Listen to an audio version of this article on Bumpers!
If you look at your calendar you'll see that we are past Thanksgiving. We are at such a point in time with the Dallas Cowboys having only one loss to their 2016 name. That is utterly incredible.
As is the case when you enter December with a lone blemish in the loss column... you start to think about things - legitimate things:
- When will the Cowboys clinch the division? (December 11th in my estimation)
- When will the Cowboys clinch a first-round bye? (We'll discuss in the coming weeks)
- When will the Cowboys clinch home-field advantage? (stay tuned to Inside The Star)
Typically when an NFL team is in the position the current Cowboys are, they have to consider these things. We're talking about if the Cowboys have clinched all that they can with time left before the playoffs. In other words... what if the Cowboys play a totally meaningless game in Week 17? (or Week 16, you get the picture).
In situations like that these teams normally rest their starters or give them minimal playing time so as to minimize the risk for injury. Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, Dez Bryant, and others likely won't play in these hypothetical games... but what about Tony Romo?
Should the Dallas Cowboys reach a point where they have clinched everything that they can (division, bye, home-field) then they should absolutely not play Tony Romo. Here's why.
Would You Rather Have Tony Romo Or Mark Sanchez In The Playoffs?
That's what this boils down to, ultimately.
Say the Dallas Cowboys decide to play Tony Romo in a meaningless game... and that he gets hurt. Then say a few weeks later in the NFC Championship game against the Seahawks that Dak Prescott gets hurt. Do you know who your knight in shining armor is in that moment? Mark Sanchez.
The Cowboys have what is indisputably the best backup quarterback in the NFL with Tony Romo on the sidelines. Why would they jeopardize that? Let's not forget that Tony Romo, as much as we all love him, has been critically hurt in two of the last three regular season games that he's played (three out of six if you count the bits of 2016 preseason). Why would you jeopardize his health - which could be needed in the playoffs - for literally no gain?
"The Cowboys Can Maximize Tony Romo's Trade Value By Him Playing Well"
When you say that Romo shouldn't play a meaningless game, this is typically the response that you get. It is not practical or of sound reason.
Could Tony Romo trot out during a meaningless game and play some of the finest football that we've ever seen, thus making whoever will want him this offseason want him all the more? Sure. Anything can happen. But in your opinion is that likely? Would you even give it 50% chance of likelihood? Of course not, because you're someone who is practical and of sound reason.
These are the possible results of Tony Romo playing in a meaningless game:
- He's awesome and improves his trade stock.
- He's not awesome and diminishes his trade stock.
- He gets hurt.
Even if Option 1 was the result... how much is Tony Romo really going to improve his trade stock at this point? He's a very seasoned veteran, people know who he is. The best thing going for Tony Romo honestly might be that nobody has seen him play in over a year.
Tony Romo's Mystery: Why It's A Good Thing
The last time that Tony Romo took a regular season snap in the NFL was November 26th, 2015. That was a long time ago.
If you fast forward to the offseason someone is going to have interest in him, we've already heard about the teams that supposedly do. The greatest thing Tony Romo has going for him right now is the element of surprise in that no one knows whether he can still do it at a high level anymore.
Why is it a great thing? What if you're an NFL GM and, during a meaningless game, you find out Tony Romo can't do it anymore? It's an uncomfortable reality that we don't really want to come to terms with, but what if Tony Romo simply cannot get it done like he used to? This would explain why the team went with Dak Prescott, and playing Tony Romo for no reason flirts with a lot more negative repercussions than positive results.
Tony Romo Or Mark Sanchez: That's What This Comes Down To
We're back to where we started here and that's whether you would rather have Tony Romo or Mark Sanchez quarterbacking your Cowboys in the playoffs should Dak Prescott get hurt.
Right now we believe that Tony Romo can still get it done at a high level, and dangling that potential lottery ticket over a flame of injury and accidents is not smart business. That's what this is all about - business. Playing Tony Romo in a completely meaningless game (which by the way would likely be IN Philadelphia) is going against the philosophy of preserving depth that this team has reaped the benefits from all season long.
We all believe that Tony Romo still has a lot in the tank. This is exactly why if the Cowboys are in a meaningless game that they shouldn't risk him for the sake of maybe/possibly/hopefully improving his supposed trade stock. It's not smart business.
