Before 2018, the Dallas Cowboys have only made the playoffs six times since the end of the 90s Dynasty. The last four of those postseason appearances have ended in the Divisional Round. Dallas hopes to end that cycle and return to the NFC Championship game by beating the Los Angeles Rams this Saturday night.
Indeed, the Cowboys have not played in the conference title game since the 1995 season. They would go on to defeat the Steelers in Super Bowl XXX, the fifth and last time that Dallas brought home a Lombardi Trophy.
In the 2003 and 2006 seasons, the Cowboys made the playoffs as a Wild Card. Led by Quincy Carter in '03 and first-year starter Tony Romo in '06, they lost both of those road games and were tossed in the first round.
Since then, Dallas has made it to the second, Divisional Round in their last four playoff runs. Two of those were by winning in the first round, and the other two by earning a first-round bye in the regular season.
Unfortunately, all four runs ended the same way:
- 2007: Cowboys go 13-3 to earn bye week, then lose at home to wild card Giants.
- 2009: Cowboys go 11-5 and beat Eagles in Wild Card Round, but then get blown out 34-3 when they face the Minnesota Vikings in Divisional Round.
- 2014: Cowboys go 12-4 and beat Lions in first round, but then lose on the road to Green Bay Packers in Divisional.
- 2016: Cowboys go 13-3 and earn bye week, but again lose to Packers as the home team.
Bye week or no bye week, at home or on the road, Dallas hasn't be able to get the job done in the second round. It's a streak that they desperately want to end this Sunday in Los Angeles.
Of course, a lot of changes over the course of these many seasons. Other than long snapper L.P. Ladouceur, nobody remains on the roster from the 2007 and 2009 teams. Even Jason Garrett was still just the Offensive Coordinator then.
There's even been tremendous turnover since just 2014, with Romo, Jason Witten, and Dez Bryant all moving on. Even Sean Lee, while still on the roster, has gone from the defensive cornerstone to an aged backup.
But even thought we're now firmly in the era of Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, and DeMarcus Lawrence, something still feels familiar about this 2018 season and playoff run. It bears many similarities to the Cowboys' 2009 season.
And hopefully, it's going to end a different way.
The 2009 Dallas Cowboys returned to the playoffs after a one-year absence. Two years before, they'd gone 13-3 and enjoyed a first-round bye. But then the Giants came to Dallas in the Divisional Round and pulled off a demoralizing upset win on their way to the Super Bowl.
In 2008, they'd gone 8-4 before December and were poised for another playoff berth. But the team collapsed with a 1-3 finish to close the season, narrowly missing the tournament after a blowout loss to the Eagles in Week 17.
There was some real concern at the start of 2009. Dallas went 2-2 to start the year and was struggling offensively, only scoring 17 points total in Weeks 3 and 4. They needed a spark.
In Week 5, that spark came in the form of Miles Austin. Wearing #19, Austin had a breakout game while helping Dallas get a road win in overtime over Kansas City. He would finish the year with over 1,300 receiving yards, joining the nucleus of the Cowboys' offense with Romo and Witten.
The Cowboys got hot the same time Austin did, finishing the season 11-5 and winning the NFC East. They then picked up the first playoff win of the Tony Romo era, beating the wild card Eagles at home.
After a week of jubilation, and a sense that Dallas was about return to past glory, they went into Minnesota for the Divisional Round. They limped out after one of the worst playoff losses in NFL history, getting decimated 34-3 by Brett Favre, Adrian Peterson, Jared Allen, and the rest of the 2009 Vikings.
So, why do I say that this 2018 season feels similar?
This year's Cowboys are also returning to the playoffs after a one-year absence. In 2016, they went 13-3 and then got shocked at home in the Divisional Round, same as the 2007 team.
This 2018 team also floundered the next year, though that was helped along by Ezekiel Elliott's suspension. But even when Zeke came back, Dallas had disappointing December losses that ruined a potential return to the postseason.
This year, much like in 2009, Dallas struggled on offense out of the gate. It wasn't until a new receiver arrived, also wearing #19, that things changed. This also team got hot, finished the year strong, and won the division.
Just like in 2009, the Cowboys picked up a monumental win in the first round. Back then it was Tony Romo's first playoff victory, and this year it was Dak Prescott's.
And once again, Cowboys Nation is riding high.
This time around it's the Los Angeles Rams waiting instead of Minnesota, but still a team who had a big regular season and just enjoyed a week off. It has plenty offensive firepower, led by one of the best running backs in the game. It has a defense led by one of the best defensive linemen to every play.
Even Wade Phillips is still involved this time around. He was the Cowboys' head coach in 2009, and is now the Rams' defensive coordinator.
Again, similarities. But this is where we all hope they end.
The 2018 Dallas Cowboys have a chance to do something that Romo, Witten, Austin, Ware, and Dez never did. They can get this franchise back to the NFL's Final Four for the first time in 23 years.
The haunting memories of 2009 and other Divisional Round exits can't be shaken, and won't lose their sting, until someone gives this story a new ending.
Cowboys Sign WR Devin Smith, Former 2nd-Round Pick
The Dallas Cowboys have reportedly signed Receiver Devin Smith, previously with the New York Jets, to a futures contract. Smith was a 2nd-round pick, 37th overall, in the 2015 NFL Draft.
Before going pro, Devin was a college teammate of current Cowboys Ezekiel Elliott, Rod Smith, and Noah Brown. They were all members of the 2014 Ohio State Buckeyes team that won the National Championship.
