FRISCO, Texas – No matter what anyone else thinks, big game for the Cowboys on Christmas Eve:
Eagles vs. Cowboys, 3:25 p.m. Saturday at AT&T Stadium. National TV.
Eagles win, clinch the NFC East and the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs.
Cowboys win, prolong what little suspense seems left for the East title, knowing then they'd have to beat Tennessee and Washington and the Eagles would have to lose to the Saints and Giants for the Cowboys to have a chance in the tiebreaker, which conceivably they would win with a better division record.
Never mind the long odds, as Dak Prescott says, "Now it's about building that momentum to feel confident about where we are at the end of the 17 games we're allotted." And then, "if anything, it's about making a statement to ourselves. … This is about putting our best foot forward, putting our best effort out there and proving to ourselves in all three phases that we're a helluva team and we can go get it done against one of the best teams in the league, whether they are in our division or not."
Proving with Dak in the saddle the Cowboys can play with anyone in these playoffs, no matter if Jalen Hurts is healthy enough to play Saturday afternoon with his sprained shoulder or not.
And knowing there are suddenly questions cropping up about this defense, having just given up 34 points and 503 total yards in the 40-34 overtime loss to the Jaguars on Sunday and an average now of 25.5 points a game over the past four.
Especially that big question on the corner, ever since Anthony Brown ruptured his Achilles in the third quarter of the Indianapolis game. What to do? What to do?
And if three quarters of this past game in Jacksonville is any indication, they are pulling second-year cornerback Kelvin Joseph and going in a different direction after taking him out in the fourth quarter Sunday. The alternatives are many: Nahshon Wright, Mackensie Alexander, Kendall Sheffield, Trayvon Mullen and DaRon Bland.
To me, this seems logical. Of all those guys, which player has played the most NFL snaps this season with the Cowboys? That would be Bland, 437 as the slot corner in the nickel defense. Playing outside would seem an easier task than playing the slot receiver, and on top of that, the rookie Bland leads the team with four interceptions, and among active players – since saw Anthony Brown today riding his kneel-down scooter following surgery to repair his Achilles – Bland is right behind Brown's seven breakups with six.
Put him out there at left corner and then move one of these other guys inside against three wides where, according to our Mick Shots partner Everson Walls, it's easier to give that guy safety help.
And certainly this stat might cause the Cowboys to try something different on the corner than Joseph:
Head coach Mike McCarthy is big on big plays, meaning run or pass for at least 20 yards. The Cowboys offense has 58 of those. Their opponents 36, but 28 of those passing. The most anyone has totaled against the Cowboys in one game is the five by the Packers, a game Brown played only 21 snaps before leaving with a concussion.
Next is four, and two of those four-packs have occurred in the past two games, six passes, two runs, with seven of the eight leading to scores – four touchdown passes.
And no matter win or lose since the Cowboys already have clinched a playoff spot with their 10 wins, this corner needs to be repaired if they are to hold onto their current fifth seed and then truly be ready to take their best _shot_ in the playoffs. Anxious to see just where they go.
- Holding 'Em: Don't think the Eagles are going to show the Cowboys their quarterback hand until the 90 minutes before kickoff when the mandatory inactives must be declared. No reason to give the Cowboys a scouting report on if Hurts (sprained right shoulder) is playing or if backup Gardner Minshew will be getting his first start of the season and snaps of significance. Thus also forcing the Cowboys to spend those precious minutes allowed in practice to prepare for both guys. Hurts has been listed as not practicing these past two days, but heck, the Eagles listed 17 guys on Wednesday's injury report, and he was the only one not practicing. And guessing there probably is no reason to list Hurts on the final report Friday as anything less than questionable if they want to.
- Huge Fallacy: Thanks to my training camp roomie Brad Sham, I've learned this term, "the fallacy of the preordained hit." Brad learned this doing baseball, meaning it goes something like this: Just because a team trailing by two runs, say, and the runner on first is thrown out stealing second, then the next guy up hits a home run, that would mean if the runner had stayed put, the home run would have tied the game. Who knows if the next batter up would have pitched the same? So against Jacksonville, the Cowboys chose to throw the ball on third-and-10 to grab the first down that would have ended the game, the pass incomplete, instead of running the ball and sucking the final timeout out of Jacksonville before punting. But that doesn't mean the Jags still wouldn't have drove for a game-tying field goal as time expired to send the game into overtime. Different clock management, different plays. It's an assumption. But can tell you absolutely for sure the Cowboys would have won the game had they picked up that first down, then able to run out the final minute.
- Immaculate Memory: Death gives no mind to convenience, Steelers great Franco Harris passing away Tuesday at the age of 72, two days shy of the 50-year anniversary of his famed "Immaculate Reception" catch in the 1972 playoffs, giving the Steelers a 13-7 victory over the Raiders on the final play of the game. The Steelers had planned on celebrating the anniversary during Saturday's game against those same Raiders and retiring his No. 32. I vividly remember watching the game live on TV, at home from college on semester break, yelling at my mom in the kitchen, "You can't believe what just happened." Rest in peace, Franco.
- Holiday Treats: Here is a weird stat for you: The Cowboys are 6-1 vs. teams with winning records, the lone loss to the Eagles, 26-17, with backup Cooper Rush in that game, and are 0-3 against teams currently with losing records – Bucs, Pack, Jags – with Dak at QB. Go figure. Maybe it's a good thing the Eagles come in at 13-1 … Did you know opponents have made QB contact 184 times on Hurts? Lucky all he has is a sprained throwing shoulder. Why, he ran the ball 17 times against the Bears … The Cowboys and Eagles are two of just four teams ranked in the top 10 of total offense and defense after 14 games, along with San Francisco and Buffalo, the teams combining for a 44-12 record … Check this out: The Cowboys led the NFL last year with 34 takeaways, and currently their 26 lead once again with three games remaining … This is impressive, too: Kicker Brett Maher has made nine of 11 field goals from 50-plus yards, a single-season franchise high and one short of tying the NFL high of 10 … And with T.Y. Hilton having a second week of practice with the Cowboys, he's likely to make his Cowboys debut either Christmas Eve or maybe next Thursday night at Tennessee. Either way, he says he's ready, and when asked why his nickname in Indy was "The Ghost," he said, "It's me being next to the defender. I'm here, and then I'm gone." The Cowboys could use "The Ghost of Christmas Present" for sure.
And for the last word we are turning to Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, lamenting his defense twice losing leads against Jacksonville, first at 27-10, and then in the final minute, 34-31, before the overtime 40-34 loss.
"When you lose a lead for a team that prides itself on end-of-the-game moments, those ones sting and are part of the game we really do pride ourselves in. And it's one of the strong parts we've had," Quinn said the day after. "So to allow a field goal at the end when we had our chance to go nail it and close the door, those ones are the hardest and you have to learn from them.
"Sucks when you are going through it."
To say the least.