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.
Ezekiel Elliott vs Byron Jones Part II: The Case For Paying Zeke
It's a debate that has raged on social media for some time now and it likely won't slow down as the offseason progresses and the Dallas Cowboys begin to hand out massive contracts to their top players. Pay Ezekiel Elliott? Pay Byron Jones? If you could only pay one, which would you pay?
This week fellow Inside The Star Staff Writer, Kevin Brady took to Twitter to poll the populous and his results were a bit surprising to me.
if you can only pay one it should be
The results inspired me to see what would happen if I put the same poll on my timeline.
Inspired by my teammate @KevinBrady88, if you can only pay one, which would it be?
On Monday, Kevin wrote a piece looking at one of the difficult decisions facing the Dallas Cowboys this offseason or next. If the Cowboys could only extend Byron Jones OR Ezekiel Elliott, who should they choose? Kevin, as am I, is a firm believer in Byron Jones ability and says the Cowboys should extend them, and I agree. But let's look at the other side of the argument.
To begin, the Cowboys should and probably will get both guys contract extensions either this offseason or next. It's not impossible with the cap continuing to increase at a rate of about $8-12 million per year that the Cowboys will have the space to get the deals done that they need to get done. Ezekiel Elliott and Byron Jones included.
Byron Jones settled in nicely at cornerback during his first full season at cornerback and knowing what we know about Jones, he won't be satisfied with a second team All-Pro appearance. Expect him to get better. However, if there's a single player that represents the current identity of the Dallas Cowboys, it's Running Back Ezekiel Elliott.
The Cowboys made him the fourth overall pick in 2016 and haven't looked back in their plan to establish the running game. For his career Elliott has averaged 26.9 touches per game over the course of his 40 games.
Here's a look at what Elliott's per game and per 16 game paces look like through the first three seasons of his career.
As you can see from the table above, Ezekiel Elliott is averaging 131.2 total yards per game for his career. In his rookie season he had 1,994 total yards and he sat out the week 17 game against the Philadelphia Eagles when the Cowboys had the NFC and home field advantage locked up. In 2017, Elliott sat out six games and still had nearly 1,000 yards rushing. In 2018, Elliott broke through the 2,000 total yard barrier after seeing a huge increase in his targets and receptions.
Ezekiel Elliott has been everything the Dallas Cowboys could have hoped for and more. With the leadership role he's taken with the team, he's a player that leads both vocally and by example. There are few players on the Dallas Cowboys that give as much effort as he does each snap. How many times has it looked like Elliott was about to get dropped for a two or three yard loss only to grind through tackles to pick up a four yard gain? How many times has he bounced off tacklers to get to the first down marker? Ezekiel Elliott is the human personification of dirty yards, but don't let that fool you into thinking that Elliott can't take it to the house every time he touches the ball. Elliott's is a game breaker who threatens the defense every time he steps on the field.
In 2018, Elliott led the NFL in yards after contact, per Pro Football Focus. His 949 yards after contact in 2018 would have ranked 13th in the NFL in rushing, which was better than David Johnson's 940 yards rushing last season.
Not many running backs effect a football game like Ezekiel Elliott does.
Few players outside of the quarterback position are as much of a focal point for their offense while being an attention grabber for opposing defenses like Ezekiel Elliott is. In 2018, he saw eight or more men in the box on nearly 25% of his carries in 2018. Some of that is related to the Dallas Cowboys insistence on using two tight ends on 50% of their running plays (per Sharp Football), but the other aspect is related to how much they respect the Dallas Cowboys running game. Since the 2014, the Cowboys have been synonymous with running the football. DeMarco Murray, Darren McFadden, and now Ezekiel Elliott have been the faces of that running game behind the Cowboys elite offensive line.
Even in a down year for offensive line play from the Dallas Cowboys, Elliott still managed to lead the NFL in rushing for the second time in three seasons. Elliott made the Pro Bowl for the second time in three years as well. Were it not for the railroad job done by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell in 2017, there's a really good chance that Elliott leads the league in rushing three years in a row and that the Dallas Cowboys make the playoffs all three seasons.
