Plenty of news in Cowboys Nation as the team prepares to close out the 2020 regular season with an early-2021 date in New York. Dallas can still make the postseason with a win and help, although their chances of going on to compete for the Lombardi Trophy are statistically infinitesimal. But even one of the franchise’s all-time legends agrees there is hope, and that’s something that seemed lost just a few weeks ago.
The Giants know the Cowboys are different bunch now, and their head coach breaks down the ways. A seemingly healthy Ezekiel Elliott could be looking at another 1,000-yard season, and some are already looking ahead to the Cowboys’ possible opponent in a wild-card round. Whatever happens, there will be decisions to be made: about fifth-year options on rookie contracts, about Andy Dalton’s future, about Mike Nolan and the Dallas defense that has only just recently come alive… and about the franchise tag of one Rayne Dakota Prescott. All that, and a Cowboys legend blows out the candles on another birthday cake. Here’s the News and Notes.
Troy Aikman says "Cowboys are the best" in the NFC East :: 105.3 The Fan
Link Troy Aikman won more postseason games than all but eight men in the history of the league, so he knows a thing or two about what a playoff powerhouse looks like. And he says this year's version of the Cowboys can do some damage if they get there. "I do feel that the Cowboys are the best team in the division," Aikman told 105.3 The Fan. "And this team is capable, when they're playing well, I think they're capable of giving anybody a run."
Zeke focused on playoff chase, not 1,000 yards :: The Mothership
Link Ezekiel Elliott needs 63 rushing yards to top the 1,000-yard mark for the fourth time in his five seasons as a pro. Tony Dorsett and Emmitt Smith are the only other players in franchise history to accomplish that. But Elliott says he's focused on a different goal: "To get 1,000 yards, it would mean a lot. I'm not really worried about it. I want to win this football game and get a shot in the playoffs."
Giants head coach Joe Judge knows Cowboys are 'not the same team we played earlier in the year' :: SNY
Link The Giants' head coach complimented Cowboys offensive coordinator Kellen Moore on adjusting his attack well to life without Dak Prescott, "mixing it up through the screen game and run game to create some shots down the field." But he may be even more worried about the Dallas defense: "I think turnovers is what's really separating them in how they've played lately from earlier in the year," Judge said.
Daring to dream: Who could Cowboys meet in 1st round of 2020 playoffs? :: Inside the Star
Link There is, of course, the matter of beating New York and then needing Philadelphia to dispatch Washington, but it can't hurt to take a peek ahead at the postseason bracket. Should the Cowboys make the dance, their first opponent would be either Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers or Jared Goff and the Los Angeles Rams.
Wednesday Injury Report: Elliott improved, several updates for safety :: Cowboys Wire
Link Ezekiel Elliott is no longer listed on the team's injury report. He worked with trainers on the side on Wednesday morning, but was a full go in the afternoon. Zack Martin's name also came off the list, but he is still not practicing. Donovan Wilson and Darian Thompson sat out the day's session, while Xavier Woods was limited in individual drills.
Weighing fifth-year options for 2018 NFL Draft's first-rounders :: NFL.com
Link Personnel guru Gil Brandt takes a look at the first-round picks from 2018 and decides whether their current team should use this coming offseason to extend their rookie contracts through the 2022 campaign. At the risk of enraging Cowboys Nation, Brandt believes they should say no to fan favorite Leighton Vander Esch. The reason? Injuries, plain and simple. "Over the past two seasons, he's appeared in just 19 games, with 132 tackles in that span," fewer than he recorded in his rookie season alone.
4 key reasons for the Cowboys defense’s improvement during Dallas’ current win streak :: Dallas Morning News
Link Facing a trio of quarterbacks who weren't the Week 1 starter for their teams helped, for sure. And yes, the sudden surge in takeaways has been huge. But the offense's improvements is paying dividends on the other side, too. Maybe most surprising? The much-maligned secondary "has worked out its early-to-midseason kinks" and has minimized costly busts in coverage.
D-Law: It doesn't matter who's in front of us :: The Mothership
Link That bit in the previous story about the Cowboys defense getting to tee off against backup passers? Don't try selling it to DeMarcus Lawrence. And it won't matter come Week 17 anyway, when he has Daniel Jones in his sights. "He's still a young quarterback, has a lot to learn in the NFL," Lawrence said. "It's all about quarterbacks feeling safe and if their offensive line makes them feel safe enough to hold the ball for three or four seconds, so be it. But that's not the case here. You'll see on Sunday."
Game Theory: Every team's chance to make Super Bowl LV entering Week 17 :: NFL.com
Link Last week's win over the Eagles boosted Dallas's probability of reaching the postseason from 9.2% to 26.5%, but earning a trip to the Super Bowl is still the longest of long shots. According to Cynthia Frelund's mathematical models, the Cowboys have just a 0.3% chance of eventually representing the NFC in Tampa.
The Cowboys' top 3 free agency signings of 2020 :: The Landry Hat
Link Some of the free agency signings of this past offseason have to rank among the worst in franchise history. But there were a few booms among the busts, too. Steven Mullenax points out how Andy Dalton, Aldon Smith, and Greg Zuerlein have proven their worth during the 2020 season.
Randy Gregory has been dominant. What does it mean for Cowboys’ DL? Nolan Report :: The Athletic
Link If this late-season uptick proves to be enough to keep defensive coordinator Mike Nolan safe in Dallas, he may have Randy Gregory to thank most of all. Bob Sturm tallied seven splash plays for Gregory on Sunday. That makes 20 in just 250 snaps, "which is basically DeMarcus Lawrence production playing opposite Lawrence."
Mailbag: Predicting Andy Dalton's Future? :: The Mothership
Link The signing of Andy Dalton in the offseason was seen as a one-year insurance policy, and boy, did it pay off for Dallas. But could it be a long-term relationship? Will another team pony up enough to pry Dalton away from his hometown? Would he decline the chance at a starting role somewhere else just to remain Dak Prescott's backup? Team writers Nick Eatman and David Helman differ when asked.
Great News! Dallas Cowboys can sign Dak Prescott long-term in 5 days :: Sports Dallas-Fort Worth
Link The Cowboys could make their most important move of the 2021 season as early as this coming Monday. Once the regular season has been completed, clubs will be allowed to sign players currently under the franchise tag. Reid Hanson reviews the dollars and cents of Dak Prescott's situation as a refresher course for what will undoubtedly be the big story in Dallas just as soon as the team concludes its 2020 business.
Two-time Super Bowl champ, Ring of Honor cornerback Mel Renfro celebrates 79th birthday :: Gil Brandt (Twitter)