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Three reasons why the Cowboys are primed to make a deep playoff run

Things are going great, but can they get even better for Dallas?

NFL: Philadelphia Eagles at Dallas Cowboys Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Cowboys are sitting in great shape after their 29-23 overtime win against the Philadelphia Eagles. It appears that for the 14th-straight year, the NFC East will not have a back-to-back division winner. With a division crown appearing inevitable for the Cowboys, we can now set our sights a little higher and wonder just how far this team can go. Taking down the East means a guaranteed home playoff game which is good because Dallas is tough to beat at home. The Cowboys are currently 6-1 at AT&T this season.

How far can this team go? Well, they’re already surprising people by being in the position they’re currently in, so who’s to say they don’t have more surprises in store for us. But would it really be a shocker if this team made a deep playoff run? Maybe this team has what it takes to do just that and here are three reasons why it just might happen.

The Amari trade was a game-changer

After the 31-23 win over the Washington Redskins where Amari Cooper caught eight passes for 180 yards and two touchdowns, it’s easy to pound the table and proclaim how smart Jerry Jones was for making that trade to get him. It was his second best game of his career and he had only been in a Cowboys uniform for four games.

Well, two games later, Cooper knocked that game down a notch as he just produced the best game of his career with 10 catches for 217 yards and three touchdowns. I’m not sure we fully understand just how great Cooper fits with this offense. It’s still such a small sample size, but his numbers since joining the Cowboys prorated over 16 games would be:

  • 106 catches
  • 1,712 yards
  • 16 touchdowns

He would be statistically the best wide receiver in the league, challenged only by Julio Jones, Michael Thomas, and Adam Thielen. In fact, his per-game numbers are better than the best single-season of any of these Cowboys receiving greats.

Cooper is a dynamic player because of his route-running ability and breakaway speed. Defenses struggle with him because when they guess wrong, they’re beat. The Cowboys have been feeding off his quick-cuts where he’s wide open out of his breaks. Philadelphia did a good job cheating on these routes by having the defender anticipate his break. In fact, there were a couple passes from Dak Prescott that went right to the defender that would have been intercepted if the cornerback had turned around to see the ball. The downside to that is when the defender slows down anticipating the break, they become vulnerable to having Cooper blow right past him for a big play. The Eagles learned that the hard way on Sunday.

The coaching of Garrett

There will come a time where we all can sit out in the yard and enjoy a cold lemonade as we reflect on what a great coach Jason Garrett was. Of course, that time is not now. And people don’t even want to listen to that type of blasphemy until Garrett can demonstrate postseason success. So, if you find yourself in this category, bear with me.

What Garrett is doing in Dallas cannot be overlooked. The team could have easily crumbled after a 3-5 start. Garrett appeared unfazed by what was going on around him. It’s always the same with him - never gets too down after a loss, never gets too up after a win. He just focuses on what he needs to do for the next game. And that is exactly what he has his troops doing. There is no discord in the locker room, no finger pointing, so sideline rants when things aren’t going well. And let’s face it - things haven’t always gone well. Just in Sunday’s game alone - it was just one thing after another, but the Cowboys overcame adversity.

While the team certainly fights for their coach, Garrett’s on-field decisions have come into question at times. He got a lot of criticism for his fourth-down overtime decision in the Houston game earlier in the year and is now being praised for going for it against Philly. But he doesn’t get caught up what people think about it.

“A lot of people get caught up in ‘this coach was aggressive, this coach wasn’t aggressive,’” Garrett said. “That’s not really what it’s about. The decisions are designed to help your team win. ... We just felt in that situation, we felt we could make it. We wanted to end the game on our terms by scoring a touchdown.”

Against the Texans, the defense was making stops, but against the Eagles, he felt the best chance to win was if the defense never had to see the field again. There’s not a template that dictates what decision should be made. Each situation is different.

“The analytics guys, they sit up in a vacuum,” Garrett said Sunday night, “and say, ‘You should go for this. You shouldn’t go for it.’ But ultimately, decisions are made by guys who are seeing the game and feeling the game, and they’re executed by men who are playing the game.”

The Cowboys have a stranglehold on the NFC East right now. That’s good, right? In fact, with another division title this season, the Cowboys will have won the NFC East three of the last five years. While it may feel like Garrett is not quite doing enough, three division titles in five years is still pretty good.

Defense wins championships

Actually, you can win a championship with good offense or defense as there is no set rule, but it certainly is a lot easier when you have a defense that can make stops. And that’s what the 2018 Cowboys have. They are currently second in the league in points allowed with 18.9 points per game. They would be best in the league had it not been for the gift touchdown that the offense gave the Eagles when Prescott was picked off and it was ran back to the two-yard line. Regardless, this is a team that is hard to score on.

How are they doing it? Well, the defensive line is stopping the run on early downs and getting a strong pass rush on later downs. And it’s not just a one-man show anymore. DeMarcus Lawrence is handling the edge and his buddy Tyrone Crawford has been playing extremely well inside. So much in fact, that both make PFF’s Defensive Team of the Week.

And let’s not forget that Randy Gregory now has five sacks over the last seven games.

The linebackers are swarming to the ball carriers and playing well in coverage. And the secondary continues to play strong, allowing them to get off the field regularly. Against the Eagles, the Cowboys defense held them to 1/9 on third down. Over the last three games, the defense is allowing an impressive 8/31 (25%) third-down conversions.

While it is a collective effort where everyone is doing their job, the Cowboys coaching staff has done a great job scheming against their opponents.

There was a time not too long ago where people were just penciling in the Los Angeles Rams and New Orleans Saints in the NFC Championship game. While those two teams are still the front runners, it should be noted that each of them have lost a game recently to another division leader in the NFC, the Cowboys and the Chicago Bears. How did that happen? Defense.

If the Cowboys can figure out how to turn more drives into touchdowns, they’ll be a legitimate threat in the playoffs because of how well this defense is playing.

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