FRISCO, Texas – Back with three quick topics as the Cowboys cling to a mathematical playoff thread while looking for their first two-game win streak of the season this Sunday:
- Preseason Prediction
- The Zack Effect
- Mike's Team
just like the Cowboys' playoff hopes, my favorite preseason prediction is unlikely but technically still possible.
Three 1,000-yard receivers.
Here's where the stats stand with three games to play:
- Amari Cooper: 942 yards
- CeeDee Lamb: 742 yards
- Michael Gallup: 647 yards
Cooper is almost assuredly going to crack the century mark for the fifth time in his six-year career. Lamb, if he averages 86 yards a game for the next three games, would become the 10th rookie receiver to reach 1,000 in the last 10 years. Gallup would have to post 118 yards a game to hit 1,000 for the second straight year. He has topped 100 yards just once this season, but that's largely a product of playing with skill players this talented. As he said last week, "If I get one pass a game, I'm perfectly fine with that if we win the game."
Cooper, Lamb and Gallup have proven to be as good together as advertised. Had Dak Prescott played the entire year, we might be talking seriously about a 1,000-yard trio.
That would be cool, right? Sure, though it's not much consolation for a down season. Also, as I said back in training camp, it probably would indicate that something about the offense is a little off-center.
Before his season-ending ankle injury, Prescott showed any remaining doubters that he can be the focal point of the offense. Ezekiel Elliott and the run game is still critical to what they do. Yet he's on pace for 259 carries – a career low minus the 2017 season in which he spent six games on NFL suspension.
There are many reasons for Elliott's dip in touches. At times the play-calling has been pass-first based on various factors: matchups, game situations, pre-snap looks. Turnovers have forced the offense to play from behind quite a bit, too. But if you're winning in the fourth quarter like last Sunday in Cincinnati, you've got more chances to grind out games with Zeke and Tony Pollard.
Huge receiver stats are great, but the Cowboys have played themselves out of games – and away from offensive balance – too many times this season. It's just been that kind of year.
Speaking of the run game:
it's pretty clear that Zack Martin is absolutely essential to what the offense does on the ground.
The Cowboys haven't ruled him out for the season, but it remains to be seen if he'll play in the final two games when he's eligible to come off IR. The Cowboys have hard-working young players filling in at right guard and right tackle. But when Martin is at one of those two spots, there's clearly a difference in production.
According to Pro Football Focus, Martin is the second-ranked run blocker in the NFL this season with a career-best 92.2 grade. The Cowboys have averaged 4.4 yards a carry in his nine complete starts, excluding the second Washington game when he injured his calf on the first drive. In four games without Martin in the lineup, the Cowboys averaged 3.6 yards a carry.
Don't forget the offense's best running stretch of the season: in Martin's three full November starts after returning from a concussion, they averaged 152.3 yards per game and 4.7 yards a carry. Not a coincidence.
I Have No Idea…
why we're even talking about Mike McCarthy's job security this week.
It's really a non-issue, non-story. McCarthy is coming back in 2021, obviously, because the front office has never considered anything to the contrary.
Has this been a disappointing and (in some respects) nightmare season? Absolutely, on a lot of levels. From an on-field perspective, the pandemic isn't an excuse for every misstep. Certain personnel and in-game decisions have been questioned, obviously.
But you can also believe that the Jones family is 100% committed to McCarthy. The challenges surrounding this season, from the shortened offseason to the shifting schedules to all the injuries, are legitimate and extraordinary. Through it all, they believe in McCarthy's past track record building a consistent winner in Green Bay. Yes, he had Hall of Fame quarterbacks to work with there. But Prescott is pretty good, too, and he'll be healthy next year, and the franchise has every intention of getting that long-term deal done.
Tuesday on 105.3 The Fan, Jerry Jones referenced the early challenges that all-time great coaches Tom Landry and Jimmy Johnson faced in Dallas. I would point to another former head coach here: Chan Gailey, who was relieved of his duties in 2000 after just two seasons (both playoff appearances). Jones has acknowledged in recent years that he regretted making that decision so quickly.
Since then, Jones has emphasized the importance of continuity within a coaching staff. Jason Garrett led the team for a full decade before the Cowboys moved on in January.
Now it's McCarthy's turn, and he has a long leash to put his stamp on the program.