It's a special Thanksgiving edition of the 'Morning Cup of Joe.' My sincere hope is that by the time a tryptophan-induced coma takes over your body the Cowboys and Chargers will give you reason to rise from your inescapable holiday nap to see some thrilling football. Speaking of, enjoy these five storylines to follow.
1.Mentality is everything right now
Football is a game of attrition. The Cowboys are losing that game miserably right now. Although, left tackle Tyron Smith and kicker Dan Bailey may be able to return to action, the Cowboys will still be without two of the most impactful players on the roster, running back Zeke Elliott and linebacker Sean Lee.
So this quote, uttered by tight end Jason Witten, has to resonate for the Cowboys to fight they way they'll need to. "You can’t fee sorry for yourself," said Witten, after the Eagles smoked his team 37-9 Sunday night. "It’s right in front of us. We have to go out there and find a way to get one win. That’s the mentality."
Witten, as usual, is on the money. The NFL is a week-to-week league now seemingly more than ever. The Cowboys have a great shot to rattle off wins in these next four games and give themselves a shot when Elliott returns Christmas Eve.
Witten called a meeting for the offense to talk about some of the issues they're having on their side of the ball. I suspect he also took the opportunity to make sure the Cowboys locker room is a pity-free zone. Being outscored 47-0 over the last two second halves can make you put your head down. Now is not that time for the Cowboys, or this season will be done in a hurry.
2.No more bad Dak
For the first time in his career, Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott pressed. The calm, poised, resilient signal caller got impatient and a career-hight three interceptions were the result.
The line was awful: 18-of-31 passing for 145-yards. He had no touchdowns to offset the three picks. The 30.4 quarterback rating was a career low.
Prescott is feeling heat like never before with no Zeke Elliott and Tyron Smith missing the last two games. The sophomore quarterback have to slow down that clock in his head, and regain the poise that has been the hallmark of his NFL career so far.
I've always said resilience is Prescott's best trait, and it will be put to the ultimate test until his backfield mate Elliott returns. It's not just Elliott's production that is missed, it's the way defenses fear the running back as a home run threat. Defenses no longer have to honor that making Prescott's job much tougher.
There's a line here about the 'Dak Knight' rising, but I don't make you sick on Thanksgiving.
3.Dak and Dez must find connection
You know that awful feeling when you're in a bad cell zone and you keep dropping calls? That's kinda like what Prescott and receiver Dez Bryant are experiencing. They've got a bad connection.
The numbers are alarming. Bryant is tied for fourth in the league with 98 targets this season. He has 50 catches, ranking 15th league-wide. But get this - his yardage total barely cracks the top 30, at 29th.
The problem has been an inability to consistently connect on passes outside the numbers, resulting in next to no explosive plays. This next stat is hard to fathom. In 10 games, Bryant has just four receptions of 20-yards or more.
Without Elliott, Bryant has to be a play-maker for this offense to have a chance. Time is running out for Dak and Dez to make that happen.
4.Tank and company must show up
The Cowboys defensive line failed to have a sack for the first time this season against the Eagles. Defensive end Demarcus Lawrence failed to have a sack or a pressure. He's tied for the NFL lead with 11.5 sacks, and he needs to play like it this week.
The test will be much different. Unlike mobile Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz, posing a threat to escape the pocket, Chargers quarterback Phillip Rivers won't be hard to find. He'll be five or seven yard behind the center on just about every drop back.
The Cowboys defensive line has no excuse. This unit has emerged as one that can be counted on to make plays. And they can't have another no show. Not only in this game, but in every game for the remainder of the season.
Since becoming a full-time starter in 2006, Rivers has averaged nearly eight fumbles per season. This year he has only one. This would be a great time for Cowboys defenders to help his statistics fall back in line with the norm.
The Cowboys young secondary has done well at times in terms of on-the-job training, and they'll face another stiff test this week.
Chargers receiver Keenan Allen missed all of 2016 with a knee injury, but he's rebounded well this year, leading the Bolts in receiving, ranking tied for 10th in the NFL with 56 receptions, and his 755 receiving yards rank 7th.
Allen lit up the Bills a week ago with 12 catches on 13 targets for 159 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
It almost goes without saying that linebacker Anthony Hitchens and the front seven will have to limit the Chargers on the ground to have a chance. But even if that happens, the Cowboys young secondary has to standup against a a pretty stout veteran performer in Allen.
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