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Cowboys news: Four different Cowboys receive All-Pro honors; Dallas ready for playoffs

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NFL: New Orleans Saints at Dallas Cowboys Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

NFC East title is fine, but these are the Dallas Cowboys. It’s always Super Bowl or bust - Clarence Hill, The Star-Telegram
Yeah, the divisional title is cool, but this team wants more.

Dallas rebounded to win seven of its final eight games to finish 10-6 and secure Garrett’s second NFC East title in three seasons. But division titles are not the goal in Dallas. They never have been.

And more is certainly wanted, even demanded of a Cowboys team that has just three playoff wins since its last Super Bowl title in 1995.

“We’re feeling great,” said Elliott, who led the league in rushing with 1,434 yards and expects to carry a bigger load in the playoffs. “I believe we have the best defense in football and a pretty damn good offense, a lot of weapons. I think we have the right recipe to make some noise.”Alas, Dallas rebounded to win seven of its final eight games to finish 10-6 and secure Garrett’s second NFC East title in three seasons.

QB Dak Prescott is not worried about anything else.

“We are living in the moment,” Prescott said. “Don’t know what happened last year. Don’t care what happened last year. It’s about right now. It’s about making the most of this opportunity. And that is being the best that I can and make sure the team is the best they can every day to give ourselves the best opportunity come Saturday.”

Cowboys’ Prescott Hungry For First Playoff Win - Satff, CBS DFW
Dak is hungry.

Russell Wilson won a wild-card game with the Seattle Seahawks as a rookie, a Super Bowl in his second season and another NFC championship the third time around.

Dak Prescott is hoping to join Wilson on that list of title winners in his third year, a quest that will start with the first playoff meeting of quarterbacks with quite a bit in common.

Both were mid-round draft picks who became instant NFL success stories. The difference is Prescott lost his first playoff game after guiding the Cowboys to the top seed in the NFC two years ago, then had to wait two years for his second chance. It comes in a home wild-card game Saturday night.

“When you say success of a quarterback or a quarterback’s success depending on what they do in the playoffs, I think that’s where the checks are written and they make their money,” Prescott said. “Our job is to win no matter what happens, no matter how you played individually. At the end of the day, it’s to get the job done.”


Gut Feeling: Predictions For Cowboys-Seahawks - The Mothership
What is the ‘gut feeling’ heading into tonight’s game? David Helman foresees a nail-biting win for the home team.

David Helman: How’s this for a bold proclamation? This game is going to come down to the final play. How could it not, given the seasons these teams have had? The Cowboys’ average margin of victory this season is just 7.7. They’ve had an absurd six games come down to the final snap. The Seahawks have fared a little bit better, but they’ve played in some nail biters themselves with an average margin of victory of just 10.9. Prepare yourselves for some drama. Fortunately for the Cowboys, they’ve been on the good side of that drama when they play at home, and I can see that happening again. I think Ezekiel Elliott will have a workmanlike performance, grinding out 95 yards and a touchdown. I don’t think Dak Prescott will be amazing, but he’ll make plays in the clutch. Russell Wilson is going to do his best to drag the Seahawks over the finish line, but Prescott will set Brett Maher up for a game-winner as time expires. Cowboys squeak out a 24-23 win.

Broaddus sees a similar scenario.

Bryan Broaddus: This game could go either way. These teams are evenly matched and they should play that way. I feel like playing this game at AT&T Stadium is a huge advantage for the Cowboys. Playing at CenturyLink Field is no bargain. My gut feeling is that this game is going to come to the two quarterbacks. Both Dak Prescott and Russell Wilson are going to have to make some incredible plays in this game for their clubs to win. I like what I’ve seen from Prescott these previous eight weeks and he will make that one extra play to get his club to the next round. Cowboys win this one, 27-24.

Who the NFL experts pick to win the Seahawks-Cowboys wild card matchup - Andrew Hammond, News Tribune
Who do the experts believe will be walking out AT&T Stadium with the dub?

Sports Illustrated

The SI NFL writers are taking the Seattle Seahawks by a 9-4 edge over the Cowboys. The two boldest predictions come from Mitch Goldich and Jonathan Jones, who both have the Seahawks playing in the NFC championship game.

