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Game Notes

Dallas Cowboys – Detroit Lions: Staff Picks And Predictions; Merry Christmas

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Dallas Cowboys - Detroit Lions: Staff Picks And Predictions; Merry Christmas
Leon Halip / Getty Images

Merry Christmas! I hope your holiday is going well, because the day is halfway over. That’s a real glass-empty way of looking at it, huh? But seriously, today has to end. It must end so that tomorrow can come, because tomorrow the Cowboys host the Detroit Lions on Monday Night Football as the 2016 NFC East Division Champions.

That’s worth welcoming the end of Christmas, right? Right.

You’ve all heard by now, surely, the Dallas Cowboys have nothing left to play for this regular season after the Giants gifted them a loss against Philly on Thursday, and their playoff spot is locked in as well. While it is tremendous news for those faithful fans among us, it’s also a huge question; how do you finish the season if the last two games have no value?

Marcus Mariota and Derek Carr each suffered a broken fibula yesterday so it’s definitely still football season; injuries still happen, even crushing ones. Do the Cowboys risk Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, Dez Bryant, Cole Beasley, and this offensive line for meaningless games? Do the Cowboys risk getting these guys, who we’ll need at the top of their game in January, out of sync by sitting them, resting them?

Well… that is the million dollar question, isn’t it? And it’s only exacerbated by the fact that our starting QB and RB are rookies…

This will be the 27th meeting between the Cowboys and Lions, and it’s a fairly even record at 14-12 Dallas. But more importantly, this will be the first game against Dallas since the controversial 2014 playoff game for the Lions. Histrionics add meaning and make players fight a little harder. Plus, the Lions are trying desperately to stay one game ahead of the Packers for the division title, so we’re sure to get a good show tomorrow night.

But enough lead-in; let’s check in with our staff for their thoughts and score predictions.

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Brian Martin | @Bmart0204

The Cowboys offense got back on track last week against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and I expect a repeat performance against the Detroit Lions Monday night.

Ezekiel Elliott should have another big game and put himself even closer to breaking Eric Dickerson’s rookie rushing record. Defensively the Cowboys have been playing really well and I think they will give Matt Stafford and the Lions offense all they can handle. Detroit has been living off of their late game heroics, but it’s not going be enough to bail them out this week in Dallas.

Cowboys 27 – Lions 19

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Kevin Brady | @Kevinbrady88

Similar to how they did during the 2014 season, I think the Cowboys finish off their season strong despite already having everything locked up.

This team wants to send a message to a potential playoff opponent in the Detroit Lions that if they meet again, things won’t end well for the Lions. Ezekiel Elliott has a big day, and the game is never really in doubt.

Cowboys 31 – Lions 17

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Jess Haynie | @CowboysAddicts

Dallas can say that they are playing to win, but the Lions are truly playing for survival.

Clinching the top seed will make it hard for the Cowboys to match the Lions’ intensity. Dallas may rest some of their banged-up starters.

Cowboys 20 – Lions 31

✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭

Sean Martin | @ShoreSportsNJ

It is Christmas morning as I write this, so I can’t in my right mind pick against the Cowboys – even though they seemingly have nothing to play for.

Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott are going to be out there though, and I think they find a way to pull out another thrilling win late.

Cowboys 28 – Lions 21

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Bryson Treece | @BrysonTreece

It’s a beautiful thing, having nothing to play for; it’s beautiful because all there is to play for this year – unlike 2015 – has already been achieved for the regular season. The Lions can’t say the same, however, as they’re in the fight for their whole season right now.

Like Jess mentioned before, the Lions are going to play with a level of intensity that the Cowboys are ill-suited to match this week. It’ll be interesting, but I’ve got the Lions pulling out a crucial win while the Cowboys cruise a bit. Just a bit, though.

Cowboys 24 – Lions 27

✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭

One thing is for sure, this game will be the last December football game for the Cowboys. Everything else? You’ll just have to wait and see, like the rest of us.

Merry Christmas, Cowboys Nation. LET’S GO COWBOYS!!!

