By Shawn Lealos
The Dallas Cowboys clinched the NFC East, a first-round bye, and home field advantage in the playoffs two weeks ago. Despite the fact that there was nothing left to play for in their second-to-last-game of the season, Dallas started Dak Prescott and played him the entire game against the Detroit Lions. And while Ezekiel Elliott saw less field time than usual, Dallas’ coaching staff still gave him touches through the game. Now, the Cowboys travel to Philadelphia to end the regular season against the Eagles, and they have tough decisions to make.
Dak Prescott Will Start, Tony Romo Probably Won’t Play at All
The first question is at quarterback, where it looks like Dak Prescott will start for the Dallas Cowboys when they travel to Philadelphia. However, Dallas may want to err on the side of caution when it comes to how much Prescott plays. Team owner Jerry Jones told ESPN that Prescott needs as much work as possible heading into the playoffs, but Dallas wants to avoid injury risks.
Now, Dallas has a backup in Tony Romo who is better than most starting quarterbacks in the NFL. While he has not played since the preseason, he is healthy and can play at a very high level. Despite this, Jerry Jones hinted that Romo won’t play against the Eagles, even if they pull Prescott to protect him from injury. That means Mark Sanchez may be reactivated as the backup this week.
Tyron Smith Injury Update
The biggest reason to protect Prescott in this season finale—and a good reason not to start Tony Romo—is because Pro Bowl tackle Tryon Smith is hurt again. Smith has battled injuries all season and was hurt again against the Lions. He aggravated his MCL sprain, but it won’t keep him out of the playoffs.
Despite that, the Cowboys will want to limit any chance of further complications by holding him out against the Eagles. That opens up the blind spot for the Dallas quarterback, and one bad hit could change the Cowboys’ destiny in 2016.
Ezekiel Elliott To Get Lighter Load
Ezekiel Elliott averaged 22 carries through the first 14 games of the season. Against Detroit on Monday night, he ran the ball only 12 times. Despite the lower output, he still ran for 80 yards and two touchdowns. Elliott is only 177 yards shy of Eric Dickerson’s rookie rushing record, but he probably won’t break the record. Dallas wants to keep Elliott healthy and will likely look to Darren McFadden again against Philadelphia.
McFadden had more carries than Elliott against the Lions, with 49 yards on 14 carries. Alfred Morris, who didn’t have a single rush in the Lions game, may play more against the Eagles as well, as Dallas tries to head into the NFL playoffs healthy when they face their first opponent in the second round. At least in the running game, the Dallas Cowboys are stocked with three extremely talented runners to carry that load.