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Potential Playoff Preview: Cowboys Host Seahawks as Changed Team from Early Loss

Sean Martin

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Potential Playoff Preview: Cowboys Host Seahawks as Changed Team from Early Loss

The Dallas Cowboys, winners of the NFC East for the second time in three seasons, are locked into the fourth seed in the upcoming NFC playoffs. All that stands between the Cowboys and a home playoff game at AT&T Stadium is a meaningless trip to the New York Giants in week 17. Though the Cowboys have nothing to play for, their potential playoff opponents do, as the fifth seed is yet to be determined between the Seattle Seahawks and Minnesota Vikings.

Prior to Sunday, I'll share my thoughts here on the Cowboys match up with both teams. With the Seahawks controlling their own path towards the fifth seed, having beaten Dallas already this year back in week three, it makes the most sense to start here - nearly where this season began considering the driving force of this offseason was the status of Earl Thomas, connecting these two teams for months on end.

Thomas has of course not been a factor for the Seahawks revamped defense ever since week four, fracturing his lower leg at the Cardinals and being placed on injured reserve. In his last game of the season, and potentially final time in a Seahawks uniform, Thomas totaled seven tackles and intercepted Cowboys Quarterback Dak Prescott twice.

Providing quite the statement as to why the Cowboys could use his services, both teams have made strides to recover from losing records early in the year and assure a playoff berth. The Seahawks improved their home record to 5-2 last week with a prime time win over the Kansas City Chiefs, putting Pete Carroll's team in the postseason for the seventh time in his nine years.

Even with something to play for in the final game of the season, Seattle extended Carroll with a new contract through 2021 on Monday. The Seahawks confidence in their coach, winner of five of his last six games, feels primed to pay off in the playoffs again.

Whether or not the same can be said about Jason Garrett's Cowboys, considered one of the hottest teams in the league amidst a five game win streak that was snapped two weeks ago, is the burning question this holiday season for Cowboys Nation.

The Cowboys have not shied away from resting their starters in situations just like the one they'll enter this Sunday. This leaves the Cowboys sample size for the playoffs a 27-20 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to clinch the NFC East on home turf.

Potential Playoff Preview: Cowboys Host Seahawks as Changed Team from Early Loss 2

Dallas Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott, QB Dak Prescott

Considering their performance was in response to a shutout loss, the Cowboys did more than enough on Sunday against Tampa, but left continued doubts on offense that the Seahawks are still primed to exploit as they did earlier in the season.

Well before the Cowboys even realized a presence like Amari Cooper was needed at wide receiver, they turned the football over three times, twice in Seahawks territory, losing 24-13 to fall to 1-2. Tight End Geoff Swaim was the Cowboys leading receiver in this game with five catches. Running Back Ezekiel Elliott saw his second lowest share of carries on the season, producing 127 yards on just 16 touches.

In games at Carolina and Washington, where Elliott had a total of 30 carries with 15 in each loss, he rushed for a combined 102 yards. Learning to feed Elliott and throw the ball to Cooper (something the Cowboys have struggled to do as of late) are far from the only reasons to like their chances in a rematch vs. the Seahawks as a much improved team.

The Seahawks patchwork secondary has yielded the 20th most passing yards in the league this season. The Cowboys receivers have taken the most obvious strides needed to create this favorable match up in the Wild Card Round, but the same can quietly be said about the Dallas defense from week three until now.

The Cowboys never led in their loss at CenturyLink Field, something they'll desperately need to play against at AT&T Stadium to keep the crowd in their favor.

Potential Playoff Preview: Cowboys Host Seahawks as Changed Team from Early Loss 1

The Cowboys defense actually got off the field in a total of just 12 plays following the three turnovers by the offense, ultimately limiting the chances they had to get back in the game to the point of no return by late in the fourth quarter.

Russell Wilson is playing like a MVP caliber quarterback lately. Rising to the occasion are the likes of Randy Gregory, Byron Jones, Leighton Vander Esch, and Jaylon Smith on defense for the Cowboys at the right time. Kris Richard's group is equipped to contain Wilson and stymie the Seahawks running game, which did break out for 210 yards on the ground against the Chiefs in week 16.

Chris Carson became the first of just two running backs to go for 100 or more yards against the Cowboys this season, doing so in a game the Cowboys defense was on the field for 32:44 minutes - the third highest total of the season from a non-overtime game. Their most recent win being the exception, the only time the Cowboys defense was left on the field longer was in another ugly loss to the Titans off Dallas' bye week.

Scoring themselves on defense thanks to Jaylon Smith and cashing in another quick score on Gregory's second fumble recovery is the reason the Cowboys overcame this stat so easily on Sunday. In a possible playoff match up with the Seahawks, it will take a similar opportunistic swing on defense to turn the game in the home team's favor.

