Dallas Cowboys (8-4, 9-3 ATS) at Washington Football Team (6-6, 5-7), 1 p.m.
Brolley’s Cowboys Stats and Trends
Dallas is 5-1 ATS in its last six road games and 6-2 ATS in its last eight games as a favorite.
The Cowboys are 5-1 toward unders in their last six games.
It’s been painfully obvious that Tony Pollard is the more dynamic playmaker over Ezekiel Elliott in recent weeks, and he showed it once again in their TNF victory over the Saints. Pollard gave the Cowboys a chance to win on Thanksgiving Day with a kick-return TD in Week 12, and he put the Cowboys in a position to win with a game-breaking 58-yard touchdown run in Week 13. He finished with 9/74/1 scrimmage (8.2 YPT) on just 40% of the snaps while a clearly hobbled Zeke stumbled to 15/47 scrimmage (3.1 YPT) on 64% of the snaps. Zeke is averaging just 3.2 YPC on 45 carries and 4.5 YPR on 17 catches over his last four games, while Pollard is averaging 5.7 YPC on 35 carries and 7.9 YPR on 14 catches in that same span. To the detriment of this offense, Zeke and owner Jerry Jones have too much pride to sit Elliott down for a week or two to heal. He will get 10 days to rest after playing on TNF in Week 13, but he’s shaping up as an RB2 moving forward who will have to score and/or rack up catches to come through since he’s lacking in explosive plays. Pollard is now dealing with his own injury that could hinder him moving after tearing the left plantar fascia in his foot on his long TD run against the Saints. Washington is giving up the fewest rushing yards per game (63.8) and just 3.6 YPC to RBs this season.
Dak Prescott has fallen below 13 FP in two of his last three games, but he’s been playing with less than a full deck at wide receiver in that span. The Cowboys’ skill players should be back close to full strength this week, and Prescott has still accounted for multiple TD passes in eight of his 11 contests this season. Washington is still giving up the most FPG (23.2) and the most TD passes per game (2.2) to QBs this season, but they’ve tightened up in recent weeks. They’ve held four of the last five QBs they’ve faced to fewer than 20 FP after allowing six straight QBs to reach 20+ FP in Weeks 2-7.
CeeDee Lamb was busy in his return to the lineup after missing the second half of Week 11 and all of Week 12 with a concussion. He posted 7/89 receiving on 13 targets and he added a 33-yard rush for 19.2 FP against the Saints. Lamb has 17+ FP and 80+ receiving yards in five of his last six full contests. Washington has been scorched by slot WRs Hunter Renfrow (9/102 receiving) and Tyler Lockett (3/96) in the last two weeks.
The Cowboys limited Amari Cooper to 34% of the snaps last week in his first game back from COVID-19, and he should be back to being a full-time player this week with 10 days to get ready. It’s been six weeks since Amari had a fantasy-relevant moment with 8/122/1 receiving against the Vikings in late October as he dealt with a hamstring injury before getting COVID. Coop feasted in this matchup last season with a combined 13/192/1 receiving in two games last season.
Michael Gallup has seen 8+ targets with exactly five catches in each of the last three games with Cooper out (Weeks 11-12) or limited (Week 13). The Cowboys have played just one full contest with their full WR corps in Week 10, and Gallup managed 3/42 receiving on five targets in his first game back from a seven-week absence for a calf injury. Washington is giving up the sixth-most receiving yards per game (182.8) to WRs this season.
Brolley’s Football Team Stats and Trends
The Football Team has won and covered in four straight games since their bye.
Washington scored outright wins as underdogs in both matchups with the Cowboys last season, and they covered both contests by an average margin of +25 points.
The Football Team is 6-1 toward unders in their last seven games.
Antonio Gibson has seen 19+ carries in every game since their Week 9 bye, and he’s averaging 23.8/89.5 rushing and 3.5/18.0 receiving per game with three TDs in that span. He did throw up one mini-airball with 8.5 FP against Carolina in Week 11, but he managed 21+ FP in his three other games during Washington’s winning streak. J.D. McKissic (concussion) is on track to return this week and Washington enters as four-point home underdogs, so there’s a chance this week’s gamescript could work against him for the first time since before their bye. He’s at least been a little more involved as a receiver in recent weeks, and they’ve been committed to feeding him in recent weeks to make him less volatile. Dallas is giving up a solid 4.3 YPC but the third-fewest FPG (20.0) to the position.
