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Cowboys, Giants Week 17 Game Maintains Meaninglessness Streak

Jess Haynie

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The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly for Cowboys Against Giants 2

They say "every game matters" in the NFL, and that's generally true. But for several years now, the Dallas Cowboys' regular season finales haven't had any meaningful impact on their season. Week 17 of the 2018 season, on the road to face the New York Giants, is no different.

The last time that the Cowboys were playing for something in Week 17 was the 2013 season, when the Eagles came to Dallas for a winner-takes-all division showdown. But with Kyle Orton playing for an injured Tony Romo, the Cowboys didn't have enough to get the job done.

In fact, before the 2014 season, high stakes were the trend in the finales. As we painfully remember, Dallas had a shot at the playoffs in all of Jason Garrett's first three full seasons as head coach. But all three years ended with disappointing letdowns and 8-8 records.

But since then, Dallas has either secured or sunk their playoff spot before Week 17. Three of the last five seasons (2014, 2016, 2018), the Cowboys have already clinched the NFC East and couldn't help or hurt their playoff positioning in the final regular season game.

The other two years, Dallas was eliminated before they could get to Week 17.

This year's finale was rendered moot thanks to the Cowboys clinching the division last week with their victory over Tampa Bay. They could have accomplished it a week earlier in Indianapolis, but we saw how that went.

Thanks to the current NFC standings, Dallas has nothing to play for this week. They are locked into the fourth seed in the playoffs, being two or more games behind the Chicago Bears and other division winners. A win or loss won't change next week's game one bit.

All the Cowboys can do now is wait to see who's headed to Dallas for the first round of the playoffs. Right now it's the Seahawks, but a Seattle loss coupled with a win by Minnesota would bring the Vikings to AT&T Stadium.

The Philadelphia Eagles could still make the playoffs, but there's no scenario that would allow them to be the fifth seed and play Dallas in the first round.

So with the Cowboys unable to affect their playoff position in any way, how will they treat Sunday's game in New York?


Zack Martin Out, Connor Williams In at Right Guard for Cowboys at Colts

Dallas Cowboys G Zack Martin is helped off the field after a knee injury.

We've seen the team handle this situation in different ways depending on the year. In 2014, Tony Romo, DeMarco Murray, and the gang played to win. Dallas wanted to keep their momentum going into the postseason

The 2016 season saw a bit of both. Dallas played their starters in the first half and then brought in the backups in the second. But that year they also had a first-round bye, so rest wasn't much of a concern.

There's a lot to be said right now for giving players rest. Zack Martin, for example, has been battling a knee injury all year and had to miss Week 15 with it. He will almost certainly get the week off to avoid any sort of regression before the postseason.

Tyron Smith also has nagging injuries which have limited his performance lately. A week off could be big for him, too.

Running back Ezekiel Elliott could also use a breather. The Cowboys' workhorse has looked banged up lately and needs to freshen up for the playoffs. Last week, Dallas called up Darius Jackson from the practice squad so that may indeed be their plan.

With just those three names, you see the potential ripple effect of rest. Even if you weren't going to rest him, do you want to see Zeke getting banged up behind backup offensive linemen? Or do you want to risk Dak Prescott behind second-string protection?

Other veterans such as Sean Lee and Tavon Austin have only just been cleared to play in the last week or two after long absences. Would another week off help their health, or is this meaningless game a good opportunity to get them some run and hopefully find some rhythm?

That's what the Cowboys coaches are up against this week; what's best for individual players and the team as a whole? Momentum is a valuable thing, but so are good health and rest. And in these scenarios, you can almost never work towards both.

But at least it's not a new quandary. As we discussed, Dallas has been in this spot for Week 17 in each of their last two playoff runs.

Hopefully, those experiences will help make the best choices for this Sunday.


Cowboys fan since 1992, blogger since 2011. Bringing you the objectivity of an outside perspective with the passion of a die-hard fan. I love to talk to my readers, so please comment on any article and I'll be sure to respond!

