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Even against struggling Colts, Cowboys need to prove they’re contenders on Sunday night

NFL: New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The path to the Cowboys rematch with the Eagles starts now.

The Sunday after Thanksgiving is always an interesting one for Cowboys fans. You’re finishing up leftovers, checking out a team or two that you haven’t watched much this season, and in case of this past week, staying up late to see if the Packers could help your cause with a win at the Eagles. Though Aaron Rodgers, and later on Jordan Love, kept it close, the Eagles defended home field and won 40-33. With the next Cowboys-Eagles meeting on Christmas Eve now in sight on both team’s schedules, Dallas still has their work cut out for them to catch Philadelphia, but they start a stretch of three games they should be the favorites in before that.

The Cowboys have almost everything working for them in this Sunday’s primetime matchup against the Colts, who are still adjusting to new head coach Jeff Saturday and coming off a Monday night loss at home to the Steelers. The Cowboys will be the more rested team with better talent on both sides of the ball, with a pass rush that can go to work against a Colts offense allowing over 3.5 sacks a game - the worst mark in the entire league.

Of course, for the Cowboys defense to do it’s thing and guide Mike McCarthy’s team to another win, the offense will also need to do their part and put up points. This hasn’t been a problem with Dak Prescott back in the lineup, with the Cowboys playing incredibly complementary football, but it wasn’t in their last meeting with the Colts.

Serving as a reminder of just how far both teams have come, the Cowboys last game versus the Colts is a real blast from the past. It came in Week 15 of 2018, and Marlon Mack scored two touchdowns with Adam Vinatieri kicking three field goals. Those 23 points were more than enough as now-Bears head coach Matt Eberflus led a Colts defense that shutout a Cowboys offense called by Scott Linehan.

This loss still stands as the only shutout in Dak Prescott’s career, with Ezekiel Elliott and Cole Beasley being his leading receivers. Fast forward to this season, and it may still be Dan Quinn’s defense that has the Cowboys in position for the NFC’s top seed, but Kellen Moore’s offense is proving each week why they’re capable of winning any style game. Instead of the stagnant offense that Linehan called, Moore is blending run concepts that keep Elliott and Tony Pollard fresh with high percentage throws that has Prescott carving up defenses. Against a Colts defense that just allowed rookie Kenny Pickett to complete over 71% of his passes and allowed 22 first downs on the ground, there’s little excuse for this Cowboys-Colts meeting to feel anything like that forgetful 2018 game.

The same will likely be said about the Cowboys upcoming games versus the Texans and at the Jaguars, and avoiding another letdown like their loss at the Packers is critical to keep pressure on the Eagles. The Cowboys have excelled at taking teams out of their game plan and dictating the flow of games this season, something that bodes well against a Colts team searching for their identity. It will also be another good test for their run defense, as Indy can still run the ball behind Quenton Nelson with Jonathan Taylor. Michael Pittman and Paris Campbell are threats at receiver that will force the Cowboys to be disciplined if this game stays close throughout, catching passes from a proven veteran like Matt Ryan.

At a point in the season where contenders and pretenders will get sorted out quickly, the amount of parity is at an all-time high in the NFL right now. The Colts are squarely in the middle of the pack as a team that can play spoiler on any given Sunday, but a formidable enough opponent for the Cowboys to score style points if they play like they have against the Vikings or Giants on Thanksgiving. The last win for the Cowboys against the Colts is still a memorable 42-10 triumph from AT&T Stadium that clinched the NFC East in 2014. There’s no scenario where the Cowboys clinch even a playoff berth this Sunday night, but in a division where all four teams currently hold a playoff spot, truer words than waiting all day for Sunday night may have never been spoken when it comes to Cowboys faithful this weekend.


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