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2016 Plan I: Predicting Tony Romo’s Return And When The Cowboys Clinch The NFC East

RJ Ochoa

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Tony Romo

Listen to an audio version of this article on Bumpers!

https://bumpers.fm/e/b0d3jhvdqck000sn8o70

I've been writing this post, in my head, for the last 67 days. I said so with this tweet shortly after it was announced that Tony Romo would miss some serious time this season.

https://twitter.com/rjochoa/status/769622419111710720

2016 Plan I... what exactly is that? Through the horror of the 2015 season here at Inside The Star, I wrote a series of "plans" (for example 2015 Dallas Cowboys: Anything Can Happen) that continually kept the Cowboys in the hunt for the NFC East crown. In this particular plan I also shared a personal interaction that I had with Tony Romo a decade ago.

Tony Romo... our quarterback. We are approaching the one year anniversary of when we last saw him take a regular season snap - Thanksgiving 2015. The subject of when Tony will take his first one of this season has been hotly contested, and one that Owner/President/General Manager Jerry Jones has weighed in on frequently, and most recently this past Tuesday on 105.3 The Fan in Dallas.

"I don’t think that unquestionably Tony is going to be ready to go at some point near the end of the year, and we’ll be able to evaluate things at that time.” -Jerry Jones

This sent Cowboys Nation into quite the tizzy. Why? Only the words, near the end of the year.

These are big - albeit subjective - words, and ones that have some big implications if meant in particular contexts. I digested Jerry Jones' words and dissected them to the point that I had an epiphany regarding Tony Romo's inevitable return. I discussed this on Tuesday's episode of OchoLive.

#OchoLive (11/1): Dissecting Jerry Jones QB Comments | Trade Deadline | RJ's Epiphany On Romo Return

Posted by Inside The Star on Tuesday, 1 November 2016

 

You ready for my epiphany, Cowboys Nation?

Tony Romo will return on Thanksgiving Day when the Dallas Cowboys host the Washington Redskins. 

Why do I believe this? Consider the following:

  • Whether you are Team Tony or Team Dak you undoubtedly agree that the moment the Cowboys pull a healthy Romo in favor of Prescott is when the real controversy begins. There is no way the Cowboys want to have to cross that bridge. In their minds, obviously, if they bring Romo back he'll flourish and things will be great.
  • Tony Romo's kryptonite over the last two seasons has been short weeks. He struggled mightily on Thanksgiving Day in 2014 when the Cowboys lost to the Eagles, and that was because he was more healthy than ever at that point. It was the same story a year later when, after his return four days earlier in Miami, Romo played poorly against the Panthers before suffering the injury that would finally end his season. If Romo were to return on Thanksgiving Day he would not have to play two games in five days, he'd be making his debut and be totally fresh. The Cowboys play seven days after Turkey Day on Thursday, December 1st in Minnesota then get 10 days to rest before traveling to New York to visit the Giants.
  • The Cowboys are currently 6-1 and have three AFC games between now and the all-important Thanksgiving Day. Why does it matter that they're AFC games? They're less important. I'm not diminishing the value of any single game in the NFL, but the most important games are within your division and conference as those serve as the primary tiebreakers. Dallas is currently 2-1 within the NFC East and 5-1 within the NFC, no other NFC team has more than 3 wins in conference. This means that the Cowboys will - regardless of how the next three weeks go - enter Thanksgiving with those credentials at their back.

This is the answer. This is when Tony Romo will return. Lock it up and throw away the key.


So what of this plan, RJ? You just outlined Tony Romo's return, but you promised to tell me how/when the Cowboys will win the NFC East!

I did promise, and here I am to deliver. Welcome to 2016 Plan I. It's beautiful. Here are the current NFC East standings:

  1. Dallas Cowboys: 6-1 Overall, 2-1 in NFC East
  2. New York Giants: 4-3 Overall, 1-1 in NFC East
  3. Philadelphia Eagles: 4-3 Overall, 0-2 in NFC East
  4. Washington Redskins: 4-3-1 Overall, 2-1 in NFC East

NFC East Through Week 14

NFC East Week 9 Week 10 Week 11 Week 12 Week 13 Week 14
Dallas Cowboys @ CLE @ PIT BAL WAS @ MIN @ NYG
New York Giants PHI CIN CHI @ CLE @ PIT DAL
Philadelphia Eagles @ NYG ATL @ SEA GB @ CIN WAS
Washington Redskins BYE MIN GB @ DAL @ ARI @ PHI

These are the next six weeks for the most storied division in professional football. This is all it's going to take, six painless weeks until you can order your NFC East Champions merchandise. Want to know how? I'm always here to please. The next version of this data has wins highlighted in green and losses highlighted in red. I believe this to be a conservative approach to each team's chances over the next month and a half.

NFC East Week 9 Week 10 Week 11 Week 12 Week 13 Week 14
Dallas Cowboys @ CLE @ PIT BAL WAS @ MIN @ NYG
New York Giants PHI CIN CHI @ CLE @ PIT DAL
Philadelphia Eagles @ NYG ATL @ SEA GB @ CIN WAS
Washington Redskins BYE MIN GB @ DAL @ ARI @ PHI

Say this actually happened. This would mean:

  1. Dallas Cowboys: 11-2 Overall, 4-1 in NFC East
  2. New York Giants: 7-6 Overall, 2-2 in NFC East
  3. Philadelphia Eagles: 7-6 Overall, 0-4 in NFC East
  4. Washington Redskins: 6-6-1 Overall, 3-2 in NFC East

Why did I stop at Week 14? What do all of these colors mean? It all makes sense, my friend.

At this point there would be three games left in the season. Because the Cowboys play the Giants, who I believe will have the best run in the next five weeks of our NFC East foes, in Week 14 they have a chance to deliver the finishing blow and get to 11 wins which would be mathematically impossible for the Giants and Eagles with only three left.

If you want you can even forget the games, forget the colors. Here is the recipe to the Cowboys winning the NFC East over the next six weeks:

  • Cowboys Win Five Of The Next Six: This includes games against Cleveland (duh), Baltimore (extremely winnable, I was just being conservative), Washington without Trent Williams, and Minnesota who just saw their Offensive Coordinator resign.
  • Giants And Eagles Both Go 3-3: This is very feasible because you're talking about teams that are 4-3 currently, so that's their pace. What makes things particularly interesting is they play each other in Week 9 so one of them will already be one third of the way there. I'm of the belief that Cowboys Nation should root for Philadelphia to win this game because their five weeks following Sunday are more difficult than New York's. Additionally if Philadelphia does win and the Giants are one third of the way there, the fact that Dallas also plays New York in this stretch gives us the chance to account for the second third... meaning they would only need to lose one of their other four games.
  • Redskins Win No More Than Three Games: Here again we have the benefit of playing the Redskins in this stretch. Assuming the Cowboys win on Thanksgiving when I have predicted Tony Romo will return, this means they would have to go a perfect 4-0 just to prolong their hopes of defending their NFC East title from a season ago. Three of those other four games will be played without the services of Trent Williams so that's a tough sell.

This is all very manageable, if not likely. We have eight weeks of data in order for us to draw conclusions about these teams and discern what will happen over the course of the next six.

Tony Romo will return on Thanksgiving Day and the Cowboys will clinch the NFC East on Sunday, December 11th in New York. Huzzah.

What do you think of my thoughts on Tony Romo's return and Plan I? Let us know! Comment below, Email me at RJ.Ochoa@SlantSports.com, or Tweet to me at @RJOchoa!

Tell us what you think about "2016 Plan I: Predicting Tony Romo’s Return And When The Cowboys Clinch The NFC East" in the comments below. You can also email me at RJ.Ochoa@SlantSports.com, or Tweet to me at @RJOchoa!



I like long walks on the beach, mystery novels, no just kidding those suck. The Dallas Cowboys were put on this earth for us all to love and appreciate. I do that 24/7/365. I also love chicken parmesan. Let's roll. @RJOchoa if you wanna shout!

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Tommy (@TommyVictorySec)

    November 3, 2016 at 8:02 am

    interesting prediction on other NFC East teams. Jones nor Garrett know themselves what they will do because it will depend on our record and “how healthy Romo is”. I think Dak loses starting job (against Skins or later) if Cowboys drop below #1 NFC seed. Here are the scenarios in the next 3 to 5 weeks as I see it. I do not really see Romo starting against Steelers in any circumstance EXCEPT Dak hurt.
    In ~3 weeks vs Ravens:
    1) we are 8-1 Dak starts, Sanchez backup, Romo non-Active
    2) we are 7-2 Dak still starts, Romo backup active roster
    3) we are 6-3 AND Romo is “ready” Romo starts, Dak backup. (unless they are somehow still #1 seed in NFC, unlikely).
    In ~4 weeks vs Redskins:
    4) if we are 9-1 then Romo backup, Sanchez cut IF coaches need someone from street or PS to fill injury hole elsewhere
    5) we are 8-2, then #2 above
    6) we are 7-3, then #3 above if we are no longer #1 seed NFC, #2 above if we are still #1 seed NFC
    7) we are 6-4 then #3 above
    In ~5 weeks @Vikings
    8) we are 10-1, #4 above
    9) we are 9-2, #2 above if we #1 seed NFC, #3 above if we are not #1 seed

    After Vikings game, if we are 11-1, Dak will start the rest of the season unless hurt. If we are 10-2 or 9-3, that is where controversies may start. Romo should be “100% ready” by week 12 and Garrett’s call will be heavily influence on our NFC seeding. If we are #1 seed (at 10-2 or 9-3) then it’ll depend on if coaching staff feels Dak made the mistakes to cause those losses.

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Leighton Vander Esch To Top Rookie Season With Pro Bowl Trip

Mauricio Rodriguez

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Next Day Rant: Cowboys Drafting LB Vander Esch Looks Pretty Smart Now

Dallas Cowboys' rookie Leighton Vander Esch has done enough to prove every single doubter wrong. When Roger Goodell called his name during the 2018 NFL Draft in Arlington, Texas, many in Cowboys Nation rejoiced at the thought of having a young linebacker for a defense surrounded with uncertainty. However, many analysts doubted the draft pick. For a lot of people (sadly, I include myself in this category), the pick should've been used on another player. For most, despite acknowledging his raw talent, Vander Esch wouldn't be able to provide the Cowboys with an instant impact player. Ah, well.

After a remarkable season, Vander Esch (a.k.a. Wolf Hunter) has earned a spot on this season's second-team All-Pro. When the Pro Bowl voting began, Vander Esch was snubbed from the ballot itself. It didn't took the NFL long to realize their mistake and add the Cowboys' linebacker to the list. Despite missing the cut at first, Vander Esch will be heading to Orlando to play in this year's Pro Bowl on January 27th.

https://twitter.com/dallascowboys/status/1085291591399546880?s=21

The former Boise State Bronco will be replacing Carolina Panthers' LB Luke Kuechly, who won't be participating because of an injury.

Vander Esch racked up 140 tackles (per Pro Football Reference), ranking third in the league in this category. He finished the season as the fifth best linebacker in Pro Football Focus' rankings.

But numbers aren't really enough to fully appreciate what Vander Esch did for the Dallas Cowboys. A team that was used to seeing its defense break when veteran Sean Lee went down injured, did not only get someone to fill in for Lee. Vander Esch actually upgraded the Cowboys' defense. It didn't matter where the ball went, he was always around when opponents were tackled. His speed and chance of direction allowed him to run sideline to sideline, covering a huge portion of the field.

Along Jaylon Smith, Dallas managed to have one of the best linebacker duos in the NFL.

The last time a defensive rookie from the Cowboys went to the Pro Bowl was in 1981, when Everson Walls made the team. Vander Esch is the 11th rookie in team history to be selected to the Pro Bowl. This year, the rookie will be accompanied by DeMarcus Lawrence, Byron Jones, Tyron Smith, Zack Martin and Ezekiel Elliott.

Tell me what you think about "Leighton Vander Esch To Top Rookie Season With Pro Bowl Trip" in the comments below, or tweet me @MauNFL and let’s talk football! If you like football and are looking for a Dallas Cowboys show in Spanish, don’t miss my weekly Facebook Live! show, Primero Cowboys!



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Cowboys Expect C Travis Frederick Back for Offseason Program

Jess Haynie

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Travis Frederick

Lost in yesterday's hoopla over Scott Linehan's return was a positive report about Center Travis Frederick. In his comments to the media, Jason Garrett said that Frederick's recovery timetable should allow him to a full participant in the team's offseason program.

After never missing a start in his first five years, Travis missed all of 2018 dealing with the effects of Guillain-Barré Syndrome. The disease attacked his neurological system and required immediate and intensive treatment.

Rob Phillips on Twitter

Jason Garrett says the team anticipates Travis Frederick being involved in the offseason program right from the start this spring if he continues on the same positive track in recovery from Guillain-Barré syndrome. #cowboyswire

While Joe Looney performed admirably in Frederick's absence, he's not an elite talent. Travis has been arguably the best center in the NFL since entering the league in 2013.

It's hard to qualify what effect not having Frederick had on the Cowboys offense in 2018. Ezekiel Elliott still led the league in rushing, but short-yardage plays weren't as automatic as we've seen in past years. A 4th-and-1 stuff was part of what led to the Cowboys' loss this past Saturday.

Dak Prescott was the second-most sacked QB in the NFL in 2018. After being sacked just 25 and 32 times in his first two seasons, the number skyrocketed to 56 sacks.

That's not all on Frederick, of course. Tyron Smith had some health issues and there were was turnover at left guard.

But having your All-Pro veteran center out there to help with the pre-snap reads, and help the rookie guard on his left, might have helped avoid some of those issues.

Indeed, Travis Frederick's return is just one of many reasons for optimism with the 2019 season. One of the best players on the team, he was sorely missed this year and can only help as Dallas looks to build on their division title and playoff appearance.



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For Cowboys to Beat the Rams, Dak Prescott must Lead the Way

John Williams

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Playoff Scenarios Aim Towards Seahawks vs Cowboys in Wild Card

In the NFL wins and losses often come down to quarterback play. That isn't to say that if a team wins, it was all because of the quarterback and inversely, if a team loses that it was all on the quarterback. Teams win or lose games. Generally speaking, however, the quarterback has the highest amount of influence on the outcome of an NFL game. This will be no different for the Dallas Cowboys this Saturday when they take on the Los Angeles Rams in the LA Coliseum. For America's Team to make their first trip to the NFC Championship Game since 1996, Dak Prescott has to have a good game.

This looks to be a good matchup for the Dallas Cowboys offense, which should allow Dak Prescott and the Cowboys to take advantage in certain areas.

A few Rams Passing Game Notes

  • The Los Angeles Rams were middle of the pack against the pass this season, allowing the 14th fewest passing yards in the league this season.
  • The Rams allowed 7.7 yards per attempt. Dak Prescott is averaging 7.6 yards per attempt since week 10 of the season.
  • The Rams allowed the eighth most passing touchdowns in the NFL this season. They and the New Orleans Saints are the only teams in the top 10 of passing touchdowns allowed in the playoffs this season.
  • The Rams were 15th in the NFL in sacks, with 41, but Aaron Donald accounted for half of that with 20.5 sacks on the season. No other player had more than five sacks.
  • They were third in the NFL in interceptions, collecting 18.
  • The Rams allowed the ninth highest yards per completion on the season at 11.8. So on average, every completion went for a first down.

Dak Prescott is playing as well as any quarterback in the playoffs at the moment. Over the last nine games, he's averaging 272 passing yards, two total touchdowns, was only intercepted four times, and was sacked on average 3.2 times per game.

On Saturday night, we saw Scott Linehan put the ball in his hands on a couple designed runs that nearly scored touchdowns. It was an excellent addition to the offense that could help fix the Cowboys red zone woes. Getting Dak Prescott running on some designed runs or quarterback draws could help slow down Aaron Donald and the pass rush.

The Cowboys needed every bit of Dak Prescott magic to overcome a stingy Seattle Seahawks defense in their Wild Card win and they'll need him to step up again this week against the Rams. Every team is going to attempt to take away the running game to make Dak beat you and as he continues to mature, he's getting more and more comfortable doing that. He's comfortable with the big stage and the big moments.

NFL Research on Twitter

Dak Prescott Since 2016, including playoffs * 15 game-winning drives (Most in NFL) * 13 primetime QB wins (Most in NFL) * 19 rush TD (Most in NFL by QB) #DallasCowboys @dak

No Quarterback in the NFL has more game winning drives, rushing touchdowns, or wins in primetime than Dak Prescott. When we talk about Dak Prescott, we talk a lot about the things that he can't do as a passer and deservedly so, he still has some growing to do in that area, but in the things that you can't objectively quantify -- mental toughness, resiliency, clutchness, will, determination -- Dak is one of the best in the NFL. He's as mentally tough as they come in the NFL and he doesn't let the spotlight or the game situation phase him. He has that stuff that's hard to put your finger on.

The Dallas Cowboys will need more of that on Saturday night in Los Angeles. The Rams can score and can score in bunches and if the Cowboys defense starts sluggish or has an off night, they'll need Dak Prescott to keep them in the game. Even if the defense has a good game, Dak still has to come through in the passing game and on the ground to give the Cowboys a chance to pull off the upset.

The Dallas Cowboys are going to try to run the ball against the Rams on Saturday. That's their identity; run the ball, control the clock, and be efficient in the passing game. Prescott, either with his legs or with his arm will have to make some plays to extend drives and keep the Rams offense on the sideline. He'll need to be sharp in the red zone to convert those opportunities into touchdowns. Settling for field goals against the Rams is how the Cowboys get beat.

This matchup with the Rams looks to set up nicely for Dak Prescott and the Dallas Cowboys, yet how things look on paper doesn't mean much when the lights go on and the whistle blows. It's a big stage and it's another win-or-go-home game for the Cowboys (like every game has been over the last nine weeks). In a big game, you need big time players, and the Cowboys have one in quarterback Dak Prescott.



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