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Playoff Primer: Dallas Cowboys Wide Receivers

Over the course of the next two weeks, I’m breaking down every position group on the Dallas Cowboys prior to the Divisional Round of the playoffs. Today, we’re focusing on the wide receiver group (Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams, Cole Beasley, Brice Butler, Lucky Whitehead).

Sean Martin

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Cole Beasley, Eagles

Way back in the summer days of training camp, our staff wrote about their most anticipated position battle leading up to the 2016 Cowboys season. The majority of us agreed that the battle with the most intrigue was at wide receiver, where the roster spots were pretty set, but playing time was to be earned.

Now, the Dallas Cowboys are going to the playoffs as the NFC’s top seed, thanks in large part to WRs that have stepped up in support of rookie quarterback Dak Prescott.

Let’s take a closer look at all of the players at this position heading into the playoffs –

Dez Bryant

There’s no question that Dez Bryant is the best pass catcher on the Cowboys currently. A true star wide out, Bryant has had to go through some adjustments with Prescott at quarterback – but is heating up right at the perfect time.

In his most recent performance, Bryant caught two spectacular touchdown passes against the Lions, both times stretching the field against a defense that was expecting the run.

Bryant is the ultimate competitor, and you know he’ll want to silence any critics when it comes to playing in the postseason for just the second time in his career. With the way 2014 ended, there’s not a team in the league that wants to try to cover #88 right now in the playoffs.

Cowboys Nation has surmised that the only thing capable of stopping Bryant from taking over any given game is Scott Linehan’s inconsistent play calling with him on the outside, but we saw firsthand on Monday night how just one or two throws to Bryant can change a game.

Terrance Williams

Much of the intrigue at WR coming into this season for the Cowboys was because of Williams – the WR2 behind Bryant since his rookie season in 2013 – facing some serious competition (so we thought) from Brice Butler.

Both Williams and Butler will be free agents after this season, but for now their collective focus has to be on making plays in the playoffs. For Terrance Williams, hopefully this will mean more than the occasional splash plays.

Yes, his two touchdowns in that 2014 playoff win against the Lions were electrifying, but he also had 12 games that season with three or less receptions. This season, Williams has eight such games, but has shown improvement on film as a more consistent route runner with better overall field awareness.

A deep playoff run for these Cowboys would mean an appearance in Super Bowl LI, and you get the feeling that they’ll need Terrance Williams in a few big spots to get there.

With Seattle’s secondary not at full-strength, there doesn’t appear to be a truly dominant passing defense standing in the way of the Cowboys and Houston, so Williams will be expected to play his part in the postseason.

Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams

Cole Beasley

The Cowboys offense has been their best defense at times this season, capable of grinding out long touchdown drives that wear opposing teams down. A massive part of this week-to-week offensive game plan is slot-receiver Cole Beasley.

The fascinating thing about the way all of the Dallas wide receivers are utilized is how well they all fit together into super-specific roles. Beasley is the Cowboys’ best example of this concept, called upon to move the chains on third down and make the occasional explosive RAC play.

Often times for Dak Prescott, throws to Beasley are just as good as hand offs to Ezekiel Elliott, as they get him outside of the pocket with Beasley running across the field.

It is easy to see why the Cowboys offense is a juggernaut, when you put yourselves in the shoes of a defensive coordinator in the NFC playoffs – charged with the tough task of slowing them down. We’ve already talked about the threat that Dez Bryant and Terrance Williams provide in the passing game, but Beasley is capable of breaking a game with plenty of saucy timely snags.

The X-Factor: Brice Butler

Everything about Brice Butler’s most recent touchdown against the Lions – his first since week 6 –  was spectacular. The pre-snap recognition from Prescott led to him throwing an absolutely perfect ball to Butler, who snagged in the end zone for six points.

Butler was brought in last season to make plays in the absence of Dez Bryant. Now, while he hasn’t cut into Williams’ playing time like some expected, Butler has the chance to play with the entirety of the Cowboys pass catchers.

Since the Cowboys are so deep, with such defined roles for their starting WRs, Butler’s best shot to make an impact in the playoffs will be as a home-run threat on the outside. The over the top speed of Butler combined with his length makes him the perfect target for a few deep shots a game – even if they are just thrown to change a defense’s perspective prior to a run play.