NFL.com

Jeremy Bergman from NFL.com is expecting another close Seahawks-Cowboys game; he’s got the Seahawks winning 20-16.

Miami Herald NFL Writer, Greg Cote

“Dallas is 11-3 in its past 14 starts under the lights, and Seattle under Russell Wilson is a mighty 22-5-1 in prime time. Something’s gotta give. A foundation of this pick is venue. Dallas is great at Jerry’s World (7-1), while Hawks are a mere 4-4 when traveling. Seattle beat the Boys 24-13 in September, but Dallas is appreciably better now – especially since remembering that Ezekiel Elliott needs to be the fulcrum of the offense.

“Seattle doesn’t hurt itself (plus-15 on turnovers), but that banged-up offensive line could make it rough for Wilson here. With only mild trepidation, give us Dallas at home. Cote pick: Dallas, 24-20.”


Who has the edge on Saturday: Dak or Russ? Zeke or Seattle’s RBs? Garrett or Carroll? - Clarence Hill, The Star-Telegram
These matchups will prove to be pivotal on Saturday.

Linebackers

Cowboys: According to Pro Football Focus, Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith are the fourth and fifth best linebackers in the NFL, respectively. Vander Esch replaced an injured Sean Lee to lead the team in tackles and Smith has been a playmaker in the middle with four sacks, five tackles for loss and two fumble recoveries. Lee should return for the playoffs, offering depth and experience.

Seahawks: Bobby Wagner may be the best middle linebacker in the NFL. He certainly will be the best linebacker on the field Saturday. He does everything for the Seattle defense and is one the remaining few stars from the famed “Legion of Boom” unit that led the Seahawks to a Super Bowl title. K.J. Wright, a former Pro Bowler, is returning to form after being sidelined by a knee injury for much of the season.

Edge: Push

How Dallas’s Linebacking Duo Became the NFL’s Best - Jonathan Jones, SI
LVE and Jaylon Smith are blossoming in front of our very eyes.

The crowded linebacker room is reminiscent of the 2012 Carolina Panthers. Three-time Pro Bowler Jon Beason held down the MIKE linebacker spot while former first-round pick Thomas Davis was returning from his third ACL tear. The Panthers took Luke Kuechly in the first round of that year’s draft and started him at weakside as Davis worked his way back to full health. Eventually, an injury to Beason moved Kuechly to the middle linebacker spot. Beason was traded to the Giants the next season. Kuechly and Davis went on to become the best linebacking duo in the league, a mantle they held until this season.

“Then they drafted me, so how’s all this going to fit? From Day One that was never an issue with Thomas,” Kuechly says. “It was, ‘How can I help you? What can I do?’ And so for me, this guy really wants to help me and he’s going to be this cool then I have to make sure that I’m doing my part.”

Told the story of Kuechly’s first season, Vander Esch nods quickly.

“I want to do everything I can possibly do to give back to those guys and show them that I love football, because I absolutely do, and they can trust me to do my job in every single play in every single game,” he says.

And so, when Lee needed those 22 snaps against the Giants to get back into the flow, Vander Esch obliged. But the Cowboys are now faced with a dilemma: How much does Lee play in a win-or-go home situation when the young duo has made this Dallas defense one of the NFL’s best?

Leighton Vander Esch Was Born to Be a Cowboy - Dan Pompei, Bleacher Report
He was booed in Dallas on draft day, but after he stepped into Sean Lee's cleats, led the Cowboys in tackles and got them back into the playoffs, fans are calling him "The Wolf Hunter" and howling right along with him - and his coach is comparing him to Hall of Fame LB Brian Urlacher.

Vander Esch is "destined to be one of the all-time greats," according to Cowboys Hall of Fame quarterback Troy Aikman.

"You talk about a guy at 255 pounds, and he runs a 4.6-second 40-yard dash," Aikman said on the Thanksgiving national broadcast of Cowboys-Redskins. "He's big, physical, and he can run, and he matches up against tight ends. I watched him last week match up against Atlanta, and the job he's able to do, he's an old-school linebacker in size and new school in his ability to cover and run."

Vander Esch and Hall of Fame linebacker Brian Urlacher are the same height and approximate weight, and Vander Esch was just a tick slower in the 40-yard dash (4.65 to 4.57). Urlacher has a similar background, coming from rural Lovington, New Mexico.