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This is the General Staff account for Inside The Star, a blog for Dallas Cowboys news, scores, schedule, rumors, and analysis. We are the official home for @CowboysNation on Twitter. Follow us today for new content updates straight from our timeline. To learn more about our staff, please visit our Staff listing.

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1 Comment
  • https://InsideTheStar.com/ Bryson Treece

    Gonna be one hell of a game, that’s for sure. Actually excited to see the Lions offense go haha #DivisionChampLife

Game Notes

Cowboys Can Exploit Raiders’ Pass Defense On Sunday

Kevin Brady

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Cowboys Wishlist:
(Tom Fox/The Dallas Morning News)

It doesn’t get much more important for the 2017 Dallas Cowboys than this upcoming Sunday’s game. At 7-6 and with their playoff lives on the line, the Cowboys have no other choice but to defeat the Oakland Raiders if they want to keep their hopes alive.

Though both the Cowboys and Raiders were expected to be fighting for supremacy in their respective conferences, neither has quite had the season they’d hoped for. After a disappointing loss to the Chiefs last week, Oakland now sits at 6-7, and is also in a must-win situation.

Most fans don’t get the opportunity to watch the Raiders each Sunday, and have been wondering what is going wrong out in Oakland. Sure, the offense has taken a step back and Derek Carr has not been the same quarterback we saw a year ago, but overall that side of the ball has been good enough most weeks.

The real problems for the Raiders begin on the defensive side of the ball. And their struggles don’t discriminate – as they’ve been pretty terrible against both the run and pass this season.

According to Football Outsiders’ DVOA (Defensive-adjusted Value over Average) metric, the Raiders defense ranks last in the NFL against the pass and 21st in the NFL against the run. In terms of more raw statistics, the Raiders allow 350.8 yards per game and rank 22nd in the league in net yards per game. The Raiders defense also ranks last in the league in both yards per attempt and completion percentage allowed on throws outside the hashes, according to Pro Football Focus.

The worst position group on this defense, by both the eye test and the Pro Football Focus numbers, are the linebackers. PFF has their linebackers with a 60.6 average grade, and outside of veteran Navorro Bowman, the group has been pretty disappointing.

Their secondary hasn’t been much better either, ranking last in the league against the deep ball and 28th against short passes (again, by DVOA). When you watch the tape you see pretty clear problems on the defensive side of the ball, though many Raiders fans will tell you the struggles of the offense have failed to aid what they expected to be an undermanned defense.

If there was going to be a week for Dak Prescott and Dez Bryant to connect on a few deep balls, the numbers say that this should be the time. While the Cowboys offense has struggled to create yards-after-catch much of the season, this could be another opportunity for Cole Beasley, Rod Smith, Ryan Switzer, and Dez Bryant to make some plays with the ball in their hands.

And though Oakland boasts arguably the best EDGE rusher in the entire league in Khalil Mack, the rest of that defensive roster is not nearly as impressive. If La’el Collins can slow Mack’s pass rush down, the Cowboys offense should be able to have a successful day against the Oakland Raiders.

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Game Notes

Cowboys at Raiders: La’el Collins Faces Toughest Test Yet In Khalil Mack

Sean Martin

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Cowboys at Raiders: La'el Collins Faces Toughest Test Yet In Khalil Mack

In his first year as the Dallas Cowboys’ starter at right tackle, La’el Collins has performed admirably in his transition back to OT from the LG position he excelled at previously.

Amazingly, Collins missed entire weeks of practice prior to the Cowboys’ recent wins over the Redskins and Giants – which put him up against familiar pass rushers in Ryan Kerrigan and Jason Pierre-Paul.

La’el Collins did return to practice yesterday, which is of course an encouraging sign as he now gets set to face the most complete and dominant defensive end the game may offer.

David Helman on Twitter

La’el Collins draws Khalil Mack this weekend in Oakland, which is just the latest elite pass rusher he’s had to face this year. The list of Collins’ matchups features 23 combined Pro Bowl appearances, 9 first-team All-Pros and a Defensive Rookie of the Year. #cowboyswire

Khalil Mack has recorded 8.5 sacks this season, with one in each of his last four games. It is already well-known that the Raiders’ premier defensive end is one of the most all-around talented defenders in the NFL, and having sat down to formally study his tape I was blown away by his consistent ability to make an impact on the game.

