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Week 12 Playoff Projection: “Must Win” for Cowboys

Jess Haynie

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I've never liked saying there's a must-win game before we even get to December, but it's hard to argue against it for the Dallas Cowboys this week. Now 5-5 after losing their first games of Ezekiel Elliott's suspension, they get one of the easiest opponents they'll have the rest of the year. If the Cowboys can't beat the Los Angeles Chargers today, they don't deserve to make the playoffs.

Here are the current NFC standings. With six weeks left to go, we'll include all of the teams with .500 records or better.

  1. Philadelphia Eagles (9-1)
  2. Minnesota Vikings (8-2)
  3. New Orleans Saints (8-2)
  4. Los Angeles Rams (7-3)
  5. Carolina Panthers (7-3)
  6. Atlanta Falcons (6-4)
    -----------------------------------
  7. Detroit Lions (6-4)
  8. Seattle Seahawks (6-4)
  9. Green Bay Packers (5-5)
  10. Dallas Cowboys (5-5)

TIEBREAKERS

  • Minnesota is ahead of New Orleans thanks to a head-to-head tiebreaker from a Week 1 victory.
  • The Falcons are the #6 team with head-to-head wins over both Detroit and Seattle.
  • The Lions (5-3 vs NFC) are ahead of the Seahawks (4-3) thanks to a lightly better record in conference games.
  • Green Bay is ahead of Dallas thanks to their head-to-head win in Week 5.

Getting back into one of those the NFC Wild Card spots will be tough for the Cowboys. They have given up losses to the Falcons and Packers. Green Bay will likely fall out of the race before long, but Atlanta is looking good to stick around. The Cowboys will have to hope that the Falcons collapse down the stretch.

Here are the NFC-relevant games from the Week 12 schedule:

Minnesota Vikings @ Detroit Lions

One of the best games of the week; longtime rivals with major playoff implications. If the Lions can use the short week and home field to their advantage, they will pull within just a game of the Vikings in the NFC North and pick up a critical NFC win for their Wild Card positioning. Minnesota will remain the division leaders even with a loss, but they would like to remain in that top two position for a first-round bye.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ Atlanta Falcons

With head-to-head tiebreakers over Dallas, Detroit, Green Bay, and Seattle, the Falcons have some major leverage in the Wild Card hunt. What's more, with two games left on the schedule against New Orleans and one with Carolina, still winning the NFC South is very much on their radar. They get a soft opponent this week in the 4-6 Bucs to maintain their solid position.

Carolina Panthers @ New York Jets

With a win today against the Jets and a very possible Saints loss in Los Angeles, Carolina could pull even with New Orleans in their division. The Saints do have a tiebreaker from beating the Panthers earlier this year, but they meet again next week in what could be a division-deciding showdown.

Chicago Bears @ Philadelphia Eagles

The Eagles should keep on soaring with the sorry Bears coming to town. Philly gets to keep padding its lead both in the NFC East and as the top team in the conference.

Seattle Seahawks @ San Francisco 49ers

After a crushing loss last week to Atlanta, the Seahawks get take it out on the whipping boys of the NFC West.

New Orleans Saints @ Los Angeles Rams

A huge game in the NFC this week as two division leaders square off. The Rams are coming off a tough loss to the Vikings where they didn't really look on their level. They need a confidence-restoring victory here, but the Saints have won eight-straight and are finding ways to win even the games they shouldn't. A loss today by L.A. could be all Seattle needs to retake the NFC West.

Green Bay Packers @ Pittsburgh Steelers

A likely loss to the Steelers on Sunday night should knock the Packers out of the playoff conversation. However, they have winnable games with the Bucs and Browns after. With murmurs of Aaron Rodgers returning before the end of the year, perhaps they can stay alive long enough for him to come back and work some magic.



Cowboys fan since 1992, blogger since 2011. Bringing you the objectivity of an outside perspective with the passion of a die-hard fan. I love to talk to my readers, so please comment on any article and I'll be sure to respond!

Player News

MRI Negative on Cowboys G Zack Martin’s Knee Injury

Jess Haynie

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Zack Martin

The Dallas Cowboys saw a few guys go down in last night's preseason game, but none scarier than All-Pro guard Zack Martin. Thankfully, they got some good news today on Martin's status.

An MRI of the knee showed no major injury, and that means Zack should be good to go for the team's regular season opener in three weeks.

David Moore on Twitter

Cowboys have received results of Zack Martin's MRI & it's encouraging. Source said there's no significant injury to left knee & he could be ready for opener against Carolina on Sept. 9.

Last week, Dallas lost one of their likely reserve guards when Marcus Martin went on injured reserve after the first preseason game. That leaves just Joe Looney as the only trusted reserve right now for the interior line.

But even though Looney has played well at times when called upon, he's no Zack Martin. In fact, only a couple of guys in the entire NFL can claim to be on that level.

