DALLAS — The Dallas Cowboys and Jacksonville Jaguars are gearing up for their matchup at AT&T Stadium. Both teams feature top five scoring defenses and bottom eight scoring offenses. This has all of the makings of a defensive slugfest. Having said that, it would be very Cowboys to see both teams score early and often and turn this one into a shootout on Sunday afternoon.
These are five key matchups to watch for the Cowboys to extend their home unbeaten streak:
Make Blake Bortles throw the ball
The main way to beat the Jaguars should seem familiar to Cowboys fans. The goal is to take away the run and force the quarterback to try and move the ball through the air. Last week against one of the worst defenses in the league, Blake Bortles threw the ball 61 times completing just 33 passes. He also threw four interceptions, including one that ricocheted off an offensive lineman’s helmet. Bortles has seven interceptions in five games and is on pace to throw a career high 22.
Bortles has averaged 42 pass attempts per game in 2018. Dallas needs to get a lead early on and force the Jaguars to throw as that will create more opportunities for the Cowboys to create short fields through turnovers, sacks, or both. The Cowboys' lone touchdown a week ago came off a fumble by DeAndre Hopkins setting up Dallas at the Houston 16-yard line.
Attack guard Josh Walker and a hurting Jacksonville line
Due to the injury bug that is making its way through the Jaguars' offensive line, Walker will be making his first NFL start against the Cowboys. Unfortunately for Walker, the Cowboys rank 7th in the league with 15 sacks in five games.
Walker has played in 18 career games in five seasons with four different teams. Should Walker struggle against the Cowboys pass rush, they may need to go to Ereck Flowers who they just picked up on a one-year deal after he was released by the New York Giants partially because of his play earlier this season against Dallas.
The Cowboys usually play Taco Charlton and Randy Gregory on what will be Walker's side. With the return of David Irving to the team this week, Tyrone Crawford could see snaps on that side as well. Per the injury report, Maliek Collins has been limited during practice this week but if they can get snaps from Collins and Irving inside then Crawford could give Walker or Flowers fits.
The Dallas Offensive Line
The Cowboys up front could have their hands full with this Jaguars front seven. Calais Campbell is the big name to watch out for. He has been limited in practice with an ankle injury but hasn't been ruled out. On the opposite side, Tyron Smith is on the injury report as well as he is dealing with an ankle injury as well. Tyron hasn't played at his All-Pro level over the last couple of seasons, due in large part to all of the injuries he has dealt with.
Joe Looney and Connor Williams will have to deal with Campbell at times while also having to keep the big man Marcel Dareus at bay. Overall, the line needs to push back this front for Jacksonville and allow Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott time to make an impact on the offensive side of the ball.
The Jags are ranked 15th against the rush as far as yards this season, so Zeke will need to get going to give the Cowboys a shot at incorporating play-action. Prescott is still one of the better quarterbacks in the league off of play-action. The success of play-action is directly predicated off the Cowboys' ability to gash this defense with the run and that all starts with the offensive line.
The Wide Receiver Committee
We have heard the wide receivers on the Cowboys talk openly about how they feel like they are doing their job in winning against the secondary. Now they have to find ways to beat one of the elite secondaries in the league.
Jalen Ramsey will do his job to take away the top receiving threat, which up to this point has been Cole Beasley and Tavon Austin. Between Michael Gallup, Deonte Thompson, Allen Hurns or even Brice Bulter (if he plays), someone needs to step up and make some catches for the Cowboys to be able to move the chains when Jacksonville sells out to stop the run.
Their opportunities as individuals have been limited with the receiver by committee approach, but they’re paid to do the job even if it's as an overall unit. The quarterback also needs to give them opportunity by throwing catchable passes.
Red Zone and 3rd Down conversions
It should come as no surprised that the Dallas Cowboys haven’t played very well through five games in the redzone. The Cowboys are 25th in the NFL in points per redzone possession with 4.42 points. They are settling for far too many field goals. They are also 29th in redzone percentage with 41.67%. The Jaguars are right behind them at 38.46%.
In order for Dallas to have any success they need sustain drives which means converting 3rd downs. The Cowboys are the 30th in the NFL with a 28.3% conversion. Dallas was been unable to keep drives alive and it has been forcing their defense to play more because of it. If the offense can do their part, it would help the defense to not be worn out by time the fourth quarter rolls around.
The game is going to come down to which quarterback does a better job of protecting the ball and staying upright in the pocket. Both defenses will put an immense amount of pressure on the offenses. This game will likely come down to Brett Maher and Josh Lambo making kicks in the end. As for a prediction: Jaguars 9-6 in a defensive battle of wills.
Do you think either team will be able to score an offensive touchdown on Sunday against a couple of stout defenses? Share your predictions with Patrick on Twitter @DraftCowboys.