The Dallas Cowboys have clinched the top seed in the NFC with two regular-season games left to play. The outcomes of their remaining games will not do anything to alter their position in the playoff rankings. And after Saturday’s games where playoff contending teams lost key players like Derek Carr, Marcus Mariotta, and Tyler Lockett to season-ending injuries, it has put a little scare into Cowboys Nation. With absolutely nothing to gain, why take unnecessary risks during the last two games? If the team were to lose a player like Sean Lee, people would come after Jason Garrett with torches and pitchforks. Our own Manik Aggarwal expressed this concern and offered a couple suggestions for both the games against the Detroit Lions and Philadelphia Eagles. He basically outlined a plan to sit certain players and play others starters sparingly against the Lions, and then flat out sit key players against the cold weather conditions of Philadelphia.
That is certainly one way to go. It’s safe. It increases the team’s chances of having players healthy for a deep playoff run. But that is just one part of what it takes to bring home the big prize. There is another very important piece that seems to get lost in all this – playing great football.
Over the course of Jason Garrett’s tenure as coach, I can probably count on one hand how many things he’s done that I haven’t cared for. I make no secret about it – I love Jason Garrett. But one of those moments occurred in 2014 where in Week 17 he played the starters in a meaningless game against the Washington Redskins. It just didn’t make sense. But it was then I realized that Garrett had a plan and there was still quite a bit of meaning in that game. Dallas was a squad that still had a lot of work to do to get to a championship level of play. It was imperative to instill a fighting mentality and to repeat the strong habits of preparation that they had been doing all season. It wasn’t a time to switch gears and approach the game any differently.
And that is where this team is at right now. As great as this season has been, there are many things that need improvement. The Cowboys need to resolve the penalty issues that have plagued the team in recent weeks and put them behind the chains. The defense is still trying to find its pass rush and last week against Tampa Bay, they finally showed some sign of life. Now, Randy Gregory returns so they need to figure out how he fits in to the whole scheme of things. The offense has been having trouble on third and long to where they’ve been pulling up short and settling for check downs. The list goes on.
It’s quite simple, the Cowboys have work to do. This isn’t a championship team, but they’re getting there. When two of your top players are rookies, every additional snap is vital towards their ability to handle tough situations later. Keep getting these kids experience. And the defense is also another example where more action is paramount. There are new faces in new places with so many players having minimal reps at their given spots. Byron Jones is in his first full season as safety. Anthony Brown gets better with every snap. David Irving is starting to find his niche. And Maliek Collins is showing up more and more. The defense has come a long way to get to where they are at, but they’re still trending up. These next two games are essential towards helping them get to a level where they can beat the league’s stronger teams in the playoffs.
Jason Garrett has been up front about this approach from the get go. His team is getting ready for the task at hand so they can play their best football come game day. Now, this doesn’t mean that he’ll throw caution to the wind and be reckless. Players nursing injuries will take a seat. Each player is different. For some, resting is what helps them the most. For others, being on the field making plays is what’s better for them. The end goal is the same for all of them – get to where you can be the best version of yourself. It’s a Garrett mantra and it’s always in play.
It’s an honor to play a football game in the National Football League and Garrett will have his players ready to make the most of each week. So if you are hoping Ezekiel Elliott makes a push to break some records, you’re in luck. If you are hoping the Cowboys win out and finish with a franchise best ever 14 wins, it’s still a reasonable possibility. While both of those things aren’t the focus of what the team is trying to accomplish, they are by-products of a team that is playing great football. And that’s the objective of these last two weeks.
Injuries happen and something fluky could occur at any time. They can’t play scared. It may seem like an unnecessary risk, but getting to a point where the team is playing its best football is a risk they have to take. Because if they get there, the reward is extraordinary.