Eatman: Season-Ending Win Provides 3 Trouble Signs & 3 Reasons For Hope

PHILADELPHIA - Who wants to recap that one?

Hey, this guy has covered a few football games and that one right there has to rank right up there (or should it be down there?) as one of the worst games I can remember.

Hey, but the best thing about those last four quarters was that it wasn’t five quarters. I kept thinking how awful this is going to be if regulation ended with a 0-0 tie and we had to keep going.

Anyways, the Cowboys were able to get the win, which might seem hollow to some, but when you think about the label Jason Garrett carries of being an “8-8 coach,” you know he had to feel better about finishing this season with a 9-7 mark, regardless if this 6-0 win was as ugly as a victory can get.

So now that the season is over, let’s not do a lot of reflecting over this past game in Philly. It was a boring game where one team was trying to stay healthy and get ready for the playoffs, and the other was just trying to limp its way to the finish line.

There’s not a lot you can take from a game like this, but hopefully I could find a little. I decided to pick three things from this game that could be encouraging and something to build on for 2018. On the flip side, I’ll add three more that came from this season finale that could be somewhat disturbing as we move forward.

Trouble Signs:

  • Let’s begin with arguably the most surprising. Who would’ve thought we would finish this season concerned about Dan Bailey, but that’s exactly where we stand. In the last month of the season, Bailey has missed his first two extra points, two more short field goals and another last week in Seattle that cost them a chance for a comeback. This is unfamiliar territory for Bailey, who entered this season as the NFL’s most accurate kicker of all time. Now, you can’t help but wonder how he’s going to be next season. After the game, he didn’t blame his recent slide to his groin injury, but simply said he hasn’t found a rhythm for whatever reason. Last week, it was two missed kicks to the right and Sunday was too bad misses to the left. As much as we want to chalk it up to the injury, there’s no way anyone can head into 2018 season just assuming everything will be fine. I’m sure Bailey will at least have some competition like every year, but it might be a little more than a camp-body this time around.
  • If anyone has listened to our podcast “Cowboys Break” over the last five years, they know the one area I think has been lacking the most around here. Yes, there’s a need for speed at receiver and it has been a glaring need that has never shined brighter than this year. It seems like everyone has caught on to this, which hopefully will force the Cowboys’ hand in the draft or free agency. Once again, we saw this team struggle to have receivers make plays down the field. Ironically, what would’ve been Dez Bryant’s longest play of the season – a 52-yard catch – was called back due to holding. Another piece of irony – but it doesn’t appear as if Brice Butler is a big priority to re-sign in 2018, yet he made the two biggest plays in the passing game. Without Butler this game, the Cowboys might be an 8-8 team.

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  • We’ve hit a special teams area, and then offense, so it would make sense to go to the defense now. Then again, the Cowboys pitched a shutout for the first time since 2010. While we all know the Eagles weren’t at full-strength, there’s really not much from this game to be upset about. So, let’s go back to the offense and discuss the quarterback situation. I’m not a believer that Dak Prescott is a problem moving forward. I think we saw him take a step back from his rookie year, but who didn’t see that one coming? As I said before the season began, if Dak Prescott has a better overall season in 2017 than he did in 2016, this team would be in the Super Bowl. Obviously neither one occurred and they go hand in hand. Does Dak need to get better? For sure, and he’ll be the first to admit it. He wasn’t polished as a passer in the pocket and we saw that if you limit his weapons around him, he has a hard time making plays on his own. I don’t think the Cowboys should bring in competition for him, other than maybe a mid-round draft pick for backup purposes. Personally, I would like to see more tweaks in the offense that fits his game a little more. This team doesn’t stretch the field vertically and if you saw more routes down the field, I think it would allow him to utilize his playmaking ability both as a runner and passer on the move.

Reason For Hope

  • Now, we can talk about the defense. This unit really finished the season strong and it started, oddly enough, after the Thanksgiving Day game in which the Cowboys had no answers for the Chargers and Philip Rivers. Since then, the defense hasn’t allowed more than two touchdowns in the final five games, including its first shutout in seven years. While we know the importance of having Sean Lee back on the field, it should be pointed out a couple of other key starters haven’t been on the field in recent weeks. David Irving missed the last four games with a concussion and Orlando Scandrick missed the last four with a back injury. Now, both players aren’t exactly locks to return although Irving is a restricted free agent and it’s likely the Cowboys will put either a first- or second-round tender to keep him. Scandrick made it sound like he’s on the way out, but it’s not a given that he’s gone. His contract is still very team-friendly and we’ve seen that you can never have too many good corners.
  • Zeke. That’s a reason for hope. It would be one thing if the Cowboys went from 13-3 to 9-7 and we didn’t have a clue what happened. But without throwing out excuses, it was clear this team wasn’t the same without Zeke, and especially different without Zeke, Sean Lee and Tyron Smith. If you’re looking at a half-full glass, you’ll see a team that will get a mid-round pick in the first round to add to a team that should be much better than just a nine-win team, assuming those three guys and a few others can manage to stay healthy. The Cowboys won nine games had their best player – you pick if it’s Zeke or Tyron Smith – miss more than four games. To me, Elliott is the MVP of this team and the fact that he can grind out 103 yards on Sunday, with 38 more in the passing game, speaks to just how productive he is, even in ugly games like that. It’s hard to have a quiet 103 but he manages to do that.

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  • No one really thought this 2017 rookie class would equal last year. You had the NFL’s two best rookies taking the league by storm and carrying the Cowboys to a 13-3 record. But when the dust settled on this season, these rookies did enough to be excited about moving forward – especially the first five picks. All of them found a way to contribute at some point, especially the defensive backs. Towards the end of the season, the Cowboys were rolling with Chido Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis as the starting cornerbacks. It wasn’t always pretty as they gave up a few touchdowns here and there. But they compete and they’re scrappy and those are pretty good qualities for rookies. Xavier Woods found the football a few times and looks like he’ll be better. He made a nice breakup late in the game as well. Ryan Switzer had two big third-down catches as he filled in for Cole Beasley and let’s not forget Taco Charlton, who had a slow start to his rookie year but still finished on a high note. I’ll be anxious to see what an offseason in the weight room will look like for him. All in all, it w as a good rookie class that followed a great one.

So that’s my final take on this 2017 season. There was a healthy mix of good and bad, although the overall goal was not reached.

As we dive into 2018, Cowboys fans should be able to have a Happy New Year. If anything, they should be happy this one is over and a new one is about to start. 

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