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.
Cowboys en Español: ¿Dónde Tiene Que Mejorar Dallas?
El mejor juego de los Dallas Cowboys en 2018 vino la semana pasada, cuando recibieron a los Jacksonville Jaguars y los vencieron 40-7. Un resultado que tomó a todos por sorpresa demostró la mejor cara en el año de este equipo que apenas tiene un récord de 3-3.
Por más dominantes que se vieron en el emparrillado el domingo pasado, esa actuación no termina de reflejar lo que realmente son los Cowboys. Son un equipo con potencial en la ofensiva y con una defensiva bastante fuerte, pero ¿pueden ganar constantemente como lo hicieron contra Jaguars?
De entrada, la respuesta a esta pregunta parece ser no. Aún en esa victoria, se vieron problemas evidentes en la ofensiva. Para empezar, la falta de ejecución en la segunda mitad en series ofensivas que incluso llegaron a iniciar en territorio enemigo. De gol de campo en gol de campo se juntan puntos, sin duda, pero en partidos cerrados eso termina costando victorias. Hace falta que Dak Prescott y compañía puedan mover el balón una vez en rango de gol de campo y convertir esas oportunidades a touchdowns.
Otra preocupación que no podemos subestimar es que el juego aéreo sigue sin funcionar apropiadamente. Cole Beasley dominó con nueve atrapadas para 101 yardas y dos touchdowns, pero el resto de los receptores se fueron sin más de una recepción por cabeza. El único jugador que logró más de una fue el TE Geoff Swaim, quien se llevo dos en todo el juego.
Si bien Beasley tuvo uno de los mejores juegos en su carrera, más receptores tienen que involucrarse para llevar la ofensiva al siguiente nivel. La buena noticia es que en esta ocasión se enfrentaron contra una de las mejores secundarias en la NFL. Los números son malos, pero tienen la oportunidad de demostrar mucho más contra otras defensivas.
Los Dallas Cowboys tienen que repartir más la bola y seguir buscando maneras creativas de utilizar a su RB Ezekiel Elliott. Pases pantallas en tercera y largo no es ser creativo. Lo vemos funcionar dos o tres veces al año pero mandan esta jugada semanalmente. En cuanto a Dak Prescott, hay mucho donde mejorar. Deberíamos estar viendo pases más arriesgados, al centro del campo y mucho mejor posicionados.
Para la defensiva, las cosas se ven muy bien. Puede que veamos la mejor versión de esta unidad esta semana, cuando viajen a Washington. Maliek Collins, Sean Lee, David Irving, y Randy Gregory estarán jugando mucho más sanos y preparados. Este es un frente defensivo lleno de talento que intimidará constantemente a Alex Smith este domingo.
A pesar de que los Redskins no tienen una ofensiva muy explosiva, el área de oportunidad principal para la defensiva de Cowboys está en la profundidad defensiva. Tanto Jeff Heath como Xavier Woods han hecho un trabajo decente, pero tienen sus momentos en los que no logran asegurar una tackleada y permiten jugadas largas.
Hace unos meses no esperábamos que fuera la defensiva y no la ofensiva la que cargaría a este equipo a muchas victorias, pero ese ha sido el caso en las tres victorias de esta temporada. Y en las tres derrotas, la defensiva fue la que mantuvo a los Cowboys en el juego.
Sin duda alguna, lo que tiene que mejorar es la ofensiva. Los receptores tienen que desmarcarse, Prescott debe ser más preciso y tener una mejor conciencia en la bolsa de protección.
Pero sobre todo, es la inconsistencia del equipo. Esto se comienza a sentir como la temporada del año pasado, cuando los Cowboys se fueron 9-7 y nunca terminaron de establecerse como contendientes a los playoffs. Aún en una NFC East donde todos los equipos tienen récords similares y débiles, no pueden continuar perdiendo una semana y ganando a la otra.
Ganarle a los Redskins sería la primera victoria de Dallas jugando de visita. También sería la primera vez en el año en la que tendrían victorias consecutivas. Por esto y muchas otras razones, incluyendo el potencial liderato de la división, este juego es de suma importancia.
Si ganan, podría ser el momento en el que los Cowboys terminen de darle la vuelta a la página y si pierden, podría ser un indicador de que esta temporada será igual que la del 2017.
Time to get FB Jamize Olawale More Involved Offensively?
The Dallas Cowboys are coming off arguably their best and most complete offensive performance of the season after playing the Jacksonville Jaguars last week, but there is still quite a bit of improvement that can be made. The need to get more playmakers involved is apparent, which is why I think it's time to utilize Fullback Jamize Olawale's unique skill set.
