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Cowboys Front Office Proven Right So Far, Faces Reality Check Vs Saints

Sean Martin

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Cowboys Front Office Proven Right So Far, Faces Reality Check Vs Saints
(Max Faulkner/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/TNS via Getty Images)

The Dallas Cowboys deserve a lot of credit for their 6-5 record through 12 weeks, salvaging playoff hopes out of a 3-5 team that was under performing and fading fast. Specifically, the often-criticized Cowboys front office was at the forefront of the team's turnaround. Admitting to offseason mistakes that still have every opportunity to keep the Cowboys out of the playoffs, thanks to the Redskins and Eagles remaining within a game in the division, the Cowboys look competent on offense now. Credit the addition of Amari Cooper and coaching change in the offensive line room, as the team fired Paul Alexander.

Marc Colombo has returned the Cowboys to their winning ways up front, while Cooper has given the team a fighting chance in the passing game. Playing offense without a threat like Cooper on the outside was a death sentence for a young Cowboys unit that was losing confidence by the week.

With Cooper in the fold, the Cowboys can fairly evaluate Quarterback Dak Prescott, who has not turned the ball over in any of his team's last three wins. This front office has talked plenty about extending Prescott's contract, making a sustained level of play with Cooper an absolute must.

Cowboys Front Office Proven Right So Far, Faces Reality Check Vs Saints 1

Everybody knows the 10-1 Saints are in town this week, rolling into AT&T Stadium as winners of ten straight. As the Cowboys prepare for their steepest challenge of the season, facing the reality of being stuck at .500 again with a loss, the organization should come to terms with Thursday's kickoff being a reality check.

Before you instantly dismiss this premise and call me a hater for "writing off" the Cowboys, I'll say now that I firmly believe Dallas will be in this football game with a chance to win late.

With an owner/GM that's compared his team to the 10-1 Rams, outscoring the Cowboys by just over 14 more points a game while running away with the NFC West thanks to an ultra-aggressive offseason, Jerry Jones has a lot at stake this week.

The Rams only loss this season came to this week's opponent, as the Saints defended their home field with a 45-35 shootout win. Games like these around the league have done little to inspire hope in Cowboys Nation that this team can truly contend in the playoffs.

At times, the Rams and Saints (two teams intertwined in the Cowboys season for better or worse) have appeared to be playing a different sport entirely compared to the Cowboys.

Where the Cowboys merely talk about being as dynamic an organization, teams like the Saints back it up. As Dak Prescott is still a quarterback that relies on near-perfect surroundings, Drew Brees is a Hall of Fame lock. For as important as former fourth overall pick Ezekiel Elliott is, the Saints are content with third round pick Alvin Kamara. The Saints top wide receiver, Michael Thomas, has been playing at a high level since 2016 as a second round draft pick.

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly for Cowboys against Philadelphia 2

Dallas Cowboys Head Coach Jason Garrett

The Cowboys have shown a lot of fight for their Head Coach Jason Garrett recently, elevating their level of play to make up for a less-than-dynamic scheme on offense. Across from Garrett on Thursday will be Sean Payton, near the forefront of offensive innovation as his Saints have dismantled teams on that side of the ball.

New Orleans has outscored their last three opponents by a combined 92 points, defeating the Eagles, Falcons, and Bengals handily.

The Cowboys have almost no business hanging around with the Saints, but with the expectation being they'll find a way thanks to a defense that's pushed all the right buttons, their front office once again deserves credit.

Drafting Leighton Vander Esch, moving Byron Jones to cornerback, and hiring Kris Richard all seem like home run moves the Cowboys have made to field a top defense for the first time in years. Lining up against the top scoring offense in the NFL this week will be a reality check.

No matter the outcome, the Cowboys will have four meaningful games remaining for 2018. By all means they should be excited about the prospects of winning the NFC East after such a slow start, but I can't help but ponder the team's standards to do much more than that anytime soon.

Remaining in contention at either 6-6 off a loss to the Saints or 7-5 with a four game win streak is a fantastic way for the Cowboys to stick with what has worked this season -- perhaps only out of desperation.

Though they don't have to play like a desperate team on Thursday, Jerry Jones wants his players to think each play is the "Super Bowl" this week. In an interview on 105.3 The Fan in Dallas, Jones mentioned this game as one that can "change your attitude".

An attitude adjustment that makes the Cowboys a true Super Bowl contender is hard to fathom even with a decisive win against the Saints, and is only something that could peek through the silver and blue tinted windows at The Star.

