You've heard the term "meaningless games" a lot since the Dallas Cowboys clinched the top seed in the NFC. The broad view of that term is correct; Dallas has nothing to gain or lose in tonight's game with with the Detroit Lions or next week's finale with the Philadelphia Eagles.
That does not apply to every individual, however. Specific players and even coaches can have their own goals and potential fallout from these games, even if the organization as a whole isn't impacted.
Here is a rundown of some thing to watch out for tonight:
Ezekiel Elliott & Rookie Rushing Record
Elliott needs 258 yards over the final two weeks to break Eric Dickerson's 1808-yard record for a rookie season. Zeke would need to average 129 yards over the last two games, which would be up from his current average of 110.8 yards.
This year, Detroit's defense has average just below 100 yards-per-game in allowed rushing yards. Obviously, the Cowboys' rushing attack is better than most.
It's not hard to see Elliott getting at least 129 yards tonight, if not a good bit more. Dallas will be playing conservatively, perhaps giving him carries on 3rd-and-long that would normally be passes. If Dallas lets Zeke chase history, he should get all the opportunities he needs to put up big numbers.
The real concern will be how many touches that Elliott actually gets. Dallas obviously wants him fresh and ready for the postseason. Zeke had better put in work early, because Dallas might pull him in the second half along with other key players.
Randy Gregory Returns
As was expected the last few weeks and made official today, Gregory will return to active duty tonight. The second-year defensive end hasn't played or practiced much in the last twelve months but is reportedly in great physical shape. He has spent the last few months working with the team's training staff.
You can check out our story from earlier today for more details on Gregory's return. Suffice to say, it will be nice to a #94 back on the field in a Cowboys jersey. If Gregory can help bolster the Cowboys' pass rush, which is already starting to find some momentum over the last few weeks, it could be a huge plus heading into January.
Jason Garrett & Cowboys History
If the Cowboys get win #13 tonight, Garrett will be tied with Jimmy Johnson (1992) and Wade Phillips (2007) for the most wins in a single season for a Dallas head coach. Tom Landry has the best winning percentage in a single year, having gone 12-2 two different times back when the NFL only had 14-game seasons.
Obviously, Garrett has to get the win tonight to have a shot at the all-time mark next week. A 14-2 record would be higher than anything Landry, Johnson, or any other Cowboys coach has ever achieved in the regular season.
Garrett is the last guy who would admit to having any interest in these records. If any part of his programming does allow Jason to be a little selfish, I'm sure he's not ignorant of these potential achievements. However, they won't affect his decision making in any way.
Dak Prescott Wins
The head coach isn't the only one who gets wins and losses counted. Dak Prescott's 12 wins as a rookie quarterback is second all-time; Ben Roethlisberger had 13 wins in his rookie year. Prescott can tie Big Ben tonight and then claim the top spot with a win in Philadelphia next week.
The nature of how QB wins are tracked could complicate things. Even if Prescott has the team ahead and goes out, backups could change things and cost him the victory. Like with Garrett's record, this is something that I don't expect to affect playing-time decisions. It's just another fun little point of intrigue for the rest of us.
Resting O-Line Starters vs. Protecting QBs
Dallas will have to find a balance between resting some starters and playing others. This is no more critical than at the offensive line, where the blockers have a direct link to the safety of your quarterbacks.
Tyron Smith is a great example of the conundrum. He has battled back issues all year and Dallas would love to get him some rest. However, do you really want to bench your left tackle with Dak Prescott or even Tony Romo on the field?
The backup to Smith is Emmett Cleary, who had never taken a snap in a regular-season game. As much as Dallas might want to rest Tyron, they may have play him for as long as Prescott or Romo are under center. Detroit's Ezekiel Ansahhas had a bad year but is still a talent who could wreak havoc on an inexperienced player.
David Irving's Rising Star
The 6'7" specimen has a potential breakout game last week against Tampa Bay. Irving posted 1.5 to go along with some pass deflections and other disruptive plays that helped Dallas ice the game in the second half.
