The Bills probably couldn’t be playing the Cowboys at a worse time.
There will be the usual circus on Thanksgiving afternoon at AT&T Stadium (4:30, CBS-TV, 95.7 FM, 100.1 FM, 550 AM) which translates to a short week for both the players and coaches of Dallas and Buffalo.
Indeed the Cowboys have a bit of an edge after losing a 13-9 decision to the Patriots late Sunday afternoon in Foxboro and flying home that night. The Bills, meanwhile, beat Denver, 20-3, at New Era Field, three days ago, but lost most of today traveling to Dallas.
Hence the Cowboys (6-5) are a 7-point favorite over the Bills (8-3).
But the main reason it’s a bad time for any NFL team to be playing the NFC East leader is that it has under-achieved all season.
It has yet to beat a team with a winning record — sound familiar Bills’ fans? — and after the loss at New England, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones took a pointed shot at his coaching staff.
“I don’t think there’s a game where a coaching staff couldn’t do better,” he said after the game. “I don’t like that we’ve got so many (of those games) as I’m standing here.
“It’s frustrating to be reminded of the fundamentals of football and coaching that beat us out there. They took advantage of the weather (wind and rain). There’s no question they saw the ball was going to be hard to handle. (Pats coach Bill Belichick) put pressure on people returning the kicks and people handling the ball on special teams. To me, special teams is 100 percent coaching.”
And while Jones is losing patience with his head man, Jason Garrett, Sunday’s rant was directed at special teams coordinator Keith O’Quinn. In the game, Dallas had a blocked punt that virtually handed the Pats the game’s only touchdown, missed a field goal and botched three short kickoffs, averaging two yards per return.
In summing up the Cowboys’ performance through the first 11 games, Jones allowed, “With the makeup of this team, I shouldn’t be this frustrated.”
BUT WHILE owners can be impulsive and notoriously impatient, Jones isn’t wrong … as the statistics indicate.
Dallas is first in the NFL in average offensive yards (433) and passing yards (304) per game and second in third-down conversions (49 percent). The Cowboys are sixth in points scored per game (27), in points allowed (19), total yards surrendered (319) and opponents passing yards (214).
Those numbers translate to better than a 6-5 record with the wins coming over the Giants (2-9) twice, Washington and Miami (both 2-9), Detroit (3-7-1) and Philadelphia (5-6).
In fairness, though, four of Dallas’ five losses have been by a total of 12 points: besides New England, there are New Orleans (12-10), Minnesota (28-24) and the 24-22 head-scratcher against the Jets.
BUFFALO has won two straight and three of the last four and while it hasn’t beaten a team with a winning record at the time they played (Tennessee has since improved to 6-5), the Bills are an impressive 4-1 on the road, though Thursday will clearly be their biggest test.
As coach Sean McDermott noted, “This is a really good football team we’re going to face. They played, I thought, a really good game against New England. It’s the number one offense in the NFL and highly explosive with a Top 10 defense. We’ve got a big challenge in front of us.”
That will be true on offense as Dallas’ defensive ends, Robert Quinn and DeMarcus Lawrence, have combined for 14 sacks.
As offensive coordinator Brian Daboll noted, “They’re a very good football team, top ten in every category defensively. We have a lot of work to do.”
That’s especially true if center Mitch Morse can’t go.
He suffered a broken finger on his snapping hand against the Broncos early and didn’t return. He figures to be a game-time decision.
Right guard Jon Feliciano moved into the center spot with Spencer Long taking his position. Meanwhile, rookie second-round draft choice Cody Ford, who had been sharing right tackle snaps with Ty Nsekhe, will have the job to himself as the latter recovers from an ankle injury. That means Ford will be one-on-one with either Lawrence or Quinn.
“Mitch is a good player for us,” Daboll said, adding, “but Jon is a good player for us, both inside at guard and very flexible to play center. Jon can step in and make all the calls. We have a lot of trust in him. You only get so many linemen to go into a game with, and flexibility is important.”
Defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier was asked if the Cowboys, with quarterback Dak Prescott, running back Ezekiel Elliott, wide receivers Amari Cooper and Randall Cobb and tight end Jason Witten would be the biggest test for his unit so far this season.
“Looking at the numbers, you would think so,” he admitted. “They’ve had some really good games on offense. It’s a short week and we’ve got our hands full getting ready for one of the top-rated offenses in the league. (But) I think our guys are looking forward to the challenge in front of a national audience.
“This game has huge, huge implications for our team and I think that’s where our focus is, just trying to find a way to get a win.”