By Shawn Lealos
The Dallas Cowboys finished their regular season with a loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, but they rested their key starters and the game meant little when it comes to the upcoming playoffs. The Cowboys now have a chance to rest the team’s banged up starters and prepare for their first playoff game, which will come in two weeks against the worst team that comes out of the Wildcard games. Here is a look at the Cowboys’ team news heading into their first round bye of the NFL playoffs.
Shoring Up the Offensive Line
The Dallas Cowboys rested starting offensive tackle Tyron Smith in the regular season finale. Smith had played injured through most of the season and left the team’s game against the Detroit Lions two weeks ago with a right knee sprain. The injury is not expected to keep him out of the playoffs, and the two weeks worth of rest will have him ready to return. With that said, the Cowboys were very limited on the offensive line against the Philadelphia Eagles.
That might change this week, as the Cowboys have a chance to recall La’el Collins from the injured reserve. The second-year guard has been out with a toe injury since surgery Oct. 4. Collins has finished his rehab and the team is ready to bring him back to add another big body to the best offensive line in the NFL. Dallas is also working out former first round draft pick Jonathan Cooper after the Cleveland Browns released him last week.
Rod Marinelli Has Defense Playing Like Stars
When the 2016 NFL season started, the Dallas Cowboys knew they had a great offense, but most people pointed to their defense as the weak point. Defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli has always been able to get his players to play above their skill sets, and he has the Cowboys defense playing to win. Dallas’ defense is ranked 14th in the NFL and first overall against the run. They are only giving up 83.5 yards-per-game this season.
On top of that, the Cowboys have ranked in the bottom of the NFL for sacks for the last couple of years. Things were much the same this season until something seemed to click. Dallas now ranks 13th in the NFL in total sacks with 36. Benson Mayowa is on his third team in four seasons; he has four sacks in the last five games. David Irving has three sacks in the last three games; Maliek Collins has three sacks in his last four games; Randy Gregory got the first sack of his career last weekend. The team is peaking at just the right time.
The Rookies Are Soaring
The Dallas Cowboys are in the playoffs because of their star rookies: Quarterback Dak Prescott and running back Ezekiel Elliott. Prescott finished third in the NFL in total quarterback ranking, behind only Tom Brady and Matt Ryan, and ahead of Aaron Rodgers. Ryan and Brady both had a QBR of 83 and Prescott was at 82.
In his first season in the NFL, Elliott won the NFL rushing title with 1,631 yards. His closest competitor was Jordan Howard of the Chicago Bears, and Elliott won by 318 yards while sitting out the final game of the season.
One of these players will win the NFL rookie of the year award, and they are both in talks for the NFL MVP. They owe much of their success to the Cowboys offensive line, with both of the rookies and three offensive linemen voted into the Pro Bowl this year. Of course, all five players would love to miss the Pro Bowl, because the Super Bowl teams do not send their players to that game.