DALLAS — The Dallas Cowboys face what is most likely their first must-win game of the season in a short week where they welcome the 8-3 Buffalo Bills over for a Thanksgiving showdown.
A loss won’t put an end to the Cowboys’ pursuit of the playoffs, but with how the schedules stack up down the stretch, should they not be able to pull off a win, their odds of repeating as NFC East champions would grow quite dire.
Despite the deflating loss to the Patriots on Sunday, Dallas is still up a game on Philadelphia, but the Eagles get to face off against the also-rans of the division several times before their slate has concluded.
Meanwhile, the Cowboys venture off for tough matches against NFC teams still vying for playoff spots. Though they currently hold a lead, all of the pressure is on Dallas to keep ahead of Philadelphia.
Thursday also marks another game against an opponent with a winning record and those games have not been kind to the Cowboys. In those contests, the Cowboys are 0-4. When facing teams with a winning record, the Cowboys are scoring half of what they score against lesser opponents (32.6 vs 16.8) and allow four points more a game (17.6 vs 21.8).
The Cowboys will be looking to flip the script on the Buffalo Bills and some home cooking for Thanksgiving might do the trick.
Here’s a look at how Dallas can pull off a victory against a winning team for the first time in just under a calendar year:
Win the first quarter
The Cowboys have to find a way to get ahead in the first quarter and keep attacking. The Bills have a good defense and Dallas needs to keep from becoming one dimensional throughout the game by playing from behind.
Ezekiel Elliott had a better outing versus the Patriots and getting a lead can allow Zeke to milk some of the clock away which would help to prevent Buffalo from getting back into the game.
This Cowboys team is built to play with a lead which is something they haven’t done very often this season, and it has cost them with several single-digit losses. An early lead would allow the Dallas pass rushers to spend their afternoon hunting and putting pressure on young quarterback Josh Allen.
Getting out ahead early is the number one thing that the Cowboys haven’t been able to do with much regularity this season and, if they want to beat winning teams, they’re going to have to start doing it consistently and that begins on Thursday.
With the game at home, Dallas can’t afford to see the wind get knocked out of their sails but, luckily for them, home teams have benefited greatly from Thursday games.
Take the ball away
If slow starts have been the main issue of 2019, producing turnovers has been the Achilles’ heel for the Cowboys over the last several years. Over the last eight seasons, the Cowboys have been the worst team in terms of intercepting passes.
With a young quarterback under center for Buffalo, Dallas should have opportunities, but they need to actually capitalize on them. This season, the Cowboys are 20th in the NFL with a turnover differential of minus 2.
With an offense that is struggling to get started early in games, and a special teams unit that won’t be doing them any favors, getting a short field via a big takeaway should help the Cowboys’ offense to get points on the board and help the defense to stay in charge of the game.
Contain Cole Beasley
In his homecoming, former Cowboy Cole Beasley will be looking to pour the gravy with a trip to the end zone against his old team and then sprinkle on a little sauce for good measure.
Beasley is the most reliable receiver on the Bills, so Dallas needs to lock him down and force Buffalo’s offense to go another route. Much like his time in Dallas, Beasley keeps extending drives with his third down targets, so the Cowboys need to make sure they don’t let him move the sticks.
The Cowboys do have a corner who should be up for the challenge in Jourdan Lewis. Lewis has the attitude and skills in the slot to limit Beasley’s game to give the Cowboys the advantage.
The Cowboys come into this game a seven-point favorite at home despite not having beaten a team with a winning record all season. With pumpkin pie awaiting them, look for the Cowboys to come through this time with a 31-24 victory over Buffalo to keep their NFC East title hopes in front of them.
Do you think the Cowboys will be celebrating Thanksgiving with a win against Buffalo? Share your predictions with Patrick on Twitter @DraftCowboys.