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Potential Playoff Preview: Kirk Cousins, Vikings Come to Town for Wild Card Round

Sean Martin



Potential Playoff Preview: Kirk Cousins, Vikings Come to Town for Wild Card Round

The Dallas Cowboys are one of just a few teams with nothing to play for in week 17, their potential Wild Card opponents not in the same situation. Come Wild Card weekend, either the Seattle Seahawks or Minnesota Vikings will be at AT&T Stadium to face the NFC East champion Cowboys. After covering what a rematch between the Cowboys and Seahawks could look like, it's time to consider the Cowboys match up with a Vikings team fighting for their life on Sunday.

Hosting the winners of the NFC North, the Vikings will need to beat the Bears to play their own way into the postseason. Should the third-seeded Bears pick up their 12th win of the year, the Vikings will need the Eagles to lose (or tie) at the Redskins.

A game away from the Super Bowl a year ago, this season has hardly gone as planned for the Vikings in year one with Kirk Cousins at QB. Yet again, not much has in a crazy division won by the Bears, hardly contested by the Packers and Lions, and on the verge of sending a dangerous Vikings team to the playoffs for the third time in four years.

Minnesota does not feature the same world-beating defense it bolstered a year ago, carrying a Case Keenum quarterbacked offense to the NFC Championship Game. Eleventh in rush yards allowed per game but third in pass yards, the Vikings have not sustained the dominant pass rush that made them a force last season.

Danielle Hunter has turned a seven sack 2017 into a team high 14.5 through 15 games this year, but Everson Griffin has just 5.5 after 13 last year. Where the Vikings have seen progress on defense is in the secondary, with Mack Alexander, Trae Ways, Xavier Rhodes, and Harrison Smith forming a tight back seven.

Cousins has not provided the boost at QB the Vikings were hoping could put them over the edge even with a regression on defense, failing to make the difference in losses to the Bills, Bears, and Seahawks. The Vikings have not beaten any team currently in the playoffs and are 3-4-1 on the road.

The Cowboys have hinted at using their remaining game at the Giants as a tune-up for the playoffs by playing "healthy" starters, certainly in need of improvements on offense. They should feel good about returning home for a first round match up with the Vikings, and their own ability to win a defensive game regardless of how they handle week 17.

Potential Playoff Preview: Kirk Cousins, Vikings Come to Town for Wild Card Round 1

Dallas Cowboys LBs Leighton Vander Esch, Jaylon Smith

Winning their last four games against Cousins when he started for the Redskins, the Cowboys should be more concerned with a Vikings running game that's found its legs recently. Dalvin Cook and Latavius Murray put the Vikings over 100 yards rushing last week against the Lions for the second consecutive week, the first time that's happened all season. The Vikings are 5-0 when rushing for at least 100 yards with an average margin of victory of 15 points.

Shutout loss at the Colts aside, the Cowboys have not yielded 100 rushing yards since a week nine loss to the Titans. This game became the turning point of a season that went from 3-5 to division winners in Dallas.

At times through a five game win streak earlier in the season, the Cowboys looked just like the magical 2016 team that rattled off 13 wins on the way to the top seed in the NFC. Among the accomplishments of that season, despite a first round playoff exit, was a prime time Thursday win in Minnesota.

Holding off a late Vikings two point attempt to win 17-15, the Cowboys gained big game composure with a rookie Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott winning on the road. Practically seasoned veterans with new starters all around them now, the Cowboys line up favorably against a Vikings team that will need outside help claiming the #5 seed.

A Vikings playoff-clinching win paired with a Seahawks loss to the Cardinals would make them the #5 seed and send them to Dallas while Seattle becomes the #6 seed.

As mentioned, the Cowboys must find an extra gear on offense if they have any hope of making a deep playoff run. Leaning on the best defense they've fielded in years hasn't failed them much this season though, and that's exactly how their postseason could begin with a tough game against the Vikings in the Wild Card round.

New faces like Leighton Vander Esch can be eager to face off against Cousins, while the Cowboys familiarity with him on defense is left to DeMarcus Lawrence, Jaylon Smith, Byron Jones, and at least four other starters from the last time the now-Vikings starter lost to the Cowboys.

The Vikings, Eagles, and Seahawks all play late games after the Cowboys noon kickoff at the Giants on Sunday, meaning they'll be in full recovery mode for the playoffs when their opponent is determined.

Tell us what you think about "Potential Playoff Preview: Kirk Cousins, Vikings Come to Town for Wild Card Round" in the comments below. You can also email me at, 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 every Friday from 1-4 PM ET. Twitter: @SeanMartinNFL.

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Player News

Cowboys Sign WR Devin Smith, Former 2nd-Round Pick

Jess Haynie



Devin Smith

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:

Jason Bernstein on Twitter

Congrats to WR Devin Smith @dsmithosu for signing with the #DallasCowboys! Welcome back.

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!

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Dallas Cowboys

Breaking: Scott Linehan and Dallas Cowboys Part Ways

John Williams



Scott Linehan Acknowledges Need for New "Wrinkles" in Cowboys Offense

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.

Ian Rapoport on Twitter

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.

Mike Garafolo on Twitter

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.

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Player News

DeMarcus Lawrence Named Top Free Agent Of The 2019 Class

Kevin Brady



Breaking Down DeMarcus Lawrence's League High 5.5 Sacks Through Week 4

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. 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.

ig: josinaanderson on Twitter

ESPN's top 10 free agents for 2019 and what Le'Veon Bell should be looking to command based on previous measures.

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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