Fri, 27 Jan 2023

Cowboys hit stride, Colts summon pride for stretch run

Field Level Media
01 Dec 2022, 12:05 GMT+10

Jeff Saturday and the Colts chase dimming playoff hopes to Dallas, where the Cowboys pursue division title hopes entering December.

Dallas (8-3) hits Week 13 with momentum from a Thanksgiving Day win over the New York Giants that came after the Cowboys went on the road and manhandled the Minnesota Vikings, 40-3.

"Our real focus is on the fact that we haven't played this team. There's a lot of new faces since the last time we lined up and competed (in 2018)," Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy said.

An opportunity to continue building could be in place before a pivotal NFC East game with Philadelphia on Dec. 18. The next three opponents for Dallas -- the Colts (4-7-1), Texans (1-9-1) and Jaguars (4-7) -- have a combined nine wins and net TD total of -18. The Cowboys are tied with the NFC-leading Eagles (10-1) with a plus-14 net TD total.

Installed as interim head coach of the Colts on Nov. 7, Saturday has a short week to rally Indianapolis (4-7-1) coming out of a Monday night loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers that dropped the team to 10th position in the overall AFC standings.

Saturday said he spent significant time speaking to his players about professionalism, speaking from his "worst years" with a 2-14 record alongside Peyton Manning in 2011.

"It was a miserable experience from the winning and losing standpoint," Saturday said. "I encouraged guys -- this will be a defining moment in your life. Do you love ball? Because it'll show up. Do you love the work, do you love the process?"

The Indy defense continues to show up. The Colts are sixth in the NFL in pass defense and total defense, yielding 190.6 passing yards per game and 308.9 total yards per game.

They've had a vintage Stephon Gilmore at cornerback to thank in large part, considering he hasn't surrendered a TD pass in 61 targets as the primary defender. The Cowboys and CeeDee Lamb present another test for Gilmore on Sunday. In five games since quarterback Dak Prescott returned from a thumb injury, Lamb has 31 receptions -- including 20 first downs, 11 for 20-plus yards -- for 448 yards with three TDs.

A miserable third-down rate (36.02 percent, 28th in the NFL) adds to a razor-thin margin for error and at just 15.8 points per game, the Colts place abundant pressure on running back Jonathan Taylor and that rugged defense to keep Indy in games with a throwback approach. Nine of the Colts' 12 games -- including a Week 1 tie with the Texans -- were decided by one possession.

McCarthy said Taylor, a "dynamic runner," is the key for Dallas.

"I've been to two college football games the last 30 years -- that was one of them, (Wisconsin) against Iowa," McCarthy said. "We're spending extra time on him and the run game. ... Will not be surprised if he carries it north of 20 (times) against us."

Colts quarterback Matt Ryan had little time and small windows to throw through facing Pittsburgh's 3-4 zone defense. Dallas has mixed fronts with heavy zone usage behind a pass rush with 45 sacks and the Cowboys are fourth in the NFL with a turnover margin of plus-5 on the legs of 16 total takeaways. The Colts are tied for last in the NFL with 21 giveaways and 31st in the league with a margin at minus-10.

"Unfortunately I've been in this spot before," Ryan said. "It's never fun. You want to be driving the ship, you want to be the one where the division is running through it and you're playing for position and home field advantage."

While the Colts are rushed out of a Monday loss to get ready, the Cowboys granted extra rest to pass rusher Micah Parsons (knee), who is second in the NFL with 12.0 sacks and fifth with 21 QB hits, and defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence (6.0 sacks, 10 QB hits). Lawrence is playing with a fractured foot and might not practice the rest of the season.

--Field Level Media

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