Tuesday, May 30 2023

The Cowboys and Titans, facing off for the first time in four years, both have something to play for in their Thursday Night Football showdown at Nissan Stadium. 

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

The reeling Titans (7-8), losers of five straight games, need a victory for morale. Beating the Cowboys won’t help their playoff odds (their only way into the postseason is beating the Jaguars in Week 18 for the AFC South title), and Tennessee appears to be resting starters (10 starters have either been ruled out or doubtful) for the critical regular-season finale. But several other Titans starters say they’re committed to getting back in the win column before then. 

Injuries have forced Tennessee to use 82 players this season, a year after it used 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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Matchup to watch: Cowboys LB Micah Parsons vs. Titans LT Dennis Daley 

This has the makings of a nightmare for Tennessee. 

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

Thursday’s game offers a prime opportunity for Parson and the Cowboys pass rush to get back on track. In the past three weeks, Dallas has just one sack, which came from Parsons in the Week 15 loss to the Jaguars. The Cowboys have been middle of the pack in pressure rate over that span (27.3% pressure rate, according to Next Gen Stats, tied for 16th in the NFL), but they haven’t gotten home. The Titans rank fourth-worst in adjusted sack rate (9.9%), which accounts for opponent quality, down and distance, per Football Outsiders. 

The extra attention that Parsons will undoubtedly draw should create opportunities for DeMarcus Lawrence and others on the Cowboys defensive line — which in turn should generate more turnovers. Dallas already leads the NFL with 30 takeaways. 

Titans X-factor: RB Derrick Henry

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

If he plays, consider this: He has rushed for more than 100 yards in three straight games. Tennessee will need him at his best to control the clock, which would help to keep Dak Prescott and the Cowboys’ explosive offense 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 run defense. Dallas is allowing 130 rushing 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 CeeDee Lamb

On paper, Lamb should feast against the Titans secondary. Tennessee is allowing 279.6 passing yards per game, second-worst in the NFL. Pass defense was one of the primary reasons it was upset by Houston last week. The Texans converted on pass plays of 20 and 37 yards on back-to-back plays 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 from the slot, where he leads the league with 759 receiving yards and is tied for second with 54 receptions. 


The Cowboys fumble the bag against an inferior team resting several starters, losing any chance at 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 rushing yards allowed per game) and rushing yards allowed per play (3.49), also has the ability to slow down the Cowboys running back tandem of Zeke Elliott and Tony Pollard

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

Titans 24, Cowboys 22

Dallas Cowboys


Tennessee Titans


Top stories from FOX Sports:

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) prior to moving to Tennessee. You can follow Ben on Twitter at @benyarthur

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