The Cowboys can put some respect on the NFC East’s name

Dallas Cowboys Quarterback Dak Prescott (Photo by George Walker/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Dallas Cowboys Quarterback Dak Prescott (Photo by George Walker/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images) /

Despite being the butt of many jokes over the course of the season, the Dallas Cowboys can give the NFC East some true respect by making a solid playoff run.

The NFC East hasn’t been very competitive for most of the season, with the moniker of NFC Least seeming far more appropriate. The New York Giants have been an outright disaster for the past several years while the Washington Redskins fired their head coach early in the season, leaving the division in the hands of the Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys.

Both teams have the talent to be a strong postseason threat, but the Eagles are likely a one-and-done playoff entrant thanks to the litany of injuries they’ve suffered. That leaves the Cowboys as the NFC East’s last hope of gaining respect this season, and they are capable of fulfilling said challenge.

The Cowboys finally put all the pieces together in last week’s blowout victory over the Los Angeles Rams, which was easily Dallas’ most impressive effort of the season. The Rams entered with arguably desperation and were the hotter team, but Dallas dismantled them by stifling the running game and making big plays against the Rams’ defense.

Dallas has a great shot to beat the Eagles on Sunday and clinch the division, but simply getting into the playoffs at 9-7 and hosting the NFC West runner-up won’t get respect from the football world. Finding a way to win that game and get back to the second round of the playoffs will.

All the talent Dallas entered the season with hasn’t left, so unlike the Eagles, the Cowboys are a healthy unit getting ready for a playoff push. The one significant change is at kicker, releasing the inconsistent Brett Maher in favor of veteran Kai Forbath, who rewarded Dallas’ faith in him by making all of his kicks in the Rams’ game.

One of the traditional recipes for victory in the playoffs is defense and a strong running game, which Dallas has in spades. The Dallas defense gives up just 20.7 points per game, 13th-best in the league, and its strength is stopping opposing quarterbacks.

The Cowboys are also very stingy through the air, allowing only 220 yards per game and 6.8 yards per attempt, ranking inside the top-10 in the league in both categories. That will certainly help if they have to play Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson, and Drew Brees in January.

Additionally, Dallas’ offense is efficient, gaining a league-leading 434 yards per game, giving it plenty of chances to put points on the board. Those opportunities haven’t gone to waste, with the Cowboys ranking fifth in the league by scoring 27 points a game.

The offense is carried by its rushing attack, which contributes 134 yards per game. Ezekiel Elliott remains the face of that group, rushing for 1,188 yards and 11 touchdowns on the season.

The power running game makes life much easier for Dak Prescott, who has already set career-highs in passing yardage (4,334 yards) and passing touchdowns (26) over the Cowboys’ first 14 games. Prescott’s ability to control games through the air now, as opposed to simply being a complementary quarterback, could be the difference for Dallas as they look to get past the second round of the playoffs for the first time since the glory days of Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, and Michael Irvin.

It is fair to question the coaching ability of Jason Garrett, who has far too often gotten too little out of all the talent at his disposal, but their performance against the Rams was a sign he can still get through to this team. Its hard to overstate the impact of one game, especially when Dallas’ body of work over the course of the season has been largely mediocre, but there is something to be said for peaking at the right time.

If the Cowboys can build on this performance with an emphatic victory over the Eagles, they can start to build some serious momentum for the playoffs. This could well be a case of the hottest team going into January doing some damage once the playoffs start, and that division title would set the Cowboys up with a home playoff game on Wild Card weekend.

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