Butler has also hurt his cause at times by dropping a few of these opportunities, committing penalties, and not blocking well throughout the season, making him my x-factor at this position.

The Playoff Primer series will continue breaking down the Dallas Cowboys offense and defense prior to the Divisional Round. You can share your thoughts on this Wide Receiver analysis in the comments! Feel free to also email your feedback to Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com.

Tell us what you think about “Playoff Primer: Dallas Cowboys Wide Receivers” in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!

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Born January 28th, 1996- Cowboys Super Bowl XXX. Point Pleasant NJ, no we’re not how you think we are. Host of “Upon Further Review” on 90.3 WMSC FM and wmscradio.com every Friday from 1-4 PM ET. You may @ me: @SeanMartinNFL.

Game Notes

DAL 20, OAK 17: Cowboys and Playoff Hopes Survive Wild Game

Jess Haynie

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Jason Witten, Dak Prescott

On a night when almost everything seemed to bounce the Raiders’ way, the final crucial play went in Dallas’ favor. That proved to be all the difference, allowing the Cowboys to improve to 8-6 and keep their playoff hopes alive in a pivotal road game in Oakland.

After a 55-yard pass interference penalty on cornerback Jourdan Lewis moved Oakland 15 yards from the endzone, Oakland had a few shots at a game-winning touchdown before they’d attempt a tying field goal. On 3rd-and-3, Derek Carr scrambled and went for the score. He dived along the sideline and stretched the ball out toward the pylon, only to lose control. The ball left his hands, crossed the goal line, and went out the side of the endzone.

Cowboys ball. Cowboys wins.

That fumble was Oakland’s fourth of the night. Cordarrelle Patterson fumbled on two of his kick returns but both times the ball rolled out of bounds. Michael Crabtree also fumbled after a catch, but Dallas failed to recover it before the receiver could get back on top of the ball.

Both teams were playing for their playoff lives. When the game was tied 10-10 in the 3rd quarter, Dallas faked a punt from their own 24-yard-line as Chris Jones kept the ball and ran 24 yards. The very next play, the Cowboys attempted a flea-flicker to Terrance Williams that was incomplete. It was perhaps the most aggressive series of calls we’ve seen from Dallas all year.

It was a tough, ugly game. There were 21 total penalties, 14 of which surprisingly belonged to the Raiders. Oakland’s offense executed more consistently while the Cowboys still made crucial stops when needed.

In the end, Dallas survived and advanced in their efforts to sneak back into the NFC playoffs.

Other Notes

  • Dak Prescott had a rough night with two interceptions and no passing touchdowns. One of those picks was due to contact on the throw, but he also missed some opportunities with errant throws and bad reads. He did run one in, though, and had 32 rushing yards total for the game.
  • Alfred Morris and Rod Smith combined for a woeful 74 yards on 23 carries. After a few weeks of big production, this was a good reminder of why we’re so happy to have Ezekiel Elliott returning next week.
  • While Dallas was unable to sack Derek Carr tonight, they applied a lot of pressure and forced several bad throws. Carr only completed 55% of his passes thanks to consistent heat from DeMarcus Lawrence, Sean Lee, and even Taco Charlton on a few plays.
  • It was another solid night from the Cowboys’ young cornerbacks. Despite the big penalty on Oakland’s final drive, Lewis had a solid night all around along with Chidobe Awuzie. Anthony Brown also showed up, having a few nice deflections in crunch time.
  • The Cowboys will head back to Dallas to reunite to with Ezekiel Elliott and prepare a welcoming party for the Seattle Seahawks next Sunday. Seattle was humiliated at home today, losing 42-7 to the visiting Rams. With the Cowboys and Seahawks now tied at 8-6, Dallas can bury them next week with a victory.

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Game Notes

Cowboys and Raiders Offer Many Parallels

Jess Haynie

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Dak Prescott, Derek Carr

For only the 12th time since their first meeting in 1974, the Dallas Cowboys and the Oakland Raiders will face off tonight in what will likely be a season-ending game for the loser. Two of the NFL’s premiere franchises, the Cowboys and Raiders have lived almost entirely separate lives throughout their history. Despite that, the two organizations in many ways seem like mirror images of each other.

