With three losses, a 7-1 Philadelphia Eagles team and a probable suspension for Ezekiel Elliott, every game is a must-win for the Dallas Cowboys. It's a very different season than 2016, but the Cowboys are still competing for a playoff spot.
The Ezekiel Elliott story has been one hell of a roller coaster. It almost feels like his playing status changes every 24 hours. But the important thing here, is that #21 will take the field this Sunday versus the Kansas City Chiefs, who have one of the worst rush defenses in the NFL.
However, their offense is one of the best in the league. Going up against the team that once called itself the Dallas Texans, you can count there will be a big show in Dallas.
Here is this week's Cowboys Wishlist!
Wish #1: Taco Sunday: The Rookie Gets His First Career Sack
It's been a long season for the first-round pick. We didn't have big expectations for the product out of Michigan, but his play has been a bit disappointing through seven games. The bashing on the guy from fans, writers and analysts has been relentless.
But he's still a Cowboy. And we should all be rooting for him.
He had a couple in preseason, but this would be his first career sack. I hope this wish comes true. After almost intercepting Kirk Cousins in Washington, getting to a quarterback would be a huge confidence boost, and that's exactly what Taco needs.
Wish #2: Defense Holds Kareem Hunt Under 60 Rushing Yards
This Cowboys defense is far from ideal. We know that. And if we were talking about holding Hunt under 60 yards before the bye week, I would've said "No way that's happening."
But the Cowboys now have a better LB corp. With Sean Lee and Anthony Hitchens on the field at the same time, this is a very improved defense, even though it's still not one of the best. Jaylon Smith's playing time has been reduced a lot and that has done nothing but help the "rookie" and this defense.
Kareem Hunt has been held under 60 rushing yards only twice in his career. One came last week when he faced the Denver Broncos, and the other when the Chiefs played the Steelers and Hunt only carried the ball nine times.
If the Cowboys defense wins the battle versus the Chief's rushing attack, which features the #1 candidate for Offensive Rookie of the Year, this defense will win a lot of confidence back. It's not a walk in the park, but I wish they can pull it off.
Wish #3: Byron Jones Successfully Defends Travis Kelce
The Chiefs have an offense with more than a couple of threats. Besides Hunt and Tyreek Hill, the Chief's have one of the best - if not the best - tight ends in the entire league right now. Travis Kelce will prove to be a big-time test for this Cowboys' defense and specifically, Byron Jones.
Jones has proven himself to be very good against tight ends throughout his young career. It's more than likely that we see 31 play all day versus the Kansas City's TE.
Kelce is a beast, though.
He's had three 100+ yards games and is averaging more than 12 yards per catch. I wish Byron is able to pass one of the biggest tests he's faced in his time playing in the NFL.
Wish #4: Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott Combine for 5 TDs
Predicting the weather is officially a simpler task than predicting Ezekiel Elliott's playing status in the future. We were all certain that Zeke would miss today's game and on Friday that changed unexpectedly.
However, it's probable that Elliott will lose this after his last appeal is heard. So, supposing that this is the running back's last game before his suspension, I expect him to go out there angry and have a big day.
He's had five touchdowns in his last two games. It'd be fitting for him to continue that streak and to also run for more than 100 yards.
Even so, lost in the middle of the Ezekiel Elliott talk is Dak Prescott. There's no doubt in my mind than in Zeke's absence the young quarterback will be ready to step up and put the team on his shoulders. As a good sign for Cowboys Nation, I wish they score at least five touchdowns between the two.
Wish #5: No Sack Zone: Dak Prescott Walks Away Clean
Dallas has been able to effectively get after the QB consistently, but not only that. They're the team with the second least sacks allowed in the season. Even after losing two starters, the Cowboys' offensive line is still one of the best.
Through eight weeks, Dak Prescott has been sacked only once. In a game which more than likely will be a shootout, sacks can become the difference maker.
Both teams are expected to put on a lot of points on the board today. I wish this offensive line takes care of Dak, and gives this offense a chance to win this football game.
Cowboys Nation Bonus Wishlist!
We’ll be doing this weekly here on Inside The Star, so if you have any wishes you’d like to see on this series, make sure to tweet them at me and I'll include your tweets!
@PepoR99 I hope Cowboys make his first interception tomorrow!!
Perhaps one of the most surprising stats this season is that Alex Smith has yet to throw an interception this season. I love this wish. Make it happen! I'm calling Jourdan Lewis to make the play.