Breakout games only stay that way if the production is sustained, though. Irving needs to follow up with some more highlights to earn true notoriety. With several defensive linemen sitting out tonight, he should get plenty of playing time to work with.
What's more, Detroit has been shuffling their offensive line lately. Their starting center is out with a concussion and one of the starting guards has slid over to replace him. Opportunities should be there for Irving, especially if he gets some snaps from the inside.
Dan Bailey's All-Time Status
Last week, Dan Bailey slipped out of the top spot in all-time field goal accuracy for the NFL. Missing two of his six field goals, Bailey's career percentage dropped to 89.4% after the game against Tampa Bay. He is now behind the Ravens' Justin Tucker, who is currently at 89.8% after going 4-for-4 against the Steelers yesterday.
Bailey has enjoyed the top spot for a few years now and would still have it if not some failed 55-yard attempts this year. He and Tucker will likely be battling and forth for a while over the top spot. Going forward, it adds a little extra intrigue to every Bailey kick.
Takeaway Tuesday: Cowboys Have a Championship Defense
The Dallas Cowboys are not only breathing in playoff contention, but they're now the favorites to crown themselves as the NFC East champions in 2018. It's pretty impressive how the tables can turn so quickly in the NFL. Dallas played very well against the Atlanta Falcons last Sunday and we learned quite a bit from them as they bounced back to .500. Here's this week's Takeaway Tuesday! Enjoy it as much as you did Brett Maher's game winning field goal a couple of days ago.
Cowboys Have a Championship Defense
Despite taking steps in the right direction, it's impossible to compare this offense to units like the Chiefs, Saints and Rams. However, it's the Cowboys' defense that could be labeled as a championship unit. Facing an offense with such a strong WR core, allowing only one touchdown on the road is impressive.
The Cowboys sacked Matt Ryan three times and were constantly causing pressures. Byron Jones was great once again, allowing only two catches in passes thrown in his direction. And of course, the kid who's been impressing us all, Leighton Vander Esch continued to play out of his mind. He should be the Defensive Rookie of the Year front runner at this point.
The Cowboys' defense is one of the best in the NFL right now, and any offense will have a tough time facing them. It'll be intriguing to see if they can take the next step and stop a high-powered unit like the Saints in a few days.
Offensive Line Woes Are Gone
The offense has improved a lot the last couple of games. Although there is still a lot to work on, they're not struggling as they were in the first half of the season. The offensive line is a huge part of this. With Marc Colombo at OL coach, things have looked very different in Dallas.
Ezekiel Elliott: "I feel great. I feel fast. I feel physical. I feel very comfortable with the running schemes. We just got to keep rolling. That's what's important. We just got to keep rolling.
Ezekiel Elliott has been on a roll the past two weeks and his comments regarding how he feels about the running schemes shouldn't go unnoticed. The offensive line wasn't playing as well as they are right now earlier in the year. Dak Prescott is noticeably more comfortable in the pocket.
It's intriguing to know what will happen at left guard for the Cowboys. With Connor Williams injured, Xavier Su'a-Filo has done a good job filling in for him. Williams has the upside, but should Dallas mess up the mojo this OL has lately?
Dak Prescott: Clutch QB
Dak Prescott continues to be criticized by fans while he keeps proving us why it's not that easy to move on from him. The guy is far from the perfect passer, yet he's been clutch time and time again. This time he did so on the road on an impressive two minute drill.
With 1:46 on the clock, Prescott marched his team down to the Falcons' 24 yard line. He managed to give his team another game winning drive in consecutive weeks. The Cowboys' young quarterback needed a confidence boost and this is perfect for him. He needs to keep it up if the team is going to finish the season as the NFC East champions.
Since entering the NFL, Dak has 12 game winning drives. As frustrating as his play is at times, he will not be easy to replace if the Cowboys decide to move on from this guy down the road. Hopefully, they don't have to. I, for one, believe Dak can be way better with a proper coaching staff. But that's a discussion for another day.
Now, it's time to celebrate the Cowboys' victory and get ready for a short week as the Cowboys play the Washington Redskins on Thursday.
