Dallas Cowboys: 12 wins – 5 losses, third in the NFC
Propelled as a conference favorite, Dallas has had a successful season, while leaving a sense of incompleteness. The attack did not necessarily perform as well as expected, while the defense was more effective than expected. A paradox when looking at the workforce, and a clear area for improvement before the playoffs.
How did they get there?
In a weak division, Dallas raced to secure a quick division win. If Mike McCarthy’s team missed some matches, including that of the Broncos, the overall performance remains good, and the qualification logical. Dak Prescott is well back from his injury and he’s the leader of this team, but he’s going to need some help to be a Super Bowl contender.
The key player: Ezekiel Elliott (RB)
Even if it remains statistically correct (1002 yards, 10 touchdowns), Ezekiel Elliott’s season is a disappointment. Since week 5, he has not managed a single game at 100 yards, two above 60 yards! He must even now share the starting place with Tony Pollard.
If he wants to redeem himself, the playoffs are the perfect opportunity. Behind a still good line (as long as Tyron Smith is on the field), he will have to take advantage of the weakness on the ground of some of the direct competitors. If the Cowboys want to return to the Super Bowl 25 years later, this contribution will be key.
Why are they going to go all the way?
Despite the injuries, the Cowboys’ offensive firepower is insane on paper. Quarterback Dak Prescott is the cornerstone, but receivers Amari Cooper and CeeDee Lamb contribute to this aerial dominance. The first is however on a mixed season, like Elliott, and will also have to raise his level of play. The good surprise of the season is the tight end Dalton Schultz, who has become much more than an emergency solution. What if the “X factor” was him?
The defense held the house, and this solidity has a name: Micah Parsons. The former Penn State phenom is incredible, and is by far the best defenseman on his team. On the line as on the second curtain, he is a force to defend the pass and the race. Trevon Diggs also showed up, but his performance illustrates a bit of how this defense works. Although he gave up for over 1,000 yards (the most in the NFL), he also had 11 interceptions. Dallas won’t win with defense alone, but it can help.
Why won’t they go?
If the defense has done better than expected, it is far from dominant. Defending Washington or the Giants is one thing, facing the Packers or the Rams is another. 19th in the league in yards conceded, Dallas must cause loss of balls. It’s tenable in one match, but in 4 it’s much more complicated. Author of 121 faults (2nd total in the league), the squad too often shoots themselves in the foot. This must not happen in the playoffs, under penalty of elimination.
As mentioned several times, the attack is too irregular compared to what it is on paper. As for the defense, indiscipline partly explains the difficulties of the team: guilty of 127 penalties (1st in the league), Dallas misses many opportunities because of it.
Michael Gallup is the main absentee, he who became the number 2 receiver of this team when he is on the ground. Tyron Smith has been worrying for several seasons, and it is impossible to know if the left tackle will be 100% for the playoffs.
From a general point of view, many important players have experienced injuries this season (Neville Gallimore, DeMarcus Lawrence…), the general state of this team will therefore be monitored.
Two weeks after a home loss to the Cardinals, the Cowboys can get a rematch in Arlington. The attack will have to do better, since the 301 yards on offense is the 3rd worst performance of the season for Dallas. Dak Prescott will have a lot to do with the front seven, but has the weapons to respond.
Again, discipline will be crucial: 88 yards in week 16, it must not happen again. To win, you will have to be clean in attack. The defense will have to do what it does best: cause loss of balls. The NFC is uncertain, but the Cowboys can claim the Super Bowl. To go to the end, the running game will be crucial.