By Jason Catania
Fox Sports Sponsored Post
Game: Detroit Lions (3-0) at Dallas Cowboys (2-1)
Date: Sunday, October 2
Time: 1:00 PM EST
Game of the Week Status
The Detroit Lions, long the doormats of the NFL, have finally turned the tables and are currently one of just three remaining unbeaten teams after opening the season with three straight impressive wins, while the injury-plagued Dallas Cowboys, long known for their glitz and glamour as “America’s Team,” have shown a new identity of their own by gutting out wins in two of their first three.
The Lions pulled off an incredible comeback win against the Minnesota Vikings, who actually lead 20-0 at halftime before Detroit came storming back to win in overtime, 26-23. WR Calvin Johnson had two TD snags to help get his team back in the game, and his 40-yard catch in the extra frame set up the game-winning 32-yard field goal by Jason Hanson, who recently set the record for most games with the same team in NFL history (298 and counting).
The victory marked the Lions’ first at the Metrodome in 14 years, and their 3-0 record puts a franchise that hasn’t had a winning season since 2000 atop the NFC North, where they’re tied with the reigning Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers.
Dallas’ effort in Week 3 was no less admirable. With key skill players suiting up despite severe injuries – from QB Tony Romo’s fractured rib and punctured lung to RB Felix Jones’ separated shoulder to WR Dez Bryant’s thigh bruise – the Cowboys eked out a late come-from-behind win against the previously-unbeaten Washington Redskins in the Monday nighter.
While Romo, who received pain-killing injections to help him get through the game, Jones (career-high 115 rushing yards) and Bryant (team-best 63 receiving yards) led the way, it was undrafted rookie kicker Dan Bailey who stole the show by accounting for all of Dallas’ points with six field goals, including a 40-yarder with 1:57 left to put the Cowboys ahead by the final score of 18-16. In spite of all their injuries, the win put Dallas in a three-way tie for the NFC East lead.
What To Expect
The Lions are 3-0 for first time in…forever. Okay, for the first time since 1980, but you get the idea. So they’re motivated to continue to distance themselves from their ugly history.
To do so, Detroit is going to rely on its biggest strength, the passing game, which ranks fourth-best in the league with more than 320 yards per game and is led by former No. 1 overall pick QB Matthew Stafford and Johnson, a Pro Bowl wideout who leads the NFL with 6 TD receptions so far. Expect that duo, arguably the NFL’s most unstoppable QB-WR combo, to have a field day picking on the vulnerable Cowboys secondary.
It would help, of course, if the Lions could get better production on the ground out of RB Jahvid Best, who’s averaging just 2.9 yards per carry. The real change in Detroit, though, is on the other side of the ball. With dominant second-year DT Ndamukong Suh clogging up the middle, the Lions actually have a defense not to be ashamed of for once.
After ranking in the bottom five in points per game four of the past five years – including dead-last three consecutive seasons – Detroit’s D is allowing just 15.3 PPG, good for third-best in the NFL.
That might pose the biggest challenge for Romo and Co. this week, especially after the banged-up Cowboys offense failed to get into the end zone against the Redskins. This time around, Dallas will need more than Bailey’s leg to keep up with Detroit’s explosive offense, which ranks fourth in the league at 33.7 PPG.
Unfortunately, one of the team’s biggest weapons, WR Miles Austin, is sitting out again with a hamstring injury, so much of the success in the passing game will fall upon Romo’s ability to find second-year stud Bryant and his go-to guy, TE Jason Witten, who leads the team in receptions (19) and yards (272).
While much of the focus will be on making sure the offense can get in sync, it would be foolish to overlook the impact that Cowboys LB DeMarcus Ware has on defense, especially when the Pro Bowler is again leading the NFL with 5 sacks after coming off a league-best 15 ½ sacks a year ago.
If he can get consistent pressure on Stafford, who has a long history of shoulder injuries, then Big D might be able to find a way to head into their Week 5 bye with another gutsy win that would, no doubt, go a long way toward helping them get healthy.