Frisco -- 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, plus his expectations.
1.Fight or flight response
In humans and animals, the fight or flight response occurs after an attack or threat to survival. In response to the acute stress, hormones are produced, and there is either a standing of ground leading to a fight or a fleeing from the danger.
How will the Cowboys respond now that their season is on life support? Their playoff hopes are hanging by the slimmest thread and they couldn't be backed more into the corner. Which primitive instinct will kick in?
The Cowboys haven't shown much fight, being outscored 72-6 in the second halves of their last three games. This may be their last shot to show they're not afraid to stay in the fray. With all of this as a backdrop, we figure to find out a lot about this group as a team against Washington.
2.Live out the lessons
The NFL is an amazing league, and we're reminded frequently how it has become a week-by-week proposition. Consider it was a mere three-and-a-half weeks ago the Cowboys had defeated the Chiefs and the organization was riding high. Three ugly losses later, there's plenty of talk about whether head coach Jason Garrett still has the ear of his team.
Garrett has printed t-shirts and preaches to his troops all the time the importance of the concept of fighting. It's one of the core principles upon which Garrett has built his program. He's continually stressed that his team that no matter the circumstance, you have to claw and fight, to somehow someway find the path to success.
Without running back Zeke Elliott, we'll find out if this group of Cowboys can live out the lesson. Failing to win doesn't mean Garrett's message has been lost. But if the Cowboys fail to fight in this game, the chorus of questions asking if Garrett is still the right guy for this team will only grow louder.
3.Prescott can't do it alone
For a year-and-a-half Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott has experienced just how cool it can be to pull the trigger for the NFL's most popular franchise. The last couple of weeks have been the exact opposite.
With Elliott out of the lineup, fans looked to Prescott and the Cowboys receiving corp to make up for the explosive playmake being on a beach in Cabo, or wherever Elliott has set up shop. It hasn't happened. In fact, in terms of explosive plays, there's next-to-nothing happening.
Prescott hasn't thrown a touchdown pass in the last three games, and the five interceptions he's thrown in that 12-day span are more than he suffered all last season. The Cowboys offense is suffering through a historically bad stretch.
Prescott had a message for his doubters saying, "Keep questioning me. Obviously, you don't know me and you don't know what I'm about, so keep questioning me. Have fun at it."
The saltiness in the response needs to be backed up by a level of play we've yet to see from the Cowboys offense without Elliott. Prescott needs more help from his receivers, but he has to lead the way.
4.What does Dez have left?
During the broadcast of the Chargers game, former Cowboys quarterback, now analyst and play-calling soothsayer Tony Romo harped on the fact that Prescott needs to improve on his ball placement when he throws to receiver Dez Bryant.
He called on Prescott to perfect the back shoulder throw, allowing Bryant to make more plays, but that's a two-way street.
Bryant has struggled to convert 50-50 chances where we've grown accustomed to him using his athletic ability to rise up and make explosive plays. The talk is that Bryant's days of being among the NFL's receiving elite may be over. He hurt his ankle and knee late in the Chiefs game, but hasn't been on the injury report the last couple of weeks, so health shouldn't be an issue.
Bryant has had plenty chances to make plays, but most of those targets have been contested, and the production you'd expect from a top-flight wideout hasn't followed. Now, perhaps more than ever, Bryant needs to show exactly what he's got left.
5.Time for Tank to turn up the pressure
With 11-and-a-half sacks, Cowboys defensive end Demarcus Lawrence is just a half-sack behind the league leaders. But you'd never know it by the way the Lawrence and Cowboys defensive line has played during their three-game losing slide.
Lawrence has notched just one sack in the last three games, none in the last two. The lack of pressure on Phillip Rivers a big part of why Chargers quarterback to completely exposed the Cowboys secondary, throwing for 434 yards.
'Tank', Lawrence's nickname, needs to get on another roll, in a hurry.
I'll end where I began. While many have given up on the Cowboys season, I think tonight's game will be an interesting watch to reveal what's in this team's DNA.
Will they fight or will it be Cowboys flight?
I think there's still fight left, but the more pressing question is will it be enough to keep this season alive?
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