Last Sunday, the Dallas Cowboys defense had one of the most important tests they've faced all season. Dan Bailey had just kicked a field goal to extend the lead 26-20, with 2:58 remaining. Lots of us even wanted Jason Garret to go for it on fourth down so they could score seven points and end the game, just to not put the game on the defense (probably remembering how a lot of the 2015 games ended).
When the Tampa Bay Buccaneers got the ball, the pass rush forced a quick three and out. Tampa managed to stop the Cowboys and get the ball once again, this time with 1:36 on the clock.
On fourth and 12, Orlando Scandrick sealed the win with the third INT of the night. All season long, I've been worried about how this defense will hold up against playoff teams. But as I watched that game, even though they surrendered 20 points, I realized this defense will be good enough in January.
Doug Martin (a top-tier RB) was limited to 42 yards on the ground, Mike Evans (a top-tier WR) was limited to four receptions for a mere 59 yards and Jameis Winston (a QB on the rise) ended the night with three interceptions.
The secondary has been playing good football, and have produced four INTs in the last two weeks. Byron Jones, Jeff Heath and Anthony Brown were the last players I thought could get an interception, and they each have one now.
Brandon Carr has gotten a lot of hate throughout the season, but he's actually played great against some quite good WRs. Morris Claiborne, who was playing the best football in his career will come back and give this defense a big improvement. JJ Wilcox will also be back. This secondary will be able to matchup against a playoff WR group. They won't shut the air attack down, but with these players they'll be able to do just enough.
Sean Lee is playing out of his mind, and should be in the talk for Defensive Player of the Year. He is the main reason why the Cowboys have the number 1 defense against the run. Hitchens and Durant are no Sean Lee, but they do their job and with Wilson I'd say the depth is good enough at the position. Le'Veon Bell, Doug Martin and every other running back that has faced the Cowboys defense haven't been able to surpass the 100-yard mark.
Now for the defensive line
This is truly a complicated topic. The pass rush is not great, we've known that all year. Even though, I think it'll be fine. They've been doing a good job against decent offensive lines. There are no stars in this group but the position is deep.
This week Randy Gregory is back and he's reportedly in great shape to play, and DeMarcus Lawrence is aiming to return soon. The Jack and Tyrone Crawford, Benson Mayowa, David Irving, Maliek Collins, all of these guys bring this group great depth that will be able to do what they accomplished last Sunday Night.
David Irving came late in the second half with fresh legs and he was a beast. He ended the night with two sacks, four hurries and he got a piece of Winston's arm on Jeff Heath's interception (these are Khalil Mack kind of numbers). This defensive line has great depth to make changes late in the game to get fresh legs and make plays when they really matter.
This defense has shown up all year long, and they will do the same in January.
When the Cowboys face up against the playoff teams with high-powered offenses, they'll play good enough. Rod Marinelli is a great defensive coordinator and he'll know what to do when the playoffs come. I don't think they can put the game on their backs, but with the offense working, they shouldn't have a problem.
With Ezekiel Elliot picking up first downs, and eating the time of possession, the well-rested Cowboys defense will be able to make the plays necessary to win games and get to Houston in February.
Was Sunday A “Wake Up Call,” Or Were Cowboys Exposed?
Entering last Sunday's game in Indianapolis, the Dallas Cowboys were riding high. Having won five straight games, including key victories over the top seeded Saints and division rival Eagles, everything seemed to be breaking right for the Cowboys heading into the home stretch.
Their defense was playing like one of the best in football, and after firing Paul Alexander and trading for Amari Cooper their offense was clicking just as they'd hoped. They needed (and still need) just one win to officially close out the division and clinch a home playoff game in January.
Instead, the Cowboys got absolutely demolished by the Indianapolis Colts. Of course, there's no shame in losing a road game to an 8-6 team in the NFL, but the way in which they lost certainly deserves some shame. Not even the 23-0 score can encapsulate the complete butt-kicking Dallas received at the hands of the Colts, and it was the type of loss that can sometimes make you question the blueprint.
The Cowboys, however, are not looking at it that way. Multiple leaders in the locker room have spoke this week about how they "needed" to lose like that. Running back Ezekiel Elliott called the loss embarrassing, but also said it is better for Dallas in the "grand scheme of the season."
Clearly, the leaders and coaches are calling the putrid performance a wake up call, something that will galvanize them and reset their win streak heading into the postseason. But is this really the case, or was the shutout defeat more of a sign of things to come?
Obviously it's too early to say for sure, but I do think it can be a little bit of both.
No, the Cowboys are not the class of the NFC, despite beating what can be called the best team in the same conference a couple weeks ago. There probably will prove to be some drop-off from the top 3 seeds in the conference and the Cowboys, if for no other reason than Dallas will have to go on the road to play those teams in the playoffs. It's really hard to win on the road in the NFL, especially with the increased wackiness of 2018.
The Cowboys offense is far from perfect or prolific, though if clicking they now have the skill talent to drop 30+ points any given Sunday. Their defense is talented, has a high ceiling, but is still very young and inexperienced. Though they've played elite level games before, they've also had some stinkers against the Colts and Titans during the same season.
