Arlington, TX (CBSDFW)- The Dallas Cowboys don’t have much time to wallow in the 13-9 loss to the New England Patriots that they suffered on Sunday afternoon. In just three days, Jason Garrett and company will be back on the field for their annual Thanksgiving game, this time facing another AFC East team, the Buffalo Bills. While the loss brings up plenty of questions about the Cowboys, the Thanksgiving game is an annual tradition that The NFL Today analyst Nate Burleson says is fun for the players.
“It’s special. You have the eyes of the whole country on you and your team, and you get the opportunity to play in front of the whole nation. It is a special experience, because everybody gets to see your team, and then you get to go and stuff your face afterwards,” said Burleson, laughing. “It really is the perfect week. You get the chance to play in the spotlight, then go eat, and afterwards, you get a four-day weekend.”
The Cowboys are used to the Thanksgiving spotlight, it’s become an annual routine for the organization, having played on Thanksgiving for the last 41 years. The Bills, on the other hand, will be making their first appearance in the Thanksgiving-day spotlight since 1994, when they fell to the Lions 35-21. Like for any Thursday game, a short week is rough on teams getting ready, as nagging injuries don’t have as much time to heal as they normally would.
With that caveat out of the way, the matchup between these two teams is rather interesting. The Bills (8-3) enter with one of the league’s best defenses, ranking third in yards allowed per game (288.6), yards per play (4.8) and scoring defense (15.7 PPG). They have been particularly effective against opponent’s passing games, holding quarterbacks to 61.3 percent completions and only six yards per attempt.
That could mean another tough game for Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott after he was held to just 212 yards against the Patriots Sunday. But, Burleson is interested in what Prescott and his counterpart Josh Allen can do in a different aspect of the game.
“To me it’s the battle of the run games. And it’s not necessarily the running backs.” said Burleson. “You know what you’re going to get with Devin Singletary, Frank Gore and Ezekiel Elliott. Of course, that is going to be a marquee matchup. But I’m talking about the quarterbacks in Josh Allen and Dak Prescott. Allen has really been a significant running threat for the Bills, and we saw it again this week.”
Prescott hasn’t had to use his legs too much this season, but against the Bills, there could be an opportunity to do so. While Buffalo has been very good against the pass, they have been susceptible to the run, ranking just 15th in the league allowing 104.4 yards per game. On the other side, the Cowboys defense will have to be aware of Allen as a runner. The second-year quarterback has totaled 387 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground this season, averaging 4.7 yards per carry. He has proven particularly effective, as Burleson notes, at extending plays and finding a target that Cowboys fans have been very familiar with, wide receiver Cole Beasley.
“Another thing I’m watching for as well is Cole Beasley returning to play against his former team,” said Burleson. “Beasley has been taking on a bigger role for Allen, really dialing it up as of late. I’m not saying that this is a revenge game, but it’s a revenge game.”
The former Cowboy signed a four-year $29 million contract with the Bills this offseason, and as Burleson points out, his performance has begun to tick up as of late. All four of his touchdowns on the season have come in the last six games for Buffalo, and in two of the last three games, he has surpassed 70 yards receiving. Allen is not the most accurate passer (60.2% completions), but he has shown an ability to hit some big plays to wide receiver John Brown, with Beasley patrolling the short to intermediate area. The Cowboys defense has been very good against the pass (sixth in NFL 213.6 YPG), but they haven’t faced a quarterback that presents the same kind of challenge that Allen does with his mobility.
The early line has the Cowboys as touchdown favorites (-7) with kickoff slated for 3:30 p.m. Central Time on CBS.