The Cowboys' 2018 season ended last night with a disappointing playoff loss to the Los Angeles Rams. And though it doesn't feel like it today, Dallas can approach this it offseason with a lot of optimism and confidence for the future.
Today isn't even the darkest point of the season. Sure, a playoff loss is discouraging. But the Cowboys were on the road against a team that went 13-3 and was well rested after their bye week. The Rams were the better team, by all measures, and they simply did what they were supposed to do.
No, the darkest hour for Dallas in 2018 came after Week 9. Coming off their bye week and having just added Amari Cooper, the Cowboys fell flat at home against the Tennessee Titans. The team seemed lost and unmotivated, and the fall to 3-5 felt like more than just another bad day.
Don't forget the mood following that game. Jason Garrett seemed closer to being fired than ever before, and even Dak Prescott's future with the Cowboys was in question. There was a sense that Jerry Jones might blow the whole thing up.
But then a came a road win in Philadelphia. Then another in Atlanta. The Cooper trade started paying dividends and the Cowboys started looking like a different team.
Even the win on Thanksgiving over Washington, which raised Dallas' record to 6-5, didn't erase all concerns. The Redskins, Eagles, and Falcons were all average-or-less teams. Many felt the Cowboys were just padding their record against the weak.
And then they beat the New Orleans Saints.
The Saints, winners of 10-straight games and 10-1 overall, could barely function offensively against the Cowboys' defense. It was one of the biggest upsets of 2018 and a sign that there was something special happening in Dallas.
The Cowboys went from a 3-5 disappointment to a 10-6 division champion. They won a playoff game against a Seattle Seahawks team that many felt were superior.
And even last night, down 20-7 and seemingly outmatched in every way, Dallas kept fighting.
There will be an entire offseason to work on the technical issues that hurt the Cowboys this year. A new offensive coordinators, hopefully getting Travis Frederick back, development across the board for a very young defense; these and other things can all be addressed in the months ahead.
But a team's personality and spirit, those aren't so easy to change. And what we saw from Dallas this year says that this team has all the heart needed to win a championship.
Some of that came from Kris Richard, the unofficial defensive coordinator who appears close to staying with the Cowboys now instead of taking a head coaching job elsewhere. While the Dallas' defense was good in 2017, it rose to a new level this year.
If Richard is back next season, and if Dallas can find some better X's and O's on offense, then this is a coaching staff who can win a championship.
In only 15 games this year, and despite numerous health issues on the offensive line and a weak passing attack, Ezekiel Elliott still led the league in rushing. He reminded any who doubted it after 2017 that he is the best pure runner in the game, and he'll back next year.
Dak Prescott has plenty of warts as a quarterback, and hopefully some of those will get worked out this offseason. But he established himself as the true leader of the team this year, filling the void left by Jason Witten's retirement. He never quits and his teammates never quit on him, and that's vital for any team seeking playoff success.
Dallas' trade for Amari Cooper, even at the high price of a first-round pick and his impending new contract, seems to have been the right move. He opened up the offense and now gives Dallas a true nucleus to build on, rather than a big hole to fill.
Even without that first-rounder in the 2019 draft, the Cowboys will still have plenty of resources to work with this offseason.
They have enough cap space to work with and can create more with some simple moves, such as releasing Sean Lee. They will need to figure out DeMarcus' Lawrence contact and decide if they want to re-sign Cole Beasley, but the roster gets pretty easy to deal with from there.
So yes, this can be a time of optimism. We're all licking last night's wound, but disappointment shouldn't lead to despair.
The wait of another offseason isn't fun, but your Dallas Cowboys are closer to a championship right now than they've been in a long time.
This Defensive Drive Sealed the Game for the Dallas Cowboys
Things couldn't have started off any better for a Dallas Cowboys team that was desperately in need of a fast start in this pivotal week seven matchup with the Philadelphia Eagles. In the midst of a three-game losing streak, tied atop the NFC East at 3-3 with the Eagles, and hosting their division rival on Sunday Night Football, the Cowboys needed to put their best foot forward early in this game.
