4:30 PM EST, CBS – Line: Cowboys -6.5, Over/Under: 46.5
Happy Thanksgiving from everyone here at Oracle Sports, as we enjoy this annual holiday stuffed with football, with the Dallas Cowboys playing host to the upstart Buffalo Bills in a classic rematch of Super Bowls past, from AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. While they haven’t captured the headlines of many other teams in the league (let alone their counterpart today), the Bills (8-3, 2nd in AFC East) are certainly one of the better stories in the NFL thus far, off to their best start since 1996. Credit must go to Sean McDermott and his Coaching Staff for the job that they’ve done in the nearly three years since he arrived in Western New York; in his first season, he snapped Buffalo’s dubious 17-Year Playoff Drought, and after a (necessary) step backwards in 2018, has his charges poised for their second postseason appearance in three years, which is something that this franchise hasn’t accomplished since the late 1990s. So how have they gotten to this point, you ask? Well, with the Defense continuing to play at a high level, this is a club that has experienced some significant growth on the offensive side of the football, which was of course by design. Alongside General Manager, Brandon Beane, and Offensive Coordinator, Brian Daboll, McDermott has overseen a thorough renovation of the Offense, with the Bills completely rebuilding the Offensive Line, while adding some subtly good pieces in the Passing Game. No team saw more change up front than the Bills, who entered this season with four new Starters along the Line, with Interior Linemen such as Mitch Morse and Quentin Spain arriving in Free Agency, and Right Tackle Cody Ford acquired in the NFL Draft. As a result, the Running Game has improved dramatically, churning out 139.2 Yards per Game (5th Overall) on 4.7 Yards per Carry (7th Overall), with a platoon of figures enjoying success behind this collection of road-graders. Rookie Tailback, Devin Singletary’s (84 CAR, 490 YDS, 5.8 Y/C, 2 TD), emergence made LeSean McCoy expendable earlier in the campaign, working in tandem with the ageless Frank Gore (137 CAR, 541 YDS, 3.9 Y/C, 2 TD), who at 36-Years Old continues to be a factor, passing Hall of Famer, Barry Sanders, for Third on the All-Time Rushing List in last weekend’s 20-3 victory over the Denver Broncos. Also factoring heavily into the ground game is Sophomore Quarterback, Josh Allen (60.2%, 2,360 YDS, 6.11 NY/A, 15 TD, 8 INT, 85.9 PR), who has quietly enjoyed a solid second term, showing concrete signs as to why Buffalo was so high on him when they selected the very raw product out of Wyoming Seventh Overall in the 2018 NFL Draft. At 6-5, 237 lbs, Allen is a load to take down in the open field, rushing for 387 Yards and a team-high Seven Touchdowns thus far. However, the 23-Year Old is a Quarterback, and everything that Management did in the Offseason was geared to improving his performance as a Passer, which to the delight of the faithful in Buffalo, has happened, albeit incrementally. It’s amazing what quality protection, a consistent running game, and better targets can do for a young Quarterback’s development, with Allen exhibiting growth across the board, posting career-bests in a slew of categories including Completion Percentage (60.2%), Touchdown Percentage (4.4%), Interception Percentage (2.3%), Yards per Attempt (6.9), Yards per Game (214.5), Net Yards per Attempt (6.11), Sack Percentage (6.3%), and Passer Rating (85.9). Both John Brown (58 CAR, 856 YDS, 14.8 Y/R, 5 TD) and Cole Beasley (49 REC, 525 YDS, 10.7 Y/R, 4 TD) were understated acquisitions in Free Agency, and after serving as little more than bit parts in previous stops, have really flourished in Daboll’s system. Now on his third team in as many years, the former is enjoying a career campaign as the club’s primary target in the passing game, with his speed stretching opposing Defenses so that Beasley can move the chains out of the Slot. Eleven games into the season, and this unit is really starting to come together, posting a season-high 424 Total Yards in each of the last two games, victories over the struggling Miami Dolphins (37-20) and Denver Broncos (20-3). When we last saw them, they went about their business pummeling Denver, rushing for a season-best 244 Yards against what had been one of the better Defenses in the league over the past few years. The triumvirate of Allen (56 YDS), Gore (65 YDS), and Singletary (106 YDS) was in full effect last Sunday, ruthlessly moving the chains throughout the affair, converting on 8-of-16 Third Downs, and possessing the football for a commanding 35:04. Though he didn’t have to do much as a passer (15-of-25, 185 YDS), Allen struck downfield on a number of occasions, hitting both Beasley and Brown for Touchdowns, the former on an 18-Yard Strike early in the Third Quarter, and the latter on a beautiful 34-Yard Bomb in the early stages of the final stanza. If this group can continue to grow at this rate, then the Bills could be a tricky team come the Playoffs, for the Defense continues to be one of the more consistently stout units in the NFL. McDermott’s troops rank Third Overall in Points Allowed (15.7), Total Defense (288.7), Pass Defense (184.3), and Net Yards per Attempt Allowed (5.0), and are coming off of their most dominant effort of the term, allowing season-lows in Points (3), Total Yards (134), Passing Yards (49), and First Downs (9) against the listless Broncos.
