What a season it’s been for the rookie linebacker.
I Know…. Micah Parsons’ linebacker/chess analogy in training camp turned out to be prophetic. “You want to kind of be like the queen on the board,” Parsons said back in Oxnard, California, as the Cowboys were wrapping up their third week of camp. “You never want to be a rook, where you can only go straight or you can only go sideways. You want to be able to go diagonal. I think that’s what makes the queen so strong. I just kind of want to be the queen of linebackers.”
Parsons knew then that he’d be asked to moonlight at multiple spots as a rookie: off the ball, on the line of scrimmage, covering, defending the run, rushing the passer. He, and maybe even defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, didn’t know just how much the Cowboys would need his versatility. DeMarcus Lawrence broke his foot the second week of the season and spent 10 games on IR. Randy Gregory missed a game in COVID-19 protocol and the last three games with a calf injury. Dorance Armstrong missed four games with an ankle injury.
If not for all those absences, “maybe we don’t have that moment where we put Micah into some different spots,” defensive coordinator Dan Quinn said.
Taking a look at some storylines for this division matchup.
Football Team. Washington has officially re-entered the playoff picture with their fourth-straight win, 17-15 over the Las Vegas Raiders. The Raiders, fresh off their overtime win over Dallas, was dealing with a multitude of injuries on their offensive side of the football with no Darren Waller available for Week 13. The Football Team took full advantage by holding the Raiders to just 310 yards and 15 points over a defensive battle.
Ron Rivera deserves a lot of credit in finding a rhythm after the bye week and leading Washington to four straight wins. The streak started at home in Week 10 with a 29-19 stunner over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the team that eliminated Washington in last year's playoffs. It then continued with wins over Carolina, Seattle, and Las Vegas, with all three games being within a single score as time expired. To put into perspective of how well Washington has been playing, the Football Team has not allowed a team to score over 30 points since the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 6. Opponents scored at least 30 in four of the first six games against Washington this season.
If the Cowboys are able to stay healthy, they’re as talented as anyone in the league.
What Dallas needs to avoid is having to depend on other losses by opponents. That means finding those three wins, assuming one is against Washington. To do so will rest on two factors: The health of the roster and the focus of the players, both of which have certainly played roles in the three losses in November.
The first really could not be going much better for Dallas. They have already seen the return of DeMarcus Lawrence from IR, and Amari Cooper back from the COVID protocol. This week we should see Trysten Hill back from suspension and Randy Gregory and Neville Gallimore back from their own stints on IR. That puts the Cowboys at the healthiest overall this entire season. You just don’t see that happen this late in the year. Last week’s win over the New Orleans Saints even saw them overcome the absence of much of the coaching staff, most notably head coach Mike McCarthy and offensive line coach Joe Philbin, and they should be back in time for this week’s contest at Washington.
Meanwhile, the fighting Teams are facing some health issues of their own. They have lost DE Chase Young for the season, and QB Ryan Fitzpatrick is gone for the year as well, although the chance of him unseating Taylor Heinicke even if he had returned was very slim. DE Montez Sweat also went on IR, and it is questionable that he could return in time for the game versus Dallas.
Third down has been a pain point for the Cowboys offense of late.
Despite having all offensive starters available and active, coordinator Kellen Moore’s unit managed to convert just two third downs the whole night. Out of 13. A 15.38% success rate. Worst in the league in Week 13. Moore agrees it’s a problem that’s been worth exploring during the mini-bye, but suggests there’s a bigger issue at play.
“I’d certainly say you study it and you dig into it, because obviously, it’s not what you want. You don’t want to be 2-for-13 on third downs,” the coordinator said in a conference call with reporters Monday. “There’s going to be certain things that you want to make adjustments on third down. I think it’s also important to recognize the impact first and second down has on third downs. Too many long third-down situations in that game. So we’ve got to be better on first and second down; the good teams that are really good on third down are sitting on third-and-3, third-and-4, and not the third-and-6, third-and-7s that are sometimes more challenging than third-and-10-plusses.”
Cowboys focused on resurrecting primary culprit of their offensive inefficiency - Michael Gehlken, Dallas Morning News
Dallas has really struggled to establish the run over the past month.
These final five regular-season games are designed to be a measuring stick between the Cowboys and the rest of the NFC East, starting Sunday at Washington. Barring a disastrous playoff-race collapse, one of the most important components will be whether Dallas can resurrect its run game before the postseason.
Last Thursday, the Cowboys (8-4) completed a stretch of three games in 12 days. During this period, eight of the 14 drives (57.1%) that started with an Ezekiel Elliott carry ended as a three-and-out — defined as possessions without a first down or touchdown — compared to six of the 35 such drives (17.1%) during the season’s first nine games.
Knee stiffness tied to a Week 4 injury has hampered Elliott for almost two months. Beyond that, the blocking at times has struggled to jell, including when met with movement principles from the defensive line. “Obviously, we want to run the ball better than we are currently,” Moore said. “I think it’s all part of the process. There’s going to be some scheme things that we want to continue to evolve in and look into. I think it’s important that we have some continuity on the offensive line and obviously throughout our offense, just to get ourselves going.
What is your biggest takeaway to this point of the season?
When fully healthy, the Cowboys offense can’t be stopped. The Cowboys have been hit with the injury/COVID-19 bug this season. Players like Dak Prescott, tackle Tyron Smith, and all three of Dallas’ wide receivers (Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, and CeeDee Lamb) have missed time this season. Even tackle La’el Collins has missed time due to a suspension. As a matter of fact, all of Dallas’ starters on offense have only played 24 snaps together since opening night. Those 24 snaps were from their most recent game on Thursday night against the New Orleans Saints. However, even in this game, the Cowboys weren’t fully healthy with Cooper just returning from COVID. Consequently, he was limited to just 24 snaps.
Essentially, Dallas hasn’t had their offense at full strength for the majority of the season, yet they are still the number one offense in the league averaging 416.3 yards per game. They also average 29.4 points per game which ranks third in the NFL behind the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (31.4) and Buffalo Bills (29.6).
There’s no doubt that this Cowboys’ offense is elite. They can beat you through the air with Prescott and their trio of wide receivers. Additionally, they have the talent to beat teams on the ground as well. Although their rushing attack has been down in recent weeks, they still rank fifth in rush yards per game (129.0).
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