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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!

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Dallas Cowboys

Despite Changes, Cowboys Offense Still Runs Through Ezekiel Elliott

Jess Haynie

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Ezekiel Elliott, Rams

We've talked a lot this offseason about the changes at Offensive Coordinator and slot receiver, or how Jason Witten's return will impact the tight end position. But while all of these will impact the Dallas Cowboys' offense in 2019, the constant feature remains Running Back Ezekiel Elliott and the rushing attack.

From 2016 to 2018, since the Cowboys drafted Elliott, Dallas has ranked 1st, 3rd, and 10th among NFL teams in "run vs. pass" play calls. That's only logical; you don't spend a fourth-overall pick on a RB and then not make him the featured player in your offense.

Zeke has certainly rewarded Dallas' decision; Elliott has led the league in total rushing two out of three years, and he led in yards-per-game in 2017 while dealing with his suspension.

Leaning on Elliott has been smart business based on his effectiveness, plus the investment in the offensive line over the last several years.

Dallas has now sunk three first-round picks (Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick, Zack Martin), one second (Connor Williams), and now two thirds (Chaz Green and Connor McGovern) on building up their front wall. They've spent a lot of money to keep their All-Pro guys around, plus La'el Collins.

Some would try to paint the run-heavy approach as how the team is trying to hide the weaknesses of Dak Prescott at quarterback. But in 2014, with DeMarco Murray at RB and Tony Romo at QB, the Cowboys were still 3rd in the league in rush vs. pass attempts.

This isn't about Zeke or Dak, or any other specific player. This about a team philosophy that starts at the top with Jason Garrett, and that isn't going to change even with Kellen Moore taking over as the new Offensive Coordinator.

Dallas Cowboys: Ranking Top 5 Most Indispensable Players 4

Dallas Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott (Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

We're all excited to see what new wrinkles comes from getting rid of Scott Linehan. We highly anticipate the development of Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup in the offense, coupled with the addition of Randall Cobb. We're salivating at what Blake Jarwin might become under the tutelage of the great Jason Witten.

Heck, maybe we'll see fullback Jamize Olawale's receiving skills put to more use. Perhaps gadget guys like Tavon Austin or rookie Tony Pollard will be deployed in more creative ways.

And yes, Dak Prescott's growth is another major factor in Dallas' 2019 success. It's especially interesting, and even concerning, as talks are ongoing about his long-term contract.

But make no mistake, this is still the Ezekiel Elliott show. Even if a few more of his carries become receptions in Moore's scheme, Zeke should still get the lion's share of the touches.

That's why this week's news about his incident in Las Vegas is so troubling. It probably won't lead to a suspension, but we saw what happened in 2017 when Elliott was missing for over a third of the season.

While Dallas should be better able to withstand losing Zeke now than it was two years ago, it may still be more than Prescott, Cooper, and the rest could handle. It definitely wouldn't put the Cowboys in good position to compete for a Super Bowl.

In the end, the 2019 will still come down to how well Dallas runs the ball. It's the engine; nothing else matters if the rushing game doesn't set everyone else up for success.

Don't ever take it for granted. This is still Ezekiel Elliott's offense.



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What Would a Successful Season Mean for Kellen Moore’s Future?

Mauricio Rodriguez

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Kellen Moore

Out of every chess piece moved by the Dallas Cowboys this offseason, the decision to name 30-year old Kellen Moore might be the most interesting one. Not only that, but it could be the one that makes the biggest impact on the team. After all, the Cowboys are ready to go talent wise.

With Kellen Moore taking up a new role, it's intriguing to imagine what a successful season would mean for his future with the Dallas Cowboys. Truth be told, Moore is in a pretty fortunate position to debut as an offensive coordinator. He'll be driving a unit full of talented players with almost no weak links. Last year, it wasn't the lack of quality players lined up that had the offense struggling throughout the season, but the guy in charge.

At first, the philosophy of not needing a #1 wide receiver clearly blew up on the Cowboys face. The passing game in Dallas needed a spark and they didn't find it until they traded a first rounder for Amari Cooper. Cooper's impact on the team was clear right away as he put on impressive performances on a weekly basis.

