When the Dallas Cowboys go to play the Philadelphia Eagles, it should be a game where both teams can sit most, if not all, of their starters. Both are in the playoffs, and are most likely stuck in their current seeds (fourth for Dallas, seventh for Philadelphia.) It is a meaningless game. Nearly.
The problem for the Cowboys is, to quote Lloyd Christmas, there’s a chance. A chance that the outcomes of the games for the Los Angles Rams and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers could move them up to the three or even the two seed. Those chances are slim, but they do exist.
So do they just forget the roughly one in ten shot at moving up in the seeding? If the longshot hits it would mean what should be an easier matchup in the wildcard round. And if they hit the lottery and that less than 2% chance of getting the two seed (which would require Dallas winning and both the Rams and Bucs losing), they could get a second home game assuming they win their first playoff game.
Old school thinking is that you always play to win, which means you roll out the starters against the Eagles. But the playoffs are the big consideration here. The Cowboys will likely have to face Arizona again, and they look to be much healthier than they were when they beat Dallas last Sunday. That game will absolutely be all hands on deck, and that is a big reason to keep as many of those hands in bubble wrap this Saturday as possible.
This is also the age of COVID, and that has reared its ugly head for the Cowboys as Micah Parsons has entered the protocol, followed by Tyron Smith and Anthony Brown. Under the new rules, Parsons seems likely to miss the game in Philadelphia but should be clear for the playoffs. In essence, the decision to rest arguably the best player on the team has been made for the Dallas staff.
We discussed the merits of starting or sitting players on the latest episode of Ryled Up on the Blogging The Boys podcast network. Make sure to subscribe to our network so you don’t miss any of our shows! Apple devices can subscribe here and Spotify users can subscribe here.
Could that have a domino effect? If you aren’t risking Parsons, do you really want to put DeMarcus Lawrence, Randy Gregory, Trevon Diggs, and your other top defenders out there with the defense already compromised? A lot more reps for Kelvin Joseph hardly seems like a bad thing, and the rest of the backups can benefit as well. If they go that direction on defense, it makes sense to extend that across the line of scrimmage.
And there is the big factor that the team just lost Michael Gallup to injury. Suddenly it seems like a really good idea to put Amari Cooper and CeeDee Lamb in street clothes to make sure they are ready for the playoffs. Cooper had a hamstring injury earlier in the season and more recently has fought through COVID. A game off will not just protect him, but give a little more recovery time.
The fact that there remains a slim hope to improve the seeding actually does Dallas no favors. If this was completely meaningless, then the only way to go would be resting as many as possible. That is not the case. Mike McCarthy seems to have enough old school in him that he is inclined to treat this like any regular season game and use all his resources to get the win. That small chance to profit by doing so is more temptation than opportunity, but he probably won’t see it that way.
As if all that wasn’t enough to try and formulate a plan with, Philly head coach Nick Sirianni has not declared how he is going to approach the game. He specifically did not rule out keeping his own stars out of the game. It makes no sense to put the best of the Cowboys against backups who are trying to prove their own worth, which could mean taking some hard shots against whoever they face. I’m not saying cheap shots. But, well, Philadelphia.
There is no clear cut answer. At the moment, resting and protecting the starters looks like the most prudent course. There is no certainty that the staff or the players themselves are ready to be cautious. It is a chance to sweep the division, something the Cowboys have never done since realignment created the current form of the NFC East. That is a rather foolish thing to prioritize, but we are talking people who are the ultimate competitors. Not trying their best to win this game may be smart. It also is unappetizing to people like that.
We will find out what the course of action is, but it may not come until we see who actually suits up and takes the field.