The Cowboys managed to escape Sunday's meeting with Detroit without getting caught looking ahead, but Thursday's Thanksgiving Day game against the Denver Broncos had to be looming in the backs of their minds. The Cowboys have already delivered a midseason message with their 7-3 record, but Thursday's game against the 8-2 Broncos will give the Cowboys their strongest opportunity to serve notice to the rest of the league.
The Broncos will be the biggest challenge the Cowboys have faced this season, as their 8-2 record is topped in the league by only the undefeated Indianapolis Colts (10-0). As impressive as the Broncos have been this season, though, the single chink in their armor appears to be their performance on the road. Both of Denver's losses have come away from INVESCO Field at Mile High.
The Cowboys and Broncos met on Thanksgiving in 2001, when the Broncos defeated the Ryan Leaf-led Cowboys, 26-24.
- Jake Plummer seems to be shedding his reputation for being turnover-prone, as the Broncos quarterback is having a career season with 2,074 yards for 13 touchdowns and three interceptions.
- Tatum Bell hasn't made Broncos fans entirely forget about former Denver runner Clinton Portis, but the Broncos' second-year back is beginning to make a name for himself nonetheless. Bell has rushed for 640 yards and five touchdowns, averaging 6.0 yards per carry.
- Cornerback Champ Bailey has never been a huge interception threat, but the seventh-year veteran has recorded a career high-tying five interceptions this season.
- The Denver Broncos have recorded 18 sacks, but surprisingly, no single player has recorded more than two. Linebackers Al Wilson and Ian Gold, and defensive linemen Michael Myers, Trevor Pryce, Ebenezer Ekuban, Courtney Brown and Gerard Warren have all recorded two sacks apiece.
Denver's prolific running game has fulfilled all the expectations this season, as Mike Anderson and Tatum Bell have helped produced the AFC's top ground game. The Broncos are averaging 4.9 yards per carry, and as a team have gained 1683 yards and 15 rushing touchdowns this season. Anderson, who missed all of last season due to injury, has already rushed for 782 yards and eight touchdowns.
The Cowboys are familiar with the Broncos' defensive line despite having not faced Denver since 1999. Two of Denver's key players are starting defensive tackle Michael Myers and defensive end Ebenezer Ekuban, who played with the Cowboys for five seasons apiece.
- Cowboys running backs coach Anthony Lynn- Joined the Denver Broncos' coaching staff in 2000, where he spent three seasons as an offensive assistant and assistant special teams coach. Lynn spent three playing seasons with the Broncos as a fullback/special teams standout prior to having his career cut short because of a neck injury in 2000.
- Broncos defensive end Ebenezer Ekuban - A first-round pick of the Cowboys in 1999, Ekuban spent five seasons with the Cowboys, recording 12.5 sacks in that span.
- Cowboys punter Mat McBriar- Signed with the Broncos in 2003 as a rookie free agent. He had just six punts during the preseason before being traded to the Seahawks. After just one preseason game in Seattle, McBrair was released and sat out the 2003 season before signing with the Cowboys last year.
- Broncos defensive tackle Michael Myers - Myers, a fourth-round pick by the Cowboys in 1998, spent five years with the Cowboys before joining the Cleveland Browns in 2003. Myers recorded a career-high 3.5 sacks in 2001.
Denver ate up nearly 19 minutes off the clock in its first two scoring possessions during Sunday's 27-0 victory over the New York Jets . . . Speaking of shutouts, the Broncos' win over the Jets represented their first shutout in eight seasons.