The Raiders are up by one game, 6-5, in the previous 11 games between Dallas and Oakland. The Cowboys have won the last two matchups, both of which were in Dallas. This will be the first they’ve played in the Raiders’ stadium since 2005.

Oakland is one of only a few NFL franchises the Cowboys have a losing record against. Dallas is .500 or better against 26 the 31 other teams in the league. The only other franchises with winning records against the Cowboys are the Baltimore Ravens (4-1), Cleveland Browns (17-14). Denver Broncos (8-5), and the Green Bay Packers (19-17).

Throughout NFL history, perhaps now two owners have challenged the establishment more than the Cowboys’ Jerry Jones and the late Al Davis of the Raiders. Davis sued the NFL in 1980 when his efforts to most the team to Los Angeles were blocked. This year, Jerry Jones threatened litigation against the league for how the commissioner’s contract negotiations were being handled.

in 2017, the Cowboys and Raiders were both Super Bowl contenders who have had disappointing the seasons. They go into this week at 7-6 and 6-7 respectively, nearly even, and with similarly slim hopes of still making the playoffs. Both may be still be able to sneak in if they keep winning, but help from other teams is also needed.

Even their quarterbacks can be compared. Dak Prescott and Derek Carr are two of the top young stars at QB in the game but have had adversity this year.  Carr has been trying to bounce back from a major leg injury last year that cut short his breakout season. Prescott, a rookie sensation in 2016, has had to fight the sophomore slump while also dealing with the loss of offensive MVP Ezekiel Elliott.

If that wasn’t enough, both their first names start with a “D” and end with a “K.” Mind-blowing stuff, huh?

All kidding aside, both Dallas and Oakland entered 2017 with championship goals and have had tough blows along the way. Both will be without key players tonight; Dallas still missing Elliott while the Raiders won’t have franchise receiver Amari Cooper. These personnel issues have plagued their seasons and left both on the brink of playoff elimination.

Who stays alive tonight? For two teams that only see each other every four years, this reunion is of incredible importance to both their immediate futures.

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Game Notes

Cowboys, Raiders Week 15 Injury Report

Jess Haynie

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David Irving

Tonight’s game between the Dallas Cowboys and Oakland Raiders features two teams still hanging on to slim playoff hopes. Both will have to try to keep their seasons alive without some key players, according the final injury report for Week 15.

Dallas Cowboys

  • WR Brice Butler (foot) – OUT
  • TE James Hanna (knee) – Questionable
  • OT Tyron Smith (back) – Questionable
  • OT La’el Collins (back) – Questionable
  • DL David Irving (concussion) – OUT
  • DT Maliek Collins (foot) – Questionable
  • LB Sean Lee (hamstring/back) – Questionable
  • LB Justin Durant (concussion) – OUT
  • CB Orlando Scandrick (back) – OUT

Don’t be worried by any of the key “questionable” players. They’re all dealing with nagging injuries and will likely be on the injury report the rest of the year. There is no indication that Sean Lee, Maliek Collins, or either of the starting offensive tackles will miss the game.

Brice Butler will miss his return game against his former team, which is more sad for him than any real issue for the Cowboys. Ryan Switzer and Noah Brown could see some more usage on offensive as a result.

Missing David Irving will hurt as Dallas needs to get pressure on Derek Carr. Coupled with Orlando Scandrick’s absence, the Raiders could be dangerous with their passing game. Thankfully, some of this is offset by their star receiving also missing the game.

Oakland Raiders

  • WR Amari Cooper (ankle) – OUT
  • TE Clive Walford (concussion/neck) – OUT
  • C/G Jon Feliciano (concussion) – Questionable
  • DL Mario Edwards Jr (ankle) – OUT
  • DL Denico Autry (hand/ankle) – Questionable
  • CB David Amerson (foot) – Questionable
  • S Ofi Melifonwu (hip) – OUT
  • DB Keith McGill (knee) – Questionable

The big news here is obviously Cooper being out. Michael Crabtree can still ball but Cooper is one of the top receivers in the game. Dallas’ young corners can breathe easier now.

The big injury on defense is Edwards, the son of the former Cowboys cornerback. He’s started all 13 games this year for Oakland. They also could be without starting corner David Amerson due to a foot injury. That could help Dak Prescott to keep the momentum going from his statistical breakthrough last week.

The rest of the players on the Raiders’ report are all backups.

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