Taylor Heinicke has reached 16+ FP just twice in his last eight games, and he’s averaging just 29.8 passing attempts per game during Washington’s four-game winning streak. He completed 23/30 passes for 196 yards (6.5 YPA), two TDs, and one INT and he added 3/10 rushing in their victory over the Raiders in Week 13. He could be pushed to throw it a little more this week with Washington entering this week as four-point underdogs, and the Cowboys have given up 21+ FP to Taysom Hill and Derek Carr in the last two games.
Terry McLaurin has finished with fewer than 12 FP eight times this season after posting a season-worst 3/22 receiving on five targets against the Raiders last week. He’s posted 21+ FP and 1+ TDs in his four other contests so he’s been a complete boom-or-bust option this season. He feasted in this matchup last year 7+ catches and 90+ yards in both games, and the Cowboys are giving up an extremely generous 14.7 YPR to WRs this season.
Ricky Seals-Jones nearly returned to the lineup in Week 13 after getting limited practices in with his hip injury, but Washington ultimately gave him another week to rest. They’ll need him starting this week after Logan Thomas picked up a season-ending knee injury in their victory over the Raiders. RSJ had a solid run earlier this season when Thomas missed time, posting 4+ catches in three straight games in Weeks 5-7. He was a full-time player during that stretch with 99% of the snaps or more in Week 5-8, but rookie John Bates has become more of a factor in recent weeks with 57% of the snaps or more since Washington emerged from their Week 9 bye. The Cowboys are giving up the 11th-most FPG (13.8) to TEs this season after Nick Vannett went for 3/48 receiving last week.
Barfield’s Pace and Tendencies
Pace (seconds in between plays): 24.6 (1st)
Plays per game: 68.0 (3rd)
Pass: 66.0% (5th) | Run: 34.0% (28th)
Pace: 30.6 (30th)
Plays per game: 67.4 (5th)
Pass: 55.7% (26th) | Run: 44.3% (7th)
All pace / play data is from the last eight weeks.
After losing four-straight going into their bye in Week 9, Washington has come out of their week off like a brand new team. They’ve won four-straight as their defense has tightened and their offense has controlled the clock. Over their last four games, their defense has limited their opponents (Buccaneers / Panthers / Seahawks / Raiders) to 21 or fewer points while the offense leads the league in time of possession per drive (3:45) and ranks third in plays per game (70.1). That formula is obviously working, but they’ll face their stiffest test since Tampa Bay (in Week 10) here with Dallas.
The Cowboys have been a bit of Jekyll & Hyde as of late, trading good games for bad games offensively. Dallas never really got into a rhythm on TNF last week against New Orleans, especially in the second-half as they stalled for four three-and-outs. While Washington plays slow and runs a ton, Dallas has the complete opposite approach and ranks top-5 in pace, plays, and pass rate over the last eight weeks.
I know we talked about Washington improving defensively, but the larger sample still points to their secondary being one to target. Over the full season, Washington has allowed the sixth-highest completion rate (68.4%) and the most fantasy points per pass attempt (0.62). This game is the No. 1 rated matchup in the pace / plays model with Dallas playing fast and both teams sustaining offense. If Dallas builds a lead and forces Washington to play a bit faster, this game has a great chance to be a shootout.
Huber’s Key Matchup Notes
For the second-straight week, Antonio Gibson took on at least 20% of the target share. Wendell Smallwood was targeted twice on three routes, but that summarizes the extent of his role. The last time Gibson faced Dallas (Week 12 of last season), he generated 39.6 FPs during Washington’s 41-16 Thanksgiving Day victory. The presence of Dak Prescott will undoubtedly alter the dynamic of the matchup, but this is still a spot designed for Gibson to succeed. His 17.1 FPs from Week 13 may not highlight the importance he played, but he touched the ball on 46% of his team’s offensive snaps, and accounted for 37% of the yardage production toward claiming their fourth-straight victory.
I love the general potential of Dak Prescott, but Washington has completely flipped the script on passing game allowances during their four-game winning streak. I’ve gotta admit, the fact that WFT has held opposing offenses to 17.4 PPG the last five weeks concerns — bordering on scares — me. That number would rank third-lowest compared to the full season allowances.
Dolan’s Vantage Points
The Cowboys’ run game is a mess right now, and it’s because Ezekiel Elliott clearly isn’t healthy as he works through a knee injury. It’s made him very difficult to start with confidence.
