With the Dallas Cowboys set to take on the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday, we are getting ready for yet another big game in the Dallas Cowboys plans for the 2018 playoffs. Like we've discussed every week for the last four weeks, this game is a must win as well.
If the Cowboys, who are only a game up on their biggest rival, can pull out the win, they'll be two games up on the Eagles with three games to play. And having the tie breaker over Philadelphia would essentially give the Cowboys a three game lead in the division. That's how big this game is for both teams. The Eagles win and they're still in the thick of the NFC East race. The Cowboys win and they have all but clinched the division. Dallas would need just one more win in their final three games after Sunday to clinch the division.
With the way they're playing right now, that seems like a foregone conclusion.
With that, here are some final thoughts on the game. Make sure to leave us your predictions for the game in the comment section.
Defensive Back Disaster
The Philadelphia Eagles, like they did in week 10 continue to struggle in the secondary due to injuries to a lot of their defensive backs. Corner Back Jalen Mills is questionable for Sunday's game with a knee injury, but they are already missing starting corner Ronald Darby who left the week 10 matchup with a knee injury as well.
From week 10 to week 12 against the Dallas Cowboys, New Orleans Saints, and the New York Giants, the Philadelphia Eagles allowed an average of 310 passing yards per game. They were better in week 13 against Washington, but the Redskins were trotting out a combination of Colt McCoy and Mark Sanchez in the Eagles win this past Sunday.
Dak Prescott threw for 270 yards on 26 of 36 passing with a passer rating of 102.8. Prescott was only sacked four times as he threw for a touchdown and ran for a touchdown in their previous meeting.
With Amari Cooper better acclimated than he was in his second game with the Cowboys and Michael Gallup coming on strong, it should be a good day for the Dallas Cowboys passing attack on Sunday.
Ezekiel Elliott Dominating the Buffet Table
In their previous matchup with the Eagles in week 10, Ezekiel Elliott feasted like it was Thanksgiving Day.
Elliott carried the ball 19 times for 151 yards and a touchdown and caught six passes for 36 yards and another score. Since Amari Cooper came to the Cowboys, Elliott is the second leading receiver on the team and the running game has been awesome.
Since the Dallas Cowboys trades for Amari Cooper and promoted Marc Colombo to offensive line coach five weeks ago, Elliott is averaging 106.2 yards per game rushing on 21.6 carries a game with three rushing TDs. He's added an average of 5.6 receptions per game for 49.6 yards and has another two receiving touchdowns. Prior to the by week moves, Elliott was averaging 88.4 rushing yards per game and 25 receiving yards and had only scored four total touchdowns in those seven games.
The Dallas Cowboys formula is a simple one. Get the running game going and then be efficient in the passing game. They've been both of those things over the four game winning streak and I see another big day for Elliott coming in this one. The Philadelphia Eagles didn’t have an answer for Ezekiel Elliott then and won’t have an answer on Sunday.
Defensive Dominance Remains Key
I don't think there were many Cowboys analysts or fans who saw the Cowboys defensive dominance of the Saints coming on Thursday Night Football. It was the definition of cautious optimism. Even if you thought the Cowboys could beat them, there wasn't much certainty. During the game as the defense was painting a masterpiece, I kept waiting for Drew Brees to perform a miracle like he's done so many times and snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.
The Cowboys defense just didn't allow it.
They've been getting good games out of Byron Jones all year and Anthony Brown has shown up a lot as well, but this was by far the best game of the season for Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis.
Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch continue to put on a show in the middle of the Cowboys defense and the defensive line is figuring out how to get pressure with just four rushers.
Getting pressure with four will be another key this week as the Eagles trot out some serious weapons in the passing game with Zach Ertz, Alshon Jeffrey, Golden Tate, and Nelson Agohlor. The Cowboys linebackers and secondary will have a tough task covering those guys for an extended length of time if they’re unable to get consistent and significant pressure on Quarterback Carson Wentz.
Troy Aikman on the FOX postgame: You look at this game and what Dallas has been able to do... they're a better team right now than they were when they beat Philadelphia a few weeks ago.
Troy Aikman really hits the nail on the head with this one. The Dallas Cowboys are playing really good football on both sides of the football.
The offense is trending in the right direction, even if they only scored 13 against the Saints, they moved the football. The defense was downright dominant in their 13-10 win and has begun to create turnovers with greater regularity.
The Eagles are still a decent offensive team but are struggling on defense. They’re giving up a lot of yards in the ground and through the air and that doesn’t bode well when taking on a team that’s as good as it gets running the ball and is finding more explosive plays through the air.
