Why Cowboys-Titans is a dangerous trap game for Dallas

The Cowboys and Titans, who meet for the first time in four years, have something to play for in their Thursday Night Football matchup at Nissan Stadium.

At 11-4 with a playoff spot already clinched, Dallas is still in contention for the NFC East title and the NFC’s No. 1 seed, albeit with a slim chance. The Cowboys need to beat Tennessee to keep those hopes alive. Dallas needs to win and needs the Eagles to lose to win the NFC East. To earn a first-round bye, the Cowboys would also need Minnesota and San Francisco to lose at least one of their final two games.

The top-seeded Titans (7-8), on a five-game losing streak, need a morale-boosting win. Beating the Cowboys won’t help their playoff chances (the only way to get into the postseason is to beat the Jaguars in Week 18 for the AFC South title), and Tennessee appears to be resting starters (10 starters have been ruled out or doubtful) by the critical end of the regular season. But several other Titans starters say they are committed to getting back in the win column before then.

Injuries have forced Tennessee to use 82 players this season, a year after using 91 players, an NFL record for a non-strike season. So the Titans’ cautious approach isn’t surprising.

This will mark the Cowboys’ first trip to Tennessee since 2014 and the teams’ first meeting since 2018, a contest the Titans won in Dallas.

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Game to watch: Cowboys LB Micah Parsons against Titans LT Dennis Daley

This has the makings of a nightmare for Tennessee.

Daley, who has been the Titans’ starting left tackle since Taylor Lewan tore his ACL in Week 2, has been one of the NFL’s worst-performing starting offensive linemen. He has allowed 12 sacks and 47 pressures this season, both league-worst for offensive tackles, according to Pro Football Focus. And Parsons, who ranks fifth in the NFL with 13 sacks, has plenty of opportunities against Daley. A versatile superstar, Parsons has played 392 of his 646 snaps on the defensive line at right outside linebacker, according to Pro Football Focus. That puts him next to Daley on the offensive line.

Thursday’s game offers a prime opportunity for Parson and the Cowboys to get back on track. In the last three weeks, Dallas has just one sack, coming from Parsons in the Week 15 loss to the Jaguars. The Cowboys have been in the middle of the pack in pressure rate during that stretch (27.3 percent pressure rate, according to Next Gen Stats, tied for 16th in the NFL), but they haven’t come home. The Titans rank fourth-worst in adjusted sack percentage (9.9%), which takes into account opponent quality, drop and yardage, per Football Outsiders.

The extra attention Parsons will certainly draw should create opportunities for DeMarcus Lawrence and others on the Cowboys’ defensive line, which should in turn lead to more turnovers. Dallas already leads the NFL with 30 takeaways.

Titans X Factor: RB Derrick Henry

Henry’s status is uncertain as he is listed as questionable with a hip injury.

Yes plays, consider this: He has rushed for 100+ yards in three straight games. Tennessee will need him at his best to control the clock, which would help keep the Cowboys’ explosive offense and Dak Prescott off the field. Since Prescott returned from a thumb injury in Week 7, Dallas has led the NFL in offensive points per game (34.6).

Working in the Titans favor is a poor Cowboys defense. Dallas allows 130 yards per game, which ranks 22nd in the league.

Even if Henry doesn’t play, fourth-round rookie Hassan Haskins could have a breakout game.

Cowboys X-factor: WR Lamb CeeDee

On paper, Lamb should feast against the Titans secondary. Tennessee allows 279.6 yards per game, second-worst in the NFL. The pass defense was one of the main reasons Houston was upset last week. The Texans converted 20- and 37-yard pass plays on back-to-back drives in the fourth quarter to set up their game-winning touchdown.

Lamb ranks seventh in the NFL in receptions (91), eighth in receiving yards (1,207) and tied for fifth in receiving touchdowns (8). He figures to do plenty of damage in the slot, where he leads the league with 759 receiving yards and is tied for second with 54 receptions.


The Cowboys are facing an inferior team with several starters, losing any chance to win back-to-back NFC East titles. It’s not hard to imagine Dallas overlooking a Tennessee team that hasn’t won a game since mid-November.

If rookie quarterback Malik Willis protects the ball, the Titans have a good chance of winning the time of possession battle. Tennessee, which ranks second in run defense (80.1 yards allowed per game) and yards per game (3.49), also has the ability to slow down the Cowboys’ running back tandem of Zeke Elliott and Tony Pollard.

A win would snap the Titans’ longest losing streak since 2015.

Titans 24, Cowboys 22

Dallas Cowboys


Tennessee Titans


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Ben Arthur is the AFC South reporter for FOX Sports. He previously worked for The Tennessean/USA TODAY Network, where he was the Titans beat writer for a year and a half. He covered the Seattle Seahawks for SeattlePI.com for three seasons (2018-20) before moving to Tennessee. You can follow Ben on Twitter at @benyarthur.

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