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Dallas Cowboys

LB Justin Phillips Making a Case to Become a Roster Lock With Cowboys

Brian Martin

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LB Justin Phillips Making a Case to Become a Roster Lock With Cowboys

In Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch, the Dallas Cowboys arguably have the best linebacker duo in the entire NFL. They also have some pretty solid backups in Sean Lee and Joe Thomas, but the depth behind those four is completely up in the air. That is excellent news for an undrafted LB like Justin Phillips.

The former Oklahoma State Cowboy LB signed with the Dallas Cowboys as an undrafted free agent after the completion of the 2019 NFL Draft. To go from being an Oklahoma State Cowboy to a Dallas Cowboy must've been a dream come true, especially for a kid from Pearland, Texas who rooted for America's Team growing up. The dream probably won't be complete though unless a roster spot comes with it.

Surprisingly, Justin Phillips has put himself into contention to earn one of those coveted roster spots. The way he has played in the first two preseason games has caught the attention of quite a few people, which should make it extremely difficult for the Cowboys coaching staff when it comes to making roster cut decisions. Dallas Cowboys Staff Writer and former Scout Bryan Broaddus agrees…

"Justin Phillips is going to make it hard on this staff to put him on the street. Not only is his finish impressive, but the awareness he plays with in pass coverage is impressive. There is no way I thought he had a chance for that interception, especially with this initial step into the line, but his ability to turn and run to a spot saved him."

Here is the play/interception Broaddus is referring to:


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The Dallas Cowboys have typically only carried six linebackers on their 53-man roster these past few years. With four spots already spoken for, Justin Phillips is doing his damnedest to lock down one of those final two up for grabs. That, of course, is easier said than done.

Phillips is likely competing with Justin March-Lillard, who led the team in tackles against the Los Angeles Rams last week and fellow undrafted rookie LB Luke Gifford. Gifford, of course, missed the game against the Rams with an ankle injury he sustained in Week 1 of the preseason against the 49ers. It was actually that injury that resulted in more playing time for Justin Phillips.

If you're doing the math here, that's three linebackers competing for two roster spots. March-Lillard probably has the upper hand right now over the two rookies, but I wouldn't say he's secured a job just yet. That leaves the door open for No. 44 (Phillips) and No. 57 (Gifford).

As much as I like Luke Gifford, and I do, I think the stars could be aligning for Justin Phillips to make it through roster cuts. He's playing really well right now, while all Gifford can do is watch from the sideline until he can get back on the field. Regardless though, it's a position battle worth keeping an eye on.

Do you think LB Justin Phillips has done enough to secure a roster spot?


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Dallas Cowboys

How Kris Richard May Help CB Michael Jackson Make Cowboys Roster

Jess Haynie

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Michael Jackson, 49ers

Cornerback Michael Jackson, one of the Dallas Cowboys' 5th-round picks in the 2019 NFL Draft, has not been standing out so far in training camp or preseason. But despite the slow start, the influence of Defensive Backs Coach Kris Richard could help keep Jackson on the 53-man roster this year.

While no team likes parting with their drafted rookies, it certainly happens. That's especially true for Day 3 players, even 5th rounders, and particularly when a team is as deep with talent right now as the 2019 Cowboys.

The cornerback position is one of Dallas' most loaded. They go four-deep with starting talent in Byron Jones, Chidobe Awuzie, Anthony Brown, and Jourdan Lewis, which leaves just one or two roster spots for the remaining prospects.

Michael Jackson is in competition with veteran C.J. Goodwin and the intriguing Donovan Olumba. Both were with the team last year; Goodwin was a special teams contributor and Olumba was a valuable developmental asset on the practice squad.

So far this preseason, we've seen Goodwin shining on special teams and Olumba making plays at cornerback. Jackson hasn't stood out, unless you count jokes about thin he looks on the field.