Sprains and other non-major injuries to the knee tend to fall into the 2-4 week range for recovery. Barring complications, Martin should be ready to take on the Panthers' Kawann Short, Dontari Poe, and others.

We're still waiting for updates on other key players who were injured last night, such as Safety Xavier Woods, Running Back Bo Scarbrough, and Defensive Lineman Datone Jones. We'll get those to you as they are announced.

Hopefully, they all get the same good news that Zack Martin did today.



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Player News

Zack Martin, Xavier Woods Suffer Preseason Injuries, Cowboys Down 2 Starters

Mauricio Rodriguez

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Cowboys' Eyeing Training Camp To Extend Zack Martin's Contract

Last Saturday night didn't end well for the Dallas Cowboys, who saw multiple players go down throughout the game, most notably Zack Martin and Xavier Woods. Preseason injuries are always the more painful ones, and when we're talking about someone like Martin, it just makes it worse.

Martin suffered a knee injury and was ruled out after going down. ESPN's Todd Archer tweeted out that a source had claimed the injury was a hyper-extended left knee. This surely would be great news considering the fear right now is a season-ending injury.

Todd Archer on Twitter

A source said the initial diagnosis of Zack Martin is a hyperextended left knee, but he will undergo an MRI on Sunday. The Cowboys do not practice again until Monday and play Aug. 26 against the Arizona Cardinals. Depending on the severity of the... https://t.co/1MPbJfQph8

Zack is set to have an MRI on Sunday and the team is hopeful the injury isn't that serious. We probably won't see the All-Pro left guard return in the preseason but could see him back on the field as soon as September 9th when the Cowboys kick their season off at Carolina.

Besides Zack Martin being the best offensive guard in the NFL, the Cowboys' offensive line depth is definitely not good. If his injury proves to be worse than what the front office believes, this offense will have to play without arguably their best player.

As we nervously await more news on Martin's knee, there are more injured players to talk about.

Xavier Woods injured his hamstring as he made an effort to intercept the ball and was also ruled out for the game. We still don't know about the severity, but we do know it's the same hamstring that he dealt with last year.

Although Woods isn't anywhere near Zack Martin as a football player, his injury comes at the team's weakest position in depth. Jeff Heath, Kavon Frazier and Xavier Woods are the Cowboys' only legitimate safeties that will earn a roster spot.

If the hamstring injury is serious enough to keep him sidelined for multiple weeks, we could see the Cowboys getting outside help for the defensive backfield. Whether that means trading for Earl Thomas, some other safety or looking at the free agents available, I don't see the team going into the season with two safeties on the roster.

For now, we need to wait for more results regarding both of these players who will be detrimental to this team's success in 2018. The Cowboys suffered more injuries than these ones, though.

Saad Yousuf on Twitter

And the injuries continue... Jameill Showers is down on the Cowboys sideline with what looks like a knee injury. Still down. Duke Thomas Datone Jones Bo Scarbrough Xavier Woods and the big one, Zack Martin That's the injury list for the Cowboys tonight.

Datone Jones has been impressive during his stay in Dallas and is a quality DT and was ruled out for the game after getting tangled up with the Bengal's offensive line. Seventh-round draft pick Bo Scarbrough suffered a hip injury and is apparently not severe either.

Compared to Woods' and Martin's injuries, these ones won't keep Cowboys' fans up at night. However, hopefully they all turn out to be okay and ready to play as soon as possible. The team's starters make this team a legit threat in the NFC, but when it comes to depth, they're not in a good position.

Tell me what you think about "Zack Martin, Xavier Woods Suffer Preseason Injuries, Cowboys Down 2 Starters" in the comments below, or tweet me @PepoR99 and let’s talk football! If you like football and are looking for a Dallas Cowboys show in Spanish, don’t miss my weekly Facebook Live! show, Primero Cowboys!



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Game Notes

Sean’s Scout: Starting Front 7 Sets Tone Early, Cowboys Depth Falters in Loss to Bengals

Sean Martin

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Sean's Scout: Starting Front 7 Sets Tone Early, Cowboys Depth Falters in Loss to Bengals
(Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports)

The Dallas Cowboys are halfway through their 2018 preseason. Given the injuries they're left to deal with to Zack Martin, Xavier Woods, and Jameill Showers, the Cowboys were happy to see their first home game of the season come to an end when it did. Despite the 21-13 loss, the Cowboys starters made another strong impression before exiting for backups that once again failed to hold the lead.

This is a game I'm looking forward to getting another look at on film, but for now here are a few thoughts the first time through.

  • Rookie Connor Williams is still a work in progress at guard, as he'll get himself in trouble trying to catch rushers too often. 

This "catch blocking" is not uncommon for young offensive linemen, particularly ones learning a new position in preparation to start on the league's best front. On the Cowboys second drive of the game, Williams was caught back in his stance dealing with a twist from the Bengals with Left Tackle Tyron Smith.

