The (3-4) Dallas Cowboys and (3-4) Tennessee Titans find themselves in a similar position. Lose in week nine and have your postseason hopes essentially wiped away. Win and you’ll be able to stay alive at least one more week.
Fortunately for one of these teams, they play each other tonight (8:15 PM ET Monday on ESPN), meaning that one playoff journey will likely end whereas the other will get to continue.
Obviously both the Cowboys and Titans are hoping that they will be the ones that come out on top in this seemingly must-win situation. Dallas has the advantage of this game being played at home where they have been undefeated this year. While home field advantage is certainly something to focus on there are no doubt other elements of both teams and what they bring to the table offensively and defensively that will impact who walks away with the victory. Those elements are more similar than one might think.
Both the Titans and Cowboys are 3-4 but their records aren’t the only things these two teams have in common. Dallas and Tennessee have both prided themselves on their defenses this year. The Titans unit ranks 11th in the NFL in yards allowed per game and third in points per game. The Cowboys rank third in yards and second in points per game. It is not all that surprising that defense has been a strength for these two units given the personnel they have in place.
In the offseason, Dallas hired Kris Richard as the defensive backs coach. Richard had spent three years with the Seattle Seahawks and was the team’s defensive coordinator when it boasted the “Legion of Boom,” one of the most successful defenses in NFL history. This was a big get for Dallas and one that has begun to pay off immediately. Longtime defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli is still calling the shots but the feeling internally is that Richard will be taking over next season as Marinelli retires. He has certainly made a strong case for it, having turned the Cowboy’s defense around into one of the best in the league.
One thing Richard hasn’t been able to bring however is something that his unit was known for in Seattle and that is creating turnovers. The Cowboys have forced just six turnovers compared to the eight they have committed. That’s a turnover margin of -2, which is ranked just 21st in the NFL. Tennessee hasn’t fared much better in that regard. The Titans have forced just seven turnovers and have also committed eight which ranks them 19th in the league with a turnover margin of -1. There’s a pretty basic understanding in football and it’s that you don’t tend to win games when you give the ball away more often than you take it away. That would explain why, despite great defensive success in stopping opposing offenses from scoring high, both of these teams have sub-500 records.
Another reason behind Dallas and Tennessee’s woes comes down to the fact that these are two offenses that have struggled immensely. This, despite the fact that both teams have high impact players at the QB and RB positions. Unfortunately however, these players have failed to get it going early in the season. That’s why Tennessee ranks 30th in yards per game and points per game and Dallas is only slightly better, ranking 28th and 26th in the same categories. Tennessee and Dallas are also, respectively, 30th and 31st in passing yards per game.
Now, it’s hard to just blame the QBs and their weapons. Ezekiel Elliott is running at a great clip of 4.9 yards per game, but he has not had nearly enough attempts. On Tennessee’s end, they run the ball too much given the 3.9 yards per carry their backs average. So that’s really a coaching issue. Another issue these two quarterbacks face comes in the form of their offensive lines. Dallas used to have the best O-Line football, a group carefully assembled from years of smart drafting. Now, that line has been beaten up and it’s allowed Dak Prescott to get sacked once in every nine pass attempts. That’s extremely high, almost as high as Marcus Mariota deals with in Tennessee as he is sacked once every eight pass attempts.
It is hard to expect these QBs to be able to excel when they are constantly under threat and under pressure. In the past, Prescott was able to put up big numbers and it is no coincidence as to why. As two young QBs, Mariota and Prescott need better protection and they are just not getting it this season. Offensive line aside, neither of these quarterbacks have many options in the passing game. Dallas just traded for Amari Cooper, a top deep threat if healthy, which should begin to help shore up those offensive holes. Aside from Cooper, who has been limited this season, Dallas had no receiver in the top-50 in receiving yards per game. Tennessee only has one and he doesn’t rank in the top-40. That’s pretty awful, but again, it helps explain why two teams as good as these are on defense, aren’t winning games. Even a great defense can’t make up for an offense that simply has no means to score the football.
Our Preview’s Tennessee Titans at Dallas Cowboys Picks & Predictions Verdict
While 3-4 is not the record the Cowboys had hoped to have at this point in the season, if Dallas can win on today, they will find themselves right back in the thick of things in the NFC East with a meeting against the Philadelphia Eagles next week. A win puts the Cowboys at 4-4, which would be tied with the Eagles for second place and just a game behind the Washington Redskins at 5-3. So all is not lost for Dallas, especially if they keep up their home success. The Titans on the other hand, have a higher mountain to climb. A win puts them at 4-4, but that is still two games back of the Houston Texans for first place in the AFC South. The Texans have won six in a row so catching them won’t be easy.
Unfortunately for the Titans, the Cowboys are 3-0 at home and they have looked like a different team when playing in Texas. They have played to their strengths with Elliott averaging 112 yards rushing at home and the team overall going off for 175-plus. Look for Dallas to return to this formula and continue their historic streak of success following the bye week. So this preview’s Titans vs Cowboys predictions are: