A lot has happened since the Dallas Cowboys defeated the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during Week 15's edition of Sunday Night Football:
- The Philadelphia Eagles beat the New York Giants on Thursday Night Football, giving the Cowboys the NFC East, a first-round bye, and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs as the NFC's top seed.
- The Washington Redskins beat the Chicago Bears, putting them at 8-6-1 on the season and depending on the Cowboys on Monday Night Football (I'll explain in a bit).
- The Green Bay Packers beat the Minnesota Vikings, putting them at 9-6 on the season and a win-and-clinch scenario away from the NFC North title.
What's At Stake This Week?
That final little bit about the Green Bay Packers is very pertinent to the Cowboys match-up against the Lions. Detroit enters this game at 9-5... with a win they will clinch a playoff berth (worst case scenario as the NFC's second Wildcard), but with a loss their hopes remain alive to win the NFC North.
Week 17's Lions/Packers game has already been flexed to Sunday Night Football as - regardless of what happens between Dallas and Detroit - the winner of the game will win the NFC North. The only way that can change any degree is with a Lions-over-Cowboys win, which would give Detroit some room for error against Green Bay.
The stakes could be even higher in that Lions/Packers game if the Cowboys beat Detroit. Should Dallas topple the Lions, then the Washington Redskins will have an opportunity to clinch that second Wildcard spot themselves next week with a win over the New York Giants. That would mean only the winner from Lions/Packers would head to the playoffs.
Derek Carr And Marcus Mariota: A Lesson Learned
Typically on Christmas Eve a fine gentleman named Santa Claus travels across the world to bring presents and joy to everyone... such was not the case in Oakland or Tennessee.
On the day before Christmas we saw both Derek Carr and Marcus Mariota incur broken fibulas, ending their 2016 seasons. Tennessee was still fighting for a playoff spot, and obviously that hurts a lot, but Oakland was already playoff-bound... simply fighting for their division and other advantages.
The NFL is a cruel, cruel thing. Your season can be taken away from you on one random play, we in Cowboys Nation know that all too well (see: 2015). I've cautioned before here at Inside The Star that if/when the Cowboys find themselves in a meaningless game... Tony Romo should not play.
This same notion is applicable to Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, Tyron Smith, if you can name a player that's important to the Cowboys - he's involved. While both Carr and Mariota were playing with something at stake, do you really not want to learn the lesson from that? It's a miracle - a gift - that the Cowboys are where they are, with what they have, and are actually getting healthy (Claiborne, Wilcox, etc.).
Rest Vs Rust
The primary reason why you wouldn't want to put the important players on ice until football games have consequences again (Saturday, January 14th at the earliest for the Cowboys) is because "we don't want them to be rusty in the playoffs."
Do we want anyone to be rusty in the playoffs? Of course not. That goes without saying.
What we want is all of our players... in the playoffs. The Cowboys are at a point where they can have what they want, but yes it comes at the risk of accumulating rust. The counterpoint to that is the risk that's involved with playing them in two meaningless games... losing them altogether like Oakland and Tennessee lost their quarterbacks.
The Detroit Lions Game Is Essentially Meaningless
The Cowboys will play (depending on when you've read this) in Week 16's finale on Monday Night Football. It was a big loss for ESPN that the Cowboys clinched everything back during TNF and that the Green Bay Packers won on Saturday. Why?
The Cowboys side of things is obvious, they have literally nothing to gain. They have it all. On the other side of things, the Lions really can't do much in this game. Yes, they can clinch a playoff spot and I acknowledge the importance of that... but Detroit is basically starting the playoffs now with an extra life that they can burn on their first game.
Even if the Lions win, they are playing for the rights to the NFC North and keeping Green Bay out of the playoffs in Week 17. It is essentially the most meaningless meaningful game ever.
An Allowance For The Alternative
I've been staunch in the notion that Tony Romo, nor any of the important players on the Cowboys, should see any playing time when things are meaningless. The word "meaningless" literally means that there's no meaning... so play people who have no meaning to you.
While I don't agree with it, I understand the argument that players, Romo included obviously, could incur rust with so much time off. As a result, here's my proposal for how the Dallas Cowboys should handle Weeks 16 and 17 at the quarterback position:
- Dak Prescott plays the first three quarters against Detroit.
- Tony Romo plays the final quarter against Detroit.
- Mark Sanchez plays the entirety of the game in Philadelphia.
I called this an allowance because I'm allotting for time for Tony Romo. It's not something that I want happening, but if there is a quarter to play him in... it's this one. The fourth quarter against the Detroit Lions - with the game likely decided - is the safest quarter of the season for Romo. We're talking about potentially two quarters against what will then be a winded defense who is playing in a pseudo-meaningless game.
Why Is Tony Romo Such A Focus In This Conversation?
Tony Romo is the backup quarterback on the Dallas Cowboys. We all know that.