Ezekiel Elliott’s Excellence Elevates Cowboys in Road Win
For the first time this season the Dallas Cowboys have won back to back games moving to 5-5 on the year with a 22-19 win over the Atlanta Falcons in a game that they had to win to keep their playoff hopes alive. The defense was the story for most of the game, forcing the Atlanta Falcons to kick four field goals before allowing the game-tying touchdown with less than two minutes to play. The offense had trouble getting going until they leaned heavily on their star running back, Ezekiel Elliott.
Elliott, who went over the 200 total yard mark for the second time this season and the fourth time in his career was dominant in the second half, getting hard-fought yards en route to his fifth 100 yard game of the season.
Elliott averaged 5.3 yards per carry, on 23 carries, but was also the leading receiver for the Dallas Cowboys. Ezekiel Elliott on the day caught seven passes on eight targets for 79 yards as well.
The Cowboys first touchdown drive was reminiscent of who the Dallas Cowboys were in 2016. That season, and seemingly rarely since, the Cowboys would go on these long 10-15 play drives in the second half of games and take control of the game.
On Sunday in Atlanta, they did it again.
Trailing 6-3 in the second half with the defense playing an excellent game, the Cowboys went on a 14 play drive for 75 yards that took nearly eight minutes off the clock. It was a huge drive to give the Cowboys a lead and to give their defense a much deserved rest.
On that drive, Ezekiel Elliott saw the ball seven times and set the tone picking up several first downs that helped set up Dak Prescott's four yard touchdown run that took the lead. After Leighton Vander Esch's interception on the ensuing drive, Elliott once again made a huge impact taking the ball twice for 31 yards including the 28 yard touchdown run that put the Cowboys up 19-9 with a little more than 12 minutes to play in the game. And on the final drive of the game, Ezekiel Elliott caught a pass and picked up a first down just inside Falcons territory.
Over the last two weeks, you can see a big difference in the effectiveness of the run game. Elliott spoke about Amari Cooper being one reason they've had more success in the run game.
Ezekiel Elliott on Amari Cooper: "It's just one more guy they have to worry about. It seems like he kind of was the missing piece, just because when he got here this offense started rolling. It's great having him. He's a phenomenal player. He's going to have a great future here.
Amari Cooper's presence is a big reason for the offense and you can tell they've been a more complete offense the last two weeks. The addition of Cooper puts more stress on a defense in the passing game. Like Elliott said, he's a player that has to be accounted for, making his and the offensive line's jobs easier.
The play of the offensive line has also been really good the last two weeks since Marc Colombo took over as offensive line coach and coincidentally Xavier Su'a-Filo was inserted into the starting lineup for an injured Connor Williams.
Whatever the reason, Ezekiel Elliott seems to be on an upward trajectory.
Ezekiel Elliott is now averaging 129.4 total yards per game, which sits right at his career average heading into the 2018 season. He's on pace for 1,524 rushing yards, eight rushing touchdowns, 545 receiving yards, and 3 receiving touchdowns. The touchdown totals are down from his career pace, but he's still on pace for 2,000 total yards this season. If the last two weeks are any indications, that pace could see a huge bump in the second half of the season.
Since entering the NFL, Ezekiel Elliott has: * 17 games with 100+ rush yards * 24 games with 100+ scrimmage yards * 4 games with 200+ scrimmage yards * 3,567 rush yards The one similarity between these numbers? Elliott leads the NFL in each since 2016 #Cowboys
If you needed a singular note to tell you how great Elliott's been for the Dallas Cowboys, that's the one. It's amazing that Elliott leads the league in all of those categories including rushing yards considering he sat out six games last season and had a game where he rushed for only eight yards against the Denver Broncos in week two of 2017.
And then there’s this one.
@dallascowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott had 201 scrimmage yards and a TD in the team's Week 11 victory. Elliott (4,540 scrimmage yards & 32 TDs) became the third player in @NFL history with 4,500+ scrimmage yards & 30+ TDs in their first 35 career games.
