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Position battleground (offense): Cowboys vs. Colts head-to-head breakdown of the offensive positions

Dallas Cowboys v Indianapolis Colts

A positional head-to-head breakdown of the Week 13 matchup between the Cowboys and Colts to find the strengths and weaknesses of each offensive position.

With the dust fully settled from Thanksgiving and everyone still smiling after witnessing a great win for the Dallas Cowboys against the New York Giants, it’s now time to look at this weeks matchup versus the Indianapolis Colts. The Colts are having a pretty wild season. One minute they are clicking and look like they could be turning a corner, the next minute it’s all fallen apart (like at the end against the Eagles). Which team turns up this week will be the main question people ask on game day. So how does each offensive position on both teams fare in a head-to-head battle?

QUARTERBACK

Dak Prescott vs Matt Ryan

Last week versus the Giants, Dak Prescott looked fully locked in, besides the interceptions. What was good to see was the pre-snap adjustment and Dak’s read of the defense. Moving to the flat, his mobility and the accuracy he was throwing with last week all looked heightened. Dak now looks scary to a defense that is trying to bring the blitz and force pressure. We can talk about the interceptions, but the throws he made to both CeeDee Lamb and Dalton Schultz were pinpoint, and really threaded those tight window throws. Let’s see if Dak can get his wheels moving this week as the Colts passing defense is pretty good, but against the rush they can let up. The Colts have given up 314 rushing yards the last two games.

Matt Ryan, on the other side, looks burnt out, and he’s looked this way for a long time now. Sure he’s thrown for a completion rate of 68%, and his 264 passing yards per game ranks eighth in the league. But here’s the problem with Matty “Ice” - he’s only thrown eleven touchdowns, which is 21st among quarterbacks. He’s also thrown ten interceptions to counter that low limit of strikes, and only two other quarterbacks have thrown more interceptions this year. Compounding problems further, Ryan has been sacked 32 times this year, that’s fourth most. Most will say that’s due to issues with the line, which is true, but a lot of those sacks are down to Ryan misreading the defense and running into the pass rush. Ryan also ranks 24th in offensive grade on PFF, and that’s among 29 other starting quarterbacks. And his ADoT of 6.3 yards is lowest among all starting quarterbacks in the league.

Win: Cowboys (and by some distance)

New York Giants v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images

RUNNINGBACK

Elliott/Pollard vs Taylor/Jackson

This breakdown is similar to last weeks. Where the Cowboys have a phenomenal double act at the running back position, the Colts have one elite back, which they use with exceedingly regularity at the position. Last week, we saw Zeke take control with 92 yards on the ground and a touchdown. What’s more for Zeke is he allowed no pressures on Dak in pass blocking. In fact, you have to go all the way back to Week 3 to find a registered pressure against Zeke. Even with Zeke taking so much of the front page headlines last week, Tony Pollard still had a good night. He managed to rack up 60 yards rushing and some important first downs. Pollards 5.6 yards per carry ranks the best among active running backs with a hundred carries or more.

Jonathon Taylor, even with missing two games, has more rush yards this year than either Pollard and Zeke. Don’t forget this talented back led the league last year in rushing yards and rushing touchdowns. But, he was also one of only three backs last year to have more than 300 attempts on the ground. So far though, the Cowboys duo have more rush yards combined, over 400 yards in fact, than the collection of the Colts. The two weeks Taylor went out, backup running back Deon Jackson only managed to get just over 100 yards rushing in those two games. Jackson also has two games this season on minus yardage. The question right now is how fixed is the Cowboys run defense? Something we are about to find out some more about.

But which running back group is better? Well, Zeke and Pollard have thirteen rushing touchdowns together. Taylor and Jackson, five touchdowns together.

Win: Cowboys

New York Giants v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images

WIDE RECEIVERS

Lamb/Gallup/Brown vs Pittman/Campbell/Pierce

CeeDee Lamb currently leads the NFC East in receiving yards. And in the NFC, only Justin Jefferson has more receiving yards than Lamb. What’s even better for Lamb, and this shows how important he is to this offense, are his 44 receptions for a first down, fifth most among wide receivers in the league. He is slowly turning the narrative from the start of the season around. Michael Gallup is having a progressive uptick over the last three weeks. He’s gone from a 35-yard game at Green Bay, to a 41-yard game against Minnesota, to then a season high last week of 63 receiving yards. Let’s hope this is a trend that continues. More information on James Washington will come soon, but so far Mike McCarthy has said there’s no immediate date for him to return, or rush to bring him back.

The Colts receiver corps is not that bad when you look at it. Michael Pittman had a decent rookie year. He followed that with a great season last year, but this year it’s a little all over the place. This looks more to do with troubles at quarterback in terms of distribution. When given the chance, Pittman can use his size and strength to his advantage, and roll through defensive backs for huge gains. So what’s the problem then? He already has two fumbles this year, three dropped passes, and he just doesn’t make a lot of big plays. When you look at all of that, and see he’s only scored twice this year on 101 targets, it’s frustrating knowing what kind of player Pittman is. Paris Campbell is having a career year for himself. Playing from the slot, he’s got three touchdowns and 454 receiving yards (second most for the Colts this year). Right behind Campbell is rookie receiver Alec Pierce. He’s had some good games for his first year, and does well setting up deep.

Win: Cowboys

New York Giants v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

TIGHT END

Dalton Schultz vs Mo Alie-Cox

Name right now a tight end room more on the rise for a team than what Dallas has. For the complaints that people have on Schultz, last week’s performance shows how important he is for Dak. It’s not just about the touchdowns, but those middle field attack plays where Dak just has an instinct of where Schultz will be and delivers him the ball. One of the main reasons Dak has such a good response to the blitz is his ability to get the ball out there to Schultz. Jake Ferguson looks to be settling into his role, his outing against the Giants was truly great to watch. Let’s see some more of that three tight end formation, defenses are really struggling to defend that.

The Colts tight end group is getting the job done too. Alie-Cox is by far their best blocker, so gets the majority of snaps. He’s managed to score twice this year. Behind Cox is Kylen Granson. He has the most receptions among the tight ends, and the most receiving yards. Watch for him on the practice report as he carries an illness. And they have rookie Jelani Woods. He has the teams most touchdowns at tight end, currently with three.

Win: Push

NFL: NOV 28 Steelers at Colts Photo by Jeffrey Brown/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

OFFENSIVE LINE

The left side of the Cowboys offensive line is about to be as dominant as the right. Tyron Smith is inching closer to full health, and McCarthy mentioned how close he is this week. The combination of Zack Martin and Terence Steele over on the right is now becoming a key part of this team’s strong running game. When the team gets Tyron Smith on the left, this line looks as promising as ever going into a post-season. The Cowboys line is still the best in the league in sacks allowed, and has the ninth fewest pressures.

For the Colts, it’s the opposite for them. They are fourth worst in pressures allowed, and their sacks allowed is the worst in the league. Quenton Nelson, who was their main man on the line, has given up 21 pressures this year, second most on the team. But left tackle Bernhard Raimann is really having his struggles lately. He’s allowed five sacks in the last three games, along with three penalties that forced the team back. Facing a team whose identity now revolves around the pass rush, this line has a tough day ahead.

Win: Cowboys


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