"He's like Brian in his ability to play in space—the hips, the turn, the awareness," says Cowboys defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli, who coached Urlacher for four years. "It's rare for a guy who has that size to be able to play in space. And the game is so much in space right now. You can't teach that. They are both very bright, and the humility is the same. He's a great teammate, just like Brian."

Jaylon Smith named PFF's Breakout Player of the Year - Bn Cooper, Pro Football Focus
The accolades just keep pouring in.

After wrapping up the 2018 regular season with playoffs looming, Smith has developed into one of the league’s most dominant all-around inside linebackers in just his second year. Alongside rookie sensation Leighton Vander Esch, Smith’s pass-rush prowess as an inside linebacker was unparalleled.

Among off-ball linebackers with 50 or more pass-rush snaps, his 27.8 win percentage as a pass rusher ranked first, and his 22% pressure rate on those snaps was tied for eighth. While inside linebackers are generally expected to patrol the middle of the field in coverage and against the run, Smith’s well-rounded skill set proved to be an asset for the Cowboys’ defense as it helped provide a late push to win the NFC East.


Zack Martin named first-team All-Pro; Byron Jones, Leighton Vander Esch, Ezekiel Elliott on second-team - RJ Ochoa, BoggingTheBoys
Four Cowboys earn All-Pro honors, including Zack Martin on first team.

The Dallas Cowboys have one first-team All-Pro, Zack Martin. They have three second-team All-Pro members in Ezekiel Elliott, Leighton Vander Esch, and Byron Jones. Well done.

There’s a lot to take away from these selections, Firstly, the Cowboys have the best guard in football in Zack Martin, but everybody knew that. Similarly the world is quite aware of how good Ezekiel Elliott is, he did lead the league in rushing, but Los Angeles Rams running back Todd Gurley edged him out for the first-team selection. Touchdowns matter.

Being named an All-Pro is the latest atta boy handed down to Leighton Vander Esch who has turned in quite the season during his rookie year. The Cowboys have a special talent on their hands and they know how to use him.

Perhaps the most impressive All-Pro member on the Cowboys is Byron Jones considering this is his first season playing cornerback. He has blossomed into one of the NFL’s best earning both this and a Pro Bowl nod. The Kris Richard effect has been incredible.

Pretty impressive feat for Martin, who has been an absolute stud since entering the league.

Was Zeke snubbed from the first team?

Oh, and there’s also this:

And while we’re on the topic ...


Three red-hot stats in favor of the Cowboys offense in the playoffs - Michael Sisemore, BTB
Take a look at these numbers:

Dak Prescott is one of the hottest hands entering the playoffs. We can’t talk emergence without mentioning the resurgence of Prescott. Here are the numbers for playoff quarterbacks over the last six games:

Dak Prescott and Pat Mahomes are the only two playoff quarterbacks to account for 13 total touchdowns for their respective teams since Thanksgiving.

Prescott also has 14 passes of 20+ yards or more in the last six games with six of them resulting in touchdowns, highest mark in the league. Prescott’s 39.2 yards gained per pass is five yards higher than the next quarterback, Russell Wilson.

Dak Prescott has received his share of worthy criticism over the course of the season but he’s one of the hottest hands left to start the playoffs.

3 key matchups vs. Seahawks: Cowboys with ‘big advantage’ having Amari Cooper this time around - Jon Machota, SportsDay
Jon Machota gives three keys to the game, including how Amari Cooper could be big for Dallas this weekend.

Amari Cooper vs. Seattle’s secondary

This isn’t the Legion of Boom secondary made famous by Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor and Richard Sherman.

Between 2011 and 2017, Seattle’s defense held opponents to an average of 203.7 passing yards per game and 16.4 passing touchdowns per year. This season, opponents are averaging 240 passing yards per game and have totaled 26 passing touchdowns.

Dak Prescott had one of the worst games of his career against the Seahawks in September, throwing for only 168 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.

But he also didn’t have Amari Cooper at the time.

”That’s going to be a big advantage for us to have him,” Cowboys offensive coordinator Scott Linehan said. “We’re playing a team that plays a lot of single-high [safety] defense. I think now because he’s been here for the length of time he has, we feel really comfortable with him playing in a number of locations. He’ll get attention from them.”