#INDvsDAL: How The Game May Be Decided In The Red Zone
In many ways the Dallas Cowboys offense has found their stride in recent weeks. Over this five game win streak they have "found their identity" playing ball control offense and trusting their quarterback to make big throws when needed most. Of course the defense has been the star most weeks, but this offense should not be slept on either.
This doesn't mean the offense has been without their fair share of struggles, however, particularly in the red zone. Struggles that the numbers say could cost the Cowboys this weeks' game in Indianapolis if they don't get it cleaned up.
In terms of red zone offensive efficiency the Cowboys have been downright horrendous. In fact, they are dead-last in the league in success rate inside the 10 yard line, last in first-and-goal success rate, and 21st in success rate between the 11 and 20 yard lines.
There's no sugar-coating those numbers, they are bad. Especially when you consider that this team has arguably the league's best running back and a quarterback with the size and athleticism you might expect from a linebacker.
For as bad as the Cowboys are inside the red zone, the Colts are equally as good. Indianapolis is top 10 in terms of success rate inside the 10, at the goal line, and in first-and-goal success rate. They are also 11th in success rate between the 11 and 20 yard lines.
Despite not having the individual running back the Cowboys have, the Colts offensive line and skill players as a whole set them up a bit better when the field is shortened. Tight end Eric Ebron has been rather incredible in terms of production this season, catching 12 touchdowns on 58 receptions. Andrew Luck is also a more accurate quarterback than Dak Prescott, though Prescott should be a much more dangerous red zone threat than he currently is.
I am working on the Cowboys 32nd ranked Goal-to-Go offensive numbers. They have run 35 of their 59 total plays out of Shotgun-11 Personnel. In those 35 plays, the average gain per snap is....12 INCHES. I am not kidding. They could out-gain that by running QB sneaks. I am amazed.
Of course, some of the Cowboys red zone struggles can be pinned on offensive coordinator Scott Linehan. Linehan has failed to scheme open the "easy" red zone touchdowns we see so often around the league. As pointed out by Bob Sturm on Twitter this week, the Cowboys' personnel groupings and play calls when in goal-to-go situations have been questionable to say the least. But while blame does fall on the coaches' shoulders, the players need to execute better as well.
Games in the NFL often come down to just a handful of plays, and red zone efficiency plays a key role in deciding the outcome of close games every week. If this is once again the case on Sunday, based on past performance, the Dallas Cowboys could be in trouble against the efficient Colts.
#INDvsDAL: Betting Preview, Trends, And Prediction
For once, the Cowboys are not playing what feels like a do-or-die game on Sunday, needing just 1 win over their final 3 to win the NFC East. This week the 8-5 Cowboys go on the road to face the 7-6 Colts, with each times vying for playoff spots in their respective conferences.
Both the Cowboys and Colts have turned around what looked like dead seasons, but there is no doubt the Colts need this one more than the Cowboys do to keep pace for the 6th seed in the AFC.
Cowboys +3, O/U 47 points.
The once 3-5 Cowboys are now head and shoulders above the rest of their division, after winning their fifth straight in thrilling fashion over the Eagles last Sunday. The team which seemed so disjointed and inconsistent through 8 games has found their identity, and is playing complete team football as of late.
Dak Prescott is coming off a career-best game in terms of yardage, and despite some poor turnovers is still playing some of the best football of his career. This is due in large part to two stars in Amari Cooper and Ezekiel Elliott, who have shouldered the production load of this offense the last 5 weeks.
And, of course, there is the defense which continues to make life a living hell for opposing offenses. Randy Gregory is coming into his own as a pass rusher, getting another sack last week and getting flagged for what should have been his second sack of the day.
Dallas is playing the brand of football they told us they would before the season, and are beginning to make their front office and decision makers look very smart in the process.
At 7-6 and fighting for the final AFC playoff spot, the Colts need this one more than the Cowboys do. Getting shut out by the lowly Jaguars two weeks ago may ultimately keep the Colts out of the playoffs, but a win this Sunday and a little help elsewhere could set them up nicely down the stretch.
Indy has quietly one of the best passing offenses in all of the NFL, with star quarterback Andrew Luck playing his best football in quite some time. Luck is healthy and looks like himself again, and the selection of Quenton Nelson to sure-up the offensive line has gone a long way to improving this offense as well.
Defensively the Colts have been even more impressive lately. Though they have a roster comprised of no-names nationally, the Colts defense is 11th in DVOA. Darius Leonard has been a revelation for the Colts at linebacker, and their young defense seems to be improving by the week.
