In the NFL world, teams are remembered for how they play in the month of December. The final month of the regular season features a four or five-game schedule of games that frequently determine which teams claim the division crown or a playoff berth in an ultra-competitive league.
The Cowboys are not only in a prime position to wrap up an NFC East title, but they have an outside shot at swiping the No.1 seed if they take care of business and get a few breaks along the way. With the pressure mounting on the Cowboys to play their best ball down the stretch, here are a few thoughts and observations from Week 14:
Mike McCarthy's guarantee boosts the Cowboys' confidence
It is unfortunate the Cowboys' late-game collapse marred a dominant performance from a team that looked like a title contender in DC. The Cowboys whooped the WFTs for three-plus quarters until complacency set in and the team allowed the division rival to close to within a score in the fourth quarter.
That said, the Cowboys were the superior team and their swagger was on display from the opening kick. Perhaps McCarthy's bold victory proclamation boosted the confidence of the team or might have alleviated some of the pressure on the squad due to the media's obsession over the head coach's words.
With all of the attention focused squarely on McCarthy's "guarantee", the Cowboys rose to the occasion and played with the kind of intensity that is required to win playoff games. If the Cowboys can bring the same kind of energy that helped the team knock off the WFT, McCarthy's team could realize their potential as a title contender.
Is Dak in a slump?
Mike McCarthy can dismiss the questions regarding No.4's recent struggles but a quick study of the stat line reveals a veteran quarterback that is playing below his lofty standard. While some of Prescott's woes should be attributed to a calf injury that has limited some of his mobility and likely impacted his concentration, it is hard to ignore the number of off-target throws that we have seen from the Cowboys' QB1 in recent weeks.
The accuracy woes are compounded by the questionable judgment that has resulted in more interceptions from Prescott (six picks in the last six games) than we are accustomed to seeing from a quarterback with superb management skills Perhaps he simply needs more game reps with his first-team receivers (Michael Gallup, CeeDee Lamb, and Amari Cooper) to rebuild the chemistry and connectivity that has been lacking due to a spate of injuries impacting the WR corps, but the veteran must fix his accuracy issues to help a high-octane offense regain the explosiveness that made it a feared unit.
Corey Clement could be an X-factor
Injuries to Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard could diffuse some of the potency of the Cowboys' rushing attack down the stretch. With uncertainty surrounding their availability and on-field capabilities, the Cowboys might need to utilize Clement out of the bullpen as a super-sub to replace one of the runners in the rotation. The veteran certainly flashed enough potential to handle RB2 duties with Pollard on the sidelines, and his solid performance should encourage the team to keep him in the mix as a valuable backup. As a Super Bowl champion with the Eagles as a prominent role player, Clement's experience could pay off with the team poised to play a series of big games down the stretch.
Dan Quinn's defense is ballin'
I do not know of anyone who expected the Cowboys' defense to play at an elite level this season, but DQ has waved a magic wand and transformed this collection of newbies and holdovers into a band of bandits obsessed with taking the ball away. The Cowboys are second in the league in turnovers (27) fueled by a defense that has swiped an NFL-high 20 interceptions.
The takeaways have been complemented by a sack-happy pass rush that has produced 31 sacks. Although the sack total puts the Cowboys in the middle of the pack, the combination of persistent pressure and sticky coverage has enabled the defense to create more takeaway opportunities on the perimeter.
With Micah Parsons, Randy Gregory, Demarcus Lawrence, Trevon Diggs and a cast of unheralded defenders thriving in their respective roles, the Cowboys' defense gives them a chance to win without relying on the offense to put up a 40-burger each week.
Micah Parsons makes his case for the DPOY award
The comparisons to Lawrence Taylor are real based on impact potential and production, not his playing style. Parsons is a freak show with a unique set of skills as a sideline-to-sideline defender and pass rusher. He is a dynamic athlete with extraordinary initial quickness and hand-to-hand combat skills at the line of scrimmage. The rookie sensation complements his raw talents with a relentless energy that overwhelms opponents attempting to slow him down on his way to the quarterback.
Parsons' energy and obsessive pursuit makes him a disruptive force who must be accounted for on each snap. Moreover, it makes him a valuable weapon for DQ to deploy from a variety of positions that enables the Cowboys to exploit vulnerable blockers along the offensive line. With No.11 already besting the numbers put up by Khalil Mack during his Defensive Player of the Year season, it is time for the football world to hand the rookie his flowers as the premier defensive player in the game in his first season on the job.