Sean's Scout: Jaylon Smith Returns Cowboys to NFC East Prominence in Win Over Bucs

Dallas Cowboys LB Jaylon Smith

It was the Indianapolis Colts' familiarity with the Cowboys offense thanks to Defensive Coordinator Matt Eberflus that prompted the latest uncertainty for Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan to once again have the keys to the Cowboys offense in a playoff game.

Regardless of who the Cowboys play, with Mike Zimmer and the Vikings being the only alternative to the Seahawks, this will remain a concern through week 17 and straight into Wild Card weekend. Cleaning up an uncharacteristic Elliott fumble and trusting the growth that Cooper and Michael Gallup have made on offense since the Cowboys first meeting with Seattle is still certainly achievable for Linehan's offense.

The Cowboys proved they have all the makings of a Super Bowl team during their November/early December win streak, and proved to themselves the work needed to get there in week three. With the playoffs being a new season entirely, figuring out which Cowboys and Seahawks teams will truly show up to advance their season to the NFC Championship game is going to be a heated debate with more than enough story lines to cover the time between now and then.

If it happens, this would be the third meeting between these teams in the last two years, with the Seahawks winning both going back to last year's road win - eliminating the Cowboys from playoff contention.

The Seahawks officially earn the #5 seed in the conference with a win vs. the Cardinals on Sunday.

Tell us what you think about "Potential Playoff Preview: Cowboys Host Seahawks as Changed Team from Early Loss" in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!



Born January 28th, 1996- Cowboys Super Bowl XXX. Point Boro Panther, Montclair State Red Hawk, and most importantly a proud member of Cowboys Nation! I host "Upon Further Review" on 90.3 WMSC FM and wmscradio.com every Friday from 1-4 PM ET. Twitter: @SeanMartinNFL.

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Dallas Cowboys

Ezekiel Elliott vs Byron Jones Part II: The Case For Paying Zeke

John Williams

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New York Giants are 2-1 Against Cowboys With Ezekiel Elliott

It's a debate that has raged on social media for some time now and it likely won't slow down as the offseason progresses and the Dallas Cowboys begin to hand out massive contracts to their top players. Pay Ezekiel Elliott? Pay Byron Jones? If you could only pay one, which would you pay?

This week fellow Inside The Star Staff Writer, Kevin Brady took to Twitter to poll the populous and his results were a bit surprising to me.

Kevin Brady on Twitter

if you can only pay one it should be

The results inspired me to see what would happen if I put the same poll on my timeline.

John Williams ✭ on Twitter

Inspired by my teammate @KevinBrady88, if you can only pay one, which would it be?

On Monday, Kevin wrote a piece looking at one of the difficult decisions facing the Dallas Cowboys this offseason or next. If the Cowboys could only extend Byron Jones OR Ezekiel Elliott, who should they choose? Kevin, as am I, is a firm believer in Byron Jones ability and says the Cowboys should extend them, and I agree. But let's look at the other side of the argument.

To begin, the Cowboys should and probably will get both guys contract extensions either this offseason or next. It's not impossible with the cap continuing to increase at a rate of about $8-12 million per year that the Cowboys will have the space to get the deals done that they need to get done. Ezekiel Elliott and Byron Jones included.

Byron Jones settled in nicely at cornerback during his first full season at cornerback and knowing what we know about Jones, he won't be satisfied with a second team All-Pro appearance. Expect him to get better. However, if there's a single player that represents the current identity of the Dallas Cowboys, it's Running Back Ezekiel Elliott.

The Cowboys made him the fourth overall pick in 2016 and haven't looked back in their plan to establish the running game. For his career Elliott has averaged 26.9 touches per game over the course of his 40 games.

Here's a look at what Elliott's per game and per 16 game paces look like through the first three seasons of his career.

As you can see from the table above, Ezekiel Elliott is averaging 131.2 total yards per game for his career. In his rookie season he had 1,994 total yards and he sat out the week 17 game against the Philadelphia Eagles when the Cowboys had the NFC and home field advantage locked up. In 2017, Elliott sat out six games and still had nearly 1,000 yards rushing. In 2018, Elliott broke through the 2,000 total yard barrier after seeing a huge increase in his targets and receptions.

Ezekiel Elliott has been everything the Dallas Cowboys could have hoped for and more. With the leadership role he's taken with the team, he's a player that leads both vocally and by example. There are few players on the Dallas Cowboys that give as much effort as he does each snap. How many times has it looked like Elliott was about to get dropped for a two or three yard loss only to grind through tackles to pick up a four yard gain? How many times has he bounced off tacklers to get to the first down marker? Ezekiel Elliott is the human personification of dirty yards, but don't let that fool you into thinking that Elliott can't take it to the house every time he touches the ball. Elliott's is a game breaker who threatens the defense every time he steps on the field.

