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5 Bucks: Elite Teams Finish; OBJ Worth the Risk


The Cowboys are rounding into form as a title contender behind an opportunistic defense and punishing running game that serves up body blows to their opponents. The blue-collar style adopted by the Cowboys lacks pizzazz, but it should serve the team well in the playoffs.

Although there is still plenty of season left to play, the Cowboys look like a well-oiled machine heading down the stretch. Given some time to review their latest game while surveying the rest of the league, here are some of my thoughts on America's Team heading into Week 14…

The Cowboys finish with a bang!

Great teams know how to close games out when they have the opponent teetering on the brink. The Cowboys' 33-point fourth quarter against the Colts suggests Mike McCarthy's squad is capable of delivering knockout blows against staggering foes stunned by the flurry of punches from a star-studded team.

Malik Hooker's 38-yard scoop-and-score kicked off a four-turnover quarter that included three Matt Ryan giveaways (two interceptions and a fumble) and a host of splash plays from an opportunistic defense. The turnover fest showcased the speed, disruptive potential, and ball skills of a unit that plays like their hair is on fire under defensive coordinator Dan Quinn.

The non-stop hustle and relentless pursuit of the football, combined with the simplistic schemes that enable defenders to play at warp speed are integral to the Cowboys' success. The team leads the NFL in sacks (48) and is tied with the Seattle Seahawks with the second-most takeaways (21) this season.

Considering how elite teams routinely finish games with sacks, forced fumbles, or interceptions, the Cowboys' ability to dismiss the Colts with a fourth-quarter flurry suggests the defense is rounding into form as a title contender.

Mike McCarthy makes his point

Protecting the culture is the No.1 job of the head coach. Mike McCarthy's decision to bench Ezekiel Elliott might have been scoffed at by some observers, but sitting down the veteran for violating a team rule will help the head coach maintain the championship culture that he has established this season.

By holding one of the team's best players and unquestioned leaders to a high standard, the rest of the squad will fall in line with the standards that are expected of players within the locker room. As McCarthy creates an environment that demands high levels of commitment, accountability and trust from each player, he must be willing to call out his five-star players in front of the team to maintain his credibility with them.

Given how he was willing to discipline his star running back in a primetime contest that garnered a lot of attention, McCarthy's message certainly will not fall on deaf ears in the locker room.

*The running game keeps rolling *

The combination of Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard has helped the Cowboys field the NFL's seventh-ranked rush offense (145.9 rush yards per game) while mixing a power and finesse approach.

The duo flexed their muscles on the Colts on the way to tallying 168 rush yards and three scores on 29 carries. Elliott's hard-hitting runs between the tackles softened the interior of the Colts' defense and created open lanes for Pollard on the perimeter. With the Colts unable to contain either runner, the Cowboys were able to stay on schedule behind a balanced offensive attack that punches opponents in the face with a power-based running game.

Looking ahead, the Cowboys' dynamic running back tandem should continue to thrive with only one top 10 rushing defense (Washington Commanders) on the remaining schedule. As the team continues to lean into the running game anchored by a pair of dogs in the backfield, the Cowboys are poised to bludgeon opponents with an old school approach.

OBJ would add more star power to the Cowboys' offense

If you are wondering why the Cowboys are kicking the tires on Odell Beckham, Jr., it is all about adding firepower to a lineup that needs another explosive weapon on the perimeter. Although CeeDee Lamb and Michael Gallup have put up solid numbers as the top two options in the passing game, the big play element that OBJ brings would force defensive coordinators to make tough choices when crafting a game plan in the playoffs.

If opponents commit too many resources to the box to neutralize Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard, the Cowboys will have plenty of one-on-one opportunities for Lamb, Gallup and OBJ to exploit on the perimeter. While Lamb and Gallup are certainly capable of winning their matchups against top corners, OBJ is an impact player with big play potential to put points on the board when he blows past defenders in space.

Sure, it might take the former Pro Bowler some time to settle in after recovering from a knee injury, but the risk is worth the reward when assessing his impact as a mid-season acquisition for the Los Angeles Rams. Last season, OBJ tallied 305 receiving yards and five scores on 27 catches in the regular season (eight games) before adding 288 yards and two touchdowns on 21 catches in the playoffs.

As a late-season addition to an offense that is primed and ready to go, OBJ could add some sizzle to a Cowboys' offense that is already championship-caliber.

The NFC (B)East is back

The Cowboys have the third-best record in the NFL, but they are in a dogfight for the NFC East title. The division not only features four teams with records .500-plus records, but each of the teams is a legitimate threat as a playoff contender.

The Eagles have arguably the most complete roster in football with blue-chip players at each of the marquee positions (quarterback, pass catcher, left tackle, right tackle, pass rusher No.1 and pass rusher No.2, and cornerback). Jalen Hurts has the offense playing at an elite level utilizing a dynamic ground attack and big-play passing game to torch opponents. With defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon mixing in pressures with a variety of coverage tactics, the Eagles look like a Super Bowl contender on paper.

Despite the Giants' recent slide, this team could make the post-season due to a dominant runner and stifling defense that enables Brian Daboll to control the tempo of the game. As Saquon Barkley puts the offense on his back as a multi-purpose workhorse, the Giants' defense creates scoring opportunities with timely stops and critical takeaways. If the Giants' QB1 (Daniel Jones) avoids the turnover bug, Daboll effectively junks up the game with a "turtle" (slow down) approach that reduces the total number of possessions in the game. With fewer opportunities to score on offense, opponents are forced to play a slow-down game that plays to the Giants' strengths as a blue-collar squad.

The Commanders are not a dynamic or explosive outfit, but Ron Rivera has created a formula that works for their individual and collective talent. Offensive coordinator Scott Turner has adopted a ground-and-pound style that puts the ball in the hands of Brian Robinson while protecting Taylor Heinicke as a game manager with gunslinger tendencies. With the defense starting to play up to expectations as a top unit featuring a defensive line loaded with first-round talent, the Commanders can beat up opponents with a throwback approach that tests the physicality and toughness of their opponents.

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