The Dallas Cowboys are in an all-too-familiar situation. Entering Week 17, the Cowboys play another do-or-die finale to determine if they make the playoffs, or go home.
This is the third straight season Dallas is in this scenario, and it’s well documented that the last two opportunities didn’t turn out so well.
In 2011, the Giants trounced the Cowboys in New Jersey. Eli Manning and company dominated the entire game and won 31-14.
Last year, Dallas lost a heartbreaker at the hands of rookie Robert Griffin III in the nation’s capital. Tony Romo’s late-game interception sealed the 28-18 defeat for the Cowboys.
This week, Dallas gets the other divisional opponent in the Philadelphia Eagles. Perhaps the home-field advantage and the experience of the last two seasons will change the team’s fortunes this time around.
Let’s take a look at some bold predictions for the Cowboys’ extremely important matchup.
All statistics via Pro-Football-Reference.com unless indicated otherwise.
Dallas should lean more on Murray.
Last week, DeMarco Murray became the first Cowboy to rush for 1,000 yards since Julius Jones in 2006. Now that they finally have a consistent runner, they must utilize him to his full potential.
Against Washington, Murray rushed 22 times for 96 yards and a touchdown. However, even though Murray proved he was effective on the ground, Dallas got away from the run, as it typically does. Part of the reason was because it trailed in the game.
An important objective for the Cowboys this week should be to avoid falling behind early and strictly relying on the passing game. This will be even more crucial if Romo doesn’t play.
No matter who’s at quarterback, Dallas needs to consistently run all game.
Running for four quarters does several things. It keeps the offense balanced to relieve pressure on the quarterback and doesn’t allow Philly to blitz at will. It would also allow the Cowboys to control more time of possession, keeping Nick Foles and the explosive Eagles offense on the sideline.
They haven’t done it all season, but if the Cowboys can run for four quarters, they should be in good shape.
Garrett is coaching for his job.
Unfortunately, another factor that has hindered Dallas from taking a step to the next level has been the coaching. Often it seems as if the Cowboys’ coaches do not make enough adjustments during the games and simply get outcoached in the process.
In Week 17, Garrett and company will be going against first-year coach Chip Kelly. Kelly has surprised many thus far, leading his Eagles to a winning record and an opportunity at winning the division.
Part of the reason Garrett catches so much heat for not being a great coach is because he’s accomplished zero with what’s regarded as a quality roster. Dallas has plenty of talent on both sides of the ball and has yet to post a record better than 8-8 under the coach.
It may seem unlikely, but Garrett may just have to outcoach Kelly in order for Dallas to win. With his job potentially on the line, we could see the Princeton grad's best effort this week.
This is now Orton's team.
Besides the slim hope that Romo can be Superman and play through his back injury, most signs point to Kyle Orton playing quarterback Sunday.
The last time Orton started a game in the NFL was on New Year's Day in 2011 for the Kansas City Chiefs. He led his team to a 7-3 victory that day over the Denver Broncos in the final game of the year.
Despite his long break between starts, Orton is widely regarded as one of the better backups in the league. The veteran has been around a long time and has been with the Cowboys for several seasons now, so there should be no surprises for him.
Unlike many backups who don’t have a lot of familiarity starting, Orton has experienced just about everything in the NFL. The 31-year-old has made 69 starts to date, which will only benefit him.
I think Orton playing well will surprise a number of people, but it shouldn’t be too far-fetched. If he can have a passer rating better than 100, Dallas should find itself back in the playoffs.
Hatcher will be important in containing the Eagles offense.
There’s no debating what makes the Philadelphia offense tick. LeSean McCoy is the Eagles’ best player and will get plenty of touches this week.
For the 2013 season, McCoy has 1,476 rushing yards and nine touchdowns while averaging more than five yards per carry. The elusive back also has 51 receptions for an additional 536 yards.
The main objective of the Cowboys defense should be to try to contain McCoy as much as possible. This won’t be an easy task; however, Dallas should be prepared for what is coming.
It won’t help that star linebacker Sean Lee has recently been ruled out of the game. This puts an added onus on the rest of the defensive leaders. Players like Bruce Carter, Jason Hatcher and DeMarcus Ware have to play to their full ability to have a chance at slowing down McCoy.
Of my bold predictions, this could be the most difficult, yet most critical in the Cowboys' attempt to earn a win.
Dallas needs Bryant to continue to dominate.
The final prediction for the Cowboys this week revolves around their best overall player. Dez Bryant is once again having an extremely productive year in spite of not being force-fed the ball like many other teams do with their key player.
In his 2013 campaign, Bryant has 85 grabs for 1,134 yards and 12 touchdowns. He’s proven his skill once again this year, often going up against multiple defenders and schemes created specifically for him.
During the first meeting against Philadelphia in October, Bryant had eight receptions for 110 yards in the winning effort.
Even though the receiver didn’t score against the Eagles the first time around, one touchdown Sunday will give No. 88 the most in his short career. He also had 12 last season.
Bryant hasn’t had a multiple-touchdown game since October 27 against Detroit. He has, however, scored in each of the last four games. With the playoffs on the line, I expect plenty of production from Bryant, and getting in the end zone three times will do just that.