And with that the NFL regular season has reached its final week of the season. In what feels like a blur, the Dallas Cowboys have played 15 of their 16 regular season games and surprisingly go into the last week of the season with nothing in the standings to play for. Yet, with the NFC East clinched on the strength of a 4-1 record with one game left to play, this has a much different feel than it did a year ago when the Cowboys weren’t playing for anything because at 7-8 they had already been eliminated from post season contention.
What a difference a year makes.
This game may not mean much to the Cowboys playoff positioning, but there are potential momentum ramifications to consider; if you believe in that sort of thing.
With that, let’s get into this week’s Final Thoughts.
To Rest or Not to Rest
That is the question.
The Cowboys have several players who have battled injuries lately, with Tyron Smith and Zack Martin missing games and DeMarcus Lawrence has struggled with a shoulder problem for a lot of the season. Conventional wisdom would say it’s important to let these players get some rest before what promises to be a physical matchup with the Seattle Seahawks in the Wild Card round.
As Dan Rogers from Blogging the Boys, pointed out earlier this week, the Cowboys have not fared well in the playoffs when they’ve lost their week 17 game. Head Coach Jason Garrett, a student of history, may feel that winning this game means more to the Cowboys in the playoffs than resting some of their dinged up players.
Why is Jason Garrett so concerned with a "meaningless" Week 17 game? Could it have something to do with the pattern of the team's last six playoff appearances? Maybe finishing the season on a winning note is more important than we think.
While it may be wise to give certain players a smaller workload, staying on track with your typical game preparation and execution may be more important than letting guys sit out a week.
Will Ezekiel Elliott Win Rushing Title?
Ezekiel Elliott is going to win his second rushing title in the last three years and it won't get close. Todd Gurley, who is second in the NFL in rushing is nearly 200 yards behind Elliott. Saquon Barkley, in third, is 237 yards behind Elliott in the 2018 rushing race. Even if Gurley plays, he'd be hard pressed to catch Elliott, meaning the 2018 rushing title is pretty much his.
As good as he's been this season, that doesn't even tell the story of Elliott's amazing season.
Ezekiel Elliott has set career highs in targets, receptions, and yards, with 91 targets for 77 receptions and 567 yards this season. He's added three touchdown receptions.
It's the second time in his career that he's had more than 1,900 total yards in a season. In 2016, while sitting out the week 17 contest against the Philadelphia Eagles, Elliott was only six yards shy of reaching the 2,000 total yard plateau. This season, he sits at 2,001 with a chance to add to that number this week.
If Zeke sees 19 or more touches this week, he will have gone over the 400 touch mark for the first time in his career. With nothing really to play for accept momentum this week, the Cowboys would be wise to give him some work, but let Rod Smith and Darius Jackson carry the load.
The Cowboys get to host what could be Eli Manning’s final game in a New York Giants uniform. After another disappointing season from the Giants and their quarterback, speculation has grown that they could look to move on after this season. It seems odd that number 10 won't be taking snaps for the Giants at some point soon, whether this is his final game with New York or it's a season away. The point is that his time is coming to an end. And that just seems odd.
He's been a fixture in the NFC East since 2004 and has been a thorn in the side of the Dallas Cowboys at times as well. Remember back to the 2007 divisional round game where the Cowboys were flying high after securing home-field advantage throughout the playoffs? That was the infamous "Cabo trip" game that led to people questioning whether Tony Romo had what it took to be an elite quarterback in the NFL.
Eli's never been considered one of the best in the NFL, but he had his moments against the Cowboys, though they've been fewer the last few years.
DeMarcus Lawrence has always had an excellent sense of humor when it comes to Eli and here's what he had to say when asked about this possibly being Manning's last game with the Giants.
DeMarcus Lawrence on this possibly being Eli Manning's last game with the Giants: "I wish the best for Eli. Congratulations on a successful season, but it's another game for us. What are we supposed to do, take it easy because this is his last one? I don't care.
You gotta love DeMarcus Lawrence. He doesn't care about being diplomatic. You almost sense the sarcasm when he says, "congratulations on a successful season." Whether it's Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints, who lead the NFC, or the listless New York Giants, DeMarcus Lawrence brings the same intensity week in and week out.
In all honesty, we should be hoping that New York keeps Eli as QB1 to mentor an early draft pick in this year’s draft. Manning may have had a career that could propel him into the hall of fame on the strength of two Super Bowls, but of late, the Cowboys have enjoyed Manning’s presence in the New York Offense. Since 2013, the Dallas Cowboys are 8-3 against Eli Manning and the New York Giants.
They’ve won three in a row against the Giants and lost two close games in 2016, not because Eli was excellent those days.
The Dallas Cowboys and the New York Giants both have very little to play for, but in all honesty, the Giants could actually hurt themselves by winning this game.
If the Cowboys win on Sunday, the Giants could pick as high as #4 in next April's draft. If the Cowboys lose on Sunday, the Giants could pick as low as #12 in next April's draft.
