Austin Darrow l CNBNewsnet
The Dallas Cowboys are the first team to clinch a playoff spot, following Washington’s loss on Sunday. With that they are also close to clinching the NFC East.
The Giants lost to the Steelers along with the Washington loss, so now all we can do is look ahead at the Cowboys playoff run.
Dallas has overcome every obstacle thrown at them and passed all the tests the media and fans gave them. They took down high powered offenses like Pittsburgh and Washington, come from behind wins against the Eagles and Ravens and the defense even showed toughness in a Thursday night battle in Minnesota.
The Cowboys will look to get revenge on the Giants, who handed them their only loss of the season in Week 1. It could be the last meaningful game for them till playoff time.
Unlike the recent Dallas teams we are used to seeing, this one is different. Not because we don’t have to worry about a December collapse, but the rookie leadership and dominance from Ezekiel Elliott and Dak Prescott.
They are no longer the NFL’s best story, they are now legitimate Super Bowl favorites. It won’t come easy though, they have some more obstacles to overcome to hoist the Lombardi trophy in February.
The Cowboys have seen a start like this before; 2007 ring a bell? Tony Romo in his first full season led the Cowboys to a 12-1 start.
With the bare minimum at stake, the Cowboys dropped two of their last three regular season games. Then they were bounced out of the playoffs by the eventual Super Bowl champion New York Giants.
The Cowboys starters were benched in the second half of the final game that season. Dallas was playing mediocre football, with a record at 13-3.
The discussions all month will be when to rest the starters and if it should happen. That shouldn’t be the focus, it should be whether or not they keep improving.
The Cowboys were outgained by a combined 200 plus yards the last two weeks against the Redskins and Vikings. This team is built off a high-intensity offense and that offense is coming off its worst game of the season.
The Vikings defense took advantage of the offensive lines big weaknesses. Prescott was confused at times by the defensive schemes thrown at him. It’s something the Seahawks should look at in case of a playoff matchup.
It’s on head coach Jason Garrett to keep his team focused on getting better throughout December. They don’t want to head into the playoffs with their last best performance on Thanksgiving.
Resting players before Week 17 would be a mistake by Garrett, but he can still utilize his backups a little more than he has already. MVP candidate Ezekiel Elliot is on pace for around 400 touches and there’s no reason they can’t take the workload off Elliott and give it to backup Alfred Morris.
Dez Bryant is another guy who could be monitored a little more now. Especially since he is becoming injury-prone.
Giving Prescott a rest is useless, the more reps the better he’ll get. If people think it’ll be nice to let Romo get “one last start,” than you’re delusional. It’s a waste of snaps and would be a distraction.
Other than that, the Cowboys can only pray to the Football Gods and hope they don’t take anyone from them for the rest of the season.
Dallas is the No. 29 ranked defense in football according to ESPN and Pro Football Focus has the Cowboys at No. 31 in pass rush.
This is easily one of the worst pass rushing groups in the NFL. They are still trying to find the right formula up front that will make an impact.
The next three weeks they face struggling offensive lines (Giants, Bucs, Lions) and they should use those games to get better before facing better teams in the Divisional Round.
It’s rare to see a team with a poor pass rush win three playoff games. Especially when the quality of quarterbacks include Matt Ryan, Russell Wilson and Tom Brady.
These players have to stay aggressive, because like the 2007 team found out, regular season dominance doesn’t translate to January.