Dallas Cowboys: What You Need to Know Heading into Week 16

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Dallas Cowboys: What You Need to Know Heading into Week 16
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Coming off of a heartbreaking loss to the Green Bay Packers, the Cowboys have put themselves in a position in which they might very well need to win their Week 16 meeting with the Redskins to have a chance to make the playoffs. If Dallas loses early, the Eagles will be able to wrap up the NFC East on Sunday night. If the 'Boys win, the Eagles' game is effectively meaningless.

Thus, Dallas needs to take care of business against Washington if they want to ensure the ability to play for the NFC East crown in Week 17. To do that, they'll need to keep up with a Redskins offense that looks surprisingly efficient with quarterback Kirk Cousins at the helm.

Before examining Cousins in greater detail, let's take a look around the division.

 

NFC East Standings

The collective winning percentage of all four teams in the division is .411 (23-33).

 

Team Record PF PA
Philadelphia Eagles 8-6 364 349
Dallas Cowboys 7-7 393 385
New York Giants 5-9 251 357
Washington Redskins 3-11 305 434

 

Both the Eagles and Cowboys have scored more points than they've allowed by a small margin. Neither the Giants nor Redskins are even close.

Using Pythagorean Expectation, we can calculate the number of wins each team "should" have based on their points scored and allowed.

 

Team Wins Pythagorean Wins Difference
Eagles 8 7.35 -0.65
Dallas Cowboys 7 7.17 +0.17
Giants 5 4.24 -0.76
Washington Redskins 3 4.23 +1.23

 

Based on their on-field play, the only NFC East team with the record they "should" have, i.e. the one that is most likely, is Dallas. The Eagles and Giants should both have one less win, while the Redskins should have one more victory.

 

Injury Report

The Cowboys are still dealing with injuries to a few key players, particularly on the defensive side of the ball.

 

Player Injury Status
Sean Lee Neck Out
Morris Claiborne Hamstring Questionable
Dwayne Harris Hamstring Questionable
Bruce Carter Hamstring Questionable

 

Linebacker Sean Lee is going to miss this game, and owner Jerry Jones has expressed concerns about Lee's health.

It will be interesting to see if Lee can make it back for the Cowboys' (potentially) huge Week 17 showdown with Philly. If Dallas has any hope of slowing down the Eagles' spread rushing attack, Lee needs to be on the field.

 

What Must Improve: The Blame Game

I've seen a lot of blame go around this week, and the truth is that just about everyone in Dallas deserves a little bit of blame. The idea that just one person is at fault is crazy. 

No, the Cowboys shouldn't have to mount a late comeback when they score 36 points in a game, but that doesn't absolve head coach Jason Garrett from ensuring that Romo didn't even have the chance to throw a pass on the late 2nd-and-6 interception by calling a run instead of a run/pass option.

No, quarterback Tony Romo shouldn't have been placed in a situation in which he had the option to throw on his first interception versus Green Bay, but he also should be smart enough to just not attempt a pass there.

Arguing that a player/coach/unit deserves no blame for sub-optimal actions because they "shouldn't have been in that situation" is akin to letting a burglar off of the hook because the country is in a recession. Hey, if he had a little bit more money, he wouldn't have needed to steal, right?

 

Spotlight on Kirk Cousins

I write for the Dallas Cowboys' Star Magazine, and for this week's issue, I broke down Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins. Here's an excerpt: 

If we’re projecting Cousins’ future, we can pretty much do it as if he were a rookie. So what do we know about the fourth-round pick out of Michigan State? Well, he’s 6’3” with 9 ¾” hands. I bring up those measurements because both are strongly linked to quality play at the quarterback position. I’ve proposed in the past that height doesn’t actually help quarterbacks much—they don’t need to “see over the line,” as so many claim, because they throw through lanes—and that height is correlated with quarterback success only because, in general, taller people have larger hands.

The reason I initially began studying hand size for quarterbacks is because Philadelphia Eagles coach Chip Kelly—someone who strongly embraces analytics and its role in building sustainable success in the NFL—has suggested he wants quarterbacks to have large hands because it helps them control the football and throw it accurately. Since running the numbers, I’ve bought into that theory in a big way.

Well, Cousins’ hands are above-average for his height. They aren’t in the elite range of quarterbacks like Drew Brees and Russell Wilson—both of whom have succeeded “in spite” of their short stature—but they’re large enough to suggest he can be proficient in the big leagues.

When you add in the fact that Cousins was efficient in the Big Ten (64.1 percent completion rate and 8.1 career YPA) and has been impressive in limited NFL action (61.6 percent completion rate and 7.9 YPA through Week 14), the basic foundation is there for the Redskins’ backup to eventually become a long-term NFL starter.

That was written prior to Cousins' impressive Week 15 performance against the Falcons in which he went 29-for-45 (64.4 percent) for 384 yards (8.47 YPA), three touchdowns and two picks. With how Robert Griffin III was playing post-injury in 2013, I don't think Cousins is much of a downgrade, i.e. the Cowboys better be on their game this week.

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