For sure, more national pundits will be singing the praises of the Cowboys if they upset the Saints. To those of us who've followed this team through alternating wins and losses from week one to seven, an embarrassing home loss off the bye to Tennessee, and countless seasons where a .500 record was far from good enough, the gap between Dallas and New Orleans feels massive.

The Cowboys have done everything possible leading up to this game to close such a gap, but have work left to do - very possibly in the form of more high-level changes - in becoming one of the league's best.

No such team will come out of the NFC East this season, as the defending Super Bowl champions are fighting for their playoff lives, and the Redskins reduced to a backup quarterback.

Cowboys Front Office Proven Right So Far, Faces Reality Check Vs Saints 2

Very often, the best teams go through these aforementioned changes, as the Saints were 7-9 for three straight years from 2014-16 before an 11 win season last year and likely an even better output for 2018.

AT&T Stadium would host a playoff game if the postseason began today, but the second place team in each NFC division has any many wins as Dallas. The Seahawks, stuck behind the juggernaut Rams, have a win over the Cowboys already while the Vikings are hunting the first place Bears as last year's NFC Championship Game loser.

Missing the playoffs entirely at 9-7 last year, the Cowboys desperately want in any way they can make it, with four quarters to prove how worthy they are of a playoff spot coming on prime time in two days.

Professional football is a hard sport to figure out. The Cowboys are certainly improving at doing so in the short-term, with the long-term outlook for this team requiring a much larger sample size than just Thursday's game or even the rest of 2018 as currently constructed.

Tell us what you think about "Cowboys Front Office Proven Right So Far, Faces Reality Check Vs Saints" in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!



Born January 28th, 1996- Cowboys Super Bowl XXX. Point Boro Panther, Montclair State Red Hawk, and most importantly a proud member of Cowboys Nation! I host "Upon Further Review" on 90.3 WMSC FM and wmscradio.com every Friday from 1-4 PM ET. Twitter: @SeanMartinNFL.

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1 Comment
  • DevilDog58

    Your article has just reinforced everything I believe about pro football and the Dallas Cowboys. Besides building a good to great team with talent, we must have great coaching AND aggressive coaching. Payton, McVay and even Belicheck all stay aggressive offensively AND defensively. Just like Jimmy did for us so many years ago, these coaches are and will continue to be winners. When Dallas gets a lead, they tend to be conservative instead of trying to keep scoring. Same thing for our D. Seems like when we get a lead we tend to fall back into a Prevent-Defense instead of staying on the attack. All EXCEPT the Jacksonville game. We stayed aggressive and totally dominated the Jags. I hope they continue to draft well, do as good a job w/free agents as they did with Cooper and start playing each game like it IS a playoff game. We need a young, aggressive OC and I think our young, aggressive DC is already on the roster in Kris Richards. I do think he should use Jourdan much more though. It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog!!! And Lewis, regardless of size, will fight to win. Another outstanding and informative article, Sean!

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Amari Cooper Wins 2nd NFC Offensive Player of the Week Award of 2018

Jess Haynie

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Amari Cooper

For the second time in just three weeks, Dallas Cowboys receiver Amari Cooper has been named the NFC Offensive Player of the Week.

Cooper scored three touchdowns, including the game winner in overtime, to lead the Cowboys to victory last Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles. He has 10 catches for 217 yards, which led all NFL receivers last week.

Dallas Cowboys on Twitter

After his record-setting performance during week 14, @AmariCooper9 is the FIRST #DallasCowboys to win NFC Player of the Week twice in a season! → https://t.co/kvBDIeOgBd #ProBowlVote #ProBowlVote #ProBowlVote #ProBowlVote #ProBowlVote #ProBowlVote

As the official website stated, Cooper is the first Cowboy to win the award twice in the same year. He's also the first Cowboy to be named Offensive Player of the Week since Ezekiel Elliott in 2016.

Before this year, Elliott was the only Dallas player to win the Offensive award in three seasons. Cooper has now done it twice in three weeks.

Since being traded to the Cowboys, Amari Cooper has amassed 40 catches for 642 yards and six touchdowns.

His wasted time in Oakland may keep Cooper out of the Pro Bowl this year, but he's already become a fan favorite in Cowboys Nation. Congratulations to Amari for another well-deserved award!



