The Dallas Cowboys will play its 53rd consecutive game on Thanksgiving on Thursday. They have been fairly productive on Thanksgiving going 31-20-1 over their 52 games played.
Although they have struggled on Thanksgiving day as of late, going 2-3 in their past five games, this matchup with Washington is favorable for Dallas. This will mark their 10th all-time meeting on Thanksgiving against Washington with the Cowboys being 8-1 against them. In their most recent matchup on Thanksgiving in 2018, Dallas won by a score of 31-23.
This divisional matchup is Dallas’ biggest game this season. The winner of this matchup will take over first place in the NFC East. In a must-win game, here are three keys to the game against Washington in week 12.
Feed the Hot Hand
The Cowboys need to feed the ball to Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard throughout the game. Both running backs are coming off solid performances and are a major reason why the Cowboys came out on top against the Minnesota Vikings in week 11.
Elliott has all the momentum coming into this matchup. He ran for over 100 yards in his last game, for the first time this season. With that 100-yard rushing performance, Elliott ended a nine-game drought of fewer than 100 yards which was the longest of his career. Additionally, he averaged 4.9 yards per carry which were his best this season as well. Elliott is going to want the ball in his hands especially after his most productive performance of the season.
As for Pollard, he also needs the ball in his hands whether it be in the air or on the ground. Like Elliott, Pollard arguably had his best of the season. He ran five times for 60 yards and a touchdown. His 42-yard rushing touchdown early in the fourth quarter gave the Cowboys the lead 24-21. His touchdown certainly changed the momentum of the game. Pollard has shown his potential and his speed which makes it difficult for defenders to tackle.
Look for Elliott and Pollard to be involved a lot to relieve the pressure off of Andy Dalton.
Protect Andy Dalton
The Cowboys’ offensive line has played much better as of late. They have only conceded three sacks in their past two games against the Steelers and Vikings. They now face a Washington Football Team that ranks fifth in the NFL in sacks per game (3.2).
Although the Cowboys’ offensive line has protected their quarterbacks better, their last meeting with Washington was a blood bath. In week 7, Washington sacked Dalton and Ben DiNucci six times. Moreover, the Washington defensive was all over Dallas’ quarterbacks including knocking Dalton out of the game with an illegal hit. No Cowboys quarterback in that matchup was able to get any time in the pocket.
As a result, the offensive line has to step up and be physical with that vicious Washington defense.
X- Factors: Aldon Smith & DeMarcus Lawrence
If the Cowboys can collapse the pocket against Alex Smith, the Cowboys will come out victorious in this matchup. In recent weeks, the Cowboys have been able to bring an immense amount of pressure upon opposing quarterbacks. Although the Cowboys rank 19th in sacks per game (1.9), they can get to quarterbacks with their talented stars.
Two players that have been causing offensive linemen trouble are Aldon Smith and DeMarcus Lawrence. Smith (5) and Lawrence (3.5) lead the Cowboys in sacks. They also lead the team in quarterback hits, Smith has 10 quarterback hits while Lawrence has six. They also both rank top three on the Cowboys in tackles for loss.
These two X-factors need to cause havoc on that weak Washington offensive line. Washington ranks 29th in the NFL in sacks given up per game (3.2). Not only are sacks important, but so is containing Antonio Gibson in the backfield. The last time these teams faced off, Gibson had his best performance of the season. He rushed 20 times for 128 yards and a touchdown.
Smith and Lawrence are the difference makers in this matchup. If they can step up, collapse the pocket and prevent Gibson from having those big runs, the Cowboys will be atop the NFC East after the game.
Featured Image Courtesy of Athlon Sports