Five thoughts on the Dallas Cowboys, who are 10-1 after beating Washington:
Center Travis Frederick seems like such a no-brainer now. He’s a two-time Pro Browler, the best center in the NFL and the glue to league’s best offensive line. But there was a time when the choice of Frederick was thought to be a mistake. During the 2013 NFL Draft, the Cowboys were in need of defensive tackles and had Sharrif Floyd rated in the top 10 on their draft board. As the story goes, defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli didn’t like Floyd with that 18th overall pick. The Cowboys ended up trading down with the San Francisco 49ers and taking Frederick with the 31st overall pick. Not only were the Cowboys criticized for passing on Floyd, but they were ripped for reaching for Frederick, who was labeled as a third-round prospect by NFL draft analyst Mike Mayock. It also represented a disconnect between the scouts and coaches that the Cowboys would later shore up by putting Will McClay in charge of college and pro scouting and giving him control of the draft. As the Cowboys prepare to face the Vikings Thursday night, it must be noted that Floyd will be backup on defense. The Cowboys had it right all along with Frederick and Floyd. “I think more than anything else we just watched the tape and got a feel for him as a player,” coach Jason Garrett said of Frederick. “Sometimes people get caught up with numbers in the combine. I don't think he ran a real fast 40 so everybody kind of dinged him for that. Again, we just kept going back to the tape, our exposure to him in interviews and in work out settings and we felt really good about him. We just felt like he was a good fit. One of the things that happens in the draft is you talk about a lot of different players at every pick, leading up to every pick, coming out of every pick, in every round. Sometimes those discussions get magnified. There's a lot of discussions about everybody at all different spots and how they can help our team. There's no question in our mind there was a real consensus about Travis Frederick, about what he could do. At that time it was a position of weakness for us, we needed to get stronger on the offensive line. We felt like he was a great fit from a character standpoint and football player. He's turned out to be a really good football player for us.”
The Cowboys have clinched nothing yet. Yes, they should win the NFC East. Yes, they should secure home field advantage throughout the playoffs. All that should have happen if they continue their current level of play, which has them with the league's best record and riding a 10-game winning streak heading into Thursday's game against Minnesota. If all of that comes to pass, it would create an intriguing scenario involving Tony Romo for the season final against the Philadelphia Eagles. With the Cowboys likely set to have a first-round playoff bye, there is little chance Jason Garrett will sit out his starters for the final, especially with starting quarterback Dak Prescott being a rookie. He needs the work and the team doesn't need two weeks of rust before a divisional round playoff game. But say Prescott plays a half with the starters, the question is do you bring in Romo for mop-up duty in the second half? And if so, do you keep the starting offensive line or risk Romo behind a bunch of backups? Romo hasn't played in a regular-season game in more than a year, dating back to last Thanksgiving when he fractured his collarbone for the second time. He is rusty and needs the work, especially if you want him ready for possible use in the playoffs if something happens to Prescott. A few series of work is better than none even for a veteran as accomplished as Romo. But do you do it and risk Romo to injury? And if you don't do it, thinking something like that is beneath Romo, what are you saying about the ‘what's best for the team’ mantra? Consider this a clip and save for Week 16.
So much has been written and said about rookie sensation Dak Prescott being the beneficiary of a great offensive line and a great running game. It's said so much that it discredits what Prescott brings to the table and the hard work he has put in to get this point. Offensive coordinator Scott Linehan wants it known that Prescott's success is also due to his superb decision-making and considers him as smart a quarterback as he's ever been around. Prescott is football smart and smart, period. "I think they go hand in hand,” Linehan said. “He’s a bright, bright guy. He knows he doesn’t know everything. That’s where it starts. So humble. He’s always willing to learn and do those things. But where he’s smart is that he leans on guys for advice. He also knows he knows things. If he’s not sure, he asks. He does all the right things when it comes to the learning and the learning curve. So I think equally as smart on or off the field. I don’t know… I hear that term football smart or smart. I think you’re either smart or you’re not, and he’s as bright as they get." Linehan said they learned a lot about Prescott's smarts and passion when they spent time with him before the draft. They knew would be a quick study of the offense. "It didn’t take more than a couple minutes to figure out this guy had it and so, yeah, I felt like he would get it," Linehan said. "And he works hard at it. It takes work to digest and spit out the language; this is a new system. We have some calls in this game that got little nuances too it and he wants to practice them, working on them and you can see he wants to be tested on them. So it’s not that he’s working. He wants to make sure he’s got it for Thursday night and that’s what he does each week."
The Cowboys have re-asserted themselves a the league's best draw and biggest story, riding a 10-game winning streak with the league's best record while being led by dueling rookies Prescott and running back Ezekiel Elliott. The NFL will surely capitalize on the Cowboys momentum in terms of television ratings as they begin a possible four consecutive games in prime time when they face Minnesota on Thursday Night Football. They follow with a Sunday night game at the New York Giants on Dec. 11 before hosting the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in a game scheduled for noon on Dec. 18. Most observers believe that game will be flexed to Sunday Night Football. Add in the Dec. 26 game against the Detroit Lions on Monday Night Football and that gives the Cowboys four consecutive prime-time games. The season final against the Philadelphia Eagles, who are nearly out of the playoff chase, will likely stay at noon. Consider that the four of the five most-watched games this season have already involved the Cowboys, led by the last Thursday’s Thanksgiving Day affair against Washington that averaged 35.1 million viewers, more than any regular-season game in the Fox Sports history, which dates to 1994. NFL spokesman Greg Aiello tweeted that it was the most-watched regular-season game for any network since the 1995 Thanksgiving Day game between the 9-2 Cowboys and 10-1 Kansas City Chiefs, which drew 35.7 million viewers. The other three top-rated match-ups were against the Pittsburgh Steelers (28.9 million), the Green Bay Packers (28.0) and the season opener against the New York Giants (27.5).
As the Cowboys head toward the playoffs and continue to search for help for an ailing defense, there remains a question about whether suspended defensive end Randy Gregory can be considered an option for the postseason. Gregory is suspended for the first 14 games of the season, meaning he could return for the final two and possibly the playoffs if he gets re-instated by the NFL. The issue was a report by the NFL Network last month of another possible failed test by Gregory, putting him the cross hairs of a year-long suspension. Per the Cowboys, they still have heard nothing from the league on Gregory and year-long suspension. He continues to work out at the facility. But they don’t know if he will be an option for the final two games or the postseason. They are not planning on it, but they know nothing for certain, per coach Jason Garrett.