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.
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:
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?
How Kris Richard May Help CB Michael Jackson Make Cowboys Roster
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.
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.
DL Kerry Hyder Impressive In Cowboys Week 2 Preseason Win
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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