Divisional games are always a bit strange, but I don’t see the Eagles hanging with the Cowboys this week.
Cowboys 27 - Eagles 17
Who you got?
Takeaway Tuesday: Scott Linehan’s Job Shouldn’t Be Safe
The Dallas Cowboys didn't look like they did during their five game winning streak when they entered Lucas Oil Stadium to face a hot Indianapolis Colts team. In fact, they had one of their poorest showings of all season, failing to score a single point all game. Heading home after being shutout 23-0, there isn't much to be said about the Cowboys' performance.
Here's this week's Takeaway Tuesday. This time, instead of talking about many takeaways, I needed to get one big takeaway off my chest. I hope you enjoy. Make sure to let me know how you feel about this topic in the comments section below or tweet me @MauNFL.
Scott Linehan's Job Shouldn't Be Guaranteed Going into the Playoffs
As tough as it is to fire one of your three main coaches when your team is headed into the postseason, the Dallas Cowboys should not rule out moving on from Scott Linehan. One win away from clinching the NFC East, it's not something you easily pull off but Linehan's play calling has been terrible all year long.
The truth is, despite Dak Prescott's struggles and a disastrous offensive line, the offense shouldn't be as inefficient as it is.
Watching a unit that counts with Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup and Ezekiel Elliott run a screen pass to Allen Hurns on fourth down and 14 was truly a microcosm of what this year has been for the offense.
Despite having a playoff berth practically clinched, the Cowboys should consider a change at offensive coordinator. Even if they don't fire Linehan, it's clear his play-calling is not good and could cost this team a real opportunity at a legit shot in the postseason. It would be an aggressive measure, without a doubt. The Minnesota Vikings did something similar by firing John DeFillippo a week ago. Based on their 41-17 win over the Miami Dolphins last Sunday, being aggressive sometimes pays.
The Cowboys have arguably the best running back in the NFL in Ezekiel Elliott and yet they continue to misuse him. Whether it's turning their backs on their star tailback or over-using him, this offense has a hard time reaching balance. Dak Prescott's strengths could be exploited even more, but this OC refuses to do so.
As hard as it is to make a drastic change in coaching two weeks before the regular season ends, it truly could end up being a great move by the front office. Sure, Amari Cooper has had monster games since joining the Cowboys, but he could be even more dangerous under another coach.
Cowboys versus Colts was a coaching battle between Scott Linehan and former Dallas Cowboys LB coach, Matt Eberflus. It was the matchup of the week, and one we expected to be fun. Instead, we saw one side completely dominate the other. In the NFL, coaching matters. Probably even more than talent on a roster.
The biggest problem would be, who'd take over play-calling?
Since there isn't a promising candidate within the team, the team's only option would probably be letting HC Jason Garrett take over. It may not be ideal, but it could end up being an improvement over Linehan. Of course, it could also let the front office see what Garrett has to offer as a play caller and consider that when deciding how this coaching staff will look like in 2019.
It's unlikely that we see such a thing occur for the Cowboys, but if the offense has another letdown game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, I don't see how the front office doesn't at least consider this. They should.
Ezekiel Elliott Productive in Cowboys Blowout Loss to Colts
It was as ugly of a performance as we’ve seen from the Dallas Cowboys in the Jason Garrett era. For the first time in a decade and a half, the Cowboys were shut out and it was a game full of bad pretty much everywhere you looked. Everywhere accept Ezekiel Elliott.
What a waste!
Elliott and the Cowboys offensive line played well for much of the game even with All-Pro Right Guard Zack Martin missing his first career start and losing starting Left Guard Xavier Su’a-Filo went out with an eye injury.
On the day, Ezekiel Elliott carries the ball 18 times for 87 yards and added another seven receptions for 41. 25 touches for 128 total yards is a good game, but with nothing else going right for the Cowboys it was a game that ultimately didn’t matter.
The one play where Elliott and the offensive line failed to come through was early in the game in a fourth and one that the Colts defense seemed to have snuffed out and blew up from the start. Elliott was able to convert a fourth and one later in the game. It looked like Elliott was close to breaking one for a long run several times but got tripped up at the end of the runs. He was his typical self this week. Taking runs that looked to be going for a loss and turning them into positive gains.