Sure, the running back position is undervalued in the NFL and rushing yardage can be replaced, but there are intangibles to Elliott's game that are very difficult to replace. His ability to grind out the dirty yards, break big plays, create yards after contact, pass protect, be a threat as a receiver, and his leadership make him a player that is difficult to replace.
Yes, Byron Jones was really good in 2018 and deserves to get paid by the Dallas Cowboys as well, but you'd be hard pressed to find a player on the Cowboys roster who has been as consistent and dominating week in and week out as Ezekiel Elliott has been over the last three years.
BREAKING: Cowboys Sign Ex-Packers WR Randall Cobb
According to multiple sources, the Dallas Cowboys have signed former Green Bay Packers Wide Receiver Randall Cobb to a one-year deal to help bolster their depth at the WR position and potentially become Cole Beasley's replacement.
Cowboys are giving former Packers' WR Randall Cobb a one-year, $5 million deal, per source. https://t.co/8KWFPjSP8T
The Dallas Cowboys met with Randall Cobb earlier this week, but he eventually left Dallas without a contract. He must've had a change of heart or just needed time to ponder the Cowboys offer, but regardless of what transpired in that short time he is now part of America's Team.
During his time with the Packers, Cobb accumulated 470 receptions for 5,524 receiving yards and 41 touchdowns. The eight-year veteran will now be expected to replace some of Cole Beasley's production out of the slot for the Dallas Cowboys.
After years of watching Beasley as the Cowboys slot WR, it will be really interesting to see Randall Cobb in that role. He's not as quick twitched as No. 11, but can be just as dangerous due to his ability to be more of a down the field receiver. He also brings added value in the return game and could compete with Tavon Austin to become the return specialist.
This could mean the Cowboys forgo drafting a wide receiver early in the 2019 NFL Draft, but I wouldn't put it past them. Regardless of what happens, this is an excellent addition.
Welcome to Cowboys Nation Randall Cobb!
REPORT: Dallas Cowboys Re-sign Long Snapper L.P. Ladouceur
L.P. Ladouceur is returning for his 15th season as the Cowboys' long snapper. The veteran free agent was re-signed by Dalals today to a one-year deal.
Thanks to Jason Witten's one-year sabbatical with Monday Night Football, Ladouceur has now been with the Cowboys for more consecutive seasons than any current player. He just turned 38 last week, but Louis-Philippe remains one of the top long snappers in football.
The Cowboys have signed long-snapper L.P. Ladouceur to a one-year deal worth $1.03 million and $90,000 in bonus money, but he will count $735,000 against the cap. This will be Ladouceur's 15th season with the Cowboys, tying Ed "Too Tall" Jones, Mark... https://t.co/2iDsi6RX7e
Retaining Ladouceur is an underrated move for the Cowboys given their situation at kicker.
Brett Maher was only 80% accurate overall on field goals last year. The team could be considering an upgrade in free agency.
Whether they bring Maher back or try someone new, having a long snapper with Ladouceur's performance perfection will make things much easier for them.
Dallas Cowboys1 week ago
5 Realistic Free Agents Cowboys Should Sign Before the Draft
NFL Draft7 days ago
Hypothetical La’el Collins Trade Could Recoup Cowboys a 2019 1st-Round Pick
Dallas Cowboys7 days ago
Cowboys Show Interest in Browns DE Emmanuel Ogbah
Player News1 week ago
Chiefs Release Eric Berry, Should Cowboys Be Interested?
Dallas Cowboys2 weeks ago
REPORT: Cowboys Keeping OL Joe Looney, WR Tavon Austin, WR Allen Hurns in 2019
NFL Draft2 weeks ago
7-Round Dallas Cowboys Mock Draft: Post-Combine Edition
Dallas Cowboys7 days ago
BREAKING: Dallas Cowboys Sign DL Christian Covington
NFL Draft16 hours ago
Cowboys Draft Target: Nebraska WR Stanley Morgan Jr.