Fri Nov 29 1:20pm ET
By SCHUYLER DIXON
AP Pro Football Writer
Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott (4) sits on the bench by staff late in the second half of an NFL football game against the Buffalo Bills in Arlington, Texas, Thursday, Nov. 28, 2019. (AP Photo/Michael Ainsworth)
ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) While declaring he wouldn’t fire embattled coach Jason Garrett during the season, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones basically begged his underachieving team to create turnovers.
A defense that looks good in the rankings but can’t consistently generate difference-making plays is high on the list of problems for a team that still leads the NFC East at 6-6 but is falling far short of lofty expectations fueled by a 3-0 start.
The latest example was the 26-15 loss to Buffalo on Thanksgiving, when second-year quarterback Josh Allen had a career-best passer rating thanks in large part to former Dallas receiver Cole Beasley having the best game of his first season with the Bills.
The total yardage (356) was manageable and won’t affect the Cowboys’ top 10 ranking in that category much. But Dallas had a fourth straight game without creating a turnover, making the seven in just two games before that look flukier by the week.
“I think we can get some turnovers,” Jones said. “We’re going to have to do it now to win these next games. Do I think that’s possible to happen? Absolutely I do.
“Do I think it’s likely to happen the way we’ve been playing the last two games? I agree, I wouldn’t expect anybody to go out and bet the house on it. But I sure think that there’s enough there. I’ve made a lot riskier bets.”
The Cowboys are minus-5 in turnover margin with three losses in the current four-game stretch without forcing a turnover. Dallas won both of the games when combining for seven takeaways.
“The opponent’s defense forces turnovers, and we’re not,” defensive end Robert Quinn said. “It gets frustrating, but we just have to keep chipping away and make plays when they come our way.”
It would appear the pass rush is still working because of four sacks on Allen. The problem is most of that pressure was generated by blitzes. Cornerback Jourdan Lewis had two of the sacks, and safety Darian Thompson was the first one to get to Allen on another blitz.
The Bills were confident enough in their protection to let Allen throw from the pocket in the end zone on a 29-yard completion to Beasley on third down early. It was the first momentum-shifting play for Buffalo after Dallas scored a touchdown on its opening drive.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
Don’t let the 355 yards passing with two touchdowns fool you. Dak Prescott is in a mini-slump after he surged to the NFL lead in yards passing through 10 games.
While pressure played a part, Prescott was responsible for both Dallas turnovers with an interception and a fumble and had another fumble on fourth down, the equivalent of a third turnover.
The most glaring play was his worst throw of the game when the ball landed at the feet of running back Ezekiel Elliott on fourth down from the Buffalo 6. Elliott had plenty of room to run in the flat and probably would have scored.
Defensive tackle Christian Covington started in place of Antwaun Woods, out with a right knee injury, and recorded his first sack with the Cowboys.
Kicker Brett Maher missed field goals on two straight possessions, giving him an NFL-leading nine misses. The first came on the final play before halftime with Dallas trailing by six. The second came with the Cowboys trying to answer Buffalo’s drive to a field to start the second half.
No. 1 receiver Amari Cooper stayed down for a bit after taking a hit on his left knee, flipping over and landing on his back. Cooper said he would get checked out Friday. LG Connor Williams tried to come back after injuring a knee in the first half but was eventually ruled out. He’s a few weeks removed from arthroscopic knee surgery.
Four - Consecutive games in which Elliott has fallen short of 100 yards rushing. The two-time rushing champion never went that long without a 100-yard day in his first three pro seasons.
If Philadelphia beats lowly Miami on Sunday, the defending NFC East champion Cowboys and Eagles will be tied atop the division.
The next two games for Dallas are against teams that should look familiar. Chicago (Thursday on the road) and the Los Angeles Rams (Dec. 15 at home) are fellow playoff qualifiers from last season having disappointing seasons.
As long as the Cowboys don’t lose both of those games, they’ll still control their destiny when they visit Philadelphia on Dec. 22 because they beat the Eagles at home in October.