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Dallas Cowboys

Cowboys Playoff Scenarios: Week 15 Impact Games

Jess Haynie

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Making Sense of the "Garrett Guys" Behind Cowboys Dez Bryant Release

It's hard to believe that we're looking at the Dallas Cowboys potentially clinching the NFC East this week, but that's how dramatic the turnaround has been over the last five games. Week 15 could lock Dallas into the playoffs and give them a lot of freedom over their final two games.

If the season ended today, these would be your NFC playoff standings:

  1. New Orleans Saints (11-2)
  2. Los Angeles Rams (11-2)
  3. Chicago Bears (9-4)
  4. Dallas Cowboys (8-5)
  5. Seattle Seahawks (8-5)
  6. Minnesota Vikings (6-6-1)
    ----------------------------------
  7. Carolina Panthers (6-7)
  8. Philadelphia Eagles (6-7)
  9. Washington Redskins (6-7)

TIEBREAKERS

  • The Cowboys lost to Seattle earlier this year, but still remain the 4th seed as a division winner over a wild card team.
  • The Panthers are ahead of the Eagles thanks to a head-to-head tiebreaker.
  • The Eagles are ahead of the Redskins thanks to a head-to-head tiebreaker. They play each other again in Week 17.
  • The Redskins beat the Panthers earlier this year, but their loss to Philadelphia within their own division negates that tiebreaker.

In truth, there's not much intrigue left for the Cowboys in this regular season. One win gives them the NFC East, and it would take the Saints or Rams dropping all three of their remaining games for Dallas to have a shot at a top-two seed.

So, barring the nearly impossible, Dallas is locked into either the 3rd or 4th seed. They will host one of the Wild Card teams in the first round of the playoffs.

The biggest thing to watch now is how the seeding shakes among the bottom four playoff teams. The Seahawks seem a cut above the likes of Minnesota, Carolina, or one of our NFC East friends, so avoiding them in the first round would be lovely.

Here are this week's games involving the NFC playoff contenders:

Dallas Cowboys @ Indianapolis Colts

We've already discussed what the Cowboys need to do, so let's talk about the Colts. Not only do they have home field advantage this week, but they are fighting for their playoff lives.

Indianapolis is one of four teams with a 7-6 record battling for the final Wild Card spot in the AFC playoffs. The Broncos are also in the mix at 6-7, giving none of these teams any cushion for losing.

Dallas has its own incentive to win, though. If they want to avoid Seattle in the first round, they probably need to take the #3 seed from the Chicago Bears. They need to keep winning and hope for the Bears to drop a game or two.

Ultimately, getting into the playoffs and starting at home is a huge reward. But anything that can help make the road a little easier is worth pursuing. It's no time to rest on your laurels.

Green Bay Packers @ Chicago Bears

As we just discussed, we'd like to see Chicago drop a few games to give Dallas a shot at the #3 seed. This week isn't the worst opportunity, with Aaron Rodgers and Green Bay still not completely eliminated from playoff contention.

Expecting much from the Packers here is unwise. They've had a coaching change and appear to be in a state of organizational disarray. But they still have Rodgers, and crazy things always happens in rivalry games.

So while these are two teams seemingly headed in opposite directions, you never know what could happen given the variable elements. By all means, root for the Cheeseheads.

Miami Dolphins @ Minnesota Vikings

Your rooting interest here comes down to a simple question; who do you prefer to play among that last bunch of Wild Card teams? Who does Dallas match up best against between the Vikings, Panthers, and Eagles?

I think we'd all agree that we don't want to see the Eagles a third time. Beating a team three times in one year is tough to do, and especially given how close last week's meeting was.

The Panthers beat Dallas in the season opener, but that was in Carolina and well before the Cowboys were playing at a high level. A second meeting could go very differently, especially with the recent slumping by the Panthers.

Both Carolina and Minnesota are struggling, with one on a five-game losing streak and the latter having lost their last two. The Vikings just fired their offensive coordinator, so neither of these teams appear to be going into the postseason with any real momentum.

At this point, I'd say it's a toss-up between the Panthers and Vikings. Both are much preferable to seeing the Eagles again, so I would just keep rooting for both to win. In either case, they knock out Philadelphia.

We'll reassess the threat level of Carolina and Minnesota as playoff opponents in a few weeks.

Washington Redskins @ Jacksonville Jaguars

I didn't mention the Redskins among those last three teams because they may not win another game this year. Their QB situation is so bad that even the Jaguars look good by comparison.

Granted, Jacksonville is lousy right now. Washington might be able to go down there and get a win, but neither team has anything to play for now. This one may come down to whether or not the Jaguars have gone into tank mode.

