The Dallas Cowboys are on a two game winning streak and are on course to win out, which could possibly mean making the playoffs. That would be a huge feat after what they have been through since August. The team should be feeling good, especially when you consider they are one game away from getting Ezekiel Elliott back to bludgeon defenses again.
Will the Cowboys get a boost this week knowing that Zeke is returning and that if they beat the Oakland Raiders, their goals can still be accomplished? Is that something the team can feed off, just like they do when Elliott plays, knowing they are this close to becoming whole again?
Even without Elliott these last two games, has Dallas rebounded enough from a few poor performances to give you hope that they’ll be dangerous if they can manage to make the postseason? Or do you feel it was just the Redskins and Giants, and the quality of the teams they’ve beaten in the last two weeks matter?
Lots of hypotheticals right now with this team, that’s what playing without Zeke has created. As well as a ton of confusion over how good Dallas really is. There is no question Elliott’s energy is infectious, but he’s still a week away and not beating the Raiders would render his return meaningless in the grand scheme of the season. But there are signs the Cowboys are finding a rhythm sans Zeke, and they could be gearing up to play their best football of the season.
One of the biggest reasons is they are finally getting healthy again. Tyron Smith has now been good to go for three straight weeks and the running game is strong again. Alfred Morris and Rod Smith have done good work in Zeke’s absence, and even better since Tyron has returned. In the two games Smith missed, the Cowboys rushed for 107 and 112 yards with just one touchdown, but the Cowboys were converting at only 32% on third downs.
With Smith back in the lineup these last three weeks, the offense is converting third downs at 51.3% and ran for 79 yards against the Chargers (when they abandoned the run after falling behind), but 182 against Washington and 122 versus the Giants, with a total of four scores. The Cowboys are finding their groove again with Tyron Smith back in at left tackle, which has settled Dak Prescott down as well. It’s amazing what not getting hit on every other play will do for the confidence of a quarterback.
Getting Sean Lee back was also a big plus. The numbers always tell us the Cowboys’ defense is better with Lee on the field and the unit got smoked for much of his time on the bench, but the hero returned for a ridiculous game against the Giants.
All that’s left now is for David Irving to get back and for Zeke to return next week. The Cowboys are getting healthier, finding a groove with the returning players and improving with some of the lineup changes they’ve made recently (hello new, young secondary).
It’s a game of what ifs right now, but IF the Cowboys can beat the Raiders, Ezekiel Elliott returns and the Cowboys will have a chance to play their best football of the year. They might be hitting their stride at the right time and IF they can get some help, there’s no telling what damage they could do in the playoffs.
First things first, beat the Raiders; but IF they do, it has the feel of a team that can still accomplish what they set out to do.
You can chat with or follow Ben on twitter @BenGrimaldi