I know many of you will argue that getting Allen Hurns and Michael Gallup going is a higher priority, and you wouldn't be wrong, but Jamize Olawale's playmaking ability could be a huge asset for Quarterback Dak Prescott and the offense. I know it sounds a little strange, but hang in there with me for little bit.
As things stand right now, Olawale has only played 38 offensive snaps (10%) in 2018. That's the exact amount of offensive plays Wide Receiver Terrance Williams has played this year and he's missed the majority of the season. It's not exactly the kind of production I was expecting when the Cowboys decided to bring him aboard via trade with the Oakland Raiders earlier this offseason.
I don't know about you, but I was expecting Olawale to be more involved in the offensive game plan. He is an excellent receiver out of the backfield and isn't too shabby as a runner either. But, we haven't seen him utilized in either fashion this season and I think that's an injustice that needs to be corrected.
Now, I fully understand there are other offensive weapons ahead of him in the pecking order who need to see more targets, but I also really think he can make a difference maker, especially in the passing game. That is where his strengths lie, not as a lead blocking fullback.
Olawale was a bit of a Swiss Army knife during his time with the Oakland Raiders. He played a little running back, fullback, tight end, and even a little slot receiver. I really thought the Cowboys would take advantage of his versatility in the passing game, but as of yet they have failed to do so.
I'd like to see the Dallas Cowboys and Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan utilize Jamize Olawale's unique playmaking ability a little bit more on offense. I think they should try to utilize him like the San Francisco 49ers use their fullback, Kyle Juszczyk. He's much more involved and has played a total of 263 offensive snaps (63.68%) this year.
Juszczyk is a better lead blocking FB then Olawale, but that's not where he makes the most difference in the 49ers offense. He does it as a receiver and has already caught 17 passes for 227 yards and one touchdown. That's some pretty solid production from a position that is being phased out in the NFL.
Now, just imagine the Cowboys offense getting similar production from Olawale and how that would help open up things for everybody else. It's not out of the realm of possibility because the 49ers offense and the Cowboys isn't all that dissimilar.
Unfortunately, I think Jamize Olawale is pretty much an afterthought in the Cowboys offense right now. It's truly unfortunate because I think he can be a difference maker if given the opportunity. And with a division foe like the Washington Redskins next on the schedule, what better time to unleash a new and unseen element of the offense?
Do you think Jamize Olawale needs to be more involved offensively?
Cole Beasley Key to Cowboys Passing Game Productivity?
What most of us already knew was confirmed last Sunday afternoon against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Wide Receiver Cole Beasley is the Dallas Cowboys best receiver and is the key to the passing game productivity. He is not only the most productive, but the most consistent.
Cole Beasley isn't the tallest or the fastest and definitely doesn't look like a prototypical NFL receiver, but he showed last week against the Jaguars why opposing defenses have to account for him on every single play. He torched Jacksonville's top-ranked passing defense for 101 yards on nine catches and added two touchdowns, and it's that production that could help open up the entire passing game for the Cowboys.
It's painfully obvious Cole Beasley has been Dak Prescott's favorite target in the passing game since he took over the starting duties in 2016. Once opposing defenses figured that out they started to make things extremely difficult by bracketing Beasley in coverage and the passing game hasn't been the same since. But, that could be changing if the Jaguars game was an indication of what we might see moving forward.
Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan did a much better job of moving Beasley around to create favorable matchups against the Jaguars. I think we will see much more of that moving forward, but that likely means opposing defenses will once again try to take away Prescott's favorite target. That actually could end up helping the Cowboys passing game though.
If opposing defenses indeed try to contain Cole Beasley like they've done in the past, it should help provide more opportunities for Dallas' other pass catchers. Spreading the ball around to several different receivers would not only help Prescott and the passing game, but also open up the entire offense.
We haven't really seen much of Allen Hurns or Michael Gallup this season, but both are more than capable of being more productive if they are seeing single coverage more often. That's what's likely to happen if defenses bracket Beasley in coverage once again. Both WRs need to be more involved anyway and Beasley's recent spike in production could help do just that.
Now, if defenses decide to try and cover Beasley one-on-one like the Jaguars did quite a bit of last Sunday, the Cowboys would be wise to take advantage of that mismatch. He simply can't be covered by a single defensive back because of his precise route running ability. He is that good.
Regardless of how opposing defenses try to handle/contain Cole Beasley, he is without a doubt key to the Dallas Cowboys passing game productivity. Just the threat of him on the field changes a defenses approach, which is why he is Dallas' #1 WR in my book. He absolutely has to be more involved moving forward, even if it is as a decoy.
Do you think Cole Beasley is the key to the Cowboys passing game productivity?
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