After a couple of fumbles recovered by the Dallas defense, the Cowboys jumped out to a 14-0 lead by the midway point of the first quarter. In a two-score hole early in this contest, the Philadelphia Eagles came out guns blazing on their third offensive series of the game and marched right down the field in seven plays, aided by a couple of personal foul calls, and brought the game to within a score.
At 14-7, the Dallas Cowboys offense was then forced to punt on the ensuing drive setting the Philadelphia Eagles up with an opportunity to tie the game in the second quarter if they were able to put a drive together. Getting the score even in the first half after pretty much gifting the Cowboys with a two-touchdown lead early would be a huge momentum swing in the game and provide the Eagles with a ton of confidence.
The Dallas Cowboys defense, however, wouldn't allow that to happen.
With the Eagles pinned back on their own 10-yard line after a Chris Jones punt, the Dallas Cowboys defense went to work with some excellent team defense and individual open field tackling performances on three plays that led to a Philadelphia Eagles three and out.
On first and 10 from their own 10-yard line, the Eagles attempted to run Jordan Howard through the right side of the line. There was nowhere to go on the play as Maliek Collins got excellent penetration into the left "A gap" making first contact behind the line of scrimmage and getting an assist from DeMarcus Lawrence to finish off the run stop for just a one-yard gain.
With a failed first-down run, the Eagles were set up with a 2nd and 9 at their own 11-yard line for the first play of the second quarter. Here they run Jordan Howard off of left tackle on a shotgun sweep handoff and he's able to pick up a nice bit of yardage to set up 3rd and 4.
To me, this was a huge third-down play for the Dallas Cowboys defense. On their previous drive, they had just given up a touchdown and needed to find a way to get of the field. If the Eagles are able to pick this up, it continues to put pressure on the defense and Philadelphia has some momentum.
Needing just four yards for the first down, the Eagles had both run and pass options at their disposal. As the Eagles are in have a tight bunch on the left side, the Cowboys have seven into the box to face six blockers, including the tight end who has a wider than normal split from the left tackle. Jeff Heath is the seventh man and on the snap is able to remain untouched as Carson Wentz hands off to Miles Sanders and snakes his way through the mass of humanity to stop the running back just shy of the first down.
They had the play fairly well blocked, but nobody accounts for Heath who is able to stay clean and track down Miles Sanders before he's able to get to the first down marker.
In a game that had a ton of highlights, this was a play that may go unnoticed when people talk about the outcome of this game but was huge given the current game situation. The Dallas Cowboys needed to get a stop on defense.
The Philadelphia Eagles attempted to attack the Dallas Cowboys' defense on the ground on this drive, which has been an area of vulnerability for the Cowboys in 2019. Their attempt to ground and pound in order to gain some momentum and reassert themselves in the game didn't come to fruition because the Cowboys defenders rallied well to the football on three straight running plays. The Dallas Cowboys turned a weakness into a strength on this drive and did their part to help the offense put the game away early.
After forcing the three and out, something the Dallas Cowboys defense doesn't do a lot of this year, the offense was able to take the ball and go on a 12 play, 71-yard drive for a touchdown that took nearly seven minutes off the clock. The Cowboys were able to go up two touchdowns again on their division rival and pretty much put the game out of reach, but it wouldn't have been so had the defense not stepped up and forced the three and out on this early second-quarter drive.
The defense played arguably their best game of the season on Sunday Night Football on a night where they desperately needed to play their best game of the year. There are still nine games to go and have a pretty rough seven-game stretch coming out of the bye starting with another divisional matchup on the road against the New York Giants in week nine. If the Dallas Cowboys defense can show this kind of consistency against the run moving forward, they'll be very difficult to beat.
The Brady Report: Cowboys’ Fast Start Dooms Eagles
It's been nothing but doom and gloom around the Dallas Cowboys in recent weeks. After a 3-0 start propelled them towards the top of the league's elite, three straight disappointing losses had fans wondering if it was time for a regime change at head coach.
They went into Sunday night's game with the Eagles needing a win to salvage hope at earning a playoff spot, and boy did they answer the bell. The Cowboys dominated the Philadelphia Eagles from the opening snap, routing their hated rivals 37-10 and improving to 4-3 on the season.
Let's get into my game notes from this overwhelmingly positive performance.
