It is the most beautiful and heartbreaking man-made creation, playoff football. From this point on, the Dallas Cowboys are guaranteed one more football game; anything past that requires winning against the NFL’s best.
However, the Cowboys will be riding into the postseason winners of five out of their last six games, including a regular-season finale victory over the Philadelphia Eagles. While it was an odd game, filled with players who rarely see the field, we can still learn from the matchup.
Cedrick Wilson brings a needed skill set to the offense
Michael Gallup is one of the best deep-ball receivers in the NFL. His size and speed combination, paired with an elite ability to high point the football, makes him an incredible outside threat. Gallup’s 12.2-yard average depth of target, 3.6 yards after the catch per reception, and 50% contested catch rate are all stats that signal a genuine deep-ball specialist. He is an exceptional talent and deserves to be paid as such, even with the injury.
However, with this offense, Cedrick Wilson might be the receiver the Cowboys need right now.
Wilson’s average depth of target of 9.4 is significantly lower than Gallup’s. But his 5.6 yards after the catch per reception is second on the team to Malik Turner, his 27 first down receptions are only behind CeeDee Lamb and Amari Cooper, his 115.9 passer rating when targeted is only behind Cooper, and his drop percentage of 4.8% is only worse than Turner and Cooper.
Cowboys WR Cedrick Wilson on being focused on the playoffs, but with free agency coming up, also helping himself and his NFL future: “That’s part of the game. You play good, you get paid good. My focus right now is going into the playoffs and bringing a championship here.”— Jon Machota (@jonmachota) January 9, 2022
Dak Prescott sees Wilson as a reliable target that can consistently get the yardage needed for a first down. He won’t high point the football 40 yards downfield like Gallup will, but his route running and yards after the catch ability is strikingly similar to Amari Cooper.
Remember that the Cowboys’ six-game win streak came when Cedrick Wilson was the number three receiver due to Gallup’s injury. There is no argument, Gallup is a better receiver than Wilson, but it is also possible that Wilson is a better fit for this offense at the moment.
Micah Parsons continues to be underrated
When discussing the most valuable defensive player in the NFL, we saw last night that it is hands down Micah Parsons. T.J. Watt will likely win the award, and he deserves it with the season he has had. However, despite all of the recognition this year, Parsons might actually be underrated.
The NFL consensus is enamored by Parsons’ pass-rushing ability, and rightfully so. What would Parsons’ pass-rushing numbers look like if he rushed on every play? Obviously, it is not a perfect extrapolation, but based on what we’ve seen, it is something like:
- 129 quarterback pressures (1st)
- 27 sacks (1st)
- 75 quarterback hurries (1st)
- A 26.2%-win rate in the pass-rush (1st)
It is impossible to know what would happen if he was in the pass-rush every play; the point is that he is an elite talent on the defensive line. But that is not the reason he is the most valuable player.
The Cowboys allowed 143 rushing yards on Saturday night, their third-highest total this season. Additionally, according to rbsdm.com, Dallas allowed a successful rushing play on 46.7% of attempts against the Eagles after a season average of 38.9%. Their 38.9% is roughly middle of the pack, but the 46.7% would fall as the second-worst team in the league.
This is where Parsons is underrated. He might not always make the tackle, but his pursuit against the run is good enough to turn this rushing defense from bottom five in the league to average. This is not even to mention his improving coverage ability.
Micah Parsons does not get enough credit, even with the accolades he has been showered with this season. Don’t worry about the Dallas defense against Philadelphia because the true game-changer is waiting to return.
We shouldn’t be sold on offensive “momentum” just yet
Many Cowboys fans were against the notion of the starters playing, myself included. But to Mike McCarthy’s credit, the offense looked solid once again, and maybe Dak has gained more confidence leading into the postseason.
But the idea that the Cowboys now have momentum heading into the playoffs might be premature, not even considering the notion that “momentum” might not even be real.
For starters, the Dallas Cowboys have dominated the NFC East this season; this game was nothing new. The 40 points per game average against division opponents represent 45% of the Cowboys’ points this season despite only making up 35% of their schedule.
DIVISION SWEEP— FOX Sports: NFL (@NFLonFOX) January 9, 2022
The @dallascowboys finish the season a perfect 6-0 vs the NFC East. It's just the 3rd time an NFC East team has swept the division (1998 Cowboys, 2004 Eagles). pic.twitter.com/uL9hGslocm
This is what Dallas has done all season, dominate the NFC East. While it has been exciting to watch, the Cowboys have been unable to do the same outside of the division. Fifty-one points is excellent, but it shouldn’t be interpreted as the offense getting back on track.
