IRVING, Texas – It's a testament to the grind of an NFL season that injuries and absences will be such a noticeable part of this playoff game.
The Cowboys could be coping with injuries on both their offensive and defensive lines – not to mention injuries to their linebackers. The Lions are without a starting guard and could be without a first-round pick at defensive tackle.
That's the nature of the game. And the winner of this game will be the team that does the best job, not just winning its matchups, but coping with its losses.
As you might expect, this is a popular topic in my final thoughts for the playoffs:
- Even before I heard the news of Lions guard Larry Warford missing this game with a knee injury, there were a couple of different spots where I was focusing along this offensive line where the Cowboys could generate some pressure.
To make up for the loss of Warford, I expect that the Lions will take Travis Swanson, who was the starter at center last week for Dominic Raiola against the Packers, and put him at right guard. They could also use Garrett Reynolds in Warford's place, but in my opinion Swanson is a better player.
As far as those pressure points along the Lions' offensive line, both tackles Riley Reiff and Cornelius Lucas like to set soft and can be driven back into Matthew Stafford. Lucas is really an upright player so look for rushers coming off the left side to put him in some bad spots blocking-wise.
- Look for Jermey Parnell to make his third consecutive start at right tackle this week. As much as we all want to believe this injury to Doug Free will soon heal itself, I just don't see that being the case.
To Free's credit, he is doing all he can to return, but it appears that only surgery could fix the bone spurs that he is dealing with. Parnell has played well in his previous two starts and the feeling is that we will continue to see him make improvement the more he plays. Where Parnell has improved the most in his blocking technique is on those back side cut off blocks where he has to get his head across the defender, not allowing him to work down the line.
Parnell is matched up with Jason Jones, who has a rangy, long build and at times gets really tall and upright, which allows blockers to get under his pads. Last week against the Packers, Jones had trouble with right tackle Bryan Bulaga, who was able to power him off the ball in the running game. When Parnell bends his knees and gets his hands inside the defender he is strong enough to control his man and capture that corner.
- I am surprised that Lions rookie tight end Eric Ebron has not been as productive this season --especially with the way this offense likes to throw the ball. Where the Cowboys need to be careful with Ebron is that, much like they saw from Coby Fleener with the Colts, Ebron will line up along the line of scrimmage and run downfield routes from there. There will also be snaps where Ebron lines up in the slot and on the far outside, as well, in an attempt to get a mismatch.
Look for Rod Marinelli to continue to work his dime packages with Tyler Patmon in the game possibly treating Ebron like a wide receiver in coverage. Even if Marinelli matches Barry Church or J.J. Wilcox with him that would not be bad given the way these Cowboys safeties have played in coverage the last four games against some quality tight ends.
- Coaches have been extremely pleased with the way James Anderson has stepped in during practice this week, filling in for Anthony Hitchens and offering some nice protection as an experienced veteran linebacker. Joining Anderson on the field this week was Dekoda Watson, who suffered a hamstring injury in the Giants game in November.
This week both Anderson and Watson took snaps with the second defense, and there were times where they were both on the field at the same time. If Hitchens can't dress against the Lions it is my belief that you would most like see Watson as the swing guy at both outside spots with Cam Lawrence as the backup Mike. Watson is a more experienced special teamer and that is the reason I believe that he dresses before Anderson on Sunday.