Cowboys hope to cement contender status against Miami Sunday

CBS News Texas

At various times this season, the Miami Dolphins and the Dallas Cowboys have looked like contenders or pretenders.

Both teams are 10-4, have offenses and defense ranked near the top of the league, and have taken care of lesser competition — sometimes winning by eye-popping margins.

But both have struggled against the best teams in the league.

Three of Miami's four losses have come against teams with winning records, while all 10 of its wins have come against teams that entered at .500 or worse. The Cowboys' only win against a team that currently has a winning record came two weeks ago in a 33-13 blowout of the ebbing Philadelphia Eagles.

Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel said he told his players to not think about playoff seeding — Miami currently holds the No. 2 spot in the AFC and can clinch a playoff berth with a win Sunday — or the "narrative" that they can't beat good teams.

"Anything other than to concern yourself with the next opponent, which for us is the Dallas Cowboys, any other narrative that has to do with good teams or playoff seeds or the next three games, all that stuff," McDaniel said Monday, "I gave them the clearance to tell all members of the media to — with all due respect — 'F' off, with all due respect."

Whether they pay attention to it or not, the Dolphins can change that trend Sunday at home, where they have won 18 of their last 21 games. Tua Tagovailoa has a .792 winning percentage at home, which is the second-best among active quarterbacks with at least 20 home starts.

The Cowboys are 3-4 on the road. Last week, they lost 31-10 at Buffalo, giving up 266 yards rushing while recording only 195 yards total.

"You can't get to where you want to go being a .500 team on the road," Dallas coach Mike McCarthy said. "You're not going to be playing playoff games at home with that record either. It's definitely a focus for us."

Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott is averaging 304 yards passing with two interceptions and a 74% completion rate at AT&T Stadium. On the road, he's averaged 216 yards per game with five picks and a 63% completion rate.

The Cowboys clinched a playoff berth before kicking off against Buffalo but still have a chance to win the NFC East and secure the top seed in the conference.

McCarthy said his team will lean on a mix of veterans and youngsters the rest of the way.

"This is why we spend so much time with our younger players," he said. "Because this is the time of year that young players are playing. And it's the most important time of the year because we're all fighting for playoff seeds and so forth. I think the biggest thing is just to stay after it, stay consistent and lean on your leadership.COWBOYS INJURIES

Dallas right guard Zack Martin is expected to play despite sustaining a left quadriceps bruise in the first half against Buffalo. Left tackle Tyron Smith, an eight-time Pro Bowler, was ruled out after injuring his back against the Bills.

McCarthy said defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins would be "hard-pressed to go" because of a sprained ankle. His absence was felt against the Bills, who gained more yards on the ground than any Cowboys opponent in Dan Quinn's three seasons as defensive coordinator.

The Cowboys had shown improvement in the weakest area for an opportunistic unit that excels with sacks and turnovers. But they regressed against Buffalo.

James Cook rushed for 179 yards, the most for a Dallas opponent since Alfred Morris had 200 for Washington in the final game of 2012.

"We weren't physical," cornerback Stephon Gilmore said. "They were more physical than we were. As long as you're physical, you give yourself a chance to win. We weren't that on Sunday."

Tagovailoa on Sunday will for the first time face the team he grew up loving. Although his whole family rooted for the Cowboys, Tagovailoa said everyone is a Dolphins fan now. Still, he's excited to face the team he watched as a child in Hawaii.

"It's going to be cool for the moment, just being able to see the star," Tagovailoa said. "Being able to see those guys in their jerseys. Some of the guys that are playing, I used to watch them while I was in high school playing high school football. And now I get to play against some of the guys on their team."

McDaniel knows Quinn well enough to know the Cowboys' defense will be ready to improve upon last week's poor showing against the run. McDaniel said that performance was "more Buffalo executing that I saw than this, that or the other with Dallas."

McDaniel was an offensive assistant for Atlanta in 2015-16 when Quinn was the head coach, and he has spoken in the past about Quinn helping to initiate his sobriety journey.

"He inspires guys to truly be their best selves," McDaniel said. "I've witnessed it firsthand for a couple of years."

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