Here’s Graham from Start/Sit:
“Again, this is one of those situations where you might not have any other options besides Zeke – and that’s OK! This has been a brutal year for injuries and there are only about 12-14 no-brainer starts at RB this week. However, you know what the issue is with Zeke at this point. He’s clearly running at way less than 100% and even though he’s had a long week to get treatment on his knee, the recent sample of games Zeke has put together is awful. And that’s putting it mildly. Over the last month, Zeke has turned in a Myles Gaskin-like 3.2 YPC and 4.5 YPR and averaged 11.3 carries and 35.8 yards rushing in this stretch. The Cowboys would be wise to shut down Zeke and get him back to full strength for the playoffs but Zeke himself has said he’s going to keep playing though it. Right now, you’re playing Zeke for a few goal-line TD plunges – especially in this matchup. Washington’s run defense has been strong even without Chase Young and Montez Sweat as The Team has given up just 3.64 YPC (fifth-fewest), 8.1 rushing fantasy points per game (second-fewest), and 55.1 yards per game (fewest) to opposing backs over the last eight weeks. Zeke projects like an RB2 because of his TD equity, but he’s a shaky FLEX without a score or two.”
But here’s the problem — the clearly more explosive Tony Pollard is now hurt too! On a long TD run last week against the Saints, Pollard suffered a torn plantar fascia and appears truly questionable to play this week:
Cowboys RB Tony Pollard said he still feels pain from his plantar fascia tear. “They say once you tear it, it actually heals better, and you don’t feel it as much. I’m waiting until I get to that point.” Not there yet.— Michael Gehlken (@GehlkenNFL) December 9, 2021
It’s hard to know how severe injuries are. A compete rupture seems unlikely but these are still extremely painful. Pollard is at high risk to sit and if active, likely to be hobbled. Conversely Zeke is a full participant again. Old (best available) data shows ~2 week injury https://t.co/gjfcnyGY9Y pic.twitter.com/T8dnT9GkoK— Edwin Porras, DPT (@FBInjuryDoc) December 9, 2021
So we’re back to where we started, and a potentially sluggish Zeke is likely a better play than Pollard. Zeke is an RB2, as Graham said, because of his higher likelihood of scoring TDs, while Pollard is a very volatile FLEX. It does appear that Zeke is feeling better after the mini-bye:
Meanwhile, the Cowboys have a #1 receiver, at least in the eyes of opposing defenses, and it’s CeeDee Lamb, whom our Greg Cosell said was the focus of the Saints’ defense last week. And the fantasy opportunity suggests the Cowboys view it that way too. Here’s Scott Barrett from XFP on Lamb:
“Lamb has led Dallas’ WRs in XFP in 9 of his 10 healthy games this year, averaging 17.6 XFP/G. That ranks 8th-most among WRs, sandwiched in between Justin Jefferson (18.4) and Stefon Diggs (16.7).”
Don’t mistake Dak Prescott’s stinker in a primetime spot last week for a sign that he’s not a trustworthy QB1: Prescott has finished as a top-12 scoring QB in 8-of-11 games and has scored 20+ FP in 7-of-11. He’s certainly a QB1 this week against Washington.
Over his last four games, Gibson has handled a monster 26, 19, 36, and 28 touches. He’s scored 20+ FP in three of his last 4. Gibson’s 82% snap rate in Week 13 (without McKissic) was a career-high. So if McKissic does return, the ceiling for Gibson might lower, but since Washington’s bye apparently helped Gibson’s shin heal up, he truly has seen that Christian McCaffrey-like usage we had been pining for since summer. He’s still an RB1, whether or not McKissic clears protocol (McKissic is questionable).
Here’s Scott Barrett from XFP with more on Gibson:
“Gibson has hit at least 21.5 fantasy points in 3 of his last 4 games. Prior to last week, he had only 1 career game with over 20 carries and just 2 career games with at least 5 receptions. He hit both marks in each of the last 2 weeks. Since the team’s bye, he averages 24.5 carries, 4.0 targets, 21.6 XFP/G (4th), and 18.5 FPG (8th). We dug in deep on him last week here.”
Washington put TE Logan Thomas (knee) on season-ending IR this week, which will open a potentially significant opportunity. In games Thomas has missed this year, both Ricky Seals-Jones and rookie John Bates have seen massive snap shares as part of a predominantly 11-personnel attack. But RSJ himself is coming off a hip injury of his own.
TE Ricky Seals-Jones (hip) was on the field running routes during the portion of practice open to media https://t.co/wKaI3efvxw— Sam Fortier (@Sam4TR) December 9, 2021
I’d love to be able to say to just fire up RSJ like he’s 85% of Thomas, and he doesn’t have an injury designation for this game, but I wouldn’t be shocked to see Bates work in here to get targets from Taylor Heinicke. RSJ is definitely the better play though.