Now riding a five game win streak, the Dallas Cowboys (8-5) hope to clinch the NFC East with a win Sunday afternoon against the Indianapolis Colts (7-6). The two will play in Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis with a 1:00 p.m. (ET) scheduled kickoff time. The game will be broadcast on FOX.
To say the least, the Indianapolis Colts were not expected to have a good 2018 season. Head coach Chuck Pagano was fired after the team finished the 2017 season with a 4-12 record. The Colts planned on hiring Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels until he backed out at the last minute, forcing the Colts to “settle” for their second choice: Frank Reich, who was the offensive coordinator for the 2017-2018 Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles. This was one of the many brilliant moves the Colts’ front office made over the offseason. The Colts also used their first round pick on guard Quenton Nelson, who in his rookie year is already on pace to make the Pro Bowl this year, and used their second round pick on linebacker Darius Leonard, who leads the NFL in tackles and, like Nelson, is also likely to make the Pro Bowl in his rookie season. Additionally, the Colts got a steal in free agency when they landed former first round pick Eric Ebron, a tight end. Frank Reich and Andrew Luck have turned Ebron from a bust into the league leader in touchdown receptions.
The Colts’ offense will be a great test for the Dallas Cowboys; not only will Eric Ebron be difficult to cover, but the Colts also have T.Y. Hilton, a Pro Bowl wide receiver who is a serious deep threat. Hilton’s status for Sunday’s game is uncertain, as he missed practice all week while battling an ankle injury. However, the star wideout has been battling injuries all year and that has not stopped him from exploding against a solid Texans defense, catching nine passes for 199 yards.
To fluster Andrew Luck and disrupt the passing game, the Cowboys have to be able to generate pressure with their front four. DeMarcus Lawrence has proved to be a top defensive end in the league, and Randy Gregory, aside from some asinine penalties, has shown that he too can get after the quarterback. Blitzing Luck would not be ideal; as of November 24, Andrew Luck had a 77.8 adjusted completion percentage and had a 97.1 passer rating against the blitz. Moreover, the Cowboys should assign one of their quick young linebackers, either Leighton Vander Esch or Jaylon Smith, to cover Eric Ebron and use Byron Jones to cover T.Y. Hilton, should he play.
Offensively, the Cowboys game plan should continue to be to get Ezekiel Elliott the football. Over the Cowboys five game win streak, Elliott has racked up 602 yards rushing yards on 119 carries and 276 receiving yards on 36 receptions. Elliott’s dominating performances have opened up the passing game for targets Amari Cooper and Blake Jarwin, who are both coming off career best performances and have emerged as Prescott’s favorite third down targets.
Prediction: This is a Colts offense that has been very dominant on key situations; the Colts rank second in the league in third down conversion percentage and seventh in the league in red zone scoring percentage. Dallas’ young and fast defense proved against the Saints in Week 13 that they can step up in these situations and limit great offenses, but the Saints game was a home game for Dallas. Playing on the road in Lucas Oil Field will provide the Colts with a slight edge in this game and they will ultimately beat the Cowboys by a slim margin and end their winning streak.
Final score: Indianapolis Colts 27 Dallas Cowboys 23