- Let's start with the quarterback. Dak Prescott was tremendous yet again on Sunday night, and we're getting to the point where his sample size of positive play is too large to ignore. Prescott was 21 of 27 for 239 yards and a touchdown (and an interception as well), but he also had a rushing touchdown to add to his totals. Prescott has complete control of the offense, and even checked out of a negative box count to exploit the Eagles blitz look down in the red zone. He leads the league in QBR this season, and he is the unquestioned franchise quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys. As he should be.
- Sticking with praise on offense, Ezekiel Elliott looked like Zeke on Sunday night. From his very first carry you could tell Elliott was running with a different burst and energy than we'd seen in recent weeks, and he later ran right over Malcolm Jenkins to set up the team's second score of the game. Elliott was impossible to bring down all night, to the tune of 111 yards and a touchdown on 5 yards per carry.
- La'el Collins has been incredible this season, and Sunday was no different. The Cowboys recently extended right tackle shut Brandon Graham down for basically the entire night, and kept Prescott upright and comfortable in the pocket. Tyron Smith was clearly not healthy or himself on the other side, but the rest of this offensive line picked up the slack and had their best performance since the season opener.
- Connor Williams deserves a shoutout as well. He was getting off double teams to the second level and cutting linebackers off to clear rushing lanes for Zeke all night long.
- Defensively, the Cowboys had their best performance of 2019. They hadn't been able to force turnovers all season, but they came away with four in this week's win. Xavier Woods' interception of Wentz might've spoken the loudest, as it proved how good this defense can be when the game script is working in their favor. When things go according to plan early for this team, they have the talent to take total control and dominate.
- Jourdan Lewis was inserted into the starting lineup due to injury, and he was awesome from the opening snap. Lewis came away with a big sack on Caron Wentz and had 4 tackles overall as well. Byron Jones returned from the injury he suffered a week ago, and was back to his old shutdown ways. Jones is clearly the best cornerback on this team, and is one of the better corners in all of football. When he's healthy and playing as he did during Sunday's win, few have an argument over him.
- DeMarcus Lawrence also had his best game of 2019, creating consistent pressure on Wentz throughout the night. His biggest play, of course, was his sack fumble which set the Cowboys up for a 14-0 lead just two possessions into the game. Lawrence has been taking a lot of heat from the fanbase in recent weeks, but he responded in a big way on Sunday.
- Those are the linebackers I remember from 2018. Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch were all over the field during this game, and Sean Lee had a pretty nice game as well once Vander Esch went down. Lee and Smith each finished with 7 tackles, and Smith forced the Eagles' first fumble of the night on their opening drive. Lee made a nice play on the ball on a late fourth down throw that easily could've been an interception as well.
Cowboys K Brett Maher’s 63-Yard Field Goal Sets New NFL Record
After hitting a 63-yard field goal last night in the Dallas Cowboys' win over the Philadelphia Eagles, Kicker Brett Maher now owns the NFL record for most field goal made at 60 yards or longer. It was the third 60-plus FG of his career and second so far this season.
Maher hit a 62-yarder last week in Dallas' loss to the New York Jets. That kick tied him with Sebastian Janikowski and Greg Zuerlein for having two career field goals of 60 or more.
Now Brett stands alone in that category. Last night's kick also was just one yard shy of Matt Prater's record for the NFL's longest field goal; Maher hit from 64 yards in 2013.
If Brett Maher ever gets a chance to kick in Denver, he may have a great shot at breaking Prater's record as well. According to NBC's data from last night, Maher's kick would have been good from 66 yards out.
It was a good night overall for the Cowboys kicker. Maher had two other makes from 26 and 29 yards.
Despite his heroics at times, Brett Maher has been one of the least accurate kickers in the NFL the last two years. Even after last night Brett is hitting just 71.4% of his field goals so far in 2019; that ties him for 25th in the league.
The most puzzling aspect of all with Maher is how much he struggles with shorter range kicks. You almost have more confidence in him kicking from 60 yards out than attempting an extra point.
Few kickers could survive that kind of performance and uncertainty, but few can do what Maher can with his long range ability. It's a risk/reward situation that the Cowboys are continuing to work with.
For today, at least, Maher and his team are basking in the glory of a great game. Let's hope both can keep up the positive momentum.
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