The Colts are coming off of a big road victory over the Houston Texans a week ago, and will look to defeat the Texans' in-state rivals on Sunday to improve to 8-6.
- The Cowboys are 5-0 against the spread their last 5 games, and have won all 5 straight up.
- The score total has hit the over 4 of the Cowboys' last 6 games.
- But the score total has gone under 4 of the Colts' last 5 games.
- The Colts are 4-1 straight up their last 5 home games.
- Dallas is 6-3 their last 9 games against the Colts.
The Cowboys' winning streak has to end at some point, right?
Well, unlike Vegas, I don't expect that ending to happen on Sunday. The Cowboys have been playing desperate football over the last 5 games and they are well aware what a win over Indianapolis would mean.
A victory would clinch them a division title for the third time in five years, and just as they did in 2014, I expect the Cowboys to get that clinching victory over the Colts. Give me the Cowboys and the points this week.
Takeaway Tuesday: Randy Gregory is a Big Time Player
It was a dramatic win for the Dallas Cowboys but a win nonetheless. The Philadelphia Eagles gave the Cowboys one hell of a fight at AT&T Stadium in a great rivalry game. It was undoubtedly one of the most exciting games this season has seen as it ended with a walk-off touchdown that gave the home team the victory.
Here is this week's Takeaway Tuesday on what we learned from such a thrilling match!
Amari Cooper Trade Shouldn't Even Be a Discussion
Once a complicated debate, the Amari Cooper trade has a clear winner. It's simple, really. If it wasn't for Amari Cooper, the Cowboys would not be 8-5 en route to the NFC East title. Cooper has literally saved the 2018 season for the once 3-5 Cowboys team.
Since becoming a part of the Cowboys, the former Oakland Raider has accounted for 40 catches, 642 yards and six touchdowns. Last Sunday alone, he was responsible for 217 yards and three scores. Not to mention the amount of times he's moved the chains for this offense. The 24-year old can seriously play football. Despite struggles, this offense is very promising with that caliber of a WR1 and an elite RB such as Ezekiel Elliott.
What was it again? A first rounder? Should've asked for more, Raiders.
Randy Gregory is a Big Time Player
Gregory's journey to be back on a football field was a difficult one. But it was worth it. Versus the Eagles, his presence was constantly felt by Carson Wentz. He was able to get in five pressures, one of which resulted in a sack.
The last couple of games, Gregory has drawn a few costly flags, but his play is still amazing. He's one of the fastest defensive ends in the league and he continues to improve in bending around the corner. He has five sacks in the last eight games. If you weren't convinced #94 should be our starting right defensive end, you should be by now.
Tight Ends Rise
The lack of a tight end did not stand out this past Sunday. But Dalton Schultz and Blake Jarwin did. With Geoff Swaim out with an injury, this couple of young rotational players had their best games of their careers. Both were targeted in key moments of the game. Blake Jarwin had 56 yards in seven catches and a big third down conversion and Dalton Schultz finished the night with 37 yards.
A promising sign for the Cowboys moving forward. The offense is clicking at wide receiver with Amari Cooper, having a tight end (or a couple) stand up will only make this unit better.
Garrett Deserves a Round of Applause
Whether or not you think Jason Garrett is a good head coach, the guy deserves an applause. I get why you might not like him. In fact, I still question if he should be in Dallas in 2019 if the Cowboys fail to have success in the playoffs. But the way this team has come back from such a terrible start can't be ignored.
The players on this team fight for this guy. The Dallas Cowboys went from a team everyone had written off from playoff contention to legit Super Bowl contenders since they fired Paul Alexander and got Amari Cooper.
Dak Prescott is One of the Best Facing Adversity
Dak Prescott's career continues to cause a great debate among Cowboys' fans. You see, in the NFL, things are not white or black. When judging a player, there are a lot of gray areas. Take last night's performance from Dak Prescott. He threw two interceptions and fumbled the ball once and pretty much played bad football for three quarters. But his night ended with 455 yards and three touchdowns and a 78% completion percentage in 54 attempts.
In the NFL, not any quarterback comes back from turning the ball three times. With the help of his tremendous defense, Dak did. In the fourth quarter, he completed 17 out of 20 passes for 243 yards and three touchdowns. His performance was clutch.
This isn't a one thing either. Since 2016, Dak is tied for the most game-winning drives in the NFL. Prescott might be inconsistent and can have some pretty bad plays. But he's one resilient quarterback. As T.O. would've said: "that's my quarterback."
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