeSoto's Von Miller is nothing short of a game-wrecker, and as Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said, he's been doing it since he was a kid.
Miller is actually on a five-game sack-less skid so that only figures to make things tougher on Collins. He will not only need help from a tight end lining up on his side, but he'll also need assistance from backs and receivers chipping Miller. The Cowboys will also have to help Collins by being smart on third and long situations.
5. What does Tank have for an encore?
Demarcus Lawrence was 'man on fire' in the opener against the Giants. He notched a pair of sacks and three tackles for loss. It helped that the Giants offensive line is awful, but Lawrence showed an intensity level that the Cowboys expected when they moved up to take him with the 34th overall pick in 2014.
There are few better motivators for professional players than a contract year, Lawrence is playing for his financial future and I want to see if Lawrence can duplicate the effort level, after putting a couple sacks on the board. He led the Cowboys with eight sacks in 2015, but back a pair of back surgeries and a suspension have put his future in doubt. Lawrence is a double-digit sack guy waiting to happen. I want to see how he goes after it against Denver.
This game screams for the Cowboys employ their clock-chewing ball-control offense that was so effective in last year's 13-and-3 regular season campaign. If they can make that work and keep it close, I'll take Prescott over the Broncos third-year quarterback Trevor Siemian.
Cowboys win 27-24.
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