Additionally, six of the Eagles’ starting defenders were inactive, including Darius Slay. Philadelphia has had an above-average defense, and these 51 points are likely an anomaly due to their lack of depth.
Even if this was a momentum game for the Cowboys, what has happened after their last three “momentum” games:
- Lost to Denver (after beating the Vikings without Dak)
- Lost to Kansas City (after beating the Falcons 43-3)
- Lost to Arizona (after beating the Football Team 56-14)
This is not an attempt to be excessively pessimistic, but we shouldn’t believe the offense is fixed and ready to roll into playoffs. Saturday was impressive, but the idea that the Cowboys offense is back to what it once was is yet to be seen.
The narratives against Trevon Diggs and Anthony Brown are entirely false
On the topic of a false narrative, let’s discuss Anthony Brown and Trevon Diggs. Anthony Brown is criticized for drawing too many defensive pass interference penalties, and Trevon Diggs “only relies on his interceptions.”
Well, Kelvin Joseph and Nahshon Wright played a solid football game, and both proved they could be starting cornerbacks for the Cowboys if need be. We should be excited about their future with the team. However, Gardner Minshew posted a decent stat line, especially in the first half. Outside of the late-game interception, Minshew finished with two touchdowns on an 80% adjusted completion percentage despite facing 22 defensive pressures and three sacks.
The Dallas secondary didn’t force any turnovers, and if not for the poor receiving corps of the Eagles, would have had a somewhat bad game. Five Philadelphia drops prevented numerous first-down conversions, including a would-be touchdown to J.J. Arcega-Whiteside.
It is worth noting again; there is incredible promise with Wright and Joseph. However, Diggs and Brown are clearly the best coverage corners on this team, and they are exponentially better than the average replacement cornerback. In fact, by completion percentage, pass breakups, and passer rating against, both Brown and Diggs are in the top half of the league, commonly ranking inside the top twenty. So, the narrative that Diggs is a bad corner outside of his interceptions, simply because he gives up yards, is objectively false. They are both well above average.
And the most ridiculous narrative surrounding the 2021 Dallas Cowboys is that Anthony Brown commits too many DPIs. Outside of the four against the Raiders, Brown has committed one defensive pass interference all season. Take away the Raiders game and only ten cornerbacks in the league have played more than 50% of snaps and have drawn less than two penalties. Anthony Brown would fall into that category if not for the Thanksgiving game.
What we saw on Saturday night is that the Cowboys have incredible depth at cornerback, including some young and talented secondary pieces. But these players are far from Trevon Diggs and Anthony Brown, who are both outstanding coverage corners that have been victimized by a false narrative.
It’s playoff time
Throughout the “five takeaways” series this year, we have now reached 90 total headlines surrounding the Cowboys during their 12-5 campaign. But you can now throw out all 90 because it is an entirely new season.
Dak Prescott on the Cowboys’ playoff opponent: “It doesn’t matter. Line em up. … Whoever it is, wherever it is, we’re ready for this run.” pic.twitter.com/mTGnQGNHvz— Jon Machota (@jonmachota) January 9, 2022
The takeaways criticizing the struggling offense don't matter if Dak shows up in the postseason. The takeaways praising the defense are irrelevant if they can’t slow down the NFC’s best offenses. Even the takeaways surrounding Greg Zuerlein and his inconsistency are pointless if he comes through in the playoffs.
We are aware of what this team has done, what they can do, and what we expect them to do in the postseason. But there are potentially four games where all of the preconceived notions can be disproven. Maybe it is another disappointing season that ends in a first-round exit. Maybe Dallas surprises everyone and hoists the Lombardi as confetti rains down. No one knows what will happen; take the Eagles led by Nick Foles in 2018 as a prime example.
The team that can string together the best four games will be the Super Bowl champion, that is the only thing we know with certainty. The fact that the Cowboys are in the playoffs automatically means they can be the final team standing.
This is less of a takeaway and more of a reminder.
Don’t lose hope on this season yet. While it hasn’t looked particularly encouraging lately, there is no reason to believe that the Cowboys can’t win it all. Is it possible? Absolutely it is. Is it likely? No, but it is not “likely” for any of the 14 teams.
A four-game season. Lose and it comes to an early end. All you have to do is continue to survive. Throw everything away, it’s time for playoff football. How ‘bout them Cowboys.