As Bobby Belt points out, the Giants have a lot to lose by winning the game as they could fall out of the top 10 depending on the results of the other games. It's unlikely that they'll go into the game attempting to lose, but they probably aren't going to be trying to win the game either. It doesn't do them any good to win the game other than to say, we beat the Cowboys and finished the season strong.
The Cowboys, however, are attempting to hang onto the momentum they reestablished in the win over the Buccaneers. Losing this game doesn't directly affect how they play against whoever they matchup with in the Wild Card round, but how they play as a team may.
If the Cowboys come into this game and play well, even if they play mostly backups, it will serve them well as they get ready to host their playoff game next weekend. I see the Cowboys coming out trying to send a message early in this game with their starters and then being able to back off and coast to a victory in the second half.
Dallas Cowboys 20 - New York Giants 13
Who you got? As always be sure to let us know in the comment section.
Cowboys Wishlist: Dress Rehearsal Edition
In the NFL, the third preseason week is often referred to as the "Dress Rehearsal." It's usually the week in which starters get the most playing time. That has changed lately, with plenty of teams deciding to take care of their key players instead of risking them on the field. However, the Dallas Cowboys have played their starters on their first two games and there's no reason to believe that will change versus the Texans today.
Here is my wishlist for the Cowboys vs Texans "Dress Rehearsal!" Let me know what your wishes for tonight's game are in the comments section below or tweet me @MauNFL!
Wish #1: Justin Phillips Locks Up a Roster Spot
Phillips has been one of the most surprising players this offseason and preseason. The Cowboys are set at linebacker, but Phillips has made sure to be a tough guy to cut. Last week, he had a remarkable interception against the Rams. Despite making a first step toward the line, he managed to adjust and made the play. He has followed it up with more plays in practice.
If he keeps it up, the Cowboys won't be able to cut him. He has the potential to be a force on special teams and a quality backup.
Wish #2: Devin Smith Makes Things Interesting
The battle for the final wide receiver spots is at full-go. Devin Smith has shined lately, and has risen as a serious candidate to make the roster. However, it seems like other wide receivers have the upper-hand as of now. Earlier this week, I made my Cowboys WR Power Rankings and had Devin Smith at #7.
His TD catch versus the Rams last week was pretty impressive, and I wish he makes a few more plays to make the debate all the more interesting.
Wish #3: Tony Pollard Does It Again
Fifth-round rookie Tony Pollard
stole was the show last weekend as he racked up 51 total yards (five carries, one catch) and a touchdown on Dallas' first offensive drive. He looked impressive as the starting running back, giving us just what we wanted to see.
While many have advertised him as a gadget player, Pollard proved he can actually be a "standard" RB. He ran between the tackles, showed power, balance and great vision. I'm ready to watch it again, this time versus the Texans.
Wish #4: Taco Charlton Shines Rushing The Passer
Taco Charlton has made a couple of plays in preseason on his third year with the Dallas Cowboys. Against the Rams, he batted down two passes and looked good separating from opposing offensive linemen. Charlton has gotten praise from some analysts during these first two preseason weeks.
But I want to watch some quality pass rush from his part. Right now, the Cowboys' roster counts with some promising players, including rookies Jalen Jelks and Joe Jackson. While they're currently below Taco, he must prove he belongs on the roster.
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.
#DALvsRAMS: Tony Pollard Proves he’s no Longer Darrell Henderson’s Backup
For the better part of three years Tony Pollard was forced to play second fiddle to Darrell Henderson during their time with the Memphis Tigers. But, Saturday night in the second week of preseason Pollard emerged from the shadows and proved he's no longer Henderson's backup.
Tony Pollard put on an impressive show Saturday night against the Los Angeles Rams. He touched the ball a total of six times and turned it into 51 yards and a touchdown. He rushed for 42 yards on the ground, averaging 8.4 yards per carry, and had one reception for 9 yards. All in all it was an impressive performance and one that arguably outdid his former teammate, Darrell Henderson.
Tony Pollard is starting to look like a real weapon for the Dallas Cowboys. It's still a small sample size, but in the first two preseason games he's proven the jump up in competition isn't too big for him. As a runner he's been decisive, picking up what yardage is given and not dancing around. He hasn't been utilized much in the passing game yet, but that time will come.
The Dallas Cowboys couldn't be happier with the way their rookie RB has performed thus far. He's everything they've said he was, and quite possibly much more. Maybe those Alvin Kamara comparisons weren't that far off after all.
We all know Ezekiel Elliott will return to the Dallas Cowboys at some point, but for now Tony Pollard doesn't look completely out of place as their lead back. He still needs to work on his pass protection, but everything else he's been asked to do he's excelled at.
I don't know about you, but I'm excited about seeing what No. 36 can do when these games start to matter in 2019. He will once again have to accept a backup role like he did behind Darrell Henderson in college, but you can bet the Cowboys coaching staff will reward him based on his play so far in preseason.
Pollard's versatility to be a weapon as both a runner and receiver in the passing game should make him a unique chess piece in the offensive game plan each and every week. He's been exciting to watch so far and we haven't even seen him in the return game yet, which was a big part of his game in college. I'm personally expecting big things from him this season. What about you?
What do you think of Tony Pollard's preseason performance so far?
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