FRISCO, Texas – Here's hoping this notebook finds you having a happy holiday season.
It's another weekend during the season, but I'd imagine that many of you are out of your normal routine, enjoying the holiday weekend with friends and family. But somewhere in the middle of all that merriment, it's going to be time to sit down and watch another Cowboys football game.
You know what's on the line by now. The winner of this game keeps its playoff hopes alive for another week. The loser is essentially eliminated from a crowded NFC wild card field. Christmas Eve also marks the return of Ezekiel Elliott, who should be fresh after serving a six-game suspension.
All the storylines have been laid out, and everyone knows what's at stake. Let's skip past all that and get into the game prep, as this is what I'm looking for when it comes time to suit up on Sunday afternoon.
- I've been going back and forth all week on whether or not Tyron Smith will play this weekend. I know the coaching staff has been working with Byron Bell all week, so he will be ready if needed. The decision to go with Smith or Bell will be a true game time decision. If I were a betting man, I'd put my money on Smith playing where earlier in the week, I would not have believed that would have been the case dealing with the injury that he had.
- No Orlando Scandrick for a third-straight game, so once again the rookies will get the majority of the work. As a unit they've played well without him so I don't anticipate this to be a problem. Jourdan Lewis will start in his spot with Xavier Woods filling in at the slot. Keep an eye on Anthony Brown getting some work in the slot, as well. Brown is playing with more confidence since he was removed from the starting lineup and the staff has been pleased with what they've seen from him.
- We haven't said much about Datone Jones since he's arrived on the scene, but against the Seahawks you might hear more about him. There have been some snaps where Jones has shown power getting upfield -- which is exactly the weakness of this Seahawks offensive line. As a unit, especially inside with Ethan Pocic and Luke Joeckel at guard, they've struggled with rushers that show the power trait. I expect that we'll see some success from both Jones and Maliek Collins working inside against the Seahawks.
- This is a huge game, so don't think for a minute that Anthony Hitchens is not going to play. This has always been a trait for Hitchens that no matter how banged up he might be, he is always going to find a way to line up and play. As much as Russell Wilson likes to move around in the pocket, this defense is going to need guys like Hitchens and Sean Lee to make those key tackles in space to prevent those big plays.
- Rod Marinelli likes to mix his coverages in the secondary and the personnel that he puts with certain key opponents. How Marinelli handles Jimmy Graham will be interesting. My gut tells me that as much as Marinelli wants to mix that coverage, he's going to put Byron Jones on him and focus on other areas. Jones has played down far more this season than he has played back. Jones throughout his career has had some success dealing with those tight ends that are downfield players. Jones has a feel for how physical he needs to be and how to position himself to deny the ball.
- Without Kam Chancellor in the lineup, Brad McDougald has had to step up in his place. McDougald is a willing a player, but he's not nearly as physical around the line as Chancellor was in the box. Chancellor had the ability to stand in there, take on linemen and make plays at the point of attack. McDougald tends to get engulfed and give ground, which is hurting the Seahawks on run defense. When the Cowboys are moving the ball on the ground, it's those second level blocks that trigger the big play and without Chancellor I can see them taking advantage of that.
- The Seahawks are starting their own rookie in the secondary with Shaquill Griffin. I liked Griffin coming out of Central Florida, so here's just a reminder of his scouting report: Toughness. Quickness. Ability to drive on the ball. Will tackle in space. Better when he can play tight. Speed to run down ball carriers. Can make quarterback pay if late with ball. Will react to double move. Speed to carry receiver across. Stays in position for contested catch. Can track the ball. Shows ball skills to make plays. Will high point the ball. Showed lateral quickness and agility. Some snaps where he is up and down with his consistency.
- My weekly guess at the Cowboys inactives: WR Brice Butler, CB Orlando Scandrick, LB Justin Durant, DT Richard Ash, TE Blake Jarwin, DE Benson Mayowa, DE David Irving.