The Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys are set to square off in the final week of the 2017 regular season. It’s really a meaningless game for both sides, so we’re gonna talk about the future for a little bit.
In order to preview the Eagles’ Week 17 game against Dallas, I reached out to our mortal enemies over at Blogging The Boys. Dave Halprin kindly took the time to answer my questions about the upcoming game. Let's take a look at the answers.
1 - After going 13-3 in 2016, the Cowboys won’t be heading back to the playoffs this season. What went wrong in 2017?
It almost feels like the better question is what didn't go wrong. The back-and-forth each week about Ezekiel Elliott's suspension was a distraction, then when he did start serving the suspension the Cowboys didn't respond well the following weeks on the field. That was when the season really went downhill. Dak Prescott obviously didn't play nearly as well this year as he did last year, and when your QB isn't firing on all cylinders, life is rough in the NFL. The coaching staff did a poor job of making in-game adjustments as the Cowboys were consistently out-played in the second half of games. There were injuries too, but everybody has those. The injuries for Dallas exposed the lack of depth at certain positions, a failure of roster-building. To top it off, they totally bombed against Seattle, a game they had to win and the Seahawks actually played poorly in the game, the Cowboys just played worse. So there you go, a whole list of things that went wrong, and I haven't even covered them all yet.
2 - To what extent is Dak Prescott’s 2017 season a concern moving forward? What’s the confidence level in him?
It's definitely a concern, but I think in general most people are going to wait until 2018 is over to make any firm judgments. There are those who think he should have never permanently replaced Tony Romo, so they are already trashing him. Others believe Dak walks on water, so everything that happened this year is on the rest of the team. I think most Cowboys fans are somewhat optimistic about his future, but still need to see a bounce-back 2018 season to be totally sold. Include me in that group. Not everything that happened this year is his fault, for instance the number of drops from the wide receivers was baffling, but when the Cowboys needed Dak the most, when Elliott's suspension kicked in, he didn't give the team what they needed. Given that his first year was so spectacular, there was almost no way he was going to repeat it this year, but his regression went a little beyond just coming back to normal in stats. I still believe that he will be the franchise QB the Cowboys need for the next decade, but I'll need a good 2018 from him to have total faith.
3 - Jerry Jones indicated the Cowboys will be sticking with Jason Garrett at head coach. Is that the right decision for Dallas? Should there be other coaching staff changes?
I wish I really knew about Jason Garrett. He's able to deal with Jerry Jones in a productive way, which is a huge challenge for any coach in Dallas. He is by no means a puppet, and has helped to move the Cowboys toward solid drafting and not spending crazy money in free agency. There's a certain stability present with Garrett. But sometimes I think he's not flexible enough. It's like the Cowboys believe too much in their system, and aren't able to make changes and adjustments as necessary. His lack of post-season success this far into his tenure is certainly a problem. Personally, I'm giving him another year, but if 2018 doesn't bring real success, then it will probably be time. The one coaching change I would consider making is offensive coordinator Scott Linehan. It's surprising to say that when the Cowboys have been a juggernaut on offense for most of his time, but his inability to get the offense going without Elliott was hugely disappointing. Some of his in-game play-calling is also questionable. A really good example is the Seattle game when the Cowboys had first-and-goal at the three-yard line, and didn't give the ball to Elliott once. We are a team built on a talented offensive line with an elite running back, and they don't give him the ball. And that has happened many times during Linehan's tenure. Sometimes he has a tendency to abandon the run way too fast.
4 - What was up with Dez Bryant this season? Is there any thought about moving on from him?
Among the fanbase there is that thought, but I doubt the Cowboys organization is thinking about it. One big reason is he would count as $8 million in dead money if they did. Next year would be a much more palatable dead money number ($4 mil) if they chose to go that route. Bryant's numbers have certainly been in decline for the past couple of years and no one can really argue that he is playing like a number one receiver anymore. There are a few theories about what has happened with Dez and they aren't mutually exclusive. One is that he is losing a step and can't create separation anymore. Dez was never really fast, but he seems like he can't get separation much anymore, and he's never been a particularly good route runner. Age and injuries might be catching up with him. Also, Tony Romo was the right kind of QB for Dez, he would "throw Dez open" and trust him to go up and get passes and would throw the back-shoulder pass with perfection. Dak doesn't throw those passes nearly as much. And this year, he had a huge case of the dropsies, with no real explanation. The Cowboys need more dynamic receivers than they have, especially with Dez not commanding double-teams like he used to.
5 - I noticed you wrote a post on BTB arguing that the Cowboys should rest some of their starters this week. Do you even want to see the Cowboys go all out to win considering the potential injury risk and getting a worse draft pick?
If this game had any bearing on playoff status for the Cowboys, the Eagles, or another team in the NFC, then I would advocate the Cowboys play all their starters and treat it as a normal game. Since that isn't the case, I would like the Cowboys to sit certain players for different reasons. One reason is so they don't get a serious injury that would linger into 2018. For example, Ezekiel Elliott. I see no real reason not to shut him down. I would also like to see backup QB Cooper Rush get the majority, if not all, of the playing time. He's very young and inexperienced, and you never know if you're going to need him in place of Dak if an injury occurred for a couple of games in 2018. If the Cowboys needed him to take over for Prescott for say two games in 2018, I would surely like for him to have some real, live game reps as experience. Then there are players I would like to take a look at, like can Ryan Switzer do something as a receiver in the offense? So for a few different reasons, I would rather Dallas treat this more like a preseason game than a regular season game.
6) Who wins this game and why? Score prediction?
No idea. With the possibilities of resting players so prevalent, I literally have no prediction about how this game will go.