3 Takeaways from Cowboys' Week 18 Win

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxFeatured ColumnistJanuary 10, 2022

3 Takeaways from Cowboys' Week 18 Win

0 of 3

    Julio Cortez/Associated Press

    The Dallas Cowboys had little to play for Saturday. They had already locked up the NFC East, while the rival Philadelphia Eagles had already secured a playoff spot. Playoff seeding was the only thing at stake when Dallas and Philadelphia faced off, but the Cowboys still performed like it was an important game.

    Against largely Eagles backups, the Cowboys dominated. They scored on every possession in the first half and won 51-26.

    By playing to win, the Cowboys jumped the Los Angeles Rams in the NFC playoff seeding. While this might not seem significant, it ensures that Dallas won't have to face the vaunted Green Bay Packers in the divisional round—if it overcomes the San Francisco 49ers on Wild Card Weekend.

    Here's what else we learned during the Cowboys' Week 18 win.

Dallas Wanted to Find a Rhythm Before the Playoffs

1 of 3

    Julio Cortez/Associated Press

    Sure, the Cowboys might have been concerned with picking up the No. 3 seed. It's more likely, however, that head coach Mike McCarthy and offensive coordinator Kellen Moore wanted to establish an offensive rhythm before the postseason.

    Dallas has struggled to mesh its opportunistic defense with an explosive offense. We've often seen one or the other this season, but not both—and offensive issues have been more concerning.

    In Week 17 against the Arizona Cardinals, for example, the Dallas offense totaled just 22 points, 301 yards and 45 rushing yards. The defense didn't force a turnover, and the result was another loss. Dallas is now 1-3 in games wherein the defense hasn't notched a takeaway.

    In a largely meaningless game against Philadelphia, Dak Prescott attempted 27 passes, while Ezekiel Elliott carried 18 times. That's a sizeable workload for a game in which staying healthy was more important than getting the win.

    The takeaway? The Cowboys wanted to make sure that they wouldn't be rusty when opening the postseason, which they will do against the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday.

Cedrick Wilson Can Be a Big Factor

2 of 3

    Matt Patterson/Associated Press

    The Cowboys won't have wide receiver Michael Gallup in the postseason, as he suffered a torn ACL in Week 17. They do, however, have Cedrick Wilson, who has slotted in as the team's No. 3 receiver at various points this season and performed well.

    For the season, Wilson has caught 45 passes for 602 yards and six touchdowns. He has provided an impressive passer rating of 130.6 when targeted, according to Pro Football Reference.  There isn't much dropoff with Wilson, if any.

    "Like I always talk about, the biggest reason why this team is good is because of the depth we have. Ced is an example of that," fellow receiver Amari Cooper said, per Rob Phillips of the team's official website. "Somebody goes down, unfortunate that MG went down, Ced can just step in and get the job done."

    Against the Eagles on Sunday, Wilson caught five of six targets for 119 yards and two touchdowns. Expect him to be a difference-maker in the playoffs.

The Defense Will Have to Be Better

3 of 3

    Laurence Kesterson/Associated Press

    Dallas didn't exactly play Philadelphia's A-team on Saturday. Gardner Minshew started in place of Jalen Hurts at quarterback, yet the Eagles were still adept at moving the ball between the 20s.

    Philadelphia converted 10 of its 18 third-down attempts and all three fourth-down attempts. It averaged only 4.5 yards per play but ran 70 of them while still managing to put 26 points on the board. The problem is that 26 points could be too much to concede against a team like San Francisco.

    The 49ers have surged late in the season, winning five of their past six and finding a game plan on defense. Coming into Week 18, the 49ers ranked third in yards allowed and ninth in points allowed. San Francisco could conceivably contain Dallas if the offensive chemistry isn't there.

    If the Cowboys hope to avoid putting pressure on Prescott and Co., they will need to play a tighter brand of defense. Otherwise we might see a shootout that favors the 49ers and their unconventional rushing offense.

    The 49ers rank seventh in rushing; the Cowboys rank just 16th in rushing yards allowed.