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.
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.
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.
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.
Cowboys Sign WR Devin Smith, Former 2nd-Round Pick
The Dallas Cowboys have reportedly signed Receiver Devin Smith, previously with the New York Jets, to a futures contract. Smith was a 2nd-round pick, 37th overall, in the 2015 NFL Draft.
Before going pro, Devin was a college teammate of current Cowboys Ezekiel Elliott, Rod Smith, and Noah Brown. They were all members of the 2014 Ohio State Buckeyes team that won the National Championship.
Smith's agent, Jason Bernstein, tweeting the following earlier today:
Congrats to WR Devin Smith @dsmithosu for signing with the #DallasCowboys! Welcome back. https://t.co/hCMYoE8fEh
Thus far, Smith's NFL career has been marred by injuries. He has suffered two ACL tears in the same knee and only been able to appear in 14 games. He was waived by the Jets last summer and was not with any team last season.
Overall, the 2015 class of receivers has been disappointing. Amari Cooper has been a star and other later-round picks like Tyler Lockett, Stefon Diggs, and Jamison Crowder have been good. But the other big names of the class, such as Kevin White, Breshad Perriman, and DeVante Parker, have not lived up to the hype.
The Cowboys are known for trying to reclaim players who once had high draft status and bad starts to their careers. They are clearly hoping to cash in on Smith's previously perceived potential, which had him projected as a possible first-round talent at one time.
For both Devin and Dallas' sake, we hope it's a success!
Breaking: Scott Linehan and Dallas Cowboys Part Ways
Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network is reporting that the Dallas Cowboys and Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan have mutually agreed to part ways following a tumultuous season that saw the Dallas Cowboys offense finish outside the top 12 three out of his four seasons in Dallas.
Sources: The #Cowboys are firing OC Scott Linehan. Taking their offense in a new direction. An announcement is coming.
Scott Linehan was brought in prior to the 2015 season and saw his offenses finish 31st, fifth, 14th, and 22nd in his four years as the Cowboys play caller. The 2015 season can be excused as the Cowboys rolled out Kellen Moore, Matt Cassell, and Brandon Weeden for 13 starts after Tony Romo was injured twice during the season, but the team 2-11 in those 13 starts and the Cowboys failed to make the playoffs despite a strong performance on the defensive side of the football.
The Cowboys saw an offense that finished fifth in the NFL in points in 2016 decline each of the last two offseasons and Linehan has been continually criticized by analysts, fans, and players as well.
Many believe that the reason that Dez Bryant and Brice Butler weren't brought back in the offseason was because of the public criticism of the offense and the play caller instilling the offense and that criticism has carried over to this season when Dak Prescott and Amari Cooper acknowledged that the Philadelphia Eagles were sitting on the slant routes that they had run all game. Dak mentioned that he changed Amari's route to a go route, which led to a 75 yard touchdown that helped open up the offense.
Cole Beasley has been frustrated with his role for much of the season and deservedly so. He was often non-existent in the offensive game plan until the final five minutes of football games.
In the running game, the offense had become too predictable and reliant upon jumbo formations that led to Ezekiel Elliott having to run against eight in the box anywhere from 25-30% of the time. For perspective, Todd Gurley only ran against eight-man fronts around eight percent of the time. Scott Linehan never looked to attempt to take players out of the box, instead insisting on motioning more players into the box for the offensive line and Ezekiel Elliott to run against. It's amazing when you think about it, that Ezekiel Elliott was able to win the rushing title when facing loaded fronts as often as he did.
This was a move that needed to happen and the Dallas Cowboys didn't need to waste anymore time to make it happen. The offense had become stale and frustrating for the players as well as the fans. While Jason Garrett started the offseason saying he "didn't expect any changes," this was a move that absolutely had to happen for the offense to take a step forward. Below, you can read Jason Garrett's announcement on the move.
Cowboys have fired Scott Linehan
Even after the move for Amari Cooper, the offense looked better, but it still struggled at times to move the football.
The Cowboys have a young team with especially young players on the offensive side of the football. They have a quarterback who can throw from the pocket, but has excellent movement skills and capabilities of throwing the ball on the run. He's an excellent runner on designed runs. Despite us knowing all that, Scott Linehan looked reluctant to use him on designed quarterback runs that weren't read options or speed options. What you saw on designed runs in the Seattle game is what this team should be doing five times a game.
Now the question becomes, who should the Cowboys next offensive coordinator be? Our own, Staff Writer Brian Martin, laid out 5 Options to be the Next Offensive Coordinator earlier this week. I suggest you give it a read.
DeMarcus Lawrence Named Top Free Agent Of The 2019 Class
Much has been made about the Dallas Cowboys 2019 free agent class. Dallas has a ton of cap space moving forward, but they are going to "have" to pay many of the key players on their roster over the next two offseasons in order to keep their young core together.
Of course, when you're drafting, that's the goal. To draft so well that when your own players become free agents, you go ahead and pay them to keep them around, rather than overpay on the free agent market for external players.
One of the major pieces the Cowboys will have to retain this offseason is defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence. And while Cowboys Nation often thinks of Lawrence as underrated around the league, the NFL has caught onto his importance as he enters free agency this Spring.
ESPN.com ranked their top 10 free agents for 2019, with DeMarcus Lawrence clocking in at number one, over elite players like Jadeveon Clowney and Le'Veon Bell.
ESPN's top 10 free agents for 2019 and what Le'Veon Bell should be looking to command based on previous measures. https://t.co/aJ7H1n001t
DeMarcus Lawrence is going to command big time money, likely even Khalil Mack-type money. But the fact of the matter is that he has earned it. Lawrence has been the heart and soul of the Cowboys defensive line the last two seasons, and the most consistent edge player on the team as well.
Not only has he been an effective pass rusher, but DeMarcus Lawrence also plays with a relentless motor against the run that can sometimes be rare to find in those premier pass rushers. He really is a jack of all trades at defensive end, and should be priority number one for the Cowboys this offseason.
Thankfully, I can't imagine the Cowboys not retaining DeMarcus Lawrence and extending him in the coming months.
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