With a win on Sunday evening in the New Meadowlands (where the Cowboys are 1-0), the Cowboys officially become a playoff team. In order to enter the playoffs, Dallas needs to win a direct elimination match: in other words, a playoff game.
Depending upon ones point of view, the Eagles game had several very encouraging developments. For the first time since blowing out the Buffalo Bills (44-7), the Cowboys defense gave up fewer points in the second half of a game.
In fact, Dallas went from yielding 239 rushing yards in the first meeting between the Eagles and Cowboys, to a meager 105 yards despite trailing the entire game again. For only the second time since playing Buffalo, the Cowboys defense did not permit a receiver to catch passes totaling over 100 yards (Tampa Bay was the other game).
Dallas also held the Eagles to 38.5% on third down conversions (compared to 58.3% on 10/30/11), well below Philadelphia's current 41.2% third down conversion rate. The Cowboys defense also limited the Eagles' offense from their previous 24.4 points per game average.
Rob Ryan is proving to be closer to the solution as a defensive coordinator, and making it apparent to most observers that the Dallas defense lacks talent at too many positions. Ryan made many good defensive calls, and showed the admirable ability to be flexible in revising his preferred blitzing schemes. Several times during the game, Ryan made the right call in the right situation, only to see a player (or players) screw-up. Rob finally came out in the post-game interview and indicted the players for not executing properly (see dallascowboys.com).
It is interesting that as the season has progressed, the offense has improved and played smarter (scoring an average of 28.1 points per game the six games leading into the Eagles game, compared to the 22.4 the offense was scoring during its first eight games). The defense, on the other hand, seems resolute in continuing to play with the intellectual malaise that marred the Phillips regime.
If Ryan is able to manipulate the defense into another above average performance despite its obvious talent limitations, the Cowboys will enter the playoffs. If Rob is unable to offset Romo's hand injury with a strong defensive performance, the Cowboys begin the process of trying to improve a defense with obvious holes throughout the secondary and defensive front.
As of this moment, the Cowboys would draft 18th. Santa, however, has given the Cowboys a realistic opportunity to draft as high as 13th in the 2012 NFL draft.
If Dallas loses (hopefully Santa gives Dallas an extra gift of making the playoffs), the Cowboys will be 8-8. Here is what needs to happen for Dallas to move up to the 13th pick (each occurrence moves Dallas one from its current 18th position):
Philadelphia defeats Washington (@ Philadelphia)
Seattle beats Arizona (@ Arizona)
San Diego vanquishes Oakland (@ Oakland)
Chicago wins one of its last two games (@ Green Bay and @ Minnesota)
Tennessee overcomes Houston (@ Houston)
Philadelphia is playing well right now, as is Seattle. San Diego has improved lately, and Tennessee has a chance to make the playoffs. Chicago gets to play a Minnesota team sans Adrian Peterson (who will also miss the majority of next season with an ACL rupture).
If Dallas cannot make the playoffs, it would be nice to get a top 15 pick. Here is the current top 12 draft order:
1. Indianapolis (2-13)
2. St. Louis (2-13)
3. Minnesota (3-12)
4. Jacksonville (4-11)
5. Cleveland (4-11)
6. Tampa Bay (4-11)
7. Washington (5-10)
8. Miami (5-10)
9. Carolina (6-9)
10. Buffalo (6-9)
11. Kansas City (6-9)
12. Arizona (7-8)
Since the Cowboys game has been flexed to the Sunday night game on NBC, all of the games impacting the Cowboys draft position will already have been played. It should make for a great day of watching football...
PS: Santa, I haven't received that phone call from Jerry yet offering me the team at a MUCH discounted rate. I wasn't as naughty as in past years...what do you say? I promise that I would never second guess Jason Garrett, nor go to the field in the first half to talk to him. I would even invite all fellow BTB'ers to my new luxury suite.
Merry Christmas to all, Happy Hanukah and Kwanza!