In 2018, Elliott led the NFL in yards after contact, per Pro Football Focus. His 949 yards after contact in 2018 would have ranked 13th in the NFL in rushing, which was better than David Johnson's 940 yards rushing last season.

Not many running backs effect a football game like Ezekiel Elliott does.

Few players outside of the quarterback position are as much of a focal point for their offense while being an attention grabber for opposing defenses like Ezekiel Elliott is. In 2018, he saw eight or more men in the box on nearly 25% of his carries in 2018. Some of that is related to the Dallas Cowboys insistence on using two tight ends on 50% of their running plays (per Sharp Football), but the other aspect is related to how much they respect the Dallas Cowboys running game. Since the 2014, the Cowboys have been synonymous with running the football. DeMarco Murray, Darren McFadden, and now Ezekiel Elliott have been the faces of that running game behind the Cowboys elite offensive line.

Even in a down year for offensive line play from the Dallas Cowboys, Elliott still managed to lead the NFL in rushing for the second time in three seasons. Elliott made the Pro Bowl for the second time in three years as well. Were it not for the railroad job done by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell in 2017, there's a really good chance that Elliott leads the league in rushing three years in a row and that the Dallas Cowboys make the playoffs all three seasons.

Sure, the running back position is undervalued in the NFL and rushing yardage can be replaced, but there are intangibles to Elliott's game that are very difficult to replace. His ability to grind out the dirty yards, break big plays, create yards after contact, pass protect, be a threat as a receiver, and his leadership make him a player that is difficult to replace.

Yes, Byron Jones was really good in 2018 and deserves to get paid by the Dallas Cowboys as well, but you'd be hard pressed to find a player on the Cowboys roster who has been as consistent and dominating week in and week out as Ezekiel Elliott has been over the last three years.



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BREAKING: Cowboys Sign Ex-Packers WR Randall Cobb

Brian Martin

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BREAKING: Cowboys Sign Ex-Packers WR Randall Cobb

According to multiple sources, the Dallas Cowboys have signed former Green Bay Packers Wide Receiver Randall Cobb to a one-year deal to help bolster their depth at the WR position and potentially become Cole Beasley's replacement.

Adam Schefter on Twitter

Cowboys are giving former Packers' WR Randall Cobb a one-year, $5 million deal, per source. https://t.co/8KWFPjSP8T

The Dallas Cowboys met with Randall Cobb earlier this week, but he eventually left Dallas without a contract. He must've had a change of heart or just needed time to ponder the Cowboys offer, but regardless of what transpired in that short time he is now part of America's Team.

During his time with the Packers, Cobb accumulated 470 receptions for 5,524 receiving yards and 41 touchdowns. The eight-year veteran will now be expected to replace some of Cole Beasley's production out of the slot for the Dallas Cowboys.

After years of watching Beasley as the Cowboys slot WR, it will be really interesting to see Randall Cobb in that role. He's not as quick twitched as No. 11, but can be just as dangerous due to his ability to be more of a down the field receiver. He also brings added value in the return game and could compete with Tavon Austin to become the return specialist.

This could mean the Cowboys forgo drafting a wide receiver early in the 2019 NFL Draft, but I wouldn't put it past them. Regardless of what happens, this is an excellent addition.

Welcome to Cowboys Nation Randall Cobb!



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REPORT: Dallas Cowboys Re-sign Long Snapper L.P. Ladouceur

Jess Haynie

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L.P. Ladouceur

L.P. Ladouceur is returning for his 15th season as the Cowboys' long snapper. The veteran free agent was re-signed by Dalals today to a one-year deal.

Thanks to Jason Witten's one-year sabbatical with Monday Night Football, Ladouceur has now been with the Cowboys for more consecutive seasons than any current player. He just turned 38 last week, but Louis-Philippe remains one of the top long snappers in football.

Todd Archer on Twitter

The Cowboys have signed long-snapper L.P. Ladouceur to a one-year deal worth $1.03 million and $90,000 in bonus money, but he will count $735,000 against the cap. This will be Ladouceur's 15th season with the Cowboys, tying Ed "Too Tall" Jones, Mark... https://t.co/2iDsi6RX7e

Retaining Ladouceur is an underrated move for the Cowboys given their situation at kicker.

Brett Maher was only 80% accurate overall on field goals last year. The team could be considering an upgrade in free agency.

Whether they bring Maher back or try someone new, having a long snapper with Ladouceur's performance perfection will make things much easier for them.



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