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5 things to watch for in Bills vs. Cowboys | Week 15


1. Touchdown makers

This Week 15 cross-conference matchup between the Cowboys and Bills features a number of high-profile talents. But when it comes to putting points on the board, Josh Allen and Dak Prescott aren't only the two most notable in Sunday's game, but in the entire league.

Prescott leads the NFL in passing touchdowns with 28, while Allen leads the NFL in total touchdowns with 35. Sunday will mark just the third matchup between the outright passing touchdown leader and the outright offensive touchdown leader since the 1970 NFL merger.

ESPN NFL reporter, Ed Werder, who appeared on this week's ‘Bills by the Numbers’ podcast, believes Prescott's decision to take off and run more has made the Cowboys offense more difficult to defend.

"After the bye, Dak decided at that point he needed to use his mobility more than he had been at that point," said Werder. "And so, he began to not only run the football at key points in the game, but would also scramble to extend plays, get outside the pocket, and he's been like Josh Allen, one of the best quarterbacks in football, out of the pocket."

Werder also credited head coach Mike McCarthy, who took over offensive play calling duties this season, for encouraging Prescott to be more aggressive on downfield throws.

"They're explosive. I think they're a very talented offense," said Bills head coach Sean McDermott. "As you've seen, they're hard to stop and when you do get them to third down. They're the number one team in third down in the NFL so it's going to take a heck of an effort defensively."

Prescott has two or more passing touchdowns in seven straight games, the longest streak by any quarterback in the league this season.

But the Cowboys and their head coach, Mike McCarthy, are just as concerned with the scoring prowess of Josh Allen.

"He's a dynamic football player. The way he plays the position, he reminds me of a young Brett Favre, just in terms of his temperament and the ability to throw the ball to any quadrant of the field. He's very aggressive running the ball. You have to treat him like a running back because he's not looking to go down. Very impactful football player."

Prescott and Allen have two of the largest passer rating differentials when it comes to playing at home or on the road. Prescott's passer rating drops almost 34 points on the road compared to playing at home. Allen's passer rating jumps almost 32 points when he's playing at Highmark Stadium. It helps explain why Prescott is just 3-3 on the road this season. Josh Allen is 5-1 at home not counting the "home game" loss in London.

2. Cowboys first half scoring

Since 2021 the Bills and Cowboys are the two most prolific teams in terms of point differential. Dallas at +485 and Buffalo at +467 sit first and second in that category. In 2023, the Cowboys rank first at +188 while the Bills rank fifth at +104.

Dallas can thank their first-half scoring output for the bulk of that differential this season. They're averaging almost 20 points in the first half of their games in 2023 (19.8). It's the second-highest first half scoring average in league history (New England, 2007, 20.8).

The Cowboys have more than doubled the scoring output of their opponents in the first half of games by a count of 258 to 125. Their first-half scoring margin of +133 leads the league. Grabbing early leads and sometimes commanding ones has allowed the strength of Dallas' defense to shine.

"When they get up on people like that, their pass rush just goes to work because they know their opponent has to throw it to catch up," said Bleav in Dallas Cowboys podcast host and former Cowboy, Jessie Holley. "And it's Dak Prescott who has been the driving force with that point production. They've been aggressive early, and it's worked for them."

Buffalo has outscored their opponents in the first half of games this season by a count of 170 to 123. Their margin of +47 ranks seventh in the NFL. It should be noted that since 2020, the Bills have an AFC leading +188-point differential against NFC opponents.

3. Trench battle

While much has been made of Dallas' pass rush and with good reason, Buffalo has an underrated pass rush of their own. Currently tied for third in the league in sacks with 42, the Bills defense knows they have to make Dak Prescott uncomfortable in the pocket.

"We've really been impressed with their whole defense," said McCarthy. "Oliver in particular is a very disruptive player. He definitely has our attention. He's a dynamic player. It'll be a big challenge for (Cowboys guards) Tyler (Smith) and Zack (Martin)."

Buffalo's task won't be easy either against a Cowboys offensive line that stands second in the league in pressure rate allowed on just over 28 percent of drop backs (28.2%). And with the likelihood of rotational end A.J. Epenesa being out with a rib injury, the Bills will be leaning more on Von Miller, who according to head coach Sean McDermott looked a lot more like the pre-eminent pass rusher he was last Sunday.