In the race for the NFL's rushing title, Elliott has extended his lead on Todd Gurley to nearly 100 yards rushing. At 1,349 rushing yards on the season, Elliott will have a great shot to set a career high in rushing yards with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and New York Giants remaining on the schedule. The Bucs have allowed the sixth most rushing yards and the fourth most rushing touchdowns in the NFL this season while the Giants have allowed the fifth most rushing yards and the seventh most rushing touchdowns in 2018.
It was a horrendous loss at a time when the Cowboys could have locked up the NFC East and there is zero excuse for it. They got out coached, out played, and were beaten physically on both sides of the ball and that doesn't happen very often, especially to the defense.
But if we're looking for something positive to take away from this game, it's that with all the offensive line injuries and the poor play of the passing game, Ezekiel Elliott and the running game continues to find ways to shine. With as bad as the loss was, that's something to hang your hat on.
All the Cowboys need to do moving forward is Feed Zeke!
Sean’s Scout: Cowboys Can’t Finish Drives, Division Clinch with Shutout Loss at Colts
What is there to say about the Dallas Cowboys week 15 performance? After five straight wins, the last three coming at home, the Cowboys have only a return home to look forward to, facing the 5-9 Buccaneers on Sunday after a 23-0 defeat at the Colts.
Shutout for the first time since 2003, the Cowboys playoff hopes didn't take a hit despite the Redskins and Eagles winning on the road. Washington's last-second win went final just before the Colts ran the clock out on a game the Cowboys simply weren't ready for.
The Cowboys moved the ball well at times but failed to ever come away with points, opening the door for the Colts to expose this defense like it hasn't been all season. The Cowboys front four was hardly a factor on defense, allowing Colts Running Back Marlon Mack to average 5.1 yards a carry. Scoring the Colts only touchdowns, Mack and Andrew Luck assured the Cowboys running game wouldn't be a factor with their 10-0 halftime lead. Down to three backups at LG, C, and RG, Quarterback Dak Prescott stood little chance to bring the Cowboys back as the second half quickly got away from Dallas.
Internally, the Cowboys will have much more to say about their effort on Sunday, but here are just a few of my observations in the first somber edition of Sean's Scout since week nine.
- The Cowboys defensive problems up front extended well into the second level, with Linebackers Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith both playing one of their worst games of the season.
The Colts took a blocked Brett Maher field goal 44 yards for the game's opening score. Mack accounted for 34 of these yards and the touchdown. On his seven yard run to set up first and goal, Smith was caught taking a poor angle on Mack. The Cowboys were aggressive rushing up the field on the play, with Smith ending up being in the best position to slow Mack.
Vander Esch was sealed and couldn't fight to get off, which happened again three plays later on third and goal. Leighton looking like a rookie for the first time was just the start of the Cowboys problems, and with Sean Lee being active yet conceding starting snaps to him, it shouldn't take long for Vander Esch to figure things out again.
- Jamize Olawale's dropped touchdown on third and goal to bring up a failed fourth and one was the moment the Cowboys were taken out of this game.
This sequence was particularly deflating because the Cowboys did a great job getting down the field to have an opportunity to score. The fourth down decision to run out of a heavy formation, inviting extra defenders to the line of scrimmage, looks especially egregious when stacked against the Amari Cooper rush that picked up the Cowboys initial first down. Rookie Tight End Dalton Schultz got involved, Elliott ripped off a 24 yard run, and the Cowboys still came away empty on this drive.
A year removed from coaching the Cowboys linebackers, Colts Defensive Coordinator Matt Eberflus had his way with Scott Linehan's offense all afternoon, stymieing their most promising drive after Olawale should have scored easily.
- The Cowboys only chance to get back in the game was taken away from them by a Joe Looney holding call, just another example of players that had carried them through a winning streak not playing up to standard.
The Colts took the second half kickoff down the field to extend the lead to 17-0. On fourth and two on the ensuing possession, Prescott hit an injured Cole Beasley for 18 yards to the Colts' 23-yard line. The Cowboys red zone offense certainly doesn't provide the confidence that Dallas would finish the drive, but Looney's hold negated Beasley's catch and forced a punt.
The Colts tacked on a field goal and finished out the game without the Cowboys threatening again. Looney played down to the level of Adam Redmond to his left, who replaced Xavier Su'a-Filo, and Connor Williams in for Zack Martin - though I thought Williams held up fairly well and should be in play to earn more snaps wherever needed.
✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭
The Cowboys can regroup and still accomplish everything they set out for this season, forced to make this loss to the Colts and afterthought like their last one to the Titans became. A five game win streak as a response is out of reach, but a streak of just one is all Dallas needs to clinch the NFC East and focus on improvements for the playoffs.
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