One of the NFL's most recognizable rivalries resumes on Sunday as the Dallas Cowboys host the Washington Commanders. Dallas has dominated the series with its longtime divisional rival lately, winning nine of the past 12 meetings.
Last season, the Cowboys demolished Washington at home 56-14 while winning the earlier meeting 27-20. The games came 14 days apart, with Dak Prescott throwing for five touchdowns total in the victories. However, they'll have to go at it without their star quarterback this week, as he remains sidelined after undergoing thumb surgery.
The Cowboys (2-1) are actually 2-0 without Prescott, dispatching the Giants 23-16 on "Monday Night Football" in their latest win. Cooper Rush was an efficient 21-of-31 passing for 215 yards and one touchdown. He got help from Tony Pollard, who was better than Ezekiel Elliott, as he ran for 105 yards on 13 carries. The defense was spectacular as usual, although Micah Parsons ended up with just one tackle. One mild concern is that Dallas allowed the Giants to average 6.7 yards per carry although it didn't matter in the end.
Meanwhile, Carson Wentz laid a massive egg against his former team as the quarterback showed all the faults he had in Indianapolis and Philadelphia. Wentz held the ball too long, leading to nine sacks and a pair of fumbles. When the signal-caller actually got time, he airmailed several throws and was completely inaccurate until garbage time when he led them down to the team's only touchdown drive in the 24-8 loss. Jalen Hurts sliced up Washington's defense to the tune of 340 yards and three touchdowns. The Commanders (1-2) were without cornerback William Jackson III, but he's also had some problems in his second season in DC.
Washington (1-2) at Dallas (2-1)
Three Things to Watch
Washington alternates home and away contests all the way until Week 11 but a much bigger factor is will Carson Wentz bounce back after a rough day at the office last Sunday. It had to be emotional for Wentz facing the team that drafted him, but he has to regroup and get back to how we played in the first two games. He is 4-4 in eight career starts against Dallas, although with a nice 14:4 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Meanwhile, the Cowboys are dealing with a short week, although they won on Monday night so there should be some positive carryover headed into this game. This also is an important contest with back-to-back road games against the Rams and Eagles looming.
2. Keep on keeping on
Although nothing is official, Dak Prescott is not expected to return for this game. That means it will be Cooper Rush under center and so far the game plan involving the backup QB has been fantastic. Offensive coordinator Kellen Moore has not asked Rush to do too much and he has responded by not only playing mistake-free football he's completing 63 percent of his passes and also helping the team average 364 yards in his two starts. And he's done it without a full complement of weapons but that may change this week with the expectation that wide receiver Michael Gallup and tight end Dalton Schultz will both return. Gallup has not seen the field since his ACL tear last year, while Schultz missed last week's game after suffering a PCL injury in Week 2. Prescott could be back next week, so this may be Rush's last shot leading the offense. And he may be able to go out on a high note with Washington's defense giving up 402.7 yards per game (26th) and dealing with persistent communication issues on that side of the ball.
3. Change the game plan
All the attention will be on Wentz's failures last Sunday, but a lot of the blame falls on Washington offensive coordinator Scott Turner, whose game plan needed to change once he saw his quarterback getting killed in the pocket. The Cowboys lead the league with 13 sacks, coming from six different players. Micah Parsons (4), DeMarcus Lawrence (3), and Dorance Armstrong (3) have been the leaders thus far, but the depth of Dallas' pass rush will present a problem to a Commanders' offensive line that's already lost center Chase Roullier to injury. This group is still better than the O-line the Giants field, and they opened up enough holes to lead to 167 rushing yards (6.7 ypc) on Monday night. However, running the ball has not been Washington's strength (86.7 ypg, 24th) thus far but Turner can't abandon those play calls and also needs to dial up some short passes to help out his QB and keep the Cowboys' sack specialists at bay.
It's hard to have any confidence in Washington entering this game. Dallas has everything clicking while the Commanders are struggling on both sides of the ball. I do think they can try and shorten this game by running it more but neither Antonio Gibson nor J.D. McKissic is a true between-the-tackles option. Vegas believes this will be a tight game with such a short spread and, for some reason, I agree. Rivalries bring out weird results from time to time. I still think the home team wins on Sunday.
Prediction: Cowboys 24, Commanders 20
— Written by Matt Josephs, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @MidMajorMatt.
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