The Dallas Cowboys are eliminated from playoff contention. After watching last week’s performance where the offense couldn’t score a single touchdown, it’s not hard to think they wouldn’t get far in the post-season anyways. If the Atlanta Falcons end up losing, last week’s loss will sting a little, but this team just isn’t playing at a high enough level to make a serious playoff run.
So with all that in perspective, what will week 17 mean for the Cowboys on Sunday? Here are the five things I will be watching when the Cowboys travel to the city of brotherly love.
1. Don’t be in a Rush
I’m definitely a guy who is beating the drum loudly to see some action from undrafted free agent quarterback, Cooper Rush. It was the same excitement level I had when Tony Romo impressed us in preseason action back in 2006. But unlike that moment, I’m not intrigued by an UDFA coming in and winning over the job. This isn’t a Cooper over Dak sorta thing. It’s more about being interested in variety and wanting to see more of Rush in a game where the outcome doesn’t matter.
Unfortunately, if you’re in the same boat as I, expect to be disappointed. The Cowboys are likely to give Dak Prescott most, if not all, of the action on Sunday. What’s the point of that, you say? Well, we all can agree that the Cowboys offense is out of sync and improvements are needed. Jason Garrett preaches about always trying to get better and he’s not going to squander an opportunity to work on things in a real NFL football game.
2. Can Zeke reach 1,000 yards?
Despite only playing in nine games this season, Ezekiel Elliott is only 120 yards from reaching his second-straight 1,000 yard season. The Cowboys gave him 24 carries last week against the Seattle Seahawks in his first game back after missing six games from a suspension. Rust was not an issue as he showed great burst and powered his way through the holes helping the offense move the chains. Elliott was the lone bright spot on offense last week and many fans would tell you they would’ve liked to see him get a few more touches, especially around the goal line.
Some would suggest that the coaches should just shelf their All-Pro running back since it’s a meaningless game. This would be a perfect opportunity to get Rod Smith some more reps, but the Cowboys are going full throttle in this one and that means a heavy dose of Zeke.
Philadelphia’s defense is number one in the league against the run, only allowing 75.9 rushing yards per game. Of course teams don’t run the ball against them very much. The Cowboys will start out with a plan to run heavy, but how it holds up remains to be seen.
3. Something to Taco ‘bout
For most of the season, the Cowboys first-round draft pick, Taco Charlton, has been labeled a bust. A slow start has been responsible for such criticism, but lately he’s been making great strides that have people tapping the brakes on their early hasty judgment. He’s improved his technique and has demonstrated the ability to get to the quarterback quickly in recent games. He only has three sacks on the year, but two of them have come in the last month of action.
Taco had a career-high 38 snaps in the rout over the San Francisco 49ers, but don’t be surprised if he exceeds that against the Eagles. If he continues to get better, this could set him up for a nice sophomore season next year.
4. Tough test for Chido
While the team’s first-round pick is trending up, second-round pick Chidobe Awuzie has had some tough moments recently. He gave up two touchdowns to Michael Crabtree a couple weeks ago and then last Sunday Doug Baldwin gave him the slip.
This week's Devastating Route Award goes to Doug Baldwin on rookie Chidobe Awuzie in the slot. pic.twitter.com/hpnPTRqEBe— Ian Wharton (@NFLFilmStudy) December 27, 2017
Now, the rookie will be tasked to cover the Eagles top receiver, Alshon Jeffrey. While Jeffrey doesn’t have the quickness that Awuzie has been up against lately, his size could give him problems. Chido will need to be physical, get himself turned around, and high-point the ball so that Jeffrey doesn’t have his way with him.
Awuzie’s strong play after finally being healthy has made fans excited about the future, but he’s fallen off a bit. He’s still young and is still developing, but a nice rebound game would be a nice way to finish.
5. Winning by losing?
Playing good football is how the team wants to go out on Sunday. It will be good to finally close the book on a disappointing season, but getting quality reps from players like Taco, Chido, and Jaylon Smith is still important for the team going forward. Play hard, fight, and all that good stuff. That will be the message Jason Garrett will be conveying and the players are going to try to finish strong.
Should the Cowboys lose however, the consolation prize could be a nice slide up in draft positioning. Brian Martin from Inside The Star examined how the Cowboys could move into a better position with a loss on Sunday. Currently, the Cowboys hold the 19th spot.
So while there is no longer anything to be gained from an Atlanta loss, the team can still benefit from the outcome of other games going on in the league. Martin believes dropping to the 15th spot is a good possibility and that could end up making a big difference in the draft.
Picking in the top 15 of the 2018 NFL Draft should land them a blue-chip player and someone who should not only start right away, but hopefully be a cornerstone of the organization for years to come. These types of players are hard to come by.
There are only a dozen or so blue-chippers each year, so moving up a few spots could make all the difference when it comes to landing one of them. While pulling for Dallas is always in our nature, this is one of those times where a loss on Sunday wouldn’t be so unpleasant.
These are the things I will be watching on Sunday. How about you?