With Last Weekend’s Win Over The Bucs, The Cowboys Have Won The Division Three Times In Five Years. Now, Can They Translate That Into Playoff Success?
For the third time in the last five years, and with one week still left in the regular season, the Dallas Cowboys last weekend clinched the title NFC East Division Champs — a surprising stat, really, considering how much hell this organization catches from its fan base for not winning enough.
And yet, after beating a Tampa Bay Buccaneers team that’s now five games below .500, here the Cowboys are again. Crazy, right?
Granted, it wasn’t pretty getting to this point. I mean, the Bucs came into this game ranked 28th in overall defense, the Cowboys’ offense still only managed to sputter its way to this win and this team once again had to rely on some stellar play from its defense to eek out a 27-20 win — at home, no less.
But, hey, a win’s a win, a division title is a division title and a guaranteed home game in the playoffs is a nice thing, indeed.
Here’s what we’re thinking about with all that in the rear view, and with a mostly meaningless regular season away game against the hated New York Giants coming up this weekend.
Zeke Leads The Way.
It truly cannot be overstated how important Ezekiel Elliott is to this team. He’s just had an insanely great started to his NFL career, having now officially become the eighth player in league history to reach 4,000 rushing yards in just 40 career games — an impressive milestone he finally cleared on Sunday, and one made only more remarkable when you consider how his offensive line has been in shambles throughout most of this, his third season in the league. At this point, even with one week of games still left to play, he’s a shoe-in for the 2018 NFL rushing title, having amassed 1,434 yards to second-place rusher Todd Gurley of the Los Angeles Rams’ 1,251 yards on the ground in 2018. Zeke’s now gone two-for-three when it comes to earning that title each year, having only lost the title last year when he was suspended for four games but still managed to come in tenth place. No surprise, then, that he was also was recently named to this year’s Pro Bowl alongside his teammates DeMarcus Lawrence, Zack Martin, Tyron Smith and Byron Jones. It’s what he does.
Defense Is The Cowboys’ Path To A Championship.
We’ve been saying this all year long, but this defense is something else. That side of the squad really stepped up in last Sunday’s contest too, knowing full well that its play could help solidify the team’s not-yet-clinched-before-the-game playoff spot. Even after defensive anchor Tyrone Crawford was carted off the field following just the second play of the game due to a scary neck injury — fortunately, he was diagnosed and released from the hospital before the Cowboys wrapped up the game — this unit rallied and showed the hell out. Didn’t take long for the D to make its presence felt, either: Randy Gregory struck early with a sack-fumble that was scooped up by a fully resurgent Jaylon Smith, and returned for 69-yard touchdown. That play set the tone for the day on defense, with Smith really stepping up in particular, combining with his fellow exciting young linebacker Leighton Vander Esch to amass 25 tackles in the contest. Along with another touchdown that the team scored immediately after securing a second Tampa Bay fumble that set the offense up in prime scoring position, the defense really deserves credit for 14 of the Cowboys’ 27 points on the day. If this team is to go on a deep playoff run, the offense can’t be so anemic — but it’s sure comforting to know that this defense is firing on all cylinders as the regular season comes to a close.
Long Distance Calls.
Speaking of comfort: Brett Maher is completing 86 percent of his field goals when setting up for field goals of 50 yards or more. We never thought we’d say this, but the guy’s come through clutch when kicking from distance, and his solid accuracy from deep could end up playing a factor in the playoffs.
You Wanna Talk About Playoffs?!?!?
Speaking of playoffs, who are the Cowboys going to be playing in the first round? Right now, it’s looking like the Seahawks, a team that’s playing just about as well as any team in the league right now thanks to a stout running game and a rejuvenated defense. After his usual slow start to the season, Russell Wilson has played fearless in recent weeks and has his team primed to go on a wild run. On the NFC side of the bracket, the Seahawks are probably the second-scariest opponent the Cowboys could face after the Saints. So, personally, I’m going to be pulling for the scenario in which the Minnesota Vikings slide into the fifth seed and come to Arlington for the Wildcard Round. Believe it or not, Kirk Cousins has never won a game against the Cowboys.
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No matter what happens in New York this weekend, the Cowboys will be playing at home in the first round of the playoffs next weekend.
And, I gotta say, that’s got us excited. This defense is legit, this offense has shown flashes of potential since the Amari Cooper trade and even the special teams feel like they’re in a good place. If things shake out the right way, it really feels this team maybe could make some post-season noise.
At this point, only time will tell. Guess we’re gonna have to learn to be patient in the meantime.