The result of the play was an incomplete pass on third down from Dak Prescott. With Williams' footwork being as consistent as it has, I wouldn't worry too much about his upper body technique and strength improving greatly before week one of the regular season. Perhaps most importantly, Williams has looked smooth playing in space, something the Cowboys are prepared to ask the second round pick to do plenty of.

  • With Randy Gregory back in the lineup, the Cowboys potential to have a great rotation of defensive ends was on full display. 

The play that stands out is a tackle for loss by Safety Jeff Heath. On the play, Defensive End Tyrone Crawford did a great job setting the edge against the run, allowing Heath to come down and make the aggressive play.

Crawford created penetration against a tight end, staying disciplined in his rush lane from the right defensive end position to force the run outside.

On the Bengals' offensive series prior to this play by Heath, the Cowboys forced a punt following a missed Andy Dalton throw to A.J. Green. Despite not being tight in coverage on third down, Randy Gregory looked sharp coming off the edge to rush Dalton slightly.

With Taco Charlton also looking strong against the run, and rookie Dorance Armstrong continuing to develop as a weak side pass rusher, the possible match ups the Cowboys can create up front are seemingly endless.

Almost all of them will include last year's sack leader DeMarcus Lawrence, who was also disruptive on nearly every snap in this game.

  • Give credit to Joe Looney for handling the reps he did at center, but the backup interior lineman left a lot to be desired from this position. 

It should come as no surprise that Looney is a better guard than center, or that the Cowboys would look significantly worse at center without Travis Frederick in the lineup.

Overall, this was a disappointing game for the Cowboys thin offensive line depth. Paul Alexander's unit was unable to give quarterbacks Cooper Rush and Mike White a fair chance to settle into the game.

Looney's contact balance was suspect throughout the evening. Not the most powerful player, it's important for Looney to play with leverage and balance, which he did inconsistently last night.

Awaiting news on Zack Martin's first quarter injury still, the Cowboys should have already been concerned about their backups at tackle, with the guard position becoming a late concern now.

  • This is becoming the standard for Jaylon Smith, but I did not see one Bengals blocker effectively slow him down.

The power that Smith is playing with is an outstanding sign for continued success. Not only is Smith physically up for the challenge of starting at MIKE for the Cowboys, but he's physically dominating opponents with strength, speed, and range.

Whether he was running laterally and avoiding blocks with great awareness, or attacking the pocket, Smith's path to the ball was rarely impeded against the Bengals.

No matter who the Cowboys lined up in their front seven, the group did a great job setting a strong tone. Antwaun Woods was once again impressive at the one technique position inside, and Brian Price made a flash play from this position late in the game as well.

Thanks to Smith's gap shooting ability, and the Cowboys willingness so far this preseason to be creative with the Notre Dame product, the team's defensive tackles don't have to be asked to do too much. Holding their spots while drawing blockers will be more than enough to free Smith and the rest of the Cowboys linebackers to make plays.

Sean's Scout: Starting Front 7 Sets Tone Early, Cowboys Depth Falters in Loss to Bengals 1

Dallas Cowboys CBs Byron Jones, Chidobe Awuzie (AP Photo/Michael Ainsworth)

  • Chidobe Awuzie's interception in the second quarter is a reminder of just how high the second-year cornerback's potential is. 

Sure, Awuzie's length put him at an advantage to take a leap into year two once Kris Richard arrived as the Cowboys passing game coordinator.

Being productive on the ball, as Awuzie was here, is a testament to just how athletic he is as a boundary cornerback though. A beat late recognizing the ball coming his way, Awuzie remained in perfect position to get a hand on this pass.

Doing so with an explosive leap off the ground and full extension, Awuzie snagged the ball with one hand before bringing it into his body to secure another turnover for the Cowboys first team defense.

The Cowboys cornerback depth proved suspect beyond Awuzie and Byron Jones in this game, but being as good as they already are on the boundary is a huge step in the right direction for Rod Marinelli's defense.

I also thought that UDFA Tyree Robinson did a great job answering the bell at safety, showing up a number of times in run support with the Cowboys in desperate need of depth at his position.

It's in the slot, where Anthony Brown and Jourdan Lewis continue to feel the pressure of competition, that the Cowboys are struggling to find the right starter - even trying Lewis on the outside well into the fourth quarter of this game.

 ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭

The Cowboys will remain in their home state to conclude their training camp and preseason. Needing to see more out of their second and third team, practices will resume at The Star on Monday before another preseason game at AT&T Stadium.

This time, it will be the Arizona Cardinals coming in for a Sunday Night Football tune up. The Cowboys starters could very well see even more playing time than they have through the first two weeks, giving them a better chance of sustaining success and coming away with a preseason win.

Tell us what you think about "Sean’s Scout: Starting Front 7 Sets Tone Early, Cowboys Depth Falters in Loss to Bengals" in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!



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