Mack4 – Streamable

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There are not many things (if any) that Khalil Mack cannot do as a pass rusher, with the ability to run the arc and bend back to the quarterback seen in the clip above. Mack is always in position to finish at the football thanks to the many ways he can win with his hands. The power he shows through his upper body to pair with polished rush moves on the edge and adequate speed is unfair for even the best tackles.

Mack2 – Streamable

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Not only just immensely gifted, Mack is one of the smartest players I’ve studied this season. Mack simply refuses to stay blocked for long, using his length to keep his distance from blockers when needed while remaining in position to disengage.

Mack3 – Streamable

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In preseason action here against the Cowboys, watch as Mack powers through the late-arriving block of Jason Witten to tackle Ezekiel Elliott from behind.

Mack1 – Streamable

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Even trying to throw the ball over Mack to mitigate his rush ability didn’t work for the Chiefs this last week, as this breakdown in their protection up front leads to Khalil hunting down Alex Smith for a huge loss.

Cowboys at Raiders: La'el Collins Faces Toughest Test Yet In Khalil Mack 1

 

To give this much praise to Khalil Mack and not La’el Collins would be unfair though, as Collins has improved with each rep – mentally and physically – taken at right tackle. The biggest thing Collins has learned is that mirroring rushers to keep them away from Dak Prescott is often more than enough, as opposed to his fan-favorite aggressive style at guard.

Collins2 – Streamable

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Collins’ initial pass set in the above clip forces Oliver Vernon to rush wide against him, which he does nicely by dipping his shoulder and creating a small blocking surface area. As he does this, Collins gets his strong hands inside on Vernon, which keeps him from getting to Prescott through his edge rush.

Collins1 – Streamable

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La’el Collins uses a similar tactic against Vernon again here. What is a concern on this play is the lack of depth Collins gets away from the line of scrimmage on his initial drop.

Against Khalil Mack, Collins will have to be careful not to initiate contact early enough to allow Mack to simply overpower him. Getting depth and consistently playing with proper hand placement will be the only way to do this, as Mack’s ability to flatten the corner is elite for his size and length.

Collins3 – Streamable

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Where Olivier Vernon is similar to Khalil Mack is in his ability to play the run with the willingness to ride blockers as needed. Vernon catches Collins with a wide base here (as James Hanna misses an opportunity to help his right tackle before going out in the pattern), and takes advantage by throwing Collins’ hands off of him and getting in the face of Dak Prescott.

Collins is not going to win every snap against Mack, and the Cowboys will of course not ask him to, but there were enough positives on his tape from week 14 to expect him to hold his own at RT once again.

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This will be the last game the Cowboys play this season without Ezekiel Elliott at RB, and in his absence they have finally found ways to get both Alfred Morris and Rod Smith going. To ensure that Elliott’s return to the field will matter though, the Cowboys need to go on the road Sunday night and run the football at a Raiders’ defense featuring elite bookend DEs in Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin.

The battle between La’el Collins and Khalil Mack is a remarkable one to watch this week, as Collins has earned a starting RT job that Dallas convinced everyone would not be his in the offseason. A culmination of every tough assignment La’el has faced thus far is coming his way in the “Black Hole” this weekend with Mack.

Tell us what you think about “Cowboys at Raiders: La’el Collins Faces Toughest Test Yet In Khalil Mack” in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!

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Game Notes

Takeaway Tuesday: Awuzie and Lewis Impress, Concerns Around Dez Bryant

Mauricio Rodriguez

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Takeaway Tuesday: Awuzie and Lewis Impress, Concerns Around Dez Bryant

The Dallas Cowboys headed to New York a couple of days ago with a mission: survive a potential trap game versus a 2-10 New York Giants team. Despite not getting most of the help they needed from other teams around the league, at least Dallas was able to do the job they could control.