The two other players to accomplish that feat were Eric Dickerson and Edgerin James. That’s some legendary company.
Ezekiel Elliott is a big-time player for the Dallas Cowboys and someone who they can lean on the rest of the season. If the Cowboys are going to make the playoffs it will be because the run game continued to play at a high level, which opened everything else up for the offense. While many people will tell you that running backs don't matter, Ezekiel Elliott certainly proved on Sunday that he matters.
And if you watch opposing defenses on Sunday's, they act like Elliott matters. Like Sunday, Ezekiel Elliott will continue to be a threat each week and big things are coming for him and the Dallas Cowboys.
The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly for Cowboys Against Atlanta
It may not have been very pretty, but the Dallas Cowboys were able to keep their playoff hopes alive by defeating the Atlanta Falcons at Mercedes-Benz Stadium Sunday afternoon. It's a place that wasn't kind to them a season ago, but they were able to overcome their demons and secure a much-needed victory.
This is a game that ended up being a lot closer than it probably needed to be. Missed opportunities and mental mistakes once again plagued this Cowboys team, but they continued to scratch and claw their way in a hostile environment to put another "W" in the win column.
With the game still fresh in our minds, I thought it would be a good time to share with you what I believed was The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly for the Dallas Cowboys yesterday against the Atlanta Falcons. As always, please feel free to share your own thoughts and opinions in the comment section located at the end of the article.
It should come to no surprise after the way he's played these last couple weeks, but I decided to go with Running Back Ezekiel Elliott for the good this week for the Dallas Cowboys. I could have easily gone with Linebacker Leighton Vander Esch because he was definitely deserving as well, but for me Zeke edged him out by a narrow margin.
Ezekiel Elliott put the team on his back Sunday afternoon and led them to a victory, just like he did a week ago against the Philadelphia Eagles. He pretty much was the Cowboys offense yesterday, accounting for more than 200 total yards by himself. He not only finished the game as the leading rusher with 122 yards on the ground and a touchdown, but the leading receiver as well with seven catches for 79 yards.
Zeke has been absolutely dominating here recently and hopefully he can keep it up with the division rival Washington Redskins coming to town on Thanksgiving. It's a game that will likely determine the outcome of the NFC East division.
He may have made the game-winning field goal, but Kicker Brett Maher's inconsistency here lately is the bad this week for the Dallas Cowboys in my opinion. His missed extra point attempt against the Falcons came very close to costing them the victory, and I wouldn't be surprised if we see a few kickers brought in Monday on a tryout basis.
Over the past several years we've kind of been spoiled by having Dan Bailey, one of the most accurate kickers to ever play the game. I believe the Cowboys made the right decision to move on from Bailey earlier this year, especially after seeing the way he's struggled with inconsistency himself in Minnesota. But, Maher's recent struggles is starting to become more and more of a concern.
We've seen too many instances this season where a missed or made field-goal impacts the outcome of the game one way or another. This week they were fortunate enough to come out on top, but just imagine how the NFC division race would look if Maher would've made the one in Washington instead of clanking it on the upright.
I could've easily went with the penalties or mental mistakes in this section this week for the Dallas Cowboys, but I ultimately decided the ugly against the Falcons was Cornerback Chidobe Awuzie being victimized once again. Opposing quarterbacks continue to throw his direction and unfortunately they're finding quite a bit of success.
I hear a lot of fans around Cowboys Nation wanting to see Jourdan Lewis get a shot at starting on the outside over Awuzie, but I don't think that's the right move at this time. I still think Awuzie is playing at a high level, but unfortunately he's just been the victim of some really good catches by receivers he's covering at the time.
Both this week against the Falcons and last week against the Eagles we saw Awuzie with tight coverage on Julio Jones and Alshon Jeffrey, but unfortunately it wasn't enough to prevent the completion from happening. That's just been the way things have gone for him this season. If he can learn to get his head around and locate the ball, he would find much more success and not be targeted as much.
What is your Good, Bad, and Ugly for the Dallas Cowboys against the Falcons?
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