DALLAS — The Dallas Cowboys seem to have no shortage of turmoil, especially following their loss on the road to the Houston Texans. The call to punt the ball on 4th & 1 came under much scrutiny and most recently, Allen Hurns was making his disagreements with playcalling known. There have been plenty of reasons to point fingers after losing the way the Cowboys did but all of that should be behind them as they focus on their upcoming home battle against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Much like Dallas, the Jaguars are coming into Sunday following a loss. They have lost two of their last three matchups with a win over the Jets sandwiched in between. Fortunately for Dallas they are playing this game at home in Arlington, TX. It's at AT&T Stadium where the Cowboys average 23 points per game as opposed to their 11.3 on the road.
Dak Prescott has also played better at home with 8.0 yards per attempt, three touchdowns and no interceptions. The protection has also been better with just three of his 16 sacks coming at home. The Cowboys will need a big game from Prescott as they are playing the best passing defense in the league at 191 yards per game. The Jaguars have playmakers at all three levels of the defense and it shows in their rankings.
The Cowboys have struggled on offense overall and especially in the passing game. The uphill climb gets a bit steeper when they face Jalen Ramsey and this secondary that features former Cowboy Barry Church. It will all start with the protection up front and keeping an eye on Calais Campbell who can be a load for any lineman to deal with.
Yannick Ngakoue is the other defensive end to pay attention to. He has only been active in the last three games but has already contributed two sacks. The Jaguars also have Marcell Dareus who can terrorize in the middle which will make it difficult to develop a rushing attack.
When you get to the second level, their linebackers are no slouches. Myles Jack and Tevin Smith can cover everyone. Trying to get Ezekiel Elliott involved will be no small task. Jack has one of their three interceptions, and the only one that was returned for a touchdown. It will be an intriguing matchup as, dating back to his UCLA days, Jack was used in coverage as a nickel corner at times. He has the skills to stay with Zeke in the passing game if he draws the assignment.
Everyone knows about Ramsey, he has zero problem with making his presence known. Along with Church and A.J. Bouye, they have one of the better secondaries in the NFL. Unfortunately, the Dallas Cowboys don’t employ one of the better wide receiver groups in the league. If there is one caveat in this matchup, Hurns – a former Jaguar – should have some insight as to how the offense can attack.
The receivers will need to find a way to apply pressure on the backend if this team wants to move the ball with any consistency.
The Cowboys have a top five defense in terms of points given up per game (19.2). Their biggest issue is that this team is second to last in creating turnovers, having recorded their first interception against the Texans in their last game. Blake Bortles and the Jags’ offense will provide the defense an opportunity. Byron Jones, Chidobe Awuzie and Anthony Brown should stay on their toes looking for that moment to change the game.
The visiting team won’t have their number four overall draft pick runner in Leonard Fournette, but they will have T.J. Yeldon who averages 4.4 yards per carry. Jacksonville has had a middle of the road running game and they will be trying to reach the second level where Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch will be awaiting opportunities to punish the runner.
The Cowboys invested a lot of draft capital into LVE and Smith and they have really been bright spots for a suddenly deep position group. Despite injuries to Joe Thomas and defensive leader Sean Lee, the duo hasn’t let this defense fall off a cliff. Surviving the loss of Lee is a very welcomed change compared to years past.
Up front the Cowboys will face a much maligned offensive line of the Jags. Reports have surfaced that they were bringing in former “top draft” pick Ereck Flowers who was released by New York. The Cowboys need to take advantage of this opportunity unlike when they failed to do so against the struggling lines for Houston and Seattle. Though those teams failed to fully protect their quarterbacks, Dallas was only able to sack the quarterback once in both games combined and didn't convert pressure into turnovers.
DeMarcus Lawrence will be looking to continue his reign of terror up front. In his last 20 games, Tank has registered 20 sacks. No other player has more in that time frame. Besides Tank, the only other player giving consistent pressure is Jaylon Smith when the Cowboys opt to blitz.
The Cowboys need more pass rush from Tyrone Crawford, Taco Charlton and Randy Gregory. The jury is still out if David Irving will make his season debut while he deals with an off the field person issue. Whether it comes from the Cowboys dialing up the blitz or winning their individual matchups, they need to make their presence felt early and often.
Blake Bortles is one of those hot or cold quarterbacks that can be on either side of the spectrum where he throws for 400 yards and three touchdowns or 180 yards and four interceptions. One thing remains the same, create pressure and watch Bortles unravel.
This game has all the makings of an offensive struggle with both teams bringing in their top five defense. In the end, look for whichever team that makes the fewest mistakes to walk away with a much needed win.
Do you think the Cowboys can turn things around offensively against Jacksonville this Sunday or will they need the defense to step up once again? Share your thoughts with Patrick on Twitter @DraftCowboys.