Leighton Vander Esch To Top Rookie Season With Pro Bowl Trip
Dallas Cowboys' rookie Leighton Vander Esch has done enough to prove every single doubter wrong. When Roger Goodell called his name during the 2018 NFL Draft in Arlington, Texas, many in Cowboys Nation rejoiced at the thought of having a young linebacker for a defense surrounded with uncertainty. However, many analysts doubted the draft pick. For a lot of people (sadly, I include myself in this category), the pick should've been used on another player. For most, despite acknowledging his raw talent, Vander Esch wouldn't be able to provide the Cowboys with an instant impact player. Ah, well.
After a remarkable season, Vander Esch (a.k.a. Wolf Hunter) has earned a spot on this season's second-team All-Pro. When the Pro Bowl voting began, Vander Esch was snubbed from the ballot itself. It didn't took the NFL long to realize their mistake and add the Cowboys' linebacker to the list. Despite missing the cut at first, Vander Esch will be heading to Orlando to play in this year's Pro Bowl on January 27th.
DallasCowboys linebacker @VanderEsch38 has been added to the 2019 Pro Bowl Roster. 🐺 Congratulations, rookie! → https://t.co/AYqEUy2tZx
The former Boise State Bronco will be replacing Carolina Panthers' LB Luke Kuechly, who won't be participating because of an injury.
Vander Esch racked up 140 tackles (per Pro Football Reference), ranking third in the league in this category. He finished the season as the fifth best linebacker in Pro Football Focus' rankings.
But numbers aren't really enough to fully appreciate what Vander Esch did for the Dallas Cowboys. A team that was used to seeing its defense break when veteran Sean Lee went down injured, did not only get someone to fill in for Lee. Vander Esch actually upgraded the Cowboys' defense. It didn't matter where the ball went, he was always around when opponents were tackled. His speed and chance of direction allowed him to run sideline to sideline, covering a huge portion of the field.
Along Jaylon Smith, Dallas managed to have one of the best linebacker duos in the NFL.
The last time a defensive rookie from the Cowboys went to the Pro Bowl was in 1981, when Everson Walls made the team. Vander Esch is the 11th rookie in team history to be selected to the Pro Bowl. This year, the rookie will be accompanied by DeMarcus Lawrence, Byron Jones, Tyron Smith, Zack Martin and Ezekiel Elliott.
Cowboys Expect C Travis Frederick Back for Offseason Program
Lost in yesterday's hoopla over Scott Linehan's return was a positive report about Center Travis Frederick. In his comments to the media, Jason Garrett said that Frederick's recovery timetable should allow him to a full participant in the team's offseason program.
After never missing a start in his first five years, Travis missed all of 2018 dealing with the effects of Guillain-Barré Syndrome. The disease attacked his neurological system and required immediate and intensive treatment.
Jason Garrett says the team anticipates Travis Frederick being involved in the offseason program right from the start this spring if he continues on the same positive track in recovery from Guillain-Barré syndrome. #cowboyswire
While Joe Looney performed admirably in Frederick's absence, he's not an elite talent. Travis has been arguably the best center in the NFL since entering the league in 2013.
It's hard to qualify what effect not having Frederick had on the Cowboys offense in 2018. Ezekiel Elliott still led the league in rushing, but short-yardage plays weren't as automatic as we've seen in past years. A 4th-and-1 stuff was part of what led to the Cowboys' loss this past Saturday.
Dak Prescott was the second-most sacked QB in the NFL in 2018. After being sacked just 25 and 32 times in his first two seasons, the number skyrocketed to 56 sacks.
That's not all on Frederick, of course. Tyron Smith had some health issues and there were was turnover at left guard.
But having your All-Pro veteran center out there to help with the pre-snap reads, and help the rookie guard on his left, might have helped avoid some of those issues.
Indeed, Travis Frederick's return is just one of many reasons for optimism with the 2019 season. One of the best players on the team, he was sorely missed this year and can only help as Dallas looks to build on their division title and playoff appearance.
For Cowboys to Beat the Rams, Dak Prescott must Lead the Way
In the NFL wins and losses often come down to quarterback play. That isn't to say that if a team wins, it was all because of the quarterback and inversely, if a team loses that it was all on the quarterback. Teams win or lose games. Generally speaking, however, the quarterback has the highest amount of influence on the outcome of an NFL game. This will be no different for the Dallas Cowboys this Saturday when they take on the Los Angeles Rams in the LA Coliseum. For America's Team to make their first trip to the NFC Championship Game since 1996, Dak Prescott has to have a good game.