In contrast, fellow 5th-round rookie Joe Jackson has been showing up at defensive end. Even if there were no suspension concerns with Robert Quinn and Randy Gregory, Joe Jackson has made himself very difficult to cut.

But despite not having that same momentum or energy around him yet, Michael Jackson may still find his way onto the 53-man roster. And that may have something to do with his position coach.


Kris Richard

Dallas Cowboys DB Coach Kris Richard

Since arriving in Dallas during the 2018 offseason, Kris Richard has quickly gained prominence beyond just his official role as the Defensive Backs Coach. He was working as the defensive play-caller last year and is expected to take over fully in 2020, assuming Rod Marinelli retires and Richard doesn't leave for a head coaching opportunity.

When Dallas selected Michael Jackson in the last draft, Jackson became the first cornerback or safety drafted by the Cowboys since Richard arrived. Given that it happened this year, with Richard's influence clearly high on the defense, one would assume that Kris had a big say in the decision to draft Jackson.

No, Richard certainly can't veto any decision made by the Joneses, Will McClay, Jason Garrett, or even Marinelli when it comes to roster management. But if he has any bias towards Jackson as his first draft pick in Dallas, Kris may fight for the rookie more than someone else.

We're all human; agendas come into play. Kris Richard may be more passionate about seeing Michael Jackson succeeding for a variety of reasons. He may pound the table for the team to keep Jackson louder than anyone else in the room.

That doesn't necessarily mean keeping Jackson over some other cornerback, either. The argument could be to go long at CB at the expense of another position; maybe only keeing two quarterbacks or eight offensive linemen to free up a roster spot.

This is purely speculative, of course. For all we know, Richard could be the first one who loses faith and votes to let Jackson go.

But given the situation and all factors involved, it's more likely that Kris Richard will be invested in seeing Michael Jackson succeed and sticking with the Cowboys in 2019. Hopefully, it's in the best interest of the team overall.


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Game Notes

DL Kerry Hyder Impressive In Cowboys Week 2 Preseason Win

Kevin Brady

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Kerry Hyder

Kerry Hyder joined the Cowboys this offseason on a one year deal, and while the four-year NFL veteran has put up some solid tape in his time around the league, it was hard to project just what he could bring to the Cowboys defense.

Listed at 6'2" 270 pounds, Hyder is a bit of a tweener on the defensive line. Though the answer to "will he play tackle or end" seems to be "both" to this point in the preseason.

As he fights for his life on this deep defensive line, Kerry Hyder had himself a day in the Cowboys 14-10 victory over the Rams last weekend.

Hyder made an excellent play defending a screen pass in the first quarter, reading the play perfectly and reacting quickly to running back Darrell Henderson coming out of the backfield. Hyder also created some pressure on the quarterback, and finished with 3 combined tackles in very limited playing time.

Hyder's versatility is working well for him as he looks to make the final roster. Like a Tyrone Crawford type player, Hyder will be able to move inside and out depending on the situation. This allows the Cowboys to be flexible in how they structure their depth chart on defense, and in how they decide to rush the passer on third down.


A pass rushing package involving Robert Quinn and DeMarcus Lawrence on the edge with the combination of Hyder and Maliek Collins on the inside could turn out to be a very dangerous one for opposing offenses to deal with.

Rod Marinelli spoke to this versatility a couple of months ago, showing just how much he values what Kerry Hyder can bring to this team.

"Maybe you adjust him sometime, once in a while – in a one-on-one pass rush situation, stick him over a guard and start to get a feel for it.” - Rod Marinelli

Earlier this offseason, I wrote that Kerry Hyder could end up being Rod Marinelli's next great under-the-radar find on the defensive line. And if he continues to play with the hustle and awareness that he had on Saturday, he's going to make Rod look very smart in his evaluation.

Kerry Hyder is making it very difficult for the front office to let him go. And, at the end of the preseason, I do expect Kerry Hyder to find himself on the Cowboys' active roster. Especially considering how Mike White is playing at quarterback, and how his release could open up an extra spot at a different position group.


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