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5 things to watch: Lions at Cowboys

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Tim Vingtman

Fresh off their NFC North victory on the road in Minnesota last Sunday, the Detroit Lions are on the road again tonight in prime time in Dallas looking to make it three straight wins and improve their ranking in the NFC playoffs.

If Detroit wins tonight and next week against Minnesota, they can move up to second place. Depending on what happens with San Francisco in its final two games, the No. 1 seed will also still be in play. But first, the Lions have to take care of business tonight against the Cowboys.

Here are five things to watch out for in this one:

1. ROAD WARRIORS

If the Lions win tonight at AT&T Stadium, they will be the first opposing team to do so this season. Dallas is 7-0 at home and is averaging a league-high 39.9 points per game at home. This is currently the third-highest home scoring average since the NFL merger, behind New Orleans (41.1) and Green Bay (40.1) in 2011. The Cowboys have dominated their opponents 279-108 at AT&T Stadium this season.

“I mean, it’s just something about them as far as man, listen, our pace, our execution, the plays that they make. It shows when you watch them in games at home and away outside of the way they attack you,” the Lions defensive coordinator said. Aaron Glenn said it this week.

“And I think it’s because of the way the crowd reacts in those situations. I’ll tell you, they’re a very explosive team, and we have to be on our Ps and Qs going into this game. I That means they were in tears at home, especially at the start of the match.

Dallas looks to go 8-0 at home for just the third time in franchise history, joining the 1980 and 1981 teams. Detroit has played pretty well on the road all season with a 6- 2.

2. DYNAMIC DUET

Lions running backs David Montgomery and Jahmyr Gibbs each surpassed 1,000 yards from scrimmage during the season, becoming the fourth group of running backs in team history to achieve that goal.

2023 is the first time Detroit has had two players top 800 rushing yards in the same year and the first time two running backs have totaled 10 touchdowns from scrimmage in the same year.

Can Montgomery (910) and Gibbs (872) reach 1,000 rushing yards this season? Given the way they are evolving, this seems likely. Could they accomplish the feat together tonight? The Cowboys rank 19th in rushing defense with 115.7 yards allowed per game.

Lions injury report to Cowboys: Dec. 28 NOTEBOOK: Houston returns to practice O’HARA’S WEEK 17 PREVIEW: Lions tandem of Gibbs and Montgomery is more than just a one-two punch

3. PARSONS EFFECT

Dallas linebacker Micah Parsons is one of the most dynamic defensive players in the league. He has 53 tackles, 15 tackles for loss, 13.0 sacks and 30 quarterback hits this season. The difficult part about trying to slow him down is that Dallas is moving him all over the field. He has 205 reps at left end, 182 at left outside linebacker, 170 at right outside linebacker and 80 at right end. He will also play in the box as an off-ball linebacker.

“Oh yeah, he’s a game destroyer, that’s for sure,” Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson said this week. “I was just talking to the guys upstairs, they move him around so much whether it’s on the right side, left side, over either guard, in the center, he’s just – every moment , he’s almost in a different place, so it’s hard to have a bit of a beat to account for where he’s at.”

Detroit’s offensive line will have to do a good job knowing where he is at all times. The Cowboys also have other dynamic rushers that Parsons improves because of the amount of focus teams have to put on him. The Lions’ 29 sacks allowed this season are the fifth fewest in the NFL.

4.ST. BROWN EFFECT

Amon-Ra St. Brown left last year’s 24-6 loss at Dallas in the first quarter after hitting his forearm in the head and looking a little dazed afterward. St. Brown passed all concussion tests on the sidelines, but was not allowed to return due to a change in the NFL’s concussion policy instituted earlier in the year that prohibited players to re-enter the game if they showed signs of ataxia.

St. Brown played just 10 snaps and had one catch for four yards as the Lions passing game struggled all day. St. Brown is certainly looking forward to playing his part in Dallas this time around.

“What happened last year was pretty unfortunate,” St. Brown said this week. “I’m excited to go out and play. I only got to play this game barely twice, so I’m just excited to be back with the guys in prime time against a good team this late in season. … a team that hasn’t lost at home. It’ll be fun.”

St. Brown leads the Lions with 106 receptions and 1,281 yards. He also scored eight touchdowns. He is 22 receptions away from tying the all-time record for receptions in a player’s first three seasons. St. Brown has 302 and is trailing Minnesota’s Justin Jefferson (324). St. Brown had 12 catches for 106 yards and a touchdown in the win over the Vikings last week.

5. TO TAKE AWAY

One of the main reasons the Lions were able to clinch a division title last week in their 30-24 win over Minnesota was their defense which had four takeaways on four steals, none more important than the safety Ifetu Melifonwu’s first career interception off Jefferson in the game. Lions 5-yard line in the last minute of the match to preserve the victory.

Dallas has scored at least 30 points in every home game this year and ranks sixth in the NFL in total offense. Quarterback Dak Prescott completes 68 percent of his passes when blitzing and Dallas has just 13 giveaways all season, which is the best in the league.

Can the Lions defense find a way to create some of the turnovers that were so important in their win over the Vikings last week? Glenn said that in his experience, turnovers can happen in batches, so he hopes it stays that way.

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