After some extra time off entering Week 13, the Cowboys (3-9) are tabbed with a quick Tuesday-to-Sunday turnaround as they travel to Cincinnati.
The Bengals (2-9-1) have had their fair share of disappointment and injury woes in 2020 after a promising start to the campaign. At the moment, Sunday's matchup appears to have the makings of an all-out 'tankathon' since the loser would be immediately in the driver's seat for the third overall pick in April's NFL Draft.
Here are five more important storylines for each team heading into Sunday afternoon's showdown with the Bengals.
- Cincinnati returns home to Paul Brown Stadium following a frustration-filled loss to Miami, 19-7. The fourth straight loss marks their longest streak of the season and in another game where the offense struggled to get off the ground. A career-long 72-yard touchdown grab from Tyler Boyd in the first quarter helped the Bengals grow a 7-6 lead that the defense held until the halftime break. But in the second half, Miami held Cincinnati to just 30 yards of offense on five drives with 22 of those yards on one particular pass play. The Bengals have not scored more than 17 points in a game since their stunning Week 8 win over Tennessee and have failed to go over ten points in three of the last four games.
- The Bengals have had a rough 2020 campaign on the injury front much like the Cowboys as they've had to deal with the loss of rookie quarterback Joe Burrow and the extended absence of running back Joe Mixon. Burrow's season came to an end in Week 11 against Washington as the 2020 Draft's top overall pick tore both his ACL and MCL during a third quarter drive. He was well on his way to a standout rookie season with 13 touchdowns and over 2,600 yards in his first ten starts. Mixon on the other hand has been inactive since Week 6 with a lingering foot issue and caused a stable of backs to be used instead. Along with the two major missing pieces on offense, receivers Tee Higgins and Auden Tate, linemen Jonah Williams, B.J. Finney, and Alex Redmond are all banged up and have missed time this season.
- Both Brandon Allen and Ryan Finley have seen significant playing time at quarterback since the season-ending injury to Burrow. Findley was the first to replace Burrow after he left the game against Washington and went 3-of-10 for 30 yards and an interception before being replaced by Allen as the starter the week after. Allen got the nod against both the Giants and Dolphins before Findley took over and completed six of his seven passes. Allen is still expected to be the starter in Week 14 against Dallas, but there are decisions to be made for Zac Taylor and his staff, nonetheless.
- While the missing players on offense is a problem for Cincinnati, the defensive side of the ball stole the headlines this week as safety Shawn Williams received a one-game suspension after his role in a fight last week. In the Week 13 bout with the Dolphins, temperatures boiled over as Williams stepped on the leg of a Miami offensive lineman as a total of five players were ejected. So far, Williams was the only Bengal hit with a suspension and at the moment will not be eligible to play against the Cowboys on Sunday though he does plan to appeal this week.
- Andy Dalton makes his much-anticipated return to the city of Cincinnati to face a Bengals organization where he had spent his entire career. Dalton tallied 10 seasons with the Bengals after he was drafted in the second round of the 2011 NFL Draft. He left the organization in April as the team's all-time leader in completions (2,757), touchdown passes (204), and passer rating (87.5). Dalton has since started five games for the Cowboys in 2020 following a season-ending injury to Dak Prescott in Week 5. He has completed 65-percent of his passes, his best mark since 2015, and thrown for seven touchdown passes including six in his last three games.
- Much like Cincinnati, Dallas is also on a bit of a rough streak over the last two months as the Cowboys have dropped six of their last seven games and now own the worst record in the NFC. Reigning league MVP Lamar Jackson was activated off the COVID-19 list in time to play Tuesday and finished with 107 yards through the air and another 94 on the ground as a part of the massive rushing total by Baltimore. Dallas was down seven points at halftime and had an opportunity to tie the game after beginning the third quarter with a defensive stop. But an inability to finish drives, a couple miscues on special teams, and the defense seemingly running out of gas in the second half, the Ravens pulled away and improved to 4-0 against the Cowboys in Baltimore.
- In the 34-17 loss Dallas surrendered a total of 294 rushing yards to Baltimore, the second time this season that an opponent has surpassed 290 yards on the ground. There was plenty of frustration from coach Mike McCarthy after the game, stating that it continues to be unacceptable to be so insufficient in slowing down opposing teams. Stephen Jones echoed that in his weekly conversation with 105.3 The Fan and said he thinks the Cowboys have the right players on the field but instead the numbers have come from a lack of execution on that side of the football.
- One of the sore spots for Dallas in their Week 13 loss to Baltimore was the inability to finish out drives. There were multiple occasions where Dalton and the Cowboys offense would drive down the field and stall just outside the red zone. The downfall on those stalled drives resulted in losing more points than anticipated as Greg Zuerlein missed three of his four field goal attempts in the game. After making a kick from 32 early in the night, Zuerlein missed from 50, 52, and 53 yards to tie Stephen Gostkowski for the most missed field goals by a player this season, and the most since Week 1. Zuerlein has been dealing with a nagging injury that has had him on the injury report recently but was slated as fully healthy in Week 13, puzzling both Jon Fassel and the Cowboys fan base with his sudden struggles.
- Dallas had a trio of starters on the inactive list prior to Tuesday's game in Baltimore including Donovan Wilson, Anthony Brown, and Cameron Erving. None of the three were placed on IR and should be able to practice this week but with a short turnaround, it'll be another week of guessing who would be available to play Cincinnati. Rookie center Tyler Biadasz is at the end of his three-week stint on IR due to a hamstring injury and could return as soon as Sunday should the Cowboys need him on the offensive line. The Cowboys will likely hold Ezekiel Elliott out of practice this week as he tends to a calf injury. McCarthy said Zeke could still play this weekend but it's expected that Tony Pollard and Rico Dowdle will handle most of the practice reps on this short week.
- Sunday marks the first time the Cowboys have traveled to Cincinnati since the 2012 season. The Cowboys came away with a dramatic 20-19 win, but the game will be remembered more for the tragic loss of Dallas practice squad linebacker Jerry Brown, who died in a car accident the previous Friday. The car was driven by Josh Brent, a current Cowboys defensive lineman at the time. The Cowboys managed to get through the game filled with emotions and rallied from a nine-point deficit in the final quarter to sneak out of Cincy with a win, thanks to a last-second kick from Dan Bailey.