The Dallas Cowboys meet the Seattle Seahawks in the first round of the NFL playoffs, and they do so coming off a surprisingly entertaining and effective performance against the New York Giants. The offense they rolled out in that “meaningless” game was almost shocking. It looked very little like what we had seen up to that point. That is a good thing, since it offers the hope they now are a confusing team for the Seahawks to defend.
But that all hinges on whether they can duplicate that, or if they even try. Was that passing explosion by Dak Prescott, Blake Jarwin, and Cole Beasley a sign of things to come, or just a mirage? Our Michael Strawn and Tom Ryle have some thoughts, of course.
Michael: I want to believe, I really do. I mean, there’s good reasons to. Ever since the arrival of Amari Cooper the offense in general, and the passing game in particular, is just better. The numbers support it. At one point this season the team was averaging only 172 yards passing per game and needed seven games to reach 250 yards in a single game. Since Cooper’s arrival they’ve averaged 250 yards per game...but in fact reached 250 yards in a game only three times in nine tries. The average is inflated by two huge games against Philadelphia (434) and New York (368).
But we need look back only seven days earlier when this same Cowboys offense mustered only 152 yards against one of the worst pass defenses in the league (Tampa Bay) to highlight why I’m not a believer: consistency. There are times when this pass offense simply looks bad. Whether it’s Dak missing wide open receivers for long touchdowns or receivers dropping catchable passes or the offensive line not holding up against the rush, it’s rare when everything works. They’ll have to put up several more high-quality performances before I believe they’ve turned the corner.
Tom: I think there is something that really argues for this being more than just a one-time thing, and that is Jason Garrett and Scott Linehan are fighting for their coaching futures. Just a one-and-done does not assure anything. They need to win the game against Seattle to have some assurances they are going to continue with the Cowboys (and even that may not be enough for the OC).
That attack against the G-men was just about everything we have wanted to see this season, but usually haven’t. It went hard against the deep middle, with seam routes we haven’t seen in the absence of Jason Witten. It got Beas involved again, and he was just as impressive as Jarwin. Michael Gallup was another key contributor. And Dak played one of his best games in his short career.
That was in a game that meant nothing. This coming game means everything. I think the team will go back to using the run, but they aren’t going to forget how well things clicked throwing the ball in that last one. It just compounds things for Seattle’s defense, and that is too valuable a tool to leave in the toolbox.
Michael: Long ago I came to the conclusion that the body of work tells us more than a one-time event. The one-time event (Sunday’s game) tells us the Cowboys have a diverse, multi-faceted attack that can come at you from various angles. The body of work tells us the the Cowboys have an inconsistent passing game that sometimes hits some big plays and makes things happen, but just as often spurts and sputters and simply can’t get it done.
I will admit there are reasons for optimism. Three reasons, in fact. The first (which you pointed out) is Sunday we saw things we haven’t seen at any point all year - tight ends getting down the seam for intermediate throws. The obvious question is why haven’t we seen that all year? And, if reports are to be believed, we come to our second reason: the head coach and offensive coordinator apparently allowed others (such as the team’s quarterback) to have a say in the gameplan! What a thought! Part of me wants to rejoice at the adaptation and part of me is facepalming wondering why it took so long. Regardless, the fact new thinking has been injected into the gameplan is, as I said, the second reason for optimism. Third, Amari Cooper.
Yes, he’s been quiet lately with only 88 yards his last three games (on a lot of targets). But it doesn’t take an expert on Xs and Os to realize a large part of the reason Blake Jarwin and Cole Beasley were running free through the Giants’ defense is because Cooper was the focal point of the Giants’ pass defense. Cooper is a menace; he can flat out beat one-on-one coverage in so many different ways. Teams now are going to have to account for Cooper and Gallup and Beasley and Jarwin. At least, that’s the theory. But I again go back to just a couple weeks earlier when we had all those players and they couldn’t move the ball against Tampa Bay.
Tom: Here’s the thing. I honestly believe that what the Cowboys rolled out against the Giants was something that has been there all along (at least since Cooper’s arrival, anyway) and they just weren’t willing to go to it. For whatever reason (and I think there may have been a little come-to-Jesus talk from Jerry Jones), they finally opened their minds and the playbook. It paid off big time. I don’t think they are going to leave it.
And it all really hinged on Dak. This was more than anything, I believe, them finally taking the restrictions off him and letting him play his game. In that aspect, he has shown what he can do over time.
QB Dak Prescott told us his play Sunday was important because he wanted to show how much winning matters to him but he’s already secured the respect of his teammates especially in clutch situations. When the game is tied in the 4th or overtime, he boasts a 150.5 passer rating pic.twitter.com/LMLLbUjRYb— Jane Slater (@SlaterNFL) January 3, 2019
Prescott has indeed been clutch this year, and that is what they need in the playoffs. It is not going to be about asking him to do something he hasn’t shown he can. It is about him being what he is. That is why I see the Giants game as a harbinger of good things to come.
Michael: Dak’s “clutch” numbers really is the x-factor isn’t it? I’ve written about it extensively and it’s too consistent to be an outlier or a fluke. Feel like he’s going to need some magic because Russell Wilson has proven this season and throughout his career he can pull magic out of nowhere. You’ve kind of convinced me, and I said earlier this week I’m irrationally optimistic about the team’s chances. As Jason Garrett would emphasize, what a great opportunity - to go out and prove yourselves against one of the quality teams in the league to advance to the next round. I’m getting hyped already!
OK, that’s what we think. Let us know how you see it.
Was the Cowboys’ offensive show against the Giants something that continues, or was it just a one-time, meaningless game experiment?
This poll is closed
This is the future of the Cowboys. Look out!
Nah, the game didn’t mean anything, and they will just revert back to their old selves.
I still want to see Linehan fired. Maybe Garrett, too.