The Dallas Cowboys and Washington Commanders enter their NFC East Thanksgiving Day matchup in vastly different mindsets.
While the Cowboys (7-3) are rolling toward their third straight playoff appearance, the Commanders (4-7) are on track for their seventh consecutive non-winning season.
With speculation flying about a potential pink slip for coach Ron Rivera on Black Friday, especially if Washington lays another egg on national TV in Dallas, there’s one overarching storyline entering the game.
Rivera hit perhaps the nadir of his tenure in Washington on Sunday when the Commanders committed six turnovers in a 31-19 loss at home to the lowly New York Giants.
Peppered with questions about his future and the team’s lack of improvement over his four seasons in D.C., Rivera stuck to his one-game-at-a-time mantra Monday.
“What I try to do is just focus in on what’s important today and that’s really just preparing to get ready for Dallas,” Rivera said.
Throughout this season, Rivera has emphasized the development of second-year quarterback Sam Howell and his role as a long-term building block.
But against the Giants, Howell threw three interceptions, including a fluttering pass that Isaiah Simmons returned 54 yards for the game-clinching touchdown with 16 seconds left.
“It’s not like we got outplayed. We just didn’t take care of the football. We were moving the ball up and down the field,” Howell said. “We literally beat ourselves.”
The mistakes on Sunday gave Washington the worst turnover differential in the NFL at -8, while Dallas is tied for fifth best at +6.
With the Cowboys producing 30.2 points per game, which is second best in the NFL, and quarterback Dak Prescott gaining traction as an MVP candidate, this figures to be a particularly tough matchup for the Commanders.
Their defense has allowed more touchdown passes (24) than any team in the league. They also rank last in opposing passer rating (100.8).
Dallas is coming off a 33-10 romp at Carolina as DeRon Bland had his fourth pick-6 of the year, tying an NFL record, and the Cowboys defense registered seven sacks.
That’s a daunting prospect for Howell, who has been sacked 51 times and is on track to top single-season record holder David Carr, who was sacked 76 times in 2002.
Schedule-wise this has been an odd season for Dallas as nine of its first 11 opponents currently have losing records.
“It’ll be my job as a leader making sure guys understand that once again, you’re looking (at a) lesser opponent, but we’ve got to come in and take care of business on Thanksgiving,” Prescott said. “Then we can enjoy our holidays the right way.”
Next week starts a rugged stretch for Dallas as it faces Seattle (6-4), followed by December games against Philadelphia (9-1), Buffalo (6-5), Miami (7-3) and Detroit (8-2).
On Tuesday, Cowboys safety Jayron Kearse (back) did not practice for the second straight day. Wideout CeeDee Lamb (ankle) and offensive tackle Terence Steele (ankle) were full participants after being limited on Monday.
Washington starters who were held out of practice were CB Emmanuel Forbes (elbow), LB Khaleke Hudson (back) and DE James Smith-Williams (hamstring), while RB Antonio Gibson (toe) was limited.
DE Efe Obada (broken leg) was placed on injured reserve.
– Field Level Media