The Buffalo Bills travel to Jerry World this week to take on the Dallas Cowboys on Thanksgiving Day. While the Cowboys are no stranger to playing on the national holiday, Buffalo hasn’t played on Thanksgiving in 25 years, losing to the Detroit Lions 35-21 in November of 1994.
The Cowboys enter the game with a 6-5 record, clinging to a one-game lead in the division over the Philadelphia Eagles. Buffalo enters the game at 8-3, sitting two games behind the New England Patriots in the AFC East, but two games up on the nearest Wild Card contender in the conference.
Dallas is plenty talented, so the Bills will have their hands full this week. Which players will we be watching on Thursday?
QB Dak Prescott
The Cowboys’ quarterback picked a great year to have a career year, as the fourth-year man out of Mississippi State leads the league in pass yards with 3,433 through 11 games. He’s thrown 21 touchdowns against ten interceptions, he’s completed 66.8% of his passes, and he’s only taken 12 sacks on the year so far, an absolutely amazing feat given his 398 passing attempts on the year. Prescott is accurate and he has a great release, and the Bills will need to keep him uncomfortable in the pocket if they want a win on Thursday. His receiving corps is excellent, as is his offensive line (well, when they aren’t called for bogus tripping penalties, at least), so the Bills face a tall task in keeping him contained.
The all-world runner isn’t having quite the eye-popping year expected of a man who just signed the biggest contract extension for a running back currently in the NFL, but he’s still had a great season. Elliott has carried 215 times for 919 yards and seven touchdowns this season, adding 32 catches for 260 receiving yards and one touchdown in the passing game. Elliott is one of the most complete running backs in the league, and he is a true threat to score every time he touches the ball. Combine that with a phenomenal offensive line, and the Bills, who allow 4.4 yards per rush on the season, could be in trouble if they don’t contain Elliott.
WR Amari Cooper
Talking with one of my co-workers last week, I mentioned that I thought Cooper would have a terrible day against the Bills thanks to Tre’Davious White. Well, after New England Patriots corner Stephon Gilmore held Cooper catchless last week, I imagine that Dallas will look to feed Cooper the ball early in this week’s match-up. That doesn’t mean Michael Gallup and Randall Cobb are any less dangerous, especially when matched up against Levi Wallace across from White; however, Cooper is the clear top dog in the receiving corps, so he’ll command the most attention. If White can have even close to the success that Gilmore did, holding Cooper to say, a four-catch, 50-yard day with no touchdowns, then Buffalo should be fine. However, if Cooper breaks off a big play, then the Bills will be in a bind.
DE Robert Quinn
With fellow defensive linemate DeMarcus Lawrence garnering most of the attention, Quinn has been able to enjoy a rebirth in Big D. He currently has 9.5 sacks and 18 quarterback hits, both of which are his highest totals since the 2014 season, which is also the last year he made the Pro Bowl with the St. Louis (now Los Angeles) Rams. Quinn is a devastating pass rusher who could give either Dion Dawkins or Cody Ford fits. With Lawrence on the other side, it only makes him that much more effective. Oh yeah, and Dallas has veteran Michael Bennett, acquired via trade with New England this year, rotating in, as well. Buffalo’s offensive line will be tested in what’s sure to be a frenzied road environment, and Quinn is a player capable of wrecking the game plan.
MLB Jaylon Smith
Dallas’ athletic middle linebacker will have his hands full this week. He’ll have to read plenty of ball fakes and jet motions in run support, react to play action, and worry about covering running backs and tight ends in the passing game. He’ll also have to deal with athletic Buffalo quarterback Josh Allen, who is capable of making huge plays with his legs if nothing is available through the air. If Dallas chooses to use Smith to spy Allen, it opens up space in the passing game for him. If he reacts incorrectly to some of the eye candy Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll gives him, then Buffalo could pick up some chunk plays, especially off play-action and RPO calls. Smith needs to have a stellar game on Thursday.