This looks to be a good matchup for the Dallas Cowboys offense, which should allow Dak Prescott and the Cowboys to take advantage in certain areas.
A few Rams Passing Game Notes
- The Los Angeles Rams were middle of the pack against the pass this season, allowing the 14th fewest passing yards in the league this season.
- The Rams allowed 7.7 yards per attempt. Dak Prescott is averaging 7.6 yards per attempt since week 10 of the season.
- The Rams allowed the eighth most passing touchdowns in the NFL this season. They and the New Orleans Saints are the only teams in the top 10 of passing touchdowns allowed in the playoffs this season.
- The Rams were 15th in the NFL in sacks, with 41, but Aaron Donald accounted for half of that with 20.5 sacks on the season. No other player had more than five sacks.
- They were third in the NFL in interceptions, collecting 18.
- The Rams allowed the ninth highest yards per completion on the season at 11.8. So on average, every completion went for a first down.
Dak Prescott is playing as well as any quarterback in the playoffs at the moment. Over the last nine games, he's averaging 272 passing yards, two total touchdowns, was only intercepted four times, and was sacked on average 3.2 times per game.
On Saturday night, we saw Scott Linehan put the ball in his hands on a couple designed runs that nearly scored touchdowns. It was an excellent addition to the offense that could help fix the Cowboys red zone woes. Getting Dak Prescott running on some designed runs or quarterback draws could help slow down Aaron Donald and the pass rush.
The Cowboys needed every bit of Dak Prescott magic to overcome a stingy Seattle Seahawks defense in their Wild Card win and they'll need him to step up again this week against the Rams. Every team is going to attempt to take away the running game to make Dak beat you and as he continues to mature, he's getting more and more comfortable doing that. He's comfortable with the big stage and the big moments.
Dak Prescott Since 2016, including playoffs * 15 game-winning drives (Most in NFL) * 13 primetime QB wins (Most in NFL) * 19 rush TD (Most in NFL by QB) #DallasCowboys @dak
No Quarterback in the NFL has more game winning drives, rushing touchdowns, or wins in primetime than Dak Prescott. When we talk about Dak Prescott, we talk a lot about the things that he can't do as a passer and deservedly so, he still has some growing to do in that area, but in the things that you can't objectively quantify -- mental toughness, resiliency, clutchness, will, determination -- Dak is one of the best in the NFL. He's as mentally tough as they come in the NFL and he doesn't let the spotlight or the game situation phase him. He has that stuff that's hard to put your finger on.
The Dallas Cowboys will need more of that on Saturday night in Los Angeles. The Rams can score and can score in bunches and if the Cowboys defense starts sluggish or has an off night, they'll need Dak Prescott to keep them in the game. Even if the defense has a good game, Dak still has to come through in the passing game and on the ground to give the Cowboys a chance to pull off the upset.
The Dallas Cowboys are going to try to run the ball against the Rams on Saturday. That's their identity; run the ball, control the clock, and be efficient in the passing game. Prescott, either with his legs or with his arm will have to make some plays to extend drives and keep the Rams offense on the sideline. He'll need to be sharp in the red zone to convert those opportunities into touchdowns. Settling for field goals against the Rams is how the Cowboys get beat.
This matchup with the Rams looks to set up nicely for Dak Prescott and the Dallas Cowboys, yet how things look on paper doesn't mean much when the lights go on and the whistle blows. It's a big stage and it's another win-or-go-home game for the Cowboys (like every game has been over the last nine weeks). In a big game, you need big time players, and the Cowboys have one in quarterback Dak Prescott.
Star Blog1 week ago
Should Tavon Austin’s Role Get Expanded Against His Former Team?
Dallas Cowboys6 days ago
Texas Forever? Kris Richard Appears Closer to Staying with Cowboys
Dallas Cowboys1 day ago
Cowboys Getting Over $30 Million Cap Space from Expiring Dead Money
Dallas Cowboys3 days ago
What’s Next for Cowboys Coaching Staff After Divisional Round Loss?
Dallas Cowboys1 week ago
It’s Time To Stop Doubting the Dallas Cowboys
Player News1 week ago
Allen Hurns Injury: Status, 2019 Prospects, Teammate Reactions
Star Blog7 days ago
Blake Jarwin’s Injury Could Mean Expanded Role for Rico Gathers
Dallas Cowboys2 days ago
Cowboys Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan Will Return in 2019