The Cowboys Report

Cowboys win 5 in a row; Colts up next

Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott celebrating
Zeke Elliot keeps rolling. Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

The Dallas Cowboys (8-5) won their fifth game in a row on Sunday when they defeated their division rival Philadelphia Eagles (6-7) in overtime by the score of 29-23. According to ESPN's Football Power Index, the win has given them a 99.3% chance of winning the NFC East and at worst, the fourth seed in the NFC side of the playoffs.

The Cowboys dominated the entire game on both sides of the ball but they had three turnovers, which kept the Eagles in the game and allowed them to force it into overtime. Dallas had the ball for 45 minutes and 33 seconds and gained 576 yards of offense. Philadelphia only gained 256 yards and only made 16 first downs as opposed to the Cowboys who made 32 first downs.

With the Eagles keeping the game close, Dallas was forced to keep the ball in the hands of their athletes. Ezekiel Elliott touched the ball 40 times and even though he didn't score, he is the main factor of the offense. He had 28 carries for 113 yards and 12 catches for 79 yards. His most important play was his 4th and 1 conversion in overtime with around 4 minutes left on the Philly 19 yard line.

Quarterback Dak Prescott was responsible for the Cowboys' three turnovers but luckily was able to survive them. He set career highs in completions, attempts, and passing yards. He finished 42 of 54 for 455 yards, 3 touchdowns, and 3 turnovers (2 Ints, 1 fumble). The good thing was he looked for and got the ball to his best players all game long. He targeted No. 1 receiver Amari Cooper 13 times, who caught 10 of them for 217 yards and three touchdowns. His addition to the team has been a big reason for the win streak and the Cowboy passing offense has increased significantly with him on the field.

The Cowboys defense also played a great game. Linebackers Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch were all over the field. They combined for 15 tackles (9 solo) and most importantly kept the Eagles' best pass catcher in check. Pro Bowl tight end Zach Ertz only had 5 catches for 38 yards and they also took away their running attack. The Eagles leading rusher Josh Adams had 7 carries for 36 yards.

Dallas is now up two games on the Eagles and three up on the Redskins with only 3 games left to play. Their remaining schedule is at the Colts on Sunday, home to the Buccaneers on 12/23 and at the Giants on 12/30.

Players to Watch

  1. Ezekiel Elliott (running back): After week 14 Zeke is now the NFL's leading rusher but could have a hard time going against the Colts and their 8th best rush defense. If Dallas continues to give him the ball over 25 times a game, the offense should continue to move.
  2. Dak Prescott (quarterback): Made a few mistakes last week but also played well enough to overcome them. Let's see if he can cut down on the turnovers and keep up the great chemistry with Amari Cooper against the Colts 15th best pass defense.
  3. Byron Jones, Chidobe Awuzie, Xavier Woods, and Jeff Heath (defensive Secondary): These guys are going to have to be up to the challenge and make big plays against super star QB Andrew Luck and his 6th best passing offense. They are going to have to stay close to his favorite receiver T.Y. Hilton who is coming off a big game against the Texans last week.

The Cowboys (8-5) will be on the road Sunday playing against the Indianapolis Colts (7-6) at Lucas Oil Stadium. Kickoff is set for noon and the Cowboys could be in for a challenge. The Colts are in must-win mode to stay alive for the playoffs and can't afford a loss, and the Cowboys have all but locked up the division.

If you have any fantasy players, the only must start players are:

Cowboys: Ezekiel Elliott (RB), Amari Cooper (WR), Dak Prescott (QB)

Colts: Andrew Luck (QB), T.Y. Hilton (WR), Eric Ebron (TE)

For you gamblers out there, the Cowboys are +3 and the over/under is 47. With the possibility of the Cowboys motivation in jeopardy I will most likely stay away from this one but if you have to play it, Dallas at +3 or more would be the play.

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The Texans will have to shuffle the o-line once again. Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images.

“Another one!”- DJ Khaled

That's the first thing that came to mind when I heard the news of Tytus Howard being shut down for the season because of a knee injury. They've had more injuries on the offensive line this season than Nick Cannon has Father's Day cards. Almost every member of the offensive line has spent time on the injury report. Howard went down in the same game in which Juice Scruggs was finally on the active roster. He missed the first 10 games due to a hamstring injury. The irony of next man up has never been so in your face.

The other thing that came to mind was the soap opera As the World Turns.

Howard had just signed an extension this offseason. So did Laremy Tunsil and Shaq Mason. They drafted Juice Scruggs, and signed a few guys too. Those moves, along with other holdovers, were expected to fill out the depth chart. Then a rash of injuries struck. At one point, only one of the original five guys expected to start was playing! In fact, they beat the Steelers 30-6 with that backup offensive line!

One can't have the expectation of backups to perform as good as the starters. They're professionals and are on an NFL roster for a reason. However, the talent gap is evident. One thing coaching, technique, and preparation can't cover is lack of ability or talent. The Texans have done a good job of navigating the injury minefield this season. While the Howard injury will hurt, I have faith in the guys there still.

As of this writing, the Texans are in the eighth spot in the AFC playoff picture. The Steelers, Browns, and Colts are all in front of them at the fifth through seventh spots respectfully. They've beaten the Steelers already. They play the Browns on Christmas Eve and their starting quarterback is out for the season. The Colts are relying on the ghost of Gardner Minshew to steer their ship into the last game of the season vs. the Texans with a possible playoff trip on the line. The Broncos and Bills are the two teams immediately behind them. They play the Broncos this weekend. Even though they're on a hot streak, this is the same team that got 70 put on them by the Dolphins. The Bills are the old veteran boxer who still has some skill, but is now a stepping stone for up & comers.

To say this team should still make the playoffs would be an understatement in my opinion. I believe in them and what they have going on more than I believe in the teams I listed above. That includes teams around them in the playoff race that aren't on their schedule. The one thing that scares me a little moving forward is the sustainability of this line. When guys get up in age as athletes, it becomes harder to come back from injuries. The injuries also tend to occur more frequently when it's a knee, foot, ankle, shoulder, elbow, or another body part critical to blocking for C.J. Stroud.

I know they just re-signed three of those guys and drafted one they believe can be a starter, but depth and contingency plans are a way of life in the NFL. We see how important depth was this season. Why not plan ahead? Don't be surprised if the Texans spend valuable draft capital on the offensive line. By valuable, I'm talking about first through third or fourth rounders. Those are prime spots to draft quality offensive lineman. Whether day one starters or quality depth, those are the sweet spots. The only guy on the two deep depth chart for this offensive line that wasn't drafted in one of those rounds was George Fant, who was an undrafted rookie free agent. While I highly doubt they spend any significant free agency dollars on the group, I'm not totally ruling it out.

The bottom line is, this team will be okay on the line for the remainder of this season. The only way that doesn't happen, more injuries. Stroud is clearly the franchise guy. Protecting that investment is a top priority. I don't care about a number one receiver, or a stud stable or singular running back if the quarterback won't have time to get them the ball. If the pilot can't fly the plane, you know what happens. So making sure he's happy, healthy, and has a great crew is of the utmost importance.

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