The reason that Romo and his health are of extremely high priority for us is because of what we've learned from this season across the NFL - a backup quarterback is an insane luxury.
Current AFC Playoff QBs: Tom Brady Matt McGloin Ben Roethlisberger Tom Savage Alex Smith Matt Moore No I didn't make any of those names up
Let me reiterate - Dak Prescott is the starting quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys. Tony Romo is the backup. We all acknowledge this.
We also need to acknowledge the lottery ticket that Tony Romo is if something happens to Dak like we saw with Carr and Mariota. Tony Romo's health - he's been hurt three of the last six times he's put on an NFL uniform and saw action - is of the utmost priority to this team. He isn't simply a backup quarterback, he's QB1B. His role should not be diminished by the name assigned to him on the depth chart.
This also has an opposing argument laced with, "well if you think Romo is that injury prone then let's just roll with Sanchez." You tell me who you want in a playoff game at quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys. A rusty Romo that could potentially get hurt or Mark Sanchez? The answer is obvious.
Maximizing Odds With Rest
The notion is that if the Cowboys sit out players in Philadelphia that they'll go "three weeks without playing." There are 19 days between the Lions game and Saturday, January 14th (the day that the Divisional Round begins). They are "missing" what would otherwise be two football games in that span. That's eight quarters of supposedly accumulated rust.
Jason Garrett is this season's Coach of the Year. It's not debatable, accept it or don't - it's true. If anyone is well-equipped to handle that stretch of missed time with his players, it's Coach Garrett and his staff.
In a perfect world the Dallas Cowboys would play every available quarter of football, keep "momentum", and suffer no injuries. Derek Carr and Marcus Mariota just proved that this is not a perfect world.
This is a world - a game - of maximizing odds. We're playing a game of chess, looking far down the road. You do what you can to put yourself in the best positions for success, and this is it. Huzzah.
Was Sunday A “Wake Up Call,” Or Were Cowboys Exposed?
Entering last Sunday's game in Indianapolis, the Dallas Cowboys were riding high. Having won five straight games, including key victories over the top seeded Saints and division rival Eagles, everything seemed to be breaking right for the Cowboys heading into the home stretch.
Their defense was playing like one of the best in football, and after firing Paul Alexander and trading for Amari Cooper their offense was clicking just as they'd hoped. They needed (and still need) just one win to officially close out the division and clinch a home playoff game in January.
Instead, the Cowboys got absolutely demolished by the Indianapolis Colts. Of course, there's no shame in losing a road game to an 8-6 team in the NFL, but the way in which they lost certainly deserves some shame. Not even the 23-0 score can encapsulate the complete butt-kicking Dallas received at the hands of the Colts, and it was the type of loss that can sometimes make you question the blueprint.
The Cowboys, however, are not looking at it that way. Multiple leaders in the locker room have spoke this week about how they "needed" to lose like that. Running back Ezekiel Elliott called the loss embarrassing, but also said it is better for Dallas in the "grand scheme of the season."
Clearly, the leaders and coaches are calling the putrid performance a wake up call, something that will galvanize them and reset their win streak heading into the postseason. But is this really the case, or was the shutout defeat more of a sign of things to come?
Obviously it's too early to say for sure, but I do think it can be a little bit of both.
No, the Cowboys are not the class of the NFC, despite beating what can be called the best team in the same conference a couple weeks ago. There probably will prove to be some drop-off from the top 3 seeds in the conference and the Cowboys, if for no other reason than Dallas will have to go on the road to play those teams in the playoffs. It's really hard to win on the road in the NFL, especially with the increased wackiness of 2018.
The Cowboys offense is far from perfect or prolific, though if clicking they now have the skill talent to drop 30+ points any given Sunday. Their defense is talented, has a high ceiling, but is still very young and inexperienced. Though they've played elite level games before, they've also had some stinkers against the Colts and Titans during the same season.
All of this can be true. The Cowboys can be a team deserving of the playoffs, a team we should not be panicking over, but still a very flawed football team. They can be a team that if "hot" could make a run through the postseason, but also will have to answer some tough questions about coaches and players during the next two offseasons.
After all, who isn't greatly flawed in today's NFL? Hell, we just saw the beloved Rams lose two straight games.
Is it Too Late For Dallas to Fire OC Scott Linehan?
Grab your pitchforks and your torches, it's time to run the Dallas Cowboys Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan out of town. His playcalling has been absolutely atrocious season and it's time for him to hit the road, even if there are only two regular-season games left on the schedule.
It's completely unorthodox for an NFL team to fire an offensive coordinator this late in the season, but just last week we saw the Minnesota Vikings do just that when they parted ways with John DeFilippo. It was definitely a bold move to make considering the Vikings are still in playoff contention, but it was something they believed was in the best interest of their team.