Interview with a Champ
Green Bay Packers cornerback Kevin King (back) is listed as questionable for the NFC Championship game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday. Defensive lineman Kingsley Keke (concussion) was ruled out. King popped up on the injury report on Friday and did not practice. Mid-week additions to the injury report are usually never a good sign, especially this late in the week. Jaire Alexander will likely be matched up against Mike Evans on one side of the field this weekend, but a King absence could benefit Scotty Miller or rookie Tyler Johnson the most in Tampa's passing attack with veteran Antonio Brown (knee) already ruled out. Chris Godwin could also have a big game for the Bucs out of the slot.
Los Angeles Rams impending free-agent LB Leonard Floyd is a player head coach Sean McVay hopes to re-sign this offseason.
Las Vegas Raiders impending free-agent WR Nelson Agholor may be too expensive for the Raiders to re-sign this offseason, in the opinion of ESPN.com's Paul Gutierrez.
Fantasy Spin: Agholor is coming off a career season and probably will receive interest from multiple teams. He should have fantasy value no matter where he signs but probably will not be a weekly starting option in fantasy leagues.
Baltimore Ravens impending free-agent LB Matt Judon has been looking for $20 million per season in a new contract, according to a source.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers Defense prepares to face Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship game. Tampa Bay had a strong showing against the Saints last week, creating four takeaways, though they didn't register a sack. They will need to put more pressure on Rodgers than they did Brees, or they'll have a long day. If the Buccaneers follow their Week 6 formula- they sacked Rodgers four times and intercepted him twice- they'll be in a great position to win, as well as delivering for fantasy managers who turn to them.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end Cameron Brate is playing well heading into a playoff matchup with Green Bay. Brate has at least 50 receiving yards in each of his last two games and has seen 11 targets in that span. However, he's been out-snapped by Rob Gronkowski in both playoff wins, which makes it hard to trust him fully. Both tight ends could have good games, with Gronkowski being more of a touchdown favorite- and Brate more of a between-the-20s guy.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end Rob Gronkowski takes on the Packers in the NFC Championship game on Sunday. Gronkowski has been out-produced by his teammate Cameron Brate lately, but the former has been on the field far more than the latter. The former Patriot also saw the same amount of targets as Brate last week and even had a touchdown catch fall just out of his reach. Both players could have good games, but Gronkowski is due for a strong performance- and he's no stranger to big games. Bet on Gronkowski seeing more looks with Antonio Brown (knee) sidelined against Green Bay, a team who allowed a 5-78-1 line to the big tight end in Week 6.
Green Bay Packers RB Jamaal Williams (ankle) was limited during practice Friday, Jan. 22, but is not on the injury report for the NFC Championship game.
Fantasy Spin: Williams should see a decent amount of carries in the championship game but will be facing one of the better run defenses in the NFL. He can be a possible flex option in some leagues but can be benched if better options are available.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers WR Chris Godwin (quad) was limited in practice all week but was removed from the injury report for the NFC Championship game against the Green Bay Packers.
Fantasy Spin: Godwin's availability takes on a little bit more importance with Antonio Brown getting ruled out Friday. While Tampa Bay has plenty of depth at receiver, Godwin will likely be asked to do a bit more now. Although his expected matchup in the slot with Chandon Sullivan is not an easy one, Godwin could end up being a great contrarian play in DFS if the market is off of him after a bit of a disappointing effort last week when his 4-34-0 dud - which included a drop in the end zone - ended a four-game scoring streak.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers RB Ronald Jones (quad, finger) was upgraded to a full practice Friday, Jan. 22, and was removed from the injury report for the NFC Championship game against the Green Bay Packers.
Fantasy Spin: Leonard Fournette has been a fantasy beast through Tampa Bay's first two playoff games, but that production has largely been a product of two touchdowns and a fair amount of work in the passing game. His rushing efficiency has remained right around his regular-season levels. All of that is to say Jones should probably be considered the favorite to handle most of the rushing workload this weekend, which should be enough to make a strong contrarian option in DFS.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers WR Mike Evans (knee) was limited in practice all week but no longer appears on the injury report for the NFC Championship game against the Green Bay Packers.
