Ezekiel Elliott and the Cowboys look to bounce back at home against the Jaguars
The Dallas Cowboys and Jacksonville Jaguars have a lot in common offensively. Each team was responsible for taking the first running back at No. 4 overall in back-to-back drafts (Dallas in 2016 and Jacksonville in '17).
On top of that, the quarterbacks for each team are relied on as game managers more than anything. The offensive identities are built around the run game. The problem is only one team’s star running back has been consistently available throughout the 2018 season.
Leonard Fournette has been dealing with a lingering hamstring injury that has limited him to only two starts and 24 total touches in his second season in the NFL. Meanwhile, Ezekiel Elliott has racked up 635 total yards (480 rushing, 155 receiving) and three total touchdowns on 115 touches.
The good news for Jacksonville is the Jags field one of the league's top defenses. Will it be enough to go on the road and take down a team coming off a 19-16 overtime loss to Houston?
Jacksonville at Dallas
Kickoff: Sunday, Oct. 14 at 4:25 p.m. ET
Spread: Jacksonville -3
Three Things to Watch
1. The Jaguars’ new depth at running back
First, it was starting running back Leonard Fournette (hamstring), who the entire offense was built around. Then, it was a season-ending injury to Corey Grant (Lisfranc injury). Those two events forced the Jaguars to go out and bring in more depth at the position.
The team came up with two (possibly three) solutions. The first move was adding two former Denver Broncos. Jamaal Charles, one of the league’s most dynamic runners since being drafted by the Kansas City Chiefs in the third round of the 2008 NFL Draft, was one. The other was undrafted free agent rookie out of Arkansas, David Williams.
Of course, T.J. Yeldon will continue to be the starter in Jacksonville while Fournette is out. The former second-round pick out of Alabama has gained 452 total yards (258 rushing, 194 receiving) and scored four touchdowns despite only having two starts this season. It’s still worth monitoring the newfound depth, however.
2. Location, location, location
The Cowboys’ home-away splits couldn’t be more opposite. That’s apparent when you see that all three losses have come on the road. As if that wasn’t enough, the team has only averaged 12.3 points while away from AT&T Bank Stadium.
At home, things have been a completely different story. Dallas is a perfect 2-0 while averaging 23 points per game at home. The most recent was a 26-24 come-from-behind victory over the Detroit Lions in Week 4.
The Jaguars struggled on the road last week against the Chiefs. The 30-14 loss was ugly, to say the least. The defense did force Patrick Mahomes into his first two interceptions of the season (vs. league-high 14 TDs), but Blake Bortles turned the ball over five times. They can’t afford that type of repeat performance from their quarterback.
3. Allen Hurns’ facing his former team
Hurns’ success in the NFL is a feel-good story. The former Miami receiver went undrafted before signing with the Jaguars in 2014. He then proceeded to record 189 catches for 2,669 yards and 21 touchdowns in four seasons with the team.
The only issue for the 26-year-old receiver was injuries. That limited him to 11 games in 2016 and only 10 in '17, which is why the Jaguars decided to part ways with him during the offseason.
The Cowboys quickly swooped in and signed Hurns to a two-year deal worth up to $12 million. That’s great and all, but it hasn’t translated to success on the field. In five games, he’s only brought in eight receptions for 84 yards. His lone touchdown came last week against the Texans on a three-yard score, which was his only catch of the game.
It’ll be interesting to see if Dallas tries to get Hurns more involved against his former team. That could prove to be difficult if he ends up drawing a start opposite All-Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey, who is questionable for Sunday's game with a knee injury.
It would be surprising if either team’s offense found consistent success on Sunday. The Jaguars have been ravaged by injuries on that side of the football.
The two running backs have already been mentioned. But Jacksonville also will be without its top two left tackles (Cam Robinson and Josh Wells) and starting tight end (Austin Seferian-Jenkins). Other offensive linemen who have been dealing with some sort of injury include Andrew Norwell (foot), A.J. Cann (triceps) and Brandon Linder (knee).
In the end, that’s going to be too much to overcome. Jacksonville should continue to be a playoff contender as the team gets healthy, but that won’t be reflected this week. Dallas will lean heavily on its first-round running back down the stretch, and that ends up being the difference in the game.
Prediction: Cowboys 20, Jaguars 17
— Written by Clint Lamb, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @ClintRLamb.