"I thought Von took a step forward last week in the Kansas City game and that's what we're continuing to look forward to going forward here with taking it one week at a time," McDermott said. "With AJ potentially out, it's going to be, 'Hey, next man up' and so whether it's Von or somebody else, that's an important piece for us here."

Look for Bills' promising second-year pass rusher, Kingsley Jonathan, to help fill the void off the edge if Epenesa is unable to play against Dallas.

4. The Parsons Project

Speaking of pass rushers, Micah Parsons is about as good as it gets. Already with 12.5 sacks on the season to rank eighth in the league and leads the NFL in quarterback pressures with 82. His pressure percentage also leads the league as he gets heat on opposing quarterbacks at a rate of just over 20 percent (20.1%).

"He's a heck of a challenge," said Josh Allen of Parsons. "Their D-line is really damn good. They fly around. They've got some guys that absolutely wreak havoc. So, we're going to have our hands full in our protection meetings and make sure we know where 11 is at all times. But he's not the only guy on their D-line that can go. We've got to come out and play our best game on Sunday. That's the feeling we have."

ESPN NFL analyst, Dan Orlovsky, in his weekly appearance on ‘One Bills Live’ said the best way to reduce Parsons impact on the game is to stay out of obvious passing situations.

"To slow down the Dallas pass rush, first of all, you have to be fantastic on first down," Orlovsky said. "This isn't a, 'Let's get into third-and-three.' This is a game where you've got to put Michah Parsons in conflict in many situations. He's the driving force of it. This defensive line wants to create chaos. That's all they want.

"If you think of the offensive line as basically five pieces that are connected as one, they have to stay on the same level with each other and as connected as possible. Dallas wants them all to be dispersed. They do a great job of picks and stunts and running into people, so you can't live on third down.

"Now Josh's legs on third down could be a huge part (in solving that), but even more so because once the Cowboys get all moving around and whatnot, they create some seams. I think this defense is a good unit. I don't think of this defense as a dominant defense as long as you don't let it play to its strengths. They're going to give you underneath completions. They don't think that you are going to be consistent enough to succeed like that."

Dallas also blitzes at the sixth-highest rate in the league at almost 37 percent (36.7%) and plays man coverage on 47 percent of their snaps, more than any other team in football.

"They're trying to get the ball out," said Werder. "They're trying to create some indecision, some panic by quarterbacks and have the ability to take advantage on the back end where Da'Ron Bland has eight interceptions and five pick sixes. This defense is all about creating pressure under Dan Quinn to create opportunities for takeaways."

Since Dallas drafted Micah Parsons in the first round in 2021 the Cowboys lead the NFL in takeaways with 88 and interceptions with 55.

5. Still Cooking

James Cook's production has been surging of late. The second year back is currently on a four-game streak in which he has eclipsed 100 total yards from scrimmage. Last week he rolled up 141 yards despite just touching the ball 15 times and had five of the eight longest plays in the win over the Chiefs.

"I think he's always been kind of a dual threat guy coming out of the backfield, even in college," said Allen. "The more times we get him the ball, it seems like good things happen. So, we've got to continue to find new ways, whether it's in the run game or the pass game. I think if you want to put a linebacker on him, sometimes it's tough sledding if they're not fast enough. He's very elusive with the ball in his hands. He's been making some fantastic plays for us and taking advantage of the opportunities he's had."

Cook has seven games of 100 yards from scrimmage or more this season with his most productive coming in Week 2 against the Raiders when he put up 159 total yards. The University of Georgia product has stayed even keeled all season, even when the opportunities to make plays were limited.

"There have been a lot of ups and downs this season, but I try to stay steady and whenever I have opportunities, I try to answer the bell," said Cook. "The more you produce, the more the ball is going to find you. So, I just try to keep producing and making plays for my team."

Over the last four games Cook has seen his pass targets increase, and of his 18 targets the past four weeks, he has caught 16 of them for a catch rate of 89 percent. Cook said he's worked hard to lay the groundwork with Josh Allen in the passing game.

"The more he trusts me in practice the more it's going to translate to the game," Cook said.

Scroll to see photos from the Buffalo Bills Week 15 practice as the team prepares to take on the Dallas Cowboys.

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