Fantasy Spin: Evans is a bit of a wild-card this week. He was shadowed and mostly silenced by Jaire Alexander on most of his routes in the first meeting back in Week 6, but the Packers' stud cornerback has rarely moved off his left cornerback spot since that game. Assuming Green Bay sticks to that and Evans doesn't get followed by Alexander this week, Evans could have a huge game this time around. The decision to have Alexander shadow (or not) figures to determine whether Evans or Chris Godwin will be the best Bucs' receiver to play this week.
Kansas City Chiefs WR Sammy Watkins (calf) practiced in a limited fashion again Friday, Jan. 22, and is listed as questionable for the AFC Championship game versus the Buffalo Bills.
Fantasy Spin: Watkins is expected to play and resume his No. 2 receiver duties opposite Tyreek Hill. It helps his cause for playing time that he is probably the team's best blocker at receiver in what could be another run-heavy game plan against Buffalo, but he's a tough sell in all fantasy formats given his risk for an in-game setback and the fact he hasn't exceeded 62 yards receiving in a game since the opener. Nonetheless, Watkins has come up big in the playoffs as of late and the Bills' likely defensive game plan of preventing the deep ball should work in his favor.
The Chicago Bears are hiring Sean Desai as their new defensive coordinator on Friday, according to sources. He'll become the first person of Indian descent to become a coordinator in the NFL. Desai will be replacing Chuck Pagano at the position after he announced his retirement following the conclusion of the 2020 season. Desai had previously been working as the team's safeties coach, originally joining the Bears franchise in 2013 as a quality control assistant. He was promoted to safeties coach in 2019, so he has familiarity with Chicago's defense for the last seven years. The Bears Defense has plenty of potential to improve in 2021 under Desai, but they'll need more out of pass-rushers Khalil Mack and Akiem Hicks up front.
Buffalo Bills WR Cole Beasley (knee) practiced in full Friday, Jan. 22, and no longer appear on the injury report practiced in full Friday and also no longer appear on the injury report.
Fantasy Spin: Beasley, who suffered his knee injury late in the regular season, curiously popped up on the injury report Thursday after not appearing on it on Wednesday. It is obvious he isn't anywhere close to full health, but his presence is a boon for Josh Allen as it gives him a solid outlet option underneath when Stefon Diggs and/or John Brown can't get open right away. Assuming he doesn't suffer an in-game setback, Beasley is a solid low-priced DFS option with decent upside.
Former Detroit Lions head coach Matt Patricia was reportedly hired by the New England Patriots to 'assist the coaching staff in a variety of roles' Friday, Jan. 22, according to Jim McBride of the Boston Globe.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers rookie defensive back Antoine Winfield Jr. (ankle) is listed as questionable for the NFC Championship game against the Packers after missing practice on Friday. The 22-year-old safety practiced in full on Thursday, so this is definitely something to keep an eye on as Sunday's big game approaches. Losing the talented defensive back would be a downgrade for the Buccaneers Defense in fantasy in an already tough matchup against Aaron Rodgers and company. Winfield had a combined 94 tackles (64 solo), one interception, six passes defensed, two forced fumbles, one fumble recovery and three sacks in 16 regular season games. He also had a big forced fumble in the win over the Saints in the Divisional Round last weekend.
Free-agent WR Deon Cain (Steelers) signed a Reserve/Future contract with the Baltimore Ravens on Friday, Jan. 22.
Buffalo Bills rookie wide receiver Gabriel Davis (ankle) and defensive tackle Vernon Butler (quadriceps) are both questionable for the AFC Championship against the Chiefs on Sunday. Both players missed practice on Wednesday and Thursday before getting in a limited session on Friday, so they'll have a chance to be active this weekend. If healthy, the rookie wideout will serve in four-receiver sets alongside Stefon Diggs, Cole Beasley and John Brown. The 21-year-old fourth-round pick has been serviceable for the Bills this year with 35 receptions (62 targets) for 599 yards and seven touchdowns in the regular season, but he whiffed on four targets last week and has just four catches for 85 yards in the two postseason games. As the fourth wideout in a stacked Bills offense, it's hard to expect Davis to produce much if he plays. Isaiah McKenzie would see an expanded role if Davis is inactive.