Meanwhile, tension is mounting once again in Big D, where the Cowboys (6-5, 1st in NFC East) have captured headlines for all the wrong reasons. If you paid attention to Sports News over the past few days, you’d never know that this is a team sitting in First Place in their Division, and that’s rather the point; given the volume of talent littered across their roster, and their statistical showing in 2019, this is a club that you would expect to be among the elite in the NFC, vying for home field in the Playoffs. Instead, their clinging to First Place within the largely mediocre NFC East, owning a one-game lead over the fading Philadelphia Eagles, while a host of other teams have surpassed them in the overall standings. And with that said, as is his prerogative, the team’s outspoken Owner, Jerry Jones, put his Coaching Staff on notice following Dallas’ narrow 9-13 loss at the New England Patriots last weekend. Essentially, Jones openly criticized his Staff’s (I.E. Jason Garrett) inability to consistently get the most out of a team that led the league in Pro-Bowl selections in 2018, directly after a contest in which some minor mistakes, particularly on Special Teams, ultimately cost them a game against the reigning Super Bowl Champions that was absolutely within their grasp. Of course, Jones is correct in his criticism, and now that he’s being forced to hand out hefty contracts to a number of key personnel, the emphasis on bringing a Lombardi Trophy back to Arlington for the first time since 1995 has never been greater. And to juxtapose his side’s shortcomings against the Patriots was rather brilliant in our opinion. Coming into the game, the Cowboys were clearly the more talented team on paper, and Jones immediately began his statement by gushing over New England Head Coach, Bill Belichick’s, prowess on Special Teams, and how that particular loss was a crushing blow to not only his team’s place within the NFC’s hierarchy, but to their credibility as well. You see, Dallas has developed a troubling habit of coming up short against some of the better teams in the league, with four out of their five defeats coming against opponents over .500, the Offense stalling on 16.8 Points per Game despite racking up 396.0 Total Yards, though losing the Turnover Battle in definitive fashion, 8-1. Garrett’s charges are the only team in the NFL to rank within the Top-7 in Points Scored (26.8) and Allowed (19.1), Total Offense (441.9) and Defense (318.0), Passing Offense (312.1) and Defense (213.6), Net Yards per Attempt For (8.12) and Against (5.7), Rushing Offense (129.8) and Yards per Carry (4.6), and Third Down Offense (48.5%) and Defense (31.4%), though are nonetheless meandering a game over .500. In rainy, windy conditions at Gillette Stadium, the Defense did their part in relegating Tom Brady & Co. to a meager 282 Total Yards on Seventeen First Downs, limiting the three-time MVP to a season-worst 17-of-37 Passing for 190 Yards and sacking him twice (hitting him on six occasions), and holding strong on Third Down (3-of-14), while also owning Time of Possession (30:22). However, their own star-studded Offense could do very little to threaten New England’s Defense, amassing 321 Total Yards on Sixteen First Downs, going 2-of-13 on Third Down and 0-of-1 on Fourth, with fourth-year Quarterback, Dak Prescott (66.8%, 3,433 YDS, 8.14 NY/A, 21 TD, 10 INT, 100.8 PR), completing a season-worst 19-of-33 Passes for 212 Yards and a crucial Interception on a throw intended for Amari Cooper, who was shutout on Two Targets, the last of which was his side’s desperate failed attempt on Fourth Down, which after initially being called a Catch, was overturned in short order. Immediately preceding that play was a crucial Tripping Penalty called on Dallas’ Offensive Line on 3rd & 1 from their own 35-Yard Line with 2:00 left to play in the game putting a halt to a Drive that began in promising fashion. Of course, this was only the last in a long line of mistakes that altered the complexion of the affair, which began when Cowboys’ Punter, Chris Jones, saw his final attempt of the First Quarter blocked by Patriots’ Special Teams ace, Matthew Slater, granting the hosts possession at the visitor’s 12-Yard Line, leading to Brady’s 10-Yard Touchdown to Rookie Receiver, N’Keal Harry, two plays later, which was coincidentally the game’s lone Touchdown. At the end of the day, Garrett and his Staff were outcoached, which is clearly the opinion that Jones expressed shortly after the game’s conclusion, which is something that has happened all too often throughout Garrett’s lengthy tenure in Dallas. Since taking over midway through the 2010 season, the former Cowboys’ Backup Quarterback turned Offensive Coordinator has gone 83-64 (.565) with three NFC East Titles to his credit, though has failed to guide his side past the Division Round of the Playoffs. During his reign the Offense has ranked in the Top-7 on five occasions in both Total Yards and Points Scored, while the Defense has earned that distinction in Total Yards allowed in each of the past three seasons. Though it may come off as a harsh assessment, the general consensus is that Dallas has underachieved under his watch, though Jones must play the role of culprit in this regard, for he has retained his Head Coach’s services far longer than most would have expected, when many of his predecessors were terminated for far less. While we highly doubt that Garrett will be removed before the conclusion of the Regular Season, it sure does seem like he and the franchise with which he’s spent so many years with are speeding towards an inevitable divorce, spelling the end of an era in Arlington.