All of this can be true. The Cowboys can be a team deserving of the playoffs, a team we should not be panicking over, but still a very flawed football team. They can be a team that if "hot" could make a run through the postseason, but also will have to answer some tough questions about coaches and players during the next two offseasons.
After all, who isn't greatly flawed in today's NFL? Hell, we just saw the beloved Rams lose two straight games.
Is it Too Late For Dallas to Fire OC Scott Linehan?
Grab your pitchforks and your torches, it's time to run the Dallas Cowboys Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan out of town. His playcalling has been absolutely atrocious season and it's time for him to hit the road, even if there are only two regular-season games left on the schedule.
It's completely unorthodox for an NFL team to fire an offensive coordinator this late in the season, but just last week we saw the Minnesota Vikings do just that when they parted ways with John DeFilippo. It was definitely a bold move to make considering the Vikings are still in playoff contention, but it was something they believed was in the best interest of their team.
I believe if the Dallas Cowboys want to do what's best for their team right now and not later, then they should go ahead and cut ties with Scott Linehan. His predictability and un-creativeness as a play caller is holding back a talented offense, which is hurting the overall team as a result. He's been given every opportunity to turn things around, but enough is enough.
I'd personally be on board with Jason Garrett taking over the playcalling duties. He has the experience and held the position with the Cowboys from 2007 until Linehan was hired. I'd even consider giving Kellen Moore a shot as the OC. He knows the system and has worked closely with Quarterback Dak Prescott. Regardless, the Cowboys need to find some way to increase their offensive productivity.
Right now the Cowboys offense is the 26th scoring offense in the NFL and are averaging just 19.7 points per game. To make matters worse they are the 31st ranked Red Zone offense in the league. I don't know about you, but I think that is completely unacceptable with the talent they have on the offensive side of the ball.
Firing Linehan has been a long time coming. The Cowboys flirted with the idea earlier this season during the bye week and should've pulled the trigger then, but for some reason or another decided to let him stick around. They are definitely still paying for that mistake now.
The Cowboys mistake not to replace Linehan could mean yet another early exit in the playoffs, something we have unfortunately become accustomed to. Scoring just 19 points a game isn't going to get them very far, which is truly unfortunate considering the talent they've acquired this season.
Unfortunately, as much as we would love to see Scott Linehan tarred and feathered and run out of town, I just don't see the Cowboys doing that before their season is officially over. But, in no way should he be allowed to retain his position beyond this season. He clearly isn't the answer any longer.
Do you think the Dallas Cowboys should fire Scott Linehan?
Despite Embarrassing Showing, Health Remains Biggest Cowboys Concern
What is it about the AFC South with these Dallas Cowboys?
Dallas' five game winning streak came to a close on Sunday, as they got straight-up embarrassed by the now 8-6 Indianapolis Colts on the road. The loss was the first since the Cowboys were embarrassed by a different AFC South competitor, the Tennessee Titans, on Monday night football earlier this season.
Though the final was 23-0, and not a single phase (or really even a single player) showed much fight or promise, the biggest concern I have for the Cowboys moving forward didn't change because of the putrid performance. It didn't change because the defense was gashed play after play or the offense failed to finish a single drive. And it didn't even change because both the Redskins and Eagles secured season-saving victories on the same day Dallas was dismantled.
The biggest concern is still their health, particularly across the offensive line.
That was not a playoff caliber interior offensive line the Cowboys put out their on Sunday. Not even close.
With their backup center in Joe Looney, backup guard in Connor Williams, and the very last interior offensive linemen on their roster in Adam Redmond playing for basically the entire game, this offense never had a chance. Dak Prescott wasn't any more inaccurate or indecisive than normal, but all those who like to scream "step up in the pocket" whenever he is sacked did not seem to have an argument this week.
There often was no pocket to step into, as those interior three, specifically Looney and Redmond, failed to provide much protection or confidence for Prescott at all. Joe Looney has actually been rather solid this season, but Sunday felt like one of his worst games of the entire year.
The Cowboys absolutely need Zack Martin to get healthy if they are to make any noise whatsoever in the postseason. At the very least, the need Xavier Su'a-Filo to come back and replace Redmond, and regain the form he displayed during his debut against the Eagles back in November.
Prescott already has issues with his pocket presence and footwork when pressured, so throwing three backup-level linemen right in front of him is not a recipe for success for the Cowboys.
I'm not jumping out of the window over this loss, and I don't think any of you should be either. Dallas had won three straight incredibly emotional and important home games to extend, save, and solidify their season respectively before this loss. They had also just about clinched the NFC East a week ago with their win over Philadelphia, and they played like a team that was due a flat performance
A letdown loss on the road, against a good team I might add, is not the end of the world. The bigger issue here is their health, because if Martin can return to anchor this offensive line, the offense should look a whole lot better than they did against Indianapolis.
It's time to move on from Sunday, go beat Tampa Bay, officially clinch the division, and get ready for Wild Card Weekend.
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