Week 12 opponent: The Dallas Cowboys
Record: 9-1 (best in the NFL)
Last result: 27-17 victory over the Baltimore Ravens at home
Overview: Dallas kicked off its current nine-game winning streak in Week 2 when it defeated the Washington Redskins, 27-23, at FedEx Field on Sept. 18. Despite boasting the league’s best record, it’s still unclear exactly how good the Cowboys are, given that their defense has major flaws. Their biggest reason for Dallas’s success has been its offense, led by rookie quarterback Dak Prescott and rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott. Despite relying on two rookies, Dallas has done a good job taking care of the football. It is tied for the third fewest giveaways (seven) and holds a plus-three turnover margin.
Biggest threat on offense: The most dangerous offensive player over the years for Dallas has been wide receiver Dez Bryant. Now, it’s Elliott. He leads the league with 1,102 rushing yards and eclipsed the franchise rookie rushing record in just 10 games. The 21-year-old is a troubling playmaker for opposing defenses, especially behind that offensive line. Elliott has 10 total touchdowns and 280 yards receiving to go along with 4.9 yards per carry. Elliott is playing far more like a grown man than mere rookie.
Biggest threat on defense: It’s remarkable the Cowboys are 9-1 given the makeup of this defense. They’re tied for the 12th fewest sacks recorded with 20. They’re tied for the seventh fewest takeaways with 10 turnovers. Outside linebacker Sean Lee might be team’s only Pro Bowl representative on defense with his 91 combined tackles, tied for the fifth-most in the league. The 30-year-old is finally healthy after missing 17 games over the past three seasons. Lee is part of a run defense that’s ranked third in the league, allowing just 84.4 yards per game.
Key injuries: Per Monday’s injury report, cornerback Morris Claiborne (groin) and safety Barry Church (forearm) did not participate. Claiborne has missed the past three games after he “tore a piece of the bone off the pelvis.” Church has also been sidelined the past three contests as well. Defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence (back) and left tackle Tyron Smith (back/hip) were both limited, while Bryant (back) and tackle Chaz Green (foot/back) were full participants. The Cowboys placed guard La’el Collins (toe) on injured reserve back in October, but otherwise they’ve been fairly healthy this season. Their biggest losses outside of Collins have been because of suspensions of linebacker Rolando McClain, who was supposed to conclude a 10-game suspension on Monday but was suspended once again for a year over the weekend for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy, and defensive end Randy Gregory, who is serving a 14-game suspension for violating the same policy.
Jay Gruden’s coach speak: “Bad thing is, we know how good they are, you know? That’s one thing. They are very good on offense right now. They are playing at a high level. And defensively, they’re flying around to the football and getting the job done. But offensively, they can control the clock, they can run it down your throat, they can throw it and they’re playing good, like I said. But we are familiar with them. Obviously, we played them already once this year earlier in the season. You know, we had a three-point lead down there in the red zone with about nine minutes to go and threw the pick and they went down and scored and beat us here, so for us to keep pace in the division and have a chance at a division title, we’ve got to play our best game Thursday.” – Gruden, when asked if it’s beneficial to face a familiar opponent in the Cowboys on a short week.