Monday Night Football does not, sadly, have a song worthy of singing right now. That does not stop the Detroit Lions from playing on it, nor engaging with the Dallas Cowboys as the NFC window closes tighter and tighter. To catch up with Dallas, we spoke with Dave Halprin of Blogging The Boys to get the lowdown.
1. Well, thanks to the Eagles the Cowboys have locked up the division. We know injuries were plaguing this team last year, but what has been the roadmap the Cowboys have followed in their path back to taking the NFC East?
The Cowboys basic roadmap on offense has been follow the offensive line. They are the basis for everything that happens on offense for Dallas and they are among the best units in the league. It's no secret the Cowboys like to run the ball and they will use that to control the clock, move the chains and wear opposing defenses out. Once they draw a defense up, they will take their shots downfield. They complement that on the defensive side of the ball with a defense that doesn't give up too many big plays, is assignment-sound and a hustling bunch that tackles well. The defense makes the opposition really work for points by forcing long drives with plenty of plays, and plenty of opportunities for mistakes, penalties, turnovers or other drive-killers for the opposing offense. That's the Cowboys basic game plan.
2. I've been struggling to parse the excellence of Ezekiel Elliott. It's clear he's been absolutely special in his rookie year, but the Cowboys also hold one of the best offensive lines in the league. How much of Elliott's success is due to this offensive line, and how much is just him?
Ezekiel Elliott would be a special back behind any line, but the Cowboys line does make him better. It's impossible to draw a bold line between how much is Zeke and how much is the line. But Elliott has all the tools for a running back, great vision, acceleration, power to move the pile, good receiver out of the backfield and ability to pass protect with the best. He's gained patience as the season has progressed and has learned to slow down just a bit as the play develops in front of him, and then hit the hole or bounce it outside. What is surprising is how much of a power runner he can be, he almost never goes backward and almost always gains an extra yard or two at the end of the run.
3. Dak Prescott has been having himself a stellar season for a rookie quarterback, however we've seen a couple games where he's been put on the backfoot more than a few times. What areas of his game is he most deficient in right now?
The best defense against Dak seems to be when teams get him a little uncomfortable in the pocket and he'll use poor footwork or bad mechanics. He's a very accurate passer when he sets up without pressure, or when he's on the run. But sometimes in that middle area, when he's being pressured but isn't moving outside the pocket, he can use poor mechanics and become a little inaccurate. The key seems to be to pressure him, but don't let him get outside of the pocket. He also doesn't have the best touch downfield although that seems to have greatly improved as the season has progressed.
4. Name the most critical player on the Cowboys defense.
Easy - Sean Lee. He is having an unbelievable year and has been on the field for 100% of the Cowboys plays on defense this year. He was second in the league in tackles going into this week and has been unblockable at times. He's also very good in pass coverage so he never has to come off the field. The Cowboys are the number one defense in the league against the run and a huge reason why is Lee. He's also one of the smartest football players on the field to go along with his athleticism and instincts, he's the complete package.
5. Best place to get brisket in the DFW area, GO!
No idea, I don't live in the DFW area. Sorry!
(Writer’s note: this part I’ve fielded to a few other writers and it feels very sad. Know your cities before they’re gone from you, beloved. It’s all we got as the world gets a little colder)