FRISCO, Texas – With an altered schedule due to Monday night football, the final notebook of the week falls on Christmas Eve.
Hopefully this finds you enjoying the holidays with some loved ones. The Eagles already kicked the holiday weekend off in style by handing the Cowboys the NFC East and homefield advantage in the playoffs.
That's not likely to change the way the Cowboys handle this game, though. It's been established that the Cowboys expect to play for the win against Detroit on Monday, so here's what I'll be looking for in this primetime matchup – the fourth straight primetime game this team has played this year.
- Look for Randy Gregory to get significant snaps Monday night against the Lions -- there will be no pitch count here. With the injury to DeMarcus Lawrence, Gregory and Benson Mayowa have been splitting reps in his spot. My guess is that Mayowa will start, but we have seen Jack Crawford open the game in the past, then give way to the others. I could see Crawford focusing more on tackle duty than end with the injury to Cedric Thornton.
- With Tyron Smith missing the majority of practice this week, this is where the loss of Chaz Green hurts the depth of the offensive line. Green was able to step in earlier in the season and the offense was able to continue to still function well. Until proven wrong, I am concerned that if Smith were unable to go -- and currently he is a go, but a lot could change – starting Emmett Cleary against Ziggy Ansah would be a bad situation. From my days of scouting Cleary, I just don't see the athletic ability to handle edge rushers at tackle. I have always thought he was a better player inside than out. The hope is that Smith will be able to answer the bell, but it's an area of concern if he can't.
- What stat makes Matt Stafford so difficult to defend? The Lions are the best team in the league when it comes to facing 3rd-and-long. Teams around the NFL only convert on that down and distance 20 percent of the time – the Lions do it 35 percent.
- I asked Jason Garrett this week about the safety rotation with J.J. Wilcox back in the lineup. I didn't expect to get a clear answer, but I think we are going to see them go back to what we saw earlier in the season. Look for Wilcox, Barry Church, Byron Jones and Jeff Heath to be in and out of the lineup during various points of the game. It has worked well for them, especially in their dime packages.
- Only 2.3 percent of the catchable balls that Dak Prescott has thrown this season have been dropped. That's good enough for best in the NFL.
- Not sure how much we are going to see Vince Mayle in those point-of-attack blocking situations like we have in these previous games. Mayle has the ideal size to play in this role, but if he's going to continue to get called for holding and wiping out key runs – he will be on the bench next to the coaches.
- No Justin Durant means more Damien Wilson in nickel packages. Wilson has been the strong side linebacker in the base and should step in for Durant. The loss of Durant is key due to the fact that each game he has made that one crucial play that gets the defense off the field. Wilson doesn't have the football intelligence of Durant, but is he is more athletic. Keep an eye on Wilson in how he plays those crossing routes by the Lions underneath. That's a big part of their offense and he can help his cornerbacks in coverage by being disruptive.
- My guess at the Cowboys inactives: QB Mark Sanchez, CB Morris Claiborne, RB Alfred Morris, LB Justin Durant , DE DeMarcus Lawrence, DT Cedric Thornton, DE Tyrone Crawford.