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5 things to watch: Lions at Cowboys

The Lions head to Dallas for a big NFC matchup with the Cowboys Sunday afternoon. It will be an opportunity for the Lions to win their second consecutive game and reach the .500 mark after dropping their first two contests.

The Lions played terrific football last week in beating the New England Patriots, and will be looking for a similar performance this week in a tough environment in Dallas.

Here's five things to watch out for in today's game:


The Lions rookie running back has been impressive early in his career. He's coming off a 101-yard performance last week vs. New England, the first such performance by a Lions running back in 70 games, and is averaging 5.6 yards per carry. He also has 10 receptions.

Johnson is a tough and elusive runner, a player who always seems to always fall forward and pick up extra yards. He's averaging more than 3.0 yards per carry after contact.

Dallas ranks 11th in rushing defense, allowing 98.3 yards per game. The big key to Detroit's success running the football last week (159 total yards on the ground) was the play of their offensive line.

Johnson and veteran LeGarrette Blount could have the same kind of success this week if the five guys upfront play as well as they did last week. This is, however, a better defensive front in Dallas than the one the Lions faced last week with the Patriots.


Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott is one of the elite backs in the NFL. He's averaging 5.7 yards per rush on the season and can wreck a game for a defense. He's rushed for 100 yards in nearly half (13) of his 28 career games. He rushed for more than 90 yards another six times.

Elliott is one of only six backs since 1994 to average a 10-plus-yard rush on at least 10 percent of his carries and gain a first down on at least 25 percent. The point is, he makes plays.

"We've definitely got to stop the run," Lions safety Glover Quin said. "We definitely need to make sure we're honed in on it. They run the ball really well and Zeke is a big part of that.

"He's a big-time back with size and speed and power. He's patient. When he sees it, he gets it. He's tough to tackle. He has all the attributes you want in a running back."

The Lions currently rank last in the NFL stopping the run (149.3 yards per game), so this is obviously a key matchup in the contest.


The Cowboys have had some struggles on offense, but their defense has been pretty consistent. They're third in total defense and seventh in points allowed through three weeks.

The defensive line is really the jumping off point for this defense. Defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence is a beast, and Taco Charlton is an emerging player on the other side.

Cornerbacks Byron Jones and Chidobe Awuzie are long and rangy cornerbacks good at forcing quarterbacks to hold the ball a touch longer than they want to.

Nine different players have recorded a sack for the Cowboys, and their 11 sacks as a team are second most in the NFL.

Detroit's been pretty good protecting Matthew Stafford so far this season. The Lions have allowed just three sacks on the year, the fewest in the NFL.

Something has to give later today in Dallas. Will it be Detroit's pass preotection or Dallas' pass rush?


The Lions have had real issues finishing red zone drives with touchdowns this year. They are just 3-for-10 scoring touchdowns in the red zone. That 30 percent success rate is the lowest in the NFL.

Dallas ranks in the middle of the NFL in red zone defense at 55.5 percent.

"I would say it's a couple of things," offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter said of Detroit's red zone issues. "Starting point will be I have to call a little better game, get to the right call at a certain time, those type of things.

"I want to put our players in better positions to make plays down there and at the same time we have to execute a little bit better, go down there and when we have our opportunities take advantage of them. So, ultimately it starts with me. I have to improve, I have to do a better job."

The difference between six points and three points can make all the difference in a tough environment on the road.


Wide receivers Golden Tate, Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones Jr. all recorded 50 or more receiving yards for the third straight game Sunday night in the win over the Patriots. They are the only trio of wide receiver teammates to each record 50 or more receiving yards in the first three weeks of the season.

When a team has three players who can all make plays in every level of the defense, it makes them hard to defend.

The Cowboys have the league's fourth best passing defense, thanks to a combination of terrific pass rush and rangy cover guys in the secondary. Dallas has held opponents to only 6.58 yards-per-attempt through the air in 2018, allowing a league-best three passes of 20-plus yards.

Can Tate, Golladay and Jones keep their streak of productive games alive against a very good Dallas pass defense?

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