Seattle Seahawks @ San Francisco 49ers

Seattle just walloped the Niners 43-16 a couple of weeks ago, and changing venues is unlikely to make that much difference. The Seahawks are a legit NFC contender and San Francisco is already thinking about the offseason. A Seattle loss would be great, but it ain't happening this week.

Philadelphia Eagles @ Los Angeles Rams

While catching the Rams and getting a top-two seed would be great, it's barely plausible. The far more concrete benefit here is seeing the Eagles lose and getting them further away from a possible Wild Card spot.

In fact, an Eagles' loss this week would give Dallas the NFC East even if the Cowboys fall in  Indianapolis. That's not the way we want to win the division, but you take what you can get.

With the breaking news that Carson Wentz is unlikely to play this week with a back injury, you'd generally think this suits the Cowboys' interests. But Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles is still the backup in Philadelphia, so is anything really for certain?

New Orleans Saints @ Carolina Panthers

We have every reason to root for Carolina here. For one, it helps the Panthers stay ahead of the Eagles in the Wild Card race. Also, it brings the Saints one loss closer to possibly being caught by Dallas. A Saints win doesn't really benefit us all.



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Ezekiel Elliott has Huge Day vs Eagles Thanks to Receiving Prowess

John Williams

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Ezekiel Elliott has Huge Day vs Eagles Thanks to Receiving Prowess

The Dallas Cowboys came away with a huge win against their division rival Philadelphia Eagles, putting them in a commanding position in the NFC East. They're up two games in the division and one of the more underrated story lines from the victory is Ezekiel Elliott's game. He had a huge day that no one is talking about.

Elliott had 28 carries for 113 yards and then caught 12 passes on 13 targets en route to his big performance in the 29-23 win over the Eagles. That's probably the quietest 40 touch, 192 total yard game you'll ever hear about. And yet, that's where we are. Please read that stat line again, because in all of our talk about Dak Prescott, Amari Cooper, and the defense, Ezekiel Elliott's stat line is absolutely ridiculous.

The receiving element that Elliott is providing the biggest difference to the offense this season. He's been a huge asset to Dak Prescott in the passing game as both a primary target and a check down option in the short part of the field. If Elliott isn't showing that he's the best running back in the league, with what he's doing with a broke down offensive line, then people will never give him the credit he's due.

For the last three years, the Dallas Cowboys and their fan base has known what an elite player the Cowboys have in Elliott. He's easily one of the best runners in the NFL, but if you talk to the general NFL fanbase or analysts around the league, Elliott doesn't get the same kind of love as players like Todd Gurley and Le'Veon Bell receive from the national media. The knock against Elliott has been that he doesn't bring the same value as a receiver. With what he has done over the last six weeks, and really all season long, it's safe to say, that won't be a knock against the Cowboys All-Pro running back.

Among running backs this season, Ezekiel Elliott ranks sixth in targets (77), fifth in receptions (65). seventh in yards (502), and is tied for 12th in receiving touchdowns with three. Elliott is the seventh highest rated running back when targeted among running backs with at least 50 targets this season.

Over the last six weeks, since the Amari Cooper trade, only Christian McCaffrey has more targets, receptions, and yards than Ezekiel Elliott.

Elliott's previous career high was in 2016 when he caught 32 passes on 39 targets. With three games left in the season, Elliott has more than doubled his previous career high from that season. Over the last six weeks, he's caught 40 passes with an average of 6.7 receptions per game.

Ezekiel Elliott is on pace for his best total yardage season in the NFL. If he continues at his current per game averages, Elliott would finish the season with 330 carries for 1,553 rushing yards, 80 catches on 100 targets for 618 yards and 10 total touchdowns. He's been great this year, but he's been even better over the last six games. At his per game averages for the last six games, over a 16 game season, Elliott's numbers would look like this; 363 carries for 1,715 yards rushing, 107 receptions on 120 targets for 872 yards, and 13 total touchdowns.

It's rare that Ezekiel Elliott has a game like he did on Sunday and it goes largely unnoticed by Cowboys Nation, but that's just how tremendous Dak Prescott and Amari Cooper were. In a game where the Cowboys got big games and big plays through the passing game, it was Elliott's steadiness that held things together and helped sustain drives like the fourth and one conversion in overtime. Even with Amari Cooper elevating his game since coming to the Cowboys, there's no question that Ezekiel Elliott is the Cowboys best skill position player. Expect more big games for Elliott as the Cowboys continue to "Feed Zeke."



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