Five things to watch: Cowboys at Lions

By Matt Schoch
The Detroit News

When the Lions and Cowboys met in the 1991 playoffs, it was supposed to ignite a rivalry of the teams of the 1990s.

Emmitt Smith and Barry Sanders were on the cusp of greatness, and the rosters were stuffed with young talent. 

For the Lions, Herman Moore was a 22-year-old rookie, and the team’s top 10 tacklers were all under 30 years old, including Pro Bowlers Chris Spielman, Bennie Blades and Jerry Ball.

Dallas, of course, had a young Pro Bowl quarterback in Troy Aikman, who actually didn’t start that playoff game, and an offensive line that would terrorize the league for years.

While the experts may have been right about the dawning of the careers of two of the game’s all-time best running backs, Detroit didn’t live up to the rest of its billing.

The Lions were better that day, winning 38-6 at the Pontiac Silverdome.

Dallas would go on to win three of the next four Super Bowls, winning 11 of its next 12 playoff games and are 14-11 in the postseason since then.

Detroit is 0-9 in the playoffs since that afternoon. Just a little fun trip down memory lane.

Here are five things to watch as the Lions host the Cowboys on Sunday (1 p.m., Fox/760):

Not off the hook

Matthew Stafford being out with an injury shouldn’t let Matt Patricia’s coaching staff off the hook.

Sure, Lions fans don’t expect a win against the Cowboys or a winning record without Stafford, but let’s see something from this crew in Patricia’s second year.

Slow down the Cowboys' prolific offense, which is led by familiar faces in Kellen Moore and Jon Kitna, and show some different things offensively given backup Jeff Driskel’s mobility.

The ability to adjust to injuries is crucial in the NFL, and this staff must show it can do it.

Smooth Kenny G

Wide receiver Kenny Golladay is heating up. With four touchdowns in his last three games, Golladay is hitting his stride.

The third-year player also has some personal incentive in this one, as Amari Cooper of the Cowboys is just one off his league-leading eight receiving touchdowns. Both players have four 100-yard games this season, trailing only Cooper Kupp of the Los Angeles Rams and Michael Thomas of New Orleans, who have five apiece.

The Lions' defensive line will look to prevent Cowboys' Zack Martin (70) and La'el Collins (71) from clearing running lanes for Ezekiel Elliott (21) on Sunday.

Road graders

For all the flair of the playmakers of Dallas lore, the good Cowboys teams have been led by ferocious offensive lines.

Tyron Smith, Connor Williams, Travis Frederick, Zack Martin and La’el Collins may have a ways to go to approach the mid-1990s units of Mark Tuinei, Nate Newton, Mark Stepnoski, Larry Allen and Erik Williams. But they’re on their way.

Watch them punish Detroit’s defensive front, a supposed strength of this team and also its biggest disappointment.

The Next Witten?

Tight end Jason Witten has moved the chains since chains were invented — can you believe he’s back on the field at 37? Witten seemed old when he picked up crucial first downs against the Lions in the 2014 playoffs, now a half-decade ago.

But look out for Blake Jarwin, who leads all qualified tight ends at 9.8 yards gained per target this season. The 25-year-old from Oklahoma State could be a new pain in the defense’s butt.

Welcome mats

Not only have the Lions been breaking fans’ hearts lately, they’ve also been lightening some wallets.

According to Adam Thompson of, the Lions have not covered a spread since Week 6 in Green Bay, with a four-game losing streak against Las Vegas. That’s after covering in the previous four games.

The Cowboys opened as 4-point favorites with the line beefing up to 7 since Stafford was ruled out.

Is it time for another reversal of Lions' fortunes?

Matt Schoch is a freelance writer.