Through three quarters, the Cowboys struggled a lot. It wasn’t until the fourth quarter when they decided to have a touchdown party, outscoring the Giants 20-0 in the final eight minutes of the game.

What did we learn from the Cowboys’ seventh win of the season? Here is this week’s edition of Takeaway Tuesday! 

Dak Prescott Bounced Back

Although the Cowboys are a team that’s barely breathing in the playoff race, the truth is there’re a lot of ways that Dak has improved as a QB. It’s easy to look at a team lose football games and blame the QB without hesitating. That’s been the case most of the season.

It’s fair to say that Prescott hadn’t had an awesome game in a long time, though. But this time, he did just that.

Film Room: How Dak Prescott Beat The Giants' Blitz

Dak Prescott needed a performance like this one. He threw for 332 yards and three touchdowns last Sunday. He made some key throws and key reads during the game and managed to beat the Giants’ blitz with ease. Glad to see you hush the haters, 4.

Certainly a good thing to see when you need to go 3-0 in order to stay in the postseason conversation.

Concerns Around Dez Bryant Continue to Increase

Listen, I love Dez Bryant. He’s been one of my favorite players to ever watch. But at some point, you have to start admitting there is a problem. Yes, Dez Bryant has been struggling this season. Whether you want to blame Dak or Dez about it, it’s fair. I think they both are to blame.

The thing about Dez is that he can have quite a few bad plays and makes you forget about it when he  does something awesome. A perfect example of this is his 50-yard TD against the Giants last Sunday. It came at a perfect moment, but he had dropped some easy balls earlier in the game.

Dez – Streamable

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Dez is getting paid like an elite WR, and despite some great moments on the field, he’s been having a lot of bad ones lately. If you have a $70M contract, you can’t frequently drop passes like that.

It may be about chemistry with his new QB, it may be about age, or it may be just about a couple of bad years for the guy. Whatever it is, as much as we hate to say it, Dez isn’t anywhere close to the “top receivers” conversation this year.

Sean Lee Proved to be Invaluable Once Again

Less Is More For Sean Lee And Cowboys' LBs?I’m constantly amazed by the difference the Cowboys’ veteran linebacker makes when he’s on the field. In his heroic return against the Giants, he finished the day with 18 total tackles, 10 of which were solo. With Sean Lee on the field, this defense has been able to be a headache for opposing offenses.

Sean Lee could easily be this team’s MVP. For Cowboys Nation, it’s been a season of constantly missing football players in Dallas. Out of everyone, I think Sean Lee is the player we missed the most. Including Ezekiel Elliott.

This defense transforms into a very capable one with Lee around. The Cowboys need Zeke back if they want to have success in their hunt for the playoffs, but without Lee, they wouldn’t stand a chance.

Chidobe Awuzie, Jourdan Lewis Are Still Killing It

Coming into this game, one of the biggest question marks was the cornerback position for Dallas. Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis were going to get the start, and there’s always uncertainty around rookies going up against a QB like Eli Manning.

lewis – Streamable

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Look at that coverage by Jourdan Lewis. Look at him turn his head around when the ball’s coming. The way this secondary will grow is exciting to think about. The Cowboys have something special in these two guys. They’ll make for an amazing CB duo for years to come, and I’m excited about what they bring to the table.

Chidobe Awuzie has played the last two games, and he’s been very impressive. Throughout the entire game, his converge was pretty impressive. Eli only targeted him 5 times in the ballgame and was able to complete just two passes against him.

Sean Lee ended up with the interception late in the fourth quarter, but it was perfectly set up by Chidobe Awuzie.

Awuzie – Streamable

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It was a very fun fourth quarter for the Dallas Cowboys, and even though it looks difficult… this football team’s playoff hopes are still alive. Jason Garrett must keep this team focused in the Oakland Raiders for now, though.

Hope dies last, Cowboys Nation. Keep your head up.

Tell me what you think about “Takeaway Tuesday: Awuzie and Lewis Impress, Concerns Around Dez Bryant” in the comments below, or tweet me @PepoR99 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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