On the morning of each Cowboys game, you'll get a chance to take a sip of Joe's gridiron insights with our 'Morning Cup of Joe.' He'll offer five storylines to follow and what you should expect when the Cowboys take the field.
1. Cowboys and Christmas Eve
Here's hoping you've got all the shopping done and the gifts are all wrapped up. Football and Christmas eve nothing new for the Cowboys. They've played seven times on December 24th, including their first-ever playoff win against the Browns in 1967. A week after that they played the Packers in one the NFL's most famous games ever, and definitely the coldest-ever. Not that we'd have to worry about -13 degree temps like they did that day in Green Bay, but it's just another reminder that indoor football is the only way to go, no matter where you play. So, let's give thanks for Jerry World and Christmas eve football that has postseason implications.
2. Zeke's productivity and presence are the perfect gifts for the Cowboys
No better Christmas present for this organization than the return of Cowboys running back Zeke Elliott; back from his 6-game suspension. Although he doesn't want to talk about his personal training camp in Cabo, he can make a statement against the Seahawks defense. We've seen pictures and there's a documentary in the works showing how Elliott got shredded while he was south of the border. And against Seattle today we'll find out how quickly Elliott can get back in the flow, not to mention how important being in game shape can be.
Consider this, if a player would miss all of training camp and the preseason, he would have missed about the same amount of time as Elliott during the suspension. Elliott is a special talent, and this will be another chance to show it. If he can handle 25+ touches despite the long layoff, the impact will be huge. Elliott has rarely, if ever in his life, let his teammates down. So, I expect he will be prepared to be a difference-maker. I don't know if Elliott will win his 200-yard bet with pro football Hall of Famer Eric Dickerson, but don't be surprised if he gets close.
3. Dak Prescott as Santa
Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott has an opportunity to provide plenty of presents for his receiving corp, now that Elliott is back in the lineup. Prescott threw for more than 215 yards just once while Elliott was on suspension, but his good friend's return will create more room for the sophomore signal caller to operate.
Elliott's NFL-leading 97.9 rushing yards per game will allow the Cowboys play-action game to open up again, giving Prescott larger windows to make plays in the passing game. Look for the Cowboys boot-action passes to become more effective again, but the Seahawks will have to respect Elliott's ability as a game-breaker. After a few performances that were equivalent to lumps of coal, Prescott will be at his merry-making best, spreading out the ball to all of his receivers again.
4. No Christmas goodwill in Seattle
This is the season when you often hear the phrase, "peace on earth and goodwill to mankind." Well, nothing could be further from reality in the Seahawks locker room. Seattle is on edge. Just like the Cowboys, a loss today means their playoff hopes are dashed. But they're normally suffocating defense has become porous, especially in the last couple of weeks, and they're not handling it well.
In their last two games, both losses, they've given up 253 rushing yards combined to Jacksonville's Leonard Fournette and the Rams Todd Gurley. After the Rams loss, defensive back Earl Thomas wondered aloud if linebacker Bobby Wagner should have continued to play with an injured hamstring. Wagner shot back on twitter for Thomas to, "keep my name out yo mouth." Wagner tried to downplay the spat during the week, saying he and Thomas talked it over and squashed. Thomas countered saying, there had been no conversation.
With Elliott back, the Cowboys have a chance to jump on the Seahawks defense early and let their sniping and infighting work against them. This situation requires some caution though. Seattle's defenders will be highly motivated to show each other who's right, so the Cowboys have to be prepared for the best this injury-depleted unit has to offer.
5. Tank Lawrence: the gift that needs to keep giving
Coming off his first pro bowl selection Tuesday, DeMarcus Lawrence has a chance to be the gift that keeps on giving. He's third best in the NFL in sacks with 13.5 and not many Cowboys fans could have predicted that before the season.
Lawrence is the best in the league in terms of bringing the heat. He's recorded 45 pressures on 419 pass rush snaps, a 10.74% pressure rate; that's tops in the entire NFL. He's notched a sack on 3.22% of his rushes, also best in the league. Lawrence has gone without a sack in four of the last five games, although he was still affecting the game in terms of pressure and stopping the run. He'll have to be smart about the way he rushes Russell Wilson, because he's so dangerous when he breaks the pocket.
Lawrence has shown he's among the NFL's elite, and with a Cowboys crowd that should be whipped into a frenzy, not to mention a Seahawks offensive line that is subpar, he should be able to capitalize on chances to bring down Wilson.
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