Smith's agent, Jason Bernstein, tweeting the following earlier today:
Congrats to WR Devin Smith @dsmithosu for signing with the #DallasCowboys! Welcome back. https://t.co/hCMYoE8fEh
Thus far, Smith's NFL career has been marred by injuries. He has suffered two ACL tears in the same knee and only been able to appear in 14 games. He was waived by the Jets last summer and was not with any team last season.
Overall, the 2015 class of receivers has been disappointing. Amari Cooper has been a star and other later-round picks like Tyler Lockett, Stefon Diggs, and Jamison Crowder have been good. But the other big names of the class, such as Kevin White, Breshad Perriman, and DeVante Parker, have not lived up to the hype.
The Cowboys are known for trying to reclaim players who once had high draft status and bad starts to their careers. They are clearly hoping to cash in on Smith's previously perceived potential, which had him projected as a possible first-round talent at one time.
For both Devin and Dallas' sake, we hope it's a success!
Breaking: Scott Linehan and Dallas Cowboys Part Ways
Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network is reporting that the Dallas Cowboys and Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan have mutually agreed to part ways following a tumultuous season that saw the Dallas Cowboys offense finish outside the top 12 three out of his four seasons in Dallas.
Sources: The #Cowboys are firing OC Scott Linehan. Taking their offense in a new direction. An announcement is coming.
Scott Linehan was brought in prior to the 2015 season and saw his offenses finish 31st, fifth, 14th, and 22nd in his four years as the Cowboys play caller. The 2015 season can be excused as the Cowboys rolled out Kellen Moore, Matt Cassell, and Brandon Weeden for 13 starts after Tony Romo was injured twice during the season, but the team 2-11 in those 13 starts and the Cowboys failed to make the playoffs despite a strong performance on the defensive side of the football.
The Cowboys saw an offense that finished fifth in the NFL in points in 2016 decline each of the last two offseasons and Linehan has been continually criticized by analysts, fans, and players as well.
Many believe that the reason that Dez Bryant and Brice Butler weren't brought back in the offseason was because of the public criticism of the offense and the play caller instilling the offense and that criticism has carried over to this season when Dak Prescott and Amari Cooper acknowledged that the Philadelphia Eagles were sitting on the slant routes that they had run all game. Dak mentioned that he changed Amari's route to a go route, which led to a 75 yard touchdown that helped open up the offense.
Cole Beasley has been frustrated with his role for much of the season and deservedly so. He was often non-existent in the offensive game plan until the final five minutes of football games.
In the running game, the offense had become too predictable and reliant upon jumbo formations that led to Ezekiel Elliott having to run against eight in the box anywhere from 25-30% of the time. For perspective, Todd Gurley only ran against eight-man fronts around eight percent of the time. Scott Linehan never looked to attempt to take players out of the box, instead insisting on motioning more players into the box for the offensive line and Ezekiel Elliott to run against. It's amazing when you think about it, that Ezekiel Elliott was able to win the rushing title when facing loaded fronts as often as he did.
This was a move that needed to happen and the Dallas Cowboys didn't need to waste anymore time to make it happen. The offense had become stale and frustrating for the players as well as the fans. While Jason Garrett started the offseason saying he "didn't expect any changes," this was a move that absolutely had to happen for the offense to take a step forward. Below, you can read Jason Garrett's announcement on the move.
Cowboys have fired Scott Linehan
Even after the move for Amari Cooper, the offense looked better, but it still struggled at times to move the football.
The Cowboys have a young team with especially young players on the offensive side of the football. They have a quarterback who can throw from the pocket, but has excellent movement skills and capabilities of throwing the ball on the run. He's an excellent runner on designed runs. Despite us knowing all that, Scott Linehan looked reluctant to use him on designed quarterback runs that weren't read options or speed options. What you saw on designed runs in the Seattle game is what this team should be doing five times a game.
Now the question becomes, who should the Cowboys next offensive coordinator be? Our own, Staff Writer Brian Martin, laid out 5 Options to be the Next Offensive Coordinator earlier this week. I suggest you give it a read.
DeMarcus Lawrence Named Top Free Agent Of The 2019 Class
Much has been made about the Dallas Cowboys 2019 free agent class. Dallas has a ton of cap space moving forward, but they are going to "have" to pay many of the key players on their roster over the next two offseasons in order to keep their young core together.
Of course, when you're drafting, that's the goal. To draft so well that when your own players become free agents, you go ahead and pay them to keep them around, rather than overpay on the free agent market for external players.
One of the major pieces the Cowboys will have to retain this offseason is defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence. And while Cowboys Nation often thinks of Lawrence as underrated around the league, the NFL has caught onto his importance as he enters free agency this Spring.
ESPN.com ranked their top 10 free agents for 2019, with DeMarcus Lawrence clocking in at number one, over elite players like Jadeveon Clowney and Le'Veon Bell.
ESPN's top 10 free agents for 2019 and what Le'Veon Bell should be looking to command based on previous measures. https://t.co/aJ7H1n001t
DeMarcus Lawrence is going to command big time money, likely even Khalil Mack-type money. But the fact of the matter is that he has earned it. Lawrence has been the heart and soul of the Cowboys defensive line the last two seasons, and the most consistent edge player on the team as well.
Not only has he been an effective pass rusher, but DeMarcus Lawrence also plays with a relentless motor against the run that can sometimes be rare to find in those premier pass rushers. He really is a jack of all trades at defensive end, and should be priority number one for the Cowboys this offseason.
Thankfully, I can't imagine the Cowboys not retaining DeMarcus Lawrence and extending him in the coming months.
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