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Scouting Report

Continued success in running game will be key for Bills vs. Cowboys

When the Buffalo Bills run: The Bills’ 244-yard explosion on the ground against Denver has moved them up to fifth in the league in rushing, at 139.2 yards per game. It’s safe to say they don’t miss LeSean McCoy. Running the ball is paramount against the Dallas Cowboys, who have the best offense in the league. The best way to neutralize that is to keep the offense off the field, which means dominating time of possession with a strong running attack. Rookie Devin Singletary, coming off his first 100-yard game of his career, has 17 runs of 10-plus yards, by far the most of any running back with less than 100 carries. Singletary has been the home-run hitter the Bills hoped for when he was drafted, but also showed an ability to pick up tough yards between the tackles Sunday. He’s more powerful than his 5-foot-7-inch frame would suggest. The Cowboys are in the middle of the NFL rankings against the rush at No. 16, allowing 104.8 yards per game. Linebacker Jaylon Smith is one of the best run defenders in the NFL. EDGE: Bills.

When the Bills throw: Quarterback Josh Allen has a 96.0 passer rating over the last seven games, throwing 12 touchdowns against just two interceptions. That comes after Allen had a passer rating of 69.6 through the first four games of this season. After a shaky performance against Cleveland in Week 10, he’s bounced back nicely. Slot receiver Cole Beasley is coming off a six-catch, 76-yard game against the Broncos. He’ll be jacked up to face his former team. Beasley is likely to draw coverage from Cowboys slot cornerback Jourdan Lewis, who is giving up just one catch for every 17.6 coverage snaps, according to analytics website Pro Football Focus. That ranks tied for fourth in the NFL. Rookie tight end Dawson Knox might be a sneaky fantasy play, or the Bills could look to throw more to Singletary. For as great as Smith is against the run, he can struggle in coverage. According to Pro Football Focus, Smith has given up 39 catches on 46 targets in coverage. EDGE: Cowboys.

When the Cowboys run: Ezekiel Elliott has just one run of 20-plus yards this season after leading the NFL with 30 such runs over the previous three seasons. Some have taken that as a sign he’s slowing down, but it’s also a symptom of the Cowboys throwing the ball so well. Elliott is averaging 4.3 yards per carry and is seventh in rushing yards, with 919. He’ll be one of the biggest challenges the Bills’ run defense will face this season. Elliott had 86 rushing yards against a tough New England defense, and talk in Dallas this week has been about how he should have received more carries. The Bills have been ripe to be run on at times this season, so slowing Elliott will be priority No. 1 for the Buffalo defense. EDGE: Cowboys.

When the Cowboys throw: The potent Dallas passing attack is led by quarterback Dak Prescott, who is positioning himself nicely to get paid in a big way. The Cowboys lead the NFL with 303.5 passing yards per game. Prescott’s favorite target is Amari Cooper, but he’s coming off a brutal game against New England. Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore held Cooper without a catch, which is what Tre’Davious White will attempt to do Thursday for the Bills. Dallas has five players with at least 30 catches, with Michael Gallup serving as a quality No. 2 receiver. He has 46 catches for 733 yards and three touchdowns. He’d be a No. 1 receiver on a lot of other rosters. Slot receiver Randall Cobb has 39 catches for 581 yards and three touchdowns. The tight end combination of Jason Witten and Blake Jarwin has combined for 62 catches and five touchdowns. EDGE: Cowboys.

Special teams: Equally inept is a good way to describe these two units. Cowboys kicker Brett Maher missed his seventh field goal of the season against the Patriots. Just like Buffalo did earlier in the year, Dallas had a punt blocked against the Patriots. The bloopers didn’t end there. The Cowboys also muffed three kicks, and had consecutive penalties in the second half when they could not get their punt team lined up. Comparatively, the Bills looked downright capable against Denver, with the only negative being a pair of holding penalties against Lorenzo Alexander. The Bills’ coverage units should get a boost with the return of cornerback Siran Neal, who missed Sunday's game with a concussion. EDGE: Bills.

Coaching: Reports out of Dallas this week said coach Jason Garrett is safe for now. That even having to be written or said with just four days between games provides a good indication of how things are going after Cowboys owner Jerry Jones bluntly stated that his team got outcoached against New England (as an aside: Which team doesn’t that happen to?). Garrett, whose contract expires after this year, is squarely on the hot seat. It seems unlikely that Jones would make a switch with the Cowboys still in the NFC East race, but maybe a loss to the Bills does the trick. Buffalo coach Sean McDermott seems to have his team peaking at the right time. A win Thursday would go a long way toward earning the Bills the national recognition they seem to crave, even if they won’t say so. EDGE: Bills. 

Prediction: Bills 27, Cowboys 23

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