The Dallas Cowboys celebrate after making a big play.
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Put Up or Shut Up: Why the Cowboys Desperately Need to Finish Strong

The Dallas Cowboys have had a lot of success under head coach Mike McCarthy. Since he took over in 2020, the team has a record of 29-19, with most of the losses coming in his first year. McCarthy won a Super Bowl as the head coach of the Green Bay Packers in 2011 and is looking to bring that level of success back to Dallas.

The Cowboys have not gotten past the Divisional Round of the playoffs since 1995, so before they start thinking about a Super Bowl, they have to focus on their own conference first. McCarthy knows a lot of the teams in the NFC very well — having coached in it his whole head coaching career — but most of them look very different this year. According to oddsmakers, the Cowboys have the third-highest chance to win the NFC behind the Minnesota Vikings and the Philadelphia Eagles. Dallas has beaten both of these teams, including a huge win last week over the Eagles.

Dallas Emerges Victorious in NFC East Battle

Quarterback Dak Prescott #4 of the Dallas Cowboys calls a play at the line of scrimmage against the Philadelphia Eagles during the second half at AT&T Stadium

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The Cowboys were able to beat the Eagles in their second matchup of the season on Christmas Eve. Philadelphia has been a powerhouse this year, and they came into this game with the NFL's best record of 13-1. The teams first played in October, but Dallas was down their star quarterback Dak Prescott. Backup quarterback Cooper Rush threw three interceptions during that game, and the Eagles cruised to a 26-17 victory. The Eagles defense shined, forcing three turnovers, and Jalen Hurts and the offense didn't turn the ball over once.

The teams seemed to swap places for their second meeting, as the Eagles were now without their star quarterback, and the Cowboys had theirs at full strength. However, Instead of dominating an injured team, it took a lot of mistakes from the Eagles just for the Cowboys to win 40-34. Without Hurts, Gardner Minshew was the quarterback for the Eagles. He was able to throw for over 300 yards and two touchdowns, but he also threw two interceptions, something Hurts had only done one time over 14 games this season.

Along with the two interceptions, Minshew and Pro Bowl running back Miles Sanders both lost fumbles. This brought the Eagles' turnover total to four, while the Cowboys only had one. The Cowboys' defense played well, but this is not the quarterback they will be facing in the playoffs. Hurts is much more talented than Minshew, and his ability to run the ball adds a whole other element to this Eagles offense. It is also hard to believe that a running back who only fumbled once through 14 games will continue to cough it up as he did in the fourth quarter against Dallas.

In their last three games, the Cowboys have gone up against the Texans, Jaguars, and Eagles. The quarterbacks of those teams were Davis Mills, Trevor Lawrence, and Gardner Minshew, none of who have ever made a Pro Bowl or won a playoff game. Over those three weeks, their so-called championship-caliber defense let up 97 points. For a defense that only allowed over 30 points once through 13 weeks, they have given that up the last two weeks. Their offense has been bailing them out, but their defense is not trending in the right direction as the playoffs are approaching.

The Big D in Dallas Doesn't Stand for Defense

Jayron Kearse #27 of the Dallas Cowboys recovers a fumble during the third quarter in the game against the Philadelphia Eagles at AT&T Stadium

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If the Cowboys are going to make a run in the playoffs, their defense has to start playing like it was earlier in the year. This is a defense that held the 12-win Vikings to only three points just over a month ago, and while they do not need to shut teams out, they can't be giving up nearly as many points as they have been. Their competition is only going to get harder, and that includes the talent of the quarterbacks they will be facing.

Luckily for the Cowboys, their string of playing against less-talented quarterbacks will continue as they finish out the season. This Thursday night, they will take on the beat-up Titans, who are missing their starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill and star running back Derrick Henry and have lost five games in a row. In Week 18 they will face the Commanders, who just recently announced they will be going back to Carson Wentz as their starter. Wentz was the quarterback the last time these two teams faced, in a game where he only threw for 170 yards and two interceptions.

The Cowboys have a very good chance to end the year 13-4, which would be the most amount of wins they have had since the 1992 season. They should be able to dominate their last two matchups, which would give the team a lot of momentum and the fans a lot of hope going into the playoffs. If they continue to struggle defensively it will not matter how many points they can score on offense, and they will find themselves out of the playoffs within the first two rounds again.

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