I believe if the Dallas Cowboys want to do what's best for their team right now and not later, then they should go ahead and cut ties with Scott Linehan. His predictability and un-creativeness as a play caller is holding back a talented offense, which is hurting the overall team as a result. He's been given every opportunity to turn things around, but enough is enough.
I'd personally be on board with Jason Garrett taking over the playcalling duties. He has the experience and held the position with the Cowboys from 2007 until Linehan was hired. I'd even consider giving Kellen Moore a shot as the OC. He knows the system and has worked closely with Quarterback Dak Prescott. Regardless, the Cowboys need to find some way to increase their offensive productivity.
Right now the Cowboys offense is the 26th scoring offense in the NFL and are averaging just 19.7 points per game. To make matters worse they are the 31st ranked Red Zone offense in the league. I don't know about you, but I think that is completely unacceptable with the talent they have on the offensive side of the ball.
Firing Linehan has been a long time coming. The Cowboys flirted with the idea earlier this season during the bye week and should've pulled the trigger then, but for some reason or another decided to let him stick around. They are definitely still paying for that mistake now.
The Cowboys mistake not to replace Linehan could mean yet another early exit in the playoffs, something we have unfortunately become accustomed to. Scoring just 19 points a game isn't going to get them very far, which is truly unfortunate considering the talent they've acquired this season.
Unfortunately, as much as we would love to see Scott Linehan tarred and feathered and run out of town, I just don't see the Cowboys doing that before their season is officially over. But, in no way should he be allowed to retain his position beyond this season. He clearly isn't the answer any longer.
Do you think the Dallas Cowboys should fire Scott Linehan?
Despite Embarrassing Showing, Health Remains Biggest Cowboys Concern
What is it about the AFC South with these Dallas Cowboys?
Dallas' five game winning streak came to a close on Sunday, as they got straight-up embarrassed by the now 8-6 Indianapolis Colts on the road. The loss was the first since the Cowboys were embarrassed by a different AFC South competitor, the Tennessee Titans, on Monday night football earlier this season.
Though the final was 23-0, and not a single phase (or really even a single player) showed much fight or promise, the biggest concern I have for the Cowboys moving forward didn't change because of the putrid performance. It didn't change because the defense was gashed play after play or the offense failed to finish a single drive. And it didn't even change because both the Redskins and Eagles secured season-saving victories on the same day Dallas was dismantled.
The biggest concern is still their health, particularly across the offensive line.
That was not a playoff caliber interior offensive line the Cowboys put out their on Sunday. Not even close.
With their backup center in Joe Looney, backup guard in Connor Williams, and the very last interior offensive linemen on their roster in Adam Redmond playing for basically the entire game, this offense never had a chance. Dak Prescott wasn't any more inaccurate or indecisive than normal, but all those who like to scream "step up in the pocket" whenever he is sacked did not seem to have an argument this week.
There often was no pocket to step into, as those interior three, specifically Looney and Redmond, failed to provide much protection or confidence for Prescott at all. Joe Looney has actually been rather solid this season, but Sunday felt like one of his worst games of the entire year.
The Cowboys absolutely need Zack Martin to get healthy if they are to make any noise whatsoever in the postseason. At the very least, the need Xavier Su'a-Filo to come back and replace Redmond, and regain the form he displayed during his debut against the Eagles back in November.
Prescott already has issues with his pocket presence and footwork when pressured, so throwing three backup-level linemen right in front of him is not a recipe for success for the Cowboys.
I'm not jumping out of the window over this loss, and I don't think any of you should be either. Dallas had won three straight incredibly emotional and important home games to extend, save, and solidify their season respectively before this loss. They had also just about clinched the NFC East a week ago with their win over Philadelphia, and they played like a team that was due a flat performance
A letdown loss on the road, against a good team I might add, is not the end of the world. The bigger issue here is their health, because if Martin can return to anchor this offensive line, the offense should look a whole lot better than they did against Indianapolis.
It's time to move on from Sunday, go beat Tampa Bay, officially clinch the division, and get ready for Wild Card Weekend.
Star Blog2 weeks ago
Why is Jerry Jones “keeping a very close eye” on the Kareem Hunt Case?
Dallas Cowboys2 weeks ago
David Irving’s Return Could Make Cowboys’ Defense Even Scarier
Dallas Cowboys2 weeks ago
Wide Receiver Michael Gallup Making a Huge Impact for Dallas Cowboys
Dallas Cowboys7 days ago
Tavon Austin’s Return Should Make Cowboys Offense More Dangerous
Star Blog1 week ago
Time to see What Darius Jackson can do as Zeke’s Backup?
Dallas Cowboys2 weeks ago
2018 Rushing Title: Ezekiel Elliott, Todd Gurley in Neck-and-Neck Race
Game Notes2 weeks ago
Amari Cooper, Ezekiel Elliott Key to Clipping the Eagles Wings?
Dallas Cowboys2 days ago
Cowboys Nation, It’s Time To Take a Deep Breath