But even when Cooper was at his best, the offense still presented relevant struggles. Despite getting more first downs, the Cowboys still had trouble scoring touchdowns when in the red zone and kept leaving points on the field.

Although he's been a controversial conversation among members of Cowboys Nation, there are a few reasons to be excited about what Kellen Moore can bring to the table as a young offensive coordinator. Ever since he declared for the NFL Draft out of Boise State, where he ran a very complex offense on his way to become the QB with most wins in NCAA history, he was seen by many as an extremely smart prospect. Many expected him to have a mediocre career as a player, but saw him as a potential coach down the line.

Now it's his chance to prove the world just how smart he is and his potential as a coach. He will not only be proving it to the Cowboys organization, but all of the NFL and college football teams. Don't forget what NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah mentioned a few months ago.

Daniel Jeremiah on Twitter

I've mentioned this before- Kellen Moore is a rising star and he'll be in the mix for HC gigs (CFB or NFL) in the near future. https://t.co/hLjOb4HAUc

With a great group of talent at his disposal, it's fair to imagine Moore having a pretty successful "rookie" season at a major coaching position. If he indeed manages to turn heads with the Dallas Cowboys offense in 2019, what does that mean for his future?

In a league that's turning to the young offensive-minded coaches thanks to guys like Sean McVay, is it possible one team decides to pull the trigger and make him an offer for a head coaching gig? It certainly would seem premature, but it's still a possibility in the NFL, where teams have become increasingly impatient with their coaches.

I definitely wouldn't be surprised if next offseason, we're concerned about another team (college or NFL) trying to snatch Moore off the Cowboys. I insist in pointing out this would be a premature decision if it does happen, since Moore has very little experience, but looking at the trend in the NFL it certainly could happen.

This might be the most important year in Kellen Moore's young career. For now, let's hope he does a good job leading Dak Prescott in his fourth year as a professional player and an offense that has a solid OL and a pretty good set of skill players.

Tell me what you think about "What Would a Successful Season Mean for Kellen Moore’s Future?" in the comments below, or tweet me @MauNFL 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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Connor Williams Working as Left Tackle in Cowboys Practice

Jess Haynie

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Connor Williams

Second-year guard Connor Williams has been working as the Cowboys' left tackle during practice this week. While this isn't the plan for him in 2019, it does provide a glimpse into potential uses for Williams down the road and how Dallas might handle future offensive line moves.

Using Connor at LT this week has been a matter of necessity. The top players on that depth chart, Tyron Smith and Cameron Fleming, were not participating for other reasons.

Todd Archer on Twitter

With Tyron Smith getting a vet day and Cam Fleming not practicing because of a bruised shin, Connor Williams worked at left tackle Wednesday. He said it was his first left tackle snaps since he was at Texas. He said it felt like riding a bike after a little bit.

Indeed, Williams spent three years at left tackle in college. It was the last position he'd played before being drafted in the second round of the 2018 NFL Draft by Dallas, who immediately moved him to guard.

Connor started 10 of 13 games at guard last season. He played mostly on the left side, starting Weeks 1-9, before getting injured. Xavier Su'a-Filo played well enough in his absence that Williams didn't get the starting job back when he was healthy. However, when Zack Martin had to miss a few games at the end of the year, Connor started a right guard for those two weeks.

When Martin returned for the playoffs, Williams was back as the starting left guard in both postseason games.

Tyron Smith and Cam Fleming will be your starter and backup at left tackle next year. But for 2020 and beyond, Connor Williams' ability to play tackle creates some interesting possibilities.

La'el Collins will be an unrestricted free agent next year. Fleming will still have one year left on his deal and Dallas just spent a third-round pick on the versatile Connor McGovern. Throw in that Williams can play some tackle, and it seems as if they're covering bases for Collins eventual departure.

We could very well see a starting lineup in 2020 with McGovern at LG and Williams at RT. Another possibility is that Fleming starts at RT and Williams stays at guard, but can be moved to tackle if needed.

If nothing else, it's nice to know that Dallas has options. We may never see Connor Williams play a regular season snap at left tackle, but versatility is a great asset. It can greatly increase a player's value, and give his team some leverage and flexibility in roster management.

For the Cowboys, it does make you wonder what the future holds for the offensive line.



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